Sunday, July 23, 2017

Nolan Goes to War and Wins

I can tell you that this is Tom Hardy, but this is the classic nameless soldier that Nolan uses to magnify the breadth of the viewer to the film.
These are really hard to write, because as anyone will tell you it's much harder to write a good review than a bad review, but I was swept away by Dunkirk (ok that was a tired metaphor) ...it blew my socks off ...no even worse. It was amazing ok? And I dare to surmise that it's Christopher Nolan's best film in his repertoire. I know he has a strong following not only of fan boys, comic book nerds, but also cinephiles, and is revered as like the next Orson Welles or something, I mean he makes good films and is very skilled but he's not Orson Welles. Here's the thing, I watched Memento because everyone was pressuring me to do it when it first came out in 2000, and at the time I was still smoking pot so I watched it. I watched it literally the day before I saw Dunkirk for the second time and after all of these years it's still brilliant. 
Now, I know I'm going to get murdered for saying the following, but apart from The Dark Knight, which I don't even think is the best superhero film; I mean it's up there, but no. I don't like his movies. I think they are very conceptually interesting but very self-indulgent; from the crazy runtimes to the weird time parallels he loves to fuck around with, which I see as very self-serving. I didn't bother watching The Dark Knight Rises, and I hated Inception; Interstellar -- same thing. He's one of those people that I think starts out as a massively talented maverick indie filmmaker who turns completely cray once a studio gives him some money a la Darren Aronofsky. 
I'm a history buff, or huge History Channel nerd however you want to call it, and I am actually completely obsessed with World War II so going into the film, I was well aware about the battle and subsequent evacuation of Dunkirk. 
One of the most iconic scenes in the film, and Nolan spared no expense to make it look as authentic as possible. Word has it that over 10,000 extras participated in the film. 
Nolan does not give you any backstory, and good for him. He's a filmmaker that doesn't talk down to his audience and assumes that they are all as smart as he is. Except for in Inception, where there was a character who's whole purpose was to explain the convoluted plot to the audience by asking the questions that we all silently were. 
But back to Dunkirk. If you don't know the story -- The Nazi army is basically a few kilometers from total occupation of France. The only countries allied against Hitler at this time are France and England. The British are retreating and the only way out is across the English Channel which is pretty fucking far even though we have people swimming that shit now. But then again, those people don't get torpedoed by U-boat's or shot down by the Luftwaffe like fish in a barrel. At this time, Churchill had focused all of his military preparedness on fortifying England with the British Navy which was the best in the world. Unfortunately, he didn't plan for the aggression of Hitler's Luftwaffe air force. About 400,000 British men needed to be evacuated off of the beaches in Dunkirk, France, and this story is about the miracle of their survival. 
An actual photograph of the evacuation of Dunkirk.
As a film, it is a towering achievement in the war film genre. I haven't seen anything quite like it. In a world with wall-to-wall CGI, Nolan used basically none. It is breathtaking what he was able to accomplish filming from the three main locations of the evacuation; land, sea, and air...and yes it did lead to Churchill's 'We Will Fight Them on the Beaches' speech. 
I saw it with a Russian who shall remain nameless, and they're an art major (or were); educated in the Soviet Union. There, they are apparently taught to play against action. It's a very character driven, character-centric aesthetic. In fact, they they refer to excessive action as 'Zhelezo' which means metal. As in, too much metal, not enough humanity. 
A scene where the chaos is humanized and meditated on is usually one of a deafening silence. And yes that's Harry Styles on the left. Happy now?
I countered that by arguing that most war films; yes, have a singular viewpoint. Some of the best in fact; from Saving Private Ryan, to The Pianist, to Kubrick's Path's of Glory because someone apparently wrote it down somewhere that war has to be humanized. I understand that sentiment, but in all actuality war is the exact opposite of that. It is a conflict of chaos where everyone who fights in it from the generals to the privates are anonymous and just have one initiative in mind; survival. I would rather actually compare it to a film like Black Hawk Down, which according to my estimates has about 50 speaking roles. You don't remember who's who most of the time; their rank; and what they're whole deal is, because guess what; it doesn't matter. There is a mission, it goes wrong, soldiers are trapped under huge enemy fire and that's the story right there. It's a documentary style of narrative filmmaking, and Nolan just nailed it. His camera work, his beautiful imagery, and his signature aesthetic all worked in his favor and the film is an absolute masterpiece. Because in war, nothing really matters except staying alive am I right? Did that sound too Hunger Games?
But back to the filmmaking, again with about 30 principals in the cast, with seasoned actors like Kenneth Branagh who basically has like 5 lines and Cillian Murphy who just repeats the same thing over and over again, it's a sacrifice of telling the story as accurately as possible without making it about a particular person or a particular viewpoint. During the evacuation of Dunkirk, everyone's objective was the same, and that's how Nolan approaches it. Most of the characters don't even have names, IMDB it. All in all, well worth the hype, the wait, and definitely now that I come back to it, the best Nolan film to date. 

Trailer below: 


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Remake that Doesn't Know How to Remake

Emma Watson makes the best of a movie that doesn't know how to movie taking example from another famous Emma who just won an Academy Award for the same thing. 
There was so much ridiculous hype and over-marketing (if that's a thing) over the live-action remake of arguably the best Disney film of all time. Trying to capitalize on the success of the live action remake of The Jungle Book which actually was useful and interesting, the studio heads decided to basically make a carbon copy of the original with a few new songs to make extra off of iTunes and to stretch the run time. If you haven't seen it, watch the original...and that's exactly what this film is. It's like when Gus Van Sant did a shot-by-shot remake of Hitchcock's Psycho but that was for Avant-Garde performance art purposes so he gets a pass, not to introduce children to a totally bastardized and creepy version of what was a great film to start with. 

Good luck explaining sentient furniture to your kids now. 
So it's set in the most British part of France apparently where only Lumiere has an actual French accent. And in a cartoon world a lot of what was deemed unbelievable could be conceivable with enough suspension of disbelief. Now it raises a lot of uncomfortable questions like can Gaston really lift two heavy-set people with his hands, and do all of the sentient object in the palace actually have human souls? I mean, it's creepy as shit. 

The motion capture on Dan Stevens is basically ridiculous. He's terrifying, which kind of kills the love story which is central to the plot. 
But not as creepy as what they did to Dan Stevens, that poor son of a bitch. They could have used practical prosthetics, hair and make up to make him properly beastly looking, but they decided to CGI the fuck out of him so that he looks like he was drawn by a 12 year old on a Windows 7. Also, the sentient objects with actual speaking parts have more character and facial expression in the original, than the CGI moving objects in the old palace. I don't care how good of a French accent Ewan McGregor can do. 
As I said, with a few new songs added (because Bill Condon has a huge hard on for almost memorable songs that stretch the runtime), the songs are exactly the same, except they sound like cheap karaoke versions of the beloved originals like 'Be Our Guest'. 
They were fun, remember them?
There is a cheap half-assed attempt to fill in some plot holes like what happened to Belle's mother?  How did no one in this tiny town notice that the Beast has been beasting for like ten years? And how the hell did she get the damn Beast on the horse after being attacked by wolves. But it's so lazy, I'd rather just use my imagination. Speaking of which, I remember that as a kid, you really did fall for the Beast and understood why Belle would too, but in the live-action version he's so CGI'd to death that there's nothing remotely attractive about him. 
I'd also like to touch on the controversy surrounding La Fou as the first openly gay character in the Disney-verse. In this great article it actually surmises that La Fou is a piss poor tribute to the gay community. He basically meets the somewhat offensive and stereotypical gay tropes like an effeminate manner, and a one-sided crush on Gaston that's never really nuanced, but apart from that he's the gay comic relief that you expect in a film from the 50's that's more ignorant than anything else. He gets like one sincere moment that would make him a genuine gay character, but that's all that Disney allows him. Lest we forget that his name literally translates into 'the fool'. C'mon Disney, you had more going with Ursula or the Sherif of Nottingham. 
I guess I missed the take-acid-now instruction prior to this scene. 
Bottom line, this remake is not only useless, but it's superfluous. Apparently Disney couldn't leave well enough alone. The most iconic scene in the film; the ballroom dance scene between Belle and the Beast in that stunning yellow dress had more beautiful sprawling camera angles and lighting in the cartoon. It's like they're not even trying. If you haven't seen it, just watch the original and pretend it's in live action. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Sofia's Epic Fail

4 out of these 7 women have speaking roles. 
Was that harsh? Well, watching her new film The Beguiled felt like a one and a half torture ride to nowhere's-ville. I want my time back, and my money. And I want her to make better films, but that's not going to happen is it? 
The film was marketed as a radical feminist revenge story, perfect for the chauvinist rhetoric of the Trump era, but Valerie Solanas it is not. It's not even a 'hell hath no fury…' kind of thing. As I said, it's about an hour and a half of nothing. Which is a fair assessment of basically all of her films, yeah I said it. It had such great potential. It's a Misery meets Gone with the Wind story based on a Clint Eastwood movie from the 70's (arguably the best era of America filmmaking). With a stellar cast like Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell, and the up-and-coming Elle Fanning, you were thinking how could this go wrong? In all respects apparently.

Admit it, this part from the trailer is why we all wanted to see it. 'Get me the anatomy book'.
I have to give it up to the marketing department. They did a great job with the theater art, the promo art, the trailers, etc. Basically building up this turd in a dress so that people would shelve out 11 dollars to see it. I saw it with a friend earlier today and we witnessed quite a few walk outs. At first we thought it was because we were basically screaming at the screen, but we couldn't help ourselves. Eventually, we realized that the walk outs had the right idea. 
So stop fucking with us, Coppola. Just because you're Hollywood royalty doesn't mean you can do no wrong. In fact you can do so much wrong to some seriously ripe and brilliant material that it kind of taints your family's legacy.
The film is photographed beautifully; with low-lit interiors, candlelight and sunshine, and dressing that looks like it's actually a house that has been lived in and not a matte painting that was put up the day before. Costumes are en pointe and that's about the only positive things I have to say about the film. I know it was just released, so unlike most of my reviews I'm not giving away the plot. Here's what we know. Colin Farrell is a Union deserter; a Irish mercenary who has been badly injured and is found on the outskirts of a large Southern plantation in Virginia. He is taken in by the children and their headmistress who have had to lay low three years into the Civil War. It's pretty obvious that 6 girls in their sexual prime or in puberty and a woman a bit past her prime but still hot AF (Nicole Kidman) would create sexual tension with the one man they're keeping in the house so palpable you could cut it with a bread knife.
I will give her the director of photography a lot of credit. He managed to make a dull film very pretty. So you have that to look forward to. 
Firstly, this house she runs with 6 pupils seems to have an endless supply of food and wine. What the actual fuck? Every movie about the Civil War, or any war for that matter is about people having no food or rations. Also, three of the girls don't even have speaking parts. That's a waste of space, they literally do nothing. You could just cut them out of the film and save the budget. For an hour and a half run time, I would say there's about 20 minutes of dialogue which is par for the course for a Sofia Copolla film. Every single time there is a moment for potential pathos, drama, and hubris, she builds that moment and then kills it. It's like getting really close to orgasm, and then the person falls asleep on you.
Although it appears deliciously sexually devious, the actually sexuality of this film has about as much erotica as a 13 year old's vampire fan fiction.  
It's almost as if Sofia is afraid of the sexuality of this film, which is basically the driving force of the plot. Even scenes that should be highly erotic are creepy and weird. Scarlet O'Hara crying on Ashley's chest was more erotic than anything in this movie. For a mostly silent film with no plot and no nuance of the main characters it seems to kind of move into the category of Avant-Garde, which I believe is actually Sofia's calling. But go Avant-Garde all the way. Film on 16mm silent Bolex cameras, with a 10 minute run time, and save us the grief. She so desperately wants to be considered a serious artist, but she comes off as uber-pretentious. She breaks so many film rules that it's just not right. 
I know breaking film rules can be fine, but what we think of as breaking is actually bending. Tarantino does it, Scorsese does it. But rules are there for a reason. Example: Your main characters have to be nuanced. They have to be three dimensional. They have to have motive good or bad. There has to be a plot that moves forward and doesn't just meander around waiting for shit to happen. I don't care how pretty it looks. 
People think that she's so unique because she plays up the subtlety which is actually giving her audience a giant middle finger. There's being subtle, which is fine, and then there's saying nothing at all, and that's what this film does. I don't need resolution, I can leave a film without closure as long as the film presents interesting questions to consider later. This film does not. You leave the theater thinking…'well, that happened'. Sofia is should really stop writing her own films because she writes about 30 pages and stretches it to an hour and a half run time (I keep mentioning that because it felt way longer). It's kind of sad that coming from such a talented family, we'll think of The Bling Ring as 'the good one'. Hard pass.

Trailer below...I mean...whatever.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

One Person Carried the Entire Season

Best friend and girlfriend of Poussey finally find an appropriate tribute to their lost loved one and I cried all the way home. 
It's rare in a multi-protagonist show that one person stands out. Early on, before OITNB became a thing, most of the first season was about Chapman. The writers saw that this clearly didn't work so they gave everyone a storyline, an arch, and a flashback …standard multi-protagonist rules, just watch Lost.
I was talking to a friend earlier about Mad Men, getting a little sidetracked, but that did also start out about one person; Don Draper, and then evolved with a plethora of new characters and the OG's having some serious stories, laments, and flaws. That's what makes them relatable.
Spoilers coming but you should have watched it by now; that show basically invented the binge watch culture.

Daya at the climax of Season 4. Sensing a pattern here. 
A little bit on what is happening in the new season. Daya shoots the sadist CO Humps in the leg, and a riot breaks out in the prison. The riot actually lasts through out the entirety of the season and that MCC bitch Linda somehow gets mistaken for a prisoner so she's along for the ride. If you remember correctly, The girls at Litchfield are pretty eccentric to put it mildly so the riot has some wonderful and sometimes cathartic twists and turns. It's really a great season, and there's one woman that carries it through to the very end.
Taystee leads an action to throw away the 'bribes' that the governor provides in order to stop the riot because according to her, it wouldn't be justice.
If you haven't guessed, I'm talking about Tasha 'Taystee' Jefferson. Poussey's best friend. Danielle Brooks who plays her is barely old enough to rent a car, but her training at Julliard did her well, to say the least. Usually we focus on actors 'on the brink' if they bag a role like Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook at the ripe young age of like 23. When OITNB started, Brooks was actually the exact same age, and has maintained a consistency to the character and a commitment to the arch of Taystee. This season was definitely hers. I don't know of the season's past if I could assign them as belonging to someone. No, she doesn't get the most airtime, or the smartest quips, but my god, the depth of this girl was incredible.

And of course they set in on fire because they want 'to be motherfucking taken serious!' You go Taystee.
I kept having to remind myself of the youth of this actress and subsequent inexperience because you would never be able to tell, and though just like every season, a different character gets a flashback, and in the end, it's all about Piper (who is the worst), Brooks upstaged everyone in her passionate fight as Taystee struggles to deal with her grief and get justice for Poussey.
At the climax of the last episode, it was like watching a Shakespearean tragedy, just watching the performance that Brooks gave. I don't often say this, but it seemed to come from the bottom of the gut, and I cried rivers. It was a catharsis that no one was expecting, and Brooks definitely spread her acting wings.
What Brooks is able to accomplish as an actor in this scene is beyond me. She keeps you guessing the entire time, and the emotion is so palpable that it's impossible to separate yourself from it. 
But what's truly important is that she is instrumental and a catalyst in every episode. As an actress, she has so much stamina, and so much of herself to give to the role I have no idea how she didn't fall down from exhaustion by the end. I've really never seem anyone so committed and playing the same character for 5 years, but her nuanced performance gives her so much staying power. It boggles the mind as to why we don't acknowledge her more. For such a tender age, you would never expect her to carry a show of over 30 main characters in its most chaotic season, but she managed, and she should be commended for it. There are a lot of brilliant actors that make up the Litchfield prisoners, and usually it is Uzo Aduba (Suzanne 'Crazy Eyes' Warren) who walks away with the Emmy's, which she definitely deserves, but I was taken aback at how well Brooks managed some really tough and complex material. Put it this way, if there was a riot at a prison I'd want to shadow Taystee, and if we were doing acting exercises at Julliard, I'd want to do them with Brooks. She is somewhat of an unsung talent that deserves way more recognition than she gets.

Prolly seen the trailer, but here it is anyway, it premiered in early June on Netflix so your binge should just about be over by now. Happy watching!


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Christine Didn't Make It

This is Christine Chubbuck coming to you live from WZRB in Sarasota, back to you George.
I don't usually take a somber tone, I mean 99% of what I say and write is sarcasm. But I watched a movie recently that really affected me, and I've seen quite a few of those. Contemporarily speaking, this was perhaps the most overlooked film of this past year. It's called Christine starring Rebecca Hall as the titular character of Christine Chubbuck who is famous for shooting herself on air at the network where she worked. Rebecca Hall could very well be the most underrated actress of our time. People kind of lost interest in her after she was upstaged by Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson in Vicky Christina, Barcelona
It's one of those films that makes you immediately go on Wikipedia because you think to yourself that no way is this based on a true story, but it is. The tragedy of Christine is very much steered by the patriarchy that is constantly in her way. The film is meditative and a strong character piece and if you don't know what happens in the climax it can seem to drag, and yet Hall carries it so brilliantly. 
Christine is a co-anchor at some local station in Sarasota, Florida…jealous? And she's interested in positive human interest stories, alas her boss doesn't give a shit because it doesn't sell. One could say that it's the female Nightcrawler but the opposite of that. She doesn't want to sensationalize the news, in fact she calls it exploitative.
'Jesus Christ, just make your stories juicy!'
What's truly tragic is that she is optimistic to the very end. In the opening scene (this film takes place in the 70's btw) she imagines she's interviewing Richard Nixon, knowing she'll never even get close. We learn throughout the film that she lives with her mother, and about to hit 30, is still a virgin. She hates pot smoking, which her mother regularly engages in, and has a general disdain for the shall we say 'free love' of the times. She is so determined to not be famous per se, but to succeed in the job that she so much loves to do; a job dominated by male culture. She even volunteers at a children's hospital and is desperate for human connection. The lead anchor she frequently works with is the handsome George played my Michael C. Hall, whom she is desperately in love with, but because of her awkward workaholic demeanor, she doesn't really have a chance until he invites her out to dinner only to tell her that despite her hard work and cooperation with the whole 'if it bleeds it leads' attitude the station has taken on, that George has been promoted to anchor in Baltimore in a top 20 market over her. What makes it worse is that he was able to choose someone to take with him and surprise surprise it's not her. Things are made worse when she find out that she a cyst on her ovary and the entire thing has to come out. 
The fake flowers that symbolize a lot more than you think. 
Over time, Christine realizes that everything is working against her. We don't really get a sense that she's suicidal but we get clues that she has some mental issues that are only exasperated by her circumstances. 
Aside from Hall, it's the direction of the movie that is truly special. The camera follows her into an abyss surrounded by 70's glamour. There is a brilliant scene where she's clearly distracted in an interview on air by the fake flowers on her desk. She abruptly stops the interview and throws the flowers at the camera operator saying that it's all she can think about right now. 
I suppose there's a tenacious stubbornness to her that a lot of us, especially women can relate to. She works in a highly sexist environment where her abstaining from drinking and partying is looked upon as weird and she herself is looked upon as aloof. The amount of time she spends working shows how passionate she is, but left and right she is shut down even when she is cooperative. Her boss has nothing but disdain for her, and they are at odds almost constantly.
The way the film is directed, we can see that not only is Christine at the end of her rope towards the climax, but she sees no other way out. We don't see the gun, not really. We see it in her bag, but we don't see her staring at it contemplating what she's about to do, which is the lazy way out. 
Her final and only revenge is to put on a very false and somewhat creepy facade by going to her boss' office and asking to be lead on the following Monday about the weekend news. She promises that it will be sensational, and in the most prophetic and unforgettable way, through the strangest smile she tells him; 'I'm agreeing with you'.
The real Christine Chubbuck
I've already told you what ends up happening to Christine, and sometimes when you're not quite ready for that moment even though you know that it's coming, you need to see it again. But I couldn't watch this again. It was directed so viscerally that I literally jumped …off of the exercise equipment I was on, but give me a break. 
Back to Hall, I really thought she'd be at least nominated, but the film was small, the film was dark, and if anyone should have won, it should have been Natalie Portman for her haunting portrayal of Jackie Kennedy, but Hall needs to be acknowledged not only for the aesthetics of Christine; the walking style, the hair, the mannerisms, etc. But it was one in a few times where an actor inhabits a character so intimately that it really bothers you. You want so much to know what's going on inside Christine's head and her descent into making the decision that she finally does, and yet you don't want to know; that's great acting. Hall did Christine Chubbuck justice in a subdued, understated performance of a woman who is pushed into a corner by her male colleagues and no matter how hard she fights and how much she compromises, she feels that she's left with no choice and no other way out. And there's a strangeness in that part of you that actually does understand that.

Trailer below, streaming on Netflix, highly recommended.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Let's Talk About Bill Cosby

Polanski at the height of his success
With the giant clusterfucks of the current administration's agenda against women of constant shit and malice hitting us in the face like a curve balls at …I don't know what constitutes fast in baseball, whatever. I wanted to bring this subject up because among all of the Trump news to which I have almost become immune, almost (I mean, its great material for my non-existent comedy career). Alas, we've all recently heard among the Trump babble that the jury is in a deadlock about the verdict against Bill Cosby. A deadlock is not the best use of that word but at least they didn't call it a hung jury …Am I right? Ok! Enough puns. 
If you're not up to date because you've made a nice home for yourself under a rock, let me enlighten you. After a woman's accusation came out that Cosby had sexually assaulted and raped her, it was about 10 or so years old. Now, in the state of California that is still within the statute of limitations so he can still be prosecuted for it. After this very courageous woman finally spoke up, it seemed like every other woman in the greater Los Angeles area came out all with the same disturbing story. 50 to be exact. I mean, it boggles the mind. 50 women are accusing Cosby, and what really sticks in my craw is that these women will never be vindicated. They will never see justice. He's not going to stand trail for those 50 as he should considering none of them had the courage to speak up, which is totally understandable. What's the word of a lowly ingenue against one of the biggest celebrities of that era? If this teaches us anything, and knowing about rape statistics, the most important and best thing a woman can do if she is victimized is speak up. You would think that a comic as successful as Cosby doesn't have to drug and rape girls. Who knows, was it titillating? Was it amusing? At least we know that to a sane person it's sick and wrong, and according to the police an egregious violation on too many women to even wrap your mind around.
Now, I'd like to talk about a paradox of conscience that I've dealt with for a while. It's interesting that no one has yet compared this scandal to the Polanski scandal of the 1970's. Here's some backstory on that; Roman Polanski was and is a brilliant filmmaker from Poland who lost both parents in the Holocaust as a kid. He made a name for himself as an auteur in Europe, moved to Hollywood and after Rosemary's Baby, he was THE Roman Polanski. He was married to the beautiful and wonderful Sharon Tate for a little less than a year until she and others at her house were brutally murdered by the Manson family while Roman was in London. His life changed forever, I mean of course it would. It should be added she was 8 1/2 months pregnant with their child at the time. 
A few years later, when he decided not to give into grief but to survive and to keep going as an artist he made arguably his best film; Chinatown. Around this time, he started dating very young girls. He's European, they were European, I'm sure there was some legality there. Then, one night at Jack Nicholson's house, he was taking photographs of a 13 year old girl named Samantha Gailey, and according to public record, he proceeded to give her champagne and quaaludes to knock her out (sound familiar?), then sodomized and raped her. 
Because of a really long story about what happened to the system of justice in this particular case, even though he had admitted culpability and guilt, he fled to France. To this day he is not allowed in the United States. The crisis comes from the fact that as a film lover, I without any pretense, faux intellect, or politics, really admire and respect him as a filmmaker. He is actually one of my favorites, and given what he had survived in his life, is it time to forgive him? Should we have forgiven him before? Surprisingly most people did. Except the police. I will never in my life advocate what he did. I have had to separate the person from the crime like a family member would.

Cosby at the height of his success
However, there's a sense of betrayal with Cosby that I cannot come to terms with. I grew up on The Cosby Show, and he really was America's dad. Not only that, he was so wholesome, and so iconic, realizing what he had done was such a blow to me that I don't think I have any forgiveness for him. As a woman, it makes my skin crawl. What I think bothers me the most is that he thought he could go on and on and get away with it, but now he's learning that no one is above the law. I just have no mercy for him. Why his case is different to me than the Polanski case is a total mystery. I do not think of Polanski as a victim. Although the European press would argue that. There is a very interesting documentary that I will link that expresses how he became two different people to two different sets of press; The European press saw him as this wholly tragic figure who survived the gassing of his mother, the murder of his wife, and maintained his voice against the Hollywood machine, while the American press saw him as this malignant twisted dwarf who dabbled in Satanism (untrue btw), was highly controversial, and just the perfect villain.
13-year-old Samantha Gailey, Polanski's victim. 
And yet, Cosby would be the last person to understand as a villain. So many of us, particularly women, have difficulty coming to terms with that. He brought happiness to so many homes on TV night, broke race barriers in comedy, did a great deal for Civil Rights as well. And yet, his epic downfall is what his legacy will be, it is not tainted. It is forever tarnished. 
I think the moment where I truly felt guttural hate for this man is when someone not exactly known for being of sound mind or for telling the truth; Janice Dickinson was interviewed about her experience with him as a young model. She said her piece, but the camera man failed at his job and forgot to turn off the tape. You can see that she started weeping in a way I never want to see a woman weep. Sexual assault is no joke, and having to hold it in because of intimidation from Cosby is even more disturbing and disgusting. 
Back to Polanski, I would blanket statement this whole thing and say that of course circumstances aside it is never ok, and we all know this. What is it about a person that you can eventually forgive and one that is unforgivable. When Polanski received his Best Director Oscar for The Pianist in 2002, every single member in the Dolby Theater stood up and clapped their asses off. Is it time? I doubt it. It's ironic that a man like Polanski who made films that were really amazing and that's about it, is more forgivable than Cosby who brought us so much joy when we were children. But perhaps that's why we hate him more. And you know what? We should. There will always be an asterisk next to both of their names, and actually perhaps Cosby's name will be erased from TV history so that there isn't a giant splotch on their repertoire.

How the world will now remember Cosby. 'Shame' should be written on his lapel like a scarlet letter. 
Ironically for Cosby, Hollywood is a very forgiving city. Hugh Grant, Mel Gibson, fucking Tara Reid, I mean c'mon. But in this age where women feel that their rights are being peeled apart like an orange, he is not a martyr. He is the shining example of what happens when power in Hollywood goes unchecked. We've talked about what's most infuriating and for lack of a better word defiling about this whole case is that it took one woman to speak up to make a whole army of them who felt so little next to the great and powerful Cosby to speak up and lived in silence for YEARS. I really do hope he gets his comeuppance. If not in court, the certainly in the court of public opinion. Why? Because I'm a woman. We will always be intimidated by figures like that who have more power, more money, more everything to fear people into speaking up. But since Obama had put sexual violence on the map, and really made it a forthright issue, its time to say I don't give a fuck who you are. You're a monster, and that's all I see.

Below is the trailer for the film I had mentioned earlier. It's called Wanted and Desired. Don't bother with Netflix the full thing is on Youtube, it is a must-see.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Shakespeare's Gay Pride

Granted I've never seen this play live, but this is definitely the best and most iconic version of Shylock. 

Brace yourselves, this might be controversial but since when do I shy away from that. I go home after a lone day, and I read or watch Shakespeare and try to write...because I am better than you. Tonight I rented on Demand my favorite Shakespeare play; The Merchant of Venice. Those of you who know it, good for you, and for those of you who don't...you're an asshole. But it concerns a man named Antonio (played in the film by Jeremy Irons) and the story goes that a 'close friend' Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) desperately wants to court a woman named Portia (Lynn Collins) who lives in Belmont which I assume is a tiny island off the coast of Venice. Here's the problem. Bassanio is a do-nothing, just a pretty boy with a lot of passion. Antonio his friend is a merchant...hence the name 'Merchant of Venice'. Long story short (too late), Antonio wants to help him so much that he gives him license to borrow money from the Jew of Venice, Shylock (Al Pacino) who is a money lender because Jews back then couldn't own businesses. Shylock complies but not before reminding Antonio that he's a piece of shit and giving the condition that if he is not paid back, the forfeit will be a pound of Antonio's flesh ...literally. How's the Vera cliffs notes? They agree and the deal is made and that's as far as I'm going because for chrissake read some goddamn Shakespeare. 
Artist rendition of Portia fighting off suitors.

On to my point, aside from the fact that there are always women disguised as men and the other way around particularly in his comedies (Twelfth Night, Midsummer, this play, etc.) There is always a special and unspoken relationship between certain male characters. Ask yourself, why would Antonio agree to this insane condition on Bassanio's sake? He's always seen in the play as being so overtly kind and almost a doormat to the much younger and prettier Bassanio. He is literally willing to put his life on the line for him. It's quite similar to the relationship that Iago and Cassio have in Othello. And no, I don't think this is an Elizabethan bromance. It can be argued that Antonio's loyalty to Bassanio is stronger than Bassanio's loyalty to Portia. 
The debt to be paid. He hath laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains. 

In Shakespeare, the women who have relationships with each other are usually ones of mutual respect and friendship. Much like you would find on an episode of Sex and the City. Yet the director of this particular film likes to play up the shall we say flighty relationship between Portia the most beautiful woman in Belmont and her BFF Nerissa, to the point where it's not so subtle. 
Portia doesn't need suitors, she has Nerissa. 

There's another element, it's quite small but it's become an iconic Shakespearean line and most people that use it today don't even know that it comes from this play. Shylock has a daughter Jessica who decides to renounce her Jewish faith to marry a man called Lorenzo. She dresses in a man's disguise to escape and says; 'do not look at me for I am much ashamed of my disguise ...but love is blind'. Indeed it is. Lorenzo would love Jessica as a man or woman. Because love is blind. Ok, enough redundancy. 
In the end, everyone marries each other, save for one character; the Merchant. I would argue that the merchant faces just as bad of a fate as Shylock. He is left alone because of his identity. Shylock is a Jew, and Antonio is gay. Not giving much away, when Shylock asks for his bond to be fulfilled as the money was not paid back to him, Antonio and Bassanio have perhaps the most tender moment between two humans I've ever seen. Antonio asks for his hand to hold him through this whole cutting out a pound of flesh being removed thing, and proclaims love for him...of course this is probably a love of friendship, but still. It's Nicholas Sparks tenderness. If it were me I'd be asking everyone to hold my hand and then probably pass out. And yet, it's deeply meaningful in subtext. And for the first time you see compassion on Bassanio's face. I feel that's actually pretty important. Not even when he wins Portia's hand in marriage does he show such emotion. It reminds me a lot of how Romeo reacts at the death of Mercutio. Yes, we all know what happens in the end, but the sorrow at the loss of a ...shall we say friend, is very powerful. 
So many iconic soliloquies in this play, this is from the 'quality of mercy' speech given by Portia in drag.

Now, this is not the only play that has somewhat homosexual subtext and characters; Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet, Banquo from Macbeth, even Hamlet to a certain extent. But hey, argue with me all you want, I haven't drawn a line in the sand. I'm just finding recurring themes that I want to address (where my theater geeks at?). If people to this day are still debating whether or not Shakespeare actually wrote all of Shakespeare which you can read all about here , then I get my gay themes in Shakespeare hypothesis. Clearly I miss grad school or something. Anyway, below is the trailer. At least watch the film. Aside from the Zeffirelli 1969 version of Romeo and Juliet, this is as close to the original source material as you're likely to get in cinema. 

See below: 




Sunday, December 25, 2016

On Christmas Night I'm Watching Schindler's List

The famous girl in red who serves as a catalyst in the change within Schindler's attitude, symbolizing every Jew he wasn't able to save. 
Let's put everything aside for the moment; Spielberg's first Academy Award, the event that it was that everyone saw, how important it is not only to the Jewish people, but for the world at large, etc. I want to talk about the filmmaking, because if I talked about absolutely everything, I'd never finish this post. 
Most of all, let's talk directing. Spielberg said his decision to shoot in black and white was because he didn't want to 'prettify' any images of the Holocaust. Apparently the studio insisted for a while that he shoot in color, and he assured them that if that was the case, he wouldn't have made the film. The lights and shadows harken to something out of Orson Welles. His long time DP (Director of Photography for the layman) Janusz Kaminski is truly a paragon of his craft. He made the events of the Holocaust and the events in Schindler's life so seamless as he moves from shmoozing with Nazi's in the first scene, the the chaos of Jews pretending that they have 'essential' factory skills so that they would get a blauschein (a blue card) meaning that they could go to work for Schindler (Liam Neeson) instead of being loaded up into trucks headed for death camps. His fluid camera captures the most aggressive and most intimate moments ranging from the liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto to a conversation between Schindler and his wife. 

Itzhak Stern played brilliantly by Ben Kingsley as Schindler's accountant and de facto right hand man. Their exchanges range from the mildly intellectual comic banter to some of the most harrowing moments of the film. 
As a historical epic (and that's what it is, not just a bio-pic), Spielberg utilized suspense so brilliantly it astounds me even today, considering that I've seen the film way too many times (like there even such a thing). A very iconic example of this is when Amon Göth (Ralph Fiennes) stands atop his balcony with a rifle killing people off one by one. He's aiming for a young Jewish boy who told him that he couldn't clean his bathtub as much as he tried. Amon tells him (as Schindler instructed when he said that power comes from pardon) that he pardoned him, changed him mind and after a few missed shots, as the kid walks away, aware of his fate, eventually gets shot in the back. 

'I pardon you'.
Another suspenful and heartbreaking scene is when a machinist gets examined by Göth, because Göth (like most Nazi's) takes his bloodlust to the extreme, and decides to kill him on the basis that he didn't make enough hinges. He knocks him to the ground and pulls the trigger, but the pistol jams. Through tears, the man tries to explain why his work was 'unsatisfactory' as Amon keeps trying to fire over and over again. Finally, he gives up and pistol whips him. The man survives, and is the one that writes the letter to the Soviets in case Schindler was captured that every Schindler worker signs on his behalf.
One of the most iconic scenes in the film of which I just spoke. It is so compelling, so terrifying, and so brilliantly executed, that it is the hallmark of perfect directing.
Now let's talk about the writing and acting. There is so much more going on than the story itself, and even with characters that have just a couple of lines, it pulls you into this film, this story, this world as if it's almost matter-of-fact. There is small humor here and there, especially with the Nazi's. A good example of this is when his accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) gets mistakenly put on a train to a camp, and Schindler goes to rescue him, despite his efforts, low-ranking Nazi's won't let him off. Schindler takes down their names and says; 'Thank you gentlemen, I think I can guarantee you that you'll both be in Southern Russia before the end of the month, good day'. Then the film cuts to Schindler walking along the train pass and yelling for Stern, while the low-ranking Nazi's follow him doing the same. Now that's good writing. 
But Spielberg doesn't shy away from the stuff none of us want to see, because we don't want to think that the greatest mass genocide in modern human history happened only 60 some years ago. He does this very subtly. A man sorting valuables, obviously those that Jews who are now in camps had to give up gets handed a burlap bag, inside which are a few handfuls of gold teeth. The man takes off his glasses in disbelief, as do we if we had glasses. But back to this later. 

Making the list.
A very important character is Poldek Pfefferberg (Jonathan Sagall) who actually wrote the book that the film is based on. He survived from the start of the Holocaust to the liquidation of Krakow to standing next to Schindler as he says a tearful goodbye to his workers at the very end. He is a rogue character. The first time we see him, he's mad at another seller on the black market for giving him shoe polish in glass containers instead of metal and threatens his co-conspirator. Schindler overhears his tenacity and offers him a job buying things on the black market that will be needed to shmooze with more Nazi's and eventually trade for the lives of his Jews. His mass fortune which was made by profiteering off of free labor from Jews at his company, he eventually gave up to save everyone he possibly could. 'They say that no one dies here, they say your factory is a haven, they say that you are good' a woman tells him who is desperate to bring her elderly parents into Schindler's factory. She dresses up in fancy borrowed clothes and puts on rouge and lipstick to appeal to Schindler. At first, he's furious at the fact that he's considered a Moses among the Jews, but his conscience catches up with him and he trades his cigarette lighter, his cigarette case, ties, pins, suits; everything, for his own humanity, and for theirs. 
Moreover, this is not a film about Schindler, and it is not a film about the Holocaust either. This is a film about history. A history that has been preserved in survival accounts, photographs, testimonies, etc. But someone had to put the pieces together and give us a narrative that not only educated us, but touched and enlightened us. The chaos, the deplorability, the horror, and the sorrow birthed a film that in itself is history, which taught us a very important thing through its fly-on-the-wall aesthetic; That (as the ring that the surviving Jews give to Schindler says) 'He who saves one life, saves the world entire'. 
'It's Hebrew from the Talmud, it says he who saves one life saves the world entire'.
Even watching it now, after so many times I can't even count, there are moments of terror, moments of contemplation, anger, but mostly moments of awe in the worst way. This is our history, not just the Jews, but all of us. A time where survival was more important than any sort of life, where hiding in excrement  meant the difference between life and death, where there was real evil in the world, and eventually the righteous  triumphed over it. This happened, and no one has ever or since brought it to film more comprehensively, with more brevity, and with such a sincere heart. 

Below some related clips: 




Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Emma Stone: The New Old It Girl

A take on The Virgin Mary (which was also a hilarious SNL sketch)
I haven't blogged in a while, and there's a good reason for that. My last blog was around Halloween, and then the election happened, and I don't know about you but I'm feeling just generally down no matter how many Samantha Bee or Seth Meyers I catch on the Youtubes making fun of this catastrophe.
Yeah 2016 in hindsight was a giant garbage fire. I'm not going to go that far into it, we all know what I'm talking about, but one source of comedy still stands strong and will continue to. The show has been on the air for 40 years and counting. Have you guessed it yet? I'm talking about SNL. You hear me Trump? You hear me racists, bigots, electors, Kellyanne, Mike Pence, Steve Bannon? We're still here, and we still have right to laugh. Ok, enough of my soap box rhetoric. On to some frivolous entertainment musings.
Everyone (especially young white pre-pubescent girls) want to be BFF's with Jennifer Lawrence. She smokes weed, she drinks Two Buck Chuck, she just doesn't give a fuck. In fact she makes such a point not to give a fuck that it's coming off as disingenuous.

Emma hosting SNL for her third time two weeks ago. 
The other day she got some much deserved heat because homegirl loves to run her mouth about all of the weird and embarrassing situations she finds herself in that are usually endearing but not in this case. Long story short; she said that she scratched her ass on sacred rocks in Hawaii where they were shooting Hunger Games: Catching Fire, so hard in fact that she dislodged a giant boulder which rolled down the hill and almost killed the sound guy. She thought it was hilaaaaaarious. Not so much. Also her movies are getting ridiculous. Yes she was Katniss, yes she has an Oscar for a film I really love; Silver Linings Playbook, but that was a while a go, and frankly Passengers looks pretty sweaty to me.
A couple of weeks ago Emma Stone hosted SNL for her third time (not for nothing, but when J-Law hosted it, it was crazy awkward and just proved to all of us that she's not as funny when on-script). In my opinion, it was the best show of the season so far, and one of the best of the last few years. Emma, like Jen seems older than she actually is, perhaps wise beyond her years, but she's quiet, demure, and doesn't pound our heads into the fact that she's JUST LIKE US. She's not.
But she's very very funny. Granted it's not just her, the new head writers at SNL gave her a great script, and she killed it. From the candle song to the cleaning crew Christmas songs to the high school obnoxious improve sketch that I love so much, she was fabulous. Oscars aren't the measure of a good actress. Case and point: Gena Rowlands STILL doesn't have one, and Marisa Tomei does. Explain that logic to me, you know what? Don't. But Stone's performance for which she was nominated (Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) was a really solid and visceral performance. She has a quiet lightning inside of her, and it doesn't help that she's gorgeous. She doesn't have to change her look, hair color, or wear Dior couture all the time (sorry another jab at Jen). She's just herself, and with La La Land coming out worldwide next week, it seems like she's rising while Jen is slowly descending on the ladder of hot young it girls.

Lest we forget, Stone was tapped to play perhaps the greatest female character ever written; Sally Bowles in the 2014 Broadway revival of my favorite musical; Cabaret.
With so many examples of faux white girl feminism that are so obnoxious that they crawl under my skin and make me nauseous; like Taylor Swift and her stupid squad, Lena Dunham and her show that she doesn't even write anymore, I could go on and on but I don't want to. In this climate, I would rather have a friend like Emma who has it together and seems eons smarter both streetwise and intellectually than Jennifer, despite the fact that both are high school drop outs. It just seems that Jennifer peaked a while ago, and now she's the highest paid actress in the business. We as snarky critics can say it's because she sold out, but that's not snark, it's just the truth. Emma continues to pick interesting and unique projects and can go from Spiderman to Birdman to La La Land seamlessly. Btdubs her chemistry with Gosling is too ridiculous. I'm sure he can have chemistry with a gardening tool, but still. I've switched teams, and I'm excited to see what Emma does next. Keep in mind, she started out in the Frat Pack opus Superbad as Jonah Hill's love interest. Let me say that again: Jonah Hill's love interest.
Her performance in Birdman was pretty untouchable. She didn't have that many quips or clap trap monologues, but her down-to-the-bone performance as a lost and confused former junkie daughter of a washed up has-been actor almost stole the show. Almost, because stealing from Michael Keaton is pretty damn hard. A for effort. 
I'm not even going to touch on Margot Robbie who is probably the best and smartest actress under 30 right now, and though it would be fun to throw a monkey wrench into this agenda, I like pinning two actresses that are around the same age and with the same influence on the zeitgeist against each other for shits and giggles. It makes me feel better about myself. And in a time when we desperately need some escapism, Emma delivers. Also, Jen stop scratching your ass on sacred rocks, it's not funny and it's flat out disrespectful, crude, and ridiculous. We're the fairer sex for a reason. Enjoy your free drinks.

Below some SNL clips and La La Land Trailer:



Thursday, October 20, 2016

I Have Something For You to Watch on Halloween

One of the more memorable scenes from the film. Can't tell you what's going on though, and it's hurting my soul.
The VVitch came out of nowhere, and I do mean nowhere. Shot in some desolate woods in Canada over 25 days by a freshman director who looks like he just stumbled out of the most hipster hipster bar in Los Angeles, I had heard things about it. Mostly that it was legit the most terrifying, unsettling film that will make your blood run cold. I was assuming this was coming from people who had never seen The Shining, or Rosemary's Baby, or The Exorcist. But now that I too have seen it, I will gladly put The VVitch into that group. I've read Arthur Miller's The Crucible more times than I care to remember and the Salem Witch Trials were never handled with that much honesty and brevity since. 

Does this not remind you of a certain famous painting?
But this is not about that. And the parallels between it and the New Testament were so subtle, nuanced, and brilliant it made me think; 'wow, hipsters can direct'. Robert Eggers, barely 32 (so exactly my age) cast a film with an all British (with the exception of one Scot) cast for this unsettling horror-type movie. I'm hesitant to call it a horror movie, even though that's how it's been marketed. To me, it's a period piece; a bleak drama much like There Will Be Blood with a lot of seriously disturbing images and themes. This is not a film for your parents or for the faint of heart, seriously you've been warned. 
I am not going to give away any spoilers, what I will give you is the premise. Set maybe a few years prior to Salem, a Puritan family is banished for the patriarch's disagreements with his elders about interpretations in the Bible. Defiant, he moves his family; wife Catherine, daughter Thomasin, son Caleb, and two really annoying twins around 5 or so to the wilderness...oh and there's a newborn who's pivotal to the story. What he was thinking I don't know, but it's his pride that spurred the journey and that's already giving stuff away. Now, anyone who is a horror purist knows that only bad shit can happen to you in isolation in the woods. The daughter Thomasin is the central character, who is about to reach 'womanhood' i.e. puberty, and the parents discuss selling her to another family so she can properly deal with it, which was not uncommon at the time. They are completely isolated save for their farm animals one of which is a surly black goat with giant horns called Black Phillip. The twins claim that he speaks to them and they speak back, and as we know, when animals do that and only little kids notice it, it's a common horror trope. But then it launches into a whirlwind of bizarre and such visceral happenings that you WILL have trouble sleeping at night. Even though you live in the middle of the city and don't own any goats. 

Black Phillip
What is beautiful about the film is the pacing (borrowed no doubt from Ingmar Bergman) where it emphasizes the feeling of degradation and isolation and eventually hopelessness and loss of faith. The other major aesthetic (borrowed from Kubrick no doubt) is the decision to shoot exclusively with natural light. And anyone who has ever made a movie, whether a 3-hour opus or a student film knows that negating your Omni's is basically film suicide. But to get the authentic feel the director strove for, it paid off.
Again, can't say what's happening. It's not a cliché exorcism I can tell you that much.
Now, you're probably thinking, they are in the wilderness near creepy woods, the film is called The VVitch...there's a witch in the woods, bam, you solved the puzzle...NOPE! And if you want to know what's actually up, guess what, WATCH IT. Stay home from the lame Halloween party you were invited to where everyone will be dressed as either Donald Trump or someone from Orange is the New Black, and just cuddle up with a pet or a stuffed animal like a child because no matter how tough you think you are, this movie will crawl under your skin and scare the life out of you. 

The climax of the film...have I left a good cliffhanger?
It was so impressive to see a film that was not only shot for under 2 million, made the rounds at Sundance and got picked up by A24, but that resurrected a genre that's basically become a parody of itself. If we label it a horror film, it's definitely up there with the aforementioned Rosemary's Baby, The Shining, etc. And it was directed by a guy who's basically the bastard child of Polanski, Bergman, and Kubrick; not a bad label to have. AND it's his first film. This was such a relief and single handedly restored my faith in the genre while making me slightly suicidal. Just kidding, but it did stick with me for so long and so strongly that I'm still not able to shake it off. 
Oh and in its defense, people were wondering why the fuck it's spelled the way it's spelled and that's because that's what pamphlets that made rounds in the colonies around that time looked like when they were asking people to beware of VVitches. It's not a hipster thing...well maybe a little bit. There I just gave you Halloween plans, you're welcome. 

Trailer below.