I love movies. I have loved movies all my life. I grew up on them. When I was eight years old, I managed to convince myself I would make movies when I grew up. Now I am in the process of getting a degree in Film Studies. I write about film more than ever before, partly because I have to for my classes, mostly because I enjoy it, because I have something to write about. Sometimes it helps me understand the film better; sometimes it helps me understand myself better.
I created this blog as a place to showcase my work, and also as an incentive to keep writing reviews, analyses, and essays over breaks, when there’s no one here to grade me.
I have tried many times, and failed, to explain in a coherent manner why it is that I love films. Here is my best—and most coherent—guess.

Monday, July 29, 2013

R.I.P.D. (2013)

Thank heavens for Jeff Bridges! His squinting, six-barrel-slinging, Stetson-wearing frontier marshal is the only thing in this undead cop thriller with a pulse. R.I.P.D., Robert Schwentke’s uninspired mashup of Men in Black, Ghostbusters, and Ghost, had its obituary written by the press long before release, critics everywhere denouncing it as the ninth circle of mindless blockbusters. If the film is not exactly the calamity everyone portended, it’s due solely to Bridges and a sprinkling of some mildly impressive special effects. But as much as the actor tries, and as much as he succeeds to elevate his grizzled, gravely 19th century lawman turned 21st century deceased detective way above the potential and pretense of an inert script, R.I.P.D. showed up in theaters DOA. Its few isolated positives are as noticeable and affecting as a fine summer mist amidst a raging, bludgeoning thunderstorm of bad.

Adapted from Peter M. Lenkov’s Dark Horse comic series by the Clash of the Titans team of Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, the movie has character types instead of characters, obvious villains, and sluggish plotting that introduces one tediously predictable element after another: the young honest cop, his adoring, beautiful French wife, and the corrupt partner who talks him into some dirty, risky business that leads to his demise. (As an aside, is it just me or does that stolen “gold” look like shineless spray-painted gravel?)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

White House Down (2013)

For reasons best discussed between German-born director Roland Emmerich and his therapist, the king of disaster porn once again engages his fetish for destroying 1600 Pennsylvania Ave in White House Down. After what he did to the Capitol Building, Washington, D.C., this country, and the world in Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012, one wonders if he should be put on some sort of government watch list.

However you feel about the Oval Office, this country, or Emmerich’s compulsive need to re-enact the annihilation of everything that America holds dear, his latest is as ripping and riveting as it is ridiculous. A welcome throw-back to an earlier and more generous tradition of summer blockbusters that didn’t involve superpowers or science fiction, White House Down is cheerfully preposterous, marked with a simplicity, wit, and playful innocence so often missing from current action films.

Even rarer perhaps, it’s a slick, high-concept takeover movie with an inkling of shrewd political awareness. This time around there are no aliens, natural disasters, or even non-domestic terrorists—although the media in the film unanimously describe the White House seizure as an al-Qaida attack. The viciously violent coup is an inside job; in a way that would make Kubrick proud, the enemy comes from within. The villains are all disgruntled Americans with ideological axes to grind, right wing sociopaths, white supremacists, malcontent war vets and assorted bureaucrats with nasty agendas. Mixing fear, hope, and paranoia, White House Down is a dire political fable told with a pearly-white smile as tongue-in-cheek pastiche. It’s a sturdy, cheerfully preposterous, old-fashioned bit of escapism.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Lone Ranger (2013)

Gore Verbinski’s reboot of the Depression era radio and baby boom television Western hero enters a world of tall tales and strange myths. The Lone Ranger delivers all the energy moviegoers have come to expect from a hectic Jerry Bruckheimer super-mega production, and only mild bouts of mindlessness cheapen this imaginative and bold film.

Extravagant, excessive, and intermittently exhausting, the vaguely revisionist, reinvigorated origin story stars the handsome but bland Armie Hammer of The Social Network as the titular masked hero, proving, as Orlando Bloom did in Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean that the main character can be the least compelling personality onscreen; in many ways, the director just took that hugely successful franchise and put it in a saddle.

An almost unrecognizable Johnny Depp—at least until he opens his mouth or makes the sort of flamboyant gesture any Captain Jack Sparrow fan knows and loves—gets top billing as Hollywood’s most iconic Injun. An outcast isolated from both his tribe and the white world, Tonto has his own reasons for riding alongside the masked avenger. He is no longer just a sidekick, but a mentor and the reason the movie works to the extent that it does. Heavily face-painted and sporting a dead-crow tiara he sometimes tries to feed—maybe someone should have told him that bird in Kirby Sattler’s paining “I Am Crow” was just flying in the background—Depp, like the film, mixes gravity and goofiness.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

La Dolce Vita (1960) Analysis

Great Italian director Frederico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) chronicles the fast-paced, seductive life of the Roman cosmopolitan world and all its excesses, capturing a moment in time when notions of glamor, empty entertainment and the promise of a quick thrill seemed poised to replace all humanizing values, and dignity was transmuted into the sensational. For Fellini, the film marks a turning point, a shift away from his neorealist roots as a writer for Rossellini’s Open City (1945) and Paisa (1946), and his own earlier films like I Vitteloni (1953), La Strada (1954), and The Nights of Cabiria (1957). The director’s movies became more stylized, more poetic, finally giving way to the visual carnival of (1963), Juliet of the Spirits (1965), and Amarcord (1973). His images are highly charged with contrasts, textures, and movements and filled with longing and regret, even despair, but there is always a sense of joy, of wonder, a pure expression of love for his characters, their stories, and cinema. La Dolce Vita is not a film, it’s an experience. Following Marcello, a young journalist on the make (played by Marcello Mastroiani in the first of a series of collaborations with Fellini) as he chases down stories and women, the movie is a loose series of episodes, nights and dawns, ascents and descents weaved together in the decadent rhythm of an endless, aimless search for the elusive sweet life of Rome’s upper class.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Small Town America on Film: Pleasantville, Far from Heaven, and Revolutionary Road

The small town is “a deeply rooted symbol in the country’s collective consciousness,” more than a place, it’s “a distinct life-style with its own set of values,” and, implicitly, its own set of drawbacks (Levy 15). The phrase itself has come to carry a double layer of meaning, at once sentimental and condescending. It has been a “permanent staple of the American cinema” since its inception (Levy 16). The image of the small town in film has changed drastically over the past century, influenced by social and historical events and phases of the country, from an idealized and romanticized version in the 1930s, to the idea of small town as prison, a repressive environment of conformity and dull homogeneity in the 1950s, and everything in between. However, from the very beginning, it has been the image of the ideal, rather than its realization, that has ensured the survival of the small town as myth, “at once historical (specific) and universal (atemporal),” providing both “a version of concrete history and a vision of existence” (MacKinnon 3, Levy 20). Gary Ross’ Pleasantville (1998), Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven (2002), and Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road (2008) all depict the less-than-sunny side of small towns and suburbia, in a very personal way, and at the same time their characters stand in as representatives for society as a whole, individuals who gave in to the idea of the middle-class American Dream of success in the small town, and found themselves trapped by the environment’s blandness, boredom, and the constant obsession of keeping up with the Joneses

All of these movies take place in the fifties, and it has been that era, more than any other, that seems to epitomize and perpetuate the image of the suburban/small town ideal, chock-full of family values carried “to the heights of saccharine platitudinousness” in shows like Ozzie & Harriet, Father Knows Best, and Leave it to Beaver, “shows with lots of teeth—teeth that were all evenly spaced, capped, and pearly white. But not teeth that actually bit into anything, [in] a world nicely contained in a box in which there were no problems that couldn’t be solved in twenty-two minutes,” (Simon 67, Wynne-Jones 31). These “kinder, gentler” times we reconstruct from TV reruns and movies of the 1950s bear little resemblance to reality, and in films like Pleasantville, directed by Gary Ross, we begin to see the true colors of this antiseptic view of the past (Sharett 65). Like any fairytale, the movie begins with “Once upon a time,” and transports the viewer into this “mythic utopia” we have made of the fifties (Maio 89).