Archive for June, 2009


The Girlfriend Experience (2009)

girlfriendexThere are two ways of looking at a film (well of course not just two, but bare with me). One is Subject: You can watch a film expecting that any group of people are going to have varying points of view on its quality, because their level of interest depends on how much the subject appeals to them. OR Another is Composition: What the film is “about” could seemingly bore you to death; or you could just not “get it” (or want to), but the way it looks is clearly outstanding enough to warrant watching it.

Taking the first: On the surface, The Girlfriend Experience is a film about a woman who sells herself as an escort, giving the film’s title as a service, for a fee. If you want to be vulgar, like some people are at points in the film, she is what one might call a “hooker” (the act of ‘catching’ being inherent in the term). The film is getting a lot of publicity because this role is played by Sasha Grey (I leave you to find your own appropriate weblink). Most of the debate about this film centers around the idea of this being a major ‘crossover’ role for her in a movie by an ‘Academy Award winning filmmaker’ (that director being the multi-faceted Steven Soderbergh). Since I would tend to define film acting as anything caught on camera with the knowing participation of those being filmed, this would logically include Ms. Grey’s previous films. She is an actor (without the need for an adjective describing what kind). I will refrain from any comparative critical analysis, as I’ve only seen one of her other narrative films, which I only confess here because it actually touches on some of the same themes of identity and objectification (which is, of course, uber rare for the genre).

This film is in part about performance; we all have roles to to play and we construct those roles from the inside-out; meaning that nothing can ever really be taken at face-value as “true” if one is playing a role most/all of the time. This idea is, of course, complicated by the fact that we are watching a film in which everything is play-acted. Nothing is, in fact, supposed to be real, though we go along with it for the experience. It’s the nature of art to be artifice. A major point being made here is that a lot of reality just happens to be made up of it too (perhaps more so these days, as we are led to believe in the amount of “postmodern” Art that uses this as its subject).

Having a day(s)-in-the-life sort of documentary-like structure, the film uses our current reality (for those that have chosen/been forced to to accept it) as a backdrop; this happens to be the so-called “economic crisis“, which consists of countless number of people (our protagonist’s clients and otherwise) talking to (and at) her throughout the film about what is/should/will happen to our economy. There is, I assume, some intentional irony here in having conversations about money problems with someone practices “the world’s oldest profession”. That and the fact that the “economic crisis” itself is now the biggest show in town, so to speak, in most media outlets….

Coming back to the second: I believe that Soderbergh is clearly a talented filmmaker, though I’ve always had problems with being able to define a Soderbergh film as his. Not that his films should be so easily catergorizable (this variety is obviously a testament to his talent), but this film, like Solaris, The Underneath, and, of course, The Limey, presents itself in a kind of loose temporality; meaning that not everything is presented in the order it happened, resulting in a kind of puzzle-piecing that I suppose acts, among other things, as a slight attention-grabbing narrative device.

gfe01gfe02Soderbergh (who functions as his own director of photography under the pseudonym Peter Andrews) also noticeably uses long shots to film scenes. One can either fault him for (perhaps intentionally) hiding the ability for us to clearly see the work of people who may or may not be considered “non-professional” actors, or one could praise this composition for its perhaps intentional, Antonioni-like use of visual space to underscore the mood and tone of the people being acted; suggesting that there might not be any real connection in the communication between these individuals. My inclination to suggest that this film is inspired by the composition of a film like L’Avventura is, I hope, not entirely off-base. Soderbergh and Co. have, without a doubt, created an accomplished very good ‘art film’, at least from a technical standpoint.

Ultimately, I think some viewers will fault that the film never really goes anywhere. It never really seems to come out and clearly “say” anything about the people it is depicting, most noticeably Chelsea/Christine/Sasha Grey. Yet, others may argue that the film gives you enough of the pieces to sort out your own plot.  The non-linear structure and the repeatedly obfuscated portrait shots of Grey (see below) function as devices to help tell the “story”.



The economic crisis could seem like a wasted backdrop, but it is the motivating anxiety for the character to expand her business; everyone in this film fears of losing money in the future, and therefore losing the ability to maintain or improve their current lifestyle (which before hearing all these ‘horror’ stories, was a future she, like most Americans, was apparently, naively assuming would continue without fault). If you wanted to take a purely economic reading of the film, it seems to suggest that there is no separation of identity from its connection to money for these characters; there is no way to break down the “iron door” or see beneath the “armor” that we equip ourselves with in the artifacts of our own socio-economic status. The real person/nation-state is hidden away for us all to leash and unleash at our own discretion or whim, real or imagined. Or, perhaps some of us no longer have a “real” identity in which we can define. All the world’s a stage, and we are all mere players, etc…


Ghajini (2008)

ghajiniI’m not really sure what to say about Ghajini, except that it is definitely not what I was expecting, if I even expected anything. I enjoyed its 184 minutes of a love story wrapped in a revenge-thriller genre masala mash-up that only Bollywood would even try to attempt. The film reads like a rip-off of Memento, with a little bit of the concealed-identity rom-com thrown in for backstory.

Despite all the faulty logic of the film and the nit-picky details one has to suspend disbelief for, I freely gave myself over to this (as one should do when a movie is clearly not based in reality, despite wanting to pretend reality) and liked it a lot. It doesn’t hurt that A.R. Rahman has some good, though recycled, music in this too (I liked “Kaise Mujhe” a lot). Many people find fault with the mindless gaps in logic here, which is valid, but I choose to forgive/ignore them. Even if it is a revision of the original Tamil film (that could have improved upon them), by the original writer-director and with its original, outstanding leading actress.

Aamir Khan is crazy good in this. Being the pseudo-Method actor that he apparently is, Khan trained for a year (plus) to get into ‘shape’ for the plethora of ass-kicking he delivers in this; literally sculpting a muscular, brooding look complete with a shaven head that is miles away from the business world leading-man-in-love that he plays in the flashback scenes (a much more sizable, and perhaps superior, part of the film than I expected). Yes, its a highly stylized, over-the-top performance. But such is the nature of (the majority of) Bollywood. I look forward to watching more of him. I think I might go on a bit of a Bollywood kick soon.



Behold, the many faces of Khan.khan6


Angel Heart (1987)

angelheartI watched Year of the Dragon and Angel Heart back to back and I want to say that this contains a better performance by Mickey Rourke and is a better film overall. I don’t like to compare completely unrelated films, but it is interesting to see Rourke play similar types (a Brooklynite cop/private detective who, of course, goes against the grain). Unlike the overly sentimental, ambitious-to-a-fault Cimino mini-epic, Alan Parker sets out here to create a kind of anti/neo-noir.

It’s hard to deny the raw talent that Rourke displays here; it’s not him bumbling through a character, it’s the character that’s bumbling. Rourke says in a fairly interesting interview included with the DVD that he ‘owes Alan Parker one’; meaning he doesn’t think too highly of the performance here. Whether that’s a matter of self-deprecating criticism or a true confession of the effort of his craft, we’ll probably never know.

angelheart_mirrorHis scenes with De Niro are certainly strong, in a time when De Niro commanded such a collaborative raising-of-the-bar (which, aside from, maybe aiding James Franco‘s performance in City by the Sea, doesn’t seem to have happened for over a decade). For all of his mistakes and fallings down/out, Rourke has always had an uncanny aura of potential around his Actor’s Studio trained career that people only seem to have finely noticed with The Wrestler. He may be making Iron Man 2 for a paycheck, but let’s hope he puts in a few other suprises like The Pledge or even The Rainmaker in the future.

Lisa Bonet got a lot of flack for making this her first foray into post-Cosbyville, but the controversial scenes in question (two in particular that come to mind) seem to be slightly less so since the film’s release, in my opinion. I remember seeing this years ago and thinking it much stronger stuff…

As for the ending, which I won’t spoil here, I think it is still as powerful. You may have “figured it out” already, but that doesn’t detract from the emotion Rourke’s character displays. It’s a clever portrayal of a classical theme.
Let’s just hope it isn’t up for a remake anytime soon….There are way too many beautiful images in this film to choose from, but here are a few that probably shouldn’t be viewed side-by-side:



The Delta Force (1986)

deltaforceThings I learned while watching Delta Force:

The Synclavier Music System may have been awesome in 1986, but it is not able to create a score that would fit a macho military movie.

We are supposed to embrace the given fact that if no one is willing to try to lift a jeep that is crushing a man’s leg, Chuck Norris can obviously do so.

When hijacking a plane, you shouldn’t have to plan ahead and know if the plane has enough fuel to get you to where you really want to go.

It is apparently daylight in Washington, D.C. at both 2:10 A.M. and 2:15 A.M.

Robert Forster simply needs to dye his hair (and mustache) black and get a really good tan to pass as an Arab terrorist, but he actually speaks some accented, subtitled Arabic. This, of course, makes him seem much more Un-American.

Hanna Schygulla, who is German (and whose talent is embarassingly wasted in this), must play a German accented stewardess who is forced to pick all the Jewish people out of crowd of passengers. This is supposed to have some sort of thoughtful point connected to the Middle East conflict, but the movie leaves it for us to figure out.

Rearranging your hostages by gender is required, but has no effect on their ability to collaborate.

When conspiring to seize an incoming aircraft, traffic controllers should pretend the airport is “closed” AND clutter the runway with vehicles that will be moved immediately, thereby negating the logical need to clutter said runway.

When a plane lands with only 2 hijackers among 144 passengers and 3 pilots, apparently no one should even attempt to try to keep it from taking off again.

The line: “U.S. Ambassador, you send back any hostage from that plane that speaks English” should in no way be misconstrued as indicative of racist/nationalist, American jingoism.

It should be standard operating procedure among commandos to announce that everyone should turn off all radio communication 60 seconds before beginning an assault, but leave the earpiece in to allow commanding officers to still attempt to communicate.

Beirut was apparently the “Las Vegas of the Middle East” in the mid to the late 1960s.

Chuck Norris and/or his character thinks beige, cloth belts are “stupid”.

After you are surrounded by your captors, you should run back towards your team and yell “Go! Go!” when the enemy doesn’t actually know where they are yet.

As a terrorist, the best way to get your captives to stop talking to you is to simply tell them: “You are going to die tomorrow”.

Motorcycles with rocket launchers on them suddenly appear out of nowhere for you to use in fighting terrorists…if you are Chuck Norris.

The contingency plan when you unsuccesfully raid a prison to to only find guards remaining: “Find one that speaks English and work on ’em”.

Chuck Norris is allowed to be sad, but he will. not. cry.



Inception (July 16th 2010)

This is now officially the most anticipated movie of next year (for me).

When your previous movie literally makes over a billion dollars, you should obviously, in my humble opinion, be allowed to do whatever you want.
Especially when what you want to do is an intellectual sci-fi film that sounds cryptically awesome.



Horsemen (2009)

horsemenPlantinum Dunes (Michael Bay) presents a non-remake: Seven / Demonlover X obvious problems in production resulting in opening on a whopping 75 screens across America = Horsemen.
This movie made my head hurt with how ridiculous it turned out. I feel bad for the actors involved. I don’t think it was their fault.
Michael Bay producing a movie about the Apocalypse is like totally ironicly awesome, dude (because he could very well be one of the Four Horsemen, get it?).

This picture about sums it up:



Franklyn (2008)

franklyn_ver6This is a strange, ambitious little film with intersecting plot lines that don’t seem to have anything to do with each other until the second half of the film. One about a suicidal girl who films her attempts of self-expression as art, another about a guy whose had his marriage engagement recently broken, and another about a man who apparently lives in some sort of Del Toro-esque (well not really), sepia-colored alternate/future theocratic world; An interesting, though perhaps ultimately unsuccessful meditation on the nature of fate/coincidence and those who could benefit from such a perspective. Again, it’s just too bad you aren’t given many clues to figure this out until way too late into the picture (where most people would probably have given up on it already). Though, if you actually do watch the whole film (as one should do in most situations), it does play better a second time, knowing the purpose of it all.

Ryan Phillipe spends the majority of the film in a mask (and I could swear doesn’t actually don a British accent until the last 10 minutes, though perhaps intentional). Sam Riley‘s part is either too understated or horribly underwritten (I’d vote the latter). Eva Green is, as always, nice to look at, despite her character’s best faux-Siouxsie Sioux histrionics that don’t seem to have a purpose until, again, almost the end of the film.


Much needed backstory to the characters is left out for the sake of of the audience to puzzle “why” the whole film. The problem with this is that the three character stories are uneven and not equally interesting. Ultimately its build-up to relevation doesn’t quite satisfy. Predictable unpredictability, I’d say. Interesting visuals and ambition make this a decent watch (and perhaps the first-time feature filmmaker, Gerald McMorrow, is someone to watch), but barely. It is entirely possible that I will change my mind on this one, though.

featured Short film (9 min)

Blue Shining (Richard Vezina, 2015)

great scene from a great film

Sullivan's Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941)

June 2009