Sunday, February 26, 2006
Match Point (Woody Allen, 2005)
Four Meanings of a film Assignment:
1. Fabula: Former Tennis Pro, Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) befriends Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode) and immediately is embraced by the well-off British upper-class Hewett family. Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) falls in love with Chris and they eventually marry. Temptation interferes, as Chris has always been infatuated with Tom’s ex-fiancée Nola (Scarlett Johansson) and he begins playing a dangerous, game trying to juggle relationships with two women at once.
2. Explicit Meaning: Being lucky in life can ultimately hold more importance than hard work and talent, and can possibly cancel out morals. Throughout the film we are reminded of how an instance of luck can be the difference between success and failure. Anecdotes in the beginning with the ball paused in mid-air and the voice-over narration as well as Chris’s outlook on luck that he expresses in the film reemphasize this point. Towards the end of the film a ring is paused in mid-air similar to how the tennis ball was in the beginning, and in this sequence the difference between ruining and maintaining Chris’s life is determined. For him things turn out fine, but unfortunately Nola, a women who seems to have always had a difficult life, is unlucky for a final time.
3. Implicit Meaning: Life is a game. There are winners and losers. Sometimes the wealthier teams or the luckier players come out ahead, but it isn’t always something easily controlled by the individual. Other times the competitor must take control, and be aggressive. Sometimes the most ruthless competitor who can shrug off guilt will come out of top. The best competitors must be able to overcome obstacles, passion, obsession, etc. at all costs to accomplish what they’ve set out to do.
4. Symptomatic Meaning: Wealth, power, and comfort actually do amount to happiness. Both the characters of Chris and Nola are trying to escape their unsuccessful pasts and indulge in a life of luxury and elegance. In one scene we see Chris reading “Crime and Punishment”, which the film seemingly parallels, but it appears he opts to read an abbreviated summary instead. He wins the favor of the Hewett family and his ascent into high society is shown throughout, as we see him engaging in operas, art galleries, getting a job promotion, etc. Nola on the other hand is cast out from the Hewett family. Despite his passionate obsession with Nola, in the end he decides to kill her rather than sacrifice his upper-class future. Following the crime, it is almost as if Chris hides his guilt behind his class status. He disguises the murder as a petty drug theft and when confronted by the detectives he begs them to consider his and his father-in-law’s positions in the community. In the end the murders are pinned on another drug related criminal with previous offenses who coincidentally finds the ring Chris disposed of.
Waiting... (Rob McKittrick, 2005)
This is a typical grossout teen/young adult film. Nothing extremely interesting or unique here, but I have to say I enjoy Ryan Reynold's strangely effeminate line deliveries. I remember laughing a few times, but it's hard to recall what I was laughing at. That being said it's safe to say there isn't really anything memorable enough worth mentioning. Although there was one notable scene where the camera hovers around the restaurant from table to table in one long take and the spectator becomes privy to the patrons private conversations.
The Endless Summer (Bruce, Brown, 1966)
This surf documentary came out in the 60s during the height of surf culture's popularity in the United States. The film although ideally simplistic explores themes such as comsumerism, Peter Pan Syndrome and the celebration of youth, freedom of choice, sense of community, and colonialism all while maintaining a fun and comedic approach. The filmmaker Bruce Brown follows 2 fellow surfers around the world as they search for the "perfect wave." Personally I can only watch surfing for so long before it becomes tiresome and the gags and voice-over narration jokes are pretty adolescent and cheesey. But there are several interesting aspects such as watching the African natives witness surfing for the first time and trying it out for themselves.
The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
An incredible script by James Agee reads like an Appalachian folk-tale, telling the suspensful story of a criminal posing as a preacher (Robert Mitchum in his finest role) terrorizing two children who know the where about of the stolen money he pursues. Narratively, "Night of the Hunter" is an under-appreciated classic, considering the number of films and stories influenced by it. As I watched I realized David Gordon Green's "Undertow" (2004) is basically a modern remake that substitutes characters and their relations just enough to pass it off as being an original work. The directing and editing is flawed at times, but the cinematography by Stanley Cortez is very impressive. Although on the surface, this film seems like a simple tale of good vs. evil, there are a lot of things going on here and the ending is especially moving.
Glory Road (James Gartner, 2006)
Representative Anecdote assignment:
It’s the day before the National Championship basketball game, and as you would come to expect from any typical sports movie, the time has come for the coach to deliver the definitive motivational speech. The Texas Western basketball team sits in the stands of an empty arena, seven black players, and four white, while their coach, Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) starts spouting racial epithets and discriminatory reasons why a team with so many African American players has no chance at winning a championship game. Despite the fact their coach has shown them nothing but respect and confidence in their abilities all season, this obvious satirical speech confuses the players and we see them grow angry until Haskins reveals “he’s sick of hearing people say these things.” Next, Haskins tells his team he intends to “shut everyone up” by only playing the black players in the final game. A white player interjects speaking on behalf of the other white players saying it’s not fair to them, because they earned it just as much and they want to play just as much as anyone else. On the other hand he concedes to the fact that the black players have had to deal with far worse unfair treatment throughout history and if that’s what needs to be done to stop the racism in sports then they’ll do their part to help. But in this poignant cliché filled scene, the sentiments of the coach, the players, and the spectators are summed up while also conveying the fact that this is about a whole lot more than just a game of basketball. It is debatable whether or not the real Don Haskins actually made this speech to his players or whether it’s all just a bunch of Hollywood hype. Despite the good intentions of this film, this scene is an excellent example of how it, in some ways, reinforces racism in sports by segregating players based on skin color rather than treating them as equals and playing the five most talented player regardless of color.
The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)
I'm going to be honest, I have only seen three Hitchcock films, and feel underqualified to criticize a man who is considered a genius by many. Maybe it's because I've grown up in a time where audiences have become desensitized to violence, suspense, and horror films. To me the entire concept of birds attacking and killing humans belongs in a straight to video release. The dated effects and situations in general are mostly laughable although during their time I'm sure these effects were spectacular. I suppose most of the flaws I found in this film aren't necessarily his fault, but perhaps that of a pathetic script. The dialogue seemed to forced as ridiculously over dramatic characters shared unprovoked backstories with each other, and a romance between Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) seemingly blossoms out of nowhere, almost as if an entire scene is missing. On a more positive note, the sounds effects were great and I found myself enigmatically attracted to Tippi. I didn't find her to be overly beautiful or even a great actress, but something about her voice and the way she delivered lines perked my interest. I'm going to go ahead and call this film overrated at this point, but I'm probably wrong. Pfffft.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Vera Drake (Mike Leigh, 2004)
Vera Drake is a bold social realist film that takes place in 1950s England. Leigh asserts his pro choice views by victimizing a lovable "super mother." Vera (Imelda Staunton) looks after her sick elderly mother as well as her husband and two children. What her family doesn't know is she also assists women have miscarriages. I found the film to be very educational as it explores many aspects and situations of abortion including an upper class woman who is raped and can afford to have a legalized abortion, as well as black market abortions involving lower class families with little money. Despite the pro choice stance the film takes, we also see several characters who take the opposite outlook on the subject to balance things out. Imelda Staunton was nominated for an Academy Award in 2005 for her depiction of the pro choice pioneer, Vera Drake. Mike Leigh also recieved nominations from the Academy for Best Achievement in Directing, as well as Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.
Monday, February 13, 2006
Layer Cake (Matthew Vaughn, 2004)
This crime film from the UK doesn't really bring anything new to the table including an outdated soundtrack that drastically contrasts with the sleak modern sets. The story itself is entertaining enough to keep the average viewer interested throughout by including drug trade, double crossing, flashy effects, and at times scenes of shocking violence much in the tradition of Tarantino or blaxploitation films. More often then not, the flashy effects are used to awe the audience rather than to convey any real meaning. But while I'm on the subject of "flashy," if nothing else the film does reward the viewer with a consolation glance at a topless Sienna Miller. I did however find the lively camera-work to be impressive and thought it was overall very well composed.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
One, Two, Three (Billy Wilder, 1961)
This film is based on a French theatrical farce and was adapted by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. The film portrays an American executive for the Coca-Cola named C.R. MacNamara (James Cagney)who is stationed in West Berlin during the Cold War. Seeing as it is a farce, everyone in the film is an exaggerated caricature representing capitalism, communism, fascism, Americans, Southerners, Yankees, Soviets, Germans, etc. MacNamara is given the responsibility of looking after his boss's 17 year old, bourgeois, boy-crazy, daughter who ends up marrying a communist from East Berlin. The story takes off from there as a wacky frenzy of events begin to unfold. The jokes and dialogue, and sometimes obscure references are incredibly fast paced and sometimes hard to catch, but nonetheless hilarious. Sarcasm, satire, one-liners, and topical humor are prevalent and the script really carries the film along with a colorful cast of characters. This film isn't for everyone. In such an absurd farce as this, the viewer will be asked to suspend their disbelief; and perhaps some cultural background knowledge of the time period would be helpful before viewing, but if you have any sort of sense of humor this is a very entertaining film.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001, International: English Title)
I own this film and have seen it numerous times, but I was recently asked to watch it again and write a brief response paper for a class so I figured I'd post it here:
Amélie, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet is an imaginative film full of life and energy. There are no major obstacles to overcome, nor are there any extravagant action sequences. In fact a brief synopsis of the film may make it sound dull and uneventful, yet it is as kinetic as any other. Amélie is a young introverted dreamer, who becomes obsessed with helping others around her find small pieces of happiness in there otherwise mundane lives and falls in love in the process. The film is accompanied by flashbacks of her childhood, as well as her internal imaginative thoughts of fantasy involving special effects and sometimes stock footage. Jeunet incorporates several different techniques throughout the film including the handheld home movie-like intro of Amélie as a child, computer animation, third person voice-over narration, and Amélie herself talking to the camera and interacting with the audience in some instances. The film often seems purposely showy, with a beautiful score, brilliant camera work and cinematography. There is constant camera movement, whether it be the fast paced cutting, hovering overhead shots, zoom-ins, sped up action, spinning shots, or the more common pans and tilts. The film is visually stunning, filled with vibrant greens and reds, and is truly a cinema of attraction for the viewer.
Amélie is an interconnecting maze of destiny or random coincidences depending on how you interpret it. Jeunet keeps the audience involved in the story through entertaining and often humorous plot lines of eccentric characters, a mystery character to peak our interest, and unveiling more personal insights into the lives of certain characters as the film moves along. Sometimes the narrator reveals things we would otherwise never know, or they are revealed through brief vignettes. It is almost as if we are voyeurs into the characters lives much like Amélie herself as she interferes into the lives of others. We also witness scenes of other characters prying into the lives of others. For instance the painter looks into Amélie’s apartment, Nino collects discarded photos of strangers, and Joseph is always spying on his ex-girlfriend in the café. There are a lot of things going on in this film, and it’s hard to choose one distinct underlying meaning, but I think the most important thing the filmmakers want to convey, as cheesey as it sounds, is that you can’t let events from your past allow you to miss out of the simple enjoyments that await each of us in life. Amélie trys to fill the small voids in the lives of the people and bring joy to them, but just as they are missing something in their lives, so is she. With the encouragement of Raymond Dufayel along with the help of fate, she falls in love and doesn’t let the opportunity pass her by. This spectacle of a film is always a delight to watch and rewards repeated viewing and recommend it to all film enthusiasts.