Saturday, October 25, 2008

Good Dick Better Movie

Good Dick
. That's right, it's a movie. And why yes it is referring to what you're thinking. And erotica and sex play large roles in the film, but it is actually a down to earth tale of a troubled, sensitive boy who courts a damaged, defensive girl. Written, directed, and starring Marianna Palka, the film is a gem of the indie world right now. Her co-star, Jason Ritter, performs the caring and needy guy to a tee. And different from many twenty-something movies recently, this doesn't feel contrived or desperate to seek attention.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Martin Starr, of such fame as the Apatow clan provides - most notably as Bill Haverchuck in Freaks and Geeks and Martin (the friend who doesn't shave) in Knocked Up. He can do no wrong in my book, and this film allows him an angsty character with great lines and a bit more screen time than some of Apatow's recent fare provided. I would love to see him star in a film soon. Perhaps one more along the lines of Good Dick than Superbad. Other co-stars include Tom Arnold and Mark Webber, aka 'Designated Dave' of the 90s classic, Drive Me Crazy.

(Not laugh out loud) Humorous and touching, Palka wrote a story that really captured the troubles of vulnerability and relationships many have. Her character frequently rents erotica from CineFile, the video store where Jason Ritter's character works. As he grows smitten, he tracks her down and begins stalkerly befriending her. After much hesitation, she finally gives in and he ends up crashing on her couch and trying to start a relationship based on their mutual appreciation for the video genre. However, for an undisclosed reason, Palka's character keeps her guard up, refusing to admit any attraction or even acceptance of him, even though her willingness to let him stay says otherwise. The film follows the two as he tries to break her shell and she tries desperately to keep it in tact.

Taking place in pretty much 3 locations - video store, apartment, and car - the gritty, extremely low-budget feel of the movie goes along very well with the acting and sensibility of the message. Honest, stylized, and realistic, I would recommend this over the mumblecore genre of films advertised as "so real its almost not a movie," such as the most recent, Nights and Weekends.

There are a few awkward moments and Ritter's character could have used more development, but all in all, the film unfolds very naturally, as though observing people in their typical daily routines, learning about their pasts from the first to last scene. No extreme events or atypical fantastical moments can be found here. Instead it is a frank, at times abrasive film about relationships post baggage, love post hurt, and how twenty-somethings learn to stand on their own two feet.

Unlike other movies I have seen recently, this is a film that spoke to me in my current twenty-something student soon-to-be unemployed, romantically frustrated state.

It was released in the U.S. October 17, 2008 in limited release. So check your nearest indie theater, and get yourself some Good Dick.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Good Character Study or Puritan Warning?

Hounddog, the film "where Dakota Fanning gets raped," is definitely deserving of more press than its controversy. But how much I can't quite feel out.

In 1950s South, Lewellen (Fanning) plays a young girl who, poor enough not to wear shoes in nearly every scene, is obsessed with Elvis and sings his songs to forget her troubles. And troubles she has plenty. As things gradually get worse and her religious grandmother's reprimands seep into her head, her childish antics begin to haunt where they used to free her.

Co-starring Robin Wright Penn and Daivd Morse, the narrative is quite heavy and left me wondering exactly what the message was. Bad things happen to "sexually" curious and liberated young girls? You need to suffer physical abuse and torment to properly sing the blues? Most men have the "evil snake" in them somewhere? (note: snakes are a heavily over-used motif - Biblical referent, yes; Freudian phallus symbol, yes)

Whether it is all or just one of these themes, the film ends on an unfortunately conservative, borderline regressive tone- the little red riding hood of our time, with race relations and white hegemony added in as a bonus.

These faults aside, director Deborah Kampmeier presents a beautifully shot film, full of rich yellows and greens and well paced, that depicts an interesting character study on a young girl who's forced to grow up in torturing ways. Fanning delivers an impressive performance, and while the narrative takes a bit of a nose dive towards the end, it has more to offer than the controversy leads on.

The film underwent a trial in North Carolina during shooting over the rape scene, which could have also attributed to the extreme delay in its theatrical release. Two years after filming and Dakota Fanning's numerous interviews on the subject, the film came out September 19th. But many of you may not have known it because AMC pulled it out of all its theaters due solely to the already infamous scene.
Plus side of this controversy, some people will see an independent film they may not have otherwise seen, which is always a good thing in my book. However, for me and those I went with, the knowledge of the scene coded our viewing experience. Clearly most people in the theater were waiting for the scene to occur, and each time a new male character appeared on screen, a tension came upon us all: is this the culprit? Thus, when the scene did occur, it was so anticipated that the horror of it was certainly subdued. Will the controversy then draw people to the theater but weaken their reception? Time will tell I suppose.

Those of you who have seen it, I would love to know what you think of the film's message and how the rape scene plays out to you in the context of the film as a whole.

BTW. Bryce discusses the film in his blog, I'm Feeling so Blahg, and as he ponders, "the real question is what do we think of the dad?" Discuss.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Tina Fey is My Homegirl

I can't wait to vote for Barack Obama in November, but I will be severly disappointed to lose Tina Fey as Sarah Palin on SNL when she is not voted for VP. Did John McCain select a candidate that looked like Fey's doppleganger on purpose?

As tragic as that would (and seems to) be, I will hold back political rantings in exchange for some Tina Fey lovin'. McCain's running mate makes for great comedy for all us liberals in support of that 'gotcha media' that likes to interview our candidates.

Thus, in honor of my fav political satirist, all you hockey moms and Joe Six-packs, sit back, relax, and enjoy repeated entertainment of the SNL skits in all their glory. *Pew Pew! Wink!*

The best and saddest part of all these skits? That not much original material had to be written. Thank you Tina Fey for being so amazing, returning to your stomping ground, and providing a few more people with perspective.

P.S. 'cause i can't hold back all my rantin'... WTF GOP? And to people who think she is legit, for shame. it's a terrifying and embarassing time when a person so inexperienced and unprepared can be presented as a solid candidate for VP.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bromance and the 'Barely Were'

So I know I usually talk about movies, but after immersing myself into the world of Carrie Brownstein's NPR Music blog, Monitor Mix, I would like to spend a minute giving props to NPR and their music coverage.

I have been an on-and-off listener of Bob Boilen's amazing podcast, All Songs Considered, for some time and after Brownstein's appearances on the podcast, I checked her out.
In her entries, she refreshingly connects the music nerd/NPR nerd in her to her daily life and gets non-music buffs to feel welcome. Yes, she name drops like crazy, but her youthful approach is never condescending nor pedagogic.

In a blog, and perhaps in all criticsm, I'm not looking for a teacher, but an expert-of-a-friend to tell me what her/his experienced self thinks about a topic. Knowledge of the subject (and the reader's education) is inherent in the review. If you read her stuff you'll certainly see what I mean. She makes no apologies for her knowledge, dropping obscure or off-the-radar artists at will, yet brings all these references and reviews within a more general, approachable, topic such as iTunes Genius' effect on the playlist or what makes a good cover song.

Maybe for the true Rob Gordon's out there, her blog is not erudite enough, but for someone just delving into the world of music on a serious level, she's a great stepping stone.


And as a side note, I'd really like to push the aforementioned podcast, All Songs Considered, as well. Bob Boilen is a wealth of knowledge on music, and with guests, interviews, and fun topics, this soothing yet truly educational podcast is a great way to learn about new artists. Note- most of the music is of the indie-rock/folk/altrock/eclectic won't find much hip hop, pop, or country here.

Also, Rob Gordon is the fantastically neurotic and music-obsessed character John Cusack plays in High Fidelity.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Freshmen Seemed To Like It...
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

While watching Peter Sollett's sophomore release, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, I realized that the Me of five years ago would have loved this film. But alas, the present day version of myself is perhaps too jaded or is finally over the youthful fancy the high school romance genre once brought.

Even after living in New York for over a year now, I'm still excited when places I know and frequent are featured in films, so watching Michael Cera and Kat Dennings run around the East Village, Noho, and the Lower East Side in search of a drunk friend all the while falling for one another was definitely entertaining. But the film just was kind of "blah." It didn't leave me feeling anything in particular at all. Except the wish to be 16 again...almost.

Michael Cera offers his same old thing, but I didn't mind that. It was the directing choices and the story that fell a little flat for me. One slow-mo or dragged out scene of matching eyes is enough in a film, Sollet gave us at least three. Other directorial decisions were due to the rating of PG-13, but the "love scene" was really cheesy and almost unnecessary. Part of a random story-line tacked on in the middle of the plot, the scene is too quick, too predictable, and out of place for the story.

Additionally, as Allie C. pointed out, NYC is a character all its own in the film, and it could hinder the audience's connection with it. With lingo like "Bridge and Tunnel," Sollett stays true to his style we first saw in Raising Victor Vargas - a story of young people in NYC, as heavily connected to their environment as their real-life counterparts actually are.

Recently, this description has come up to describe the CW hit, Gossip Girl, in comparison to its counterpart- the revival of Beverly Hills: 90210. Unlike the latter, Gossip Girl is just as much about the city and its role in characters' lives as it is about the characters themselves. If it works for the show, could Sollett's film reach out to the mid-west too? Doubt it. If it looked more like the fashion magazines, probably. But instead, it refreshingly presents a downtown NYC. One without designer labels.

Just one quick note on the music, which seems appropriate given the title is about a playlist. The musical score is done by Mark Mothersbaugh, co-founder of Devo and the man behind the music of numerous films and television shows, most notably Wes Anderson's oeuvre. His work is incredible, and while the music highlighted in Nick and Norah is that of bands and mix CDs that bond the characters and jump start the plot, Mothersbaugh's music is a great accompaniment and pleasure to listen to throughout.

All in all, its a cute premise, and has a good cast of younger actors - the oldest main character is 29, most are under 24. There are conventions in the teen romance it certainly bends and plays with, but overall, its wanting. I think more than anything, its wanting a pre-teen audience.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tarsem Singh... overwhelmingly underappreciated.

Tarsem Singh, the writer/ director/ producer of The Fall, and previous director of The Cell, may finally have made a film that audiences will react to warmly. In 2000, his first film included Jennifer Lopez as a child therapist who, through unbelievable technologies, helps her patients (in comas) by transporting herself into their subconscious. Then, the fabulous Vincent D'Onofrio , enters as a serial killer who is the only one who knows where his next victim is. The catch? He's in a coma. The rest falls into place. While the story seems pretty ridiculous, and Jennifer Lopez can't be expected to do much spectacular work on screen, the film is outright gorgeous! And the imaginative landscapes of a serial killer's subconscious is extremely well crafted. But alas, it didn't fair too well in the long run. The most credit it gets now is stunning sets and makeup. Which, I'll be the first to agree, are its strong points.

But just this spring, Singh's new film, which he made under just "Tarsem," was released. This time, the story is one more audiences will enjoy and one most audiences need see. The Fall is a "Wizard of Oz-esque" story, with characters from reality blending into the fictional tale Lee Pace's character tells Catinca Untaru's Alexandria in a 1920s Hollywood hospital. With a more family-friendly narrative and an amazing new young actress in Untaru, Tarsem was able to present a more approachable film while still presenting his audiences with his signature vast deserts, bold colors, and surreal sets. The narrative is an interesting one, that unfolds a little shakily through the "real world" and the "story world." But if you are like me, Tarsem's appeal is first and foremost with the image on screen.

These gaps in the narrative some have complained about I would argue for the most part, are completely satisfactory due to the narrative as seen mainly through the eyes of an eight-ear old girl who is not priviledged to know all the details or understand them when overheard. Furthermore, Lee Pace's character's story is uncovered a lot within the fictional world he creates for his young friend. Thus, details change as the story unfolds. This technique is fantastic for realizing how variable and imagined it all is to the young girl, while simultaneously engaging with the man's turmoils in the hospital and his personal battles he tries to keep to himself as long as possible.

Personally, I would've liked to see the darker side of the characters earlier on, but that aside, this was one of those film-going experiences that make you wonder why films like this are not the blockbusters pulling audiences from all walks of life to see them? These lovely art-house films are a treat to see, and certainly an artistic refreshment in comparison to the industrial product of Hollywood (which has its worth as well). But I would have to agree that when I saw this about a month ago, it was definitely one of the best films I had seen all year.

pixar saves our youth from existential meltdown

my childhood relationship with film consists mainly of memories of disney animated films, with some star wars, batman, and wizard of oz mixed in, but for the most part, its safe to say most young adults these days are working off a youth filled with disney princesses, songs of love to come, and princes saving the rescue.
I know, its been said a million times over how problematic the fiction revolving around valiant princes and damsels in distress can be.

(If you aren't familiar- these stories promote the image of the helpless, thin, attractive, young woman who can do nothing but wait for a man to save her and close the drama of her existence with a kiss and marriage; meanwhile, men are given the sporty, heroic, strapping, young, handsome man whose sole purpose in life is to rule other people and save women who can't help themselves.... of course, its more complicated than this, but i digress)

BUT with the opening of WALL-E this past weekend and all the talk of PIXAR flooding the media, it dawned on me that perhaps one of the reasons this company is so great for children (and adults) today is their offering of animated films that focus our attention on issues perhaps more urgent, more age-appropriate (?), or dare I say, less psyche-damaging than the constant barrage of love stories and fantasies that have historically worked along side romantic comedies for ages, pushing the idea that a woman's troubles are all solved by a man and a marriage.
So, in this brief entry, I just want to say thank you to PIXAR for kicking Disney's ass.

This, of course, is not to say that I love some Little Mermaid from time to time.

Monday, May 26, 2008

can't non-European ancient civilizations just be smart without the help of aliens?!

so. the fourth installment of indiana jones. The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (aka- an amalgam of ancient meso and south american civilazations that us Americans don't care to be accurate about!) communist russians, led by cate blanchett, who of course does a good job, but is nonetheless in an awkward role. its ridiculous that indy can't possibly fight just some random assholes, the films always have some political undertone thats never explored. and whats more, the political tension between the states and the soviet union isn't enough any more. Spielberg and Lucas needed to add the Maya, the Inca, and others to the list of misconstrued and poorly explored socio-historical foundations to their film.
The film follows Indy, his illegitimate son, and his ex-girlfriend on a fight contre the russians for the crystal skulls of the maya in peru, the land of the inca. while the story is a bit ridiculous and the film doesn't compare to the originals, it was still a fun summer film to see. until...
Aliens HAD to be involved. Its bad enough that Spielberg and Lucas couldn't allow this mystery civilization (Maya/Inca/Teotihuacan) credit for being amazingly culturally and technologically advanced for their time. instead, aliens taught them everything, giving them a leg up to other ancient civilizations. But beyond this, the end had to be one big CGI effect of cheesiness when the aliens leave in their spaceship.

While I appreciate the amazing technological advancements of CGI and what it has allowed films to become, Spielberg and Lucas take it too far. With all their funds and creativity of ole, their films could be much more fun and less ridiculous with some good old fashioned anamatronics and hand-crafted props. then, perhaps the stories wouldn't end with cop-outs like flying alien spaceships.

all in all, its a fun, mindless summer film, but its taints the name of indiana jones. i will admit, if they make another indy flick, ill probably go, but ill go to matinee showing after its been in theaters awhile. Just like you all should do with this one.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

NY cream, Southern dreams...

Wong Kar Wai's new film, My Blueberry Nights, deserves much more credit than most critics seem to give. I agree the shots through the glass were a little excessive, and the narrative is not the most interesting and complex plot, but if you like his previous work, this film is definitely worth a peek.

It follows Norah Jones, an interesting choice, as her character, Elizabeth, travels the states to get over a man. In very Wong Kar Wai fashion, the narrative is broken into multiple smaller narratives, New York/Nashville/Vegas. There was not enough of the frame-narrative in New York if you ask me, but perhaps its my hopelessly romantic side wanting Jude Law to kiss the "cream" off Norah Jones' face over a countertop just one more time.

Yes, "cream," as it is narratively ice cream, but bodily cream is a valid alternative. Perhaps the semen reference is going too far, but the repeated extreme close up of the melted ice cream flowing over blueberry pie juxtaposed with their sexual tension begs for such an interpretation.

But alas, the pie doesn't continue much visually throughout the other narratives. Elizabeth as waitress and evolving-woman are what do remain constant, although her growth is not very noticeable until she bluntly discusses it at the end of the film. Her innocence, rather, still punctures all of her scenes, and hinders her "growth through experience" that seems to be the point of her story.

If you're anything like me though, the narrative is not necessarily the main reason you go to a Wong Kar Wai film. The first appeal, rather, is the visual techniques and manipulation of time and space. And this is abundant, dare I say overly so... if there is such a thing in one of his films.
For me the biggest adjustment though, and perhaps hurdle, to viewing the film was the absence of subtitles. My experience with his films has always included the translation through subtitles and the separation from the narrative inherently attached to the reading of dialogue. His other films are more stimulating thematically, narratively, and visually, but I wonder if it is this ability to immerse oneself in the narrative more easily than his other work, that drove me to see faults much more quickly or make them appear worse than they otherwise would have. Also, of his work, this is the first I have seen which focuses on women. Combined with the foreign environment of the United States, the film seems to be more a first draft of what he is capable.

I commend him for testing the waters of English-language cinema, female protagonists, and U.S. environments, and while I think the helpless romantic and lovelorn male characters work much better for him , along with the globalization undercurrent depicted through the environment of Hong Kong and his usage of numerous languages, My Blueberry Nights is a decent attempt to go beyond this repertoire, and maybe his next try will be more appealing to the non-die hard Kar Wai fans.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Goudal's Hallucinations, Discuss!

Welcome to my debut! Or as they pronounce it on Degrassi, my day-boo!

The French film theorist Jean Goudal once referenced images in cinema to conscious hallucinations. I couldn't help but gravitate toward this phrase, as I do many quotations and thoughts within writing. This time, I must say, it was refreshing to hear someone describe cinema in a context other than the picture versus window scenario, as useful as that may be. This description hints at both the frame and the window, both fiction and reality, both the conscious and subconscious, which says much more than a simple dichotomy could ever imagine.

With this phrase as my jumping off point, I hope to investigate films and various media with a multifaceted perspective. Through my interests in identity politics and cultural studies along with film theory, history, and criticism, this blog aims to be more than simple movie reviews, but rather an analysis of the art form and its cultural and ideological significances. Enjoy!

"Neither a pea, nor a nut":
My Blueberry Nights
Killer of Sheep
Wristcutters: A Love Story