truce.

December 28, 2008 at 6:11 am (Uncategorized)

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i know when i’m wanted, i’ll leave if you ask me to

mind my own business and speak when i’m spoken to

i am the tower around which you orbited

i am not proud i am just taking orders, i

fall to the ground within hours of impact, i

hit back when hit and attacked

and i am an accident waiting to happen

i’m laughing like mad as you strangle the captain

my place may be taken – but make NO mistake

from a little black box we can say without shame that you’ve lost

do you know what you’ve lost?

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Fincher, 2008)

December 26, 2008 at 8:53 pm (Uncategorized)

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I’ve been trying to settle on a rating since I saw it last night. I loved it, but I feel it is flawed. I think my major problem is that Benjamin is such a passive character and he never really shows outward emotion despite experiencing so much death, war, loss of love, birth, pain, joy, ect. It’s already hard to relate to him based on his “unusual circumstances.” Both the way the character is written and the way he’s performed put him at an even further distance from the audience. It becomes much more of Daisy’s story by the third act, even with Benjamin’s voice-over narration. I felt like the development of Benjamin’s character was really lacking especially considering the amount of time given.

Despite that, the film worked for me on every other level. I loved the whole supporting cast, and most of the characters feel fully realized even with limited screentime. Blanchett is the real star here, but Taraji P. Henson and Tilda Swinton are fantastic as well. The film is beautifully constructed – the camerawork, lighting, costume design, sets, all fantastic. Alexandre Desplat’s score seems the surefire winner at the Oscars and of course the makeup work will win, very impressive. The shot where the sun comes up and illuminates Jason Flemyng’s aged face shows how much detail and accuracy the makeup acheived. I thought the digital aging looked great too, it never looked awkward or creepy.

I really like long films like this that give their characters and themes time to breathe. The structure really worked for me, including the framing device with Daisy and the diary, as well as the bookends about the clock that went backwards (the story about the clockmaker at the beginning is incredible). The ending was bittersweet, to me, not just depressing, but done in such a way that is poignant and has a lingering effect. The screenplay also has a lot of unexpected humor – the running gag with the lightning is hilarious. It really has all the elements to make a timeless film… if only Benjamin was a more strongly developed character, it would be pretty much perfect.

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It’s Christmas Eve…

December 24, 2008 at 11:42 pm (Uncategorized)

and we all know what that means:

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It’s A Christmas Story time! I love this movie, seen it countless times. “It’s a major award.”

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Little Women (Armstrong, 1994)

December 23, 2008 at 9:50 pm (Uncategorized)

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This is one of my all-time favorite movies and I love to watch it every year around Christmas. Though it spans many seasons and years, one of the best segments takes place at Christmas, and seeing the March house covered in snow is absolutely beautiful. I admit that my fondness for this film is colored with nostalgia, since I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember, but it’s a warm, beautifully acted delight in its own right. It’s one of those films that just lets its characters live and discover themselves through love, death, creative growth, birth, and all the little everyday experiences that shape who we are. The emphasis is on family and sisterhood, understandably because the March family is made up of four sisters (Amy, Jo, Beth, and Meg) and their mother, Marmee, while their father is away fighting in the Civil War. One of the things that really draws me to this type of the movie is the yearning for a simpler life. While all these girls face trials and hardships and social prejudices, they have the room to flourish and refine themselves without all the stress and pressure of life today. Their relationships – familial, platonic, and romantic alike – can develop naturally and at a slow, steady pace. The film itself has this kind of pace, carefully letting us get to know each of the sisters and their individual personalities. The focus of the film is Jo, played by Winona Ryder, a hotheaded, passionate young writer who needs to break away from home and see more of the world in order to become the woman and the artist she needs to be.

Growing up, I never understood why Jo turns down her best male friend, Teddy’s, marriage proposal. For one thing, Teddy, as played by Christian Bale, is about the most perfect boy I could imagine. The two have wonderful chemistry and he’s incredibly charming and kind to her. But now I understand her need to leave that life behind and seek out new experiences elsewhere, no matter how much she loves her life in Concord. Jo is a character that I can almost painfully relate to. Her feelings of inadequacy and her yearning to be recognized for her talent strike a real chord within me. “In my family, there’s much of an emphasis on perfecting one’s self. I’m hopelessly flawed,” she says to her eventual lover, a German philosophy professor who provides her sexual awakening and opens her eyes to her own potential. Each of the characters is flawed, yet they have incredible moral fiber and courage. Marmee is a beacon of virtue, insisting that her daughters be educated, cultured, and self-respecting. It borders on unrealistic at times, but I also think it’s the kind of film young women need. It carries the message that a woman’s real worth is not in her beauty or her charm, but in her imagination, her intellect, her charity, and her expressions of love and creativity.

Little Women could be said to have a rather feminist bent, but it treats its male characters with equal respect. One thing I always found curious, though, is how the father is all but absent. He survives the war and comes home but disappears from the story after that. The other male characters are given a lot of room to assert their personalities and Teddy especially is given just as much attention as any of the sisters. It’s rather odd, then, that the father has no say in any of the life-changing events that occur after his return, and I just don’t see any explanation for it. My only other quibble would be the actress who plays Amy in the last third of the film, Samantha Mathis. Kirsten Dunst is fiesty and fantastic as young Amy, and the older version doesn’t even seem to be playing the same character. All the attitude is gone, and she’s stiff, not fitting in with the rest of the cast, looking beautiful and boring. It’s a shame because the rest of the cast is amazing and really feels like a family that has known each other forever.

This is quite a lovely film as well. It evokes Civil War-era Massachusetts with warmth and detail, paying attention to the changing of the seasons, and the lovely natural lighting. Colleen Atwood is one of my favorite costume designers and her work here is refined and subtly beautiful. Thomas Newman’s musical score is very underrated, but has become iconic to me over time. This film is all about the performances though, which bring the many characters to sparkling life, and draw you in to watch their lives unfold. A true gem.

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Vampyr (Dreyer, 1932)

December 22, 2008 at 9:14 pm (Uncategorized)

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A singular vision of nightmarish atmosphere, the influence of this early horror film can be seen in almost all strange, gothic terrors to follow, from Eraserhead to Sleepy Hollow. It’s not concerned with narrative, but with creating a mounting sense of dread and unease through shadows, silhouettes, rolling fogs and a dramatic musical score. In its short running time it gets deep under your skin and stays there. Not the kind of film I could fall in love with, but a curious oddity, astounding in the detailed way it creates such a full, frightening film-world, and well worth seeing to understand the way it shaped so much that came after.

I actually see some of its influence in the book I’m reading now…

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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (illustrations by Dave McKean). I really love it and keep picturing it in my head as a movie. It’s very cinematic. The characters just jump off the page and Gaiman has this wonderful ability to create fantasy worlds that show their influence but don’t seem derivative. His “children’s books” are delightfully scary, often moreso than his adult stuff because they’re told from the perspective of the kids. I love his imagery and McKean’s drawings supplement the story so well. A great read so far. I can’t wait to see where it goes.

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Milk (Van Sant, 2008)

December 20, 2008 at 8:18 pm (Uncategorized)

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Gus Van Sant’s warm, inspirational biopic of slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk suffers from a weak script, but is elevated by exceptional performances from Sean Penn as Milk and Josh Brolin as Dan White, the eventual assassin. By avoiding conventional tactics for telling a biographical narrative, Van Sant sets his film apart from the masses, yet also gives it a fundamental weakness. For even though Milk is in nearly every frame, the focus on his public life, disregard for his past, and shallow development of his romantic relationships leave us feeling as if  we haven’t learned much about the man, even as we’ve fallen in love with him. It’s obvious that Milk was a heroic figure, but the film barely touches on the flaws and shortcomings that made him human. There are numerous occasions where on provocative detail about Milk’s character – such as his insistence on his friends coming out to their parents, while he never did the same – is mentioned only to be discarded. We also don’t know exactly what drives Milk to let his personal relationships fail and put his life in danger for a cause that seems unimportant to him when he first arrives in San Fransisco. His drive and the tragedies of his relationships are barely explored, and both these issues could have been solved together with one revealing scene between him and the love of his life, Scott, revealing important details about both characters and deepening the bond between them for greater emotional impact.

Instead what we get is Scott, played well by James Franco, reduced to the role of “jilted wife,” and falling into the kind of biopic stereotype Van Sant clearly wishes to avoid. There is chemistry between the two actors, and they look great together, but their relationship never progresses beyond a surface level. This is a problem because even after the romantic relationship dissolves, Scott remains a part of the story, and it is implied that they still love and need each other, but Harvey has chosen his cause over his personal life. When Diego Luna  saunters in as some kind of insane, ditzy and flamboyant new “Mrs. Milk,” Harvey’s personal feelings become even more obscured. The disastrous events at the end of the film lose some of their impact because we can’t understand Harvey’s motivations on a deeper level than what can be assumed (he is fighting and sacrificing because he believes it will help people). This certainly works on an inspirational level, but as a character study, leaves something to be desired.

Interestingly, White has much less screentime, but his motivations emerge more clearly. Brolin’s performance is intense and communicates so much without ever articulating anything directly. White was a troubled man, caught in a time of great change with nothing to hang on to, confused by the kindness shown to him by the kind of person he has spent his whole life blindly resenting. White functions as a symbol for people who find their entire worldviews challenged by getting to know the people they have inherited prejudices against through religion or culture. Yet he sets himself apart as a singular character, and arouses both sympathy and disgust from a discerning viewer. The scenes between White and Milk are the best in the film – complex, heartbreaking, beautifully shot and framed. Their relationship is far more interesting than the ones that create the rift between them. The penultimate assassination scene is incredibly tense in its inevitability. Both Brolin and Penn deserve accolades for their work here, and they bring out the best in each other as actors.

The film functions really well as a portrait of a movement and its release could not have better timing. Although I’m 100% behind the agenda it pushes, I feel like it’s a little too aware of the agenda and its importance and sacrifices cinematic interest to get its message across. It works more as a propaganda piece for the gay civil rights movement than a character study of Harvey Milk. I’m not sure this is necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t think it does the real Milk – or Penn’s performance – the justice he deserves.

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Top Twenty Female Characters

December 16, 2008 at 5:53 am (Uncategorized)

In no order, really.

Holly Hunter as Ada McGrath – The Piano (Jane Campion, 1993)

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As a mute piano player, Hunter gives a fearless, bare performance that leaves a huge impression.

Julie Christie as Constance Miller – McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)

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A hotheaded but practical madam with a quirky charm and a hidden tenderness.

Moira Shearer as Victoria Page – The Red Shoes (Powell & Pressburger, 1948)

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The best redhead evar, and a triumph of emotional clarity as well as physical expressiveness.

Louise Brooks as Lulu – Pandora’s Box (George Wilhelm Pabst, 1929)

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Lulu’s sexual energy and doomed romances make her fascinating to watch.

Irene Jacob as Veronique/Weronika – The Double Life of Veronique (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1991)

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Absolutely luminous, Veronique and her double are this film.

Ellen Burstyn as Sara Goldfarb – Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)

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Sara’s descent into addiction is physically shocking and absolutely harrowing to watch.

Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker – Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967)

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Flighty but strong, lovely and tragic, one half of one of the best screen couples in history.

Kate Winslet as Clementine Kruczynski – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)

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Hard to like, impossible not to love.

Princess Nausicaa – Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Hayao Miyazaki – 1984)

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Nausicaa is sort of a fantasy-hippie; a warrior princess with a deep respect for the earth and all its creatures.

Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond – Sunset Blvd. (Billy Wilder, 1950)

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Deranged and lost in the past, Norma descends into madness and vanity after an affair with a younger man goes sour.

Vivien Leigh as Scarlet O’Hara – Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)

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Willful and stubborn to a fault, Scarlet is a survivor, and a ravishing beauty.

Q’orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas – The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005)

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Both grounded and a dreamer at heart, Pocahontas’s personal journey of love and self-discovery is compelling and revealing.

Belle – Beauty and the Beast (Trousdale & Wise, 1991)

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Smart, fiercely independent dreamer who refuses to bend to society’s expectations.

Diane Keaton as Annie Hall – Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)

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Mixes ditzy and nerdy charm into one iconic Manhattanite.

Bibi Andersson as Alma – Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)

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Gives one of the sexiest monologues in film history – and the rest of her time onscreen isn’t bad either.

Kirsten Dunst as Claudia – Interview with the Vampire (Neil Jordan, 1994)

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A frightening, emotionally mature portrayal of a girl who never ages.

Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson – Fargo (Joel & Ethan Cohen, 1996)

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A hugely pregnant police chief with a hilariously positive attitude in the worst circumstances.

Genevieve Bujold as Claire Niveau – Dead Ringers (David Cronenberg, 1988)

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Takes a somewhat disposable role and makes it disturbing, unforgettable, and complex.

Audrey Tautou as Amelie – Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)

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Her optimism and creativity are infectious.

Marilyn Monroe as Sugar – Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)

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The sexiest, most charming blonde bimbo ever.

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Rachel Getting Married (Demme, 2008)

December 9, 2008 at 5:27 am (Uncategorized)

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I saw this film right after Thanksgiving, which probably greatly colored my viewing. Even a few weeks later I haven’t been able to shake it from my mind, even though I had a difficult time watching it and wasn’t sure at first how much I liked it. Coming out of the theater I was assured of a few things: that Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie Dewitt, and Bill Irwin all deserve awards for their brave, vulnerable, beautifully nuanced performances; that I felt emotionally worn out and exposed; and that the shaky-cam drove me crazy. I still feel like this is a triumph of content over form and that the choice to use a handheld camera detracts from the quality and distracts from the gripping drama between characters. Still, when the drama is so honest and engrossing, it’s easy to forgive. This is really one of the very best family dramas I’ve seen, and probably the best wedding movie.

It starts with Kym, the black sheep in her family, being released from rehab for the weekend to go home for her sister’s wedding. Her father and stepmother pick her up, and it’s immediately obvious that Kym is the kind of volatile personality who provokes strong reactions without even meaning to because she lacks a filter for her speech. She’s remarkably self-absorbed, but not without understanding of the effect she has on her family. It’s a very accurate portrayal of an addictive personality, and though she is sober when the films take place, it’s easy to see all of her triggers, neuroses, and regrets laid bare by Hathaway’s fearless performance. Her relationships with her sister, who is a stable, intelligent young woman struggling to move away from her own demons to start a new life, and her father, who desperately loves Kym and is deeply concerned about her well-being, are particularly complex. Very slowly, gifted screenwriter Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sindey Lumet) lets you get a feel for the rift Kym has created in her family, and the tragic event that devastated them all. The scene where Hathaway recounts this event is riveting and wrenching, absolutely unforgettable.

That isn’t to say that Rachel Getting Married is entirely a downer, however. I was surprised by the amount of love and warmth that radiates from these characters, especially Rachel’s fiance Sidney (I’m sure the name is no coincidence). Tunde Adebimpe is not particularly memorable in the role, but his character functions more as a symbol of the hope and love that await the family, not just Rachel, if they can accept their tragedies and failings and move on. The wedding itself is a beautiful, multicultural celebration, the complete opposite of the materialistic bonanzas in films like Sex and the City or the upcoming Bride Wars (also, bafflingly, starring Hathaway). The party aspect of the wedding is still present, but its emphasis is on bringing family and friends together, healing old wounds, and  starting afresh. I wanted to go. As trying as it was to experience this family’s pain for 2 hours, I felt as if I knew them intimately by the end, and I didn’t want to leave. That’s the mark of a truly great movie – it sticks with you and draws you back into its universe when you least expect it. In such a barren year for movies, Rachel Getting Married is a revelation, and a hugely triumphant comeback for Demme.

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Hello world!

December 9, 2008 at 4:15 am (Uncategorized)

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So, this is my blog! I’ll be writing about movies of course and probably some literature on the side.

Upcoming reviews:

Wonder Boys (Curtis Hanson, 2000)

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)

The French Lieutenant’s Woman (Karel Reisz, 1981)

Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, 2008)

Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983)

The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)

Pandora’s Box (Georg Wilhelm Pabst, 1929)

Cleo from 5 to 7 (Agnes Varda, 1962)

And more! Enjoy 🙂

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