Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Man, Mark, you really hold on to shit - Will Oldham

When Old Joy came out in 2006 I wasn't a fan because I didn't really relate to it. Its a film about growing up and I wasn't there yet. I was 25 with hardly any responsibilities outside of rent and a few bills, no kids, no girlfriend or wife and most of my friends were pretty much living the same lifestyle. Fast forward 6+ years later and suddenly everyone’s married, growing beards, having/planning kids, buying homes and they aren't as available to hang out like before. Now my life revolves around prescription meds for my transplanted kidney, finding new gray hairs on my face, going to the gym, complaining out loud about bad Huffington post articles, living with my girlfriend, making serious plans for the future & trying to maintain a lot of my close friendships through phone as everyone is moving away.
Living in New York City can makes things even worse sometimes. Everything from buying a pack of gum to taking the subway feels like some grind or a hustle. It’s difficult to relax, it’s expensive so you don't always have the money to get away from the craziness for the weekend (partially what Old Joy is about) and without fail I start thinking about work early Sunday evening when I should still be enjoying my weekend. These are all the thoughts that Kelly Reichardt's quietly brilliant film bring out of me.
Old Joy is a ½ buddy, ½ road movie about two friends that reunite for a weekend of camping. Its one of the many somewhat recent post-Gus Van Sant looks at Portland Oregon and how cool & progressive it apparently is (Wendy & Lucy, Cold Weather, Portlandia, etc). This film is SUPER indie as its not only somewhat influenced by Van Sant, but its produced by Todd Haynes, scored by Yo La Tengo and co-stars folk singer Will Oldham.

“Mark” (Daniel London) is a stable home owning, married man with a baby on the way. “Kurt” (Oldham) is is still trying to hold on to that bohemian, limited responsibility lifestyle of the 90’s he once had. He doesn’t have a job or any solid source of income, close to living in his van and is essentially coasting through life. It’s clear Mark & Kurt haven’t seen each other in a while and there’s some tension that’s been built up between them over the years (Mark is somewhat uncomfortable & agitated around Kurt). For Mark, this road trip is a mini-vacation to get away from his responsibilities & everyday life (once he becomes a father he won’t be able to get away as much). For Kurt, this getaway is a chance to reunite with an old friend and bury some of the unspoken tension between them. Throughout the film Kurt picks up on the tension & discomfort and in one scene he breaks down and expresses his sadness about how they’re friendship isn’t what it used to be. By the end of the film the hatchet is buried but Reichardt still leaves things pretty ambiguous (especially on Kurt's end). In the final moments we see Kurt kind of aimlessly wandering the streets of Portland with no real destination.

Although there is tension this is a peaceful story full nature, silence & meditation. Old Joy has an anti-Bush tone that I appreciate very much (towards the beginning of the film Mark is listening to what appears to be a political debate on Air America radio which goes on for about 10 minutes). There’s also quite a few scenes I can relate too like when Kurt is told his favorite record store has closed and is now a juice bar (in the last six years my favorite record & video stores have closed in both my hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts and in New York City where I currently live).
Obviously nature plays a big part in Old Joy. Yo La Tengo's score, which is perfect, isn't the only important soundtrack to this film. There's plenty of music-less moments where wind, the chirping of birds & the crackling of branches play just as big a role as Yo La Tengo's music. Old Joy has a soothing quality that makes you wanna stay in and watch it on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Or it will inspire you to wanna go out for a hike.

The end of Old Joy always makes me a little sad. Kurt is a bit more complex than he appears to be. Sure he comes off laid back & carefree but there's a sadness to him too. Not only is he on the verge of being homeless but he's a pretty lonely guy. Kurt represents that friend you don't exactly feel sorry for but you do wish he'd get his shit together. And its not as if you're better than him just because you may have a bit more stability in life either. You almost hate that you worry about him so much because on one hand he's your friend but on the other hand there's only so much you can do because you have to take care of yourself (and in Mark's case he has a baby on the way). I do still love the fact that Reichardt makes Kurt somewhat independent. Although he's clearly broke at no point does Kurt ask Mark for money. Reichardt reminds us about the importance of friendship and how easy it is to slowly lose contact with friends. Sometimes a simple lack of communication can build up and lead to unnecessary tension.
Wendy & Lucy
Kelly Reichardt’s 2008 film; Wendy & Lucy was what ultimately got me to revisit Old Joy. I appreciated the fact that it was a genuine look at broke young people today. The final moments of Old Joy, where we see Kurt lost & coasting through life, kinda blends in to Wendy & Lucy. Will Oldham plays a character in Old Joy who's on the verge of homelessness and at the beginning of Wendy & Lucy he plays a character who is homeless. The characters are different but there's still that connection being that they're both played by the same actor under the same filmmaker. We commonly associate older, middle-age adults as the face of the poor & struggling. But due to the economic issues in this country over the years, people my age and younger are going broke long before they have families to feed or mortgages to pay. College students are either graduating with crappy job prospects or staying in school to get their masters or doctorates for hopes of getting a better job yet find themselves in the hole with student loans. Baby Boomers & Generation X have plenty of defining films while Generation Y have very little. Wendy & Lucy is one of the few great looks at the problems younger generations face. Yes it’s true that the faces of Kelly Reichardt’s work are white, hippie & bohemian but that shouldn’t discourage anyone who doesn’t fit that description (like myself) to appreciate her work. She’s one of the few filmmakers to bridge the Gap between Generation Y & Generation X (which Kurt & Mark are clearly a part of)

Old Joy deserves applause simply for the fact that it could have EASILY gone in a million different directions - Two friends go out in to the woods to rekindle their friendship. This could have easily turned in to a thriller where they get lost in the wilderness and have to survive in the harsh surroundings thus putting their friendship to the test. Or there could have been some deep dark life changing secret Kurt is keeping from Mark. Instead, Reichardt took the anti climactic route. This film serves as an alternative to stuff like Gerry, 127 Days, The Edge or Into The Wild.

Friday, February 22, 2013


This piece was brought on by recent articles/essays/opinions given by folks like Nelson George & Bell Hooks (click the names to go to each article).

With all the criticisms of recent films like; Beasts Of The Southern Wild, Django: Unchained & Flight (all understandable especially in the case of the first two) - I genuinely don’t think people are exploring cinema as much as they could these days. I know that sounds a little pompous & presumptuous (and it is) but it’s also true.
People  have enough time on their hands to write 2,000+ word essays, reviews & articles with a negative or disappointed tone (which I totally understand) yet seem to be unaware of the recent films & performances that are breaking stereotypes and they don’t seem to be putting forth the effort to focus on, write about or promote those few recent positive examples. Some of what Nelson George wrote about is nothing new. Just last year The Help was one of the most popular films in this country and other shit like The Green Mile & The Legend Of Bagger Vance exist. It’s no mystery that many non-black filmmakers don’t know how to portray complex black characters.

I still agree with most of what Nelson is saying. He brings up some amazing points about some recent films many black people are blindly in love with when they should be questioning certain aspects of those films.

Personally, I think a lot of Black movie watchers are too accepting and compliant when it comes to our place in film. All it takes is a prominent black actor winning an academy award or Morgan Freeman cast in a shiny supporting role and everything is fine. Everyone got so amped about Django to realize that the most interesting characters in that film - a film about slavery - were white. Let’s also not forgot that the delivery of a lot of the dialogue between the black characters in Django sounded like a cheap 70’s blaxploitation film instead of a western (just another example of Tarantino's childish facination with people of color).
We need extra critical opinions to counter all the other people out there who just blindly accept the sometimes basic and/or ridiculous representation of black people in film. Sometimes it feels like a losing battle which is why I’ve been trying to distance myself from most things race-related in film in order to enjoy the good cinema out there and not go crazy. But no matter how hard I try to ignore it I can’t resist giving my 2 cents. Again - Hooks & George make great points in their writings. Nelson George even went so far as to acknowledge films like Do The Right Thing & Daughters Of The Dust in his recent article but that was the late 80’s/early 90’s. How about some recognition for recent films? They do exist…kinda,

And on a sidenote, I'm getting a little frustrated with films like Do The Right Thing & Daughters Of The Dust being the only examples of important/great/classic works in the Black film canon. There's decades of films ranging from Story Of A Three Day Pass to Chameleon Street.

Anyway, part of the problem is that one or two films like Django comes out and for whatever reason all the problems concerning race are rested on the shoulders of those one or two films. A lot of energy is spent critiquing them and not much energy is left to focus on the few good films out there. Imagine the number of people that read what Nelson George or Bell Hooks have to say. They have some small power to promote good films. All they needed to do was mention the few good recent films out there that counter what they don't like and I'm certain people would have been inclined to explore more.
Candace Evonofski in George Washington (2000)
At the start of the last decade filmmakers like Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch & David Gordon Green crafted some of the most complex, conflicted & imperfect black characters in recent years with misunderstood masterpieces like Bamboozled, Ghost Dog & George Washington (I'm fully aware George Washington is considered a Terrence Malick knock-off and is also a black story told from the perspective of a young white filmmaker but in my opinion the story was handled with care and didnt fetishize the subjects). Bamboozled was filled with nothing but flawed & intriguing characters who wanted to do good but slipped up along the way. As the movie progressed we saw the dark side of some characters who seemed non-threatening at first. Pierre De La Croix (Damon Wayans) set out to prove how networks executives were wrong in their understanding of black characters on television but eventually turned in to one of them. At the start of the film Sloan (Jada Pinkett) was a pushover secretary who took orders from a bossy De La Croix but by the end of the film she kills him. Womack (Tommy Davidson) was only motivated by money and would essentially do anything to be on television (like performing in black face) but by the end of the film he realized he was wrong and couldn’t do it anymore (Davidson's performance is also one of the greatest supporting roles in the last 20 years). Mos Def's character, who was all afro centric & pro-black, ended up murdering a fellow black man (Savion Glover) at the end of the film.

Jarmusch's Ghost Dog is probably one of the best examples of a complex Black character even if it is starting to become a bit dated. Although he's a peaceful, meditative & almost teddy bear-like "protagonist", he's still a cold blooded assassin who kills without remorse (on some level he’s just as much of a bad guy as the people he kills). One minute he's befriending a young girl on a park bench and the next minute he's murdering a house full of people. Also, for someone who's clearly pro-black and full of racial pride (it’s subtle in the film, but he is), Ghost Dog takes orders from a white person who eventually kills him in the end.
Viola Davis in Solaris (2002)
Viola Davis, whose presence as a black woman in the world of science fiction alone is rare, gave an interesting performance in Soderbergh’s remake of Solaris (2002) as a scientist struggling with her sanity. A few years later Mos Def portrayed an overzealous police officer who crosses the line and essentially stalks a pedophile ex-convict in The Woodsman (2004). His character represents a question of morality & ethics. Sure he's going above and beyond his call of duty by checking in on Kevin Bacon's character because he's convinced he'll molest another child but he's also breaking the law by harassing Bacon's character as he has yet to actually do anything wrong since being released from prison. Mos Def's character is somewhat of a slimy snake but a good guy at the same time. What followed Mos Def's performance in The Woodsman was a bit of a "mini explosion"...

Between 2005 & 2006 we saw quite a few incredibly underrated performances from black actors that countered some of what George Nelson & Bell Hooks have issues with in the form of Forest Whitaker (Mary), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children Of Men), Danso Gordon (Dear Wendy), Danny Glover & Issach DeBankole (Manderlay) and Anthony Mackie (Half Nelson). All of these actors played characters who were either "bad" but had some kind of charm or good quality or they teetered between being good & bad...
Anthony Mackie in Half Nelson (2006)
While all the actors listed above were excellent complicated, conflicted black characters, Anthony Mackie & Forest Whitaker were a cut above the rest yet were overshadowed by their co-stars (in Mackie's case) or by another film (The Last King Of Scotland came out the same year as Mary). I can’t praise Anthony Mackie's performance as Frank in Half Nelson enough. At the end of the day he was a "bad guy". He was a drug dealer and was responsible for the incarceration of the main character’s brother. He was a bit of a snake. But he was kind of a likeable snake. He had a genuine love for Andrea (Shareeka Epps) and tried to look out for her on some level. He had a charm that made you forget his bad side. Sure on some level he perpetuated the stereotype of the black drug dealer but what was kinda clever was that we never actually saw him dealing drugs or sitting around a bunch of uncut packs of heroine like typical characters found in films like Menace To Society or New Jack City.

As for Forest Whitaker’s performance in Mary, I don’t want to repeat myself too much so you can read about it in the first section of my review from a few months ago.
Charles Parnell in Pariah (2011)
Recent works like Ballast (which I wrote about on here a few months ago as well) gave a more realistic portrayal of depression among African Americans. It also paints characters that are overall good but have some dysfunctional qualities that they need to work on. 
But next Anthony Mackie in Half Nelson, no other recent portrayal of a complex, realistic, imperfect black character comes close to Charles Parnell in Pariah. A lot has been said about Adepero Oduye's breakout role as "Alike" but Charles Parnell's performance as Alike's father deserves just as much praise in my opinion. Here's a guy who's not only in denial about his daughter's sexuality, but is a bit homophobic, kind of an asshole, not around as much as a father should be, and clueless as to what’s going on in his daughter's life. But at the end of the day he is a good person and does care about his Alike. 
Normally it’s the mother character that's supposed to give the unconditional support. Pariah did the opposite. It’s the bible thumping mother who turns her back on Alike and Parnell is the supportive parent in the end. This performance counters all the negative criticism that the father character in Beasts Of The Southern Wild received. Pariah may not have gotten any academy award nominations like Beasts Of The Southern but both films are still on the same plateau (lets be honest). So for all the critics out there who placed everything concerning the portrayal of the "bad dysfunctional black father" on the shoulders of that one performance in Beasts Of The Southern Wild, maybe it would have helped if you mentioned that there was an equally popular film out there with a more realistic father character released less than a year ago.

At the end of the day I'm sick of people who clearly only watch 5-10 movies a year give their generalized opinion on cinema on a large platform.
Manderlay (2005)
Although Von Trier's Manderlay was a bit of a mess and kind of proves George's point about some white filmmakers (European white filmmaker in this case) not being able to understanding certain things concerning black people, Danny Glover's role as the deceptive house slave was far more interesting than Samuel L. Jackson in Django,

I know most of the examples I gave are independent or art house but the accessibility of indie & art house films (like Beasts Of The Southern Wild) is much easier to come by today then they were 20 years ago. Mainstream films & indie films are less segregated so the excuse that some of the films & performances I wrote about aren’t easy to come by doesn’t really fly anymore.

The films & characters that some African Americans act like don’t exist actually DO in fact exist on both an independent & mainstream level (yes, in a very small numbers, but they still exist). Instead of focusing so much on the negative, which does outweigh the positive, maybe we can focus on the few good examples of complex, unique, imperfect & interesting black characters as something to learn from. By only focusing on the negative (which is NEVER gonna go away) we're indirectly insulting & ignoring actors like Anthony Mackie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover, Forest Whitaker & more who gave great & unique performances that don’t come around too often. That was my main problem with Nelson George's article. Instead of just complaining, maybe people like George, Hooks and other prominent voices can give solutions along with their criticism. Maybe readers would be more inclined to discover or revisit certain films and possibly some young aspiring filmmakers (of any race) would have good references to build from. I’m not satisfied in any way with the overall portrayal of black people in film (probably never will be fully satisfied). Of course there needs to be better crafted black characters in film but let’s not act like they don’t exist at all.

Friday, February 15, 2013


The fact that this movie didn’t completely suck, when it damn well should have, makes me like it more than I think I'm supposed to. I'm well aware there's nothing original about Insidious. It’s just a another haunted house story that’s FILLED with clichés from beginning to end: people investigating strange noises in the attic, the frantic housewife who sees ghosts and other creepy shit when no one else is around, the practical thinking distant husband who doesn’t believe in ghosts and thinks his wife is seeing things and the random spiritual/all-knowing old lady (straight out of a Stephen King novel) that knows how to communicate with supernatural beings. Oh and lets also not forgot the non-stop unexpected startles & jolts (especially in the last 30 minutes) heightened by the stringy violin score. This sounds like something I'd typically avoid. Its just that in the last 5 years or so It’s become almost impossible for filmmakers to tell a horror story without doing it in that Blair Witch Project/P.O.V. style (The Paranormal Activity saga, The Last Exorcism, Lovely Molly, Quarantine, Chernobyl Diaries, Cloverfield etc). Actually the only film in recent years to utilize that style of filmmaking for good wasn’t even a horror movie (Chronicle). I know James Wan is responsible for the never-ending SAW saga, which is enough to make anyone avoid anything else he does in the future, but he could have EASILY made Insidious one of those horror movies where the video camera is left on all the time for some strange reason, and he didn’t. Thats worth something...
Insidious is kind of a throwback to classics like Poltergeist, Amityville Horror, The Exorcist (elements of Insidious involve the soul of a possessed child being transferred somewhere else similar to the ending of The Exorcist) as well as The Shining (relax, I’m not putting Insidious & The Shining on the same pedestal, but there is a young boy in the film who has the power to communicate with other worlds which kinda reminded me of Danny’s ability in The Shining). There's also a thin layer of cheesiness on top of a serious tone which does make the vibe of the film a little difficult to pin down. Sometimes I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be taking this serious or not. The acting is a bit over the top, formulaic and sometimes melodramatic to the point where everyone involved HAD to know certain scenes wouldn’t be taken seriously. Within the first half of this movie I lost count of how many times the wife sees something creepy, screams, then the husbands runs in to see what’s wrong only to find nothing, then the wife goes; "I swear I saw something! It was RIGHT there. You HAVE to believe me!" But at the end of the day this was entertaining which is something most American horror films can’t say these days.
Insidious tells the story of a seemingly happy husband ("Josh") & wife ("Renai") and their three children who have all just moved in to a new house. Instead of a bunch of minor creepy occurrences that slowly lead up to one big thing, immediately after moving in to their new house their oldest son ("Dalton") unexpectedly falls in to a coma after he investigates a strange noise in the attic the night before. After a series of more strange events happen inside the house, Renai believes its haunted and Josh's mother (played by Barbara Hershey) enlists the help of a medium ("Elise") and her team of scientists to help. As it turns out, Dalton has the ability to astral project but has gone too deep and his soul is now in a "spiritual limbo" in a world full of ghosts who won’t let Dalton go because he's their vessel back in to the world of the living. Now, In order to get his son (and his soul) back, Josh (who as it turns out has a repressed past that coincides with Dalton's current comatose state) has to somehow enter in to the same spiritual limbo universe that Dalton is currently trapped in through a séance conducted by Elise. I like that the simplest character (Josh) turns out to be the most interesting. The husband characters in most horror films are fairly one dimensional. They either slowly go crazy and turn in to some crazed killer by the end of the film (Amityville Horror, The Shining, etc) or they're super practical and incapable of any kind of abstract thought and they're solution to everything is to always call the police (like Josh in the first half of Insidious). By the end of Insidious, which is a bit of a cliffhanger (its part of an ongoing saga), Josh is a completely different character.

I dug the atmosphere & style of Insidious. When you make one of those Blair Witch style horror movies you leave yourself almost no chance for any kind of unique style of your own. With Insidious, everything is darkly lit, the colors in the film are drab & grey-ish and the music (which gets a little distracting at times) really does a great job of conveying an uneasy tone where you feel like something is gonna jump out at you at every turn. Right out the gate Wan makes his intentions clear with an intro scene that pretty much says we're here to startle you, make you jump outta your seat and nothing more. There's no deep or hidden message in Insidious and its not trying to be anything outside of just a simple horror movie. Wan's attempts to scare & startle us may fall in to the realm of overkill but I'd rather that than all these recent horror films that take forever to build up to something which usually isn't even scary. Have you ever watched those Paranormal Activity movies? Nothing ever happens. What exactly are all those people jumping at in those commercials that show the audience reactions?
Sometimes all it takes is one simple recommendation from a highly credible source for me to check something out. When I first saw the advertising for Insidious, which was a poster of a creepy looking kid standing in front of a darkly lit house, I thought; I'll pass. But at the end of 2011 I found this film on quite a few top 10 lists or as an honorable mention. Although I was skeptical, I hadn’t seen it yet so I couldn’t judge. But now that I have seen Insidious (twice) I can honestly say I have no idea what this would be doing on a top 10 list in a year that brought us Drive, Shame, Tabloid, A Separation, 13 Assassins, etc. BUT...its still pretty good and worthy of some positive feedback. Much like The Descent, Drag Me To Hell (which also had its share intentional cheesiness) and the American remake of Let The Right One In, this was a pleasant surprise in a pretty stale genre.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


All The Real Girls is David Gordon Green's sophomore feature about the world of young, awkward, funny, uncomfortable & sometimes painful love. This came out around the time when everything from Sundance was starting to look the same so it's somewhat understandable to forget its existence (especially now that just about everyone involved in this film has gone on to bigger projects). Now that a decade has passed maybe it's time to revisit this film which went on to influence recent stuff like Lars & The Real Girl (which features All The Real Girls co-star; Paul Schneider), Take Shelter, Shotgun Stories & Blue Valentine. All The Real Girls has its share of Malick-isms (sunsets, poetic ambiance, crisp & shinny cinematography, etc) but it's not OOZING with slow-motion shots and voiceover straight outta The Thin Red Line like we saw in Green's first film; George Washington (GW is one of my favorite movies but it wouldn't exist without Malick). Instead it features some of the energy & rawness of John Cassavetes had he made a film set in the deep south.
All The Real Girls is the love story of "Paul" (the local town womanizer) & "Noel" (a young naive 18 year old with no relationship experience). While Paul has a reputation for sleeping around with just about every woman in town (which doesn't seem to bother Noel at all) something about Noel makes Paul want to slow down, cut off all his ties with other women, not have sex right away and be in an actual relationship. Naturally problems arise - Noel happens to be Paul's best friend's little sister which brings up some obvious tension. Additionally, Noel is young, coming of age, learning about herself and is easily swayed by other guys. By the end of the film both Paul & Noel come out more mature even though they've both hurt each other. Although both Paul & Noel cheat, this film is one of the few sympathetic looks at characters that are unfaithful. In Paul's case; yes he's cheated on every woman he's been with but once it happens to him and he feels that same pain he's inflicted on so many other woman he somehow isn't that bad of a guy anymore...just young & dumb. In Noel's case, she's only 18, hasn't been with anyone else so its kinda understandable that she'd fall too temptation.
The most important thing about All The Real Girls is that it's a film about young love made by young people and not some cynical 40-something year old that's seen it all & done it all and is jaded towards romance or the thought of a relationship. Green and co-star Paul Schneider came up with the script in college and finally made the film when they were still in their 20's. Not that it's impossible for an older person to direct a film about young love but there's the possibility that it wouldn't be as authentic when told from the perspective of a biter middle-aged filmmaker instead of someone as young, mature & in touch with things like a 20-something year old David Gordon Green. Would you wanna watch a film about 40 year old parents or someone going through a mid-life crisis if it was directed & written by someone in their early twenties with limited life experience?

All The Real Girls is also an important film due to its representation of men. Yes it's true that still even in this day & age men can be a bit repressed & insecure about expressing their feelings (especially when it comes to love and/or sensitivity) but All The Real Girls breaks that notion. Say what you want but it takes guts for a guy to say a line like; I just want to make sure that a million years from now I can still see you up close and we'll still have amazing things to say and actually mean it.

Young love is awkward. It fills you up with that fun kind of anxiety that you hate & love at the same time. You can't fully be yourself and you say the most random things. There are some moments in All The Real Girls that seem a bit forced. Random lines like; I had a dream that you grew a garden on a trampoline, and I was so happy that I invented peanut butter or moments between Schneider & Deechannel where they stammer & stutter nervously in each other's presence but when you think about it we've all said random & embarrassing things or have been nervous & anxious around someone we're in love with or have feelings for. Bottom line, All The Real Girls may be awkward and a little "off" at times but it's one of the most genuine explorations of young love to come out in years.
Besides the romance angle, All The Real Girls features some touching scenes between friends (the scene where Paul & Tip make up is one of the most honest "BRO-moments" where two insecure guys let their guards down) and family (all the scenes between Paul and his mother, played by Patricia Clarkson, are great). Besides Schneider & Dechannel, the supporting cast makes this film great. Shea Whingham, Patricia Clarkson & Danny McBride (in his feature film debut) are all awesome in their performances. I remember watching this YEARS ago and thinking Danny McBride would end up being a big star one day and look at him now. And Shea Whingham delivers one of my favorite lines in a movie ever: we're not best friends ain't even in my top 10! (for an adult to say that to another adult is just hilarious to me). Much like George Washington before and Undertow after, All The Real Girls has that same "timeless" feel to it that I described in my Badlands review. From the clothes to the setting, All The Real Girls has that unique vibe about it where the story could have taken place in 1970 or right now.

If you have plans with your significant other that involve staying and not doing much, I highly recommend this.

Friday, February 8, 2013


In The Mood For Love is one of the sexiest and most romantic films in existence without a single sex scene, kiss or shot of nudity whatsoever. And with the exception of the adult issues & themes (depression, hints of sex & sensuality, infidelity, etc) there's no vulgarity at all when there could have easily been. Its like G-rated for adults. This film defines director Wong Kar Wai to a tee - coolness, moody & colorful with plenty of slow-mo shots. By the time this film was made Wong Kar Wai had already found his style. At the start of his career he was very much influenced by Scorsese as were quite a few Chinese directors in the 80's & 90's which I find interesting because Scorsese ended up remaking a film (Internal Affairs) that was somewhat of an homage to his style of filmmaking, causing him to remake a film that was originally made to emulate his own style.

Wong Kar Wai has came a long way since As Tears Go By (his first feature) which did contain some of his signature elements as a filmmaker but at the end of the day was kind of a melodramatic Chinese reworking of Mean Streets. In The Mood For Love was just his way of rubbing in the fact that he had found his style and he wanted the world to know how awesome he was. We all know there's a million movies out there that are pretty to look at (like In The mood For Love) but don’t really bring anything else to the table. In The Mood For Love is pretty much the total package (not to sound so cliché, but it is). What this film has that others with a similar plot or approach don’t is richness, beauty and the kind of leading performance given by Tony Leung (who went on to win best actor at Cannes) that really cant be found anywhere else these days. Sometimes you get so caught up in looking at this film for its beauty that you forget there's also a great story (and soundtrack) that goes along with the pretty moving images.

On a side note, In The Mood For Love was in the top tier of those prominent east Asian films that surfaced at the beginning of the last decade (Battle Royale/Japan, Audition/Japan, Yi Yi/Taiwan, etc). Wong Kar Wai's influence on new filmmakers like Xavier Dolan (specifically Heartbeats) is pretty evident while modern Japanese cinema continues to influence American cinema through remakes and other recent popular movies (I know Hunger Games was a book first but if you think Battle Royal didn't influence the movie you're crazy)
 Maggie Cheung in Days Of Being Wild (1991)
Tony Leung in Days Of Being Wild (1991)
In The Mood For Love is a loose sequel to Days Of Being Wild. Making a sequel/loose connection to a popular film in the art house world is like shooting yourself in the foot (with the exception of Truffaut's Antoine Doniel saga). The second film rarely turns out good. Just ask Hal Hartley (Henry Fool/Fay Grim), Spike Lee (Do The Right Thing/Red Hook Summer) and Todd Solondz (Happiness/Life Dyring Wartime). Luckily Wong Kar Wai kept the connection between his two films at a minimum (Maggie Cheung plays the same character in both films). This loose connection apparently came about during pre-production of In The Mood For Love when Maggie Cheung was having a difficult time getting through a scene and Wong Kar Wai asked her to play the scene as if she was "Su" from Days Of Being Wild and it just kinda stuck. And although Tony Leung's character at the end of Days Of Being Wild has no name or real connection to anything, I always considered his appearance at the end of Days Of Being Wild to be a pre-cursor to In the Mood For Love. Wong Kar Wai also borrows key shots from his previous films to use in In The Mood For Love...
Happy Together (1997) / In The Mood For Love (2000)
Days Of Being Wild (1991) / In The Mood For Love
Set in the early 1960's, In The Mood For Love follows "Chow" (Tony Leung) - a fiction writer & "Su" (Maggie Cheung) - a secretary, who live next door to each other with their spouses in the same tight/claustrophobic apartment building. Both Chow & Su suspect (and are correct in suspecting) that they're significant others are having an affair with each other. Instead of confronting their spouses they form a (platonic) friendship and try to work out why they were cheated on. In The Mood For Love isn’t so much about the act of infidelity or why people cheat but about the pain it causes others. Neither Chow's wife nor Sue's husband are seen together...actually we never really see them at all. We just get hints of their existence. Besides enduring the pain of infidelity, both; Chow & Su have to endure the gossip that starts to surface among their neighbors about them (Ironically, people start to suspect THEM of cheating with each other because they spend so much time together). Their friendship almost plays out like an affair. Due to the fact that friendships between men & women are kinda frowned upon in their community they have to keep it on the low. They rent a motel room together away from where they live in order to avoid the gossip & rumors. How often do you hear of a married man & a married woman renting a motel room together just to hang out & be friends? But that’s what makes the plot so great. Chow & Su know that if they act on their attraction for one another (which does exist) that they would be no different than their spouses who cheated on them so they fight their attraction as much as possible. And whats funny is that they both get a "free pass" to cheat with one another in my book. There was actually a love scene filmed between the two main characters but it ended up on the cutting room floor as to not make the story predictable. Instead Wong Kar Wai leaves things a bit more ambiguous...
This is very much a Chinese film but the influence of western culture is everywhere from the way the characters dress (the male characters emulate Clarke Gable, the women have beehive hairdos like typical American housewives & the office settings are very Americanized) to the film's soundtrack which prominently features music from Nat King Cole. Instead of giving In The Mood For Love a timeless or ambiguous setting, Wong Kar Wai makes it more than obvious that the story takes place in the 1960's. He lays the nostalgic qualities of the early 1960's on the viewer pretty heavy (mostly through wardrobe) yet it’s not problematic or distracting from the plot at all. I've seen Maggie Cheung in tons of films and never found her sexy or desirable (maybe cute but that’s it). Thanks to her wardrobe & make-up in the film she looks absolutely beautiful. And once again, there's no nudity at all. In fact she's clothed pretty much from head to toe all the time. The dresses she wears (along with Christopher Doyle's cinematography & Wong's extensive use of slow motion) accentuate her curves. I didn’t even realize she had any curves.

This film gets away with another thing I usually can’t stand which is a loud score. Normally when a filmmaker like Christopher Nolan uses music in a film that's louder than the actors (Inception & Dark Knight Rises) I throw a mini-conniption fit on the inside. Although beautiful, In The Mood For Love's score is a bit loud but somehow it doesn’t seem to bother me. I guess that’s because there isn't the same amount of dialogue as your average film (apparently Wong Kar Wai doesn’t work from traditional scripts anyway). Another plus about this film is that instead of clocking in at some epic three hour long saga, In The Mood For Love gets its point across in just 90 minutes.
Tony Leung’s performance has been compared to Clarke Gable but in my opinion it’s more along the lines of an Alex Descas performance (35 Rhums, I Can't Sleep, No, Fear No Die). Much like Descas (who's cinematic relationship with Claire Denis is pretty much identical to Wai & Leung) not once in the film does Tony Leung yell, raise his voice, cry or lose control of his emotions. He's cool, calm & collected from beginning to end. Its easy for a man to flip out & lose it after discovering his wife has cheated yet we don't see that with him. AND he doesn't come off like a submissive or weak husband either. The saga of Chow & Su was made in to a trilogy with 2046 which focuses more on Chow with a brief mention of Su. Although 2046 is a great film (probably one of the best of 2004) Tony Leung’s performance was a bit more sleazy and a lil’ less likable (really the only thing I disliked about that movie). In The Mood For Love shows an alternative look at men in a situation that would cause them to act typical & destructive. I think all of Wai's films, along with most of the performances in them, are a good source for women who have a narrow minded view of men on the big screen (or even in real life).

Friday, February 1, 2013


Code Unknown
Since the beginning of Haneke's career he’s hinted at issues like white privilege & the theory of white guilt. The families in all his early films (Seventh Continent, Benny's Video & Funny Games) were upper class white people who essentially suffer or pay for being wealthy, white & privileged. In Benny's Video, an upper class family tries to cover up the murder their son committed because they have the means & power to do so but by the end of the film they have to face the music. In Funny Games, another upper class white family is held hostage (and eventually murdered) with their own objects that essentially symbolize their upper class status: golf clubs, a boat, etc. Haneke’s early work seems to be a comment on his own upbringing & way of life. It’s as if he's ashamed of his own white privilege and he's working through his own self hatred & guilt through film.

Code Unknown (2000) was his first full-on exploration in to racial issues outside of just white people. What’s crazy is that if you were to rank his filmography, Code Unknown would probably be somewhere at the bottom yet it still belongs on anyone’s honorable mention on a best of the decade list. That's how great of a filmmaker Michael Haneke is. His personal "worst" is still better than most. In the film we see quite a few scenes of racism and racial tension like the introduction where a young African male is wrongly arrested after standing up for a homeless Muslim woman who was disrespected in public by a young white teen. Although it’s a very good scene (done in one continuous shot) it’s not really telling us anything new. Especially in the year 2000. Cops can be quite racist & bigoted. If anything I guess that scene was trying to tell us that America isn’t the only place where racial profiling & racist police exist but there were already plenty of European films (like La Haine) that explored that. But there's one profound scene in Code Unknown (which we'll get in to in a bit) that represents something many people (especially in America) are afraid to talk about or acknowledge because it brings about discomfort & embarrassment.

Unfortunately we still live in a society where minorities, people of color & women are still sometimes judged or pre-judged based on the actions of other minorities, people of color & women. Some of you may not wanna admit this, but it’s true. If that weren’t the case then people wouldn’t ask me the stupid shit they sometimes do or make the stupid assumptions about me they sometimes do - "You're black and like movies? You must love Tyler Perry then, right?" During my employment at a local video store in Connecticut I can’t tell you the number of times I've heard; "You've seen The Cookout, right?" or "How'd you like Barbershop?" as if I automatically saw those movies. Now, those aren’t the worst racial insults known to man but those kinda questions & assumptions are still very telling and it says a lot (and trust me, people have made way worse assumptions about me to my face over the years).
Subway confrontation in Code Unknown
Towards the end of Code Unknown we see Juliette Binoche harassed by an Algerian teen on the subway. Eventually an older Algerian man steps in and stands up to him. At first one might think the older man is simply standing up for Binoche but in reality he's pretty much telling the young teen (without actually saying it) that he's not only embarrassing himself but any other Algerian, Arab, Muslim, etc riding the train. And remember that Code Unknown was made pre-9/11 before ignorance & hostility towards brown skin people reached an all time high. What makes this confrontation heightened is that it’s a young male person of color harassing an attractive, innocent, lonely, white woman which is pretty much the ultimate no-no. This is that scenario many bigoted or racist people (probably riding that very train and observing the harassment) have locked in their minds and here comes someone to play right in to that and prove these ignorant people right. The older man knows the younger stronger teen could easily kick his ass - just look at the stance of the older man and the way he looks up at him - it’s as if his body language is saying "yeah you're bigger than me but I'm gonna put you in your place no matter what you can do to me." When you’re filled with pride (especially pride in your race or ethnicity) you don’t think too rationally sometimes. Imagine an elderly Black person riding the train having to hear other young black kids call each other nigger. I know this is something many people of color can relate too, especially while riding on the train.

The ethnicity and even gender of the two male actors in this scene are interchangeable. Living in NYC I’ve had plenty of moments where I make an unspoken connection through eye contact with another black person on the train after observing another black person act like a fool. Some of you may be quick to judge and call me an uncle tom or accuse me of being embarrassed of my race but it’s nothing like that all. It’s the opposite. I have nothing but black pride but unfortunately I'm aware of how we're judged and still grouped in as one cookie-cutter like-minded group of people. I truly wish things weren’t like that. The representation of ones entire race should never be placed on one person but being wrongfully judged by a mass of people (keyword: mass) really gets under my skin even though there's nothing I can do about it. Do you really think the older Algerian man would have stood up and done something if the teenager was white? No, of course not. The older man probably came from a generation of Algerians who took a lotta unjust shit from white europeans yet paved the way for younger Algerians, Africans, Muslims & people of color in France and here comes this young punk to essentially piss all over that.

This scene has a spiritual connection to a later Haneke film (Cache) as the same two Algerian actors in the scene from Code Unknown play father & son in Cache. Every time I watch this scene from Code Unknown I can’t help but think of the Apex students (made up of mostly Black & Latino males) outside my old job that harass women as they walked by, play dice & have pull-up competitions as if they were in a prison yard. Although it’s unfair and not all their fault, the actions of those Apex students somewhat affect others. I know this sounds insecure (and I guess it is) but there's truth behind my insecurity. In order to get in our old building you had to pass through what I liked to call the "Apex Gauntlet" where every other word is "Nigga" and most conversations were about lack of child support payments (that’s not meant to be funny either. It’s the truth). Do you really think my former white middle-aged co-workers who commute in from parts of Long Island & New Jersey where people of color (especially black people) are scarce don’t momentarily associate me, the very next person of color they see, with those Apex students? I once had a co-worker ask me; "when you aren’t in your work clothes do you sag your pants like those Apex guys?" Do you think when a female cries on the job most men don’t momentarily associate weakness with women?

There’s a scene in Clint Eastwood’s Bird where Charlie Parker asks Dizzy Gillespie why he’s always on time to gigs and why he never gets high like the other Jazz players and Gillespie angrily replies; “Because that’s what they expect us to do.” Like I already said, it’s unfair but this is the world we live in and there won’t be much change any time soon. That's what Code Unknown is ultimately about - the film offers no answer or resolution. Actually, the subway scene ends with the young Algerian teen quickly startling Binoche & the older Algerian man before running off. See what I mean? Although the older Algerian had a profound message and essentially just wanted to slap some sense into to the youngster, nothing registered. He’s gonna keep on being young & ignorant until he gets an even bigger reality check.
an argument ensues in Cache
Code Unknown laid the ground work for his 2005 feature; Cache - a film that incorporates elements of that white guilt & privilege from his earlier work combined with the racial tension found in certain scenes from Code Unknown. Cache, a film that was set for an English speaking remake at one point, isn’t a sequel to Code Unknown in any way but both films essentially exist in the same universe (as opposed to other Haneke films which are rooted in fantasy like Funny Games or Time Of The Wolf). In Cache a TV talk show host ("George") is sent cryptic anonymous messages and surveillance videos of his own house which he eventually comes to discover has so do with his past. The videos & messages he's sent act in the same invasive way as the two villains from Funny Games. George's family is upper class like most families in his films and the surveillance element of Cache can be traced back to Benny's Video. There's a scene where the police barge in to the home of an Algerian family in an overly aggressive way reminiscent of how the police treat the young African character at the beginning of Code Unknown. Cache is ultimately a comment on the relationship between the French & Algerians. In one symbolic dream sequence we see a young white French child watch in horror as a bigger menacing-looking Algerian boy cuts off the head of a chicken (for those that don’t know, the chicken or, cock, is the national animal of France). This scene obviously symbolizes the misguided fear that many French people had towards Algerians (and probably most people of color in general) moving in to France. In my opinion, Cache is one of the best films of the last 15-20 years and combines Hitchcock/Charbroil-like suspense with France's historical past in a very clever way.

Early on in the film before the audience is able to piece together what Cache is essentially about, Haneke throws in a scene that, in my opinion, represents the racial tension that still exists between some black people & white people. In the scene George and his wife (played by Juliette Binoche) walk out in to the street without looking and at the same time a young guy on a bicycle, going the wrong way, whizzes by almost knocking them over and an argument ensues. There's immediate aggression between George and the man on the bike (who happens to be black). Things are eventually defused by Binoche but George and the nameless bike rider go their separate ways with a sour taste in their mouths.

Haneke knew what he was doing. Is there any coincidence that the person George gets in to an argument with, in a film about racial tension and France's racist past, is a dark skinned African male? And it’s not like Algiers is the only African country to have issues with France over the years. The still of George arguing with the young African guy is the most commonly used image to represent Cache among writers, critics, bloggers and other promotional vehicles for the film (seriously, Google image "Cache movie" and see what comes up). It’s one isolated moment that doesn’t really tie in to the immediate plot yet it’s the first nod at the racial tension that’s to come later on in the film.
Now that Haneke has crossed over to a somewhat more mainstream cinema I trust some of you will look up his earlier work if you haven’t already. The birth of fascism (The White Ribbon) & long lasting love (Amour) aren’t the only topics he's tackled. Naturally because he’s an upper-class white Austrian & not Spike Lee his films aren't often associated with racism & racial tension like they should be outside of people who are familiar with his work. Anyone that isn't too familiar with Haneke's pre-White Ribbon work who likes Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Higher Learning or even The Glass Shield should check out Cache & Code Unknown. It’s been well documented that Haneke isn’t very pleased with American movie audiences and the low standards they sometimes accept. Now that he has a much wider audience I’m very excited/curious to see what he’s gonna cook up next. From Trayvon Martin to Newtown Connecticut & Aurora, Colorado he’s got a lot of material to work with.


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