Sunday, September 25, 2011

Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys

I don't know who among you has had the pleasure of coming across the widely successful Canadian mockumentary comedy series "Trailer Park Boys." For those of you who have not, it is a series in the style of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" in that it is about poor and (very) stupid people getting into schinanigans that, if taken out of the comedic context, are just down right horrible and almost inhuman. Luckily, it is always in a comedic context. It is about several rednecks in Dartmouth, Nova Scoita, that live in a trailer park and are constantly trying get-rich-quick schemes that involve either drugs, alcohol, theft, or some other moderately offensive crime.

The show has produced several movies and longer specials throughout the years, and I have been marathoning them over the last week. When I saw the first movie titled simply "Trailer Park Boys" I was highly disappointed because they did not stay true to the nature of the show, left out several important characters, and switched around several key aspects that made it seem like bizaro-world. However, in this second movie, the creators decided not to mess with success and kept everything that made the show great.

Ricky is the angry and unapologetic hick that always causes more problems per minute of airtime than anyone else. He spins yarns that only the stupid cops in the show would believe as always and continues to justify being such a sad excuse for a family man. Julian is the man with the plan like usual. If you expect Bubbles to be strange, but levelheaded andloving his kittens like in the show, you will not be disappointed. Even J-ROC is his usual wiggar self. I emphasize this consistency because it was so poorly preserved in the first film and it suffered in quality as a result.

This time, the boys have squandered their inconceivable fortune again and must figure out a way to earn it back. They decide to work with Jim Lehey, trailer park supervisor, and his assistant/on-again-off-again shirtless lover Randy. They plan on having a community night at a Rec Center to promote Ray's, Ricky's disability insurance frauding father, moonshine business. As usual, Lehey sets this up as a plan to bust the boys and get them back in prison so he could enjoy another year or two of peace and quiet in the park.

The movie is filled with nonchalant gags that civilized people would find ridiculous. Every one is always hustling in their own unique way, and there is a tremendous amount of arguing and disgruntled discourse.

Unfortunately, this is not a cinematographic viewer's film. It is meant to entertain the masses, so things like symbolism, motifs, and the likes do not exist in this film. It is all low brow humor, but it is low brow humor at its finest. While I love the show and the movie dearly, I understand and accept that it will never be broadcast in film school. I write this review, more so, with the intention to promote awareness of the show because it is a gem worth exploring. Maybe the one or two of you that still occasionally glance at this page (I noticed you commented on my last post earlier today Mr. Bennett) will at least give an episode or two of this show a try. It went off air several years ago after a seven year run and a few award winning shorts to go with it. It can easily be found on megavideo, google video, and veoh.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Days of Heaven

I finally got my Terrence Malick fix. After more than a month since seeing The Thin Red Line, I was able to come across his 1978 film about migrant workers from the early twentieth century. It starts out with a series of sephia and black and white still photos of urban poor at work and play. I am assuming this is to get us in the mood for the rest of the film by providing context and perhaps to develop feelings towards the protagonists (or antagonists if you think about it) before we even meet them. Bill (Richard Gere) and Abby (Brooke Adams) are a couple from Chicago trying to find seasonal work. While on the train ride out to the Oklahoma Panhandle, they pretend to be brother and sister to avoid the gossip of their soon-to-be co-workers. The movie is narrated by Bill's little sister, Linda (Linda Manz). She parallels Sissy Spacek's character in another Malick movie: Badlands. Both are young girls with hypnotic voices that appear simple at first glance, but manage to impress the audience with their deep thoughts while telling the story clear in their respective vernaculars. Though the story is primarily concerned with the love triangle between Bill, Abby, and the Farmer (Sam Shepard), we never can forget about Linda for more than half a scene before see chimes in with that uncharacteristic, but comforting voice.

The love triangle, above mentioned develops when the farmer, a rich, new money, but honest man, notices Abby working in the field. As Linda says "maybe it was the way that the wind flowed through her hair," but the farmer falls for her on the spot. As everyone knows (but one fight scene suggests some suspect otherwise) Abby is single, because Bill is merely her brother. Bill, a life long manual laborer, sees this as an opportunity to not have to take the first train out of the panhandle when the season ends. This is catalyzed by the fact that Bill is sick and will most likely die within the next few years. He pushes Abby to pretend to be wooed by the farmer. In short time they get married. Bill and Linda are allowed to remain by relation. They spend their days by playing in the river, hunting for quail, and admiring the fields of golden wheat that stretch as far as the sea. But trouble in paradise develops. For further details, please reference the movie.
Days of Heaven is like other Malick films in several regards. In addition to the young female narrator, there is plenty of natural cinematography. We see dozens of shots of grasshoppers, birds, prairies, mountains, and rivers. A theme is his films that I believe is meant not only to reward his viewers with aesthetics, but also to remind them of the role of geography. The laborers are outside all day collecting hay, when they are at play, it usually by the river. Even in winter, we see the progression of Abby and her family first sleeping under bales in the open air (before the marriage) and later going on horse drawn carriages through the snow (after the marriage). Towards the end of the movie, there is a powerful scene of the farmer sending his laborers to swat the fields of all the grasshoppers and other pests, this is followed by a fire. The scene is belligerent and gives suggestions of things to come for the human animals in the movie as well.

The film also shows a change of the female protagonist throughout the film. Though they never smile much, they become more feminine. Linda dresses like a boy in the beginning, but blossoms into a pretty girl by the middle of the movie. This is most evident in the way see wears her hair, but the lighting and camera angles are also exploited for this purpose. There is much more darkness on her figure in the beginning and there are no clear shots of her lower half, so it is ambiguous whether or not she is wearing a skirt or pants.Her voice is border line boy-girl as well.

Also like Badlands is the way that the characters seem to take advantage of fate on a whim. Both films start this chain of events when the male protagonist decides that their current situation is not good enough and that action must be taken.

This film won an Academy Award for best cinematography, something that Terrence Malick has mastered in all his films, and was nominated for several others. So in addition to being a film worth watching for its own sake, it can also be used to observe Malick's growth as a filmmaker over the course of four decades. Days of Heaven (1978) is much more similar to Badlands (1973) than it is to The Thin Red Line (1998). Over the course of thirty years, Malick lost his storytelling ability to an extent. Though he covers all the technical bases with precision just the same. His slow moving movies do not have the ability to draw the viewer in as well. Where it was previously designed in such a way that the audience is intrigued despite a relatively uneventful plot, it is slightly boring in his late films. However, Days of Heaven still possesses the charm that turned me on to this writer/director in the first place.

Monday, April 25, 2011

My Beautiful Launderette

The film My Beautiful Launderette portrays the strong problem of cross cutting cleavages in Thatcher Britain. The storyline incorporates several different cleavages and combines them in the same people, mimicking the complexity of real life. These multifaceted individuals show how much tension can exist within a society and how difficult it may be to reach progress. Factors such as history, personal values, and gender play a critical role in having a thorough understanding of such conflicts.
A majority of the characters in the film are of Indian/Pakistani origin. Both countries were once a crown jewel in the vast British empire and thus it was inherent to possess a feeling of superiority by white Britons towards this relatively new ethnic enclave. The characters, such as Omar, Nasser, and Hussein, belong to the upper class in British society, having made a fortune in their adopted country. The white nationalists feel resentment toward this Desi elite. Once the conquered property, these individuals have now surpassed natives in their own society. The Indians own many of the businesses that the whites must now use on a daily basis, such as launderettes. This is not dissimilar to how the Indian subcontinent was run throughout the colonial era. The white nationalists take out their frustration on the Indians in the form of intimidation and violence. The Indians occasionally reciprocate with malice of their own, such as the running over of a white nationalist’s foot. Such tit-for-tat only serves to put salt in the wound. The racial cleavage divides what is essentially old Britain and new Britain. Those that have ancestry on the island nation and those that seek it. At its core, this cleavage is a xenophobic one. The well established mentality of British isolationism is the driving force behind this lack of enthusiasm for integration. Such cleavages may eventually subside, but not without trademark British gradualism.
Historic prejudice is not the only point of tension present in the movie. There is also a cleavage of values. Johnny and Omar are gay lovers, but attempt their best to conceal it from those around them. Johnny hides it from his gang and Omar veils it when he is in the presence of the other Indians, even pretending to show interest in marrying Tania, one of their daughters. When the launderette opens, the pair is having sex in the back room, and quickly decease and make up lies when the door opens. They are never directly persecuted for their sexuality, but it is made clear that they are in conservative company during most of the film. My Beautiful Launderette makes the insinuation that homosexuality, at the time, was such a unitary issue, by the regards of the general public, that it is not even present at a level where most people can see it. It is hidden away, in back rooms, meant only for private enjoyment. There is not wide enough support for it to have legitimate recognition. Race is not something that can be concealed, making confrontation impossible, homosexuality can be concealed. The issue of race is further along in being accepted in British society, homosexuality is still decades behind because of its more ambiguous nature.
While homosexuality may be a more subtle cleavage in the movie, even more muted is the cleavage of gender. Though there is never any risk of violence like the previous two cleavages, women in the film are given a secondary role. Tania is not so important to the storyline as most of the men. Her story is more an additional layer, than something for the audience to focus on. Tania’s great conflict is does not carry the same gravity, she is bored with her life of comfort and wishes to runaway, preferably with Omar, as her early flirtations suggest. However, her struggle is a realistic one. She is often ignored, spends all her time in the home, and is not given the benefit of choosing for herself whom she is to marry. Tania’s character represents a frustration with domestic traditions, those that have forced many women in Britain into part time work with little pay and non-existent benefits. Her act of running away is a sign of things to come in Thatcher Britain and in the years to follow. Women in Britain are fed up with being passive and submissive and will take action. The very notion that this movie takes place while Thatcher is in office adds to the feeling of a tide that will come after the movie ends.
Britain is a complex society with many points of division that My Beautiful Launderette highlights. The film ends in a fashion that leaves audiences unsatisfied, as the director wanted. These issues remain unresolved and there is still much work to be done for the nation to be socially harmonious. Divisions that are relatively new, such as race, and as old as the nation state, like gender, coexist in fragmenting the country. However, if Britons like Johnny and Omar can have such a positive relationship, there is perhaps hope with the newer generations to shape the future of the United Kingdom.

Character Analysis of Big Daddy

Big Daddy creates a powerful presence in Tennessee Williams’ 1955 play. From early in the second act on, he makes his opinion known to the audience. He is a complex character who is conservative in his affinity towards others. For the few that he does love, however, he proves to be a valiant and capable father.
Big Daddy arrives at the plantation home to find Brick drowning in alcoholism and does everything in his power to save him. Several dialogues of over a dozen pages in this play are dedicated to Big Daddy’s father-son talks with Brick. He takes away Brick’s crutch and refuses to give him his much desired drink until Brick admits why he is an alcoholic. He then bargains with him further to explain what he is so disgusted with. He even resorts to criticism to coax his son away from liquor: “You can’t [concentrate] because your brain is soaked with liquor, is that the trouble?” (Williams 110) and “I’ve lived with mendacity. Why can’t you?” (111) He shows his love for Brick, “You I do like for some reason, did always have some real feeling for - affection - respect...You and being a success as a planter is all I ever had any devotion to in my whole life! - and that’s the truth” (111). It is unquestionable that Big Daddy loves Brick and acts in every way possible to make him see the error in his addiction. He wants Brick to be happy and restore order in his life by freeing him of the arrested development. It proves successful when late in the play, Brick proceeds to make love to Maggie for the first time in an extended period. He even repeats his father’s response to a spouse loving him in the closing lines of Act Three, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that was true?” (173) Brick possesses a part of his father that Big Daddy finds pleasing. Brick has a youthful body and was conceived according to plan. Gooper, conversely, no longer has aesthetics and Big Mama’s pregnancy with him forced Big Daddy to marry her. Big Daddy is angry with Gooper for the lack of freedom that he represents, the litter of children, and the domineering wife he is caged within. Maggie is far more submissive than Mae and does not have a child. Such fundamental differences are what make Big Daddy biased among his own sons.
Almost complimentary to his love for Brick is Big Daddy’s dislike for nearly everyone else in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He repeatedly yells at Big Mama. He says things like “You don’t know a goddam thing and you never did” and “I haven’t been able to stand the sight, sound, or smell of that women for forty years now! - even when I laid her” (110). He even accuses her of trying to “take over” for the last three years, of the twenty eight thousand acres and the family. He shows that he does not love Big Mama and the fear and frustration of being terminal brought him to make such accusations. He says that he pretends “to love that son of a bitch of Gooper and his wife Mae and those five same screechers” (110) Gooper acknowledges this by saying that he did not appreciate being treated like he was barely good enough to be spit on since the day Brick was born. Big Daddy even waits until after Margaret lies about being pregnant to have Gooper summon his lawyer to draw up a will. The only blood relative that Big Daddy has patriarchal love for is Brick. Brick showed great potential when he was younger, but tragedy befell him and he lives in a compromised existence in the play. Big Daddy connects with him for this reason. Even more basely, Brick is a child that is crying out for help, a distressful alarm for even apathetic parents. Big Daddy does not care at all for the rest. He was waiting for Brick to turn his life around and bare, hope of, a child because he feels that only Brick is the rightful heir to his fortunes. He will leave little, if anything, for Big Mama or Gooper and Mae. He will likely die in peace now.
Big Daddy claims to have suffered a great deal of loss and mendacity. His partial affection is likely a result of this, as he struggles to save his son with disregard for others in his lineage. Though this may be cruel, he is successful.

Shutter Island

Perhaps Martin Scorsese has a fetish for Leonardo Di Caprio with a Boston accent, seeing as this is the second such film where the two have collaborated. This however, does not take away from the film. Shutter Island is about US Marshall Edward Daniels (Di Caprio) making his way over to Shutter Island, a Boston Harbor island that houses a prison for the criminally insane. People both mentally disturbed and dangerous: wives that cut up their husbands are among the common offenses. The reason the good detective and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) travel to such a place is to investigate the escape of a patient (or “prisoner” as Daniels has the tendency to call them). As the investigation proceeds, it becomes more and more unlikely that this could have happened. There is no trace of escape in the room, there is no place on the island for her to hide without having died, no one even heard an escape attempt, “Its as if she evaporated straight through the walls.” The more insane the investigation becomes, so does Daniels it seems. The film draws us deep into the psyche of past traumas in his life (the liberation of the Dechau concentration camp, the death of his beloved wife, dependency on alcohol before and after the latter). By the end of the movie, we learn that Di Caprio has been living in a delusional, yet complex world, where he plays the hero, but can never catch the villain because he is the villain in reality. For his wife was not killed by the one he believed (Andrew Leitus), it was Daniels himself. Scorsese has once again created a great film. This psychological thriller is looking like an early strong candidate for at least a few 2011 Academy Awards.
Though this is quite an extreme example, Shutter Island highlights what is experienced by delusional people. They have fixed beliefs that, while not bizarre, are definitely false. It is not a serious disorder and is highly treatable if a quality therapist-patient relationship is built. Those diagnosed can lead highly functional lives.

Will Smith and sidney poitier

Both Sidney Poitier and Will Smith are tremendously talented African American actors. For those who examine their lives and careers more closely, they will find that the similarities do not end there. In certain aspects, the two show uncanny parallels. Will Smith’s presence in the film industry has some considering him the next Sidney Poitier.
The most prominent area of similarity of the two men is their acting. Sidney Poitier was the first African American movie star. He was very successful at the box office, especially in 1967 when he starred in three top grossing films: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, To Sir, with Love, and In the Heat of Night. Not to be outdone, Will Smith became the only actor in history to star in eight consecutive movies grossing over one hundred million dollars each, four of which earned more than five hundred million each. However, Smith falls short in having been nominating for an Academy Award on two occasions, but failing to win either one. Poitier, on the other hand, was nominated for just as many and won for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Lilies in the Field in 1963 and was awarded an Honorary Oscar in 2002. However, with Smith’s already great collection of honors and no reason to believe he will retire, it is possible that he will one day receive not only an Academy Award, but also an Honorary Oscar like Poitier. Poitier and Smith have also had similar failures. Smith shared two Razzie Awards for Wild, Wild West. Poitier directed Ghost Dad, considered widely by critics as one of the worst movies of all time. Smith has proven his capabilities as an actor outreach Poitier, who was often criticized as playing the same overidealized black man in all of his roles. Smith has played police officers, goofy adolescences, homosexual impostors, super heros, matchmakers, and was even asked to play Neo in The Matrix The breadth of Smith’s talent is superior and is the primary reason why he has succeeded that can not be attributed to outside forces., like Poitier All of the accolades show that Will Smith brings to his roles an air of class and professionalism that can be expected of top actors. Sidney Poitier aroused a similar demeanor.
Besides acting, both men have proven talented in the other fields of movie making. Sidney directed nine films from 1972 to 1990, most notably the previously highest grossing film directed by an African American Stir Crazy and the popular dance battle film Fast Forward. Will experienced success as a producer since 2004. Some of his works include Golden Globe nominated The Pursuit of Happyness and the upcoming The Karate Kid. Smith even has a production company called Overbrook Entertainment that has produced some of his movies, such as Seven Pounds, his CW television show All of Us, and even looks to remake several of Sidney Poitier’s directed works, which Smith bought the rights to in 2002. Poitier might have been more successful had he not been the trailblazer his entire career. He was the first African American to do many things. Will Smith has been just the latest in a series. His accomplishments have been bigger than Poitier’s, more money, more awards (other than Oscars), and more possibilities. Had it not been for Poitier, Smith would not have succeeded with such magnitude. Nonetheless, Will Smith has gone above and beyond the role of acting, and is looking to get involved in as many aspects of film as possible. Inspiration for such dedication came from a number of sources, one of which undoubtedly was Sidney Poitier.
Poitier and Smith also have similar milestones in their personal lives. Both actors had two marriages each. Poitier’s first wife, Juanita Hardy, had four daughters with him in fifteen years. Joanna Shimkus has been his second wife since 1976 and has two daughters with him, one of whom is Sydney Tamilia Poitier, who has had recurring roles on television’s Abby and Joan of Arcadia. Will Smith had a breif three year marriage with Sheree Zampino that ended in 1995 and had Williard Smith III. Smith’s second marriage, with Jada Pinkett, will be celebrating its thirteenth year in 2010. The couple has two children: Jaden Christopher Syre (Smith’s costar in The Pursuit of Happyness) and Willow Camille Reign (appeared as Smith’s daughter in I Am Legend). The fact that these men have led such similar lives suggests that they were not just actors of rival magnitude, but also have comparable mentalities. Great minds think alike. Smith and Poitier have experienced almost equivalent social consequences.
Will Smith has accomplished many of the feats that Sidney Poitier has, and even surpassed Poitier in a number of them. When comparing the two, Poitier is always at a disadvantage because his skin color was a handicap back when his career was playing unfolding. To make Will Smith as we know him possible, Sidney Poitier needed to be the pioneer that he is remembered as. The two are at respective ages that could make them father and son, and to certain extents they have experienced similar successes, troubles, and even interests. America’s response to each actor shows that every generation beckons for a strong, capable, and gifted African American actor to not only prove their worth, but pave the way. Only time will tell who will succeed Will Smith as the third in this prestigious line.

The Promise (Das Versprechen)

The Promise is a film having to do with love on both sides of the Iron Curtain. However, the film is not about Konrad and Sophie’s decades long affair. The film is about Germany in the post war period and how in some regards it changed very little. Certain cultural aspects of Germany shine through political lenses and are visible on both sides of the Berlin Wall. Attention to detail that is characteristic of Germans is apparent and so is political rhetoric. The film also deals with the stability of society on the eastern side of the divide.
German manufacturing today prides itself on an attention to detail that is well known the world over. In the film, the guards are trained with razor precision they are given optimal monologue to yell at anyone attempting to cross the international border, how long they should wait after these cries and how to charge and attack (preferably with the knife end of their bayonets). Rather than producing BMWs, they have produced a soldier, one that is perfectly equipped for the job he was designed, in this case securing the East-West crossing. They even play head games with Konrad when he is caught in the beginning, they tell him that all of his compatriots were caught. Even though they know that he will eventually find out that they have made it across, they were trained to shutdown their target to a very high degree. This sort of gruesome precision is similar to the intense military dogma of the Nazi regime.
The attention to detail characteristic of the German culture is also evident in Konrad’s schooling. He goes on to a university in Potsdam where he excels at Astrophysics. He is so talented in the field that he proposes a postulate for why the spots on the sun flare up the way that they do. It is enough to earn him professorship and allow him to attend IAU conferences in foreign cities. Through such luxuries, he is able to meet with Sophie and rekindle their love after being away from one another for nearly a decade.
As characteristic as attention to detail is to Germany, so too is political rhetoric. In the clearly and tensely divided zone of Berlin, politics influences much of everything. One of the first things that Sophie and her friends see when they get to West Berlin is a long television announcement about the futility of escaping from east to west. The authorities in the program explain that the Berlin Wall is just temporary. It has only been one and a half years and that it will likely not last much longer. Later in the film, this message sticks in the minds of the protagonists, when they say that since it has been twenty years, the wall will likely come down soon. The Germans have a history of convincing and strong governments and they continue this tradition here. Also in the television report, they show one groups efforts of digging a tunnel in eight hours shifts, three shifts a day for weeks that were caught regardless. While this appears to hold credibility among most of the east and west Germans, the fact remains that not only did four teenagers escape via the sewer lines, but there is a man in West Berlin that Sophie tries to hire who brings people over from one side to the other regularly. It is critical to understand that, as in the past, Germany is making political claims in an effort to convince people of a certain reality. Propaganda still runs strong in post war Germany, whether it is socialist or democratic.
While political rhetoric and a well engineered border patrol keep the wall up and people on their respective sides, it is strongly reinforced by the fact that east and west develop separately, but stably. Konrad has several legitimate opportunities to escape East Germany, but refuses to do so each time. He volunteers to stay behind while the others escape in the sewer when it may not have been necessary. When Sophie sends for him via the sewer runner to bring him over he does not show up. Even when astrophysics conferences offer him a cleaner route to the west, he still stays behind on the eastern side of the curtain. Clearly, Konrad likes the stability of the east and is afraid of what lies beyond the cement and barbed wire. In the east, he has his successful professorship where he may study the complexities of the universe. In the west, there is a woman, eventually with his baby, and little else that he knows. What he knows, is the eastern way of life. He is utterly shaken when Sophie joins the protests in Prague and this may have contributed to his desire to hold on to his security. This is a telling symbol of the people of East Germany. Without any major revolutions, like the one in Prague, the Germans show that while the system of communism was not ideal, it met their needs. For a generation that suffered through the horrors of World War II, such guaranteed materialism may have been enough to satisfy them. Even the generation that followed may have found much comfort in the socialist way.
The Promise is a film that dives into the minds of Germans from the 1960s through the 1980s. For the non-political scientist it provides a clear picture of some of the issues that plagued the political culture of both Germanys, and of other nation-states on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Attention to detail, political rhetoric, and stability after unstable times explain why Konrad, Sophie, and other Germans alike, lived throughout the Cold War that took place and not a different one.