Showing posts with label Movies & TV. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Movies & TV. Show all posts


Film Clip Analysis: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Library Scene

image credit: © 1989 Lucasfilm
"X marks the spot!"
So, I was at Pier 1 in Brooklyn for their summer night outdoor showing of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. You know, the one with Sean Connery as Daddy Jones and Harrison Ford as Junior? This 1989 installment has its perks: we get to meet the knight who guards the vestibule of the holy grail (kind of like the Wandering Jew, but not) and we get to see the beautiful walled city of Petra in current-day Jordan. Well, amidst the hijinks and Holy Grail seriousness, not at all like Monty Python, there is a brief moment of library silliness that I should add to my post entitled, Libraries and Librarians in Film.

The scene spoofs two hallowed librarian stereotypes: silence and stamping books - as if that is all librarians do all day: shush people and stamp books.

The film pays clever homage to this trope by having Indy clobber his way through a tile in a library in Venice, Italy (X marks the spot) that will eventually take him through a sewer tunnel, and eventually (way-in-the-future-eventually) to the holy grail.

image credit: © 1989 Lucasfilm
Careful not to disturb the silence of the library, Indy takes a library guardrail and pile drives the thing into the floor quick enough not to be noticed! Not very believable, right? The comic relief, though, and the link to our sustained suspension of disbelief is while simultaneously, in clever cut-to-shot, the librarian is quietly stamping books. Every time Indy drives a hit into the marble Venetian tile, the clamoring thud is synchronized with the librarian's rubber book stamping. It's a hilarious sound gag.

After a few deafening blows, the librarian retires the stamp for a new one. Obviously, he illogically thinks his rubber stamp carries a huge sound effect. How is that for post hoc propter hoc

Sometimes a cause of X is not always Y. And X does not always mark the spot.


Movie Review: Salt

In this post, I review the new Angelina Jolie movie Salt.
image credit: NYT
Despite insane physical hijinks, Salt (2010) is a pretty damn good spy thriller. Jolie is Evelyn Salt, a Russian mole, and CIA agent. She is married to an arachnologist, which means he studies spiders for a living, played by August Diehl. Her cover's been blown. She's been accused of being a Russian spy by a Russian defector who shows up just when she's gearing up for an anniversary feast with her hubby. The defector (Daniel Olbrychski) claims she'll assassinate the Russian president. It's a big ole mess. Who is Salt? At least, that's what the tagline asks. The director Phillip Noyce keeps us guessing and Kurt Wimmer's screenplay is taut and satisfactory. The jumbled mess keeps us interested. The story grabs your attention from the start and does not let go.


Billy Elliot, Anatomy of a Scene: "You Can't Take That Out on a Junior Ticket"

In this blog post, I take apart one scene from the Stephen Daldry film Billy Elliot.

Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Higher Education, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Not Grade Specific -
Stones of Erasmus
TpT Store
     Stephen Daldry directed Billy Elliot (2000), written by Lee Hall, now a Broadway Musical, about a young boy's persistent desire to be a dancer despite the disapproval of his overbearing, but in-the-end loving father (Gary Lewis). Sped on by his indomitable, but cranky teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters) Billy deals with the death of his mother and the stark reality of living in an oppressed coal mining town in England circa 1984.
     The film is set during the coal miner's strike when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sought to cripple the colliery unions that were seen as a roadblock to a conservative economic strategy. The film is filled with stark images of life with police barricades and protest riots. However, the film chooses not to depict Billy's life as completely bleak. The scenes are shot in bright tones which seems to protest against the otherwise somber historical background of the coal miner riots.


Movie Jot: A Vincent Gallo Film You Most Likely Won't Finish

The Brown Bunny (2003) 
A paean to the road trip, bad fellatio, and gross men is enough to make you stop watching this brilliant, albeit disturbing, film directed by Vincent Gallo and starring Vincent Gallo, with Chloë Sevigny.


Seven Exciting Interview Questions for David Gordon Green

In this post, I imagine an interview with the film director David Gordon Green.
David Gordon Green, American Film Director, and Producer
David Gordon Green is most famous for his hash success Pineapple Express. He once said that McCabe and Mrs. Miller is the most beautiful movie ever made. He also wrote and directed George Washington, a film about black youth in an impoverished southern town. This earlier work interweaves the kids' lives, pursuits, dreams, and the consequences of choice and fate.

I liked the film so much, I concocted an interview I'd like to give:

1. You mentioned in an interview with Charlie Rose, that you were okay with making "C's" in school. Do you think creativity is different than academic achievement?

2. In your film George Washington, there is a scene filmed in an abandoned school, completely filled in with kudzu, making it invisible from the street. As an artist from the south, what do you think needs to be done to rejuvenate our educational systems? George Washington depicts kids who are brimming with life but cut at the buds because of societal limitations. It reminds me of Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men. What do you think?

3. You seem to capture the beauty and ambiguity of youth so accurately, and differently, than any other artist, I have seen. What is your vision for youth in America, especially in the wake of Columbine, 9/11, and No Child Left Behind?

4. Whatever happened to the Confederacy of Dunces? Is it a cursed project?

5. Have you ever dabbled in fiction?

6. How is your house in New Orleans coming along?

7. One final question. Will you marry me?


Libraries and Librarians in Film

EW did a thing on 18 movies with libraries, but I thought I'd add to the mix with just 3:
Citizen Kane
The Library Matron
The librarian grants access to a journalist to read the diary of Charles Foster Kane's guardian William Thatcher.
Citizen Kane (1941)
William Thatcher's diary in the famous Citizen Kane library scene
A stern-looking librarian leads a reporter into a cell containing a diary by Charles Foster Kane's guardian William Thatcher that may give him leads to the infamous newspaper magnate's sudden death. The journalist in the film plays the part of the dogged researcher who seeks out every possible avenue to sort out why did Kane spout out before he died, "Rosebud." He arrives at a fortress (or what appears to be a prison) that turns out to be an imposing archive. Granting permission to the journalist to peruse Thatcher's diary, The librarian tells him he can only read pages 83-142 and that he must leave the library premise by 4:40 sharp. I watched Citizen Kane for the first time with a librarian and she was quick to point out how librarians are erroneously depicted in popular culture as stern "guardians of the stacks." The mantra, it seems, is "the book shan't leave my sight!" I chuckle because the Kane library scene is sometimes true. I knew a librarian who went to the grocery store one afternoon and saw a patron in line and instead of telling her hello demanded to know why she had not turned in her overdue library book. True story. Anyway, I still consider this scene the quintessential library scene in film history even though it stereotypes librarians as "sole proprietors" of knowledge, I still love it. I think I was mesmerized by Greg Toland's brilliant cinematography: the way the light shines from above, illuminating the manuscript on the spare table, the way the camera makes you feel trapped inside the library walls, chained to nothing but a book. Then the camera focuses on a page in Thatcher's diary, I first encountered Mr. Kane in 1871." The book morphs into a flashback scene of little Charlie Kane playing in the snow with his sled. It's a stark effective scene as well as a metaphor for the increasing mystery of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane's mysterious life.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
The Library Know-it-All
Obi-Wan Kenobi scours the library databases in the Jedi library but to no avail.

Obi-Wan is surprised that not even the library has it!  
Obi-Wan Kenobi goes to the library to look for a planet in the star database in the Jedi Archives.  Obi-Wan has the right information but cannot find the planet. The librarian insists the planet does not exist because it does not appear in the star charts where it is supposed to be located. If it is not in the database, then it does not exist, the librarian remarks. Coincidentally, I was with the same librarian I saw Citizen Kane with when I saw this movie and she pointed this out to me with the same chagrin on her face as she did when she pointed out the Kane librarian trope. The Star Wars librarian is another variation of the Kane librarian: not only does the knowledge not appear in the record, if the knowledge is not in the record then it does not exist. So, does that mean if I do not have a birth certificate I do not exist? I become a tad bit nervous when librarians began messing with my existential priorities. The flip slide is the student researching a term paper: "I cannot find anything on my topic." It doesn't exist? Even Obi-Wan knows that; in case you were wondering, it was the Sith who smudged the planet from the star charts to hide their nefarious plans to create a clone army. So it just goes to show you, if it is not in the database, and it is supposed to be there, someone bad took it out, like a Sith Lord.    

The Library Catalog Haunted by a Ghost

I ain't afraid of no ghosts
The Ghostbusters stumble upon a ghostly specter in the stacks.
 If you thought an archive powered by the Force was cool, what about a card catalog haunted by a slimy ghoul? Ghostbusters has a fun opening sequence that features none other than the famous New York Public Library (although the interior shots were filmed in a library in California). I like the part when the green slime emits from the card catalog. Priceless shot!

EXTRA! EXTRA! See my post on the library scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade


Anatomy of a Scene: Au Revoir Les Enfants (Scene 20)

Movie Still - Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)
In Louis Malle's haunting autobiographical film, Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987), figures come out of the Northern European mist as if half-dead, draped in dark shrouds of black. The setting is not Auschwitz or the Western front, but a small Catholic boarding school outside of Paris, Winter 1944, months before the fall of the Third Reich. Malle's focus is not the battlefield, nor is it the concentration camp, but rather, he focuses his exploration on the effects of racism and evil on the lives of young French adolescent boys holed up in a confined space, apart from their upper-class parents. The school's headmaster, Father Jean, has decided to matriculate three new students at the start of the Winter term. What no one knows is that the three new students are, in fact, Jewish stowaways, hidden by the school to save their lives. In this scene (scene 20, according to Malle's screenplay), students are marching to the public baths for their periodic soapy wash. The scene is a mixture of everyday rituals of boarding school life, similar to other scenes in the film, of the boys sleeping, praying, attending class, playing war games, playing the piano, and taking tests. The "normal," almost painterly scenes are punctuated by news from the war zone: talk of hatred against Jews, the Resistance, French collaborators with the Germans, and the impending intimidation enforced by the conquering Germans. Rations are scarce. Even the wealthy schoolboys suffer; their only allowance is jam and sugar which they exchange for cigarettes. France is occupied by Germany but the Resistance is rumbling. News of German defeat on the Russian front has been circulating.


Stolen Shot: Midnight Cowboy

One of the best on-location street scenes in movie history was actually an accident (although there are some naysayers who say the shot was scripted). When "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) yells, "I'm walking here!" to a New York City taxi driver in Midnight Cowboy (1969), the cabbie was a real-life cabbie. To save money, Director John Schlesinger did not file a permit with the city to use the Midtown Manhattan street for his film. The scene is a "stolen shot," which in film rhetoric means the director did not get official permission to shoot on a city street. The pedestrians are real New Yorkers, not extras. Their surprise is not canned. The cameramen were poised in a van a block away, shooting the scene. The cab driver is an actual pissed off cab driver. No extras on set.
Hoffman is brilliant in this scene. He does not break character. He keeps Ratso's limp intact (evidently Hoffman kept pebbles in his shoe to keep his limp consistent for every shot). His cigarette falls to the ground; he doesn't bother to pick it up. When his buddy (John Voight) looks stunned, Hoffman pulls him along by the arm. Hoffman's adlib is perfect; after a near brush with a yellow cab, he keeps it hot, muttering in character, "Actually, that ain't a bad way to pick up insurance, you know"; you can tell Voight is a little surprised by the interruption, but even still, he stays in character.


Top Ten Movies in Black and White Made After the Invention of Color Film

1. Wizard of Oz (1939)
Oz is meant to be in dazzling techno-color, right? What is Glinda in black and white but a dried out witch?  As a kid I loved the surprise transition from black and white to color, dazzled by the transition from black and white of Kansas to the sparkling color of the Munchkin village. But, the black and white scenes give us the film's original avatars of the scarecrow, the tin woodsman, the cowardly lion and the wicked witch of the west as shadows of Dorothy's unconscious. Wait! Does that mean the black and white world is the dream and Oz is the reality? Ah hah. I think I've stumbled upon something here. And, don't forget, Dorothy's rendition of "Somewhere, Over the Rainbow" is sung in glorious black and white, not color.

2. Schindler's List (1993) 
Image result for schindler's list
A film about the holocaust filmed in black and white seems to suggest that black and white only represents the darkest, most insidious side of human nature, but Steven Spielberg is blithe to contend that even a bit of color can intrude in the darkest moments of human history. Interspersed within the panoply of dark and shadow granulation, a colored spectacle of a fated Jewish girl appears on film. The colored vision Schindler sees is supposed to represent his epiphany - the error of the Aryan solution. Schindler sees her carted off by the Nazis; her colored body adrift among a sea of gray. The absence of color represents everything stark. Everything Gestapo soldiers are not but the color of the little girl is: life, innocence, hope.

3. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Although technically not a black and white film, this World War II flick reaches the limit of color while still retaining color status. I think it is the only color film that I still remember in black and white. The director and his color expert drained most of the color out of the scenes to give the film a grainy, realistic look, as if the viewer is right there with the soldiers on Omaha beach. It is a gritty film. I cannot say there is a better film in color that mimics the mise-en-scene of black and white any better than this one. A must-see.

4. Psycho (1960)
OK. Now when you thought I'd pepper this blog with only seemingly black and white films, I have finally added a true black and white film. Albeit, the shower scene was filmed with chocolate syrup, I still think the horror of this film is aptly felt. When I show the shower clip in the classroom as an example of the horror genre, the students laugh at the low-tech - but they fail to realize the beauty of the of the edit, the visual deletion of the knife hitting skin. I recently watched Gus Van Sant's loving reproduction of Psycho in full color and still remain partial to the original black and white piece. I think it has to do with the fact that Hitchcock is plain brilliant and Van Sant, although brilliant (recently watched his original genius, Mala Noche, and loved it) does not pull off even in reproduction what Hitchcock was able to do with sheer invention.

5. Raging Bull (1980)
Again going on the metaphor of blood - there is something about seeing blood stream from a boxer's body in the rink that fares better in black and white than it does in color. Scorcese's film is a mixture of color and black and white. I think the reason Scorcese chose this montage was to exacerbate the underlying theme of the film: the vacillation of the alcoholic rage, going from prickly tenderness, as the familial scenes in the kitchen, to the parallel between domestic violence and the grueling games of the rink. I would say this film is almost too perfect to be filmed totally in color. In the discombobulated form of color and gray  

6. Wings of Desire (1987)
If Woody Allen's films form a poetic paen to New York, then Wim Wender's orgiastic love song to war-blown Berlin is equally beauteous. I may be biased because I love the library scene in this film - and library books shine better in sepia tones anyway - a book does not need Technicolor. This film about angels entertaining us unaware is half a dirge and half a love song to humanity. I loved it. One thing about black and white - and sounds cliché but I will say it anyway - black and white cinematography, if done well, brings out the humanity of the human face (as an allusion to Emmanuel Levinas, somewhere).

7. The Seventh Seal (1957)
The black and white image of the Virgin with Child apparition coupled with the dance of death is beauteously rendered in black and white in this entirely diaphanous film. For a film about death, the beauty of a stark, rocky beach - a crusader and the personage of death - is painted in miraculous poetic tones. Of all the films I have ever seen, this film stands out as a gem of cinematic technique.

8.  Manhattan (1979)
So, Woody Allen is a neurotic who cannot keep stuffing sunshine up his you-know-what, I still love this beautiful take on romance and cityscape. And yes, the plot is basically the same as all of Woody's films: an older neurotic cannot keep the young girls from falling all over him - but I have to say, of all the directors in this list, Allen has the unequivocal ability to make cinematic love to his city. What I like about Manhattan more than the dysfunctional romance is the paint brush swathed over a canvas. New York is a commonly filmed town, but Woody Allen's films make New York a character.

9. Europa (1991)
Lars Von Trier's eerie look at post-war France is both a Hitchcockian mystery, Cagney-esqe train thriller and existential romp that will leave you scratching your head. There must be something about existential movies (see the Seventh Seal) that seem to fare so much better in black and white than they do in color. Color is too happy (see Pleasantville) or is reality too much like Kansas (see Wizard of Oz). The distinction between color as freedom and black and white as fascism (and the race against time) seem to be the predominant themes in this little treat of a film from everyone's favorite Dogme hero. I think the prize goes to Europa for the last scene. I cannot image the death any other way than in water and in black and white. Water, trains, floating bodies - black and white for sure!

10. Pleasantville (1998)
Just as the Wizard of Oz begins with a dream and enters dream reality, Pleasantville begins with an illusion and enters a satirical nightmare. Playing on the conventions of boring 1950s black and white television that needs some color, the film playfully looks at the land of Oz from a completely sardonic point of view. I thought the movie deserved a place in this list because it is perhaps the only film I am aware of that is so meta-aware of itself as a black and white film poking fun at black and white films.


Movie Review: In Juno (2007) Jason Reitman Attempts to Make Us Feel Genuine Emotion

(starring Ellen Page and Michael Cera)
Maybe it was director Jason Reitman's sleight of hand that actually got to me rather than genuine sentiment, but I have begun to distrust how a film makes me feel. I have acquired an impervious lamella toward film; I had seen Juno back in 2007 and found this review that I had never posted. Literature to me has become false emotional catharsis (probably comes from reading way too much film theory) but it probably actually has more to do with the fact that most films really SUCK at pulling off true human emotion. Probably the last great American movie of genuine, gut-wrench sentiment was Ordinary People. But, for the most part, American movies are saccharine sweet and two-dimensional.

After that scathing report on American Cinema, I will not actually talk about Juno
I have to admit, though, the first ten minutes did not reel me in as I thought it would, based on the Ebert review I did in fact read. The film too much reminded me of Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tennenbaums, that I was afraid that the film would never rise about the artifice of clever dialogue and impeccable mise-en-scene. A Wes Anderson flick is so obsessive compulsive in set design, that it is as if the props were meant to be fetishistic totems rather than set pieces.
Jennifer Garner's character Vanessa aspires to be the mother
of the child of a pregnant teenager (played by Ellen Page) 
I thought I was getting way too deep into the Anderson kitsch with this film, especially when the titular character (Ellen Page), a newly impregnated teen, her adolescent tummy bulging deliberately to smack the viewer in the face, chugs a cheery load of Sunny D and lashes out smart-ass comebacks to the convenience store clerk (a great cameo by Rainn Wilson). Wilson spouts out snappy one-liners when the knocked-up teen shows up to buy a home pregnancy test: “That ain't no Etch-A-Sketch. This is one doodle that can't be un-did, Homeskillet. ” Those lines alone should be placed on the Hollywood walk of fame or something.
Not to ruin anything, there are no spoilers here, but I thought the most affecting scene in the entire film is Jennifer Garner, the would-be mother, placing her head to Juno’s belly to hear the baby move. That to me made the film. Oh, if every film had such a moment of sheer beauty, I will want to embrace cinema again and perhaps re-love catharsis.


Movie Review: Why I Liked the Film "Julie and Julia"

Meryl Streep portrays TV chef Julia Child
Tonight I went with my friend Glenn to see Julie and Julia.

Afterward, I was imitating Julia Child's voice on the way home. "Ooooh, I loved the movie so much!"

Julie and Julia (2009) directed by Nora Ephron stars Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Amy Adams as Julie Powell. The story is about how Julia's Child cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking inspires a New Yorker to cook each recipe in one year.

I loved the film.

No, I have never read Child's cookbook or even glanced at her TV show. I had not read Julie Powell's book either.

The film's narrative goes back and forth between 1950s France and 2002 Queens, New York. The viewer watches as Child in 1949 goes from barely able to boil an egg, to developing, collaborating and eventually writing a French cookbook for Americans to Julie Powell, a beleaguered government employee fielding calls from relatives of 9/11 victims who one day decides to cook her way through Child's masterpiece and blog about it.

I thought Streep captured the playfulness and persistence of Child. In one scene, learning her sister has had a child, Streep captures the joy of a woman learning her sister is pregnant, but also the stabbing reality that she herself has not had children. The humor of Child's dogged determination to "do something" is married with her love of food. "It's good isn't it?" she asks her husband, played by Stanley Tucci, offering him a taste of her latest creation. I never followed Child, being too young to be interested in her on TV, but I was struck by her equal parts of childlikeness and almost cold-hearted aspiration. As her husband coyly notes, she was able to make the most snooty Parisian smile.

Adams can certainly not top Streep's performance. Streep evoked a benign Child completely enamored by her craft, giving "no apologies." Adams is a more difficult character to like. She is woefully insecure and feels overshadowed by her more successful friends. Her "sainted husband," played by the super handsome Chris Messina, carries the relationship and endears himself to the audience. I liked him the best.

So, go watch Julie and Julia. You will be motivated to write a blog (which is why I am writing this entry).

Jon: I was hoping you could be with me. :-)

N.B. The image of Merly Streep is taken from Buzznet.


Quasi-Movie Review: On Pondering the Movie Wall-E While Doing Chores

   I woke up this morning and weirdly began to ponder that movie Wall-E that I saw last Winter. I woke up oddly early this morning, which is uncommon for me when I do not have to work (and the fact that I had a piercing pain in my lower dorsal area). I made my cup of coffee and went and sat on my deck (not my desk) and began adding to a Wiki I am working on for my MLIS program. I was feeling uncharacteristically productive -- which led me to the Wall-E premise and the added fact that I have been following David Pogue's advice to add typing expansion software to a computer (I decided on TypeItForMe after reviewing Typinator and TextExpander).
  So, with all of this productivity racing in my mind Wall-E seems to be an apt patron saint. On screen he seems so pleasant in his daily diurnal chores, that for a minute, I was co-joined with him in a kind of ecstatic state (not like Saint Teresa in Ecstasy, but close to it), as I went about my apartment, which is usually quite a mess, but has been recently quite clean and organized (although I still cannot find anything). If you are wondering: the motivation to clean my house is threefold: 1.) I thought I was going to have my better friend on Saturday and 2.) on Monday I have a house guest for a week so I thought it kind to spruce the place up a bit. The third motivation is summertime and I have nothing else to do but add to the décor of this apartment in which I will probably be staying for at least another year. I added a runner rug to the hallway leading to the bathroom; I found a wooden red upholstered bench behind a dumpster; I hung some picture frames in my bathroom; I cleaned a pile of dishes (ahem) that had been uncleaned and hanging out on my deck for three months (I am not even joking); I vacuumed my house with a Dyson that Lorie lent me; and, I have a cleaning appointment with Stanley Steemer later this month. Fucking Christ, I am becoming a veritable Ms. Molly homemaker. Can someone please come over and confirm my identity? I think I have been taken over by a poltergeist who goes by Martha Stewart in the daytime and Julia Child by night. Jesus. But, really, this has been good for me. This past year I have lived in basic squalor, so it is nice to know what a real apartment should look like. And the fact that Wall-E was able to keep his junk closet neatly organized has given me grace.


Movie Review: Imaginary Heroes (2004)

In this blog post, I write a movie review about the angsty indie film Imaginary Heroes starring Emile Hirsch.
Emile Hirsch is an actor in Dan Harris's film Imaginary Heroes
It may seem redundant that there is another film out there about the dark underbelly of suburbia, but Dan Harris (who wrote and directed the film at the age of 24) proves that you cannot get too much of a good thing with the independent film, Imaginary Heroes.