High Flying I’m Bored

With the conclusion of the academic semester, I hardly had time to sleep let alone watch movies. I spent the past month using my Netflix subscription to watch random films for my film class and to grab the occasional television episode.  Now that graduation is behind me, I’m looking forward to finding my place in the real world. Until then, I’m certainly catching up with my queue!

A few weeks back, I went to my former high school’s production of Evita. Having been quite removed from the high school musical scene, I was impressed with overall production and the drama that unfolded on stage. Knowing that there was a film adaptation of the same show with a notable cast, I rented 1996′s Evita and watched the movie with mixed feelings.

Briefly, Evita plays almost as an opera with non stop musical moments. The plot tells the story of Argentina’s political leader Eva Peron: her rise to fame, her relationship with the Argentinian president Juan Peron, her influence in politics and her death. Knowing next to nothing about history, I have no idea how accurate this storyline was, but it was fascinating to see Evita’s seemingly effortless transition from a nobody to the spiritual leader of the people. Just watching the costume changes was stunning. The character brings you along for the ride much like the real Evita did for the people of Argentina – to an extent.

I’m sure many of you can sing along to the famous muscial number “Don’t Cry for me Argentina”. Here it is posted below so you can belt your little heart out as you read the rest of the post.

In the film adaptation, Evita is played by the iconic performer Madonna. Great casting really because both of these women have had monumental impact on their respective publics. I feel that she did a wonderful job of becoming this character and as a performer herself, I felt that she nailed it. The other major film star in Evita is Antonio Banderas. His singing is awkward, but Mr. Banderas is certainly easy on the eyes. His character, a revolutionist Che, comes across more as an angry narrator and not the strong powerhouse that I saw in the stage version. His character seems awkward and left something to be desired.

I think collectively the film version lacks the power of the stage version. Although I love movies and frequently use them as escape, when it boils down to it, I’m still a theater snob. I think characters are more rich and emotions are more real when you are siting in a theater with an audience and twenty feet away from the action. The film adaptation can (and did) establish the scenes better because movies are not limited to standard theater conventions. However, I think the movie missed an opportunity to reflect the rich color palate of South America and instead reflected a very professional, darker look. This was suitable for the serious nature of the political environment, but made the overall film kind of dull. One thing that did impress me with the film adaptation was the treatment of the chorus member parts. The off camera wails of the Argentinian people had a haunting effect that served the film well.

Although the movie was interesting and true to the Broadway production, my money still is on the stage version. The film just lacked the movement and expression of live theater. Read more about Evita here at the Internet Movie Database.

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Not Afraid of the Squid and Whale Fighting

Last night I watched my Netflix rental The Squid and the Whale (2005). Truth be told, I have no idea how this movie ended up in my queue or what inspired me to watch this film on a Monday night. This was certainly a departure from my fluffy feel-good movies I tend to watch during the week. However, it was a welcome change of pace and I found that I liked this dark drama.

The Squid and the Whale follows the Berkman family as the parental unit decides to separate.  What follows is an emotional, at at times shocking, look as to how the family deals with the situation. Bernard and Joan are doing their best to care for their sons, Walt (16) and Frank (12), while they themselves are trying to understand their own feelings. Set in 1980s New York, this movie is the semi-autobiographical story of the director Noah Baumbach. I think the realism that this film depicts shows that this project was important to Baumbach. Check out the trailer below.

When drafting up this blog post, I hit a wall because I didn’t really know how to describe my reaction to this movie. How can one enjoy a movie that shows a family falling apart due to divorce? The movie at times is heartbreaking and I found myself wanting to reach out to the characters. Jeff Daniel’s character, Bernard Berkman, does horrible things and is emotionally damaging to everyone around him (and himself), but I wanted to fight for him. I wanted to help him help himself because you can see that he was really hurting.

I felt the most  for the youngest son who clearly was not taking the divorce and new family dynamic well. As if being a preteen wasn’t hard enough! Both sons are caught in the middle of two very strong willed parents and their personal troubles and the way they both handle the situation can be shocking and raw. The younger son, played by Owen Kline, has scenes which expose the character emotionally and I feel it was a very mature role for such a young actor. Additionally, the collective acting talent in this movie makes the film. Both the young actors Owen Kline and Jesse Eisenberg as well as seasoned performers Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney are well developed, intense when needed and captivating.

The best part of this film was the end credits. Much to my delight, Wes Anderson’s name popped up as one of the producers of this movie. No wonder I kinda vibed with it. Overall this movie was depressingly lovely and the ending, although slightly abrupt, left the viewer in a reflective mood which I tend to appreciate.  Read more about The Squid and The Whale here at the Internet Movie Database.

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Tea can do many things, Jane, but it can’t bring back the dead.

This past Monday night  I had the pleasure of watching two great movies. The first was for my Film as Art class at Marquette called One, Two, Three (1961). This hilarious cold-war comedy follows a fast paced Berlin Coca-Cola marketing executive, played by the unstoppable James Cagney, as he attempts to prevent his boss’ daughter from marrying a communist and save his job. Although some of the humor shows its age, the movie was a whirlwind of one liners and is a fun way to shake up your movie routine.

However, this week I would like to focus on a more contemporary comedy, the indie film Death at a Funeral (2007). My viewing of this film was a pleasant surprise. As I was watching the opening trailers on my Darjeeling Limited DVD (of which I wrote about a few weeks back), this one stood out as potential future viewing. A week or so later I met an old friend for dinner and as he was opening the entertainment center for some pre-food N64, I spied Death at a Funeral amongst the cartridges. Immediately we changed our plans for the evening and settled in with some pizza and this great movie.

This black comedy follows a family who has just lost the head of their family. The funeral is set to take place at the home of one the deceased’s sons, Daniel. When the undertakers bring the wrong body to the funeral, you know this funeral is not going to run smoothly. Daniel’s mother asks him to give the eulogy which causes tension between him and his successful novelist brother, Robert. Other assorted guests also enter the picture with unique situations and their own drama. However, all of this is upset when a mysterious funeral guest, Peter, pulls the brothers aside and threatens them with blackmail and a looming secret about their father’s real life. Their struggle to protect the family from this information and the antics of the rest of the family all make for a great web of drama.

Some family gathering movies have the potential to become clichéd, cheesy or unrealistic. However, this movie has a simple premise and the family dynamics are very down-to-earth. Although there  certainly is drama and tensions between characters, each story was realistic and funny. We all have that crazy older relative that we have to put up with and the competitive siblings that are always trying to one-up each other. I like how this film seemed to be almost set in real-time. The running length is only about an hour and a half and it is fully possible that all of the action contained within that time frame actually occurred as you watch. It has an effect of drawing the viewer into the story as if you are a funeral attendee as well.

I really enjoyed the touching speech Daniel gives about his father at the end of the movie. It is a quiet reflection on the importance of living at the end of a very crazy funeral. Overall, this movie was dripping with dry British humor with a slight dose of slapstick comedy tossed in for good measure.  And if this tale may sound lackluster, watching Alan Tudyk’s character try to deal with an unintentional acid trip is totally worth it. Read more about Death and a Funeral here at the Internet Movie Database.

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Putting The F Back In Freedom

America - Fuck Yeah!

As you know I am a Netflix junkie. Sometimes when the artsy foreign film or the cutting edge drama gets damaged in transit, I’m reduced to renting the nearest comfort film from the Milwaukee Public Library across the street. I warned you this blog is about the guiltiest of guilty pleasures and last weekend’s screening was no exception. Prepare to be amused by the laugh out loud antics of the puppets of Team America: World Police.

Firstly, you know this film is going to be awesome when the MPAA gives it the rating:

Rated R for graphic crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language – all involving puppets.

Seriously, hilarious, no? But what really first made me rent this film was my love of the animated TV show South Park. Team America was the work of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, also the creators of South Park. They are known for being wacky, crude, rude and very topical. Most of the time while watching their shows and movies, it’s impressive to see just how fresh they can be. Team America was released in 2004 right around the time of the election and no doubt pissed a lot of people off, including many notable celebrities. But I am getting ahead of myself. A quick synopsis, anyone?

Team America is the story of an anti-terrorist organization who is dead set on policing the world and maintaining global stability. Do you see why this film already can be controversial? After a destructive, yet successful, battle in Paris, France, the organization realizes that it will need reinforcement if they really want to foil the enemy’s plans. They hire a Broadway actor, Gary Johnston, to go undercover as a terrorist and “act” his way into the heart of the terrorist operation. The team learns that the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Il is behind plans to use weapons of mass destruction to destroy the world. Team America and Gary must act quickly if they want to save the world from almost certain destruction.

This film is a send up of outrageous action films along with a hearty jab taken at American behaviors especially in regards to foreign policy and race. Without a doubt, this movie goes for the shock value. There are gross-puke scenes, blatantly racist depictions of middle easterners, hardcore puppet lovemaking sessions and other images and phrases that will make viewers twinge.  Maybe it’s just me, but after watching for a while,  I was sucked into the whole story. The actions of this anti-terrorist group are so ridiculously over the top that I couldn’t help but laugh. Some of the best laughs came at the expense at the puppets portraying politically active celebrities. Let’s just say that I’ll never look at Matt Damon the same way again. There is, if you are looking hard enough, something for everyone with action, romance, comedy, and more. Take for example, this tender moment from Korean dictator Kim Jong Il:

I most certainly wouldn’t recommend this movie for those with sensitive senses of humor,  those who are conservative (politically or otherwise), or your mom. However, if you are able to see where the satire lies in this politically incorrect movie, I would recommend this puppet masterpiece without hesitation. Read about Team America: World Police here at the Internet Movie Database

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I love you too, but I’m gonna mace you in the face!

In case the header of my blog didn’t give it away, I am a huge fan of anything Wes Anderson directs. His films are  hands down some my all time favorites. The header image of my blog is taken from Rushmore which is the story of Max Fischer and his attempt to find himself after being expelled from the school he loves. It is truly a tale appreciated by all those who have ever been a misfit themselves. The Royal Tenenbaums, also directed by Anderson, has the distinction of being my favorite movie of all time and simply a beautifully crafted film.

But I digress. With my Anderson addiction, I decided to sit down and watch Anderson’s most recent live action film, The Darjeeling Limited (2007). This film was filmed on location in the rich and vibrant deserts of India. A large portion of the film takes place on a train, the Darjeeling Limited, for which the movie gets its name. The plot follows three brothers who haven’t seen each other since the death of their father. His death has taken a visible toll on each brother as each one copes with the tragedy in unhealthy ways. Francis, played by Owen Wilson, is sporting a limp and a plethora of bandages as he previously attempted to kill himself in a staged motor cycle crash. Jack, played by Jason Schwartzman, is emotionally tormented by his on again, off again girlfriend. The final brother Peter, played by Adrien Brody, has left his pregnant wife at home while he travels still clinging to any remnants of his father. The self-medicating and utterly depressed trio meet for a train trip across India in an effort to reconnect and find themselves. Francis  has organized the trip, but the three brothers still fight and pit one against another until they are forced to support each other and cope with the intricacies of their lives.

The film is true to Anderson’s unique style: when you watch an Anderson film, you know it. There are characteristic camera angles, set designs and other elements. Even his commercial for American Express has the Wes Anderson feel to it. For me, this just solidified my enjoyment of the film but I can understand how for some viewers this might be a turn-off.

The most poignant moment of this film for me was towards the end when the three brothers are all standing and looking into a mirror at their reflections. The camera is placed directly opposite the actors as if you are the mirror in which the characters are looking. All three are peering into the camera and Francis slowly starts to remove the bandages covering his head.

Francis: I guess Ive still got a lot of healing to do.
Jack: Gettin there, though.
Peter: Anyway, its definitely going to add a lot of character to you.

This moment is so pure and is positively Andersonian. The message here is deep and touching as Francis realizes that his emotional wounds will heal just like his actual wounds, thus making him a stronger person for having lived through this tragedy. The coming together of the three brothers on this spiritual quest is both moving and visually delightful although I don’t think this film would appeal to everyone. The movie can be quiet and reflective at times which is an appropriate tone for the setting and emotional place of the characters. If you are looking for a bumbling brothers comedy, I’m afraid this isn’t it. It is a terrific movie but The Royal Tenenbaums will still be number one on my favorites list. Read about The Darjeeling Limited here at the Internet Movie Database.

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Coraline: Cute as a Button

Coraline crawls to the Other World

Yes, Friday night as finally arrived. Sometimes at the end of the week, I like to unwind by pulling on the comfy pajama pants, wrapping up in a fleece blanket and watching a friendly movie. You know the type I’m talking about: something you might have seen before, something light and good-natured that you can just enjoy for yourself. This week, I settled in with one of my recent finds, Coraline.

Coraline (2009) is a movie about a young girl, Coraline, who moves to a new apartment complex with her overworked and over scheduled parents. Bored and unable to get any attention from her busy parents, Coraline is left to explore her new world on her own. In her new house, she discovers a secret door to the Other World  which is a parallel universe that mimics her own life. Here in the Other World, her parents are seemingly loving, dedicated and fulfill her every desire. Escaping to the Other World ever night, Coraline soon discovers that perfection has its price. The “Other Mother” tries to trick Coraline into staying in this world forever, captures her real family and traps her in this bizarre place.  Coraline must find a way to escape from the clutches of the evil Other Mother and save her family. Check out a web trailer of Coraline here on YouTube.

Beyond the piece of film itself, part of the magic of Coraline is the actual production of the film. This film is created using stop motion animation. Each scene is created by taking a model, moving the model a little bit and taking a picture. This process is repeated countless times to give the illusion of motion. A few seconds of finished motion can take a whole day to produce. But this movie doesn’t look like your mother’s Wallace and Gromit film. Although the finished product is decidedly an animation, it is shocking to realize that computers weren’t used to create the movement and textures in this movie. Each setting, each character, every tiny costume is created by hand. After watching some special features, I learned that a single sweater can take a designer anywhere from six weeks to six months to create. The result is a whimsical dreamland rich in detail and imagination.

The imagination is part of the reason why I think I keep on coming back to Coraline. The premise is simple but the execution and inventiveness of the characters is a pure delight. This film also has the distinction of being one of the first stop motion films to be filmed in 3D. I would love to see this movie again in 3D because the magical worlds would look amazing with some depth. Overall, this movie is charming and sweet. It’s also great for all ages so make a family night out of it! Read about Coraline here at the Internet Movie Database.

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My First Foray into Swedish Art

The two main characters from Persona
As most second semester seniors, I built my class schedule carefully. Giving up on designing and not one with sales, I set forth to devise a schedule that was truly “me”. After registering with a bunch of fun classes, I hope to end my college education on a lighter note. So far, my favorite of the bunch is Film as Art. What’s not to love about sitting around twice a week and just watching good movies? This class has certainly pushed me beyond my standard movie comfort zone. While I tend to curl up and view trashy cult classics or fluffy comedies, I suddenly find myself knee-deep in famous directors and artsy camera angles. This week’s screening was no exception.

Persona (1966) is a film directed by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. In a very broad synopsis, this tale is about an actress, played by Liv Ullman, who mysteriously stops talking. She is cared for by a nurse, played by Bibi Andersson, who eventually becomes deeply troubled having to work with the silent patient. Andersson’s character gradually starts to mentally slip and her personality starts to merge with that of the actress. This is done with interesting scene blocking and fabulously unique editing. While watching it, I was constantly questioning, am I seeing what I think I am seeing? Who is really speaking here? The film is creepy and shocking without using the typical psychological thriller techniques. It honestly cannot be explained, it simply must be experienced.

The first ten minutes of the film set the viewer up for surely a unique viewing experience. Having seemingly nothing to do with the following presentation, these first ten minutes are loaded with jump cuts and seemingly random images spliced together. Check out the highly surreal and well-known sequence here.

In a related note, I got to thinking how, in a way, I empathize with the silent actress. A doctor in the film attempts to make sense of why the actress is behaving the way she does. The doctor questions the actress and says:

I understand, all right. The hopeless dream of being – not seeming, but being. At every waking moment, alert. … Every inflection and every gesture a lie, every smile a grimace. Suicide? No, too vulgar. But you can refuse to move, refuse to talk, so that you don’t have to lie. You can shut yourself in. Then you needn’t play any parts or make wrong gestures. Or so you thought. But reality is diabolical. Your hiding place isn’t watertight. Life trickles in from the outside, and you’re forced to react. No one asks if it is true or false, if you’re genuine or just a sham. Such things matter only in the theatre, and hardly there either.

Having a moment to sit down and just be is such a rarity in life. Perhaps her method is a little drastic, but it certainly gets her point across. Overall, this film is a touch bizarre, but makes you think and I think it would be worth making the time for. Read about Persona here at the Internet Movie Database.

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