Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Big C on the Big Screen

Saw 50/50 in a matinee screening (why did I fail throughout my college years to attend these precious five euro matinee screenings?) earlier this week.

This is the first film in quite a while to deal with the implications of cancer so candidly.  Cancer's devastating potential is given more potent arsenal here when 27-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordan-Levitt) is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer affecting the spine.  The story follows him as he deals with treatment, an indifferent girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), a boisterous friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen), who sees the romance-scoring potential in Adam's recent trauma, a distraught mother (Anjelica Huston), a Doogie Howser-like psychologist (Anna Kendrick), along with the stoner friends he makes in chemotherapy (Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall).

50/50 finds its strength by not immediately relenting to the stagnant habit of illustrating tragedy in the aftermath of diagnosis.  There is no sense that Adam has received a death sentence.  The events that unfold are even somewhat mundane.  This is the reality, in the face of illness, a majority of people will not endeavour to fulfill grandiose adventures.  Bucket-list sentimentality has been abandoned, instead communication is the main focus.  The story arc of this tale focuses on Adam's struggle with contending with the upheaval of living with illness.

I was expecting Rogen to contribute nothing more than a comic relief to the decidedly depressing material, yet he supplied a surprisingly nuanced performance, and the chemistry between himself and Gordan-Levitt genuinely captured the tension that infiltrates even the most secure of friendships, when conflicts arise and yet remain unacknowledged.  Adam is mired with medical and personal woes while Kyle attempts to steam-roll through and offer uplifting alternatives for his buddy, neglecting Adam's escalating depression.  The old adage of ignorance being bliss can only carry so far, and tensions eventually come to the fore.

Despite my own focus on the heavier material in the film, it is not without its hilarious, poignant, lonely, apprehensive, and euphoric moments.  Those are a lot of adjectives I have just named, simply because 50/50 has that rare quality of contemporary cinema in offering a truly human perspective on events.  There is something for everyone.  You WILL relate to this.  It is mixed and fucked up because this is life.

My favourite moment reminded me of the joys and tribulations of family.  Kendrick's psychologist Katherine meets Kyle and Adam's parents.  Huston's Diane skims over awkward chit-chat, and defending herself states, "I want you to know I smother him because I love him."  By unleashing her bad-ass Mama-Bear, Diane proves what I think the film articulates so well - and that is that even in vulnerability there is strength and resilience.  Every character displays the colours of experience, emotion, and even regret.  And that is what in the end makes it such a resonating work.

Monday, November 21, 2011

It's Time to Light the Lights!

While sojourning in the States recently I was very fortunate to get to see the Jim Henson exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image.  It was beautiful to step back and journey back and be reminded of that wonderous feeling you get as a child.  The archive of Henson's work, a progression from his work in school up until his work on The Muppets, Seasame Street, and film was obviously arranged in a chronological scope and concluded with a brief short on his television.

My sister made a comment, full of both gratitude and respect for what Henson contributed to the world, that he must have absolutely loved what he did.

He was not just an artist, or creator, but a genius.  Absolutely awe inspiring.

Now and then throughout the exhibit, one of his puppet characters were stood in glass cases. To look at the eyes of Bert, Ernie, Miss Piggy and Kermit was looking not just at Henson's legacy but your own childhood.
A clip from Henson's Oscar-nominated short film Time Piece, who knew the guy who created The Muppets could be so existential?

Also having never even been to the Museum of the Moving Image, exploring that building was an adventure in itself - there are examples of the first type of moving picture, along with prosthetic faces from various films, and other costumes and paraphernalia from some of the infamous images of film history.

I would urge one to see this exhibition if at all possible!  One of the best cultural experiences I have ever had.  A definite mecca for film buffs as well.

For further details CLICK HERE

You Have Crossed Into The Twilight Zone

"You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension. A dimension of sound. A dimension of sight. A dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into... The Twilight Zone."

Ever since studying the basics of postmodern film, every film I now encounter appears to self-consciously either reference itself or the artificiality or its substance.  Just like Fright Night which was visited in yesterday's blogpost, The Twilight Zone: The Movie (nice title) opens with a cheeky nod to both the source material and the present text.  

Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks are buddies on a midnight road trip, although I presume they are not playing themselves so shall henceforth be referred to as Buddy 1 and Buddy 2.  Buddy 1 asks Buddy 2, "Did you ever watch The Twilight Zone,"  thus veering us into a world where we expect the unexpected.  The mere mention of the Twilight Zone has interrupted a ostensibly genial scene.  The tone is now loaded with suspense, now even more heightened than the previous game of chicken that Buddy 2 was playing as the driver of the car.  

Want to see something realllly scary?

When Buddy 1 goes full demonic, it is clear we've entered into the Twilight Zone.

The movie is comprised of four segments, along with the aforementioned prologue and an epilogue, directed by John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, and George Miller respectively.  

The first two segments are weak in comparison to the crescendo that builds once Joe Dante's segment begins.  

"Time Out" by Landis takes a modern racist and sexist who beliefs are finally compromised and submerges him into another dimension where he is victim of prejudiced thought.  He journeys through Nazi Germany, a KKK ruled South, and American-occupied Vietnam.  The protagonist's patriotic rage critiques American inconsistencies.  Landis's segment is so weighted with political allegory that it forgets to establish the eery tone synonymous with the Twilight Zone series.  

While "Time Out" lost sight of its genre intent, "Kick the Can" by Steven Spielberg appears to have lost the memo completely.  It's classic Spielberg, where sentiment drenches our eyes and ears and hearts.  The score soars as two favourite devices of nostalgia are manipulated for the love of film.  Juxtaposed here are childhood innocence and old-age loneliness.  Children and the elderly are exploited for their seemingly fragile sensibilities.  It takes the poignant blueprint of Peter Pan and rams it off a wall until it is deranged.  It is whimsical and cute but trite in comparison to the fantastical and horror potential that the subsequent segments offer, and inadequate for the Twilight Zone oeuvre. 
Creepy Damien surrogate in "It's a Good Life."

It is a relief to leave the Spielberg hallmark moment behind.  Joe Dante's  "It's a Good Life."  Like "Time Out," it resembles a work of social commentary, in an world eschew where a young boy seems to rule proceedings. Cartoons, where there is a promise that anything can happen, form a motif.  The combination of cartoon imagery and sinister plot make for a macabre experience.  This is Burtonesque before Tim Burton really was.

See.  Burtonesque.
The grand old adage of saving the best for last has never been more accurate.  John Lithgow spiraling into a psychotic panic in George Miller's "Nightmare at 30,00 feet" is what cinema was made for.  Add to that a cramped airplane, a storm, and some goblin of sorts and people, we have a movie!  The epilogue that quickly follows is the perfect bookend to the piece, and redeems the movie.  


It's been described as horror, and while there are horror elements used, this is more of a warped fairytale.  Drama that exams the distortion of mind and society rather than the disintegration of relationships.  


Song - Breaking Dawn

Not unusual
Been listening to Florence's new album on repeat this week
Not only is the music stunning, ephemeral, and haunting
But the album art is gorgeous, it harks to the period of Art Deco but becomes timeless almost because of Florence Pre-Raphaellite beauty.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Frightful Film Nights

Upon seeing Fright Night, the 2011 remake, this past September, I read numerous reviews basically stating that 2011 could not hold a candle to the original.  As a film enthusiast, I will not claim to be a film geek as their is much still much to learn and see, I decided my own investigation would need to be done.

Usually, I would agree with the assertion made by Total Film's Rosie Fletcher that not only do we not need another vampire film (blame the woeful Twilight and its overexposure for ruining it for everyone else) but remakes of classic are pretty much unnecessary anyway.  A classic deserves not to be tarnished by the presence of a film that resembles the desperation of a sorry Gaga-ite on all-Hallow's Eve.

Craig Gillespie's 2011 film takes a more measured approach, and refrains from delving straight into the action as Tom Holland did.  This was not a downfall on Holland's part, as the writer he created a blend of suspense horror with a self-aware comedic undertone.  For instance, Peter Vincent questions the formulaic exposition of horror, and the superficial whim of the genre and audiences at that, "Apparently your generation doesn't want to see vampire killers anymore, nor vampires either.  All they want is to see slashers running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins."

Evil Ed meanwhile finds delight and solitude with Jerry's promise of peace in the supernatural, while Charley's quest to find out the truth about Jerry is punctuated intelligibly with cinematic horror images.  How very Blade Runner of them.

The Rear Window and Nosferatu references made me squeal with delight.

This kind of blatant, sarcastic pastiche was missing from Fright Night 2011.  Though the narrative itself was arranged in a more cohesive manner, the self-aware dimension and horror influenced made the characters seemed tired and bored rather than the ironic ease and mischievous as their 80s counterparts.

McLovin, I mean, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Colin Farrell had the most fun Fright Night 2011.  Far from the suggestion that Farrell could not muster the ability to truly intimidate, Farrell's Jerry embraced a far darker character than Chris Sarandon managed to establish.  Jerry a la 2011 is far more calculating, and let's be honest subtle.  Sarandon, next time you help yourself to a bite of naked prostitute, try closing the curtains.  Respect your neighbours.  Especially the horny teenager next door.

Jerry in 2011 is flirtatious, but a man on a mission, without giving away too much, this Jerry has a major evil plan, a character arc all of his own, which lends a dimension lost in Sarandon's suave Yuppie Jerry.

2011, while overall a film of quality entertainment, suffers in the same way that many modern films do, its over-reliance on both modern technology and techniques. The overt product placement, such as when teen Charley uses a handy iPhone app to get tips on how to pick a lock, and the of course the CGI that overwhelms.  Though this movie is no Transformers.  Our eyes are not assaulted with a deluge of stark images.  However the Jerry of 1985 is more impressive in a creative sense, the transformation into full-blown creature of the night is so visceral it is that much more believable.  Jerry of 2011 looks like a deranged Hulk.



Fright Night, both films, are now firmly planted among my favourite of the vampire genre.  For their postmodern awareness of the milieu alone they control the narrative as no other has since Nosferatu, the original and the brilliant.  So go, go have yourself a Frightful Night.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Just finished Melanie Benjamin's Alice I Have Been.
It presents a three-tiered exposition of the life of girl whom the character Alice, of Alice in Wonderland is based.
The story is all the more harrowing because of the truth it is based on.

The narrative in the first section focuses on the relationship between Charles Dodgson and the young Alice Liddell.  The lingering glances and ambiguous physical contact between the author and the infantile muse are palpable.  Sinister undertones erupt from the pages and make for an uncomfortable reading.  This fails to detract from the quality of the book however, it rather brings to light some truths which our childhood nostalgia would have us undoubtedly avoid.

The photography of Lewis Carroll, or Charles Dodgson, which Benjamin discusses in the afterword, is the primary source material that inspired Benjamin to write her fictionalised account of the tension and controversy experienced in Victorian Oxford.  The questionable motive behind Lewis's photo project appears to have been largely eradicated from Carroll's public image.  The principle image that Benjamin attended too was predictably one of the real Alice posed as a beggar girl.  It is both unsettling and distressing to see an image of a child from the Victorian period, one of staunch conservatism, in a virtual state of undress.  Benjamin does specify the speculative nature of much of her narrative, but the fact that the foundation of her story derives from fact makes an image such as this all the more loaded.

Add caption
The irony that haunts Benjamin's story and Alice's life, was that it was her reputation that remained tarnished after the mysterious incident that is not truly revealed until the close of the novel.  Her life was marred by the stigma while Dodgson, with the success of the Alice's Adventures in Wonderland series, sailed through rather unscathed.

Though she is chosen as Benjamin's narrator, that is not to say that Alice occupies the position of the victim. As the narrative progresses, and we meet her as a woman of twenty-three and then finally in her twilight years, it becomes more difficult to feel sympathy for a girl so self-assured and self-possessed.  Though presumably the mature sensibilities of a thirty-something lecturer such as Dodgson should have been more aware of the inappropriateness intimacy of their relationship, the precocious Alice is held accountable too in Benjamin's expert narration.

This is a gripping read due to its anchor in history, and only lags when the superficiality of a lovelorn twenty-three year old Alice overwhelms in the middle-ground of the novel.  Alice and Wonderland has always fascinated me, I have never, unfortunately read the source material, but both Disney movies enchanted me. The comforting ideal of escapism is after all something everyone can undoubtedly relate to.  Alice I Have Been lends a web of meaning to the creation of the escapist Wonderland.