Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Easy A

Easy A
Originally uploaded by Andrew Ng Images
Olive Penderghast is your average Jane in high school, sweeping by under the radar – that is until she agrees to help her gay friend have an imaginary tryst so the jocks and rest of the school will stop picking on him for being gay. This one act transforms Olive into the school’s super-skank as the rumor mill goes active. What happens from there is a comedy of errors as Olive agrees to help fellow student after fellow student, letting them have imaginary flings with her as long as they provide the gift card of her choice. When her status becomes negative Olive takes a stand inspired by Hester Prinn and dons a scarlet A, making a statement about the way people choose to see her.

Easy A sets out to crib John Hughes in a very obvious way. Not only does Olive mention Hughes and the most popular teen films of the 80’s, but Will Gluck seems to be intent on cribbing Hughes in every way possible…and it works. While Easy A may not be a blow-for-blow Hughes film, the viewer is left with the same feeling they would be in a Hughes film – the feeling that these characters are really human, and the story has a heart.

Emma Stone is no Molly Ringwald, but by this I mean no disrespect. Ringwald grew to fame by playing the delicate, pretty girl that was either too popular (Breakfast Club) or overlooked (Sixteen Candles) but no matter what character she was, she was always delicate and understated. Emma Stone is not. Emma Stone is the Huges character for a modern generation – when situations arise that challenge her, Stone’s Olive makes the situation more obvious and pushes it to the next level attempting to throw her peers folly back on them.

What struck me most after watching Easy A was something I didn’t expect; I was struck by how Easy A could be a commentary for how a generation of teenagers is so vastly different from the teens of the 80’s. While our parents always tell us the differences between our struggles and theirs is only circumstantial, this film proves that wrong. In Sixteen Candles the worst thing that can happen to Samantha in Sixteen Candles is that a freshman pays five bucks to see her underwear, but in Easy A the worst thing that can happen to Olive is that men pay money to date her.

Director: Will Gluck

Olive: Whatever happened to chivalry? Does it only exist in 80's movies? I want John Cusack holding a boombox outside my window. I wanna ride off on a lawnmower with Patrick Dempsey. I want Jake from Sixteen Candles waiting outside the church for me. I want Judd Nelson thrusting his fist into the air because he knows he got me. Just once I want my life to be like an 80's movie, preferably one with a really awesome musical number for no apparent reason. But no, no, John Hughes did not direct my life.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Coming Soon...

Work and life have caused me to fall really behind on reviews lately. I will be catching up as soon as I can. Here's what you have to look forward to.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Decade Under the Influence

mean streets
Originally uploaded by Raid71
Thanks to some amazing film professors, a 70’s Film Genres class and Easy Riders, Raging Bulls I have a love and affinity for the films that came out of the 1970’s that is second only to my love of noir. The 1970’s truly invented what would become modern American cinema and produced some of the best artists in the history of the medium, which is exactly what A Decade Under the Influence seeks to show.

A Decade Under the Influence is a must-see for anyone that has a love of the films from the 1970’s; the documentary is told in three parts, but could easily have been stretched to many more by IFC as the pool of talent and films they have to draw on is seemingly endless. The 1970’s are the years that gave us Scorsese, Spielberg, Bogdanovich, Coppola, Dennis Hopper, Clint Eastwood, George Lucas, counter-culture in film, the first summer blockbuster, the decline of the dying studio system, the rise of the independents and more than can possibly be covered in just three hours.

One thing that A Decade Under the Influence covers beautifully is the story behind the rise of the great filmmakers in the decade, and how they ended up becoming the establishment they were fighting against. So many of the artists working in the 1970’s wanted to tell stories that were avoided by the studios, and to be allowed to do it on their own terms. When their films proved to be viable the artists were granted slow access to the studios, until the “gritty” way they made films ended up becoming a studio norm and the anti-establishment became the establishment. While none of this discounts their artistic credibility, it does explain how after a decade of turbulent fighting for the art of filmmaking the artists managed to win the battles but loose the war.

Perhaps what makes A Decade Under the Influence so memorable is that the people whose works are lauded in the series are the ones that populate it – there are interviews with Scorsese, Coppola, Dennis Hopper, and anyone that would get in front of the camera and talk about what they remember from their filmmaking experiences in the 70’s. It’s in their own words and you can feel the passion and the vibrance they remember experiencing as it was all happening for them.

Watching A Decade Under the Influence makes me hope that we will currently be undergoing another succession of artistic change in the film industry; one that doesn’t care as much about numbers as it does about viable art and the long haul process to get an audience to accept it.

Directors: Tedd Demme & Richard LaGravenese

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Expendables

Originally uploaded by @my_cine
If you’ve been missing action movies the likes of Running Man, Commando and Rambo, then The Expendables is right up your alley. Helmed by a cast of the most widely known action stars of now and the past twenty years, and anchored by Sylvester Stallone both in front of and behind the camera, The Expendables is a series of action scenes and explosions thinly veiled by a plot that substitutes a military dictatorship on a small island for Castro and the CIA.

Now, when I tell you The Expendables is thin on plot, I mean it. The actors move around and interact as if there is a plot, but in fact all there is to this is one script page after the next that must be played out in order for the action sequences to evolve in grandeur and eventually reach their denouement. I don’t mean this as an insult, in fact this is probably why the film works in the manner it intends – it’s a fun romp of gunfire, fist fights and explosions provided by people that the audience wants to see do what they do best.

What doesn’t work so well is the random bits Stallone throws in there to try and give these action stars a chance to act…most of them are action stars for a reason… The most legit actor of the bunch, Mickey Rourke, even has a scene where he manages to squeeze out some tears, despite the ham handed dialogue that accompanies it. Perhaps, I’d see more merit in the acting segments if the dialogue were given another pass – but again that’s not what you see a movie like this for.

The Expendables really settles into its groove in the final act of the film. Why? You guessed, because the last act is nothing but car chases, fights and explosions –one exhilarating romp after another. It’s so fun to watch you cease to care that the coup Eric Roberts character helped fun was apparently for profits from cocoa beans, or that the General/Dictator has made all of his soldiers wear face paint to show loyalty (seriously?), or that Stallone and Li manage to survive and Bonnie & Clyde style ambush in their car – it looks good on film and so begins a sequence of activities where every one of the stars gets their moment.

If you’re looking for an action movie that has it all from this past summer then you should see Inception. However, if you’re looking for a throw-back from the good old days when explosions ruled action films, see The Expendables.

Director: Sylvester Stallone
Writers: Dave Callaham & Sylvester Stallone
Barney Ross: Sylvester Stallone
Lee Christmas: Jason Statham
Ying Yang: Jet Li
Gunner: Dolph Lundgren
James Munroe: Eric Roberts
Toll Road: Randy Coture
Paine: Steve Austin
Gen. Garza: David Zayas
Sandra: Giselle Itie
Lacy: Charisma Carpenter
Hale Caesar: Terry Crews
Tool: Mickey Rourke
Church: Bruce Willis

Lee: What's he sayin'?
Hale: He said we're dead, with an accent!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Brick (2005)
Originally uploaded by ∆P
So apparently, while I’m working on my own film noir I’m going to be watching Brick on a regular basis. It just doesn’t seem like I can avoid it. I keep wanting to revisit it, and have it feed the pool of inspiration.

Thank God for the films of Rian Johnson.

I realized part of what I love about Brick, part of what makes it so real and visceral is the sound design. This is a film that is visually sparse and distinct, and the sound design matches that in every way possible. There is little to no background noise that can’t be called “generic”, the only things you hear are what you see, and yet everything is distinct and clear. That may not sound like a lot to those of you that have ever thought about sound, but if you’ve ever been subjected to a film that has had the sound over designed or under designed I am sure your brain picked up that something was very off – even if you couldn’t figure out what that was. Never assume that what you’re hearing along with the picture, was simply what the sound peeps recorded while filming.

My favorite random bit about the sound design of Brick? [Yes, I am a geek that has a favorite part of the sound design in this film.] I adore the fact that everyone’s run/footsteps sound distinct. I remember reading an article that Rian Johnson had taken his characters shoes into account when plotting what they would be like, and I think this extends right down to how they sound. Normally, this is the kind of thing that isn’t readily apparent, but where I noticed it the most was the sequence where the thug is chasing down Brendan at school. Ws they run through the corridors Brendan’s step is lithe and quick and the thug is heavy and significantly slower – the sound comes more into play when Brendan realizes he can be heard running and discards his shoes to double back on the thug as he hears him approach.

My point is, from script, to production to post every element of something as “simple” as how the shoes would work in this film was fully planned, thought out and executed to maximum effect.

I am both astonished and inspired by this. This is the kind of craftsman ship I aspire to, and while I know I subconsciously do add touches like this to my works, I’m still working to make it a conscious effort. I would love to one day be compared to Rian Johnson, the Orange County director with an eye for artful details.

The Brain: See the Pin pipes it from the lowest scraper for Brad Bramish to sell, maybe. Ask any dope rat where their junk sprang and they'll say they scraped it from that, who scored it from this, who bought it off so, and after four or five connections the list always ends with The Pin. But I bet you, if you got every rat in town together and said "Show your hands" if any of them've actually seen The Pin, you'd get a crowd of full pockets.
Brendan: You think The Pin's just a tale to take whatever heat?
The Brain: Hmm... So what's first?
Brendan: Show of hands.