Thursday, July 3, 2008

Stranger than Paradise

Stranger than Paradise
Jim Jarmusch’s 1984 film, Stranger than Paradise, is most definitely my favorite film viewed in this class. The film has been regarded as unconventional or belonging to a personal taste which I can easily see. Not much happens in the plot, in the camera movement, nor in the score. There is no exciting car chase, no sex, no twists.
Yet, the film has the minimalist cinematography, intriguing characters, and ‘main man’ Screamin' Jay Hawkins. The cinematography works like postcards. Each scene is separated by black titles making the movie feel like a collection of postcards sent from a friend. Nothing much happens, but they feel honest. I wouldn’t believe that Willy or Eddie would have lived an exciting life and they certainly don’t.
The characters are searching for something just like the crews from Kerouac’s On the Road. Each place they arrive, they don’t find the paradise they were looking for. Instead they find dull, ugly, looking places with bad weather. Still, Willy does not stop and makes the bold decision to keep searching. Whatever that is.
Willy. Eddie. Eva. These three characters help us do the search in subtlety. Stranger than Paradise came out at a time when people were fascinated with effects and blockbuster films. Today, mainstream films continue to do so in a much bigger scale. Perhaps movies do not have to overload our brains constantly to bring a reaction. These three characters brought a reaction from me, and their lives were sorta boring.

The Apartment

Without a doubt. The Apartment isn't just my favorite movie we watched in class, it's one of my absolute favorite films ever made, hands down. It's the definitive statement on the nice guy winning over the girl who usually goes for all the jerks, and C.C. Baxter is the ultimate nice guy. I watched it again for the first time in years recently, and once again I was just absorbed. Certainly it's because I've been in Baxter's place before (not so much with the letting the guys use my house for various trysts, but the nice guy stuff), and I'm a romantic at heart, as unpopular or unrealistic as that may be.

What makes the film for me are the weird little things, like how Baxter relentlessly finds ways to distract Miss Kubelik from her troubles with a game of cards or dinner, and somehow makes it a selfless act. Or how the doctor gives Baxter advice on an area of his life that is only an illusion, but ends up being the key to his growth as a person. In screenwriting class, we learned that a character in every film has to grow, and so on and so forth. While I don't agree with that statement (there are lots of great films made over the years in which the character doesn't grow at all), I've never seen it done as effortlessly as in The Apartment.

And Miss Kubelik...Roger Ebert and Kim Morgan have written two of the finest dissertations of her character.

Roger first...

What is particularly good about [Shirley MacLaine's] Miss Kubelik is the way she doesn't make her a ditzy dame who falls for a smooth talker, but suggests a young woman who has been lied to before, who has a good heart but finite patience, who is prepared to make the necessary compromises to be the next Mrs. Sheldrake.

Then Kim Morgan...

What's intriguing about this depiction is how darkly but ultimately non-judgmentally Fran's character is drawn. She makes some bad choices (as do many ladies working for him), but clearly it's tough for the lower-rung working girl, especially if she actually finds herself in love.

Ultimately, MacLaine's performance often comes off a tad flat, but she is supposed to play defeated quite a bit, and there is a noticeable light in her eyes around Baxter that we never see around Sheldrake, the married man she runs around with - just a quiet resignation that she's stuck in love with him. Brilliant undertones for a film to have.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Sex, sex, sex.

I like Woody Allen just as much as the next person. I love Sleeper, I love Zelig, and Annie Hall and Manhattan are brilliant. As for his later work, I feel as though he fails in attempts to be too serious. (Match Point was unwatchable, in my opinion. Lots of bad acting. His casting choices often make no sense to me at all.) Woody suffers from having become somewhat of a cliché, and since he makes a movie almost every year, we know more or less what to expect from a Woody Allen flick, and it’s rare that he surprises us anymore. This is how I’ve felt about him for a little while now, until I saw Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex…

Woody is a comedian. He’s a brilliant comedic writer, and we forget this about him when he attempts to be a “serious filmmaker,” but satire is what he is good at, and in my opinion, he should stick to it, because he doesn’t get much funnier than in this film. He takes a subject everyone is familiar with, a subject that he loves – sex – and looks at it from a variety of extremely absurd angles, whether it be the life of a sperm, a love affair with a sheep, or a giant tit bouncing through a field. His point? We all may be different, but we can all relate to the awkwardness of sex. Sex is funny and bizarre, and we forget that sometimes. (At least that's what I took from it.) Woody also craftfully displays his familiarity with many different genres and styles of film and television, from Italian art cinema to the TV game show.

This was without a doubt one of the films that helped establish Allen as one of the definitive filmmakers of the '70s - he adapted it loosely from a popular book at the time and cast a large number of popular actors of the time (several of them unexpected - Burt Reynolds and Lynn Redgrave, for example - not to mention Regis Philbin). The public ate it up - with a $2 million budget, the film grossed over $18 million on the U.S. alone. There is no doubt it did so well likely because it was released at the height of the sexual revolution. I think I enjoyed this film so much because it seems to be so definitive of an era in film I wish I could have experienced at the time - absurdity was more widely accepted as comedy, and people (like myself) weren't sick of Woody Allen yet - they were anxious to see what else he could do. After all, this was the last film he made before he standardized the opening credits for all of his subsequent films.

And of course, Gene Wilder, a man who can do no wrong in my opinion.

Some Like it Hot

After finishing up the semester in American Film Comedy, I am honestly embaressed to say I hadn't seen this film prior to the course.

Even though for its time it was cutting edge, and breaking a lot of boundaries, I really just look at it in a much simpler way and I think it is just a really funny movie. Jack Lemmon is probably the funniest human being in the world, and does not change at all through his later films. I watched Grumpy Old Men soon after I saw this just because his comedic facial expressions and physical comedy are so strikingly similar in both films.
The absurd scenarios in this film are really genuis and proved that just because a movie is "silly" does not mean that it can't be a great film. Tony Curtis and Lemmon's banter is so witty and well done, I thought they worked amazing together.
And of course, Marilyn Monroe is... Marilyn Monroe as... Marilyn Monroe. She doesn't even need to say anything, just to be on screen for it to help the film. Although she is pretty funny, I think unintentionally at times, but nevertheless good for some laughs. Overall a great feel good movie and I really enjoyed it and will certainly own a copy of the DVD soon.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"An excercise in poor taste"

I’m shocked people didn’t post several times on this movie because everyone’s reaction was the same—grossed out, horrified, shocked, nauseated, and a hundred other synonyms for the word barf-o-rama. Although I consider this one of the worst films we’ve watched in class, I’m not here to talk about how much I hated it (though I’m not sure if I’ll hold back entirely) but to figure out why it’s considered to be the cult classic. So it’s time to play devil’s advocate.

According to IMDB and Wikipedia it is considered a crime comedy, but I’m not too positive how comedy comes into this except maybe because of its repulsiveness—that is to say it’s so repulsive that its hilarious. At first glance I’m sure many would dismiss this as filthy garbage, and although it might be, isn’t that the point? John Waters, a very interesting person with a wild imagination to say the least, knew exactly what he was doing and how people would react but who really knows what his intentions were. Luckily I found out. When the 25th Anniversary re-release came out, John Waters was asked about the creation of the film and he said, “I just wanted to make a movie that would make me and my friends laugh I certainly never thought that I would be talking about it 25 years later. But I'm very proud and I think it holds up. I've seen it with all kinds of audiences, and three generations later it still has the power to make people nervous. It's a little terrorist bomb, which is how I always wanted this movie to be.” What a funny inside joke this turned out to be.

The movie is beyond explanation and criticism and obviously isn’t your conventional film, but it’s a film only John Waters could do. No matter how much you can hate this movie, you have to give the man credit for being able to create something like this. Especially when this movie was made over 30 years ago and still has the same nauseating effect now as it did decades ago, is a feat in and of it self. It’s a movie where you can remember exactly where you were and when you first saw it. Unfortunately, certain scenes, or most scenes, are not easily forgettable. But beyond what is seen on the surface, a piece of shock cinema, it can be considered a satire of society’s obsession with fame and the lengths one goes to achieve it. If you watch reality TV shows (watch from 3:15), the things people do for money or just their 5 minutes of fame is incredible, so how is this any different?

From the same interview from before Waters says, "I was trying to make a movie for my audience at the time - the midnight movie audience, which I knew would be fairly eccentric. I wanted to prove to them there was something left that could still surprise them and make them laugh, because they all thought they had seen everything." Boy, did they think wrong.

One reviewer describes the movie as either wonderfully atrocious, or atrociously wonderful, depending on how you look at it. So before you crap on this movie (for Divine to eat up) read some of the comments people wrote about this film and appreciate it on a different level not based solely on aesthetics alone because you’ll probably get dizzy and queasy. It also came in 29 on the list of 50 Films to See Before You Die on some show that aired in the UK.

"The only word for this is transplendent... it's transplendent!"

In part because it is a tremendous film and in part because I have an atrocious memory and can’t remember what most of the other movies we watched in class were, I am choosing “Annie Hall” as my favorite flick viewed in class.

Woody Allen has a unique way of capturing personalities and personality traits that are so familiar but just emphasized enough so that we have to laugh at them. He is truly a master of mannerisms in the way he depicts each character, embracing the most fundamental and obscure quirks alike that are so universally understood. Essentially, what Allen strives to illuminate through films like “Annie Hall” is the humor of the human.

All this aside, I do have one bone to pick with Woody Allen, and that is that he always plays the same character. As perfect as that character might be, and despite the fact that it really never gets old, I feel like Woody Allen has a very limited scope of what he can successfully execute in terms of comedy. Therefore, Woody Allen is like Chipotle: both offer exactly one item, and that one item is absolutely perfect, but you always know when you go to see one of his films that you are going to get the exact same burrito every time.