Saturday, August 15, 2015

Milk Milk Lemonade: The Church of Schumer

Schumer is god.
Ms. Schumer is a breath of fresh air. In a society that has become overloaded with young girls well late 20's - early 30's that take themselves wayyyy too seriously (talking to you, Gerwig and Dunham), it's refreshing to see a woman on TV who is totally blunt, completely unapologetic and viciously fearless. Her medium of choice is comedy and currently rules the landscape. The shooting in in Lafayette during her film Trainwreck showed us a very serious side of the comedy icon, when she allied with her uncle, Senator Chuck Schumer to take a stand against gun violence and the second amendment which just goes to show how incredible of a person that she is. 
But I'd like to talk about Schumer the comic if I may. We were first introduced to her as the sweet-looking, baby-doll dress wearing comic on every deus at a Comedy Central Roast who shocked everyone considering she looked so sweet, but what subsequently would come out of her mouth was the best foul comedy we've heard in years. During her meteoric rise, she has shut down critics and haters, saying 'I'm 160 pounds and I can catch a dick whenever I want', and acknowledging that yes it's hard for female comics, I mean duhhhh. It's a man's world, but she has machete'd the status quo with her brazen material to show that she's just as good if not better in her outrageousness. She's almost like the female Chris Farley. She came out of the box with the whole 'I own this' attitude, and not afraid of anything or any body.
Never afraid to say what we're all thinking.
What I particularly love about her is that she's not one-note. Usually people that do sketch  comedy aren't great at stand up, or the other way around. She's been able to nail both with her show Inside Amy Schumer (great pun bdtubs) as well as her stand-up special 'Cutting'. She's not afraid to be self-effacing either. This is usually a cop-out, but it works brilliantly for her; 'you'd sleep with me, but you wouldn't blog about it'. Bless her. She is also tackling some serious issues that women face today. Her 'Girl You Don't Need Make Up' song sketch is a brilliant satire of the whole 'you're beautiful just the way you long as you're still conventionally beautiful' sentiment that seems so popular right now. When you're watching comedy and your first thought is 'I can't believe they're showing this on television' that's always a good sign. There are no limits with her. The whole 'you can't say that on television' has dissipated. I still remember when Jimmy Fallon asked her; 'what is your opinion on teeth?' and her response without even thinking about it was; 'I've been told to use less' The world would never be the same. She's brought her male comic counterparts to tears, showing that she's in fact not only just as good but superior.
From one of her funniest sketches about feminism.
In a society where women are really extreme in either being overly glamorized like Miley Cyrus to completely anti-glamour protest like Lena Dunham, Schumer has bulldozed those ideals and leveled the playing field. She comes out in heels and a designer dress and makes fun of the fact that we have to wear 'stilts' as she calls them and 'string in between our butt cheeks' to catch the attention of the opposite sex. She honestly doesn't give a shit, and that's very refreshing. Not only that, she's just really very funny. Genuinely so, because she does what she wants, on her own terms, and has turned the comedy cannon on its head. It's no longer the boy's club. She's proven that women can be just as provocative, incendiary, and shocking without getting on a soap box about it. 
Not afraid to make fun of her vices.
Her rise has been based on her ability to be classy while acting ridiculously, and being crass but smart. She's a highly intelligent individual who has honed her particular comedic ability into brilliance. She's created her own comedy cannon, and shows no signs of calming down any time soon. She doesn't show any signs of slowing down or calming down any time soon and her career is blossoming. She has become a mouth piece for all of us girls who have things that they are too afraid to say out loud, in all respects, and that takes some serious balls. For that, and for everything else, I bow down at the alter of Schumer. 

Below, some of my favorite Schumer moments and sketches. 

'This is what you think is hot?'

'These are just metaphors girl, but they are about your face'

Is Schumer a feminist? Absolutely. She points out the hypocrisies on both sides 

Amy on Jon Stewart. 

Body-image issues are something she tackles brilliantly in her comedy.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

We Only Said Goodbye With Words

Amy in her element, beautiful and in charge. 
Last week, I went to see the much talked about documentary on the recently departed Amy Winehouse, simply titled AMY. Directed by esteemed documentarian Asif Kapadia, I was really hesitant and also extremely excited. To tell a story like Amy's is something usually reserved for a VH1 Behind the Music special. But with docs taking center stage of late and Kurt Cobain: A Montage of Heck being hailed as one of the best retrospectives on the icon ever, I was optimistic that it would be more than just the rise and fall of a shooting star that gave us so much and left us too soon. 
I didn't want the cheap force-crying tricks that come with documenting a story of a troubled yet vastly talented public figure whom we uncover as having a self-destructive streak peppered with personal demons blah blah blah...blah. No, it's not that at all. Kapadia painted a portrait of Amy as something more than just a girl gifted from the universe with one of the most unique voices and a self-destructive streak that rivals Cobain's. This was a new breed of documentary. It was simply put, the story of one's life, it just so happens that it was tragic story, and the life was that of a public figure. I don't remember the last time I cried at a movie much less cried throughout, and I'm not exaggerating. Every time Amy sang in archival footage I was bawling to the point where people around me were side-eyeing me to death. I didn't care. I was hit right in the gut with this one. 

Younger and healthier Amy, always writing, always making music. 
There are two ways to tell Amy's story; both of them cop outs. Amy the singer or Amy the addict. This was neither of these. Of course you can't have a documentary without either of those elements, but more than anything else, this was Amy the girl. And though it was told through many people close to her; her manager, her father (the scumbag), her ex-husband (the even bigger scumbag), her best friend, and others as well as through her own words, the most powerful way her story is told is through her songs. We all bought 'Back to Black' upon release in 2007, but hearing those very familiar songs again in this context was a flooring experience. I don't think I'll ever be able to listen to the album the same way again. 

Amy with then-husband Blake Fielder-Civil, whom many blame for Amy's rapid deterioration. I don't disagree, there were a lot of people that were not only bad influences but were leeches basically in her life, and he was definitely predominantly the worst one.  
I did some research (well, barely the minimum on Google) but turns out, just a month into the film's release, it's already one of the most successful documentaries ever released, it's almost hit the mark that An Inconvenient Truth is at, and it's no surprise. Here's the thing, and this is why I keep comparing her to Cobain (who also recently had a doc that came out about him). She was incredibly public. Her ups and downs (mostly downs) were splattered across front pages like we've never seen. Second to Britney Spears she was probably followed, chased, and photographed more than anyone else. We saw her with her eye make up smeared all over her face, with blood on her neck, with torn up shoes, we even saw her with drugs in her hands, and we always saw her drink. This was someone not trying to conceal anything, and yet this was someone who (as the documentary says) was trying to disappear. And we wouldn't let her. 
It's one of those 'we all know what happens in the end' films, but who cares? Like anything else, we still crave answers as to why, and the beauty of this documentary is that it doesn't give you answers. It gives you the circumstances and lets you figure it out for your damn self, because it treats you like a smart person who can put shit together on their own. 

Beautiful portrait of Amy utilized for marketing of the documentary.
We all knew where we were July 23rd, 2011 (I was in an Apple store getting my phone screen fixed jebus), and it's not like the world would never be the same after that. We kind of all expected it. Amy was a time-bomb. It wasn't a crushing blow like the death of Robin Williams, or even Whitney Houston. We don't want to admit it but during her life, we all kind of thought; well someone that is THAT self-destructive is not going to last long and she didn't publicly show any signs of getting better, in fact her condition deteriorated. I'd like to think she was more like Edie Sedgwick than any rock god in the '27 club'. She's a person we were and still are absolutely fascinated with, and we all wanted a piece of her. She died quietly when her demons finally got the better of her, and who knows what she would have been capable of later in life had it not been cut off so abruptly. I think her idol; Tony Bennett put it best in the doc when he said; 'If I could, I would tell her 'slow down, you are too important'. I couldn't even write that without welling up (full disclosure). When you hopefully go in to watch the film after reading this blog post, know that it's not the story of someone's personal or professional life, although that's part of the content. It's about the music she gifted us with, and the soul from whence it came (god that sounds pretentious). Amy herself put it best; 'I'm not a girl trying to be a star...I'm just a girl who sings'. Playing now, please see it. And please have a good cry. 

Below, trailer, and some clips of her. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Women's Fashion Through the Years and Through the Movies

Marlene Dietrich in her iconic tux.
Once we lost the bone corset and the hoop skirt made out of wire (basically sounds like articles that belong in a torture chamber rather than on a woman's body) fashion changed quite drastically. After the suffrage movement, there was a big need for women to behave, look, and mimic men. The 20's era of women's fashion wasn't the most feminine, but it was quite unique. It was a time where a dress that goes above the ankle was still scandalous. The dresses were ones that hung like oversized burlap sacks over the feminine physique because they also lost the need to wear girdles or bras. They decorated them with fringe, rhinestones, and feathers, cut their hair short like men so it would be less to handle. It was a way of becoming more masculine while still showing off the beauty of womanhood. The make up of the times also changed drastically, considering at the turn of the century, there was barely any make up being worn by women, except for in high society circles. To touch on the opposite side of the spectrum, dark lipstick and eye-liner took over, where women started to look like burlesque performers and/or clowns. One woman in particular took that sentiment to a very literal level; Marlene Dietrich wore a tuxedo in Morocco and subsequently many times in real life. She later said that she never dressed for a man's attention, but for 'the look'.

Joan Crawford in a gown by Adrian who was the foremost designer for celebrity dresses in the 1930's, making all of his women more feminine, beautiful, and chic.
By the thirties, things had settled, the right to vote was ours and we as a species had calmed down. The dresses became flowy and long with empty backs and were made out of silk and satin. They were curve hugging and striking, very much accentuating the female anatomy. Now that most women had started to work; mostly as shop girls and stenographers, while in the office they would don pencil skirts and fitted suits adorned with fur. Katherine Hepburn was one of the few brave souls of that era to always wear pants. It was a risky move that eventually became her trademark. Later in life, she was asked if she even owned a skirt by Barbara Walters and she quipped 'I have one, I'll wear it to your funeral'. 

Grace Kelly encapsulated demure but still eye-catching fashion of the 1950's, of course barely anyone looked like her or had a body that carried clothes better.
Let's skip on over to the 50's and early 60's. Tiny wastes were in, as were shoulder pads, and demure button-downed dresses. The woman had moved back to the kitchen, was prescribed dexedrine and spent her day doing laundry and vacuuming. Just think of Betty Draper in the first two seasons of Mad Men. This is why vamps like Marilyn Monroe with her low cut dresses that she was basically sewn into was such a scandal. With a body built for sin, she had no reservations about hiding it, especially because in the start, it was her bread and butter. 
Marilyn Monroe in her infamous 'Happy Birthday Mr. President' dress made of nude-colored fabric and beads that barely hid anything and definitely made a statement. It was the pinnacle of her penchant for shocking fashion statements.
By the late 60's, with the second wave of feminism being a prominent force in American dissent, pants were now just as common on women as they were on men. It was a questionable time for fashion. Low-riders (I don't care how flat your stomach is) are not flattering, neither are elephant flares and knits. But by the Summer of Love, we were lucky people were wearing ANYTHING. The hair got long and unkempt, and basically it was a free-for-all, I suppose the biggest fashion icons of that time were Ali McGraw and Barbara Streisand, who each in their own way, made the questionable fashion choices of that era chic. 

Dustin Hoffman pulled off the horrible fashion statements of the 80's much better than any woman on celluloid that I can remember. 
The 80's...why don't we skip that. We can sum it up in very few words; shoulder pads, flacid bows, and Laura Ashley. It was perhaps the most unflattering time for women's fashion. Someone once said that the shoulder pad problem was so bad that women clearly wanted to look like a bunch of line backers. Perhaps the female fashion icon of the 80's is Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie

Believe it or not, my mother dressed me like this for the majority of my adolescence still when I started dressing myself in Birkenstocks, electric blue eye-shadow, and micro-mini's, I have to say she had the right idea. 
Now, on to the era that I really love...and also hate to a degree, the icons of which were Courtney Love in her baby doll dress and lace up pleather boots, Kate Moss and her androgynous skinny jeans and oversized t-shirts, and of course Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green with that hair cut we all remember, and down-to-earth casual 90's style. It was a time to get back to basics. But for some reason I was always dressed in embellished Blossom-esque hats, velvet overalls, and fake suspenders (I'm serious). The 90's were definitely two eras of fashion. The early ones were all about women dressing very earthy like they are standing in line for Lilith Fair tickets, and the second part was filled with body glitter, cargo pants, and plum lipstick. Thanks for that Gwen Stefani. 
Walking art. Nicole Kidman was the only one in my opinion that could pull off a designer gown better than the model on the runway.
And what are we up to now? Thank god the first decade of the 00's is over and we no longer wear Juicy Couture, trucker hats, and midriff tops (it was such a dark time). One fashion icon that has held her own for close to two decades now and still doesn't miss a beat and always ends up on everyone's Best Dressed list is Nicole Kidman. With the body of a porcelain doll that eats a rice cake a year, she can wear sweat pants from Walgreens or Valentino couture and make it look gorgeous. Not that she'd ever be caught dead in sweat pants. Taylor Swift also has her whole renewed image going. Starting from a country bumpkin look with her long blonde curly hair, and cowboy boots to a closet full of Louboutins and sailor shorts (also, since when did the cat become an accessory, much better than Paris Hilton's ferret, am I right?). My current favorite has to be a cross between Emma Watson and Tilda Swinton who both got back on the androgyny train and still manage to make it look sexy, feminine and incredibly chic. Whether on the red carpet wearing Balenciaga couture or grocery shopping, they are on fleek (can't believe I just said that). It's important to mix the feminine sensuality with sophistication and they've both done so brilliantly while being about 20 years apart in age. Oh and by the way, wearing a lot of designer high-end clothing does NOT make you chic. Every red carpet Kristen Stewart attends she's draped in Zuhair Murad (one of the most innovative designers right now) and she can't even stand up straight? It's a crime to fashion...and to women. Now if we could just lose the skinny jeans, the ironic vintage T's, and the raccoon eye-make up we'd actually have a good era going on right now. Let's get at it. 

Below, clips to illustrate my point. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Sins of Omission: Actors Snubbed by the Academy

We all know that the Academy Awards are more political than a presidential race, but we keep watching every year, and that's why when we fill out ballots (that is if we're really into it) we have a separate ballot for whom we secretly hope will win that we know will not because they're not in good standing with the committee, because the competition is too fierce, or they dropped too many F-bombs. Whatever the case may be, perhaps George C. Scott got it right when he straight up refused to show up to pick up his golden idol for his bravura performance in Patton and when it was mailed to him he mailed it back. 'It ain't nothing but a meat parade' he said. And it's sad but true that for the most part, actors especially are not given awards based on the actual merit of their performance, but for circumstance. Here's a list of some of the most grievous sins of omission in Oscar history. There are way too many for me to cover the entire spectrum so let's just focus on the acting categories...for now. By the way, this is just the tip of the iceberg, there are countless others, these are just the first ones that come to mind. In no particular order...

Anna Magnani got her start as an icon of Italian Neo-Realism, and made her transition into American films with the help of her #1 fan; Tennessee Williams who adapted his play The Rose Tattoo to film specifically for her. And to impress Tennessee Williams is no small accomplishment. But going back to Italian neo-realism, one has to really be something beyond method and dig into the depths of their soul so roughly that there’s nothing to do but suffer and cry through your performance so that your audience can fully understand your struggle. 

Gena Rowlands could be the greatest actress of all time second only to Meryl Streep. I would go as far as to say she’s perhaps even better, and with her director being her genius husband John Cassavetes, he worked her like a horse in a mine so that she could turn out the most heartbreaking and nuanced performances that touch on the female condition without beating you over the head with her plight. She embodied every part she played, and some were so down right complicated and layered that a ‘regular’ actress would be doomed to mess up. She is so intelligent as an actress that she knows exactly how to peel open all of those complex layers and get to the heart of her character. 

Leonardo DiCaprio was first nominated at 19 for his role in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, since then he’s turned in some amazing performances, and some not so much performances; (We all remember The Beach) Oh you don’t? It’s because no one saw it, but as good as Matthew McConaughey’s performance was in Dallas Buyer’s Club, I think we can all agree that DiCaprio’s ballsy, spared no expense take on Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street should have given him unquestionable rights to that golden statue. 

Joaquin Phoenix seems to be the one that’s always robbed because of politics. The Academy just doesn’t like him no matter how brilliant he can be on screen, and I’m not just talking about his Johnny Cash. Working with Gus Van Sant throughout his youth definitely gave him the right training, and even in his teens, his performances were intelligent, thought provoking, and full of swagger. This culminated with his masterful performance in (excuse the pun) The Master, but he was upstaged by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the same film. Even though no one won for that film that year. Another oversight. 

Judy Garland won some kind of fake Oscar for ‘Most Promising Juvenile Performer’ or something like that which has since been omitted (thank god), but seriously? Judy? No Oscar? I object! Not only is she a screen legend, and an icon not only of cinema but of culture itself, it seems almost criminal that this unbelievably talented shooting star never got her golden statue. 

Naomi Watts is an actress that has time, but in my opinion has already proved herself worthy of a golden statue. She was introduced to us with one hell of a bang in Mulholland Drive, and has been going strong ever since. The problem with her is that her performances, no matter how en pointe, are just not Oscar fodder. Her two nominations for The Impossible and 21 Grams are great examples of what this woman is capable of. She’s very much on her way, and she’s on the Meryl Streep track. I expect great things of her in the future, and hopefully the Academy will eventually recognize that too. 

Jake Gyllenhaal is very young and also has plenty of time, but to only have one nomination for Brokeback Mountain, and getting completely overlooked for his incomparable performance in Nightcrawler is just plain wrong. I’m sure he’ll garner a few in his career to come, but it still seems like a huge oversight. As brilliant as Heath Ledger was in the former mentioned film, I would argue that Gyllenhaal’s bare soul performance was perhaps even better. He shines in everything he undertakes. Hopefully this will get noticed very soon. 

Cary Grant was another that has that ‘thank you for your body of work’ Oscars, which is basically let’s give them one before they kick the bucket kind of awards. You’re probably thinking this is a mistake but look it up, even the iconic Cary Grant who was Hitchcock’s favorite collaborator has 0 under his belt. One of his wives once said she thought that he played the same role in every movie, and who cares? He played facets of Cary Grant; that deserves an Oscar in my opinion.

Montgomery Clift was perhaps the greatest actor of all time never to receive an Oscar, and he made no point in hiding how much he wanted one. He was ‘a serious actor’ if ever there was a more perfect example, and from his first film to his last, he turned out absolutely flawless performances. He was trained by the Lunts as a child on Broadway, then studied the method with Strassberg before employing his own personal acting coach, just like Marilyn Monroe had. But his self-destructive behavior sadly overshadowed his intense raw talent. All you have to do is watch his 6-minute role in Judgment at Nuremberg (his last film) to see the absolute raw talent of this man. 

Marilyn Monroe has 1 Golden Globe for Best Comedic Performance by a Woman in Some Like It Hot and that’s it. You might want to disagree with me here because she’s known for playing dumb blondes, but that’s only half of it. Marilyn, wanting desperately to be taken seriously as an actress, and already being established, did something totally unexpected and moved to New York to start over, mastering her craft under the watchful guidance of Lee Strassberg who later became her mentor. Watch her performances in Bus Stop and The Misfits; those are performances. They aren’t just Monroe on screen. 
Below...clips and trailers. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Happy Kubrick Day!

Kubrick was a prodigy from the age of two. At 20 he had achieved more than most hope to do in a lifetime, and none of us were prepared for what he had up his sleeve next. 
Every once in a while someone comes along and changes the scope of the entire industry in which they practice. I honestly don't think there will ever be someone more unique and important to the landscape of cinema than Stanley Kubrick. On this day in 1928, in a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn, Stanley was born to well-to-do middle class parents. He was a bit of a genius from the word go, and though he never excelled in school (in fact would regularly cheat off of his fellow classmates because as he said 'he just wasn't interested) he was a prodigy. By 18 he had quit school and was hustling chess in Washington Square Park, and eventually made enough to buy his own camera. On April 12, 1945, when the world mourned the loss of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Stanley, at 16 captured one of the world's most famous photographs. A newspaper vendor sitting in his kiosk hear the West Village surrounded by the headline that one of the greatest presidents was no more. This catapulted his career, and by 19 he was working for Life magazine. He was taking some of the most beautiful and timeless photos that usually it takes a few degrees and decades to achieve in terms of talent. 
The photograph Kubrick took at 16 that landed him a job with Life Magazine.
By his mid-twenties, his parents sold their life insurance and coupled with his chess winnings, Kubrick was finally able to afford to make his first film; a boxing caper called The Day of the Fight. It was pretty abysmal as a freshman filmmaking effort but started to get him noticed and within two years he was signed to a small but reputable production company for which he made Killer's Kiss, The Killing, and Fear and Desire. Now, I know these films sound like nothing you've heard of. I'd like to think they were basically Stanley in training. But it they were instrumental in getting him noticed by Hollywood and they hired him to direct the much troubled production of Spartacus starring Kirk Douglas. Stanley would later say it was the most difficult experience of his life (second only to Lolita) because he was so stagnated by the studios, and being a child prodigy and an unquestionable genius, it wasn't easy for him having everyone else tell him what to do, especially when he was the director. 
Every image Kubrick put on screen has become iconic and unforgettable. This is the infamous still from Lolita when Delores Hayes is first introduced. 
The pain paid off and gave him license to finally do what he wanted on his own terms, and thus starts what we now know as Kubrick the auteur. His next film, was also arguably his most controversial, adapted from the equally controversial novel by Vladimir Nabokov; Lolita and ending with the insanely polarizing Eyes Wide Shut. There's my history lesson for ya'll. If I start blabbing on about Kubrick I'll never stop, so in the interest of saving time I'd like to touch upon just one of his films how ever hard that might be for me because every single one is so unbearably brilliant and creative, it literally hurts my soul that I can't talk about all of them. But as I always say, the films speak for themselves, so after you read this, go ahead and rent 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket, or my personal favorite, Barry Lyndon and do yourself a favor. 
The film I've chosen to talk about is Eyes Wide Shut. I wanted to challenge myself and not gush about a film that I'm deeply in love with nor indulge in the aesthetic brilliance of Dr. Strangelove. I'll just speak from the heart on this one. 

The masks we were as adults, quite literally translated in Eyes Wide Shut with haunting imagery.
Eyes Wide Shut was Kubrick's last film, and also arguably his most polarizing, and what a way to go. It was released posthumously, and my dad and I snuck in to a packed theater and sat on the stairs to watch it in 1999. Now, I know it's the last film you want to see with your parents, and at first I have to say the 16-year-old me didn't really dig it, what 16 year old would? One time, an ex-boyfriend of mine once asked; 'what's that film about?' I kind of ignored that question because how can that be answered without a full on dissertation? I think Scorsese describes it best; it's a film about illusion. The way it's photographed suggests that everything might not be in happening in the conscious world. It seems like New York, but it's surreal in a way, it seems like your wife, but what is she hiding behind that smirky stare, what is she trying to tell you? It's that dingy grey area that we all ignore within a relationship. It's not just secrets and lies, and its not disillusion with the person that you once fell in love with. It's us as human beings and that very grey area as to whether we are inherently good or bad. Do we act upon urges? Do we almost? Is that almost just as bad? That's just scraping the tip of the iceberg. Let's talk about aesthetics. 
Both Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as principal actors gave the performance of their careers, and were basically put through hell in order to do so. I'm sure that considering those two were still married at the time went home at the end of every day and asked themselves those very questions that they had to explore as the fictional Dr. and Mrs. Hartford. It's not an unraveling or a disillusion of marriage; in fact it's quite the opposite. In the end the two decide to stay together for what reason? It's something we can't possibly rationalize or reconcile, all of which is in tune with the whole mystery aspect of every choice each character makes. We don't know why Bill Hartford goes to that infamous sex party. Perhaps it was because his manhood was threatened, perhaps it was in retribution to his wife telling him that she once lusted after a stranger even while having sex with him. But the truth of the matter is that we don't know. Kubrick is not one to give you easy answers or a way out. 
In my opinion, Kubrick is telling us that we will never be perfect people, and in fact there is no such thing, and even though we think we might lead the ideal life; be a good wife to a successful husband, live in opulence comfortably on the Upper East Side, and on the surface have everything we might ever want or need, below the surface is a festering stench of mendacity, insincerity, and frustration with all of that perfection. Perhaps he's saying that we are all inherently bad people, and we don't act on those impulses that we desperately want to because of one reason or another; in this case it's to save a marriage, but the irony is, the marriage is not even one worth saving. 

Kubrick slowly meditates on this static image of Alice Hartford (Nicole Kidman) as if to scream at his audience; what exactly is behind that devilish smile of hers??
My favorite scene is when Bill and Alice (Cruise and Kidman respectively) smoke pot and she in a haze of anger and frustration fueled by a drug-induced frenzy finally tells her husband exactly what she thinks of him, and of the life that they've built together. 'If you men only knew' she bellows. And the expression on Bill's face says it all; he finally realizes that he was never a husband, and barely even a man and has no right to pontificate about the human condition.
Back to aesthetics, because Kubrick started out as a photographer, he knew exactly how to window dress the mise-en-scene with clever lighting so that everything would appear ominous and somehow dreamlike.  Bill and Alice weren't living a dream, they were living a nightmare which interspersed itself constantly with their waking life of banal dinner parties, small talk, and that daughter of their that neither of them really pay attention to, and once the two worlds collide, the truth comes out. Anyway, that's my half baked theory. And the beauty of the Kubrick catalogue, everyone has one. Watch Room 237; it's a documentary about everyone in the woodworks that has some kind of weird theory about The Shining. And considering it was made in 1980 and people are still arguing about it today as if it was the holy gospel, that shows you how timeless and untouchable every single one of his films was. That's the genius of Kubrick, and that is why his presence in cinema changed its history. Happy birthday sir. Instead of shy away from controversy, he embraced it. And in doing so was met with a great deal of opposition, but in the end we can all acknowledge that he was the one who won. From a satire about the Red Scare to a romantic interpretation of a love story between a middle aged man and a 12 year old girl, Kubrick found the beauty, the comedy, and the pathos in every story he retold. There are a lot of imitators, but there will always only be one.

Below...clips to drive my point home.


Friday, July 24, 2015

A Tribute To A Real Genius

Every once in a while, every other generation or so, we get a gift from the acting gods to grace the silver screen with their incredible and versatile talent. And more often than not, those wonders get taken from us far too quickly. In the past decade we've had more losses than we know what to do with, and the landscape of film has become lacking no matter how many surprisingly good performances Jennifer Lawrence turns out. 
The most obvious that comes to mind is last year's loss of comedy icon Robin Williams. It hurt particularly because he dedicated his life to making people laugh and in this world there is no more a noble profession, with the exception of Doctors Without Borders. But I'm speaking about entertainment here. 
For me personally, a day I will never forget was January 22nd, 2008. My mom called me around 8pm New York time to tell me that Heath Ledger was found dead in his SoHo penthouse. I didn't have a TV, so I hadn't heard, but made it over there in time just to watch the camera crews surrounding his building pack up for the night. It didn't take me long to realize the gravity of that loss. Heath Ledger was very much on his way to being our generation's Marlon Brando, and to die so tragically without even peaking at the young age of 28, without all of us seeing what more he could have given us, fresh off of his performance in Brokeback Mountain, none of us in the film community were ever the same again. 

Arguably his best performance in the rather flawed epic The Master working with frequent collaborator, P.T. Anderson as egomaniacal cult leader Lancaster Dodd.
Just when we had begun the healing process, we had another enormous blow; last year in February when one of the most talented people to ever gift the acting community with his presence lost his life; Philip Seymour Hoffman. Yesterday was his birthday, and instead of dwell on the fact that we will never have another brilliant Hoffman performance, I'd like to remember some of the best that he left us with. Unlike Ledger, Hoffman left behind an indelible legacy of stellar performances that will always be iconic and always be studied, analyzed, and used as basis and inspiration for others. As a true actor's actor, Hoffman had such a profound understanding of his craft and an even bigger respect for it. In every role he played, he brought to it heart, sincerity, and immeasurable depth. There will never be another Hoffman, but at least we have his legacy that generations upon generations of actors will look to when building themselves as masters of their craft. 

Hoffman so brilliantly embodied Truman Capote that his pastiche would be just as good to show someone if you were trying to tell them about who Capote was. It wasn't an interpretation, and it wasn't an impression. It was bringing someone back to life. 
I would go out on a limb and say that there is not a bad performance in his repertoire. From flimsy films like Along Came Polly to bravado like The Master, Hoffman never missed a beat. I personally will always remember his performance as Rusty, the down on her luck drag queen in the teeny Joel Schumacher film Flawless, opposite Robert DeNiro, as well as the awkward boom operator for a porn producer in Boogie Nights, as well as of course, his second to none almost carbon copy of Truman Capote in Capote, for which he won a well-deserved Oscar. Then there was Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, and perhaps my personal favorite; the blocked introverted novelist-turned-screenwriter in State and Main. No matter how small the role, or how small the film, Hoffman took it upon himself to elevate his role in the project and basically carried a lot of the films towards their successes. I don't know what the scope of cinema would be today without him, I would imagine very different. This was a man who could literally do anything, and was such a absolute master of his craft that he raised the bar for everyone else. So on his birthday (one day late, forgive me) I salute you sir. There will never be another, and you will always be missed. Thank you for sharing your gift, and even from a snarky sarcastic cynical person like me, I truly mean it. 

Below, some of the performances mentioned. All of which, unforgettable. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Most Self Indulgent Blog Post Imaginable: My Top 10

As some of you know, I have a definitive top 250 films list. And as less of you know, I'm a fickle bitch and I change it whenever I have time. But the top 10 remain the same somehow. Because I have no life, this is something I'm constantly tweaking and would like to share it with you now, not all 250 that's just rude, but how about just the top 10. I'm sure everyone who loves films have their own, and hey if A.O. Scott can put one out every year why not me? Because he works for the New York Times is why. Hurray for free blogging! Here we go. Remember it's totally subjective, but also very real. Before we go any further, I'm a film snob, so be forewarned. 

1.     La Regle du jeu "The Rules of the Game" (Jean Renoir) 1939 
Jean Renoir could perhaps be the greatest filmmaker of all time, he’s not my personal favorite, but this puckish satire about the Euro-upper class in between the two world wars is a subtle masterpiece in artistry, writing, and a scathing commentary on the human condition. A comedy of manners if you will, with brilliant performances and with Renoir at the helm, it’s nothing short of a masterpiece. It's a timeless commentary on how decadence, self-indulgence, and arrogance is inevitably the end of our souls, but when clouded by money and cocktails, we can go on not caring forever.

2. The Third Man (Carol Reed) 1949 
On the heels of Citizen Kane, Orson Welles put in arguably his best performance on screen, in what he referred to as a ‘star role’. His character doesn’t appear until the end of the third act, but is talked about throughout the entirety of the film. Set against the bleak backdrop of Vienna right after World War II, he’s teamed up with his bestie Joseph Cotton who acted opposite him in Kane in one hell of a mystery caper with one of the best twist endings of all time.

3. Some Like it Hot (Billy Wilder) 1959 
I just blogged about Wilder, so what can I say. All of his films found a place on my top 250, but this one ranks highest because I’ve never in my life experienced such a perfect comedy. It’s a constant stream of set-up to punch line, and not one time is it not funny. From the writing to the indelible performances from Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe, it is consummate in its perfection.

4. Fanny och Alexander "Fanny and Alexander" (Ingmar Bergman) 1982
 As with Wilder, there are quite a few Bergman films on my list. I honestly don’t know why I prefer this one above the rest, it’s of his later catalogue, where most would say he started slipping, but it’s so deeply personal and so artfully crafted that I believe it to be his best. And if you have 5 hours and about 130$, you can watch the unedited version on Criterion.

5.  8 1/2 (Federico Fellini) 1963 
What can I say about Fellini, Wilder may be my favorite director, but Fellini is whom my heart really belongs to. Here’s a man who said, what does it matter, it’s only life. A man who’s films reflect not his reality but the endless bizarre nature of his imagination. This film is his most self-indulgent considering it’s basically about him not being able to figure out what to direct next, so he wrote a film about it. But with Fellini, it never feels self-indulgent. His attitude is so carefree and whimsical towards filmmaking, though on set he’s known as a bit of a dictator, that every thing he directs seems like a gift.

6. La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (Carl Theodore Dryer) 1928
This film was band in almost every country upon release and the director died thinking the last print had been burned and his greatest masterpiece never to be seen again until by some miracle it was found in the insane asylum closet in Holland. Turns out the doctors had ordered it when it was still legal, and forgot about it. Historians and archivists slaved to not only put it back together but to restore it so that we could all bask in its glory. I have no idea what the film community today would be without it. It’s more than a film; it’s a piece of history.

7. A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes) 1974 
John Cassavetes is perhaps the one director whom I think anyone should aspire to be like. Known as the paragon of the American independent film, this actor turned director would take no salary, and work on improve with his wife Gena Rowlands and his small group of acting buddies on a story that they would later film in his apartment. This story of a woman quietly unraveling is so gut wrenching that it absolutely eats away at your core even if you can’t relate to it. To be able to do that is what separates the hacks from the artists. Besides, if I didn't put this film on the list, my mother (who is Gena Rowlands' #1 fan) would kill me. 
8. Cabaret (Bob Fosse) 1971

Yay! A musical. Me personally, I worship the ground Bob Fosse walks on. This was his first feature and has become iconic since. Films like Chicago, Burlesque, basically any musical that exists today borrow from its aesthetic. Fosse was the first one to use editing to free the dancer from gravity rather than shooting them on a presidium arch like we see in the 50’s. Taking place in the troubled Weimar Republic of Berlin between the two wars, it concerns a lowly cabaret performer (Liza Minelli) but really is a social commentary on people’s desperate need to remain ignorant, coupled with some of the most memorable choreography and musical numbers in film history. It’s definitely my favorite musical of all time, and though there will never be another Fosse, it’s fun to watch people try. 
9. Ladri dei biciclette "The Bicycle Thieves" (Vittorio De Sica) 1948 
If you went to film school, read critic blogs or know anything about the catalogue of classic films, this film usually is seen as #1. It’s the birth of the Italian Neo-Realist movement, telling the heartbreaking story of a desperate father in post-war torn-apart Italy who just wants to be able to take care of his family. If the world was ending and we had only one film to put into a time capsule so the mutants in silver jumpsuits would know what cinema was, we would throw a copy of this one into it. 
10. Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock) 1946

I know I’ve said that Rebecca is my favorite Hitchcock film, but this is in my opinion his ‘best’. Best and favorite are vastly different. It stars two of his favorite collaborators; Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant as star-crossed lovers in a spy thriller that with it’s signature Hitchcockian flair will put you on the edge of your seat. This is the film that in my opinion defines Hitchcock as the Master of Suspense and cements his status as an auteur. 
Below some clips to drive my points home...