December 22, 2009

In the News/Random Musing: SAG Nominations '10

Ah, and now the Oscar race intensifies. The Screen Actors' Guild has released their nominations for the best actors of the past year in cinema, and with this second phase of awards season, pundits begin sweating as they anticipate the selections of the AMPAS, which will finally come next month. In fact, many of the SAG voters will also vote for the Academy, so this round of nominations becomes crucial for those guessing next month's Oscar nominations. For now, let us analyze SAG's decisions and consider what the future will bring, courtesy of the Academy...

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

JEFF BRIDGES /Bad Blake - "CRAZY HEART" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

GEORGE CLOONEY /Ryan Bingham - "UP IN THE AIR" (Paramount Pictures)

COLIN FIRTH /George Falconer - "A SINGLE MAN" (The Weinstein Company)

MORGAN FREEMAN /Nelson Mandela - "INVICTUS" (Warner Bros. Pictures)

JEREMY RENNER /Staff Sgt. William James - "THE HURT LOCKER" (Summit Entertainment)

Renner replaces Tobey Maguire from the Golden Globe Best Actor nominations. I still think Firth will take this category, though, as long as voters do not experience a pang of guilt and vote instead for Jeff Bridges, whose long, unrewarded career (to-date) began with an Oscar nomination (Best Supporting Actor, "The Last Picture Show," 1971).

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

SANDRA BULLOCK /Leigh Anne Tuohy - "THE BLIND SIDE" (Warner Bros. Pictures)

HELEN MIRREN /Sofya - "THE LAST STATION" (Sony Pictures Classics)

CAREY MULLIGAN /Jenny - "AN EDUCATION" (Sony Pictures Classics)


MERYL STREEP /Julia Child - "JULIE & JULIA" (Columbia Pictures)

Emily Blunt is edged out by Meryl Streep for the SAG Award nomination. I continue to think Sidibe will win, but it is very interesting to think that Sandra Bullock might be getting her very first Oscar nomination next month. It is also interesting to think that next month might bring Streep's sixteenth Oscar nomination.

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

MATT DAMON /Francois Pienaar - "INVICTUS" (Warner Bros. Pictures)

WOODY HARRELSON /Captain Tony Stone - "THE MESSENGER" (Oscilloscope Laboratories)

CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER /Tolstoy - "THE LAST STATION" (Sony Pictures Classics)

STANLEY TUCCI /George Harvey - "THE LOVELY BONES" (Paramount Pictures)

CHRISTOPH WALTZ /Col. Hans Landa - "INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS" (The WeinsteinCompany/Universal Pictures)

No change from the Globes. My opinion on the winner has not changed either.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

PENÉLOPE CRUZ /Carla - "NINE" (The Weinstein Company)

VERA FARMIGA /Alex Goran - "UP IN THE AIR" (Paramount Pictures)

ANNA KENDRICK /Natalie Keener - "UP IN THE AIR" (Paramount Pictures)

DIANE KRUGER /Bridget Von Hammersmark - "INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS" (The WeinsteinCompany/Universal Pictures)


Diane Kruger substitutes for Julianne Moore's nomination in this category at the Globes. While I am thrilled by Kruger's nomination, I cannot help but feel some remorse that it is not Mélanie Laurent's performance as Shoshanna in "Inglourious Basterds" that is nominated, instead. In any case, I continue to believe that Mo'Nique will capture the prize.

For the rest of the nominations, click here. The 16th Annual Screen Actors' Guild Awards ceremony will transpire on January 21, 2010 and will be broadcast simultaneously on TBS and TNT.


December 21, 2009

In the News/Random Musing: The 67th Annual Golden Globe Nominations

The 67th Golden Globes ceremony will take place on January 17th, 2010. For the full list of Golden Globe nominees (including those in television), click here. The nominees for each category in film and my guesses for each winner in bold when you click "Read More"...

Best Motion Picture (Drama)
("Inglourious Basterds" is the best film I have seen so far this year, but Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air" seems to be a potential voter favorite.)

Lightstorm Entertainment; Twentieth Century Fox

The Hurt Locker
Voltage Pictures; Summit Entertainment

Inglourious Basterds
The Weinstein Company/Universal Pictures/A Band Apart/Zehnte Babelsberg GmbH Production; The Weinstein Company/Universal Pictures

Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire
A Lee Daniels Entertainment / Smokewood Entertainment Group Production; Lionsgate

Up In The Air

Paramount Pictures; Paramount Pictures

Best Motion Picture (Comedy)

(500) Days Of Summer
Watermark Pictures; Fox Searchlight Pictures

The Hangover
Warner Bros. Pictures; Warner Bros. Pictures

It's Complicated
Relativity Media, Scott Rudin Productions; Universal Pictures

Julie & Julia

Columbia Pictures; Sony Pictures Releasing

The Weinstein Company/Relativity Media/Lucamar Productions/Marc Platt Productions; The Weinstein Company

Best Performance - Drama
(The winner in the Actor category will depend on if voters want to reward the old guard (Bridges) or bestow victory on the most critically hailed performance (Firth).)

Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart
George Clooney - Up in the Air
Colin Firth - A Single Man
Morgan Freeman - Invictus
Tobey Maguire - Brothers

Emily Blunt - The Young Victoria
Sandra Bullock - The Blind Side
Helen Mirren - The Last Station
Carey Mulligan - An Education
Gabourey Sidibe - Precious

Best Performance - Musical or Comedy

Matt Damon - The Informant!
Daniel Day-Lewis - Nine
Robert Downey, Jr. - Sherlock Holmes
Joseph Gordon-Levitt - (500) Days of Summer
Michael Stuhlbarg - A Serious Man

Sandra Bullock - The Proposal
Marion Cotillard - Nine
Julia Roberts - Duplicity
Meryl Streep - It's Complicated
Meryl Streep - Julie & Julia

Best Supporting Performance

Matt Damon - Invictus
Woody Harrelson - The Messenger
Christopher Plummer - The Last Station
Stanley Tucci - The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds

Penelope Cruz - Nine
Vera Farmiga - Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick - Up in the Air
Mo'Nique - Precious
Julianne Moore - A Single Man

Best Director
(Whoever wins Best Picture will win Best Director.)

Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker
James Cameron - Avatar
Clint Eastwood - Invictus
Jason Reitman - Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds

Best Screenplay

District 9
The Hurt Locker
It's Complicated
Inglourious Basterds
Up in the Air

Best Original Score
(James Horner - always a fan favorite.)

The Informant!
A Single Man
Where the Wild Things Are

Best Original Song

"Cinema Italiano" - Nine
"(I Want To) Come Home" - Everybody's Fine
"I See You" - Avatar
"The Weary Kind" - Crazy Heart
"Winter" - Brothers

Best Animated Feature Film

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog

Best Foreign Language Film

Baarìa - La porta del vento • Italy
Broken Embraces • Spain
The Maid • Chile
A Prophet • France
The White Ribbon • Germany


In the News: Brittany Murphy

It is always tragic to lose someone way before his or her time, and today, we are rattled by the loss of Brittany Murphy at age 32. Murphy was pronounced dead of natural causes at 10:04 a.m. at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, a hospital spokeswoman said. Murphy was transported to the hospital after the Los Angeles Fire Department responded to a call at 8 a.m. at the home she shared with her husband, British screenwriter Simon Monjack, in the Hollywood Hills.

Murphy rose to fame in the 1990s as a quirky brunette in small roles in television shows such as "The Torkelsons" (also known as "Almost Home"), "Boy Meets World," and "Sister, Sister." Her breakout role was in playing Tai in the smash hit, "Clueless" (1995). Murphy went on to appear in films such as "Girl, Interrupted" (1999), "8 Mile" (2002), "Uptown Girls" (2003), and "Little Black Book" (2004). After providing the voice to Gloria in "Happy Feet" (2006), Murphy's filmography slowed a bit, but she was involved in projects up until her untimely death - including a role in Sylvester Stallone's new film, "The Expendables," due out next year. (However, Perez Hilton reported at the end of last month that Murphy had been recently fired from another project in Puerto Rico.)

For more information on Brittany Murphy's passing, click here. For speculation into diabetes and/or a thyroid condition resulting in Murphy's death, click here. For an interesting reflection on Murphy's "different" career, click here.

Goodbye, Brittany Murphy. May you rest in peace.

UPDATE (12/21/09) - Quoted directly from Yahoo! News: "Brittany Murphy was ill with flu-like symptoms in the days before her death and prescription medications were taken from her home, the Los Angeles Coroner's office said Monday." More information as it becomes available.


October 31, 2009


*** out of ****

“Querelle,” released in 1982 before the death of German auteur filmmaker, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, has the dubious notoriety of being his last will and testament. I once read a fascinating remark that the film’s plot parallels Fassbinder’s own plummet toward suicide. Although this interpretation is unsubstantiated (and unable to be substantiated), “Querelle” remains a curious film, what Fassbinder called his “most important film.” One reason for its strangeness results from the fact that it is not a direct adaptation of openly homosexual French author Jean Genet’s “Querelle de Brest,” but is, rather, “a film about” said novel.

At this point, a description of this erotic film is warranted: tough, sexy sailor Georges Querelle (Brad Davis, “Midnight Express”) arrives in the French port of Brest, a town with a perpetual sunset and a phallocentric setting, and discovers La Feria, the local cabaret. His purpose is twofold: to smuggle opium to its owner, Nono (Gunther Kaufmann), and to sleep with Nono’s wife, Lysiane (Jeanne Moreau). After killing his own smuggling partner, Querelle submits to his own degradation and purposefully loses a game of dice so that instead of bedding Lysiane, Nono will sodomize him. However, Querelle discovers that he actually likes the activity and begins to endeavor toward his complete self-annihilation and disempowerment by becoming a sex slave to other men.

To the casual viewer, this film is going to be a nightmare instead of the wet dream it is intended to be. The plot is extremely confusing, the gratuitous violence and sexuality are shocking, and the robotic performances by its leading actors are also no help. In fact, “Querelle” requires knowledge of its director’s style in order to actually be enjoyable (which it can be). Fassbinder, an avid fan of Brechtian alienation, uses such elements as purposely stiff performances, static compositions, intertitles with quotes or narration, and confusing planes of space (via an abundance of mirrors) to disorient viewers and keep them consciously critical of what they are watching. “Querelle,” despite its salacious images of gay erotic fetishization, such as hunky, beefy sailors, a leather-bound policeman, and penises abound in the setting, is not to be confused with pornography. Instead, Fassbinder’s thesis might well inform the narrator’s comment: “Humility can only be born of humiliation; otherwise, it is nothing but vanity.” Therefore, “Querelle” is actually a film about a narcissistic man’s complete humiliation so that he can attain humility and, in effect, humanity.

For those of you who are daring enough to see it, “Querelle” is certainly worth the effort. It is a beautiful film, resplendent in surrealist imagery, phallic architecture, and colors so rich that it would make Vittorio Storaro (“Apocalypse Now,” “The Last Emperor,” “Dick Tracy”) proud. Beneath the labyrinthine structure of the narrative, there are many depths to be explored and secrets to be unlocked. However, because I would be living in a dream world (pun intended) to critique this film based on only these qualities and to ignore its difficulties for casual viewers, I must admit that “Querelle” is far from perfect. But still, that does not mean there are not those who will admire it greatly for its cinematic prospects.

*As seen in the November 2009 issue of "Out & About" newspaper. To access it, click here.*


September 2, 2009

Dog Day Afternoon

**** out of ****

Vito Russo’s seminal work on gays and lesbians in film, “The Celluloid Closet,” bemoans Sidney Lumet’s 1975 classic, high-energy “Dog Day Afternoon,” calling it “the ultimate freak show, a film that used the sensational side of a true story to titillate a square audience.” And so it does, but I think there is more to Lumet’s film than meets the eye.

The film’s first shots inoculate viewers with its “day-in-the-life” harmlessness: A handheld camera captures construction workers hard at work, children playing by the pool, and men watering the lawn. Sonny (played by Al Pacino with palpable nervousness and significant intelligence), Sal (portrayed by John Cazale as a ticking time-bomb), and Stevie (Gary Springer) arrive at a bank with seeming innocence, and then they stick it up.

This is an event that is certainly out-of-the-ordinary, heralding the film’s forthcoming sentiments of Vietnam-era anti-establishment.

First, is it not weird how a story can consistently deceive viewers into rooting for the protagonist, even if he is an anti-hero robbing a bank? Establishment generally roots in favor of the heroes, or the police and FBI waiting outside the bank (once the robbery quickly goes wrong, ten or so minutes in). Why do viewers continue to identify with Sonny, who maintains his logic through the whole ordeal, trying to negotiate his and Sal’s (Stevie flees early on) escapes to sanctity? Certainly, Sonny is a charismatic and smart anti-hero—not necessarily a villain—because, after all, we discover he is robbing the bank to pay for his wife’s sex-change operation.

This brings me to my second point, how Sonny, though possessing wife and children, has a male lover (also called his “wife”), whom he married the previous year in an essentially fake wedding. When the media learns these details after Leon (Chris Sarandon, Susan’s ex) is escorted to the scene of the crime to try to convince Sonny to give up, they turn their coverage of the robbery into a circus sideshow starring the queers, proffering photos of Leon in his wedding gown. Director Lumet criticizes the media (a likely precursor to his “Network” from the next year) as they turn Sonny’s story into a full-blown frenzy.

Meanwhile, the idea that Sonny is a queer husband and anti-hero is something iconoclastic to both the institutions of marriage and of film history. In fact, I use the word “queer” not to mean gay, but in a more pansexual manner. The film tries to lay the “gay” title on Sonny, but his sexual interest in both his wife and “wife” suggest an indefinable sexuality, something more subversive and harder to pin down.

“Dog Day Afternoon” is laden with criticisms of other institutions, including the police and even the human race itself. During the initial negotiations between Sonny and the police, he openly attacks their notorious brutality and his suspicions about how they will treat him with his unforgettable battle cry, “Attica, Attica!” Not only does Sonny criticize authority, but director Lumet also takes the opportunity to underline the seedy side of human nature when Sonny throws marked bills into the crowds that have accumulated to see the spectacle. Their greed is tangible when you see them mercilessly crush each other, just to grab a bill or two.

In the end, “Dog Day Afternoon” is an arresting, frenetic account of a true story (based on the story of John Wojtowicz, who held up a Chase Manhattan Bank branch in Brooklyn in 1972), portrayed effectively by its leading actors and through the energetic direction by Sidney Lumet and the hard-hitting, dead-on screenplay by Frank Pierson.

*As seen in the September 2009 issue of "Out & About" newspaper. To access it, click here.*


August 1, 2009

Prick Up Your Ears

*** out of ****

Stephen Frears’ 1987 gay hidden treasure, “Prick Up Your Ears,” is both an intriguing document of the life of playwright Joe Orton (Gary Oldman) and his lover, Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina), and a fascinating insight into gay “swinging London.” In fact, this film, whose name and subject matter comes from Orton’s biography, seems more about his thriving sex life than his writing. Apparently he could write, and he even won an award (depicted in the film in the scene where he attends the ceremony with his agent, Peggy, played in a refined way by Vanessa Redgrave), but at the heart of the film are Orton’s unorthodox sexual proclivities (at least in ‘60s England, when homosexuality was still illegal).

Like Frears’ breakout film, 1985’s “My Beautiful Launderette,” the main characters are homosexuals, but in this film, Orton’s love affair with Kenneth Halliwell eventually becomes his downfall. Things between the two begin well, though: Orton and Halliwell are acting colleagues in England’s prestigious Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts and become “collaborators” in writing books that are constantly turned down as too unconventional. However, the pair’s lack of convention makes them fascinating people. After a short prison sentence due to their vandalism of library books, Orton comes out the more fascinating of the two, as his plays (written alone, mind you) go on to great acclaim, and Halliwell’s role as a collaborator turns into the dreary job of giving Orton’s acclaimed plays their titles. Eventually, Halliwell becomes fed-up with Orton’s success and bludgeons him to death with a hammer to the skull. Then, quite predictably, he commits suicide with an overdose of prescription drugs. (This “ending” actually happens at the beginning, as the film is told in flashback.) Although this ending seems typical—almost obligatory—of older films with gay characters, this film is different from many others that came before it, largely because of its surprising acceptance of a particularly promiscuous homosexual lifestyle (rare for even 1987).

Though the film falls into periods where the plot does not seem to advance, “Prick Up Your Ears” is saved by its leading actors’ performances—its greatest asset. Alfred Molina’s Kenneth is a paranoid, dejected basket case, for whom viewers can feel sorry, while Gary Oldman’s virile, promiscuous Joe conjures and replicates the smug self-confidence and sadistic sense of humor of Malcolm McDowell in “A Clockwork Orange.” Although the two appear mismatched onscreen, their charisma is unquestionable and the tragic story of their characters becomes that much more effective. If the film’s abundance of implied sex does not surprise you, at least the acting pleasantly will.

*As seen in the August 2009 issue of "Out & About" newspaper. To access it, click here.*


July 16, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

** ½ out of ****

Since the release of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” in Britain in 1997, the beloved J.K. Rowling-penned series has always left its readers with a favorite and a least favorite book. I think the same can be said of the film series, which began with “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in 2001, so I believe that can permit me to humbly opine that this summer’s release of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is, thus far, the most disappointing offering. The good thing about the series so far is that no film has suffered the inevitable “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” syndrome, in that a film has existed for the sole purpose of being a means to an end or a segue to something bigger to come. Unfortunately, I can no longer say that. Although this “Harry Potter” maintains the increasingly darker atmosphere that has developed through the series, it fails at retaining some of the aspects that have made the films so enjoyable.

There seems to be a formula for each “Harry Potter” story: Harry begins his summer among the “Muggles” (that is, non-magical folk), he returns to school to face a new adventure, a series of dark events occur, Harry battles Lord Voldemort or the Death Eaters and saves the day (at least temporarily), and he leaves Hogwarts for the summer. For the newest offering, the formula is almost the same, except Harry does not save the day, and many side stories have changed or been infinitesimally limited. For example, the second half of the film’s title, “The Half-Blood Prince,” which usually indicates its significance as the driving motivation for the story, becomes quickly abandoned in this film in favor of foregrounding the main character’s “J-14”-esque boy/girl attractions and the hunt for the secret Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) hides about his former pupil, Tom Riddle (a.k.a. Lord Voldemort, for those of you who dare to speak his name). What is most baffling is how the “Half-Blood Prince” becomes casually revealed at the end of the film, with almost next-to-no typical, adventurous search from Potter. Even more perturbing is how there is no great battle between good and evil at the end of the film.

Although I generally hate redundant formulas for sequels’ stories, I do not think I would mind something as exciting as “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” again. In terms of the story, character development, and overall thrills, that film falls together so perfectly that it might well be the masterpiece of the series, thus far. Unfortunately, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” feels less cohesive than that offering, even if it still does not bore, in the least.

Perhaps the more mature performances help. The three leading actors are definitely not 12-year-olds anymore, and maybe growing older with their respective character has helped them grow into their character’s skin more (or maybe famously performing naked onstage in “Equus” helps). Anyway, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” has a lot of other fine acting talents to go around: Michael Gambon’s beloved Professor Dumbledore has more screentime than usual, and I think he will finally deservedly attain as much adoration as the elderly wizard as his predecessor, the late Richard Harris, whose gentle Dumbledore has been long preferred; Jim Broadbent, with his tender, sheepish demeanor and big, blue eyes, is perfectly cast as Professor Slughorn, even if his performance feels strongly repetitive of his Oscar-winning role in 2001’s “Iris”; Helena Bonham-Carter steals every scene in which she appears as creepy, frolicking Bellatrix Lestrange; and, most surprising of all, Tom Felton is stunning as Harry’s arch-nemesis Draco Malfoy, whose earlier performances have been youthfully cocky but are now hauntingly complex and painfully troubled.

These performances provide a strong root for the film, which is enjoyable enough that its 153-minute runtime comes and goes without five seconds of boredom. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” even if it does not quite stand up to its predecessors, does, at least, seem like a portent for good things to come with the release of the two-part “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” (2010 and 2011).


July 1, 2009

In the News: Karl Malden

Today, we have lost one of the greats of classic Hollywood: actor Karl Malden, who won Best Supporting Actor for his role as Mitch in Elia Kazan's 1951 film, "A Streetcar Named Desire." 97-year-old Malden died in his sleep at about 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday, his manager announced. Malden was born Mladen George Sekulovich and raised in Gary, Indiana. (How sad it must be for the city to lose two of its natives within a week of each other.) The actor, known for his famously "bulbous nose," made his New York stage debut in 1938 and made his Hollywood debut in 1940 with "They Knew What They Wanted." After serving in the Army Air Corps in World War II, he finally found real success as an actor in the New York production of "A Streetcar Named Desire." Malden is probably best-known for his fruitful teamings with director Elia Kazan, including the film adaptation of "Streetcar," "On the Waterfront," where he played upright Father Barry (and was nominated for a second Oscar), and "Baby Doll." In 1970, Malden played General Omar Bradley alongside Oscar-winner George C. Scott in that year's Best Picture, "Patton," and later that decade, he starred, with Michael Douglas, in TV's "The Streets of San Francisco." From 1989 to 1992, Malden was the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In 2004, he received the Screen Actors' Guild Life Achievement Award.

For more information on Karl Malden's passing, click here ('s obituary). Goodbye, Karl Malden. May you rest in peace.

*No need to press "Read More." Thank you.*


Far from Heaven

*** ½ out of ****

I love retro styles in modern film, and Todd Haynes’ artistically sumptuous “Far from Heaven” (2002) is a good representative. The film, whose name comes, in part, from Douglas Sirk’s 1955 “All That Heaven Allows,” is both a carefully calculated, Sirkian homage to the decade and a fascinating criticism of its conventions. The lush cinematography, saturated colors, and lavish setting, costuming, and lighting that characterize German-born director Sirk’s Hollywood work are intended to represent artificiality, and Haynes uses it to his advantage in his story of the perfect nuclear family, Frank and Cathy Whitaker (Dennis Quaid and Julianne Moore), whose fairy tale life comes crashing down around them. Even though Todd Haynes, a notable director of New Queer Cinema, uses homosexuality again in this film as a plot twist, his film actually goes beyond that and really thinks outside the box. Also encompassing racial and female oppression and repression, “Far from Heaven” is actually a criticism of society’s homogeneity and demonstrates what it means to be different.

“Far from Heaven” is full of outstanding performances, the finest being that of Julianne Moore as Cathy Whitaker. Moore makes robotic and conservative Cathy into the pristine, uber-nuclear mom at the beginning of the film. However, when she grows out of convention and inadvertently becomes a supporter of racial integration in her town, Moore emerges as a touching, emotional, and sympathetic woman unable to exact her deepest feelings for her gardener, Raymond Deagan, simply because he is black. The binary anguish and emptiness that crosses her sensitive face are often truly heartbreaking. In addition, the two sources of her anguish, Dennis Haysbert as Deagan and Dennis Quaid as Frank Whitaker, both turn in great performances in their own right. Haysbert’s Deagan is a warm, tender soul and a performance not too unlike that of Morgan Freeman’s Hoke from 1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy.”Quaid’s miserable, homosexually repressed Frank strongly recalls the wounded masculinity of drunken Robert Stack in Sirk’s “Written on the Wind.”

It is this abundance of repression that drives the comment Haynes’ film is making as it daringly tears down the notion of the ‘50s as G-rated bliss. All of the main characters are fighting their natural desires in order to meet societal conventions, and this practice disgusts Haynes. Under the surface, Haynes’ film calls for a new humanism, one for accepting difference. We are all people, Haynes’ film says: black, white, man, woman, heterosexual, or homosexual.

*As seen in the July 2009 issue of "Out & About" newspaper. To access it, click here.*


June 30, 2009

Random Musing: Chéri

This past year at Vanderbilt, I took a year-long French history and literature class (in French, mind you) called "Textes et Contextes," which aimed to teach the two subjects by the ways in which they interact. The first semester covered the Middle Ages to 1850 (which was really more history than literature), and the second semester covered 1850 to the present (which was really more literature than history). In the latter semester, we analyzed samples from the works of de Maupassant, Camus, Duras, and others. One of the others happened to be an extract from Colette's "La Fin de Chéri." Colette's style of writing was certainly interesting, although the story was a bit nebulous for us English-speaking readers of the original French text (thanks to its focus on nuance).

Not long ago, I happened to discover that Michelle Pfeiffer would be starring in a film adaptation of "Chéri" (with Stephen Frears ("The Queen") directing!). I adore Michelle Pfeiffer, and I admire Stephen Frears' work, so I have been quite ecstatic to see its theatrical release...

...And now it's here. I have read two reviews of the film in the course of the last few hours: one, which is clearly frivolous and elementary (found in "People"), and the other, which is a stirring, thoughtful reflection (as always, coming from Roger Ebert). I cannot discuss my own thoughts on the film any further, having not seen it yet, but I think that Ebert, as usual, has summed up what I am anticipating about the film. (However, he never mentions what I am currently predicting: potential Oscar nominations.)

"Chéri" is currently in limited release nationwide. Boy, I wish I could see it now...


June 25, 2009

Random Musing: Andy Warhol (Part Two)

*WARNING: Though this blog has been written for only intellectual purposes, some of the films discussed in this blog are highly sexual in nature and might not be suitable for children under 13. Please get parental permission before reading more.*

In yesterday's "Part One" blog on artist and avant-garde filmmaker Andy Warhol, I discussed his first film, "Sleep" (1963), and introduced him as the kind of filmmaker who challenges conventions and our expectations about film as an art everytime he makes a new movie. Today, I want to explore his other more notable works...

"Kiss" is a 1963 film starring two couples, both of whom kiss in a close-up shot for three minutes each (as a retort to the Hays Code's rule that all onscreen kisses must be no longer than three seconds). And as if that were not enough, the second couple is gay.

"Mario Banana" is a 1964 film starring Mario Montez, a transgendered Factory Superstar who took his name as an homage to the camp icon and famously bad actress Maria Montez.

In the two parts of this queer film (how else would you describe a transgendered person insinuating a taboo act on a banana?), Montez seductively toys with his phallic fruit in one close-up shot. It is important to notice how Montez's erotic eyes constantly strike the viewer during his lewd fellatio. This film is obviously self-aware of its sexuality, and it shows how the relationship between actor and viewer becomes crucial for it to succeed. (It later seems that awareness of the viewer is important for almost all of Warhol's more sexual films after "Sleep" and "Kiss.")

In the same year, Warhol made the erotic, voyeuristic "Blow Job," which is comprised of one lengthy, close-up shot that studies only the pleasure on the face of DeVeren Bookwalter (who is supposedly receiving oral sex from filmmaker Willard Maas, although the camera never tilts down nor zooms out to see this).

What is so awe-inspiring about this particular film is how Warhol tests our ability to suspend disbelief. For example, when we watch any film in general, we "play along" with its artificial construction in order to make it all believable. However, "Blow Job" forces us to believe in it, even more so than usual, because if we do not, then how do we know the handsome Bookwalter is actually getting his titular "Blow Job" and not just going through the motions he would feel if he were getting one? In addition, because the film is silent, Warhol is tricking his viewers into filling the rest of the film with our own imagination: the man on his knees in the lower off-screen space, the moans and words coming from Bookwalter's mouth, and the sensations Bookwalter must be feeling. Therefore, the film has become what we make of it―a personal fantasy, never the same from person to person. Later, Warhol continues to challenge convention by allowing Bookwalter to break the fourth wall, a perception of the viewer that makes us aware of our part in the film (just like in "Mario Banana") and what we have done to fill in the gaps.

Most important of all, "Blow Job" is a watershed of queer film history. In Roy Grundmann's book, "Andy Warhol's 'Blow Job'," he argues that the film is an allegory for America's relationship with homosexuality on film at the time: hidden, practically invisible (just like the fellator in the off-screen space). Indeed, it was only in 1961 that the Hays Code permitted characters with homosexual desires in mainstream films. In 1964, "Blow Job" became a landmark film by not only implying (and accepting) a subject about which no one ever spoke, but by implying (and accepting) the depicted act as occurring between homosexuals.

Warhol would make many more films between 1964 and 1969, and all of them would challenge more conventions of filmmaking. Warhol is especially important to me for his camp and queer sensibilities, which were groundbreaking for their time. I think there is more to learn from his filmmaking, and I hope to do that soon...


June 24, 2009

Random Musing: Andy Warhol (Part One)

For those of you, my dear readers, who follow my blog regularly or at least know my favorite films, then you have an idea of the kinds of films about which I generally write: blockbuster Hollywood pictures, Oscar-nominated or -winning films from 1927 to today, and sometimes the occasional foreign film or documentary. However, for those of you who really know me, you know that I also have a deep appreciation for avant-garde cinema. Several weeks ago, I blogged about Man Ray (an American photographer and surrealist filmmaker in Paris in the early 20th century), and today I want to talk about the American artist and filmmaker Andy Warhol, some of whose work has left a big impact on the meaning of film. You may know Warhol better for his Pop Art renditions of actress/goddess Marilyn Monroe and the Campbell's Soup Can, but Warhol has also left an impressionable influence on film culture. Using his Factory Superstars and friends, Warhol made films as short as thirty minutes or as long as eight hours about his subjects. What I want to analyze today is what the questions posed by his films have done to change the way we think about film as an art...

The first film Andy Warhol ever made was in 1963; it was a film called "Sleep." The subject of the film, a young stockbroker and good friend of Warhol named John Giorno, was interviewed in 2002 by London's "The Guardian" about "Sleep," and his narrative offers to us some interesting insight as to why Warhol became a filmmaker:

We used to go to Jonas Mekas' Film-makers' Cooperative in 1962 to watch these underground films. Andy saw them and said, "Why doesn't somebody make a beautiful film?" So he did. On Memorial Day weekend in 1963 we went away for a few days and I woke up in the night to find him staring at me - he took a lot of speed in those days. That's where the idea for the movie came from - he was looking for a visual image and it just happened to be me. He said to me on the way home: "Would you like to be a movie star?" "Of course," I said, "I want to be just like Marilyn Monroe." He didn't really know what he was doing; it was his first movie. We made it with a 16mm Bolex in my apartment but had to reshoot it a month later. The film jumped every 20 seconds as Andy rewound it. The second shoot was more successful but he didn't know what to do with it for almost a year. The news that Warhol had made a movie triggered massive amounts of publicity. It was absurd - he was on the cover of Film Culture and Harper's Bazaar before the movie was finished! In the end, 99% of the footage didn't get used; he just looped together a few shots and it came out six hours long.
Frankly, Andy Warhol made a six-hour movie about a guy sleeping. Clearly, the response to the film was 99% because of people's fascination with the famous artist.

However, what does "Sleep" even mean to us as students of film? Because Warhol is filming his friend snoozing away, it might as well be a home movie. But what distinguishes his film from Dad's home movies of the family on vacation in Orlando, Florida? I think it is because it utilizes the concept of the scientific camera. Warhol was definitely not the first person to ever use the camera in this way (Theodor Dreiser's 1928 "The Passion of Joan of Arc" comes to mind), this way of essentially placing a microscope over a person and studying him or her. But Warhol's film is ambiguous in its genre: is it a narrative film or a documentary? This might be where Warhol breaks ground―after all, a film such as "Sleep" definitely challenges many conventions that make up the way we think about film (and what it means to be a film, in general). We expect most films to have a narrative, and we do not expect a film to last more than two, maybe three, hours. Instead, we are presented with six hours of a pseudo-documentary of a man doing something we do every day. (It should be noted, though, that the six-hour length of "Sleep" probably has something to do with Warhol being on speed at the time; on drugs, time means nothing anymore.) By calling into question our expectations of film, we have learned something from "Sleep."

But the question remains: What kind of film is "Sleep"? There is no wrong answer. The film could be a narrative film in which a man is sleeping, or it could be a documentary of a man who is sleeping. But does it matter that we cannot fit "Sleep" into a box with a label?

In addition, "Sleep" begs the question of if it is art or not. Some people will say "no," just as they did to Marcel Duchamp's "The Fountain" in 1917. Others will say "yes," citing how Warhol has challenged our standards for what makes a film a film (and arguing that "Sleep" is a film, too). Again, there is no wrong answer.

But his work eventually challenges more than we expect. Around the 3:50 mark of the clip I posted (which still lacks the other nearly five hours and fifty minutes of "Sleep"), we see the sexuality of Warhol come out through the camera. Warhol lingers on Giorno's handsome face for some time, and then a shot of Giorno's sensual neck and chest runs on for several minutes. At the 7:36 mark, we see an ambiguous shape... But in the film's final shot, we discover that we have been gazing on his buttocks. Guess what? "Sleep" is actually a queer film. In this way, Warhol turns another convention on its head―the male gaze in film. The male gaze generally objectifies the female, at least in classic Hollywood, when everything was "boy + girl." However, Warhol, who was an openly gay man, homoerotically objectifies another man and makes no big deal about it (while mainstream films of the time were just barely being able to do more than "imply" things under the Hays Code). Essentially, Warhol topples the idea of the heteronormative male gaze with his first film.

And so Warhol will go on to treat more subjects similarly, challenging more conventions of filmmaking.

There is more to come, dear reader, in our study of Andy Warhol, filmmaker. Stay tuned.


June 23, 2009

Random Musing: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

On March 5, 2010, director Tim Burton (whose work I have really come to admire more than ever) will release his newest fantasy feature in theaters, a remake of "Alice in Wonderland," based on the Lewis Carroll novels "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass." According to Wikipedia, the film will use a technique combining live action, motion capture technology and stop motion and will be released in Disney Digital 3-D and IMAX 3-D. Only today have I come upon brand-new, just-released publicity stills for the film! ("U.S.A. Today" has them; click here to see them.) These stills feature a nearly unrecognizable Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Anne Hathaway as the White Queen, Mia Wasikowska as Alice, and my personal favorite (as you can tell from the photo that accompanies this blog), Helena Bonham-Carter as a spot-on Red Queen. Is this not exciting? I was hesitant at first about the idea of yet another film adaptation of "Alice in Wonderland," but I think Tim Burton will bewilder us as never before...

*No need to press "Read More." Thank you.*


June 22, 2009

Random Musing: Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story

In 1987, director Todd Haynes and collaborator Cynthia Schneider wrote a short film based on the life of pop singer Karen Carpenter (You know her as one-half of the 1970s soft rock duo, The Carpenters). Haynes sympathetically and reverently portrayed Karen as an abused celebrity tortured by her family, her record label, and, most importantly, society's obsession with thinness. To represent Karen's struggle for her body's perfection, Haynes ironically used Barbie dolls as characters, being that Barbies (and Kens) are the epitome of ideal bodies.

Having seen Haynes' "Far from Heaven" and enjoying it, I have decided to go back and check out some of his other work. I had heard of "Superstar" and its Barbie characters before, and I knew I had to see it. However, there are some people out there who really did not want to see it and have gone to many lengths to ensure it is not seen...

According to Wikipedia, upon its release, the film was a minor hit in art house theaters and was shown at several film festivals. However, not long afterward, Richard Carpenter (the other half of The Carpenters) viewed the film and became irate with the film's portrayal of his family, in particular because the film insinuated that he had a "private life" (i.e. gay lifestyle). Carpenter was able to get the film pulled from distribution and exhibition by way of a copyright infringement suit, as Haynes had failed to obtain proper licensing to use numerous Carpenters songs in the film. (The Museum of Modern Art still retains a copy of this film but has agreed with the Carpenter estate not to exhibit it.)

Because a copy of this nearly-impossible-to-find cult film exists on YouTube, I would like to share it with you. It is certainly notable for its style (and I am not just talking about the Barbies―I also refer to the interesting editing and symbolism). Watch this infamous film with me now.

UPDATE: While doing some research for a photo for this blog, I just discovered a blog called "Thoughts on Stuff" by Patrick. He wrote a blog about this film four years ago and came to a similar conclusion that I made for Haynes' "Far from Heaven." Patrick says, "I think Haynes' biggest issue is with showing how characters who seem to have it all may in fact be the most unhappy. All of the three main characters here are forced by society to do things they do not want to do, and it leads to unhappiness and reaction against societal norms."

It appears Haynes may have a common theme running through his films... I cannot believe I did not extrapolate the message of "Far from Heaven" to this film. It does fit, after all.


June 20, 2009

Song of the Day: Sordid Lives

*for Adam and Keith*

"Sordid Lives" is a song written by Margot Rose and Beverly Nero (who has a small part in the film) and performed by Olivia Newton-John for Del Shores' 2000 comedy of the same name. In the film, Newton-John plays Bitsy Mae Harling, an ex-convict who sings at the local bar. I love this rousing song because it is the anthem from a film that is quite dear to me. For more information, see my "One-Minute Review" of "Sordid Lives."


June 10, 2009

Random Musing: Films in Five Seconds

*for Antoine*

I was recently introduced to a series of videos on YouTube that were created as comically abridged versions of their theatrically released counterparts. While most of the videos rendered no laughs, I was very amused by two particular ones. Somehow, the creator of these videos (apparently "That Guy with the Glasses") managed to take James Cameron's epic "Titanic" from 195 minutes to 11 seconds and to whittle the 1994 Disney classic, "The Lion King," down to 20 seconds while retaining the essential elements of each film. I want to share both with you, my dear readers, because they will brighten your day and warrant repeated viewings.


"The Lion King"

*No need to press the READ MORE tab. Thank you.*


June 9, 2009

Random Musing: Saturday Night Fever

In 1977, everyone from Pearl the Weather Girl to Stan the Milkman was blasting the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" out of his or her radio, after having seen young John Travolta, his perfect hair, tight, white leisure suit, and hot strut popularize disco onscreen in "Saturday Night Fever." For many people, the film has gone on to completely iconicize the era and would probably be best left alone, a remnant of our memories. After all, there are just some films that you should not remake...

...But no. British record exec Simon Cowell—who you probably know best as that crotchety judge on "American Idol"—has decided that he wants to do a remake. ...A remake!? Can you remake a film like that?

Here's the scoop, according to Britain's "The Sun"...

He has been in negotiations for weeks with legendary film producer Robert Stigwood, who owns the rights to the screenplay [for "Saturday Night Fever"]. The idea for the original 1977 blockbuster came after Robert saw an article in a U.S. mag about teenagers going to dancing competitions. And Simon has drawn up a wishlist of top talent to prove to Robert that his version will be a match for the classic. "High School Musical" star Zac Efron is in line for the lead role. And hip-hop uber producer Timbaland is in the frame to rework one of the most famous movie soundtracks of all time - an album that topped the U.S. charts for a massive 24 weeks.
I mean, Zac Efron is beautiful enough to be Tony Manero, but he should never play the role... I do not think I would say that "Saturday Night Fever" is on the level of classics that should never be remade, such as "Casablanca" or "The Godfather," but it falls in that category of films that are so iconic that to remake it would be to do injustice to its name. "Saturday Night Fever" is basically inseparable from the '70s, so please, please leave it be.


June 5, 2009

In the News: David Carradine

Alas, the "Grasshopper" has passed. Actor David Carradine, famous for his martial arts roles in a decades-long career in film, was found dead yesterday at the Nai Lert Park Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. He was due to have dinner with the crew from his new film, "Stretch," on Wednesday night, but failed to turn up for the meal. 72-year-old Carradine had been dead for at least twelve hours before he was found. When the police found him, they initially thought he had hanged himself, but it turns out that the "Kill Bill" star's death might be accidental...

People declaring the whole incident an "accident" include his manager, Chuck Binder, and members of his own family. At first, it seemed it was a suicide, but there was no note, and everyone insists he would never consider such a thing.

Most reports are now showing that Carradine's death was the result of autoerotic asphyxiation gone too far. A maid at his Bangkok hotel found him naked yesterday morning, hanging from the door of a wardrobe with a curtain cord around his neck and his privates. What a way to go, eh?

He is survived by his fifth wife, Annie, and two daughters. His dad, John, was a famous actor in classic Hollywood ("The Grapes of Wrath," for example). His brother, Bruce, and half-brothers, Robert and Academy-Award winner Keith (1975, Best Original Song), were also actors.

I will update this post if more information comes to the limelight, but for more information, including a passing comparison to the death of former INXS lead singer, Michael Hutchence, look here.

UPDATE: "People" has confirmed all of this. For more details about his happy stay (read: not suicidal) in Bangkok, go here.


May 29, 2009

Scene of the Day: Annie Hall

As of 1977, filmgoers had seen no less than ten years of Woody Allen's wacky comedies on film, but "Annie Hall" was probably the first time they saw his famously neurotic onscreen persona. In one scene of "Annie Hall," Allen (as Alvy Singer) complains to his friend, Rob (Tony Roberts), about the antisemitic comments he sometimes thinks he hears people mutter to him. Watch this hilarious scene with me now.


May 27, 2009

Random Musing: Pauline Kael/One-Minute Reviews

For some time now, I have been wanting to update my blog with a third sidebar. At first, about a year ago, I was intending to fill it with more advertisements, widgets, etc. However, at the end of this past January, during my independent study on film reviewing, I picked up "5001 Nights at the Movies" (for the Google Books version, click here) by former long-running "New Yorker" film critic, Pauline Kael. It changed a good number of things about the way I review. I was particularly impressed by Kael's (very) opinionated, sardonic writing style. Considering that I was studying my own writing and comparing it to the work of others, I found Kael far more "active" and unabashed in her criticism compared to the times I used to go "passive" in my reviews. She was a true critic, in every sense of the word, and she inspired me, though she has been deceased since 2001, to be a better critic. Therefore, yesterday I (with the invaluable help of Mr. Nathan Skky--to whom HUGE SPECIAL THANKS is due) added the third column, called "One-Minute Reviews," and I dedicate it to Ms. Pauline Kael, whose "5001 Nights at the Movies," culled from her writings for the "Goings on About Town" section of the "New Yorker," first introduced me to her and inspired me way back in January...

For those of you unfamiliar with "5001 Nights at the Movies," perhaps Kael's most famous anthology of her criticism, it collects shorter, more concise "write-up" reviews from her career. By "write-up," I essentially mean a review, of no more than a paragraph, that is intended for a sort of "what you should see" column. These "write-ups" can be read quickly, and Kael's best ones are those that economically summarize and criticize.

Fastforward to four days ago. I decided after seeing "Sordid Lives" that I wanted to make it my next full review, especially because of the ambivalent reviews floating around on the internet (though I loved it!), but I was having trouble making it work. I ultimately abandoned it. However, after seeing "A Place in the Sun" on Monday and seeing the overwhelmingly positive response to it (while mine was, at best, ambivalent), I decided I, as a responsible film critic, had to publish a review, as well as one for "Sordid Lives." Then, I remembered how much I had loved "5001 Nights at the Movies" and how it had ameliorated me as a film critic. I knew at that moment that I had to bring back to the blog my idea of a third column. I also knew that it would showcase what I would call "One-Minute Reviews," a collection of—well, you get the picture. But these would not be like my other reviews, just as Kael's reviews in "5001" are not like her others. These reviews would be critical, concise, and, above all, quick reads, in order to provide you, my dear reader, with more reviews and faster so you know just what to watch.

As a bonus, you will notice that if you click on any review in the accessible sidebar on the right column, you will be given the option, within the column, to also comment. Sounds easy? It is! Feel free to leave any feedback on the films reviewed, just as you do for the longer reviews!

Finally, just for kicks, I have noticed a certain coincidence for my blog. Its births and anniversaries all happen on the 26th of a given month: I created the blog on March 26, 2008, I officially debuted its new name (and celebrated its one-year anniversary) on March 26, 2009, and now, I have debuted the BRAND NEW third column with its "One-Minute Reviews" on May 26, 2009. I am proud to bring you them and hope to keep them frequently updated. Enjoy.

(NOTE: If you want to access the "One-Minute Reviews" alone, then feel free to go straight here. However, it is not necessary, as they are still entirely accessible on the main site.)


May 26, 2009

Scene of the Day: The Grapes of Wrath

The "scene of the day" comes from John Ford's 1940 masterpiece, "The Grapes of Wrath," a close adaptation of John Steinbeck's 1939 novel. When the Joads finally arrive in California and find their first Hooverville, a point-of-view tracking shot bleakly reveals the poverty and weariness surrounding them. This powerful shot, one of my favorites on film, has a documentary sensibility that seems to authenticate this cinematic story of the Great Depression. Watch it with me now.

NOTE: Unfortunately, I could not find a better clip on YouTube than the one I am posting. (The film is unavailable.) Watch this clip only from 2:08 to 2:16, and do not turn the sound on, please. I have not listened to this review, so I cannot say that it is my own opinion nor that I agree with it. I simply want you to get an image of the "scene of the day."


Song of the Day: I'll Never Fall in Love Again

"I'll Never Fall In Love Again" is a song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, originally written for the 1968 musical "Promises, Promises" and originally recorded as a pop song for Bacharach. Though not written specifically for a film, in 1999, the song re-appeared in "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" performed by Elvis Costello and Bacharach while Austin (Mike Myers) and secret agent Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham) dance on the sidewalk. For some reason, this tune just so happened to be stuck in my head, so I thought I would share it with you, my dear readers. Enjoy.


Quote of the Day: Pee-Wee's Big Adventure

"I know, you're right, but..." ~ Diane Salinger as Simone

"But what? Everyone I know has a big but. C'mon, Simone, let's talk about your big but." ~ Paul Reubens as childlike Pee-Wee Herman from Tim Burton's directorial debut, "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure"

*see it at the 8:04 mark*


May 23, 2009

Random Musing/Song of the Day: In the Deep

"In the Deep" is a touching song written and performed by Bird York, which appears in the 2005 Best Picture, "Crash," and which was nominated for the Oscar for "Best Original Song" (and unfortunately lost to the underdog "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from "Hustle and Flow"). Interestingly enough, Wikipedia informs me...

There was some question as to the song's eligibility, as it had appeared in the film "The Civilization of Maxwell Bright" as well as [Bird York's album] "The Velvet Hour," both of which were released before "Crash." However, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences determined that the song had been commissioned in 2001 or 2002 by "Crash" director Paul Haggis for use in the film, prior to its other uses; thus, it was eligible. This was likely a precedent for 2006 "Best Original Song" winner "Falling Slowly," which was also used in other media before the film it was commissioned for, "Once," was released.
This brings me to another interesting point: "Falling Slowly." Yes, I ranted about its ineligibility once, but I see how Bird York's eligibility (at least under the Academy's conditions) would serve as a "precedent." However, I now do not see "In the Deep" as eligible for "Best Original Song" because it, in fact, is apparently not as "original" as I thought. Even if Haggis had commissioned the song before its uses in other films and media, it still doesn't make the song any more "original" (read: first, new) three uses later. But oh, well.

Anyway, I did not post this song as "Song of the Day" in order to tear it to shreds, so I will leave you with it. Every time I hear it, I get chills because it is so haunting. York's hypnotic vocals and the mellow instruments in the background are enchanting and perfect for the scene in "Crash" in which they appear—the scene that unites everyone. Enjoy. (I was unable to embed this scene into my blog, but to watch it, simply click here).

UPDATE (5/23/09, 4:01 PM CST): I just received a kind note from the Webmaster of! (This is a first!) Here it is:
Ben -

Thank you for your lovely comments on Bird's song IN THE DEEP. While Wiki is not completely inaccurate - it isn't exactly completely accurate regarding the origins of the song and the eligibility, either. However, that's not really why I'm dropping this line.

Your comments regarding the effect of the song are eloquent and heartfelt, and much appreciated. Thank you for taking time to highlight her work in your blog. I'm going to pass it along to her, as I know how much it will mean that it's still out there making ripples and people care enough to pass it along.

Best Regards,
I think it is interesting that both of us, the Webmaster and I, find the song's Oscar appeal noteworthy, but, in the end, we still come back to the effect of the song itself: pure magic. "In the Deep" is truly one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard, and it continues to give me chills every time. Coupled with the footage from "Crash," it will certainly chill you (in a good way), too.


Quote of the Day: Airplane!

"Surely, you can't be serious!" ~ Robert Hays as Ted Striker

"I am serious... And don't call me 'Shirley.'" ~ Leslie Nielsen as Dr. Rumack in the hilarious disaster film spoof, "Airplane!"

*see it at the :09 mark*


Song of the Day: This Used to Be My Playground

For some reason, I was just thinking of this song. "This Used to Be My Playground," which plays over the closing credits of Penny Marshall's 1992 film, "A League of Their Own," is a beautiful song written by Madonna and Shep Pettibone and, notably, the song that introduced me, way back in the day, to Madonna, my favorite singer. (I have a lot of connection to this song besides Madonna, though.) I have a great deal of attachment to the film "A League of Their Own," in general, because a good portion of it was filmed in and around my childhood hometowns of Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky. Indeed, as Wikipedia notes:

Many game scenes were filmed at Bosse Field in Evansville, Indiana. It is the nation's third oldest ball park (and the oldest minor league ball park), and was depicted as the home of the Racine Belles. The Soaper-Esser house (built 1884-87) in which the women lived is located at 612 North Main Street in Henderson, Kentucky, and is on the historic register. The roadhouse scenes were filmed at the Hornville Tavern (2607 Baseline Rd.) in Evansville, Indiana.
Therefore, because of the nostalgic connection between my childhood and "A League of Their Own," I also have a sentimental attachment to "This Used to Be My Playground," which continues to give me chills when I listen to it.

Listen to it with me now. (I could not find the closing credits of "A League of Their Own" on YouTube, but I found Madonna's music video, which features clips from the film.)


May 20, 2009

Random Musing: Meeting Oscar

...John Ford's third, that is. Yesterday, at Indiana University's Lilly Library, I stood one foot from it. Only a glass barrier stood between me and it, this "golden boy." Before yesterday, I had never actually seen an Oscar in person. Can you believe it? For about four years now, I have been obsessed with the Oscars, stuffing my memory to capacity with its winners and nominees, and I have never once seen an Oscar in real life. But yesterday, I became blessed enough to see what this hunk of metal—the ambition of thousands of actors, directors, producers, and others—is really like. It is as beautiful in person, I promise you. It was so beautiful that I could not take my eyes off of it. It is a moment I will never forget...

In 1941, John Ford won his third "Best Director" Oscar for "How Green Was My Valley" (following 1935's "The Informer" and 1940's "The Grapes of Wrath"). Ford won one other "Best Director" Oscar for 1952's "The Quiet Man."

Indiana University's Lilly Library is also the home to John Ford's second "Best Director" Oscar, as well as many other Hollywood treasures (including Rita Hayword's makeup case and personal articles and drafts of original screenplays, including those of the Garbo vehicle, "Anna Christie" (1930), the first "Best Picture" Oscar-winner, "Wings" (1927), and the first American "talkie," "The Jazz Singer" (1927)).


Song of the Day: Into the West

A beautiful, touching song, "Into the West" was written by Fran Walsh, Howard Shore and Annie Lennox and sung by the latter, the former frontwoman of 80s pop/rock duo Eurythmics, over the closing credits of "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King." According to Wikipedia:

The song was conceived as a bittersweet Elvish lament sung by Galadriel for those who have sailed across the Sundering Sea. Several phrases from the song are taken from the last chapter of "The Return of the King." In the commentaries and documentaries accompanying the extended DVD edition of the movie, director Peter Jackson explains that the song was partially inspired by the premature death from cancer of young New Zealand filmmaker Cameron Duncan, whose work had impressed Jackson and his team. The first public performance of the song was at Duncan's funeral.
"Into the West" won the Oscar for "Best Original Song" in 2003, one of the record-tying eleven Oscars ("Ben-Hur," "Titanic") won by "The Return of the King." Instead of leaving you with a clip from the film's closing credits, I shall post Annie Lennox's performance from the 76th Academy Awards ceremony.

Watch it with me now.


May 19, 2009

Quote of the Day: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

"That doesn't make sense to me, but then, you are very small..." ~ John Rhys-Davies as confused Treebeard the Ent, an eternal shepherd of Fangorn Forest, in "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"

*find it at the 3:24 mark*


May 18, 2009

Random Musing: Anna Karenina (1935)

“Conducting” Anna’s Death: The Climactic Train Scene in “Anna Karenina” (1935)

Clarence Brown’s 1935 Hollywood adaptation of “Anna Karenina,” starring Greta Garbo, ignores the novelistic implications of Anna’s death by instating a new reason—as film scholar Irina Makoveeva indicates (pg. 56), “it is because of her unwillingness to free Vronsky the officer.” Anna’s death is, then, because of her attempt to defy patriarchal order. Therefore, as she watches Vronsky depart the train station for the Serbian War, she is wearing all black, a significant marker of death, hers being impending because of the “rules” of the “adultery myth” and because of her transgression against patriarchal order. In fact, it seems that in the way the train that takes Anna’s life is a force that is conducted, the train scene at the end of her life is also “conducted” by the score and sound effects (in conjunction with editing, framing, and performance). In essence, the tapping of the railway worker’s hammer puts him in control of the tempo of the music and the editing, so he is like the “conductor” of the cinematic “orchestra” leading to Anna’s demise. Thus, his role as the “musical conductor” fulfills the omen early in the novel (and film) that the railway worker’s death foreshadows Anna’s similar death. Basically, Anna’s “conducted” death, the film implies, is a result of forces far more powerful than her.

The climactic train scene takes place late one evening while Anna sits alone in the station, a small figure in the foreground while the omnipotent train stretches across the background. It is at this point that viewers recognize how insignificant Anna is in comparison to the huge train that will engineer her doom. Meanwhile, a railway worker taps the wheels and hitches of the train to check their soundness. Harp music plays non-diegetically, a sound that generally indicates something strange is “in the air.” In addition, it could be interpreted as “warming up” or “tuning,” as in the harps are preparing to begin the “orchestral movement” that will culminate abruptly with Anna’s impending death. The next shot is a medium one of Anna sitting expressionless listening to the hammering of the railway worker, which could be interpreted as the “conductor tapping his baton,” readying the “orchestra.” Anna’s eyes dash to the off-screen right, and viewers get a point-of-view shot as she studies the railway worker continuing his work on the train. The reaction shot is a medium-long shot of Anna still watching, her curiosity piqued. She slowly rises and walks towards the railway worker while a tracking shot follows her. In the score, the strings have been joined by trumpets, which have entered with steady quarter notes to signify the growing tension. The music begins to speed up as Anna goes to her mark on the platform. Another medium-long shot reveals the railway worker walking briskly around the train, continuing to tap the wheels and hitches, “keeping time,” while Anna looks down into the space between the two cars at which he had originally been standing. The next shot is a medium-close-up, point-of-view shot of that space—smoke billows out from under the car while the train whistles and the bell clings off-screen. The bell not only signifies the beginning of the train’s movement but also denotes the beginning of the next “musical movement” that will culminate with Anna’s demise. The next shot is of Anna peering down into the hole with her eyes betraying a look of desire. The music is continuing to speed up. From here, crosscutting reveals the train starting to move—a close-up shot shows the whistle going off again, and another close-up shows the train conductor’s hand moving. In fact, the conductor himself is basically anonymous—the conductor’s hand might as well be “the hand of fate” in action. The camera returns to a close-up of the train’s wheels continuing to move. The music is beginning to grow louder and louder as the wheels chug along, and the railway worker—the “conductor”—clanks steadily faster and faster off-screen, accelerating the tempo. The purpose of the speed is to underline how overwhelming and inescapable Anna’s fate is. The trumpets’ musical triplets, which, in effect, imitate the circular nature of the train wheels turning and, thus, the inevitability of Anna’s fate, are also growing louder in pitch and faster in tempo. Anna watches the wheels go around and around as the railway worker’s “conducting” makes the music and the crosscutting between the images of Anna and the wheels on the tracks grow ever faster. The music continues accelerating thanks to the tempo of the railway worker’s quickening hammering, and finally, a medium shot lingers on Anna as she suddenly leaps under the train in the off-screen right. The instruments in the score, especially the trumpets, sustain a screeching whole note during Anna’s leap—a sound that sustains the shock of the moment for audiences. Just as quickly as they built, the music and the rapid editing disappear immediately afterward, and the clanging ends abruptly with a different tone, as though the “conductor” has signaled the “orchestra” to stop with the sound of a dropped “baton” or “drumstick” (being that his hammer sounds more like that of a drummer’s stick than that of a baton, although the maestro uses a baton in his conduction). The scene concludes with the illuminated train chugging quietly into the night accompanied only by the sound of its whistle.

The tension built by the combination of music and sound effects (along with editing, framing, and performance) has done its job to see that Anna goes under the train to her fate. The railway worker, whose death foreshadows Anna’s death in Tolstoy’s novel, plays the role of “conductor,” ironically “conducting” the tempo of the score that will reflect the tension building until Anna’s death, just like a train conductor takes control of the train under which Anna’s life will be extinguished. In addition, everything about the train implies the idea of fate—for example, the anonymous hand of the conductor symbolizes “the hand of fate,” mapping the destiny of Anna the adulteress. Also, as the sound of the railway worker’s off-screen hammering “conducts” the tempo for the score, the repeated triplets of the trumpets reveal circularity much like the turning of wheels and indicate a propensity toward destiny. Therefore, the film’s score at the climactic train scene—a force greater than Anna, especially because it is external and off-screen—“orchestrates” the adulteress’ inevitable death.


May 17, 2009

Quote of the Day: Funny Girl

"Hello, gorgeous." ~ Barbra Streisand as endearing, effervescent comedienne Fanny Brice in "Funny Girl"

*see it at the :15 mark*

NOTE: This is the trailer to "Funny Girl," not the whole opening scene from the film. It was the best I could do.


May 16, 2009

Song of the Day: Tara's Theme

For some reason, I started humming this epic film theme in my head today, and it just would not go away. Indeed, Austrian composer Max Steiner's "Tara's Theme" from "Gone With the Wind" is perhaps one of the most memorable theme songs of all-time, and it is probably the most special to me. I do not know why, but every time I watch "Gone With the Wind" and hear this beautiful, sweeping melody, I get chills and tear up. Every time. The images behind the credits are definitely beautiful, but not without this tune. I could never explain why it is so beautiful—perhaps it is the gushing octave leaps of the violins, perhaps it is that soft horn in the background, or perhaps it is both. In any case, it touches something inside me. This one song is the doorway to a romantic, epic film that I love more than any other film I have ever seen.

Listen to it with me now.

(UPDATE: I watched it. I teared up and got chills, as usual. How many film themes affect you that way?)