The Junk Food of Writing

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Ouch. Sour Patch Kids scratch my tongue.

Christmas was lovely; my family Christmas party was a drunken mess, as it very well should be.

To escape my New Jersey household, tomorrow’s agenda includes a train, Manhattan, Thai food, Woody Allen and Caché. Color me excited. I am torn, however, whether to buy a ticket online in advance for Match Point tomorrow. While it would be ideal to catch the 2:15 showing (I will arrive in Manhattan around 1:20, and then walk ten blocks – so I will probably approach the theater around 2:45), I cannot justify spending more money for the “convenience fee.” It is not that I am frugal, I just refuse to pay unnecessary charges to companies that are looking to make a “convenient” buck on paranoid payers. Plus, I simply enjoy buying a ticket the old way -- you know, at the box office.

It seems as if I will be in Boston for New Years. And, apparently, I will be embarking on my first “road trip” (5 hours constitutes as a minor road trip at least, right?). My friend claims that he is not sure how reliable his car is to make the trip, but questionable reliability is part of the road-trip-fun, isn’t it? It should be a good time, nonetheless.

Speaking of Boston, as I was walking up my street with my iPod earphones in place a couple weeks ago, I heard some familiar lyrics. The lyrics themselves, which were attached to a song by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists called “Bridges, Squares,” were recognizable due to their local relevance to me. Immediately, Mr. Leo mentions Kendall Square, a location which I frequent (mostly to see films at the arthouse, walk past a coffee shop which seems to be perpetually closed, and get food at a creepy Thai place with shady servers). The song subsequently name-drops the ‘Charles River’ and the ‘Red Line T train’ – two appellations every Bostonian must know. It was the next line that really hit home – they mentioned Joy Street, that wonderful lane that I live on. When I reached a computer, I checked the lyrics and, to my chagrin, I misheard those last lyrics, which are actually “joins stream.” How disappointing – I am, however, willing to be delusional if you are, because that would just be so cool if my street was actually featured in the song.

Oh, and inspired musicians – I think I know about those. Aside from some snazzy musical numbers in Walk the Line, however, I would never have thought that Johnny Cash was a very inspirational artist. I would just think he is another romantic sap with some standard-biopic-life-moments.

Walk the Line (Mangold, 2005): B-, 6/10 [Disappointingly falls into the unambitious, paint-by-the-numbers biopic category with last year’s Ray. Walk the Line simply lacks passion and, consequently, is rather drab and ineffective; also, there is absolutely no sort of surprise. By focusing on the love story (which, essentially, it strives to be), the film marginalizes what Johnny Cash actually was -- an artist. The film is too preoccupied with showing Cash's most embarrassing moments, including his drug addiction (which is quite trite) and his (what a shocker) antagonism with his father. Aside from that, I found Phoneix and Witherspoon to be outstandingly convincing, yet their relationship remained unconvincing. And I guess I should start blaming the actual fame-struggling musicians themselves for leading such generic lives (fight with my father, yell at my wife, cheat on her, and then do some drugs) – or perhaps I should blame filmmakers for solely including these insipid details. How about Johnny Cash’s religious epiphany? Remember – one of his main musical inspirations. Oh, and I could have sworn that Mangold seemed as if he wanted to ditch this project and just make a film about Dylan instead. He has a strange facsination with OTHER musicians (Elvis? Come on). Then again, he probably just did that so people would say, "look it's Elvis!" and, "did he just mention THE Bob Dylan!?" and feel good about themselves for recognition of the name-dropping. The film itself walks a thin line between a standard romantic comedy and a generic biopic.]

Brokeback Mountain (Lee, 2005): B+, 8/10 [Not quite the overwhelming theater experience I expected -- perhaps I can blame the audience, who laughed through the most devastating moments in the film (shocking, since I was in a metropolis), for that. I cannot, however, deny its resonating affect. To me, the film was about how unsatisfying life is when you must repress such feelings. I initially thought that the characters were a bit too worn out by the end of the film, but I must say I almost disagree with myself. I will undoubtedly see the film again sometime soon and come to an unwavering decision. It's a film that has rewarded me much more afterwards. My theater experience did not overwhelm me with emotion, but, upon reflection, I am glad that it did not. The overall lack of cultivation in the character's lives is directly (but not exclusively) due to their repression. Someone argued to me that the film felt a bit too "inert," but, to me, that is the most unsettling aspect of their relationship and, consequently, their lives. The ending, contrary to popular belief, is not very ambiguous. Ms. Hathaway's expression (no, not her timeline hairstyles) is the key to the truth. Speaking of the wives, Michelle Williams gives the most truly heartbreaking performance in the film. Her role, while being sorrowfully mislabeled as "small," is crucial -- and she handled it perfectly.]

Cries and Whispers (Bergman, 1972): A-/B+, 8.5/10 [Scarlet red pervades nearly every frame of this somber, painstakingly honest meditation on sisterhood, mortality (and other’s reactions to it), and happiness (yes, happiness). Such deep crimson red is highly appropriate to convey the stark emotions felt while watching the film. The truly strong martyr in the film is the maid (and so much more), Anna. Loyal and compassionate, she serves to symbolize the audience as she witnesses, and must endure, many of the events which occur in the scenes outside the minds of the characters. She’s also a maternal figure (in one scene, she even utilizes her breast to comfort a dying woman). To both its credit and detraction, the film is absolutely suffocating, Bergman does not let it breath as much as his other films that I have seen. Aesthetically speaking, however, the film is simply superlative; the cinematography meticulously captures the profiles of the multi-faceted characters and the ephemeral imagery (which can be rather overt) are all meticulously presented.]

I will now leave, and present to you a cinnamon bun which is said to eerily resemble Mother Teresa. Frankly, I think anyone who thinks so is delusional, but we are talking about religion, so such a reaction is appropriate (it DID come from Tennessee, after all). Apparently, it was recently stolen from the Bongo Java, where it was given bakery birth. Actually, I am that hell-bound thief. I stole it just so I could show you loyal readers – so at least I am a considerate kleptomaniac.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Holiday Rumination

When I was in 2nd grade, just before the eventful First Communion, my teacher asked my class why it is essential to receive the holy communion. I raised my hand and answered, "Well, sometimes I get hungry during mass and it holds me over until I go out to breakfast after church." True story -- and one of my favorites (partially because I was dead serious). Needless to say, Mrs. Wetzel wasn't very content with my answer. When I was younger I also thought that, instead of Doritos (or some other generic chip), priests casually ate the communion wafer (more commonly known as the 'host') as a snack. You know -- just sitting on the couch, watching some Full House, and munching on a bag of host. Yum.

Recently, someone pondered how people on the Atkins diet feel about communion. Is Jesus low carb? I find this to be a fascinating question. I will have to ask next time I am forced to go to mass with my parents (most likely tonight, Christmas Eve -- there's absolutely NO WAY I can get out of that). When I approach the golden chalice, I'll pause and ask if I can see the nutrition facts printed on the side of the box where the chunk of Jesus came from.

Oh religion, what a silly thing. According to an online survey, I am a humanist. Wait, why am I talking about religion around the holidays? It's not like religion is pertinent, or anything.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2005


"Yikes" seems like a likely candidate to become my new overused word du jour (or whatever "month" is in French). Such past excessively-uttered words (or noises) have been "shite," "meh," "silly," "blah," and "eek (and sometimes I would substitute the 'k' with a 'p')." I believe that "Yikes" will be a worthy addition to such an esteemed bunch.

Well, it seems as if I am officially finished with my first semester ay my new university. I e-mailed my Fiction professor at 5:30 AM on Tuesday with my final portfolio. I had to revise two of my short stories, which were apparently too verbose, thematic and “idea-driven.” Let’s just say that I slept very well after I sent the e-mail out. Regarding my new location, I am very content with my choice to transfer to Boston. If I continue to talk about the reasons why I have had such a fantastic semester, I may start to get sentimental, and I can’t handle that mawkishness. I’ll just drop one word: Mongooses. If you’re confused, don’t worry -- even I don’t know what that means.

Tis the season to…see a lot of films? Well, I went to five films in the theaters in the past six days (one was a repeat, Wong Kar-Wai’s luscious 2046). Apparently, final projects/portfolios are subordinate when I need to see films. I have priorities, you know.

The Matador (Shephard, 2005): B-, 6/10 [I went to a screening of this nearly a month ago. While not much resonated, it is a testament to the film that I am actually writing about it now. This, of course, means that I did not completely forget about it like some other releases this year (Isn't it a shame to see so many films and only truly recall a handful? Perhaps, however, it is better to repress the fact that I ever saw Derailed). For a practice in wicked frivolity, this film slightly pleases, but ultimately disappoints. Think Analyze This, but with a hit-man instead of a mafia boss. Actually, that is exactly what this is; well, it is more like Analyze This mixed with a domestic surrounding, which I believe Analyze That included (judging by trailers, I haven’t seen that film, fortunately). The comedy within The Matador is not hilarious, but most of the clever lines work – as do the absolutely ridiculous one-liners that Brosnon’s washed-up “facilitator of fatalities” utters. Hope David and Greg Kinnear are serviceable, and their acceptance of Pierce Brosnon's profession, which plays out in a rather “matter-of-fact” manner is amusing. I admire the director’s attempts to create a character study within an antithetical-buddy-movie formula, but the attempts to reveal insight into the characters outside of characterization and through symbolism just falls completely flat. The metaphor of a matador is constantly stated – it is as if the filmmaker doesn’t understand that the audience will understand it the first time Bronson explains it; that’s not the only overt symbol, though. The identity-conflicted Brosnon looks into a mirror a dozen times throughout, and I began to cringe after the third occurrence. In the final, anticlimactic scene, he looks into the car mirror and disappears into the distance. His humdrum arc is a completely joke and when he screams at Kinnear’s character “Danny, I’m a fucking parody,” you cannot help but nod in agreement.]

Boys of Baraka (Ewing/Grady, 2005): B/B-, 6.5/10 [This is not a film which will likely be endorsed by the Baltimore Board of Public Education. The film opens with this staggering statistic: 76% percent of black males do not graduate high school. Contrary to the stimulating opening scene, the film would rather exhibit the drama and hobbies of the children than psychologically investigate their inevitable adaptation to their African surroundings. Although there is a plethora of opportunities, the film does not take advantage of its sociologically rich circumstances. The relocation of these children is what intrigued me the most and I yearned to see more of their assimilation. There is the occasional moment of insightful observation: the impoverished boys take their first plane trip on which they experiment with all the gadgets and a boy takes note of the gorgeous clouds in the barren African landscape. These instances, however, are unfortunately cut short (literally, they are 30 second scenes). Aside from these complaints, the film is successful in making its point. Most profoundly, it effectively juxtaposes these children’s parallel situations in Africa and Baltimore (upon returning to Baltimore, the children find themselves alienated by the “street life” of many Baltimore youths). Essentially, it is an inverted Born into Brothels (it tries to move children out of the United States, instead of into it); Baraka, however, is not nearly as affecting, perceptive or precious as Born into Brothels.]

Syriana (Gaghan, 2005): C+, 5/10 [Not short on ambition, yet sorely lacking in clarity. This muddled production may actually be proving a point with its impossible-to-follow intertwining storylines (I believe the confusion is deliberate), yet it also defeats its own purpose by doing so. The film touches on many points, and it has a lot to say, yet it obfuscates almost all of the “pressing” issues it addresses. Therefore, no real commentary on the oil situation is deeply explored and communicated to the open-minded audience this film is likely to draw. In an attempt to capture the unrelenting speed of such dense proceedings, it never gives the audience a chance to become involved and absorb the material. This, however, did not bother me as much as the film’s attempts to ALSO be an “ensemble picture.” The film unfortunately reminded me of another inept ensemble drama of the year: Crash. Both, in a pathetic attempt to inject their characters with emotional baggage and delve into their personal lives, give certain character’s weak subplots (a drunken family member seems to be the favorite for filmmakers in need of a quick character catharsis). Mr. Gaghan has, fundamentally, taken the plot-paradigm he created for Traffic and replaced drugs for oil. Traffic, however, was a brilliantly crafted political statement an ensemble drama. Fortunately, Syriana is uniformly acted (with the exception of Amanda Peet, who cannot act dramatically, because even when she is trying to be dramatic, it comes off as comedic) yet it is also inconsistently riveting and sorrowfully two-dimensional.]

Semester grades are posted tomorrow morning. Yikes.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I see too many movies.

Films I have seen theatrically in 2005:

Brokeback Mountain
Boys of
Walk the Line
Memoirs of a Geisha
The Dying Gaul
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Pride and Prejudice
Fun with Dick and Jane
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic
The Matador

Good Night, and Good Luck
The Squid and the Whale
Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit
A History of Violence
Green Street
Corpse Bride
North Country
Fever Pitch
Grizzly Man
The Constant Gardener
The 40 Year-Old Virgin
March of the Penguins
Broken Flowers
The Beat that My Heart Skipped
The Interpreter
The Aristocrats
Mad Hot Ballroom
Wedding Crashers
Bad News Bears
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Saving Face
My Summer of Love
War of the Worlds
Batman Begins
Cinderella Man
Kings and Queen
Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
In the Realms of the Unreal
Look at Me
Kung Fu Hustle

Karaoke Terror
Survive Style 5+
Mardi Gras: Made in China
The Nomi Song
Lonesome Jim
Me and You and Everyone We Know
The Edukators
Woman is the Future of Man
5 x 2: Five Times Two
Ma Mere
The Holy Girl
House of D
Mysterious Skin
of Plenty

A Tout de Suite
El Crimen Perfecto

Melinda and Melinda

The Upside of Anger
Up and Down

Nobody Knows


Wow, that’s quite a lot – especially when considering that I didn’t even see a 2005 film until the middle of March. I believe I went over 80 by a few.

Oh, and it is color coded for the Holidays! Red = positive, Green = negative, Blue = mixed.

My friends and I went out to an expensive holiday dinner this past Saturday. I was the only one who forgot to wear Red/Green. I was wearing blue. Oops. Forutnately, I realized that I was just representing Hannukah. We had a politically correct holiday dinner, indeed.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Fun? That's debatable.

Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni are on the lookout for subtlety

Following in contemporary Hollywood's tradition of failing to create original ideas, Fun with Dick and Jane is yet another remake to be released this year. The first Dick and Jane, which is filled with sharp jabs at the American lifestyle and class struggle, was released in 1977. One common criticism which is often stated regarding the polyester clad Dick and Jane from the Disco 70's is that the film is horribly dated. With the recent collapse of such conniving conglomerates as Arthur Anderson and Tyco, the original film's social commentary remains extremely relevant. Therefore, it does not seem strange to update this social satire. The ingenious plot is indubitably timely and rife with comedic possibilities; at least that is what director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) thought. The results are somewhat mixed, however.

Fortunately, Parisot and screenwriters Nicholas Stroller and Judd Apatow (writer/director of the sweet and amusing 40 Year-Old Virgin and the prematurely cancelled television series Freaks and Geeks) relish in the new-millennium modernity of the new Dick and Jane. The film opens "a long, long time the year 2000." We witness Dick and Jane's banal daily routine, which they seem content enough with. They live in an upper-middle class suburb of Los Angeles, where Anglo destitution means not having the newest Mercedes model. Landscapers are laying down the new, fresh green grass on Dick and Jane's front lawn; this minor construction serves as a literal establishment of the suburban America setting. It also implicitly forebodes the inevitable deterioration.

After Dick's scandalous company, Globodyne, suffers an Enron-esque meltdown of illegal business and questionable ethics, which was inflicted by avaricious executives, Dick (an expectedly silly Jim Carrey) is forced to leave his job without any further compensation. Finding a new job is not as easy as Dick initially suspected, however.

After a three-month-long failed attempt to find employment, him and his wife, Jane (played with an adequate amount of stress and sass by Tea Leoni), start to worry about the bills and their source of income -- or lack, thereof. To quickly solve their economical dilemma, the browbeaten Dick and Jane turn to a life of thievery -- but they are hardly as competent as Bonnie and Clyde. The threat of bankruptcy and poverty is so frightening to Dick and Jane that they have a bit of an identity crisis, since they are unaccustomed to such financial troubles. The film has a similar identity crisis -- it is unsure whether to be a sharp, biting indictment on corporate America or a goofy holiday feature.

Fun with Dick and Jane is, essential, a thinly veiled social critique. In an observant moment of devastating truth, Jane yells at the landscapers, who are evicting her front lawn, in front of the neighbors as if she was simply a fastidious and under-appreciative housewife. This exposes Jane's mindset: she would rather be seen as a persnickety snob than someone who cannot afford landscaping. Most of these revealing moments are, however, dull -- this film is hardly a sardonic condemnation of America. It is a frivolous farce which attempts to be buff, but only amounts to fluff.

Although it is refreshing to see a studio film which is socially conscious, the sharp satire is diluted with silly slapstick. In an attempt to make the critique palatable, the film is rendered innocuous. Yet, oddly, the film is so preoccupied with its agenda that it lacks singular characters: the characterizations of Dick and Jane are just as simple as their monosyllabic names. Many of the more smart jokes are disrupted and overshadowed by a moment of coincidental silliness. But don't be fooled -- Dick and Jane aren't all fun. They mean business -- big business, that is; or, at least, that is what the film would like you to believe.

Its approach to corporate satire is very much in line with 2004's In Good Company and I Heart Huckabees. Unfortunately, it is not nearly as fulfilling as the former or as clever as the latter. Fun with Dick and Jane also finds room to fit in matrimonial mockery, just as Mr. and Mrs. Smith did this summer. The final heist is as stylishly, yet a bit more unwittingly, tricky as Ocean's 11. Such cinematic allusions are appropriate because Fun with Dick and Jane feels like just that -- an amalgamation of borrowed concepts (so, basically, it becomes the exact thing it is satirizing -- a corporate whole which is composed of other elements). This isn't blatant kleptomania, however; plus, Dick and Jane does contain some unique and acute humor (which is mostly focused on Spanglish, Enron executives and George W. Bush).

Ultimately, the overtly scrutinizing Fun with Dick and Jane is the cinematic equivalent of the couple at a dinner party who punctuate their every joke with a wink and laugh -- even if the joke is not always funny or subtle. They are tolerable, occasionally intelligent, and amusing, but not nearly as witty as they think they are. C+, 5.5/10

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Lost in the Supermarket

I haven’t had much time to think lately. The most time I have had recently was today, when I was in Whole Foods (which was a temporary hiatus from my double-digit-paged essay). A fastidious woman, who was just a high heel under 5 foot, stood in front of the waffle freezer (my destination) and took over 2 minutes to find the organic waffles she wanted. I stood behind her rather patiently for a bit over two full minutes; I know this because I started to count after it seemed as if a minute had elapsed. This was undoubtedly amusing, and the wait, shockingly, never bothered me. I doubt she noticed me – she seemed rather lost in the perfectly stacked boxes of frozen breakfast foods, which she made sure to casually disorganize after reading the fine print on every box. This brief time (which felt much longer, since I was inertly standing…and waiting) was strangely calming, though; it was very, very refreshing. This week of final projects has really made my head spin, and it will continue to until the 20th. So thank you, Miss short, nutrition-fact-checking lady. And god bless you for obliviously knocking over a sign and deciding that none of the waffles were for you.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Gung Ho-rrible (this film doesn't deserve a better pun)

Memoirs of a Geisha (Marshall, 2005)

Zhang Ziyi and Ken Watanabe are practicing their grips for when they strangle the filmmakers

Culturally obtuse, ideologically repugnant, emotionally flat and shamelessly melodramatic, Memoirs of a Geisha features just as much jealousy-induced, catty bitchery as "Showgirls" and "Mean Girls." Its narrative structure is actually a shockingly similar mixture of the two. What Memoirs of a Geisha fails to realize is that these other two films were satires. Geisha, unfortunately for any astute audience member, attempts to play this childish antagonism straight. Even worse, the film terribly overdramatizes ever moment. The pulsating score overplays such silly events which, essentially, are mere juvenile pranks and common back-stabbing.

In a crucial scene which is meant to establish Zhang Ziyi’s Sayuri reputation as a highly desired geisha, Sayuri performs a wintry dance on a blue-tinted stage. A simulation (a word that constantly pops up in the mind of the viewer) of a snowstorm begins and the actress flails around the platform as if she is an epileptic having a seizure in a blizzard. This is a jarring scene of poor editing, pretty lights, and embarrassing choreography (I’ll avoid a Chicago comment here). The audience within the film seems extremely impressed and moved, yet the only profound aspect of the performance is how profoundly graceless it is.

Sayuri's liquid blue eyes, which are the key to her beauty in La-La land (a.k.a the Western version of Japan), are so apparently color-contacts that you cannot help but scream "liar" when she replies that she received those eyes from her mother. She obviously got them from her optometrist. This may seem a persnickety complaint, but it is quite pertinent since this complaint of inauthentic beauty can be extended to the whole artificially lush and deeply unconvincing production.

The main flaw in the film is its attempt to make the Japanese culture accessible to Americans; it has undergone the garish Hollywood treatment five times over. Do you recall the devastating restraint and subtlety in classic Japanese films? The producers are banking on the fact that you do not. Memoirs of a Geisha is as oriental and tasteless as a package of Ramen noodles

The cultural aspects, which are terribly manufactured, are mostly glossed over in favor of vacuous visual flair and an insipid love story which fails to be either interesting or unpredictable. The bit (and I mean very tiny bit) of insight we see into the role of a geisha is in the form of a trite training sequence. These ‘Intro to the Geisha 101’ moments are generically played for laughs, due to Sayuri's ineptness (yes, we even get the obligatory fall in heels, Ms. Congeniality-style). Oh, I did learn that Geisha’s take a really long time to get dressed, since they were extreme amounts of clothing. It is strange how a film with so many layers of clothing could have no idea what cinematic layers are.

After an American invasion begins the third act of the film, Sayuri’s Japanese village, Kyoto, apparently suffers from culture shock. Ironically, the village had already been westernized (read: bastardized) throughout the previous two acts. The American colonization is portrayed as if Kyoto has simply become the most desired Spring break destination. This isn’t colonization, this is Cancun-ization. Oh, and apparently there was some sort of war – I’m not really certain, and the film makes sure that there is a lack of clarity.

The script is also awkwardly westernized; the characters even use American colloquialisms! “There are other fish in the sea,” utters the benevolent Mameha, who is played by the only actress who seems to have a grasp on the English language, Michelle Yeoh. I would rather not complain about the controversial casting choices; I am more offended by the use of English than the casting of non-Japanese actresses (after all, Texan Renee Zellweger played the Brit chick Bridget Jones to perfection). Consistently throughout the film, I desperately urged to hear these actresses speak in their native tongues.

There is an ongoing and completely overt metaphor of running water, which symbolizes Sayuri’s adaptability and tenacity (which is hardly accurate in the first place, because Sayuri is a rather weak character). About four characters denote the "water" in Sayuri's eyes as if the explicit explanation of the metaphor at the beginning of the film did not suffice. This type of patronization and lack of subtlety is exhibited throughout the film. After a moment of loss and defeat, Sayuri tosses a token of affection off a cliff (a gorgeous, lush cliff, of course). This act of despair is followed by a cut to a stagnant pond, which is ham-fisted imagery meant to symbolize the stalled Sayuri’s lack of hope. Aptly, the film itself is identical to this body of water: it is beautiful, shallow and completely inert. D, (2.5/10)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Catching up.

Due to my absence -- or, rather, nonexistence -- I have not posted my thoughts on the many films I have viewed recently (roughly within the past couple weeks). To save this from becoming an overlong bore-of-an-entry, I will simply post thoughts on a few films and list the rest. In subsequent entries, I will attempt to elaborate on the grades assigned to each film.

Preface: 2005 has been quite disappointing.

Jarhead (Mendes, 2005): Some fans of Jarhead claim (or should I say "fall back on the empty comeback") that those who reacted negatively towards it did not understand what Mendes was trying to accomplish. Can't a critical viewer understand its attempt and still dislike its presentation? I never felt that I did not "get" it, but I did, however, feel that the film was alternatively preachy and over-the-top. I admire Mendes' ambitious ideas (and his style), but it is extremely difficult to show an enthralling depiction of tedium without making it tedious for the audience. Ironically, I did not find it overly plodding -- just vacuous. Plus, the "futility of war" message is a bit overstated. Much to my chagrin, the film was psychologically disappointing -- Swofford is reading Camus' "The Stranger, " for goodness sake. And if Swofford was an ostensible "Meursault joins the marines," then the film did a rather poor job of exploring these character parallels. Frankly, I did not think any of the performances were that superlative (maybe Sarsgaard, but his character's personality was shot to hell anyway). In order for Sarsgaard's actions and outburts to be very effective, I needed to see more of his character and understand his affliction. I saw none of this; most of his backstory is simply dropped upon the audience at the most convenient time. He was the stereotypical "grunt-if-you-look-at-me" war character who ultimately, and inexplicably, becomes best buds with the protagonist. The film is undoubtedly Swafford-centric, and I think many of the supporting characters suffer because of that. I believe that an aesthetically accomplished film with such a unique visual style deserves more convincingly rich characters and a much less hackneyed paradigm-of-a-war-plot; you know, but a plot without the war. C, (5/10)

The Dying Gaul (Lucas, 2005):
Although I was warned about it's mediocrity, I avoided a research paper and saw it. My stubbornness was mainly influenced by the cast and seeing Craig Lucas' first shot at directing (his Secret Lives of Dentists screenplay was admirable). Plus, steamy bisexuality! Although I am not completely pleased with my decision to overlook my urgent school assignments in favor of Mr. Campbell, Mr. Sarsgaard and my dear Patty, I do not regret my course of action. I went to see the cast and it is, undoubtedly, the main strength of the film; all three actors are uniformly impressive despite their previous high acclaim. The film itself is captivating, if deeply flawed. It gets much credit for avoiding that stagy feeling which usually mars stage-to-screen adaptations (which, I found out only afterwards, it is). The Dying Gaul mistakes vagueness for ambiguity and lack of information for subtlety. Not only is the second half contrived, even though it is fluidly paced, but even the narrative contrivances rely on unexplained implausibility. Even though the ideas are potent, they are never fully realized --and the metaphors, even though they are underdeveloped, are rather overt. Similar to the recent Harry Potter film (now there's a set-up for a great comparison), it suffers from feel like two films within one -- and the relevance is not always apparent. The first act is an intriguing, postmodern satire on Hollywood (sound familiar? -- well, I love Adaptation and all of its followers, anyway) and the film jarringly shifts into a contemporary noir complete with bisexuality and saucy chat-rooms. Despite my (it seems like) many complaints, the film is never stiff and kept me consistently interested. Strange, I know -- but this isn't exactly a normal film. B-/C+, (5.5/10)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Newell, 2005):
Without having even read the book, I can tell that too many scenes were left out of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. There is a lack of a desired cohesion and the whole film seems simply thrown together, as it tries to patch up the transitions of the original text. To the film's credit, the film is alternatuively thrilling and amusing, but inconsistently so. As if the film did not have enough congruity problems, it feels as if these are two fillms in one -- and both are underdeveloped. One film is about the humanizing of the puberty-ridden young teenagers and how their magical world is really just a parallel of the real-world of nasty, bratty adolescents who have to worry about awkward sexual tensions and finding a date for the dance (and, consequently, learning the art of settling). This, of course, accounts for a few smugly charming moments of insufferable cuteness and teenage devastation. It is, essentially, a puberty video which should be shown in 5th grade Health classes (witness the bathtub scene for evidence). The other film is the usual adventure of Harry-must-save-some-students-and survive-Voldemort-again. The boy has a reputation to keep up! It's all very pleasing and not off-putting at all, but it still manages to feel unsatisfactory. C+, (5.5/10)

Pride and Prejudice (Wright, 2005): Where have all the British period dramas gone? I miss them. It seems as if I will simply have to turn to Merchant-Ivory DVD rentals. I realize there is not a strong market for these types of films -- which is why I am very elated with the release and success (both economic and cnematic) of Joe Wright's new adaptation of Austen's novel. While it is not as exceptional as Merchant-Ivory's best (A Room With a View, for example), Pride and Prejudice is superbly entertaining and resfreshingly literate. Many have justifiably noted the brilliantly fluid cinematography, but what struck me the most was the film's timelessness. It has the ability to capture the time period without feeling stiff and maintain the relevance of many films set in contemporary settings. The film is classic, but modern. The cast is uniformally magnificent; Brenda Blethyn gives my favorite supporting performance -- she makes blatant desperation seem so pathetically and charmingly hilarious. The film's most admirable trait is its sharp and witty screenplay, despite the moments where the dialogue seems as if the preserved prose is simply being regurgitated by the cast. B+, (8/10)

Safe (Haynes, 1995): As much as I would like to highly praise the idea-driven Safe, I cannot. It's frustrating -- I feel as if I should have been more affected by the production than I was. Similar to Julianne Moore's vacuous homemaker, I feel inexplicably dissatisfied. I appreciate Safe's uniqueness, ambition and strong, socially relevant, themes. Unfortunately, however, it is almost as if the film tries to tackle too many subjects; therefore, its overall effect is dulled. Is it a cold satire on upper-class banality? Is it an indictment on self-inflicted stress? Is it an example of a manifestation of repression? Is it a biting statement on humanity's carelessness with chemicals and lack of a land ethic? Is it a search for human singularity? Is it a tender allegory of the AIDS epidemic? Is it a frightening look at cults (yikes!)? Sure, it is all these things, but none of them feel complete -- the film is more of a thematic hodgepodge. There is a constant scratching of a surface. Perhaps I am simply dissatisfied due to its lack of real environmental confrontation. Actually most of the film feels quite "passive aggressive." Julianne Moore's performance as a helpless housewife is rather superb -- her malaise is palpable and her spaciness (which the film also seems to possess) is convincing. Although the themes overshadow her character, she manages to make the closing moments indelibly chilling. Perhaps upon a second viewing this thematically charged film will seem more cohesive, but for now, it remains a slight disappointment. B/B-, (6.5/10)

Shopgirl (Tucker, 2005):
It attempts to being a "mood piece," but is really just a second-rate depiction of modern alienation. I wanted to like it much more than I did, but almost everything within the film was unconvincing (particularly the relationship at its core). I occasionally liked the use of the score, but the volume needed to be turned down just a bit. It came out blaring in moments when a sincere score would have been more effective. Martin's redundant voiceover shows how attached he is to his prose, but he needs to realize that this is a cinematic adaptation, and such omniscient narration is both clumsy and unnecessary. Aside from a few admirable moments, it is rather vacuous. C+, (5/10)

The rest:
Fun with Dick and Jane (Parisot, 2005): B-/C+, (5.5/10) [Occasionally observant, but ultimately innocuous, corprate satire. Full review will be posted next week.]
The Passenger (Antonioni, 1975): C, (4.5/10) [A few brilliant themes remain unexplored to their fullest potential. A point, and intriguing characters, are lost amid the tedium.]
The Seventh Seal (Bergman, 1957): A-, (9/10) [I wish I was more conscious when viewing this -- then I would have been able to post more extensive and astute thoughts. I was actually very tired when I watched the film (which I saw by sneaking into a friend of mine's film class), and I often wished I was more sharp and astute that day. Basically, though, I absorbed most of what I should in this symbolic, deep meditation on those "big" questions in life. What really struck me was how it was not completely morose; it is practically a comedy. The early scene in the church, which includes a man painting the walls with a mural of death, really explains everything. What shocked and pleased me was its original approach to such unanswerable questions -- it realized their lack of a definite answer and the film played out as an absurdist comedy. Brilliant, really.]
Hitch (Tennant, 2005): C+, (5/10) [I was treated to this disarming, but pedestrian, film on a trip back to college. Oh, it is just another reason to hate public transportation around the Holidays. Actually, this is the quintessential public transportation film: affable, harmless and completely typical. The man which this film was based off of (yes, such a 'dating doctor' does exist) spoke at my university. He was much more intelligent, interesting and original than this disposable rom-com.]
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic (Lynch, 2005): C+, (5.5/10) [I like Sarah Silverman. I do. And I wanted to really like Jesus is Magic. I did. Basically a one-woman stad-up act, Sarah Silverman delivers her lines with a perfectly naive Jewish princess disposition, as always. She is undoubtedly testing the capablities of stand-up comedy here, but there is too much scratching of the surface and not enough deep exploration into politically-incorrect and boundry-pushing comedy. Plus, the film came to a screeching halt whenever an incongruous music sequence or a disappointing backstage confessional would pop up.]
Heavenly Creatures (Jackson, 1994): B+, (8/10) [Much more emotionally involving, well-acted, imaginative and heartbreaking than any of Jackson's Lord of the Ring films. The denouement is positively devastating.]

Friday, December 02, 2005

Happy belated birthday, Allen Stewart Konigsberg

Yes, yes -- Woody Allen turned 70 yesterday. He now joins the ranks of such esteemed septuagenarians as, ummm, other brilliant artists who are between the ages of 70 and 80.

"I don't want to gain immortality through my work. I want to gain immortality by not dying."

Stay strong, Woody.

Today is a day that nebbish and neurotic New Yorkers should rejoice! (as should those who are fans of alliteration). In celebration of this fantastic feat of stamina, I will rank of Woody's films that I have had the pleasure (or displeasure) to have seen. They are not ranked within grouping.

The masterpieces:
Annie Hall
Crimes and Misdemeanors

The very, very good Wood:
Husbands and Wives
Hannah and Her Sisters
The Purple Rose of Cairo

His best early, funny ones:
Love and Death

Good Wood:
Sweet and Lowdown
Everyone Says I Love You
Stardust Memories

The serviceable Woody:
Take the Money and Run
Bullets Over Broadway
Mighty Aphrodite
Another Woman
Deconstructing Harry
Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex*
Small Time Crooks

Woody's missteps:
Anything Else
Manhattan Murder Mystery
Melinda and Melinda

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A public apology.

I sincerely apologize to you, oh faithful reader, for subjecting you to trite lyrics (and it was not even intentional, unlike those damn emo-bloggers who would rather regurgitate song lyrics than originally express their disdain for humanity through eloquent rants). Apparently, the title which appeared above the preceding entry was taken from, as I suspected, a terrible pop song. This fact was brought to my attention by my extremely-helpful-when-I-don't-want-her-to-be friend, Jacquelyn (thanks Jacq, for riddling me with crippling guilt). This particularly schmaltzy piece of derivative banality, "Follow Through," is sung by Gavin DeGraw. Yes, that young musician who is seen as a demi-god by millions of melodramatic teenagers and bored housewives. They most likely believe his 'chariot' can fly ala Apollo. Frankly, I hope his trajectory will eventually lead to the scalding sun. As most fans adorably sigh, "Gavin Derawwww" -- I appropriately shudder "Gavin Degrewwww." Yes, that is how damn sharp and clever I am. To my credit (if it is even feasible to establish any credit at this point), I actually paraphrased his lyrics. Now please, brace yourself as I forever taint my blog with the words of Mr. DeGr[e]www:

"Oh, this is the start of something good
Don't you agree?"

First off: No, Gav, I disagree. Secondly, there is a brilliant irony in these lyrics and my use of them. Gavin's prose possesses an almost haughty certainty ("This IS the start of something good" -- bettah recognize), while my rendition used the dubious "could," as if there was a possibility for failure. Clearly, however, Gavin is the one who has never started anything good, while I inexplicably emerge victorious.

What confounds me the most is -- how did I hear this song? Is it that ubiquitous? If so -- I have officially become a full-blown misanthrope. Seriously, I never deliberately listened to Gavin DeGraw; perhaps it was being played in a friend's car (such as Jacquelyn's) or in a supermarket, or in an elevator.

Since I enjoy using the media as an ever-available scapegoat, I am going to blame subliminal messages in the media. Vote for Bush. Drink Fanta. Hear Gavin DeGraw lyrics.