Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pitiful or Infuriating, Take Your Pick

Out of a five star rating, I give Jules and Jim a two and a half (and it only gets that high of a rating because I enjoyed listening to them speak French). For about the first forty-five minutes I was completely lost. First Jules and Jim were here, and then they were there. They were with her, but then they were not. They liked this girl (yes, at the same time. They were good at sharing) and then they liked another. They live here, then there, then back to here. I felt like the characters were all over the place and moving at a rate that challenged my attention span. Finally, they meet Catherine. It seemed like she was a keeper, to them at least.
Catherine, Jules, and Jim—fate had put them together. She was, after all, the exact replica of the statue they so admired (or was the statue a replica of her?). They ran about the countryside gleefully for sometime, but then Jim had to ruin it by asking Catherine to marry him. Stupid man. My question is, why did she agree? For financial reasons? For security? I think she knew even then that she wasn’t a one-man type of woman. Also, I think she was extremely insecure. To me, her attention grabbing ways screamed insecurity. This would also fit in with her inability to be faithful to one man. She was seeking to reassure herself that she was still desirable, and she couldn’t stop. So again, why would she marry Jules?
Jules on the other hand, was probably the only character that I had a smidgen of admiration for. He was a good guy. He had absolutely no backbone though. After all, he accommodated his best friend and his wife sleeping together. He simply took his and Catherine’s child outside to play. Not to mention his ability to overlook all of Catherine’s other lovers. (I think he claimed to know about two or three and then you add Jim to the count.) What was he thinking?! I simply cannot understand his mindset. His laid back, does not matter view on his wife’s affairs completely caught me off guard. I was hoping for a couple good rants at least!
Over all, I did not enjoy this film. Just ask Anna. Fortunately, we were able to watch it on our own, and I was able to scream at the characters until my voice gave out. I do not know exactly how I would have channeled my frustrations if I had not been able to do so. If love equals frustration, confusion, and despair, then this is definitely “cool love.”

Saturday, February 21, 2009

CAUTION: Spoiler Alert!

In my previous post, I made it apparent that this was not a film that I enjoyed very much. Artistically, it was great. Perfect film noir from what I understand. Maybe I’m too shallow, or too inartistic, or perhaps just too traditional. Eh, I’m probably all of these. But, because of my distaste for this type of ending, I am easily able to recall two movies that I have seen that give me the same vibe. Both are by the Coen brothers. (huge shock)
The first: No Country For old Men, bagged three British Academy of Film Awards, four Academy Awards for best picture, best adapted screenplay, best supporting actor, and best director, and two Golden Globes. Must be a great movie, right? So I agree with the best picture award, the film had amazing scenery, but did it really deserve so much praise? I did not think so. But I think it represents a modern day film noir like almost no other. There is one corrupt character who is never brought to justice, and one small deputy who tries the entire movie to solve the unsolvable. The movie drips with desperation and hopelessness.
The second is Burn after Reading. (Here it comes, spoiler alert!) This film by the Coen brothers drew some A list actors like Brad Pitt and George Clooney. The basic plot, is Chad (Pitt) and Linda (Frances McDormand), who work at a gym together, decide to team up to blackmail Osborne Cox with a disk of his that they found, all the while believing that the disk held pertinent CIA information. Chad speaks to Cox on the pone, but they get nowhere, and Cox refuses to give them a reward. (Turns out, all the disk had on it was Cox’s memoir.)Then, these immoral creatures decide that it was a good idea to take the supposed critical CIA information to the Russian Embassy. (Yeah, they just went there.) In the end, Chad is shot, George Clooney’s character is killed by a hatchet to the head, and Cox is a vegetable, and Linda is in custody of the CIA. Yes, this is how the movie ends.
The first of these films, No Country for Old Men, I saw with friends. The second, Burn After Reading, I saw in theatres. At the end of both, I literally sat there through the entire credits, waiting for what came next. That lone, creepy person sitting there until the clean up people come in, that was me. You know those movies that tack on a “hidden” scene after all is said and done? Well, I just knew that both of these films were that sort. Dang Coen Brothers. I am sure both movies have a message, and are truly creative but for some reason my mind just won’t cooperate with them. Perhaps if I watch them now, I would watch with a more critical eye and get more out of them.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

No Fairy Tale Endings

Last night we had the concept of film noir introduced to us. This was a foreign concept to me, until I watched Double Indemnity. I saw a lot of the characteristics that our reading, "Notes on Film Noir" by Paul Schrader, discussed. The lighting always hit the floor, walls, and characters in odd shapes. “Oblique lines tend to splinter a screen, making it restless and unstable. Light enters the dingy rooms of film noir in such odd shapes-jagged trapezoids, obtuse triangles, vertical slits—that one suspects the windows were cut out with a pen knife. No character can speak authoritatively from a space which is being continually cut into ribbons of light” (Schrader. 6). Not only was there very little lighting, but where there was, it was sharp and distinct—a nice contrast to the movie’s shady theme and characters.

The film also involved a lot of slinking around, whether by night or by day (I say “slinking” but it could even be described as slithering or creeping). Almost every interaction was shady, literally and figuratively. This particular film noir may not have had any gangsters, but that does not make a difference. The two main characters, Walter Neff and Phyllis Dietrichson, might just as well have been gangsters. They had no conscious, no inhibitions, and certainly no regard for human life. Phyllis had killed the former Mrs. Dietrichson, then Mr. Dietrichson, and intended on knocking off Neff and Lola Dietrichson (the daughter). However, Neff was not without his own agenda. In the end, he masterminded the plan to kill Mr. Dietrichson and ended up shooting Phyllis. Wow. That is a lot of murders committed by just two people in only one film.

With all this evil packed into one film, the producers do, however, provide a few examples of wholesomeness. First, they give you Barton Keys. He is Neff’s boss and a man of innately accurate hunches. The “little man” inside of him always dances around when a jig is up (a.k.a. when someone is not being truthful). When Neff and Phyllis have killed Mr. Dietrichson, it is Keys that expects foul play. That little man inside of him is going haywire.

While we discussed Keys’ good qualities in class last night, I thought of another character that was also without any black marks: Lola Dietrichson. In the beginning of the movie, the viewer does not know much about her, but as the end nears, we are allowed to discover the trials she has endured. I believe that she, along with Keys, was provided as a contrast to Neff and Phyllis.

Over all, this was not one of my favorite movies. While I was very interested in the stylistic features of this film noir, I have to admit that I am a happy-ending kind of girl. The way the movie ended did not satisfy me. Honestly, I would have been perfectly happy if Phyllis and Neff had realized their wrongs, confessed their iniquities, and put themselves on the straight and narrow. Unfortunately, that a little bit of a fairytale ending, and not suited to this style of film. Oh well.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Is He Cool? Or is He Just Pathetic?

Personally, I think Woody Allen’s character in Play it Again, Sam was pitiful. I am unable to see the cool in it at all. He spends his entire being and energy trying to imitate someone else. He is never really himself. Isn’t originality one of the things that we decided defines cool? Even in the ending scene (which I believe is there to attempt to give him some credibility) I don’t see cool—I see imitation. I do not define imitation as cool. Allen may finally shed his alter ego, but we don’t really see the results of that. We see him waiting his entire life to use a line that was even his to use. Plus, I do not think I will ever be able to take Woody Allen seriously thanks to his likeness to Napoleon Dynamite.

I mean, surely you can see it. I guess perhaps the likeness is not just in looks, but in their personalities too--pure awkwardness. That’s really all that can be said. Neither character is cool and both are social outcasts. Allen has his two friends, and Dynamite has Pedro. That’s about it. Each character makes a sad attempt to become cool at the end of the movie, but even thought the viewer may feel a little better about leaving the character, we know that in these attempts nothing was really accomplished. Yes, Allen’s quotation of Casablanca will go down in film history as a great moment, as will Napoleon Dynamites dance scene, but neither one of these reparations makes the character cool.

But, then you do you the other side. Perhaps this more of “cool sacrifice.” In the end, Woody Allen knows that if he and his best friend’s wife, Linda, stay together, he would hurt his friend. So, even before he knows that Linda has decided to stay with Dick on his own, Allen comes to the conclusion that it simply will not work between the two of them. Dick needs Linda more than he does. As un-cool as Woody Allen’s character may be, at this moment he emulates cool. (Of course, he then goes on to ruin it by quoting Casablanca/Bogart in the end). Woody Allen sacrifices his good for Dick and Linda’s good. Ok, so I will admit it—that is cool.

Sacrifice is used to define a character’s coolness fairly often. It draws the viewer in and makes them empathize with that character. Take a gander at Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia.

How cool is he?! And in the end, He makes the ultimate sacrifice. He dies so the Narnians may live to fight another day. I can’t think of a character cooler than that.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

My Top Two

Out of all the people I come into contact with each day, all of my friends that I borrow clothes and accessories from, and all of the people I go for to advice, there are very few that I can actually say that I base my perception of cool on. I guess when I say that someone guides my perception of cool, it would be the person whose advice I value the most— the person who I feel like lives life in a cool way. I think I am lucky enough to have several of these people in my life.
However, there is another type of cool that can be taken from anyone you see on the street. It’s the outward appearance of cool. If I see someone wearing something in way that I think is cool, and I might try to imitate it the next day. I may not even know the person’s name. I could see them on TV, going to class, or while I’m out shopping. I could base an outfit or style off of something
Nichole Kidman was wearing in People magazine, or off of the girl that sits next to me in my sign language class. When I imitate or use their style as a guide, they become cool.
Even though these people may be cool in outward appearance, I think it is the people first mentioned that are ultimately my “cool guides.” These are the people I look to when I have to make a life-changing decision. Number one on this list is my Dad. I see him as cool because of his accomplishments, his drive, and the love he maintains for our family. He is always there for me and I can ask him absolutely anything. I treasure the conversations we have about life, love, and anything in-between. He is the first person I go to when I need advice on just about any topic. I listen to him, because of our similarities and our differences. We have many ideas that coincide, but we also tend to disagree a fairly often. He usually offers a contrasting view for me to look at and helps me make rational decisions. We make an effort to talk on the phone everyday, which a lot of people think is strange, but I think it’s what has kept us so close and made him so cool in my eyes.
Number two on this list, would have to be my best friend. She, also, is always there for me. I admire her dedication to anything or anyone she loves and her passion for life in general. She is always there for me when I need someone to talk to. Even though we are separated by a state, we talk everyday through text or phone calls.

I truly believe that talking to my cool people plays a part in keeping me going from day to day. They are cool because they inspire. They are cool because they love life.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Hero Saves the Day...Again

If you were to take Casablanca and strip it down to its bare framework, you would see a plot that has been successful hundreds of times. You have your male lead, a beautiful female (who is obviously in dire need of something), and you have your bad guy. Throughout the movie the viewer is bighting their nails, crossing their fingers, toes, and anything else available for crossing hoping that the hero and damsel will end up victorious. Of course, it is going to be a close call, but they will win/get away/solve the problem. One knows this when watching, but for some reason always gets nervous. Sound familiar? It should. We have seen this exact plot hundreds of times. It may be presented in different ways and there may be a few unexpected twists, but for the most part, film producers do not disapoint.

Example 1:
Everybody loves a good sailor man, especially Popeye. The ultimate "save the day hero." His tough smirk, bulging forearms, anchor tattoo, and clefted chin exude confidence and bravery. (Never mind his pipe, which would be taboo in today's media. Good guys don't have addicting habits, right?)His wife, Olive Oil, never could stay out of trouble. I guess she was just too dang pretty for her own good. Um, yeah, sure...pretty. I guess her beady eyes, large nose, and straight line figure were simply irresistable. (Man, things sure do change over time) Any way, poor Olive Oil. She always had this brute of a man, Bluto, stealing her away from Popeye. (Again with this attractive thing. Really?) But it would be ok in the end. Popeye never failed to save the day. There was always a fairytale ending.

Example 2:

One of my alltime favorite movies, The Phantom of the Opera, is a wonderful, modern day, demonstration of the beautiful girl/handsome man/villain plotline. Christine Daae is a very beautiful girl, and her suitor, Raoul (what a great name), is undeniably handsome. They should live happily ever after right? Nope. There is a hitch in the plans. The Phantom(yes, of the opera) just so happens to want Christine for himself (imagine that). Raoul must trudge down through the dungeons to rescue Christine from the Phantom. In doing so, he almost gets himself killed, but of course he can't die. That would simply ruin the movie. He succeeds in rescuing Christine. And that is basically the end of the movie.

I realize that these two examples are not exactly the same as Casablance. Both of these heroes end up with the girl while, Rick and Ilsa do not end up together. However, Rick does save the day (which conveniently includes Ilsa). Rick saves Ilsa, Popeye saves Olive Oil, and Raoul saves Christine; see, it is the same. One may ask why so much repetition? Why would producers and writers not try to get creative? The answer is simple, this plot will never get old. Add new characters and a few new twists and movie viewers will flock to it.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Casablanca’s leading man, Rick, is first presented to the viewer as a tough, sarcastic, and cynical guy. He won’t drink with his customers and he never “sticks” his neck out for anyone. However, as the movie progresses, you begin to see several other sides of Rick and the reasons behind his original front. After being heartbroken when Ilsa does not leave Paris with him, Rick created an appearance of a hard shell around himself; he allowed no one in, and never moved beyond its perimeters himself. And yet, as the movie progresses, we as viewers were able to see that Rick’s shell was not as impenetrable as originally thought.

We are enlightened (somewhat) when we see his displays of kindness towards his employees, when Rick extends a helping hand to a young woman in a tough predicament by allowing her husband to win at roulette, and the way he reacts when Ilsa comes to Casablanca with her husband. He is not without a heart after all—but can almost be described as soft-hearted.
Last night, during class, it was mentioned that Rick might symbolize the United States. He tries to stay neutral, has a tough exterior, and is very nonchalant about everything. These are all qualities of the United States that frustrated and angered many people during the time in which this film was set. So if there truly is this symbolism imbedded within Rick, then what of his soft heart beneath the exterior? Can we also read symbolism into that? Did the producers intend for all of Rick’s actions and attitudes to reflect those of the United States, or just a certain few?
This may be a “rose-colored glass” view, but maybe Rick was intended to symbolize all of the United States: good, bad, or otherwise. Perhaps he was an example of our good and bad qualities. Or maybe he wasn’t. Maybe Rick was just Rick. I can see the Hollywood directors now, “Let’s make him do this, so they will think this. And then we will change it up right here just for fun.” I have always wondered if they (film directors and producers) enjoy using their assumed symbolism for a good laugh or if they truly always hide something meaningful behind a character’s actions. I would like to think that the symbolism I am able to see is genuine, but the conspiracy theorist in me always poses the question: “Is this really meaningful, or is it an attempt to mess with my head?”