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“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”: a response to the film

This is less of a review and analysis and more of a immediate reaction and response to this film.

 

FIRST THOUGHTS:

Based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, I hated Oscar in the first 45-minutes of “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” From taking the picture of Viola Davis crying, which was unsettling, to the flashback showing Oscar keeping his dead father’s voice messages from his mother. I didn’t care that he seems to have some social issues, possibly be obsessive compulsive, and clearly a career intellect. I don’t like “him” as a character. He is incapable of what many consider normal human interaction and watching this movie just made me mad.

The novel and the movie were highly praised, and yet, also controversial and divisive. It was nominated for Best Picture? Really?

It shows that not all novels can or should or deserve to be made into films. Having said all this, the actor who played Oscar was perfectly cast and his acting is superb for being so young. That doesn’t mean I liked the screenplay.

SEPTEMBER 11th PREMISE:

This movie is bloated with its own self-awareness, and if you take out the 9/11 aspects and just look at the film about a screwy kid who lost his father (Tom Hanks) in any sad way, it’s still just a story of a messed up kid searching to keep his father in his life. The 9/11 angle isn’t really important at all to the story, and this story could have been in any city. No themes or ideas of Americanism or Nationalism or terrorism were explored whatsoever, only the randomness and unfairness of tragic death; therefore, it is just an emotional backdrop and a wasted opportunity to say something interesting about this time of American History.

Furthermore, the story of this boy and his father could have been told artfully AND simultaneously with an American narrative. The novelist and the screenwriter were not that talented. Since it does nothing but focus on a boy’s tradegy, the 9/11 angle is purely, purely exploitative to sell tickets and novels and be featured in Entertainment Weekly. Period.

In the movie version at least, the issues of September 11th serve as nothing more than a cheap crutch to make the film “more important” and is a little shameless in that regard. The producers and director shot a beautiful film with too many A-listers and obnoxious voice over by a savant/prodigy child who was lied to by his father for his whole life who the audience cannot empathize with.

THE CHARACTERS:

Only at the 48 minute when Sandra Bullock (the mom) and Oscar get into the huge fight about death not making sense and have the scary and truly emotional screaming match did this film get a second moment of curiosity from me and respect. Finally, a scene without voice-over that meant something, but again, wasn’t exclusive to a 9/11 specific death. The idea of chaos and dying on any given day is universal, and should NOT carry extra weight just because we are American’s and remember 9/11. I find the whole scene right after this emotionally manipulative. I don’t know how I would grade this movie had it been made 8 years ago just after 9/11 or 10 years from now. Would either date of release be better or worse? Who knows?

On another note, just after the one hour point, I could believe I had an hour and some change left. This fuckwhistle drags. Pardon the creative French.

I just didn’t buy that “The Renter” (Max Von S.) would run around with a kid in NYC. It’s too fantastic and dumb. But then at the one hour fifteen minute mark, when Oscar is acting like a psychopath in a warehouse full of lockboxes, I was like, oh, of course the Renter is Oscar’s grandfather. How obvious. Oscar guesses this at the hour twenty mark.  I should have known. Well, now that that’s outta the way, let’s get Oscar some psychological help; something his mom, Bullock, should have done a year ago! But, no, they don’t do this.

And why the hell didn’t “The Renter” reveal his relationship? Why? Why!! What a bunch of asses Oscar has in his life! A mother who lets him run around the city alone and knows about it for weeks, a father who played a deeply deceptive game and should have stopped once he was no longer ten, and a grandfather who literally says nothing to his own grandson which may have been a big help for both of their characters to discuss Tom Hank’s character therapeutically and with family. Nope. That all makes too much sense to fix. It’s contrived, contrived, contrived, contrived.

Then, at the hour and forty-eight minute mark, Sandra Bullock explains to Oscar how she’s known all along what he’s been up to and has somehow found the time to contact and visit all of the people Oscar has been visiting and is due to visit soon. Does she have a job? With what time? Awwww, how sweet. You can tell because of the piano in the soundtrack. Awwww.

WHAT ABOUT THE BOOK VERSION?:

I hope the book is better than this, in fact, I’m sure it is, but if the story and the characters are anything like this I honestly am not going to waste my time. I’m not interested in it enough. It’s not an issue of the medium in which this story is being told—it is the story itself. It capitalizes on 9/11 and would be just as average, if not better, had it not involved “The Worst Day Ever.”

CONCLUSION:

So prepare to be manipulated. “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” is forgettable and worth maybe one viewing. I just didn’t care, and I was paying attention. I gave it the benefit of the doubt, before and during. Rhetorically speaking — Does this film capitalize on American tragedy to sell false emotional excrement or is it a brave, bold American film facing our greatest tragedy. See for yourself. I didn’t cry, and I think “we” were supposed to throughout several scenes. Fail.

I almost didn’t want to finish this one, but it did get better after the unbalanced first act, and I don’t hate Oscar anymore… as much. I feel bad for him, because the people around him don’t seem to know how to make it any better for him and what he’s going through. Terrible parenting.

On a comical note about “Oscar”: I wish Thomas Horn was instead Macaulay Culkin circa 1992. LOL.

Only the acting and the cinematography make this enjoyable. Not the lackluster story (Eric Roth), basic editing, pretentious directing (Stephen Daldry), or sleepy, cliché musical score.

I just don’t care about this film. What a complex bunch of crap his father designed for him to end up looking under a swing. How contrived and just plain old crazy are both father and son.

What a waste of late 2011 hype.

6.0/10

MH

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Kazuo Ishiguro: a Review of “Nocturnes” and Other Work

Overall: 3/5

Here are five uninspired stories very loosely connected via music. In each a young, unsophisticated and unmarried man who either plays music or enjoys music, becomes either involved with an older couple or an older woman and thus observes the vicissitudes of marriage. It’s a slightly jaded book by an aging author who is losing that “zang.” After the third story my interest waned significantly. The title story, “Nocturne”, about two plastic surgery patients recuperating on a secluded floor in a fancy hotel I found to be totally vacuous. It’s long and it is not needed. Endless dialogue. Ishiguro likely wrote this peice first, and realizing it’s lack of “novel potential” built four other stories around it. I promise you that’s what happened.

An outstanding novelist does not a great short story writer make.

This should be a “2.5” because the stories are of such flawed, annoying characters who never self-affirm their lives, but the fact is that the writing is clear and extradordinary and all have to do with how people place music in their lives. The first story says a lot about love and ambition, arguably the strongest story here. The beginning of “Malvern Hills” also struck a chord within me (pun intended) as I agree with the opening sentiments of the young singer-songwriter trying to make it around other egotistical musicians. Been there, my friend, been there. But why all the relationship fluff and marriage issues? Wasn’t a big opportunity missed here to really show how lots of different music affects lots of different people? Where’s the variety?

There’s a unity in “Nocturnes”, but the them are only so-so, layed out through beautiful writing — as always. If you happen to be in a library and want to read award-winning writing, sit down for twenty minutes and read either “Crooner” or “Malvern Hills” in this short story collection by Kazuo Ishiguro. If you’d like to read something amazing by him though, read “The Remains of the Day” or “Never Let me Go”, both (4/5) at least. As a side note, I recently finished his first novel, the very short “A Pale View of Hills”, and while atmoshperic and haunting, it raises way too many questions and is his weakest work. (2/5).

F.Y.I. — I’ve read “Never Let Me Go” twice and I’ve seen the movie adaptation with Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan.  It’s well done, (4/5), but not as fulfilling as the book. If you’re not a big reader, check out the movie first and I hope it fires up your interest!

I’m beginning to read another Ishiguro novel right now, “When We Were Orphans“. More on that, I’m sure, later.

MH

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The HCC production of “Jekyll & Hyde the Musical”: a review

Ouch.

I learned last night that actors/actresses singing in key is a secondary or tertiary requirement to some directors when putting on a musical. Kayla Whisman was the very young student director of “Jekyll & Hyde the Musical” at Harford Community College’s Chesapeake Theater, and the verdict is not yet in as to its calibur being something expected from a high school or a college. But, goddamit, they tried and had fun. Like a good coach tells his little league team: “Good effort out there, guys!” The difference is none of the parents are asked to pay $15 dollars to watch a little league baseball game.

First, the good. Elements were stunning for a college level production–no doubt. Costume design (Rebecca Eastman), set design (Samina Veith), lighting design (Chris Allen), and general enthusiasm from the entire ensemble kept this ship afloat. The rest needs to be seen to be believed. It must be experienced to be understood. But after you read this, you won’t.

Part of that is, honestly, the source material — the script’s quality. Frank Wildhorn and Steve Cuden wrote the music/lyrics in the late ’80s. It premiered in 1990 and would not reach Broadway until 1997. There were a lot of funding issues, but I do not have to wonder why. It ran roughly 3 years, lost money in the end—more than $1.5 million—and lacked any stellar reviews. Where it has played since then has seen the script further deteriorate, with many different script variations at the director’s behest; changes in monologues, additions or ommissions of characters, and a general over-reaching of what artistic license should be–disrespecting the source material and making alterations beyond recognition. This particular production, I was told by one of its players after the show, was an assemblage of several other productions “best parts and scenes.” Take that as you may.

While a little change in any long running play or musical can be refreshing and inspiring here or there, you’ll likely never see “Jekyll & Hyde” the same way twice, if you can stomach going more than once. Had I not been with a group, I would have likely left at intermission, marking the first time I would have ever left a theater without watching the entire show.

At my particular show at the Chesapeake theater, fighting against the spoken scenes at every turn was the musical score itself–the accompaniment. There was little time in Jekyll/Hyde where there was silence from pre-recorded MIDI files with digital bells, horns, tympani drums, and strings; stunting the scenes’ natural rhythms and emotions. The snythesized and outdated recordings were distracting. When the audience was infrequently blessed with no music stomping over a scene’s dialogue, I found those scenes to be the most believable and effective and natural. It was like I was watching a play. The actors could actually act and not be rushed by the timing of when the next song starts. All of that music “hams” it up dramtically; it’s hard to not find it over-the-top and clownish. People around me laughed on and off from beginning to end, all unintentionally. When actors speak with music in the background, there is no room to falter in one’s deliveries; there is a cue to hit when the singing commenses again, and this makes for a sometimes late entry into a song, or worse, the actors complete their dialogue volley several seconds before the music and singing is to pick back up, leading to an awkward pause or freeze. The play stalls, and it’s obvious: the entire building is waiting for the music to kick in.

Per usual with pre-recorded anything, the mix at the Chesapeake Theater was too loud. I was in the the very front row, center in fact, and could hardly decipher some of the words ten feet from me, in both lyrically and spoken. Everyone seemed to have microphones attached to their heads, but often only the lead roles mics were on and mixed properly. My one wish for Jekyll/Hyde is to only play music just before a song begins. Allow the rest to breathe! If the “fathers” of this musical had any faith in the quality of the spoken lines in the script, there would be no need to cover them with brass, tubas and french horns. Creating “over-ambiance” detracts from the intended emotional response. Sometimes (actually often if you’ve ever seen any other musical) less is more. And the Jekyll/Hyde I saw at HCC needed a great deal more.

Very young twenty-something director, Miss Kayla Whisman, came out before the show with a smiley face balloon tied to her wrist and, with little regard for professionalism, bumbled over an introduction. She wanted affectionately to welcome us, and said there would be “the use of blood in the production tonight.” She was “sorry if that makes people uncomfortable or offended,” interspersed with “uhs” and “ums”, ending with something like “Okay! Enjoy the show, guys!”  Something to that affect, but those were not her exact words. I saw no blood, bytheway. Actually that is a lie; because I was in the very front and center row I accidently saw what seemed to be a possible blood capsule drip one time out of a dead man’s mouth who died on the very, very edge of the stage 8-feet from my seat. How was anyone else supposed to see?

The director came out once more, in the middle of the second act when the lights came up in the house, to apologize for technical difficulties, but the sound system stopped working and they had to fix it. It made sense. The previous song before this announcement was a capella; also, without the slightest sense of melody or key. I will give her credit for being completely alone on stage and really having some courage to do it. Whatever else I may say, know I respect thesbian courage without equivocation. I digress, I knew something was wrong since I was not being aurally pummeled with waves of MIDI piano and cymbal crashes. When this “something” went right with the sound, I knew “something went wrong” with the sound system.

I think, when it’s all said and done, these young actors and actresses did their best with what they were given; in their defense, even with the best vocalist on the planet, “Jekyll & Hyde the Musical” is not well written, lyrically, artistically, dramatically, or with intriguing character arcs or development. There was but one catchy song in the first act, the rest was hackneyed and borrowed and butchered from other superior musical’s verses and choruses of the past. Again, I am addressing the original writers of this play. The best player was Dr. Jekyll’s love interest and finace who could both act and sing beautifully. Had I been her, I would have been incredibly frustrated. The lead actor, Jekyll, apparently acting for seven years according to the play bill, couldn’t maintain pitch to save his life. Ironically, he did die in the end. I guess he can’t sing to save his life. However, he made up for it by putting on an incredible performance and showing real torment and sadness. So long as he never stars in a musical, I think he has real promise if he continues with his career at Towson university as he intends. Good luck to him.

The one positive thing to come out of the night was the reminder of how much I love the time period “Jekyll & Hyde the Musical” is set in. If nothing else, it made me want to watch “Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”, “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, and “From Hell.” Additionally, watching this production has given me the reassurance that I could write a gothic musical and it wouldn’t be half bad. Thank you, Frank Wildhorn. My rendition of “Sherlock Holmes the Musical” should be an instant classic. Jokes aside, however, some classic literature should probably not be on stage; Sherlock Holmes and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” included.

To be nice about it; between 8:10 and 10:40 p.m. on November 10th, 2011 at The Chesapeake Theater in Harford County, Maryland, I was abused.

(* out of ****)

(Matt Lowder has been in two dramatic plays and two musicals since 2002. He has attended a dozen plays and musicals over the past decade by major companies, colleges, and high schools, including “Grease”, “Guys & Dolls”, “Sweeny Todd”, “Phantom of the Opera”, “The Sound of Music” and “Romeo & Juliet”. He has studied film, theater, and music theory since 2007.)

HCC site, touting evocative qualities — http://www.harfordneighbors.net/index.php?section=1&subtype=2&id=4920

For more info about this play — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jekyll_%26_Hyde_(musical)

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Harry Potter: the books, the films (part 3)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This was the installment that really made the film franchise and the book series winners — because of the great chance it took with its ending. Some didn’t really care for this book, but it was the necessary bridge to the conclusion where there was not any room for the back stories told here. J.K. Rowling was not afraid to take chances and make big things happen, which not only shook the fictional wizarding world, but shook the reader’s world as well. How in the hell are they going to succeed in their mission without Dumbledore? And what of all the unanswered questions? Epic.

In this “book-to-movie” comparison, there’s no doubt about this one – the book was better. That aside, I loved the tone and the style of this one. You could feel the end coming. This was my second favorite book which many people raise an eyebrow to when I tell them. I just loved learning about Snape’s role, going into the history of Tom Riddle, albeit, somewhat “boring” and expository, and discovering not so flattering things about Dumbledore’s ambitious and controlling nature that we never knew. As Harry realizes the imperfect painting of Dumbledore, we too have a hard time believing it. Why did Dumbledore do this? Why did he not do that? It was great discovering, page by page, that nobody, not even the most powerful wizard at Hogwarts, it without his demons and mistakes. He pays for it, and honestly, things could have really been different had Dumbledore done things differently. Think about it.

Killing off main characters is always a guarantee that fans will chatter about what they think is likely to come, and stirring the world up for the eager conclusion guaranteed both huge book sales for Deathly Hallows and record-breaking ticket sales in the theaters. We would continue learning about Dumbledore, and finally find out to which side Snape is truly loyal. (B+)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (pt. 1 and pt. 2)

The biggest bones to be picked seem to always come in the closing chapters of film adaptations. People want to go out on a high note and there are very high expectations for producers and director’s to deliver to the fans that have put so much money into their pockets. The pressure must be unreal. But, they did a good thing by breaking up the final book into two films – a choice that was met with trepidation years ago. Mainly, people wanted to know, well, where is the breaking point going to be? Regardless of how you feel about the selected point, it turns out that this was probably the only way they could have kept what was in the books in the film. If this was one movie – no way.

Deathly Hallows part one, as a film, seemed more balanced to me than part two. In part two they really went all out on the special affects and the battle sequences, and though there were some good moments, maybe you will agree, upon a second watch, things are a little bloated-feeling, and given that this final part encompassed only the last third of the book, there should have been real adherence to a page-by-page adaptation if possible.

A lot of dialogue in the books was changed, and though I would like to argue that the changes fit the film better because it is a different medium and some stuff in the books would feel awkward on screen, I cannot. Especially the final scene with Voldemort. I was disappointed with the radical cutbacks in their final discussion before Harry wins, and the visually striking final blow felt emotionless to me. Harry should have said more. Anyone would in that circumstance. Not a lot, but something. But in the absence of any additional dialogue, I don’t believe the scene carries the weight it did in the book, and that was a mistake easily rendered. Just think for two minutes, writer and director, is this what feels right? Is it like the book. In that regard, the final moments were not band, but were also not what they could have been. I also believe that Neville Longbottom’s character, while having a sweet decapitation, didn’t get his full appreciation.

Lastly, the duplicating cup scene fell short for me. Where is the burning skin, where was that dire drama and fear I felt in the book? Gone.

Part One had more balance between character growth, back story, pacing, drama, dialogue, heart break and action. Also, in Part Two,  what the hell happened to the great flashback between Lily and Snape as kid’s? Why was it so short and unclear and hazy and dreamy in the movie. More time should have been spent on that part for the good of the film and for the understanding of people who had not read the books. That was a scene I was heavily anticipating and what I got was a blurred, fast mess of montage and difficult to decipher, effected voice over. I really had to concentrate and that whole segment seems over-produced in an under-produced way. Man, oh, man. What it could have been. (B-)

MH

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Harry Potter: the books, the films (part 1)

 

Worldwide – It was November of 2001 when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone began a decade long shockwave in planetary pop culture. Though the first three books had been out since 1999 and before, the 2 hour and 22 minute film was everything a generation of kids had been waiting for; imagination, fantasy, and being a kid. A hero.

On Harry Potter’s eleventh birthday, Hagrid takes Harry to the opening gates of an adventure that no one expected and would last until he became a young adult. Once on Platform nine-and-three-quarters, through Diagon alley, Gringott’s bank, Ollivander’s Wand Shop, and the Hogwarts express we go. Striking the near perfect blend of a family film while eventually taking a serious turn in the series, the books and the films set themselves up perfectly for rising conflicts within the story as well as rising profits in this commercially viable phenomenon. It had heart, it had friendship, it had a school for witchcraft and wizardry, and it had merchandising. Not to be cynical (and it was NOT all about money) but big stories and profits like these come around but once or twice per generation, arguable only three have been so memorable: Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and the Harry Potter series. Whether you agree or not is irrelevant, Muggle. HP is here to stay.

The first and second book of the series is where we will begin our journey. Both film adaptations were written by Steve Kloves and directed by Chris Columbus; titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (in the UK) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets respectively. By and large this series began innocently enough and that was understandable. The topics and themes available to the characters and the story this early one would have felt out of place to have been too heavy and too serious (as the series later became and was more than welcome.) What we are given in the beginning is the introduction of the characters and the jargon of the world. Masterfully did J.K. Rowling paint the reader a detailed world of magic, magic, and more magic. Everything from the names of people, to the incantations, to the robes and the common household items had a name unlike our own to give the world extraordinary depth and wonder. The first two books, while establishing a larger plot conflict to come later, mostly focused on learning how these characters operate within their world and with each other. Harry Potter; the boy who lived, somehow spared by “You-Know-You”. But why? How? Hermione Granger; the smarty pants over-achiever who saved the boys more times than she cares to remember. Brilliant girl. Ron Weasley; the awkward, red-headed goof who many can relate to and, surprisingly, at least once the films came out, became the idol of many teen girl’s affection.

Together, these three characters plus an equally dimensional and realized cast (including many wonderful and sometimes shady professors, Luna Lovegood, Lucius Malfoy, and Neville Longbottom, etc.) make these two books necessart for the true appreciation of what is to come. Especially in the third book.

But for me, now that I am in my mid-twenties, these books do feel young to me, as do the films, and will always have a place in my heart—however I will be returning to them rarely. I know the basics already, and that’s what these books and movies represent. They are the starting gate. The movies and books I will surely return to first if given the choice are the stories which come after this. If you are gripped in anyway by these first two tales, you are going to be falling in love with J.K.’s series with the tales to come. Get ready. (Harry Potter Series continues in an upcoming blog with even more depth and analysis…)

MH

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Blue Valentine: a film analysis

This is not a “review” per se. I am not attempting to give you plot points and tell you why you should or should not see a film. What I am trying to do with these blogs is “analyze.” I want to absorb my first reactions from the film and tell you about the characters and the story and relate it in some way to our lives. I do not want to focus on the camera movements and editing styles and mise-en-scene, though all of these things may pop up in a review or analysis if extradordinarily important or prominent in some way and must be mentioned to explain or explore the film properly. To really get the most from what is written below, see the film first. All of my blogs on movies are poised in a way which assumes the reader has already seen the film. Thiese blogs are enrichment and discussion.

So I begin by saying this: This film ripped my heart out. It’s fantastic to get to the end of a film and not even want to budge to pop out the DVD or go to the bathroom. Not just yet. It has to sink in for a minute longer. I had to reflect.

Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling (Cindy and Dean)

“You always hurt the ones you love…”

Academy Award nominated Blue Valentine (starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling) is a tender, intense film which took the director (Derek Cianfrance) 12 years to complete from the writing phase to the final release date. Please see my last blog about how fiction can come from experience, because as I collected some information for this analysis, I learned that Cianfrance really put this film together out of experience. So much so that the “older” Gosling and his pattern baldness is directly copied from Cianfrance’s real head, and the younger Gosling’s aesthetic style and clothing style was mimicked after his own wardrobe from back in the day. Talk about having balls and putting yourself out there. (On another note: this is Ryan Gosling at his best.)

This is a film about unrequited affection, reciprocation, reconciliation, and the feeling that as good as a love can feel in the beginning (and as worth it as it may seem) it may end in a firestorm. You can never tell for sure if it will collapse or stay afloat, and there’s no way to see into the future to be sure. All you can do is hope and try to be a better partner everyday.

Like so many dark dramas similar in tone to Blue Valentine’s (exploring romance in the way of feature-length slow-motion train wrecks which you can’t look away from), Blue Valentine does it in a very honest way. It is by far the most emotionally poignant and honest film I have seen in a long time to take on these themes–especially considering this type of story has been done before.

Many films utilize the back-and-forth cross cutting between the current hellish prediciments where the love is utterly dying and the jumping back to scenes from years ago to tell of how these two came to fall in love. Though it has been done before, both well and poorly, this story seems to fit this mold well. Telling the story chronologically would have worked well enough for this film, and I would be curious to see it, but I do feel that delivering certain parts of the past at very specific and intentional times, when done well, does add something to the narritvie and to the emotional context of certain scenes. It also aids in a unique way the audiences progression of undersatnding these characters and their ambitions or short-comings. 

 So is Blue Valentine saying all love fleeting, doomed to flicker then fade; or were these two never supposed to be together and did they misread an evening long ago for the beginning of real love? This is a movie of despiration and ignornance — a misundersatnding that loving your spouse wholly or intensely is not the same as being a good spouse. It takes more than sweet sentiments and words. It takes actions.

I also felt while watching this movie that the direction (for obvious reasons) fell into the category of sympathy for Dean (Gosling) more so than Cindy (Williams). And while this may or may not have been intentional, I understand how the director with his life being so saturated into the film in one way or another impacted the audience’s ability to not “root” for Cindy the same way we do for Dean. We feel Dean, for all his fuck-ups, is at least rying and is gettign the short end of the stick from someone who is emotionally crippled in someway and it’s not fair for Dean. I don’t know if that line of thought is fair to Cindy’s character, and I just think a lot of the story makes Cindy out to be the one not fully trying to save the realtionship and therefore we all say: “Aw. Poor Dean.”

When Dean told Cindy all he really wanted to be was a husband and a father, it was the final nail in the coffin. The first nail was probably agreeing to raise another man’s child. His ambition was lost with his charisma and their newly discovered sexuality. Where Cindy desired both of them to reach for the stars, he was resigned to a life he settled for. He would never say this, but she knew, and because she knew that she was partially responsible for this talented, promising man to give-up on his aspirations, she hated him and herself.

 I would now like to talk about some things I did not see in other reviews and feel are important to explore. Not just in Blue Valentine, but in content of today’s films in general: Sex. Oral Sex.

Through disappointment and rejection, Dean is constantly trying to give what he can of himself to Cindy, and since he did not complete high school, he is limited in his offerings. These offereings often end up being in the form of physical affection, in both publicly acceptable kisses and more intimate endeavors. What I would like to discuss is the “Man” going down on girl multiple times in the film. It interested me as film and media studies graduate because too often in films it is the girl orally gratifying the man, and the truth is that in the real world it is often give and take. In the healthy relationships, anyway. However, perhaps that is not true of our culture anymore if we are so frequently exposed to the woman as an object. The internet and HBO and Rated-R films have shown audiences that it is always the female being subservient to the male. Maybe people in the world think that it is a one-way street in regards to certain foreplay, but I would bet that the reality is this: many would be shocked by the amount of satisfaction which both partners feel from certain reciprocations. Finally, I will say that it was interesting that Dean was the only one seen doing these actions; never Cindy. Furthermore, he always seemed more than happy. I thought that was counter-culture of the mold set by Hollywood and, for some strange reason, a lovely little thing to add. The truth is that men do this to women when being intimate, not all, but some, and why should we be so afraid of showing men doing it to women and so unafraid of showing  women doing it to men?: A great conversation that falls right along with female vs. male nudity in society/entertainment and which one has the majority. Take a wild guess.

The whole abortion room scene was incredible to watch and certainly shows what it would really be like. I’m glad that a movie was bold enough to show the interations and jargon used in such situations to really let men and women know what it really is like to have to have such a procedure. Maybe they will think twice about contraception and safe sex when realizing what one of the real life outcomes can be. It was anxious for Cindy in the scene and conveyed equal anxiety to me. Truly affective and viceerally rendered. I never once doubted any of the characters spoken lines or faces. Not once.

Dean says near the beginning of the film to a co-worker in a furniture moving company something about love at first sight being like hearing a song and just having to dance. You don’t know why, you can’t explain it, but you just have to dance. I like that. And as far a worth remembering quote from Cindy, I leave you with this: “think about what you say instead of saying what you think all the time.” I think all realtionships could benefit from such adivce.

Love is messy. Love is complicated. Love is imperfect. That is love.

And it can’t be stagnant. We gotta grow. Both together and as people. Dean wasn’t. People are complicated. So was it worth it? If it ended like that, was the love worth it for the early times when it was good? Cindy ended it. Was it for the kid? Will it improve their lives in the long run? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s love. That’s life. There aren’t always answers. There are rarely answers. 

I’m out.

MH

(Movie here. Buy on Amazon.)

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On the Value of Writing Honest Fiction

(a look at how adding real life experience to fiction affects you and me)

an essay by Matthew Hughston

 

Possibly the scariest thing about writing is the fear that someone may discover something about you that you did not want known. Do the fanatics and scholars not mince over works by Fitzgerald and Plath and Hemingway and Shakespeare in an attempt to better understand the author?

All thoughts, themes, and situations a writer creates must bloom from somewhere, and often times they are not disguised that well—especially if you know the writer. Sometimes the plot or themes are not connected to the author’s experiences at all, yet sometimes a scene or a certain type of language convey to the reader this thought:

“This author must have really felt this or been there. You can’t make this stuff up.”

If it truly is “made-up,” then so expertly creating depth and illusion should be a pat on the back for superb writing; on the other hand, if “true” it is a testament to the idea that some complex emotional and situational elements in writing simply must come from the “human experience.”

Think of two song writers for example—singing of a broken heart. One has never had his heart stomped on while the other truly has. Which writer do you believe would strike a chord in you? Can you even tell if they’re both really good? What is fiction and what is not? Does it really matter so long as it is done well? You can rack your brain trying to figure it out.

So what is safe to publish? Should it matter? Who will be reading it? And am I doing myself a disservice by attempting to mask a story; change a name or age, alter a situation, or flip-flop the sex of a character as if that will actually distance my life from the character’s lives? How much “me” do I put in? Can you tell?

I think I should not fear such works. I believe that the true fiction writer must be bold and unapologetic even in the face of examination and retribution from his or her peers. It could be seen as selfishness, but many of the greatest writers placed real people in their lives into their books, and they certainly weren’t always kind or “pretty” reflections. Sometimes they were true, sometimes exaggerated, but always dynamic and made the story better.

In the end, many people will never be given the opportunity to throw their hat into the ring with the great figures of the past. Many will not find or earn the possibility of having parts of their life’s work remembered; unless your name dons a University’s library, or has a city park dedicated in your name, or is immortalized on a plaque at the base of a beautiful piece of modern architecture.

Perhaps the common man will have verbal stories passed down the family line for a generation or two. Maybe if you are a tycoon, or a war hero, or some silly twice-removed relation to a president. But then and only then will your name survive the coming generations.

How many generations of people will care about some old relative from 90 years ago?

But writing or being an activist or musician; these are the things that just might survive the generations. They just might reach out beyond the bloodline and impact the populace in unimaginable ways. Many authors, artists, and public figures meet the end of their lives feeling they were a failure to a public that seemed not to care, but sometimes decades later the impact and legend truly take hold. Look at Plath, Fitzgerald, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Aldous Huxley—all of their works initial met with trepidation, sometimes years, sometimes decades, but the world came around eventually.

Of course it is a bit conceited and self-centered (even self-aggrandizing) to want immortality, and I am not advocating to attempt such feats, but the people on this planet who can leave something behind should make it worth leaving behind. Maybe then their words will have a chance. For some this means constant exploitation to those around them and over-dramatization in their art or music or novels. And for others it is shameless honesty and reflection in hopes that people will learn from their conquests and mistakes. Perhaps from molding a fiction from a reality, the impact will be more relatable and visceral. We are simple animals at our core.

In the end, it may not matter much. The people who will read this long after I am gone may not know the difference between the make believe and the truth. They may ask: “Did it come from his experience or was it made up?”

In that regard, you could argue that the people who made everything up in their art form and found long-lasting success made out the best. After all, they did not have to deal with the fallout and reactions from the people in their world when they were alive, asking “how could you write such a thing?” or “did you really mean it when you said…” or “if you really feel this you need help!” or even “is this character supposed to be you? Supposed to be me?” Perhaps the liars and the dramatizers have the right idea. They made it all up—and anything they have inside themselves is left alone, only to be shared with whom they want and at their discretion.

But the honest writer—the writer who puts small pieces of his or her heart into the story, the one who really shares a secret they should perhaps not share, or a tale that is spun from reality but only barely spun—are those writers braver and worth more reflection? That is arguable. Clearly, I like to think so. And therefore, my experiences with life continue to pour into my works.

I know no other way.

It may sound that I am aiming for immortality, or that I feel my work should one day be more important solely on the basis that it came from some truth, augmented or otherwise. But what if that truth is weaker than a better writer? What if the wholly fictional fiction is better than my “truthy” fiction? Which body of work should be held to higher renown? Should not the best piece, regardless of how it was written, be loved and acclaimed? If so, it matters not where the story or themes bloomed from.

And so in a selfish way, perhaps putting so much of one’s self out there, at their own expense and other’s expense, is a poor decision. Furthermore, what is it we are looking for? What’s the reason? What do we all get from it (the writers and the readers)? Why write? Why read? How sorry can a writer really be about offending the living people who took shape in one’s fiction if immortality awaits? In any event, one can always deny that an episode in a book occurred from first-hand experience, right? Who would know?

When it comes down to it, any artist should make art for the maximum impact by any means necessary, and I hope that I am doing it right. Though other artists may know another way to express themselves or grasp for immortality, I do not know another way to write. And is immortality truly the primary goal? I think not.

But what then?

Judge me if you must, but know at least I was brave enough to share, and for this act perhaps the people absorbing my work may grow in some way. Perhaps I, for sharing, will grow too. If I didn’t hope for this, why would I write at all?

Nothing sounds more rewarding than impacting at least one life. My own or yours.

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There Will Be Blood: Movie Analysis & Review

 

This analysis and review was a major work I wrote in October of 2009 in a film History and appriciation class. I have just made some minor additions and corrections. Enjoy.

 

There Will Be Blood: A Stubborn Battle of Shifting Times

There Will Be Blood (2007)

            There Will Be Blood is a film rich with substance for discussion; philosophically, thematically, and cinematically. The film is intense, unique, and stands out in contrast to the other releases in 2007, if not the decade. It has a timeless quality that makes it feel like it could have been made in any decade since 1930. The script is intelligent; the strong acting is brilliant and complex, and the cinematography from beginning to end is breathtaking. This is a film whose merit falls not in the special effects or action, but rather its strength as a story, its sound mixing, unique orchestration, seamless editing, and emotional content (arguably, more difficult and rewarding to capture on screen). The minimalistic approach makes the script and its ideals carry the narrative along.

 The opening shot is beautiful, just as every wide shot in this film is, but it also resembles a place without many people (if any people at all). This image is juxtaposed with the eerie clashing of string orchestration which continues to come and go for the duration of the film. The disharmonious musical score is effective in drawing an emotional response and putting the viewer in its environment; both geographically and psychologically. The dissonance is wonderful and not something often heard in American mainstream cinema post-2000.

The film is almost a silent movie for the first fourteen minutes; besides the sound effects, there is no dialogue. It is 1898, and Daniel Plainview is in a mine, presumably looking for oil. The editing rhythm of the film here makes one feel the time it takes to be hacking away in a mine. It’s edited to be seven minutes long; we see him working and sweating. We feel the solitude and see the lack of light deep in the ground. The sound effects are realistic, well-mixed, and conservative.

Now we can deconstruct the goals of this man, as early on as this one scene. Why is he alone? Mining is surely a project for more men than just he. He then injures himself after finding some promising looking rocks which could signify oil. With a broken leg, he crawls and slides his way into town through desolation, but not before putting some of the ore or shale into his pocket. Rather than going to the hospital first, he goes to the oil/real estate people first to claim rights to the property. He lies on the floor with his broken leg and then signs his name on a paper. Here we learn early on something of Daniel Plainview that is both a strength and weakness. He is very ambitious, forgoing medical attention for profit, and above all things will try to succeed by his self if necessary.

Still in silence, we jump to 1902, where he now has a crew drawing oil from the ground. Still, no words are spoken. We observe the primal and dangerous nature of the early pioneers of industry. When a man dies down in the well from an accident, Daniel takes in the dead man’s baby and names him H.W. It seems to be compassion, but that first instinct would be wrong. He uses the boy throughout the entire movie to inspire sympathy and work the angle of being a “family man”, even going as far as telling people his wife died in childbirth. It is cold and calculated, but effective. The fact that there is no dialogue in the first fourteen minutes of the film only accentuates the minimalistic, dissonant musical score and the realistically placed sound effects. Without dialogue, something modern audiences are very accustomed to, the filmmakers have still given us so much information about the character, something only the film medium can do.

Daniel is a man of — not few words — only necessary words. He can talk a lot, but often, not at all. Unless he’s trying to get something from someone, he sees no reason to talk. He feels that most people are terrible; that there’s nothing worth liking. Daniel will say anything, however immoral and manipulative, to get what he wants. He is direct, aggressive, sly and collected.

His doppelganger and enemy in the film, Eli Sunday, is fascinating, and perhaps the most complex character in the film. When we first meet Eli, he introduced himself as Paul Sunday and tells Daniel there might be oil by the Sunday Ranch. Daniel goes to where they live where something bizarre occurs. “Paul” said that he had a brother, Eli. We quickly discover that the name he has given, Paul, is actually a fake name, and there is only Eli. But why Eli has said this is quite ambiguous, and as the film continues, Eli’s very sanity is put into question. He even goes as far as to re-introduce himself as Eli to Daniel Plainview as if he they had not met just days ago. He says things in a haunting fashion and his mannerisms are sometimes very strange. The scene where Eli is giving a sermon at his church is certainly unsettling and cult-like (also, an amazing, long take of character acting). At this point, one could say that either Eli is truly crazy in general, or that he really believes in his sermons and that he has been touched by God. Maybe even worse, he is a lying false prophet and is actually the same type of person as Daniel.

But an important comparison must be drawn here: Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday both use a form of pageantry and deliver grandiose speeches when in front of people to get what they want. Whether they believe in what they are saying is irrelevant – they have power; Eli with his church and followers, Daniel with his swindling of families as if there was something in common with their ways of life.

Eli and Daniel both have enormous ambitions. From the time these two characters first clash until the end of the film, there is a great competition and slow building hatred between the two of them. The difference is that where Daniel wants to succeed for the sake of money, Eli perhaps wants to build community recognition for himself and be a figure of spiritual enlightenment. They want two very different kinds of power, as can be proven from the first time Eli is on the screen, saying “God Bless” to everyone. Daniel only cares and talks about oil, whereas Eli only cares and talks about his church and tries to get funds from Daniel. In different ways, they are both ambitiously using people and the debate between who is more righteous or whose ends justify the means can be debated indefinitely. On a larger scale, one could look at their battle of pride and stubbornness as a metaphor for the changing times in which There Will Be Blood is placed – the turn of the century. During this time, business and religion were clashing.

The film could be making a statement about the massive ideological differences between capitalism and religion. The battle of the times is manifested in the characters Eli and Daniel. And in the end of the movie, when “capitalism” clubs “religion” in the back of the head and religion dies (symbolized in Eli’s death), the movie perhaps makes a statement about a new power and evolution of man which is beginning to leave religion behind. Capitalism roars on as religion stumbles during the changing times. Even today, science is doing similar things to debunk religion.

By the end of the film, 1927, we have watched Daniel slip into madness and loneliness. He still hates that he had to bend to the will of Eli and be baptized at his church years ago in order to gain land for his pipeline. Though he knows he will do anything it takes to succeed, his damaged pride infuriates him, and he will not only beat Eli at his own game, but literally kill him. He wants “no one else to succeed,” as he states in the film. A sickly looking Daniel sits beside a dead and still bleeding Eli as he utters the final line of the film. “I’m finished,” Plainview says. Yes he is – in all the ways one could mean it. He has beaten Eli, beaten the false prophet, and he is perhaps “finished” in his career and his life if he is found guilty of murder. Has all of these years been worth it? And for what? Money? Pride? It is one of the most memorable film endings in recent history which surely has audiences conversing and thinking as soon as the credits roll, as all good films do. The film’s significance is only amplified considering all the events leading up to this scene. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Both actors (Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano) really put on a show in the final scene; a phenomenal display of acting, which won Daniel Day-Lewis an Oscar for Best Actor in 2007.

Every corner of this film was realistic and controlled, and yet elicits fears and reactions from the viewing audience. Parts are visceral, unsettling, and physically affecting, which is a great testament to the medium when superb art can make people really “feel” something. Great writing by the screenwriter and director Paul Thomas Anderson. Bravo. That is an achievement in filmmaking.

The long takes, deep focuses, complex mise-en-scene, and slow zooms/camera dollies were not distracting and only added to the experience. Without unnecessary bells and whistles, this film keeps the drama and tension going. However, some may say that it is too simple or slow in some areas; its length, and general meter/tempo as a whole could be lost on some viewers and be seen as boorish where “nothing really happens.” But this response could be rebutted by pointing out all of the rich, cerebral themes from the film; there are conflicts and ideologies lush for discussion: Greed, Ambition, Deceit, Capitalism, and Religion – all centered on the turn of the twentieth century in the United States. Observing the effects of oil, money, and social power on different peoples within a community was a study all its own, and quite interesting.

Though not a movie for everyone, if one is inclined to enjoy character studies or films which feel like novels, well, buckle in and get ready to work your brain. There is a lot going on in There Will Be Blood.

(There Will Be Blood is a film based on the Upton Sinclair novel, Oil! from 1927, but is much different from its adaptation.)

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