Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts

31.7.23

Paul Reubens as Pee-Wee Herman: A Journey of Unapologetic Joy and Playfulness

Explore the joyful world of Pee-Wee Herman, brought to life by the legendary Paul Reubens. A nostalgic journey of unapologetic playfulness and iconic laughter.
Pee-Wee on his iconic bike from the 1985 Tim Burton classic "Pee-Wee's Playhouse"
Paul Reubens plays "Pee-Wee Herman" in Tim Burton's iconic 1985 film.

When I was a child, waking up early on Saturdays meant one thing: watching Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Little did I know that my love for this whimsical character, portrayed by the legendary Paul Reubens, would become a defining aspect of my childhood and leave an everlasting mark on my life.

At first, my parents might have thought my fascination with Pee-Wee was just a typical childhood obsession with colorful and silly television shows. After all, Pee-Wee's Playhouse was a delightful series featuring anthropomorphic household items like talking sofas and a witty globe. What could be more harmless?

However, my family's concerns started when I began to imitate Pee-Wee incessantly. I talked like him, walked like him, and found myself endlessly inspired by his exuberant personality: "La-la-la-la-la."  At times, I even found myself quoting his iconic lines, such as the famous exclamation about not messing with someone's dots. And I would say stuff like, "Knock! Knock! Who's there?" and "I know you are, but what am I?" I had fully embraced Pee-Wee's persona and couldn't help but express it, even in public places like the Piggly-Wiggly during grocery shopping trips.

While my mother, father, and older brother were not entirely pleased (and my younger brother just shrugged his shoulders) with my Pee-Wee imitations outside the comfort of our home, I felt a connection with the character that went beyond surface-level entertainment. Pee-Wee represented something deeper to me - a sense of jouissance, wild abandon, and the desire to be extraordinary and unapologetically unique.

When Pee-Wee's Big Adventure hit the big screens, I was six years old and already in my element, loving to show off and talk endlessly about my favorite things. Interestingly, my other passion at the time was listening to Christian singer Sandy Patti, which might have seemed like an odd combination for a young child. Nevertheless, my love for Pee-Wee and Sandy Patti knew no bounds.

The movie itself was a dream come true. I adored the Rube Goldberg contraption that prepared a simple bowl of cereal and fed the dog in the opening scene. And of course, who could forget Pee-Wee's beloved bike? I yearned for a life like his, filled with color, joy, and a happy home.

Looking back on those memories now, I realize that Pee-Wee was more than just a character to me. He represented a fantasy, a glimpse into an intriguing and liberating life. In my young mind, Pee-Wee embodied the essence of what I thought a happy and carefree life might look like - a single man, riding his bike, surrounded by a vibrant and accepting community. But most importantly, he cherished what mattered most to him - his beloved bike.

As the news of Paul Reubens' passing on July 30th, 2023, reached the world, I couldn't help but feel a profound sense of gratitude for the joy he brought to countless lives, including mine. The iconic laugh that resonated with so many of us will forever remain etched in our hearts.
Pee-Wee's Laugh: Which I Imitated Incessantly Until My Parents Forbade Me to Laugh Like Him. 

So here's to you, Mr. Reubens. Thank you for sharing the gift of Pee-Wee Herman with the world. Your unapologetic embrace of joy and playfulness touched the lives of many, including a little boy who found solace and happiness in your exuberant character. Heh heh heh!

21.11.21

Stones of Erasmus Television Review — Doctor Who: Flux, "Village of the Angels"

In this post, I write about the fourth episode of Doctor Who: Flux, "Village of the Angels," that aired on BBC America tonight.

Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow!
I suppose you are a fan of the Doctor? Right? The Doctor is amazing! One of the best shows in the history of television! In any case, you might have noticed that when the Doctor is in a pickle — such as in tonight's episode, "Village of the Angels," — they can get out of anything. Shouts a few lines about reversing the energy of something or other —  as the following fantastic supercut from DoctorGeek illustrates:

How do you sum up the British Sci-Fi television series Doctor Who in a few sentences? 


The Doctor is a Time-Traveling Alien

The Doctor is an alien time-traveler who travels in a broken time machine that has been begrudgingly stuck in the shape of a British police box. The Doctor almost always has an earthling companion, and he (or she) has a penchant for the human beings of planet earth. The show is at its heart a story about saving the heart of humanity — seen through the perspective of someone who is not us — but who is madly in love with us, silly, stupid, harmful humans. In tonight's episode, part four of a Dr. Who mini-series entitled The Flux, the Doctor meets a devastating bind; by saving the life of a human, she falls into a trap. And viewers were left on the edge of their seats with quite a crazy twist.


Jodi Whitaker's Doctor Finds out More About Her Past — At a Cost

The Doctor is about to find out more about her past — more about the past that even pre-dates the narrative history of the show itself, the past the Doctor lived before they were our Doctor! The show has toyed with this idea for a dozen episodes so far, with the big reveal in Season Thirteen that the Doctor is not indigenous to the race of the Time Lord — the race they thought they were — but a "Timeless Child," whose regeneration properties the Time Lords retrofitted to their own purposes. 


And much of the Doctor's deep past on Gallifrey was wiped out from their mind — and what we know of the Doctor, as television viewers might be just a glimpse of a cosmic history of a character who already seems larger than life — so I have to say I am excited for the next two episodes of the show.


Can the Doctor Escape the Weeping Angels and the Division?

Will The Doctor be able to get out of this pickle? How will her friends get out of their pickle? Last season ended with the Doctor imprisoned by the Judoon and Jack Harkness came to the rescue — but I am not so sure the Doctor is going to escape Weeping Angels so easily. And then there is the Division. Who are they? And how much will they reveal about the Doctor's past? 


Are you a fan? 

Let me know your thoughts on tonight's episode in the comments.

5.6.19

Short Film Review: Reckless (2013)


The Short Film "Reckless" - 2013 (22 minutes, in Norwegian with English subtitles)
Film still from the short "Reckless" (2013)


The 2013 Norwegian short film "Reckless" is the work of director Bjørn Erik Pihlmann Sørensen and writer Einar Sverdrup. I saw the film in 2013 and passed it off as a public service announcement about the need to rein in irresponsible teenagers. But as you will notice as I write about the movie, my views have changed a bit since I last saw it. To give you a brief rundown, the movie is about a teenage girl who has to babysit her younger child-age brother - and through a series of related events tragedy strikes. I thought maybe the movie was funded by parents who want their adolescent-aged kids to take better care of their siblings. However, I recently watched it again and the short made me think more about what message it is trying to convey. I haven't read much about the movie online nor have I talked to anyone else I know who has seen it. I am going to take a critical plunge and articulate in a flat-footed way what I think the movie might be suggesting about adolescence, sexuality, and responsibility. It's also a movie about the absence of authority.

13.7.18

Review of Frederick Wiseman's "High School" (1969) and Jean-François Caissy's La Marche à Suivre (2014)

I am a teacher, so I am familiar with the strained relationship students sometimes have with authority. And most teachers - especially the best ones - are in tune with this tension between youth and adult, between power, and submission, obedience, and freedom. However, taking a psychological view, High School is also an exciting time where teenagers are becoming self-reflective, and the adults in the room have a front row seat to their pupils' on-going development. I use the word becoming on purpose. Adolescence is a messy progress.
La Marche à Suivre (2014)
High School (1969)

4.3.18

Book Review: Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne

Absolute Brightness is a young adult novel.  
Absolute Brightness
by James Lecesne


Paperback, 352 pages

Published May 31st, 2016 by Feiwel & Friend
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I am reviewing the gay YA novel, Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne.

The Amazing Life of Leonard Pelkey
In the late 90s, James Lecesne raised awareness about gay teen suicide. He wrote a novella that was adapted into a short film about a precocious boy who feels rejected by his family and attempts suicide - only to be rattled back to his senses by a cute candy striper at the hospital. This was back in 1998. Trevor lives. Almost as a counterpoint, in Absolute Brightness (2016),* James Lecesne tells the story of a teenager, Leonard Pelkey, who is murdered in Neptune, New Jersey. 

Leonard is characterized as a nice, talkative fourteen-year-old boy. When he first arrives at his aunt's house - to move in - he is met with derision by his cousin, Phoebe, who is also the narrator of the story. Leonard seems oblivious to the fact that Phoebe does not take to lightly to his fashion decisions - pink and lime-green capri pants and a "too small T-shirt." However, for Phoebe, Leonard was "way too different." And it is this aversion to difference that Lecesne grapples with in this book.


Leonard has all the Packaging of a Gay Stereotype
While he is never outright labeled as gay, Leonard carries all the packaging of the gay male effeminate stereotype. He is characterized, in the novel, like Dorothy - "more the type to be heading toward a place like Oz, as in The Wizard of." He never gets there. And the novel turns directions.

11.5.17

A Monster Calls (2016) - Movie Review

Production still from "A Monster Calls" (Focus Features)
A boy learns to face his fears (© Focus Features)
Wanna see a movie that gives us a twenty-first-century version of a Grimm's fairy tale?

In the book Uses of Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim lays out a psychological argument that fairy tales are useful in helping young children understand adult fears. Fairy tales are couched in childlike verse, but beneath the surface lies deeper, troubling psychological truths.

For example, why is every stepmother in fairy tales evil? Well, according to Bettelheim it is because it is all about the fear children have that our parents don't love us. But. This is too much to bear for the children, so the storyteller replaces this fear with a substitute - the stepmother.

In J.A. Bayona's fantasy flick, A Monster Calls, the logic works similarly. However, the metaphor is not as thickly veiled. There are no evil stepmothers; but, there is a strident grandmother (Sigourney Weaver).

The story, based on a novel of the same name by Patrick Ness, centers on a young boy named Conor (played sensitively by Louis MacDougall), a waifish boy attuned to the visual arts but prone to being bullied at school. He is dealing with the impending tragedy of his mother's death. 

While his family seemingly falls apart all around him, Conor falls deeper and deeper into a sullen depression. In one scene, he destroys his grandmother's sitting room, tearing the furniture apart. The boy is distraught and anger is an easy anodyne.

In order to help Conor deal with the reality of his grief, every night around midnight an anthropomorphic yew tree monster voiced by Liam Neeson) uproots itself from a nearby cemetery to dole out three fairy tales to the lad. The tales - à la Bettelheim - are meant to help the young boy deal with the very real fear of his mother's death.

That's all fine and dandy. There are lots of films and books that help children deal with the reality of death - take My Girl and Bridge to Terabithia as potent examples.

A Monster Calls is a little different because the plots rend open a deeper and more destructive fear. The inevitable death of Conor's mother also triggers within Conor a kind of death drive. The yew tree monster's stories are meant to help the boy realize his own wish to die and to counteract this drive with a life-giving "yes" living.

So it's intense material. I won't go into the content of the tales - but suffice it to say the film's visuals are stunning and I think the movie succeeds in driving home its central psychological thesis.

I am not one to censor films; however, I would caution against viewing this film with young children. I think the deeper themes of destruction and not-so-subtle hints about suicidal ideation should give parents pause. However, if parents know the content of the film deals with these themes, it could prove to be an enriching experience for both child and adult.

If Bettelheim is right, then fairy tales are meant to ease the more horrific facts of life - death, murder, suicide, decay, entropy, and estimated taxes - and, thus; films just may be our twenty-first-century version of sixteenth-century Grimm's fairy tales.
A Monster Calls (2016)
Focus Features
Directed by J.A. Bayonna
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones, and Lewis McaDougall
Written by Patrick Ness (Screenplay) and based on his book.

26.8.16

Theater of the Absurd Charlie Rose Style

Charlie Rose supercut
In 2013 I saw this video at an exhibition on supercuts at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens  adjacent to the old style Astoria film studios where Law and Order and Sesame Street have been brought to life.
Anyway. A supercut is a kind of new media -- someone gets an idea like "What if I cut out everything in news media clippings of Donald Trump speaking except for when he utters "China"? You get the idea. Or a supercut of just blah blah blahs from across cinematic history. I posted that one on this blog. I must be obsessed with supercuts. I have wanted to create my own but never had the tenacity nor have I yet lighted upon a good idea.

This supercut from the Charlie Rose show was imagined as "if written by Samuel Beckett." By just paring down an episode on technology to a few buzzwords and phrases the creator has managed to create a nonsensical interview with Charlie Rose and himself. Here it is.

True story: I now utter "Google" nonsensically in public places. Thank you very much.

"Charlie Rose" by Samuel Beckett from Andrew Filippone Jr. on Vimeo.

27.5.14

Movie Review: A Taste of Honey (1961)


Rita Tushingham plays "Jo" in the 1966 British film "A Taste of Honey"
Jo (Rita Tushingham) in A Taste of Honey (1961)
I've always been a sucker for kitchen sink drama. Maybe I was first smitten by Streetcar Named Desire, the Louisiana-Southern version of the genre — and I have always had a penchant for working-class stories.
Fantastic! It's both queer and interracial!
Director Tony Richardson's A Taste for Honey (1961) is a fantastic! addition to the tradition — it boasts both a gay character (Oh My!) and interracial romance (Oh Gee!). And I am pretty sure the Smith's song "This Night Has Opened My Eyes" shares an aesthetic family resemblance. The plot offers nothing new in terms of what we're used to seeing on the big screen, and maybe I have seen enough movies from the 1960s to think that A Taste For Honey does not capture my attention because of its capacity to take on controversial topics. Charles Silver likened the protagonist Jo to Antoine Doinel from Truffaut's auteurist masterpiece. And while I did see the film first in Silver's Auteurist History of Film exhibition at MoMA (full disclosure), I tend to agree with this assessment. Tony Richardson's adaptation of Shelagh Delaney's play takes full advantage of Jo's (Rita Tushingham) soulful eyes beaten down by the soft ideology of work (which is why I say the song resembles the Smith's song). Could she have been a poet? The movie ends on an ambiguous note. Jo, replete with child, welcomes in her ousted mother Helen (Dora Bryan) inadvertently saying goodbye to Geoffrey (Murray Melvin), the titular gay boy. The ending shot of the little boy giving Jo the sparkler is touching, and I wondered at the movie's close if Geoffrey would return to be a gay uncle or if Jimmy (Paul Danquah) would ever show up again.

Mother Daughter Sister Lover

The movie leaves us with the question of Helen and Jo's fate. The mother and daughter pair share a strained intimacy, and we're left to wonder what it would be like if Jo had been able to move on without her. In an earlier scene, Helen bathes in the tub and tells her daughter she is now a married woman (which we suspect is probably her sixteenth proposal). The scene shows the relationship between the two women, while comfortable standing in the bathroom while her mother bathes (a form of intimacy), it is apparent that Helen will never be able to give the maternal care that Jo deserves. And when Jo becomes pregnant, and her mother has run off to live with her new husband Peter (a drunk), Jo cobbles together her own version of family with Geoffrey and fantasizes about her "dark prince" Jimmy. I liked the movie's careful way of showing us Jo with Jimmy, her first love, then Jo rebuffed by Helen, and then Jo thinking that she might be able to build something authentic with Geoffrey. It becomes clear that the Jo and Geoffrey story was a substitute for something else. For Jo, it was a desire to be cared for, and maybe for Geoffrey, it was a need to be accepted. He was kicked out of his own apartment for sleeping with a man (was it rent controlled?) and when he moves in with Jo, he quickly takes on the role of the mother figure, even obtaining a fake baby to help Jo learn the rudimentary skills of motherhood. It's not surprising Jo throws the baby to the ground, and while we can probably guess the source of Jo's anger, we also realize (and maybe she does too) that motherhood will be foisted upon her no matter if she wants it or not and this pattern has had a long history, not only with her mother but a powerful narrative that tells women that motherhood is natural and should be accepted. Helen is loathe to tell Jo of her biological father, except that they share the same eyes, and he was a simple man. This codes for Jo that her father was a half-wit, and her mother, even though she may have loved her father for an afternoon, the relationship did not sustain a family.

End of Innocence
The movie is bookended with images of childhood innocence, the first with Jo playing sport on the school playground, and the soundtrack of children singing "The big ship sails on the alley, alley, oh!" The movie ends with the same song, and we are lighted upon Jo's face one last time. Jo throughout the movie vacillates between child and scared adult. Rita Tushingham plays Jo with zest and innocence — for example: in an earlier scene where she pantomimes her teacher, and remarkably scared and curious when she feels her baby kick inside of her belly (and remember, this movie was made long before Ellen Page and Jennifer Garner had their moment in Juno). If Charles Silver is right, we can compare the two endings. In the Truffaut film, Antoine is captured in a still shot on the beach which I still think is the most affective ending in cinematic history. We know Antoine's story because Truffaut regales us with many more sequels to follow. For Jo, we are left to imagine her story. And this I think is satisfactory.
IMDb link: A Taste of Honey
Dir: Tony Richardson
1961

2.1.14

Greig's Best Movies of 2013

To add to the glut of "best of" 2013 lists compiled this time of year, here's my authoritative round-up (not!) of the best movies. In my humble opinion.

1.) Blue Jasmine
Cate Blanchett is tragically diaphanous in Woody Allen's newest cinematic addition.

2.) The Bling Ring
Sofia Copola shows us the beauty of the Los Angeles hills and a vicarious glimpse into the celebrity rich through the lens of the children who rob them.

3.) Mud
You may remember Tye Sheridan in The Tree of Life. He gets his chance to shine in this coming of age tale set in Louisiana.

4.) Lore
A Nazi family try to escape capture at the end of World War II in this drama directed by Cate Shortland.

5.) West of Memphis
Damien Echols, one of the falsely accused "West Memphis Three," gets his chance to tell his story in this revealing documentary directed by Amy Berg.

6.) Gravity
I spent more time looking at the spiraling Earth than the actors, but this movie is cosmic and terrifying.

7.) Her
Spike Jonze is one of my favorite directors. Her adds to my admiration. I've been waiting for a movie about computer love for a long time. It's finally here.

8.) The Spectacular Now
This understated movie ends differently than the novel it's based on, but I thought the two young actors were superb in their vulnerability.

9.) Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
Sam Fleischner allows us to follow a young autistic boy who runs away from his home in Far Rockaway to travel the New York City subway alone right before Hurricane Sandy crashes on shore.

10.) Prisoners
Two girls go missing and the result is an irrational rupture of both desperation to find the truth (Jake Gyllenhaal's performance of a local detective) and insane vigilante justice (Hugh Jackman, who plays the father of one of the missing girls).

1.1.14

Greig's Best Books Read in 2013

Taking my cue from Stephen King in the “Best of” issue of Entertainment Weekly and my High School librarian Margot Polley who every year lists her favorite books, I do the same for my favorite books read in 2013. Note I do not list books necessarily published in 2013, but books I read. This year I read a little bit of everything, so instead of listing books by categories, I decided to just list six memorable books that I thought were awesome. My criteria for selection was whether or not the book was fun to read. If you want to make your own list, go ahead. So here goes …
1. Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
The best novel I read this year. Shriver delivers in her latest diatribe-cum-novel on the healthy eating craze. Pandora Halfdanarson's brother Edison comes to live with her and he's 336 pounds -- a shock to the sister and her nuclear family. The novel glitters with cute tidbits like jabs on healthy eating -- none of the meals Pandora's health crazed husband cooks up are appealing. I love Shriver's nice touches like Pandora's line of talking dolls she sells online that say mean things for people you love. It's standard Shriver replete with an impressive vocabulary and insight into sibling relationships. 

2. Truffaut/Hitchcock by François Truffaut (an interview with Alfred Hitchcock)
The best cinema book I read. Two venerable directors talk about cinema in this classic interview conducted by the French New Wave director Truffaut and stringent auteur Hitchcock. Less on biography and more on form and execution, this book is a fascinating read for cinephiles. I personally love both Truffaut and Hitchcock and I came away with the conclusion that Truffaut makes moves born from his exacting emotional intuition and Hitchcock is the total opposite. Truffaut quizzes Hitchcock on each and every film he ever made and the result is a trip through film history and a rare chance to experience two great movie masters talk shop.  

The grossest book I ever read. I will never think about digestion the same ever again. I hear Mary Roach is famous for writing about taboo subjects like cadavers and stuff, and so I wanted to read her. Do you know why a dog throws up his food? He enjoyed the meal. Did you know that food, as it goes from your mouth to your stomach, is called a bolus? The book is chock full of AMAZING facts about eating and everything that goes with, from the mouth to the rectum. Mary Roach is funny and informative and she has the most clever footnotes ever contrived by an author. The book is not a list of facts about the digestive system. It's more of a series of encounters with scientists who are trying to innovate on everything from saliva to taste buds. 

The best philosophy book I read this year was written by a journalist. Holt asks everyone who will listen the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" This simple question is actually a doozy. Why does the universe exist at all? The universe could just as easily never have existed. I remember in College my Metaphysics professor spent weeks discussing it and I got a dose of it in reading Heidegger. This book does not require philosophical expertise and I think it is a good way to get into philosophy. 

5. The End of Alice by A.M. Homes
Every year I gobble up books written by the same author and this year the winner was A.M. Homes. The End of Alice is about Chappy, a murderer pedophile in Sing Sing who has an epistolary romance with an unnamed teenage girl who is obsessed with a young boy (who likes to collect his scabs and eat 'em). The novel reminds me of Joyce Carol Oates's fictional Dahmeresque novel Zombie. Homes wrote a postscript to the novel called Appendix A: An Elaboration on the Novel The End of Alice that I have yet to read.

6. The Last Pictures by Trevor Paglen
There is a certain class of artificial satellites flung into Earth's orbit that is far enough away to stay within Earth's gravitational field but will never either fall back to earth or drift off into interstellar space. They are, say, stuck. Paglen conceived and implemented a way to preserve human memory indefinitely, even after we are all gone. Attaching a small silicon disk etched with curated black and white photographs, Paglen aims to eternally archive humanity's sojourn on the blue planet. The idea is inspired by NASA's "Golden Record" project for the Voyager spacecraft, but less humanistic. The idea is that even after humans are extinct there will still be these "last pictures," a small testament to our shenanigans. Most of the photographs, like a bunch of wasps affixed with what looks like a jet pack, are only meaningful once you read the liner notes, but I like how Paglen tries to capture us in our foibles and shortcomings.

14.11.11

Movie Review: Love Story

A capsule review on fragility and loss in Love Story (1970) with a special nod to love in libraries.
Ryan O'Neil and Allie McGraw in Arther Hiller's Love Story (1970) 


Yes, I must say, love that begins in a library is a trope we find in Music Man or in the fantasy of bookish nerds, so we naturally equate it with Cinderella syndrome  the woman patiently waiting for her man to appear from behind the stacks. In the 1970 Arthur Hiller film, Love Story, Allie McGraw and Ryan O’Neil butt heads at a library circulation desk; hardly the madame librarian named Marianne, or some ethereal intellectual fantasy. Ryan O’Neil, a Harvard jock, deemed “preppie” by his inimical counterpart, the black-haired brilliant musician sprung from humble Bostonian roots. The two make for a nice compare and contrast (as far as romances go). In the scene, shot in the interior of the library at Radcliffe, O’Neil attempts to check out The Waning of the Middle Ages. “Do you have your own library?” she asks, goading him, revealing the difference (at least to the viewer) between the sexes at ivy league American schools. Harvard is gendered as male: more books, more knowledge, more opportunity. Why should a man march into a woman’s space demanding their knowledge when he has his own, and more? The two argue. She wants to play. He just wants a book. The heart and spunk of the intellectual romantic comedy is born. The tropes are obvious. And we see the two soon-to-be-lovers as distinct yet compatible. The jock likes the girl’s toughness and rebellious approach. She likes his body, as she playfully says, and perhaps notices he is not put-off by her intellectual affronts. The psychology is laid out in pieces in the movie. He comes from privileged New England wealth but disdains his background. She has pulled herself up by her bootstraps and wears her intellectual and musical acumen like a badge. 

Allie McGraw projects beauty in this movie and the ability to engage in playful rapporté  not quite a femme fatale, however, since beneath her brilliance lies a fragility that marks the film and gestures towards its intrinsic theme, namely the fragile nature of relationships thwarted by circumstances often beyond our control. Despite their outward differences, the two come together because of a shared sameness. The movie takes turn portraying Ryan O’Neil’s character as vulnerable, for example when his father shows up unexpectedly at a Harvard hockey match and Allie McGraw’s character is there to support him, to hold him up. On the way to visit his parents, Ryan O’Neil eases her apprehensions about the visit. Of course, the movie is set up to be about the oscillation between loneliness and fragility. The opening shot, if I recall, is the former Harvard jock looking out onto an empty ice skating rink in Central Park. We as viewers do not know the significance of this scene until much later when we learn that our intractable, confident heroine has contracted leukemia. Preppie skates the rink in solitude while she looks on from the bleachers, both aware of the fragility of their soon to be broken apart bond. The editors chose to superimpose Allie McGraw’s image over that of Ryan O’Neil as he skates. For me, this was unnecessary for I think it dismisses the impact of the loss to come. We are reminded of the playful moments of their relationship earlier in the film: for example when both make snow angels and build a snow fort at Harvard. Director Arthur Hiller mentions in a documentary on the film, that this scene was serendipitous in that there was a record snowfall that day, but he decided to film anyway. Since he had made it clear he wanted Allie McGraw and Ryan O’Neil to portray what lovers do when they are new in love, he just had them play naturally in the snow. Here we see the two without words, without intellectual sparring, or agonizing over class difference. It is in other scenes that we see the intellectual difference between the two. She is graceful and brilliant in music and he is stalwart in achieving success cut off from the breast milk of his rich upbringing. The movie would be mediocre if we knew from the outset that our heroine will die. We only know this later; and, we can then feel for their loss. We are meant to project our own emotions and our own memories of love and love lost onto our formal lovers on screen. Perhaps this is why the movie was so popular, nominated for seven academy awards  not to forget the original score that is transcendent in its tonal representation of love and loss. I don’t think Love Story is a great film, but I do feel it would have been a lesser film if not for the work of our two stars who truly embody on screen the give and take of living with one another, the give and take, ease and struggle, life and loss, separation and link of conversation and togetherness.

18.7.11

When Seeing the Devil is Not a Matter of Good Versus Evil

I Saw the Devil
(2010) Directed by Jee-woon Kim
Starring Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi and Gook-hwan Jeon
Film Still from Korean Film "I Saw the Devil" Directed by Jee-woon Kim

    It was an incongruous pairing for me this weekend: Jim Hensen's muppets and a Korean film depicting gory revenge. After previewing Hensen's charming eight minute exploration on resisting time (at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria), my buddy Airplane and I took in the last film showing offered in the museum's theater. I Saw The Devil is most certainly not a sight for Miss Piggy. Or for Kermit.
    If one takes Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment to the next level it might be close to this movie. At the outset I knew it would be bloody and disturbing. The first few minutes is a graphic abduction and beheading of the protagonist's fiancé.
    Protagonist may be too strong of a word. The film calls into question the concept of villain and hero. The narrative runs revenge style. Man kills man's love so man seeks out to destroy man. The movie takes us on this horrific journey but twists it to the extent that at the end we are not sure who is good or who is bad.
    Neither apologetic nor dogmatic, director Jee-woon Kim's impeccably filmed story of sadism and torture is not a movie for the faint of heart. Hoping to rest on a human ending, this tale ends with questions disturbingly left unanswered about man's inhumanity to man.
    Revenge is bad is the film's mantra. The typical good versus evil movie usually ends with evil overturned by  the good. Not this movie. [spoiler alert] While evil does get vanquished by the plot's end, so does good.
    It seems to me after a couple of hours of maiming, blood lust, and chopped up corpses, all we are left with is the question why?
    The gist seems to be a Chinatown addendum where the path down the rabbit hole leads to only one place: a seizing, inescapable void.
C-
Image credit: filmdeviant

15.1.11

Movie Review: The Time That Remains

The Time That Remains is Elia Suleiman's autobiographical account of his Palestinian family in Nazareth who lived under the post-1948 sovereignty of Israel.
A movie review
The Time That Remains (Al Zaman Al Baqi) (2009)
Director: Elia Suleiman
Starring: Elia Suleiman, Saleh Bakri, Zuhair Abu Hanna, Samar Tanus, Ayman Espanioli, Shafika Bajjali

The Time That Remains is Elia Suleiman's autobiographical account of his Palestinian family in Nazareth who lived under the post-1948 sovereignty of Israel. The film opens with the events that led Nazareth to surrender to Israeli forces in 1948. An Iraqi soldier runs through the streets of Nazareth after the Arabs surrender. White sheets of paper rain down from the sky announcing the details of the Israeli/Arab armistice. Fuad (played by a handsome Saleh Bakri), who we later learn is Elia Suleiman's father, is suspected of distributing arms to Arab fighters during the war and is tortured.

8.10.10

Movie Review: The Social Network

It should be no surprise that a film like the Social Network would eventually be made. Again. It is a story, as you will notice, if you see it, told over and over again. But, it is a story we like to hear, a story of greed and loss. The story of a man’s quick climb to power and wealth at the cost of losing friends and intimacy has found more than one expression in American cinema. Citizen Kane anyone? Or how about The Godfather? The snapshot images of a solitary Kane whispering "rosebud" is strangely resonant with that of Mark Zukerberg clicking a refresh button for hoped for human connection.
Citizen Kane, anyone?
The Social Network is Real Enough (With Some Artistic Liberties Taken)
Now, don't go worrying about whether the plot of the Social network is accurate or not. A simple Google search will reveal some of the plot is contrived, most notably the first scene that pretends to create the imbroglio that starts TheFacebook, namely, a break-up. The film is not too slow to remind us that its protagonist is not very likable. In fact, he is a jerk. Sexist, as well, and has a penchant for younger Asian girls, albeit an unnerving social awkwardness stereotypical of boys who write programming code. Aaron Sorkin's masterpiece is not really about Facebook, per se, but rather, an opportunity to elaborate on an American myth. Sure, we will believe -- or shall I say  can believe  Mark is painted to be the kind of guy who would sell out his friends. The lawyer at the end of the films acts as the audience when she tells Mark, “Myths need a devil.” Give us  the audience  enough details and we will gladly fill in the rest.

Craving the Limelight
The indictment of Mark Zuckerberg really isn't about Mark Zuckerberg so much as it is about a fascination with greed and power. Let's say it wasn't Mark Zuckerberg who created a website called facemash.com where Harvard girls were compared online to one another by Harvard boys (22,000 page views in one night). Let us say it wasn't Zuckerberg who may or may not have posted a blog post confessing his ex-girlfriend's true bra size. Let us say it was not Zuckerberg who may or may not have called the cops on Sean Parker who was with a minor at a party with illegal drugs (with Zuckerberg in the know, but in absentia). Let us say Mark had no idea that his best friend Eduardo Saverin would be pushed out of Facebook, rather mercilessly. 

It doesn't matter. Facebook is fascinating because a lanky, unlikeable Harvard nerd made it to the top. The key term is unlikable. When we realize it was not the more courteous Saverin who brought Facebook to fame -- nor was it the Winklevoss Brothers -- or anyone else at Harvard -- we realize that Mark Zuckerberg is kind of like a contemporary version of Charles Foster Kane. What is next? Will he fight for the common man? Well, sure. He already has. Who gave 100 million dollars (or some outrageous figure) to New Jersey public schools? Mark Zuckerberg! Zuckerberg's philanthropy -- disingenuous or not -- is a necessary element in the narrative. I cannot help but think of Charles Foster Kane's historical inspiration, William Randolph Hearst and his philanthropic effort to save New Yorkers from transit fare raises. But, we know from history, neither Mark Zuckerberg or William Randolph Hearst were experts in ethical do-gooding.


Facebook as an American Fantasy of the Garden of Eden
Being sued by the Winklevoss brothers, handsome rich rowing twins from Harvard for purportedly stealing their idea of a college social networking site, Mark is happy to make them angry because, as he says, they never had the experience before of someone else stopping them from doing what they want to do. The creation of Facebook on hand is like Charles Foster Kane's beginning glory: the icon of the wealthy philanthropist who used power to shame the good ole boys. But, there is also the dark side. He betrays his friend. His only friend, Eduardo Saverin. The film takes on an uncanny color of American myth. Watching the film, I felt like I was not watching a biopic of a guy who created a social networking site I use daily, and like very much, but the story of the American Garden of Eden -- the lust for power that make such stores as John Steinbeck's The Pearl and East of Eden. The American dream also spoiled and tainted by American lust. The American trope of succesful, yet disconnected, as also embodied by the current TV character Draper in "Madmen".


This is the dilemma of the film.
How can a man create a social networking site and make billions and billions of dollars and know nothing of human nature? Knowledge of human nature does not bring in the dough. Why? Because people do not care about human nature; we care about as a gestalt, but not as something to grasp. We care about status and tags because it feeds our self-image. We like the likes and the words on our walls because it makes us feel connected when were are not connected. I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg created facebook as a huge social experiment. He created it because he realized that the site could make him famous. Which it did. Or, to put it another way, it justified him. Because he deserved it. Right. 

Parable of Genius
Steve Jobs did not create Apple in his garage because he thought it would be fun to sell computers. He had an intuition that his computers would catch on with the masses. Zuckerberg is a genius in the same way. The film the Social Network is everything about Mark Zuckerberg and at the same time, it is nothing about Mark Zuckerberg. The film is about genius and the ability to see a pathway that no one else sees and go for it. But, the film, for me at least, is also about the price of ambition. A narrative truly American. And we a jury of peers can easily judge.


The Social Network

Director: 

David Fincher

Writers: 

Aaron Sorkin (screenplay)Ben Mezrich (book)
Mark Zuckerberg Jesse Eisenberg
Eduardo Andrew Garfield
Sean
Justin Timberlake
Cameron/Tyler Armie Hammer
Divya Max Minghella
Erica Rooney Mara
Marilyn Rashida Jones

Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by 
David Fincher. Written by Aaron Sorkin, based on the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. Running time: 120 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language).
credits © Roger Ebert

27.5.10

Movie Review: World's Greatest Dad

Read a movie review by Greig Roselli about Bobcat Goldwaithe's dark comedy World's Greatest Dad (2009).
Two scenes are striking in Bobcat Goldwaithe's World's Greatest Dad (2009). THE FIRST is the scene where Lance Clayton, a beleaguered middle-age writer-cum-high school poetry teacher (Robin Williams) finds his strangled son, dead in his bedroom. The scene is doubly jarring for the viewer because, one, the first fifteen minutes of the film deliberately sets you up to despise the kid (Daryl Sabara, played with an acute douchebag factor). Kyle curses like a sailor, looks at scat porn, calls girls at school whores, proudly glorifies his own insouciant stupidity, uses his dad and his best friend Andrew to his own benefit, and is pretty much openly non-repentant about his deeds -- to the point of rebuffing every ounce of care his dad, Lance, has to offer.
     Second, is the cause of the boy's death (basically he dies via auto-eroticism). Go figure. Goldwaithe goes through extensive pains to make sure you absolutely hate this kid -- but at the same time -- when he is found in his bedroom, despite the embarrassing circumstances -- the viewer feels for Lance and the grief over his dull, insipid son. Even a douchebag son's death elicits authentic catharsis. Wow. I don't think I've seen this in cinema in a long time. I think this is partly due to Williams' engaging performance. Williams is an actor who can make you identify with the absurd. Think of The Night Listener, for example (which has eerie parallels to this film). The entirely silent soliloquy of finding the dead boy, checking to see if he is alive, releasing him from his makeshift noose, and mourning over his dead body was a genuine cathartic moment.