Monday, December 27, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Red State Teaser

Red State - Coming 2011 from Red State on Vimeo.

Momentum V: Punch-Drunk Love

Pop quiz hotshot: How do you follow up a three hour film filled with cancer, grief, outbursts, and frogs? You run as far as you can in the opposite direction.

Now I didn't know who PTA was back in 2002. But I'm sure there were quite alot of fans who must have been shocked to hear he was following up Magnolia with a 90 minute romantic comedy starring Adam Sandler. This is the guy who has since gone onto Don't Mess With the Zohan. The good thing is & I'm not ashamed at all to admit it, I was a fan of his early movies. Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore & even The Wedding Singer. While he has currently milked the Sandler persona to death with some of his recent efforts, he wasn't known for taking on dramatic roles. Then again, neither was Jim Carrey at that time. What's so interesting about seeing comedic actors like these take on these roles is how they are able to maintain their 'funny man' persona while hitting new notes. & unfortunately for Sandler, PDL is a note he is still trying to reach again.

As much of a departure as this film was for Sandler, it was for PT Anderson. Yet is somehow felt like Anderson. The Jon Brion score being a major component. Compared to Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love is very minimal. The ingredients? A good dose of Jacques Tati along with some French New Wave stylings and it's not hard to see why Cannes loved it. That's not to say his Altman influences are not present. The phone sex operator is straight out of Short Cuts & the use of He Needs Me from Altman's Popeye is also an indicator that that director is still one of PTA's primary influences.

Looking at the director's work as a whole, PDL is the one that sticks out the most as the oddball. It has a mysterious aura surrounding it. Not to mention the usual themes one would find in a PTA flick are for the most part, absent. The scenes however show an abrasive edge to them. Take for example the car flipping or the harmonium being dropped off for no rhyme or reason. They are just there.

It is all the more fitting that the film starts off with a shot of Barry Egan in a desk off in a corner. Loneliness and isolation take place of the usual themes found in a PTA film. All of this being expressed in the colors, sounds, music and camera work. Couple this with a staunch sense of insecurity and you pretty much got Barry Egan's world pegged. At least throughout the 1st act of the film. Visual dynamics are key here. From the shots of Barry in his office with the harmonium to him running down a hallway of exit signs. All point to a sense of character entrapment. It's not very often films are able to take you along with a character's discomfort.
The first time I saw this, the thing that caught me off guard the most were the color bars. The grocery store scene itself has the items stacked in such a way that it recalls them. Anderson also employs a type of organization amongst things. Going back to the first shot, the wall is divided up into two colors: blue and white. Lena's red dress complements Barry's blue suit. The colors pop as they would in a Godard picture yet they still carry the scenes along to a harmonious rhythm.

Despite living in a world of loneliness and insecurity, Lena ends up walking into his life. & isn't that what the whole movie about is anyway? Love. The "I wanna bit your cheeks off" type of love. Where PDL ultimately is triumphant is the chemistry and honest performances between Sandler & Watson. They don't have all the right things to say to each other. They get scared. & in Barry's case, fear is coated with rage. Violent elements which stem from the phone sex stint that threaten to cast a shadow over their relationship. Chief among the purveyors is one Philip Seymour Hoffman who should go toe to toe with Don Logan in terms of shouting a single word repeatedly. Though if Kingsley's Logan was bark and bite, then Hoffman's Dean Trumbell is all bark and no bite.

Punch Drunk Love shows the side of Adam Sandler we have not seen before and unfortunately haven't seen since. Sure he's been in a couple of more dramas, but here he nails the role of Barry Egan. The comedies, though nostalgic to some they may be, seemed to be holding him back from reaching notes unheard of before in his career. Barry's world is filled with domineering sisters, insecurity and rage. Order is restored through Lena Leonard. Who in a signature shot of the film runs up to Egan and their silhouettes are shown embracing amongst the business of the passing crowd.

More important than PTA pulling out a great performance out of Sandler is the themes which some people tend to look over. PDL is about Barry's escape from the isolated and boring existance into one of exhilaration. While the oil derricks of There Will Be Blood may have cast a shadow over the harmonium over Punch Drunk Love, this film's vibrant colors and emotional resonance is still able to linger in our minds long after the final color bars fade out.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Music of 2010

2010 was solid music-wise. Not quite as memorable as last year. To be honest, music was for the most part on the back burner for me. Film ended up consuming most of my spare time this year. The number of bands discovered is pretty low. Though I rediscovered a good number of bands such as Cocteau Twins & Secret Chiefs 3. It doesn't look loke I'll be getting back into my music obssession anytime soon. But it still is something I like to check up on.


Agalloch- The Marrow of the Spirit
The first metal album of the decade that can be considered a masterpiece. Agalloch have done no wrong up to this point. With this release they combine the folk of The Mantle with the post rock vibes from Ashes Against the Grain to create their best effort.

Shining- Blackjazz
Black metal + progressive rock + jazz...Blackjazz! No other album released this year that sounds remotely like this one.

Beach House- Teen Dream
Cynics will say it's too warm and sentimental for it's own good. They're wrong of course. Beach House hits just the right note here.

Secret Colours- Secret Colours
A stellar debut from a band whose name should grow in recognition.

The National- High Violet
At times both subtle and bombastic.

Holy Fuck- Latin
The one that moves your hips & makes you shout out the band's name in ecstasy.

Arcade Fire- The Suburbs
While not quite as consistent as Funeral & Neon Bible, their 3rd release shows them incorporating some new styles into their sound. Particularly on Sprawl II.

Black Angels- Phosphene Dream
Good music to listen to while rollin' fast down I-45.

Triptykon- Eparistera Daimones
Menacing rhythm sections. Tribal drums. Yep. This is doom alright.

Dungen- Skit I Allt
Consistency has been a strong point with the last 2 albums of this band.

Soundtrack of the Year: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross- The Social Network

Haven't found enough good music in 2010? These should keep ya busy.

Spacemen 3
The Black Angels
Black Mountain
Beach House
Mazzy Star
Secret Colours (check out my blog post Any Colour You Like for more info)
The National
Holy Fuck

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Black Swan- A Review

The films of Darren Aronofsky all have one theme in common: obssession. In the case of Swan, perfection is what the lead, Nina Sayers, is obssessed with. What's so interesting here is that I haven't quite seen anything like this film. The subject of ballet infused with dopplegangers, and psychological transformation makes for striking cinema. In the end, the theme may be direct but the visuals are anything but. It's the synthesis of the visual elements that makes it enticing.

Aronofsky might be recycling a few cliches (i.e. the overbearing mother-daughter complex). But given the stellar performances of both Natalie Portman and Barbara Hershey, he is able to reinvigorate them with a fresh coat of paint. The director is no stranger to having strong female performances, as evidenced in Requiem For A Dream. Along with them comes a source of raw intensity that is apparent in the visuals just as much as it is in the performances.

As Nina is run through a gauntlet of competion & finds her patience (& sanity) slipping, the rope tightens ever so slowly. There's one shot of Nina walking toward her ballet studio with her hair all neat. Around the 3/4 mark of the film, Aronofsky employs the same shot but this time it's night and her hair is not so pretty. It's a telling shot that shows how close to the edge Nina is. Black Swan starts off with subdued realism and slowly morphs into psychological horror. This is the closest Aronofsky has come to full on horror. Yet it's effects are more terrifying than most horror films I've seen recently.

The visceral excitement of it all kept me pinned to my seat and fufilled me both cerebrally and emotionally. The final twenty minutes of it is downright breathtaking. All leading up to the last words of the film which appropriately ties things up in a way yet leaves one with some ambiguity. I can't quite tell you what the film means to me because it's one I'm still working on to fully grasp. Still thinking about this one.

Some other thoughts on the previews:

I haven't quite gotten an intangible feeling of awe from a trailer in quite some time. All that changed when I saw Terrence Malick's Tree of Life trailer attached to this film. It's been at the top of my most anticipated films list for a while & after seeing this trailer it doesn't look like the list is changing.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


"My role in society, or any artist's or poet's role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Throwdown: Ralphie Parker Vs. Kevin McCallister

Our last round had the Monster Squad taking out the Goonies by a good margin. Let's see what happens pitting two individual troublemakers against each other.

So set your pins to B2, ready that tripwire and vote. & remember kids: Annie is depending on you!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Momentum IV: Magnolia

Magnolia is a film that means a whole lot to me. Favorite. Yeah. That's the terms they throw around these days. Now I must preface this analysis/review with a word of warning. I went into this film the first time, cold. Not knowing alot about the big events that occur within, I was taken aback but elated that it dodged every way I thought it was going to end. I suggest to those who have not seen the film that they do the same.

A murder. 3 executions. Another murder. A suicide. An attempted suicide turned homicide. & that's before the title even shows up. The terrain this film navigates is vast and its depth expansive. It's a film encompassing 9 lives in a small time frame. It's filled with extremes-- whether it be examples of love or pain. A musical number and an event straight from the Bible even show up. Nothing is played safe. For a film that begins in black and white and ends on a smile it certainly is an exhaustive journey.

There are few films that I have been obssessive over as much as this one. 2001 is one. Apocalypse Now is another. Watching Magnolia for the first time, or any great film for that matter, is a one of a kind experience. You literally have no idea what to expect next. & that's just what this film does-- subvert expectations. With this in mind, Magnolia is the kind of film that divides audiences just as much as critics. Controversy is a vital sign of life, and that's why I love a lightning rod. It was not a film that instantly jumped to my all time favorite list upon first viewing. I would be surprised if it did anyones. Repeat viewings is where a major strength of the film lies. Because there is so much packed in, it allows for it to improve on a 3rd, 4th or even 5th viewing. Even looking at reviews of the film, there is a variety that essentially exist between two poles-- love or hate. It's been called many things: too long, too short, pretentious, perfect or as PT says in the making of "what kind of ending is that? People won't care about her smiling." & for any film to create such passionate reaction amongst viewers, there is at least something happening that's right.

By now you know the characters. But for those not in the loop (go out and netflix now! or better yet buy it), I'll get into the details. A major string tying this fiesty little yarn down is the broken relationships between fathers & sons and in one case father & daughter. Frank T.J. Mackey is a misogynistic infomercial salesman and head of Seduce & Destroy. His estranged father is Earl Partridge, a cancer ridden, bed stricken old man whose wife goes to get him more medicine. Did I mention guilt ridden? Earl is a man whose cheating on his past wife has forced him to try to come to terms with his son.

In our next corner we have Stanley Specter, a quiz kid constantly under pressure to win from his overbearing father. The head of the game show is Jimmy Gator, another ailing old man dying of cancer. & another man who cheats on his wife. His daughter, Claudia Wilson Gator isn't too good either. She's a cocaine addict who shamelessly sleeps with men just to get by. Donnie Smith, a former quiz kid, is another fractured soul in the midst of this storm. He seeks love and unfortunately in the wrong places.

Seem like a lot? It is. I remember watching this film with a friend and the one thing they said during the whole running time was "This has to be the most dramatic movie I've seen." I really can't help but agree. There's a whole lotta drama. It can be almost too much for some. The thing that helps this ship from flying apart is Anderson's constant rhythm & pacing of scenes. Something that can also be attributed to his editor Dylan Tichenor. The more times you see this, the faster it flies by. At least for me it does. For a film with many characters, it ends up holding together cohesively. Each character weaves their own narrative into a collective whole. What seems to elevate each character is that as inexplicable their behavior may be, it never seems forced.

Among all of these damaged lives exist two sympathetic characters: the nurse, Phil Parma, who takes of Earl Partridge and Jim Kurring, a police officer who falls in love with Claudia Gator. For a film filled with abrasive characters, both Phil & Jim act as the center. If I had to choose one character out of this ensemble as a particular favorite it would have to be Jim. He is a man of routine. Yet he seeks to live a better life. He even monologues to himself in the car. Throughout the entire intro, we are introduced to characters who are busy with their own lives. Whether it be having sex, going to school, going to the dentist, nursing or dying. Even on his date with Claudia, he is taken aback by the use of the terms "piss" and "shit". A simple man just trying to do the right thing.

The major interpretation to the film is that our behavior has a lasting effect on those close to us. It is passed down. Even a small scene between Dixon and Jim Kurring has Kurring writing off Dixon's song that identifies the killer in a case he is investigating. Miscommunication and in some cases mistreatment of children is something that's inherent in most of the adults in the film. Take for instance the story between Frank Mackey & Earl Partridge. We discover that Frank was forced to take care of his dying mother because Earl was never there. This leads him to choosing to go down his own little path. Creating Seduce & Destroy. It's not until a television interviewer uncovers a couple skeletons in the closet that Frank's armor begins to crack and we eventually see him in his most vulnerable state at the film's conclusion. Vulnerability hangs over everyone here. Donnie Smith's own parents exploited him over a game show. He states that he has lots of love to give but it's not until the end that we find out the missing piece of that puzzle: He has lots of love to give, he just doesn't know where to put it. Going back to the theme of adults damaging children, the show What Do Kids Know? pits the adults against the kids. Because the film wears it's heart on its sleeve, it tends to feel grand in theme but at the same time steeped in earnest character. The music may be the same, but what joy it is to watch it play out with different beats and rhythms.

What I find equally fascinating is the inspiration that Anderson drew from to create-- music. A number of my all time favorite films have scenes that rely heavily on music to create that transcendant quality. For this film, Aimmee Mann lent her talents. Why do people sing along to Wise Up? Who cares? It just is. I'll be damned if it's not one of the most moving scenes in the film. Along with Aimmee's music comes Jon Brion's score.

Then there's the frogs. Oh it's that movie where frogs fall out of the sky. Anderson got the idea after reading about a rain of frogs in the works of Charles Fort. PTA didn't even know about the rain of frogs from the Bible until Henry Gibson gave him a copy. Now I'm willing to bet this had to have been at the earliest stages of pre-production. When I first saw the frogs falling out of the sky, I was taken slightly a back by it. & I do mean slightly. Exodus 8:2 is of course the verse which tells about the frogs. "and if you do not let them go, I will smite thy land with frogs." While the frog part is obvious, it's the "if you do not let them go" part that fits into the larger theme of the film. There's nothing I hate more than movies that pound the message into your skull (Crash, anyone?). Thankfully, PTA averts it here. & you can really cling on to whatever message you interpret from the film anyway.

Now I by no means want to sound preachy. But the one character in the film- Jim Kurring- could be viewed as the most devout character in the picture. Yet even he thinks God abandoned him because he lost his gun. Not even a simple man like Jim Kurring is let off the hook. & after going through nearly three hours of cancer, sex, drugs, embarrasment, and adultery, it seems that the choice of frogs should come more as a "Why not?" than a "What for?" But this movie is not lazy by any means. To say that frogs are just there for the sake of being there would be missing a point thematically. I think it's there to create a larger vision than just miscommunication between adults & children. The same way Jupiter & the Beyond the Infinite is in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Without that sequence, the film is basically a metaphor for technology taking over. But with that section, it is able to transcend. It truly is one of the most mystifiying and profound scenes in the history of cinema.

As much as the interpretation of miscommunication between adults & children is sound, to pinpoint Magnolia down to one meaning would be a great disservice. I'm sure there are many more. It's a film that talks more clearly about life than just about any other film I've seen. & when a movie has as many different meanings and feels as personal as this one does, it's easy to see why a person loves it. It is a manic film that arrives with full force and refuses to let you go until its 3+ hour running time ends. Some may hate it. But for the ones who love it, we can't help but resonate with that last simple gesture Claudia gives us at the end. PTA prefaces his script with an introduction. It closes out with: "I set out to write a great movie. I'm not ashamed. I've written from my gut and I will not be ashamed. And one thing I know is this: I'd do it again. So blame me." That's all you could ask from a director. & I'll certainly be standing in line to buy my ticket when he does do it again.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Minimalist Muppets (Reblogged)

Looking to kill some time? Well, try and guess each of these muppets.

One of my friends who is a graphic design major created this. So head on over to The Blog of Eric Slager for some more minimalism.

So which R you filled with?