Archive for the Review Category

The Shining

Posted in Review on November 7, 2010 by vegabro

Madness. It’s not real. Pages in a book. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The mind is a powerful thing that has the ability to take over our actions, our bodies, and how we perceive the physical world. It’s health is of upmost importance and the events that unfold at the Overlook Hotel are akin to LSD.

We begin our journey with the Torrance’s down a long twisty road. Only road in. Only road out. Impossible to get lost. The only way is forward unless you want to go backward. This road represents clarity. Sanity. That is the mental condition of the family at this point. Soon to deteriorate. When the Torrance’s arrive at the hotel, it is open for business soon to be closed. People populate it’s halls and rooms and the Torrance’s themselves get their last taste of sanity as they reach the breakfast kitchen before it too closes. Then the patrons start to leave for the winter and with them, Jack can feel something. He may not realize it yet, but his mind is intrinsically tied to the Overlook Hotel and that all these people leaving represent the emptiness that will soon inhabit his mind.

Scatman Crothers tells little Danny that some people, like himself, have the unique ability to “Shine”. He mentions that some buildings have this ability too. Buildings like the Overlook Hotel. And as little Danny rides his tricycle across carpet and floor of it’s halls, he is in effect touring the empty recesses of it’s brain. And Room 237 is no ordinary room, but the part of it’s brain that contains it’s most precious secret desires and fears.

But how did Danny get the ability to “shine”? If it’s so special how do I get me one? Well, unfortunately the answer is to experience a horrible mental trauma like getting your arm pulled out of it’s socket by your angry drunk father when he comes home one day…as Danny did. Scatman, I don’t know. But the real question is, how can a huge Hotel experience a trauma? I’ve punched a few holes in my walls over the years and my house has been fine with it so far. Oh, it may be the fact that tons of the old caretakers have chopped their entire families up into little tiny bits in a crazed-out furious rage within and onto it’s walls. If there’s anything liable to fuck a building’s sensitivities up, it’s that. And like any bad memory held in a man’s mind, the building thinks back on them in flashes. Except these flashes become visible to the people that shine. At first Danny and later, Jack. Notice how Wendy never sees any of this crazy stuff.

That answers one question, but asks another. What made the families kill their families in the first place? That brings us back to Jack. He is a writer. Writers make a living off their ideas, and a dying off a lack. As mentioned earlier, the hotel being completely unoccupied is an unnatural thing as it would be if the mind were. When Jack is around people he is quick witted and personable. He mentioned he made a living off being a school teacher, but he really wanted to write. His wife also mentions that he is a good family man, but fails to mention or understand that all he really just wants is a drink. His teaching keeps him sane and his family keeps him sane. He avoids both adamantly while in the hotel. And as for the hotel itself, it’s just fine when it has people occupying it’s halls and rooms and kitchens.

The problem starts when the halls of your mind are given nothing to do. You enter a laser focus. Then you create things to do. Things that aren’t really there. Pages in a book. That’s all a writer does after all. But when you stop living in reality, things become less apparent. They are transient. They come in fuzzy flashes. Then those flashes take on entire scenes and soon it’s hard to discern those scenes you made up from those scenes that you actually experience and then you get confused. After a while the twisty turny curvy, easy to follow highway turns into a sharply trimmed uniformly kept confusing maze that becomes impossible to find a way out of. (Let’s also not forget that Jack’s arm dislocating episode happened when Danny jumbled up his papers.) And as a misguided Jack Torrance chases his little boy through the large maze that represents his mind, he gets lost. And he freezes to death inside it. He never finds a way out. The madness of his mind traps him there forever.

The last shot of the movie is of a picture taken in the 1920’s. In it is a lively ballroom scene with an un-aged Jack Torrance toasting in the foreground. There, Jack’s mind and the building’s have become one, or rather Jack’s mind has been sucked into the Overlook Hotel forever and that anachronistic picture is the only evidence of it ever existing, unable to ever escape.

So how do we avoid Jack’s demise. That lesson is held in one Scatman Crothers, a kind cook who has in his room a TV and not one, but two sexy naked afro ladies hanging on either side. Simple delights. The mind is not to be starved and it is not for overcomplicating. Live simply and live happily and your mind will reward you.

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Children of Men

Posted in Review on January 16, 2010 by vegabro

Cloning, stem cell research, global warming. These are the biggest scientific discoveries of our day and depending on how we manage them, can be enormously beneficial or catastrophic to us as a planet and as a species. But in our age, as in the days of Galileo and Copernicus, the major blockade in the advancement of science, even in the face of the most logical and humanitarian solution, is society. Children of Men concerns itself with this conflict.

The UK in 2027 is split between refugees and citizens, the former of whom are very much discriminated against by the latter. This may be due to the fact that infertility has plagued a world which is unprepared to be the last generation of a our civilization. The Fishes are an underground organization that try to help the refugees attain equal rights to the citizens. So far their somewhat unorthodox and somewhat explosive political strategy had muddled up their point a bit and made them enemies of the state. And right as tensions are at their highest in this battle between the increasingly militarized government and the every day more ideologically dangerous Fishes, a refugee turns up pregnant. The Fishes find her first.

This could mean the world seen through human eyes may not end. All of the related chaos and killing will be over. A pregnant girl, Clive Owen awes, is a precious thing. But the Fishes would use her baby as proof of equality or even superiority over the government and as stated by the Fishes, the government would never recognize a refugee as the savior of humanity. The baby to these vying societies represents an idea as gross as a political tool for either of their causes. Neither of whose main goal is the benefit of society. They would rather fight to be the correct ideology than still exist in 50 years.

But there is hope for humanity, and that hope lies in the movie’s metaphor for progressive science: The Human Project, whose goal is to find a scientific cure for infertility. Clive and the gang are sent on a mission to go to The Human Project by a long haired, laid back, pot growing Michael Caine. And hopefully without sounding like one of those upper-middle class liberal rebel’s without a cause wannabe politico-intellectuals, this character embodies another issue that bogs down our political discussion: the legalization of marijuana. The point is, plain and simple marijuana does no harm long term or short and brings people happiness (and I guess makes your eyes hurt less). But the fact that our society has kept it illegal for so long should be a smoke signal that something is wrong. These are progressive (no actually not progressive, I’d like to use the word objective) ideas that Michael Caine aligns himself with. Ideas that would help society in spite of society. Ideas that The Human Project is based on. For science has no opinion, science just lives in facts and theories, not in morality or belief. And that is why in times of turmoil or anarchy, we should look to science to lead the way. Morals and beliefs can be corrupted, but facts never change.

In a world of Democrats vs. Republicans, Religion vs. Atheism, Religion vs. Society, Religion vs. Religion, don’t let one side or the other influence you, but base your decision on fact. The real battle is society vs. science and like every objective thinker, Clive Owen in Children of Men had to wade and fight his way through society to bring humanity’s last hope to The Human Project, science.

Miller’s Crossing

Posted in Review on December 13, 2009 by vegabro

Miller’s Crossing always left me confused by it’s ending. I saw no reason, if Tom did betray Leo simply as an act to orchestrate a play to eliminate Johnny Casper, why he refused to come back to work for Leo. To answer this, I went back to the beginning of the film where the Coen brothers chose to start their groundbreaking gangster movie in such remarkable similarity to the opening to that of The Godfather. Both scenes slowly revealing a mobster’s office with a meticulously long zoom-out, where a man is begging a mob boss to assert their power a friendly way. The reason the Coen’s did this is because, in their balls of gall, have thusly decided to embark on deconstructing the greatest film of all time, who’s themes lie as primer to understanding the end of their own movie.

Business vs. Personal. We all know it. In that question is where the foundation of The Godfather lies. Had Bonasera had tea with Don Corleone, those who had beat and raped his daughter would be suffering as they spoke. The Godfather struggles with this question for almost 3 hours and where does it end up? With Michael Corleone’s business associates shutting his wife out of his office after quite unconvincingly lying to her about the people he killed for the attacks on his family. I always read this as Michael’s way of telling Kay that he did kill those people, but she wasn’t to ever speak about it as that was the last time he would allow her to ask about his business. He has obviously decided to keep his business far from his personal life.

Now back to that first scene of Miller’s Crossing. There is an Italian, Johnny Casper, pleading to an Irishman. The Coen’s start their long zoom not as Coppola did on an Italian, but on the Irishman. Just as The Godfather is about Italian mafia, Miller’s Crossing is about the Irish mafia and just as Coppola caricatured the Irish with the brute Captain McClusky and gave the Corleone’s a soul, the Coen’s caricatured the hotheaded impulsive Italians and gave the Irish a heart. And although these disparate cultures share a similar language, each develops a certain flair within how it is spoken. For instance, one culture may say Business vs. Personal and another may say Angles vs. Heart.

“Don’t you have a heart!?”, “You know all the angles” Throughout Miller’s Crossing, Tom struggles to find a middle ground between these two antithetical concepts much how Michael did in The Godfather. Leo always said to Tom, “you know all the angles”. He said it to Tom as he disagreed with him about whether to kill Bernie Burnbaum. Tom said kill him so’s they don’t start a war with the Italians, but Leo didn’t want to. Tom finds out later it’s because Leo is in love with Bernie’s sister and he can’t kill him. It doesn’t even matter that she’s playing Leo, he loves her anyway. Leo has a heart that’s bigger than his brain.

We know Leo is all heart. But what is Tom? Two encounters with Bernie really sum up the essence of Tom’s struggle. The first is the titular scene at Miller’s Crossing where Tom must decide if he could kill Bernie to get in with Johnny Casper rendering him heartless, or let him go and lose the angle. In that moment Bernie convinces Tom of his heart and Tom lets him go free if he doesn’t come back. The next encounter ends up very different. Bernie decides to come back because he feels like he can play the angles on Tom by blackmailing him over the fact that he is alive. In this moment near the end of the film, after all Tom has been through, he pulls his gun out and aims it at Bernie. Bernie goes into the same cowering and crying that he did at Miller’s Crossing and screamed out the line that hit Tom so deep then when he let him go “Don’t you have a heart!?” to which Tom replies now with an empty expression and empty chamber “What heart?”.

So why does Tom leave Leo? Because Tom understands that he knows all the angles and that Leo has all the heart, but heart and angles shall never go hand in hand.

Sorority Row

Posted in Review on September 12, 2009 by vegabro

Some say that all you learn at college is to drink and to conform. The swamp of society where these habits are most effectively indoctrinated is the sorority. Of course at the sororities, they have different words for this; words like the widely accepted “5 tenants of sisterhood”: 1) Trust, 2) Respect 3) Honor (givens) and 4) Secrecy 5) Solidarity. But can these tenants that are key to surviving in college, be used to survive in the real world? This is the question Sorority Row meditates on.

At the very beginning of the film, a typical college prank is pulled on an unsuspecting undergrad where he is led to believe that a girl he hoped to bump had died. The reason given by the spitefully salacious sorority sisters to give this guy a scare is because he cheated on one of the sisters and as articulated by an accomplice as eruditely as Aristotle, “If you cheat on one Theta, you cheat on every Theta”. Thus the prank begins. The crew brings the sister, presumed dead only by the bumper, to an abandoned silhouette factory to make the bumper suffer over what to do with the body “do we call the police?” “do we bury the body?” he asks. The sisters trick him into cutting up the body. Bad idea. Before they tell him its just a joke, he jabs a tire iron in her throat. Then as if the ghost of Hitchcock manifested itself in a cellphone and began communicating through text messages to the screenwriter, the story began to mirror itself (maybe not as slyly as at the beginning of Shadow of a Doubt but COME ON!) in the way that the crew started to ask some very familiar questions “do we call the police?” “do we bury the body?” Except this time it isn’t a college prank; it’s real.

Throughout the rest of the film, the girls, about to go off into the real world, are faced with a killer on graduation day. Many questions arise as to who lives and who dies as it isn’t just those who were involved in the tragedy. The first death, my personal favorite, in fact is though. An innocent fawn of a lass, who earlier admitted to pleasuring 5 gentlemen callers at once claiming she “has a lot of places that need attention” went to score drugs from the therapist from Requiem for a Dream who she couldn’t find as he was occupied being the first of many tire iron kills. She promptly started downing a bottle of his wine when out of nowhere, the killer downed it out the back of her head. Her name was Chugs. The reason Chugs died is because she was lacking the all important tenant of “honor”. Then there is a shower scene where at some point the line “if you wanted to see a perfect pair of tits you could have just said so” is uttered. Anyway, an underdressed underclassman (or is it underclasswoman) decides to stay in her cubishower out of fear of the clad invaders as two sisters discuss, in very explicit terms, almost every aspect of the incepting incident. The sisters left and SHE got killed. Why? Uh oh, one of the 5 tenants is secrecy. So the rest of the movie turns into a check list until the killer is revealed.

It’s Briana Evigan’s boyfriend.

He was the valedictorian and he explains to her how valedictorian is Latin for “move on” and in some fringe linguistic interpretations “kill Briana Evigan’s friends”. He explains that he killed them so she could move on from the tragedy and start to live in the real world. But instead, Bruce Willis’ daughter shoots him with a shotgun and they Reservoir Dog out of the joint to the worst pop song ever. Then they play the same exact song a minute later in the credits. I guess the remaining sisters, like all our college bound youth will be doomed to live the rest of their lives like it was a college campus and become superficial, complacent, liberal spouting superegos. Thank you Rumer (how about not giving your kid a name that sounds like an involuntary retarded exclamation, Bruce) Willis for killing the only person in the entire movie that will end up contributing to society.

Inglourious Basterds

Posted in Review on August 25, 2009 by vegabro

Two people are dead in the projectionist room of a movie theater after “shooting” one another. In the next room, a German occupied auditorium watches the images of the pistoled pair posthumously proceed them as they play out on film to the big screen. A fire breaks out and through the smoke, you can see a ghost live on in projection’s amorphous immortality. This image spoke wonders to the importance of film which, in Tarantino’s literal take, had a large part in ending WWII.

Zoller, the first to die in the projection room, in (film) reality was a humble, sheepish, honorable kid who just wanted to woo Shosanna, the uh second to die in the projection room. But the character of Zoller portrayed (by himself no less) in the film within a film playing as he was laying dead was not Zoller at all, it was a barbarous, ruthless Nazi. And when we watch “Nation’s Pride” in our 21st century college classes on the propaganda produced by UFA studios for the Third Reich, which Zoller do you think we’ll see?

Much of the film is concerned with revisionism; as the character of Zoller demonstrates: we might not have got it all right and in Tarantino’s opinion, we owe a lot of that to film. So Tarantino himself, like a master filmmaker, slyly proves this point promptly and as a result of this, I hear a girl in my theater utter in the most matter of fact way, “I didn’t know Hitler died in a movie theater”. To Tarantino, the immortality of film will always give the filmmaker The Last Laugh and the fact that Tarantino can wield a strip of 35mm as expertly as The Bear Jew does his baseball bat, that makes him all powerful.

Another big theme presented in Inglourious Basterds is identity and it is epitomized by a scene in which a group of characters play a guessing game with a pack of cards. A band of allied characters are undercover and must trick a keen, observant SS officer into thinking they are Nazis and the SS officer, likewise must put up a facade to confirm his suspicions of their peculiarity and trap them in their lie . Meanwhile they each have a card on their forehead of a famous personage and the whole point is to guess who is who and who knows it. Let the games begin. What ensues is a suspenseful thrill-ride that slowly sheds the blitheness of the card game, but conserves its core  simplistic principals with regard to deducting identity.

This would probably be a good time to introduce The Basterds, America’s own propaganda machine and Tarantino’s film-exclusive creation who have, in tandem with the actual film stock, a very direct and considerable part to play in the end of the war. I think it would be safe to say that the Basterds themselves represent American film during WWII and the part it played.

And the leader of this all American aggregation of scalping soldiers is a paragon of the ideals presented in the film (identity and revisionism). Lt. Aldo Raine, donning scars of identity on his own neck and who can’t muster up an Italian accent if the war depended on it, is obsessed with “marking” those who were Nazis with a Swastika on the forehead. He does this so there will be no revisionism, so it is made clear the identity of those who were Nazis and that symbol would be the card they would wear on their heads for the rest of their lives. So when Colonel Landa requires, as part of his terms of surrender, that he be written in as an American hero when he had been anything but, you could imagine Raine’s opinion of all the revisionsims what was goin’ on and what he did by the end to make things right the simple way what he seen it the only what way he did know how. This is the final stamp that Tarantino puts on Landa through Raine, his embodiment of film. A masterpiece indeed.

Pineapple Express

Posted in Review on June 23, 2009 by vegabro

Pineapple Express may fool many people into enjoying it as a simple summer romp, like an exquisitely wrapped joint. But the true substance of the film, like the potent titular pot, comes from Dale Denton’s (Rogen) existential crisis and later realization.

At the beginning of the film,  Dale is introduced to the audience as a process server, who comedically changes outfits to trick his targets into allowing him into serving proximity. This is David Gordon Green introducing the audience to the theme he will be working with in this film in a very meta way: to TRICK, like Dale’s serving, the audience into thinking this movie is a simple comedy when it is much more thoughtful. For while this idea is funny and Rogen plays it hilariously, few pick up on the subtext of Dale changing his uniforms being a symbol for the existential confusion over who he is.

Dale doesn’t know who he is and he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere in life as he seems to be stuck in a state of arrested development with a girlfriend in high school. He is drawn as almost the epitome of a loser who is not wanted by anyone his age other than his pot dealer. So as he tricked those he served in the beginning that he was someone else, Dale TRICKS people into thinking that he is cool. After all he IS dating the hottest girl in the high school. He does so much tricking of other people that he begins to trick himself. Somehow he forgets that dating a girl in high school, 15 years younger than he is, is a total loser thing to do. So when he meets Saul Silver (Franco), his pot dealer, he sees a loser that he tricks himself into thinking he is much cooler than.

That is, until they go on an ultimate pot-saturated adventure together. There is weed, there is absurdity, and there is a touch of bromance. Those are the things that describe most of what the gut of the film is about and all three are perfectly embodied by the event that kicks it all off in the first act: The Cross-Joint. It is weed, it is completely absurd and as Saul declares, “I can’t light this thing on my own. I need you man.” That really says it all.

So what does Dale learn by the end? Well, he shows up high to his girlfriends house for dinner with her parents and is told to leave. He has the time of his life smoking pot and taking names. And admits to Saul that he has always seen him as a friend, but was too ashamed to admit it earlier. It is in this moment that Dale’s existential crisis is over for when he admits this to Saul, what he is really doing is shedding his facade, ending his trick, coming of age. What he is really saying is that he finally knows who he is: A pothead. And he’s proud of it.

Lost in Translation

Posted in Review on June 19, 2009 by sly882

Bob and Charlotte are two flawed and damaged people. They need each other, and they just so happen to be in the same place at the same time, and carry the same baggage. They just don’t know it yet.

Bob is lost, both metaphorically and literally. He is overwhelmed by where he is in his life and the situations he gets himself into. The beautiful Tokyo skyline surrounds him, millions of fans acknowledge him as a star; he’s famous, the “Johnny Carson” of Japan, but Bob couldn’t care less. He’s having his “mid life crisis” in the wrong place at the wrong time. Without the comfort of his wife, his home, and someone who can speak English, he is struck with extreme culture shock and a mild case of jet lag. His days are filled with cumbersome photo shoots and frustrating whiskey commercials, only exacerbated by the fact that he has to struggle with everything people say to him getting lost in translation. He is miserable, and just looking for someone to relate to.

Charlotte is just like Bob. She’s married to a successful photographer, and graduated from Yale with a degree in philosophy. But she too is lonely. Her husband is always out working, and she spends her days either looking for something to do or just looking out the window at the city below. She fears she might have married the wrong person, and isn’t content with how her life has unfolded. Her feeble attempts of sightseeing downtown Tokyo can’t fill the void of loneliness and boredom she has within her. As a failed writer, she often contemplates who she is and what she wants. Her days are plagued with ennui and insomnia, and longs for someone to share her pain.

Both Bob and Charlotte are alienated in an exotic place unfamiliar to them. They try to overcome the differences in cultures, but end up being alone and homesick. The hotel they both stay in has all of the luxuries and technologies of the future, the city around them is alive and vibrant, and it seems everyone is enjoying life without them. They try using alcohol, television, CDs, and phone calls from home to cope with the problem, but to no avail. It’s not until they meet do they realize what they have been missing all along. Their close friendship is really the only thing they need, and together they explore the boundaries of companionship and wrestle with the fact that they are in the ultimate catch 22, they are never going to see each other again.

Yet Bob and Charlotte know, more than anything else in the world, that they love each other. But on paper, they shouldn’t be together: they’ve been together for only a week, they’re several decades apart in age, they’re both married to other people, and they have separate lives outside of their relationship. But to them, these are minor quibbles in what is otherwise the most fulfilling and meaningful (not to mention the most unusual) friendship they have ever known. What’s even more surprising is that during the film, when they first meet, Bob and Charlotte never introduce themselves to each other. They simply try to share their brief time together, and come to find they share more in common with each other than their own spouses. What was a coincidental meeting in a hotel blossomed into something more and sparked new life in Bob and Charlotte. They understand that nothing lasts forever, but they can go on knowing there is someone else on this earth that is exactly like them.