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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Psychopathy: A New Ambition

Greetings and salutations. Yes, my writing frequency has dreadfully declined to a major low. Logging into my Google account, I saw the viewership line-graph go from high to low. That was not easy to see, but I am not too bothered by it. Please do not consider this my retirement--boy, shouldn't have opened with that--but as a disclosure of my new calling. Rather than becoming a film critic as previously planned, I have a new career path in mind: criminal psychology. Compelling change of pace, I realize that, but it is something that I am undoubtedly passionate about. I came upon this stunning revelation after watching one of the most renowned films of all-time The Silence of the Lambs. Shocking that I am watching it for the first time, isn't it? Well, I've been told by my dad that it did not live up to the hype. While he was partially correct, in that it certainly does not live up to the hype, the film did push me towards accepting my fate in the world, as well as helping me settle on a major for college. For old times sakes, I think I'll critique the lauded picture.

The Silence of the Lambs, as many are already aware, has been deemed the greatest suspense of all time, trumping such marvelous films as The Shining and a little unknown gem called Running Scared, starring Paul Walker and Vera Farmiga. (Seriously, look that baby up. Yeah, baby.) It has won numerous accolades, including Best Picture (stealing from Bugsy) and Best Actor for Anthony Hopkins (again, stealing from Warren Beatty for Bugsy). The film holds the prestigious honor for the top villain in film by the American Film Institute, the recipient being Anthony Hopkins for his mediocre portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. More on that later. The film itself was nothing extraordinary, in today's terms at least. Considering the time in which it was released, I suppose that it was pretty ground-breaking, since the last major thriller to get Oscar prestige was The Exorcist. Gag. Other thrillers of that geeky 1970s era include Jaws (another Oscar nominee), The Omen (which does have a truly frightening premise, I'll admit), Carrie, and Halloween. Beyond that, more of these gory, sensationalistic "slasher fests" terrified audiences with their red-paint blood and creepy mascots of fear, such as Michael Myers and Leatherface. These were, in no way, truly haunting, for they did not really leave a mark on the minds of viewers. The only Master of Horror prior to 1991 was Sir Alfred Hitchcock, but even his films have an element of fantasy that viewers realize and therefore do not dread. (Aside from Psycho, the absolute top film on AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills list. That shower scene....) Indeed, until the release of The Silence of the Lambs, ordinary moviegoers did not shiver in genuine fear as they beheld the silver screen.
The film introduced a new brand of villainy and suspense to the world, that of the psyches of serial killers. Ah, the serial killer. Here is where my newfound path begins. I am absolutely mesmerized by these ghoulish fiends to humanity and to society. Criminals who take pleasure in mutilating their victims; who prey on innocent people that are just living through their day-to-day routines; and those who show no remorse for their awful deeds. It's a chilling, twisted experience to read about these people on Wikipedia, every detail of their spree engaging me more and more into this field of the human psyche. Hence, psychology. Hence, my desire to pursue this interest in the form of a career and a way to make money. Ka-ching, if you know what I mean. Anyway, the serial killer is the most sadistic, horrifying villains to be depicted on the screen, in my opinion, and when I heard that Hannibal Lecter was the villain of that sort, well, I became intrigued. Aroused, even. (Not really. That would be weird.)

Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter. Renowned doctor of psychiatry and intellectual extraordinaire. He induces fear and uncomfortable ecstasy into those who stimulates him. Uncomfortable ecstasy is my way of describing the inherent interest in the serial killer; that strange curiosity into their manner that is challenged when being in their presence. Sure, I find Charles Manson interesting, but I wouldn't be too keen on sitting in front of him, even if there is glass between us. (He is currently serving a life sentence in California State Prison in Corcoran, if you want to visit him.) Interviewing serial killers is not a breezy feat--that is, a feat you can breeze through without mental and emotional difficulty--though Special Agent Clarice Starling seems up to the challenge.
Portrayed by Jodie Foster, an actress I've come to respect on account of her sweet devotion to Mel Gibson who is a great actor despite ongoing denunciations, Clarice Starling is the typical "woman in a man's world", that world being the dangerous one of crime and the FBI. Female body inspector? Get out of town, that's outrageous. As a suspected member of the homosexual community, Jodie Foster applies a serious, sex-less demeanor to the role quite well, remaining completely professional in every instance of her investigation. Unlike most feministic characters, I am not annoyed by Clarice, in fact I am inspired by her. (New career path? She's my role model.) Her performance is one of solemn competence, giving off the persona of a federal agent, with a disturbing agenda, determined to uncover every aspect of every detail to catch her criminal. The criminal, as I once thought, is not Hannibal Lecter. He is already apprehended, interestingly enough, and he is the subject of Clarice's research into the actual killer-at-large. His name is Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb. And he is truly terrifying. Back to the "real" villain here, Hannibal Lecter did not appear as perverse and demented as I had expected. Eating people, albeit demented, is not as gruesome as, say, skinning people and wearing them, which is what--spoiler alert--Buffalo Bill does.
As for the personality and behavior of Hannibal Lecter, all I can say for flattery is that Anthony Hopkins did a good job. That isn't much flattery, mind you. Sure, he pulls off that creepy vibe honed by serial killers of his breed, but to be named the greatest cinematic villain and receive immense praise is uncalled for. I found Warren Beatty's insane portrayal of Bugsy far more compelling. Also, relating to the Oscars, Anthony Hopkins received the statuette for a mere [blank] minutes in the movie--a disappointing, in terms of expectations, few minutes. If anything, he should have been Best Supporting. There should be a rule for what constitutes a leading role and supporting role, like a time limit. Why is there no such rule? I'd also like to mention that, while Anthony Hopkins's performance may have been captivating and brilliant twenty years ago, it no longer has that impressive gleam to it now; Warren Beatty's performance, however, remains the fantastic performance it was then. That, my dear, is the director's commitment to the audience: to make a film that endures throughout time, unaffected by changes in society or general viewpoints.

My, I am just jumping from one factor to another. As for the true villain of Silence of the Lambs, Buffalo Bill clearly surpasses the Cannibal in terms of psychosis and modus operandi. He is played by Ted Levine, who is singularly well-known for this role, and the relatively unknown actor is superb. Since I am so intrigued by the methods and executions of serial killers, I'll describe them. Like the infamous Ted Bundy, he pretends to be handicapped in order to lure his victims into his ominous van. These victims are, generally, overweight and female. Once he captures them, he imprisons them in his cavernous basement, trapped in a deep pit with negligible care. He keeps them there for several days before skinning them alive, which, obviously, kills them. His reason for murdering these overweight girls is to create a human-flesh body suit that he would wear, and, ultimately, to become a woman. Most serial killers suffer from severe mental disorders, so what Buffalo Bill clearly has a problem with is his identity, who he is. Unhappy with his male persona, he believes he can be happy as a woman. To carry out this mission to joy, he skins women with extra skin. In the film, he does actually fashion his flesh suit-in-progress, which is, truly, a scene to behold and abhor. That is the work of adept horror filmmaking. Not only does this disturb on a physical level, but on a psychological level as well. Ted Levine portrays Buffalo Bill flawlessly, emitting a certain redneck "charm" that is common among deeply troubled criminals and murderers. I consider him the true villain of the movie because of what he does, in reality, on the screen--rarely have I seen such twisted horror in a film. With Hannibal Lecter, on the other hand, what he does is only hinted at, for the most part. Of course, there is the scene where he attacks two guards, beginning his feast of flesh. Although it is startling, I find Buffalo Bill to be a tad more sadistic and more worthy of the acclaim. (Not even a Supporting nod? Come on, Academy.) Also, it seems that Hannibal Lecter chooses his victims based on their manners and etiquette. He kills only those who are openly rude and disrespectful, such as the prisoner who makes lewd gestures to his beloved Clarice. This judgement, as always, is a matter of opinion. Though I must admit that, when Hannibal hisses Clarice's name, I do get chills.

Unrealized triumph--a Best Actor, robbed.
Warren Beatty in Bugsy


Completely unrelated note: Anthony Hopkins once said, regarding Shirley MacLaine, that she is "the most obnoxious actress I've ever worked with". Interesting, yes?

As much of a success Silence of the Lambs was, it is only customary that there be a sequel, and perhaps even a prequel, to further explore the mind of Hannibal Lecter. In the sequel, Hannibal, Clarice and he meet again. Only this time, instead of Jodie Foster, it's Julianne Moore. Strange and disconcerting as it is, the film immediately lost some appeal. To change such an iconic character is very frustrating, especially to the many admirers of Silence of the Lambs. I wasn't that impressed by it, but even I found it difficult to watch Hannibal. The plot is not as engrossing as with Buffalo Bill, but it is, nevertheless, adequate. Hannibal Lecter, escaped from the confines of prison, is residing in Italy, where he continues to satisfy his appetite for human flesh, I assume. The main idea revolve around Mason Verger (played by an unrecognizable Gary Oldman) who once encountered Dr. Lecter, and, as a result, he no longer has a face. Hannibal forced him to cut off his face and feed it to his dogs. Allow me to reiterate: He cut off his own face and fed it to his dogs. Does this make Hannibal Lecter the greatest villain, you may ask? It does not because Mason Verger was a pedophile, which I consider to be one of the worst crimes to be guilty of. Therefore, Hannibal was doing justice, making him, not a villain, but some sort of anti-hero. Once again, Hannibal is trumped by a supporting maniac.

What's different in this film, in addition to everything else, is the relationship between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling. While in Silence of the Lambs the two shared an eerie bond that formed out of each of their own mutual curiosities, Hannibal depicts them as being star-crossed lovers, in a way. It's as if Hannibal is actually in love with her, not sadistically, but affectionately so. They even share a kiss on screen. Eww. It was an unusual, and unwelcome, twist in the story, one that I was not fond of. Ray Liotta co-stars in the film--whatever happened to him?--as Clarice's colleague who "has 'it' in for her" but really looks down on her because she is a "woman in a man's world". I thought I should bring up his appearance in the film, for he is the center of one of the most gruesome, graphic displays I've ever seen on the screen. Warning for spoilers: Hannibal sedates him, allowing him to cut open his head and cook pieces of his brain. And feeds those cooked pieces to Ray Liotta himself. Even retelling this triggers acid reflux and head pains. The horror.


I prefer Silence of the Lambs, as many definitely do, because it is more subtle and tasteful when it comes to the macabre genre. Hannibal Lecter is more eloquent, refined, and sadistic there. Clarice Starling is Jodie Foster. Buffalo Bill is unquestionably superior to Mason Verger, as great a villain Gary Oldman is. And the entire films as a concept is more appealing to me in terms of psychology. Because of Silence of the Lambs, I have the motivation and desire to fulfill the possibility of becoming a criminal psychologist/psychiatrist.

I certainly hope I brightened your evenings with this post. Mine sure was. Even though I have a new ambition for the future, I will continue to write on this here blog. And although I seem to be writing only once or twice a month, I do enjoy it when I do. Write. With my final year in high school approaching, I only hope that I can write as often as I possibly can. College application time is stressful. I should have worked on that rather than share my plans with you, but it was refreshing to write about movies. I still watch several movies a week. When I'm not watching movies or planning for the future? Previously on Desperate Housewives....

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Late Night Lament

So, it is not exactly late in the night as the title suggests. I realize this. However, in addition to forming informal sentences that begin with coordinating conjunctions or show overall sketchy grammar, I will be acquainted with my bed in a matter of minutes. Maybe an hour. Before that, I'd like to share my inconceivably foolish sorrows. And some thoughts on various pieces of information floating through my mind.
First off, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Amazing film. Please do yourself the pleasure of watching it from beginning to end. I would go into more detail, but, remember that bed? This will all be one massive paragraph, so don't expect convenient breaks where you can just stop reading the post if you find it dull. Then again, you are no mindless drone. Stop now, if that's what you want. But what do you really want in the end? Life, although there are numerous branches in its course, has one ultimate conclusion. I also watched Glengarry Glen Ross--another incredible film that I highly recommend--and, in it, Al Pacino lures his clientele in by discussing inconsequential miscellany to ease them into purchasing real estate. He is one cool cat, which is a simple way of expressing my admiration for what he did with Ricky Roma. This performance is the epitome of Al Pacino's career: sharp, intimidating yet charming, ruthlessly articulate, and persistent. Every character he portrays is persistent, whether he is thirsty for power as Michael Corleone or merely a blind colonel who wants to be recognized as Frank Slade. Hoo-ahh! He was nominated for Glengarry Glen Ross, as well as for when he played Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman. That same year, two nominations. Why didn't he win for Best Supporting Actor? The Academy is greedy and eager to please. Why give Al Pacino--an actor who proved his indubitable craft in the past and was outrageously ignored each and every time--two Oscars in one year? He'll be back for the Honorary one. Oh, will he? Another tremendous performance in Glengarry Glen Ross was Jack Lemmon as the tragic Shelley "The Machine" Levene. He wasn't even nominated, those Academy bastards. As "The Machine", Jack Lemmon practically crawled to attain the esteem he was once showered with in his prime; now, as an elderly salesman whose time has passed, his only victory is transient on account of shitty leads. These "leads" are people to whom the salespeople can sell their land to. I think. Knowing the in-depth specifics is unnecessary, unless you want to show off in front of your fellow audience members. Don't be a douche. Yes, that word has entered my vocabulary. Have to keep up with the times. The film is absolutely terrific. The entire ensemble deserves a statuette of recognition, really. (Nomination for Screen Actors Guild Award? No.)
Anyway, since it's getting late, I'll get to the personal disclosures. As you certainly are unaware, I've been under the scrutiny of my loved ones who have transferred their burden to healthcare professionals. This concerns my physical and mental well-being. In the past year, I have dove into some ghastly routines that involve obsessive-compulsive disorder and what some people call "anorexia nervosa". My doctor made that point pretty clear by repeating it every time I went to visit. If my loved ones are reading this, they might disapprove of me being so personal or find it unbelievable that I appear to be denying that I had the illness. Well, the truth is: Yes, I was sick. Probably still am, considering how depressed I feel after my last visit. Since the "intervention", I've gained eight pounds, as of yesterday. It's been about three months, and everyone is positively thrilled with my progress. Unfortunately, since, as I've admitted, I am sick, I don't see any reason for the glee. (Oh, do not get me started on Cory Monteith. His death is proliferating at a ridiculously pointless rate. He died of a drug overdose. Do not turn him into an admirable figure. Glee is awful.) When I read that scale, I felt my mind sending pessimistic signals to my heart and body, urging me to return to that frightening weight I saw three months ago. Perhaps by writing this all down and sharing with strangers, the plague that consumes my mind will evaporate somehow. Maybe not. Maybe I will always have this mental hindrance, preventing me from fully enjoying what this short life has to offer. It's not as if I will surrender to the plague and attend community college or join a rehab clinic, for I still have the ambitious plan to go to Georgetown University, but this illness will remain within my subconscious. While it helps me from becoming that chubby kid I used to be (even admitting that hurts my mind), it also as the ability to turn me into a premature corpse. As Ricky Roma says, our life is looking forward or it's looking back. What we do for the moment, for now, is up to us. All this waste of a mental illness--this fucking maniacal plague that pressures me into deciding how a fucking remote should be positioned on my fucking couch--it will endure until I die. Yes, I will die. That's the most terrifying fact and irony. You live your life just so you can approach the end that is death. And why continue on this journey of life in a manner that will bring me closer to the door? Why not indulge in the necessary nutrition I need? I hate regret, and I hate resistance. The physical labor is not at all difficult--I had to eat whatever I wanted to return to a healthy weight, and I'm not even there yet. I am still underweight for my height, remarkably, though I feel more bloated than I did three months ago, or even three weeks ago. I like the feeling of emptiness, but I like the taste of delicacies even more. (Saying that hurts my mind, but the truth will scare off the plague.) What is nearly impossible is the struggle with my mind. Mental incapabilities--this fucking obsessive-compulsive and self-deprecating mirror issues--are close to irrevocable. Irreparable, I should say. How I sit down in a chair. How I eat my meals, and when. How I walk to avoid cracks or carpets or just certain spots I think are pits into obesity. It all sound insane, and it is. Writing this down, I honestly feel some sort of spirit leaving my head. Maybe sharing does help. Or maybe it's a headache forming, warning me that it will never go away. I don't know. The future is out of my reach, and the past is well beyond my interference. What I do next, like now, is all I can determine. If everything happens for a reason, this illness must be some sort of life lesson that will propel me into a brighter future where I can deal with stress better or whatever. Life is a short gift that I want to spend with loved ones and with the knowledge and success I desire. And happiness is definitely something I'd be interested in, too.

Also, I watched Guy Ritche's ingenious and adrenaline-rushingly rapid-fire Snatch.
I'd like to express my deepest sympathies for the loss of a great actor who could swear with flair.
Since no one else seemed to be willing to give him a proper exaltation of his talent.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Happy Birthday Will Ferrell!

Hello hello! I welcome you all back after a three-week sabbatical, which actually warrants an excuse. A legitimate one too. For the past two weeks, I've been in Washington D.C., the nation's capital, on a leadership conference that I was nominated for. I won't get into an extensive tangent that would involve fawning over my own accomplishments and worth that granted me this grand opportunity. All I will say is that I had an amazing time and that it was definitely one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life thus far. During this time, I spent one-hundred-six (106) hours occupied with various intellectually-stimulating activities, such as visiting an array of historical sites and enriching myself as a "leader". While I still possess most of my insecurities and obsessive-compulsive curses, I am thrilled to say that I am slowly improving with the help of my newfound friends. The best part of this entire trip, interestingly enough, was the social aspect of it all. (This is surprising considering how immensely shy I am, and how I am unwilling to get to know other people.) I became acquainted with several incredible people--intuitive scholars such as myself--and we formed bonds that I do not share with some people I've known my entire life. It's flabbergasting just how close you can get with a group of people in such a short amount of time. When the final day dawned upon us, we sincerely shed tears for one another's departures. If they happen to be reading this post (because I shared my blog with them, obviously), we will reunite in the foreseeable future, hopefully before this summer comes to an end.

Anyway, onto the point, right? Today marks the forty-sixth year of Will Ferrell's existence. Introducing this man in a post is close in caliber to introducing Hollywood legends like Robert DeNiro or Jack Nicholson. Maybe not exact or identical, but certainly close. In terms of comedy, Will Ferrell is definitely a legend in this generation of ours. I believe he received a Lifetime Achievement Award for comedy recently. Sure, it wasn't an Oscar--and, let's face it, it's doubtful that he will ever be even nominated for one of those silly things--but I'd say he is much more famous and much more well-liked than, say, Forest Whitaker or Adrian Brody. And those two fools won Oscars. (I mention them because they stole the honor from two actors who deserved the honor more than an actors' performances could have ever been worthy of the Oscar. That complex sentence meaning Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis, respectively, were outrageously robbed.) There are countless films to praise in honor of Will Ferrell's birthday, including films he was involved in behind the camera and those films which resemble his type of comedy. The fact that he has a type of comedy truly signifies his indubitable value in this zany industry of cinema. Happy Birthday, Will Ferrell, you sexy devil.

Anchorman - I'm sure you are all familiar with what may be Will Ferrell's prized gem of a comedy. Taking place in the male-dominated newsroom of the seventies, Anchorman is a tale of the legend that is Ron Burgandy and his Channel 4 News Team. This dream team consists of Paul Rudd as the charismatic womanizer Brian Fantana; David Koechner as redneck drunk Champ Kind; and Steve Carell as the simply naïve moron Brick Tamland. They are truly the ideal comedic force, sharing incredible chemistry on-screen and playing off one another's strengths and humor. One of the best acting ensembles by far, and I am sure many of you would agree. Christina Applegate appears as Miss Veronica Corningstone, the co-anchor who puts the whole Channel 4 News Team in disarray, bringing forth the feminine revolution in the workplace and in the media. She is always a delight, both acting-wise and appearance-wise. She's adorable is what she is. The main attraction here, though, is Will Ferrell.
Ron Burgandy is probably his greatest achievement, for he has created one of the most hilarious characters in comedy of this century at the very least. His complete disregard for the actions of others supports his unbelievable ego from beginning to end; you can get his attention only if you begin by introducing himself to him and fawning over how great he is. You can really describe the genius of this character by quoting him, as there is no coherent way to do that. There are many, but I'll share just one that both describes him as a character and emphasizes Will Ferrell's comical skill: "I'm kind of a big deal." No supplemental exaggeration needed, I think. As one of the greatest comedies of the twenty-first century, it is completely rational for a sequel to be released. I know where I'll be December 20 this year: waiting for the legend to continue. (I don't do theaters.)

The Other Guys - This is definitely the funniest movie I have seen in a long time. I would say "one of the funniest movies of this century", but I already did that with Anchorman. What I will say may shock you: The Other Guys is the funniest movie of 2010. That isn't quite a grandiose compliment since it's only the funniest within a twelve-month period, but--it is incredibly funny. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg play officers Allen Gamble and Terry Hoitz, respectively, and like most cop comedies, they are near opposites. But don't the most-used formulas work out the best because they have been proven to be the best and the most-used? Just saying. I'm smiling just thinking of what I could possibly say about this movie. I'm literally replaying it all in my head, and there is an endless list of what is so fantastic about this movie. Seriously, it is fantastic. But words are not convincing at all, are they? Unless it's criticism. For some reason having something bad to say is more interesting. Like Anchorman, only a quote can really emphasize the brilliance of this film, but in this special case, I will insert an entire scene of hilarity.

That's just one percent of this film's ingenuity. What makes this film work better than the average cop comedy is the remarkable chemistry between Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. They are, unquestionably, the greatest comedic duo after Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. (It's a different kind of connection, of course, but nevertheless just as endearing.) The two are absolutely relentless in the laugh department, bringing tears to my eyes for how funny they are together. And for Mark Wahlberg to be on the same comic level as Will Ferrell? Well, that just shows where he is more valuable, don't you think? (Case and point: Ted.) I really hope that they make another comedy together, perhaps a sequel to The Other Guys because, quite frankly, that would be fucking awesome. In addition to sheer hilarity, the movie provides a dark message about the corrupt world of finance that we are hopelessly trapped in. If you decide to watch this fine piece of comedy, sit through the credits, because there are some interesting yet disturbing facts concerning the nation's CEOs and the poor workforce. One more quote: "We should call ourselves the 'Febreze brothers' because it's feeling so fresh right now."

Stranger Than Fiction - Like many comedic actors, most memorably and successfully being Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell has delved into the genre of drama. (He, also, appeared in a Woody Allen picture called Melinda and Melinda. Worth checking out.) Although the Golden Globes calls this a Comedy/Musical, it is the most serious film he has done thus far. I mention the Golden Globes promptly because Will Ferrell was, yes, nominated for his role as Harold Crick, an IRS auditor (boo) who becomes the subject of an author's book, which affects how he lives and how he will die. It is a very interesting concept for a film, and was supported by a cast of talented actors, including Will Ferrell himself. He is definitely a curious choice for the movie, considering his most recent film at the time was Talladega Nights. Who would have thought that he could pull off such a darker role? And he did give an excellent performance without having to shout or curse or make a fool of himself. I do not mean to demean his status quo of acting, just to distinguish this serious role from his sillier ones. The film is, once again, very enjoyable and made even more so by the extensive craft of Will Ferrell.

Elf - One of the quintessential Christmas movies, I could not not mention this delightful film. And it was directed by Jon Favreau no less! He directed Iron Man, so you know this is a good one. Here, Will Ferrell gives his one and only performance as a sincere, kind-hearted, innocent human who has been raised as an elf. His name is Buddy and he wants to be your friend, even if you are kind of a dick. Uncalled for, apologies. Throughout this "flick", he parades around the foreign New York City in search for his real father, Walter Hobbs (played by James Caan), who turns out to be a resident on the Naughty List. Of course, since this is such a cute little holiday picture, Buddy helps his father to be Nice and they all live happily ever after. What separates this from other Christmas movies is the oddly colorful tone of it. Whether it is Buddy's green suit or Will Ferrell's genuine and animated performance, I don't know. All I know is that this is one of the sweeter, non-corny holiday films for the whole family to gather around and enjoy! I think that's on the DVD/Blu-ray box. I should be in marketing. Like the culinary preferences of Buddy the Elf, this film is syrupy sweet and a breath of fresh air, entertainment-wise.

Night at the Roxbury - This is where it all began. Thanks to the connections he made working at Saturday Night Live--where he, in addition to several other fine comedians, created the golden era of the variety sketch television show--he was allowed to show off his comedic ability in a way that is far less crass and complex than how we know him today. Here, he plays Steve Butabi who, along with his brother Doug (played by SNL alum Chris Kattan), is desperate to gain entry into the alluring nightclub, The Roxbury, and then open a club of their own. Insultingly simple premise as it may sound, the film provides hefty amounts of laughs and that appealing nineties quality that you can find only in this era. The nineteen-nineties. Duh. Now, I've seen this movie far more than twice, ranging from when I was a wee lass to now, so my judgment may be biased in respect of nostalgic reasons. However, trying to be objective here, I must say that this movie displays much of the hilarious antics one can expect in Saturday Night Live fare. If you're a fan of the dumb comedy, here is your golden goose. Or ticket. When I first watched this, I originally thought that Chris Kattan would rise to the top to where Will Ferrell now reigns as the king of comedy. His performance required much more talent, and indeed showed much more talent, while Will Ferrell only mimicked his on-screen brother in a simplified, bone-head demeanor. Clearly, the joke is on me, for Will Ferrell has certainly flourished into the funny, skilled actor that I have just about flattered enough until his next birthday.

Will Ferrell: Comedic Genius, indeed.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Art of Battle

What a rotten evening. Just moments ago, a dreadful storm erupted into my small town. It is pouring out there! I can't help but smile a bit, for a few hours earlier I declined an invitation to go to the Olive Garden with my mother and brother. Although they went without me anyway--to celebrate my upcoming trip to the nation's capital--I remain indoors, content and dry. As for that aforementioned trip: On Saturday, I leave for Washington D.C. to spend eleven days on campus at American University for a program called the National Student Leadership Conference. Very prestigious. There, I will be taking classes in professional news-writing as well as practicing journalistic skills for my future. It's a glorious opportunity, of course, and a stunning detail to add to the 'ol resume. As for this evening, I will provide you with three video clips (and very little reading, thank god) that demonstrate utter ingenuity of its kind. The following, as hinted at in the title, is a series of the greatest cinematic fight scenes. These are not the conventional sparks-and-fire fight scenes one would expect in such a list; I consider them the best solely because they are unorthodox. They are absolutely ingenious and, obviously, hilarious.

1. Ted


Now, let me start by saying that this is the funniest fucking movie of the entire fucking year. I think have jurisdiction in using profanity twice because it is, one, true, and, two, it makes up for the blatant snubbing at last year's awards shows. Seriously? Salmon Fishing in Yemen was better than Ted? It wasn't, and this fight alone can support that Ted is far superior to any candidate other than Silver Linings Playbook. What makes this fight so magnificent is how real it looks. Mark Wahlberg--the fantastic actor he is, who was also ignored--really looks like he is in pain as he battles his teddy bear. The visual effects here are just incredible, far more impressive than any other film of the action variety. And the laugh factor: 10 out of fucking 10.


2. Anchorman


This scene represents the overall hilarity of Anchorman. From beginning to end, it is completely flawless in both quality and, most importantly, timing. The fight sequence did not take too long, nor was it too outrageous to be considered valid in this list of the greatest fight scenes. While a man on fire, two horses, a triton, and the amount of artillery may be deemed "outrageous", it was just right. What is also emphasized here is the brilliance of an abundantly-casted crew: the comedic geniuses present here, as you have already seen, are unquestionable in status. The brief prelude before the battle was an excellent touch, providing several hilarious lines. ("Brick, where did you get a hand grenade?" "I don't know." Classic.) The whole fight, again, was excessive but in the finest way imaginable.


3. Pineapple Express


The first time I saw this fight, I could not control my laughter. I had to replay this scene several times to redeem myself and continue--that's how funny this is. While the fighting itself may be a bit played out, especially if you've already seen it, such as with the repetitive grabbing-and-throwing, the scene remains a great comedic feat. The highlight of this scene is definitely the moment when James Franco and Seth Rogen knock the bathroom door down, pushing Danny McBride into his sink and breaking it. Hilarious, albeit a tad exaggerated in length.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Young Adult

Happy Sunday everyone. I hope the summer season has fared well with you all thus far. It sure has for me, but then again it is too soon to tell. In case you were not already aware, I am at a student age, therefore the surreal feeling of yet another year being over still looms above my dome. Next year marks my final year at my educational institute (glittery word meaning "school") and I could not be more anxious. Is this what most of you felt with the clock ticking so fast? One moment, you're just entering the system as a student, and the next you're--well, you know. I shall soon be one of you! An adult, that is. And that's adult, with a stress on the first 'a'. Anyway, wow. That's all I can say for now.

The following post will scrutinize a film I have already seen and quite possibly discussed before. There will not be much scrutiny rather an excessive amount of flattery and repetitive exclamations of admiration. The masterpiece in question is Jason Reitman's Young Adult, and he has the immense privilege of being its remarkable director. In the past, he has attached himself to similarly mellow-yet-serious films such as Up In The Air, Juno, and (from what I have recently discovered) the sharply written and finely directed Thank You For Smoking. Evidently, he is the son of famed director-producer-writer Ivan Reitman, who contributed to a variety of films including but not limited to Ghostbusters and Twins. Although they share relations (odd way of saying they're father and son), they could not be more different as directors. The father helms goofy yet heartwarming comedies that have acquired the nostalgic genre "nineties comedy"; the son directs darkly amusing dramedies that have at their center a deeply disturbed character. The level of their instability varies, of course, and they are the sorts of mental illnesses that everyday people suffer, such as stress or mid-life crises. Previously, Jason Reitman has explored the taboo topic of teen pregnancy in Juno, which was written by the brilliant Diablo Cody who also penned the film in question, and the achingly prevalent issue of lay-offs and a bad economy in Up In The Air. Each film, additionally, had a charming realness, coordinated by the great script as well as fine direction, that gave its respective key character character. Whether it was bringing to life the typical I-don't-care pregnant-teenager--with the fuck-the-world mentality and all--or presenting a suave yet self-deteriorating man whom everyone despise (because he's the messenger who delivers the lay-off), Jason Reitman, with the help of the writer, develops the nucleus of the film that is the remarkable character. Those characters pale in comparison to the cinematic gem that is Mavis Gary, a thirtysomething alcoholic author who spirals through a major misconception of reality.

Mavis Gary is one of those conceited, callous prom-queen-bitches who many are, no doubt, familiar with. This is what the script tells us and what the film supports. In addition to an ugly personality, she is suffering a considerable lack of self-awareness, and this imbalance is portrayed with the utmost superciliousness by the flawless Charlize Theron. From the moment she locks eyes with the audience (as much as she can as to not look directly into the camera), she enraptures you with her unbelievable bravado and blatant lack of decency. Her contemptuous scowl is raw enough to make you shiver in her presence, as if she were genuinely judging you. Keep in mind that no matter how shitfaced Mavis will get (and there are more than a few accounts), and no matter how low she will fall in terms of desperation, you will feel inferior to her deep within because, like it or not, she is inherently better than you. Not because she is more successful, because she clearly isn't, but because she makes you feel that way with her supercilious manner and overall confidence. Throughout the film, she carries herself with cavalier predominance--just like she did in high school, I'm sure--and views her world and those around her with contempt. Despite her tainted reputation, she still considers herself the queen of her dinky little hometown, and even declares herself supreme in the pseudo-climax that is hard to watch (in a good way). I say pseudo-climax because the movie, as a whole, just flows with no solid framework other than the basic beginning and end; also, not every movie needs a adrenaline-rush of a climax. There are movies that just flow. Like this one.
Anyway, Mavis Gary. She is the sort of antiheroine that you find so irresistible that you force yourself not to like her--and you fail miserably. At least, I do. I absolutely love Mavis Gary, and how Charlize Theron portrays her. If she were not such a delusional, self-destructive person, I'd aspire to be her. That sounds awful, especially if you've seen the movie. But I can't resist, for she is awe-inspiringly audacious. As she writes the final book in a failing young-adult series, it's as if she narrates her own situation: She describes the cavalier psyche of a smug teenage girl, who is as conceited and lacking a grasp on reality as Mavis herself. After humiliating herself (repeatedly) in front of former classmates who once worshipped and/or hated her, Mavis Gary continues to carry herself with an unaltered delusion that she is It. The manner in which Charlize Theron portrays her character's ego is one where she does not overtly admire herself in the mirror or even outright say that she is better than everyone (well she does maybe once or twice). She moves with a self-important yet indifferent lack-of grace that suggests she is above her hometown and everyone in it. Whenever she primps herself for an outing, however, she makes it a strenuous process to make herself look amazing. In these scenes, she usually narrates her book, which provides pleasing mirror imagery; as she frets over her appearance (without actually fretting, because she's naturally gorgeous), the analogous story of her young-adult series protagonist unfolds. To simplify it, I suppose, thirtysomething Mavis Gary is blissfully stuck in high school, and it's all due to the unsatisfying result of her failed life since then. What I also love about the way Mavis was written is that she never completely loses her mind in a dramatic scene where she, perhaps, needs to be restrained. As abhorrent as she is as a person, she never "blossoms" into a monster or home-wrecker. She is depicted as a realistically callous individual and played with flawless conceit and insolence by the incredibly talented Charlize Theron.

Aside from Charlize Theron, there is an abundance to be in awe of in regards to the film. The story itself surrounds Mavis Gary as she strives to steal back her high school boyfriend, Buddy Slade, who is married with a newborn daughter. Patrick Wilson plays this steamy hunk who may have been all-that in high school, maybe even the prom-king-quarterback multi-threat idol of every girl's dreams; but now, he's a schlubby father and husband. He moves around like a ghost in the film, unaware of Mavis's blatant flirtations. I wouldn't be surprised if he were not aware that he was a father, but that's just how he was portrayed, I suppose. If he showed any perceivable emotion, the viewer may mistake that for restrained lust for his former high school flame. (Yet another intricate detail perfected by writer Diablo Cody.) Surely, you will question why Mavis returned to her hometown to reclaim this former-prom-king who had lost that certain charisma desirable to women. That answer lies in the downward spiral of Mavis's life: Her marriage collapsed, her career is plummeting, and she's become an alcoholic. So, she figures she revisit the past where she was the queen bee, adored and loathed by all. If the tables were turned, however, and Buddy went to Minneapolis to rekindle their relationship, Mavis would not even blink in reaction--because she's better than him and the dinky hometown he represents. It's all a matter of perspective and circumstances, and the age-old "virtue" of wanting what you can't possibly have.

During her visit, Mavis encounters Matt Freehauf, a typical "loser" in high school and therefore in life after that. Senior year, he was attacked by several jocks who thought he was gay, and he was crippled for the rest of his life; it was considered a hate-crime until he revealed that he, shamefully, was not gay. Isn't that ridiculous? Just because he did not satisfy speculation that he was among the popular breed of homosexuals, he was forgotten and labeled a "fat guy who got beat up". I'm just saying, brutal assault is brutal whether you're a minority or not. Moving on. Mavis, of course, does not remember Matt from high school because (duh) she was popular and he wasn't. They moved in different crowds, to put a sugar coat on it, yet that changes twenty years later when Matt is the one person who "understand" Mavis and her machinations. I quote "understand" because Mavis is not one to be understood or not, but one to be, shall we say, sympathized with? Alright then. Patton Oswalt, an actor who I ordinarily find repulsive, portrays the crippled Matt Freehauf with a palpable realness that does not warrant pity from the audience. Not once does he trip over his crutch, or require assistance of any kind. He is just a man with the unfortunate physical and mental trauma of an incident. Oddly enough, Patton Oswalt was enormously likable in the film, as both a character to feel sorry for by choice and as a surprisingly superb actor. In a film like this, acting does not demand histrionics or hysterics, rather the performance must be natural and, most importantly, mellow. Of course, inherent talent would certainly be lovely in accentuating the performance. I guess that implies Patton Oswalt has talent.
He and Charlize Theron, moreover, have agreeable chemistry, interestingly enough, though it is not romantic, nor is it indicated that they are amorous soulmates. (The awkward scene at the end may suggest otherwise, but please do not mistake that for anything other than the culmination of Mavis's desperation.) Matt represents a sort-of haven for Mavis Gary after a long day of delusional debauchery, where she and Matt get drunk off of his homemade bourbon. With his own glaring flaws, such as dwelling on the past and being unable to enjoy life, he is a perfect fit for Mavis. The two are an odd couple, indeed, the kind of twisted pairing made most refreshing by the brilliance of the script, directing, and actors.

Watching this movie was delightful the first time, and absolutely glorious when it encore presentation came around. My dad and I each noticed many additional features in the film that make it all the more gratifying. The way the fictional small town of Mercury, Minnesota is depicted, for example, is very keen on its demonstration of a typical dinky place that city-folk would detest. It resembles my own dinky small town, actually, with the scattered plazas and KenTacoHuts spread throughout. One image, captured by the astute eye of my father, is Mavis walking through the parking lot of Macy's, which is practically barren. This so accurately illustrates a small town, and it is this brief moment on the screen that validates the combined craft of the writer (who incorporated this image) and the director (who brought the scene to life). That may seem inconsequential to most, but to true connoisseurs of cinema, is is very much appreciated and noted as sheer mastery. Young Adult captures the undeniable longing for the golden era of one's life--whether it is childhood, high school, or beyond--and the painful delusion people are trapped in to recreate those good 'ol days. Mavis Gary embodies this prospect with disdainful pretension and, as beautifully portrayed by Charlize Theron, who was regrettably snubbed by the Academy, biting cruelty. I feel like I'm repeating myself. Then again, I did warn you that I quite possibly would. Although deemed an "indie movie", this is anything but. Sure, it has that indie feel to it, but this is much more than that. This could be argued to have a place among extraordinary pictures like American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, for it dwells upon the central theme of the film with sheer intimacy and attention to minute details. Young Adult has the pristine quality of near-perfection, captivating its audience with seemingly meaningless elements that are anything but. A

P.S. I'll be doing the letter-grade thing.

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Stunning Tragedy

Good morning. Today--well, two days ago to be more accurate--marks a truly devestating event, one that causes the ordinary individual to take account for this little thing called life. James Gandolfini, an actor renowned for his work on The Sopranos and several films, passed away from a supposed heart attack while on vacation in Rome. That's the capital of Italy; a few people don't know that. I found out about his death yesterday when I was talking with my dad about current events. He mentioned it as if I already knew, which, in all fairness, I should know considering my pseudo-intelligence of the cinematic universe. I was stunned by the news, thinking it to be a mistake or misconception on my dad's part. How could James Gandolfini die? He was only fifty-one, and it is just so out-of-place and unexpected. This event brings me to reminisce about Heath Ledger's death, back in 2008. Nearly six years ago. Time flies. As shocking as that was, for he too was too young to die (though not as young) and it was out-of-place and random, his passing was not as upsetting and unfortunate as James Gandolfini's. While that may be cruel to compare the intensity of my reaction to certain deaths, it is nonetheless true. Heath Ledger died of a drug overdose, and I highly doubt it was "accidental". Call me cruel, but I feel it was a, dare I say, publicity stunt. Awful for me to think so, but he received an Oscar posthumously shortly thereafter. Just a twisted thought.

This is not about him. I am here to mourn the tragic loss of James Gandolfini, a man I really did not realize how much I appreciated him until this sudden occurrence took place. I didn't watch The Sopranos, so, unfortunately, I cannot look fondly back on what must have been his greatest achievement. For his role as Tony Soprano, he received three Emmys and one Golden Globe, as well as the recognition of being one of the best Mob characters on television. (Or only Mob character on television. Really, who else is there worth mentioning?) I remember James Gandolfini for his lesser roles in film. By lesser, I do not mean less important or inferior, rather I am referring to his status in film. People may recognize him on the silver screen, but only as Tony Soprano. Not me. I know him as James Gandolfini, the lovable "big bear" of a man who brought a smile to my face in films such as The Mexican, where he portrayed an adorable yet intimidating hitman who bonded with Julia Roberts; in Surviving Christmas, where he played a disgruntled yet warm family man who tolerates a (rotten-acting) Ben Affleck; and in Get Shorty, portraying the aptly named "Bear", who was an affectionate father despite his career as a bodyguard to the Mob. He was a kind man, from what I've read in recent articles, who was absolutely nothing like the violent, vulgar Mafia boss he portrayed on television. James Gandolfini was a fine gem of an actor, one that I will miss dearly and sincerely.

Condolences to his friends and family, who knew him for the warm man he surely was.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Soderbergh Syndicated

There is really no meaning behind the title, other than the purpose of using the lovely tool of alliteration. This post, if you haven't deduced already, is about the indistinguishable director Steven Soderbergh. In the past week, I've seen two of his films for the first time, each distributed in the same year Two-Thousand. Why use numbers when you can spell? Beyond being the same age, these two films (which I will reveal in a moment) have the honor of being nominated for Best Picture, as well as winning a statuette each. Another nomination went to the director himself. That's right: Steven Soderbergh was nominated twice in the same category in the same year. And he even went home with an Oscar that night for one of his films--the superior one, clearly. Alright, now to share what you will be reading about, or won't be reading about if you decide the topic is not to your palette of amusement. The first is Traffic, an intense drama surrounding the drug world and the many pawns that play in this seedy, grimy stratosphere; then there is Erin Brockovich, a serious yet predictable (due to age) drama about a white-trash single mother who lands on a golden goose of a criminal case.

Traffic - Everyone is privy to the war on drugs. That should really be surrounded by quotation marks: "war on drugs" is simply a device created by the government, and proliferated by the media, to smother the cries against drugs. If the government wanted to "defeat" drugs, they would be annihilated; but as this remarkable film shows, the government does not want drugs to disappear. It stands as one of the most profitable markets in the world, and the United States most certainly does not want to miss that monetary action. Look at me, the wee rebel, speaking out against The Man. Not God. It's raining. Anyway, this is about a movie, not the real world, although it is a movie about the real world. The film is an outstanding collage of stories about individuals immersed in the seedy drug world in some way, whether directly or indirectly, and their interconnectedness that so superbly resonates within itself. In other words, Steven Soderbergh managed to mesh each story together in such a wonderful way that makes the entire production a soothingly flowing piece of cinema. One may even call it masterwork. Why not? The casting is great, and the acting is even better. This fine director formed a sensational cast and instructed them beautifully, making for acting excellence. This is the director's duty, of course, and when their film is enhanced by the presence of sheer talent--which is amplified by the director's own vision--needless to say magic is being done. Dear me, I am quite the flatterer. Let's take a glimpse at the talent. Michael Douglas portrays a conservative judge who has been given the demanding title of "drug czar" as he is embroiled in the "war on drugs" that involves a first-hand encounter with drugs in the form of his daughter. Indeed, the irony would be humorous if it weren't so heartbreaking. His daughter (played by unknown Erika Christensen) becomes hypnotized by the supposed allure of drugs in such a devastating process, from harmless experimentation to undeniable necessity. The actress's performance was phenomenal, for an unknown, I might add. Watching her spiral down into the depths of drugs is agonizing to behold, yet I am mesmerized. Sympathy, most likely, but maybe also curiosity as to how drugs assume control over a human being, an honors student no less.
Catherine Zeta-Jones is the center of another story, playing the very pregnant wife of a drug lord. As bloated and sensitive as she must be in her condition, she demonstrates inexorable tenacity as she supports her own family while also endeavoring to have her husband exonerated. She does this by ordering a hit on the star witness against him, which is not exactly proving his innocence but it is working for the release of a father and a husband. All the more impressive is Catherine Zeta-Jones herself, pregnant as she is, providing a marvelous performance through solemn determination and, quite simply, talent. It's a crime that she was not nominated for Best Supporting Actress that year, but she'll luck out two years from then. Seeing her true talent here stirs feelings of longing and disappointment as I consider what she has become now; referring to her most recent turn in Playing for Keeps, I must say that Catherine Zeta-Jones has lost something. Another story surrounds two DEA agents as they protect that star witness that is targeted by the drug lord's wife. Not as interesting as the other segments of the film, this portion takes a look into the effects of involvement in the drug business and what can happen when you try to abandon that identity. The lesson here is that once you're in, death is the only exit.
The last story takes place in Mexico with Benicio del Toro as the centre. He portrays a corrupt cop with a conscience who is pulled into the "war on drugs" by a seemingly legitimate government official. Of course, he isn't, and Benicio del Toro slowly learns that fact as he discovers the keen connection between government and drugs. Morality struggles ensue. I admire the authenticity of this segment, as everyone speaks Spanish and not English with an accent. Also, the tint of these segments are a grimy yellow, which distinguishes American scenes from Mexican ones. (Scenes in Los Angeles are a normal tint, while scenes in Ohio with the drug-addicted minor are a morose blueish hue. Another appealing aspect, thanks to Soderbergh.) For his performance, Benicio del Toro received the Best Supporting Actor award, and I wouldn't be honest if I said I agree with that assessment. Throughout the film, he sulks around in a way that suggests that he doesn't have a hold on his surroundings; if he were playing a drug addict, I would be convinced. But that is not the case. Critics applaud his performance, calling his character "the heart of the film" and basically a shining gem of Hispanic craftsmanship. Mentioning his ethnicity was crucial, for he is Hispanic, is he not? No racism here. I just watched Malcolm X, mind you. All Benicio del Toro proves to be in the film is a nice guy with slurred speech and a disturbing beer belly, and that does not warrant Academy prestige. In its entirety, Traffic is magnificent from its heated exposition to the intense chaos during the climax--then again, altogether, the film is a climax of sheer entertainment, keeping you engrossed in all benign details. And, of course, the main attractions. Steven Soderbergh demonstrates, once again (since I've said it before), brilliance in the role of the director, illustrating the immersive screenplay by Steven Gaghan onto the screen, much as a painter caresses his canvas with art. Now, how many times has that expression been used? What we have here with Traffic is a distinction of a script, for the same director in the same year will prove to produce an entirely different movie, in more ways than content.

Erin Brockovich - Almost as iconic as Pretty Woman, this film, also starring Julia Roberts, is among the ranks of notoriety when it comes to performance. Otherwise, there really is nothing unique or even magnetizing about Erin Brockovich. It begins and ends with a real estate case involving the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, a true story by the way, and the woman who investigates it: Erin Brockovich. That name singularly has a familiar ring. I once thought that it was the name of the very same Pretty Woman, the prostitute in the movie. But that was Vivien. The only similarity these two characters share is a penchant for revealing attire, but other than that, Erin Brockovich is a no-nonsense woman with a vivacious drive. Once she grasps that pro-bono case, she abandons her role as mother and even human being just to "crack" the case. What the case entails is inconsequential, but needless to say it was an enormous deal at the time. She did manage a movie deal after all. While the case is unbelievable (as in I cannot believe that it actually happened), it is not enough for even a foundation of the two-hour movie. Here is where we encounter the distinction of the director. In one year, a director makes two movies, both incredibly different from the other in matters of not only plot but acting and feel. By feel I am referring to the reaction of the viewer, how they feel, which in turn determines their overall reception of it--whether they enjoyed it or not. With Erin Brockovich, I found myself scoffing in ridicule of how simple everything was, from the susceptible victims of the real estate case to Erin Brockovich's bumbling superior, who proves to be a mediocre lawyer. The actor himself--Albert Finney--is abominable in nature, meaning that I just do not like him. This stems from my viewing of Murder on the Orient Express, where he portrayed Hercule Poirot as a repulsive swine. As the only lawyer at his own law firm, he dwindles in comparison to Ms. Brockovich, shadowing her throughout as if he were learning, which he probably is. Albert Finney was, also, nominated that year for Best Supporting Actor, which brings me to slightly accept Benicio del Toro's win.
The sole cynosure of the picture lies in the actress who portrayed the titular character: Julia Roberts is the glowing centerpiece of this production, and she alone carries the film from the very beginning. As a single mother, she accurately portrays the effects of the labors of being hard-working white-trash in her brazen demeanor and ability to stand her ground in notable defiance. (I'm faltering in my choice of words, but you can form a coherent image of her character yourself.) Julia Roberts is, truly, a sensational actress. For some reason, there was a period where she was not so appealing to me, but now, without question, she is one of the greatest. And one of my preferred actresses, along with Michelle Pfieffer and Kate Winslet. There is just some likable quality about her; when she graces the screen with her presence, she dominates the screen in a way that allows herself to shine and her talented cast (if they are talented) to cooperate with her, and shine themselves. She, undoubtedly, received the Best Actress statuette that year, and, by golly, she deserves it! Overall, the film was merely adequate for it lacked an enduring quality that allows films, like Traffic, to remain relevant and entertaining years later. In only thirteen years, Erin Brockovich has grown stale and predictable, engaging my father and I to mock several elements of the film. If anything, watch the movie for Julia Roberts, as she, unlike her background, has not faded with age.

Two films. One director, one year. How can they be so strikingly different? Aside from the obvious factor of plot and genre, there really should be no excuse as to why one movie is incredible in comparison to the other, which is bland. This study has drawn me to the importance of the script. That is the only considerable variable. Steven Gaghan composed a fantastic story with energy and a power of context that brought the film to life on the screen; Susannah Grant, however, seemed to be writing a newspaper article, for Erin Brockovich severely lacked a factor that lures its viewers to the drama unfolding on the screen. The script is important, despite myriad oppositions, and this comparison reveals that significance. As the director, Steven Soderbergh outlined each scene with the ingenuity of a cinematic wonder. The evidence of his feat is evident in the acting: with his guidance and vision, Julia Roberts and the ensemble of Traffic were able to perform to the utmost of their talent and give the audience someone to watch in awe.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Se7en

Hello! In the tenor of the infamous voice in Seinfeld, of course. Less than a week since my last post. I reckon we have a record, for the year anyway. I'd like to start off by expressing my manic anticipation for a certain parcel: Dan Brown's most recent Robert Langdon adventure, Inferno. Now, what makes me so edgy in expectation is that I pre-ordered the book in February, and Amazon promised that I would have the book in my possession on the day of  its release. It has been two days and still no parcel. If anyone has received Inferno, in addition to the pleasure of having it and hopefully reading it, please do not brag about your fortune. Onto the show.

Se7en. I rather like the way the title is written. Ever since I've become cognizant of the film's existence and therefore its content, I have been eager to watch a film that has a theme surrounding the seven deadly sins. I'm not one for religion, but those deadly sins are quite intriguing. Especially when one psychotic individual takes the word of God as a guideline and carries out his work. There has been controversy over this idea that John Doe murdered in the name of God, for obvious reasons. It was my first though anyway--why else would an individual dedicate their lives to such a deed if not for religion? It is the most provocative catalyst for violence and a total lack of reason. In my eyes, it lacks reason in itself. The criminal's apartment explains it all: a sparse living space compiled with relics of his murders as well as religious icons such as the Bible--his guidelines. Basically, John Doe is a sort of "angel", or "demon", who is somewhat of an angel in disguise. Be appalled by my words if you must, I say what I learn from Dan Brown and other eclectic sources. John Doe follows the text of the Bible to the extreme, which serves as a (faulty) foundation for the film only to be rescued by a certain actor's superb performance. In other words, this John Doe character murders seven hapless victims in a manner that reflects their sin. Shall I explain the methods of execution? Sure, why not.

Gluttony: A grossly obese man is found, face-down in a bowl of spaghetti, with his arms and legs tied up, indicating that he was forcefully fed. A bucket of the man's vomit is found underneath his seat, which the savvy detectives deduce came on account of being forcefully fed. It is later discovered that John Doe actually went to buy more groceries to continue his torture. Lesson: Manage your weight.

Greed: A lawyer is found in his office with his hands tied and his face planted on a stack of law books. He has bled to death, with his blood scattered across the office; on the floor, they spell GREED, and they also circle the eyes of his wife. Also, a pound of his flesh is placed on a scale--exactly one pound. I don't really understand this murder's relevance to greed. Perhaps John Doe is punishing him by taking things from him because he has too much? Perhaps, indeed. Lesson: Know when something is rightfully yours and when something could be shared with others.

Sloth: A drug dealer is found, mummified, in his apartment with an IV attached to his arm. Scattered with pulpy veins, the corpse takes a desperate breath when the officers are investigating, proving that he is still alive. It is discovered by the savvy detectives that he has been left like this--tied down to his bed, being fed and "cared for"--for a year. Apparently, you can die from lack of activity, though I do not agree with laziness being a sin. Doesn't everyone suffer a bit of procrastination and boredom to do anything on occasion? You know I do. Lesson: Keep yourself busy.

Lust: A prostitute is found (but not shown on screen) with a hysterical customer beside her. The customer describes a strange man--our John Doe--intruding on their good time; the criminal, then, forces the customer, at gunpoint, to "enter" the prostitute. This was their original plan, yet the customer did not plan on wearing an elaborate strap, fashioned with a knife where the organ would be. A murder so gruesome that the film could not depict it. However, this death seems to be merely the idea of John Doe, for he did not physically perpetrate it. I am not pardoning him in any way, but nevertheless. Also, how is the prostitute the victim of lust? Should not the customer suffer the penalty, as he is the one who sought sexual adventure? It's a deadly sin, not a warning. Lesson: Find someone special and form a long-lasting, real relationship.

Vanity: A model is found mutilated in her lavish bedroom, where her self-portrait is adorned over her bed. Her face is wrapped as if she had plastic surgery, and, when revealed, her face has been ripped off her face. The sin is referred to as "pride", which is written in the model's blood over her bed. I think this is a fallacious term because being proud is a good thing, it shows something to be admired. Vanity, the act of being vain, however, is an appropriate word to describe the sin. And vanity has a nicer ring to it, just as sloth sounds better than laziness. No additional elaboration in the crime here, other than it marks the approach of the film's climax--when John Doe emerges from the shadows. Lesson: Be humble.

Envy: The final two murders occur almost simultaneously, if I am correct in my reading of the film. In the conclusion, John Doe shares his jealousy for the life of Detective Mills--how he visited his home to "play husband", and his wife did not appreciate the charade. John Doe, because of his vile sin of envy, punishes Mrs. Mills by cutting off her "pretty little head"--a souvenir, he calls it. Again, as with lust, I feel the murder was misdirected. Why did Mrs. Mills have to die? Just to prove that John Doe is envious? Then shouldn't he, the sinner, die for the deadly sin? I suppose this is just another fault in the script. Lesson: Enjoy your own life.

Wrath: This murder is executed quickly, though with much suspense prior. Detective Mills, struck with agony and rage at the news of his wife's murder, paces back and forth before shooting a satisfied John Doe several times. A deliverer of wrath. Again, he is responsible for the murder while he, himself, having committed the sin. While John Doe rightfully died of envy, based on his doctrines, Detective Mills lives and his wife does not. And the flaws continue to surface. Lesson: Control yourself. That's more of a lesson for every sin, actually.

Quite a nifty spoiler, in case you were wondering what just happened. Though why would you? You're not drunk, nor should you be when reading my blog. Damn. I promised myself I would not refer to this publication as "my" blog. So possessive. Those are simply the giveaways to the execution of the murders, which are, in a nutshell, the basis and only (and I emphasize that only) reason for watching the film. When there are no gruesome crime scenes on screen, Se7en is excruciatingly, and rather disappointingly, dull. Four little letters (no, three little letters) describe the movie Se7en, which can determine an opinion prior to watching the film for a very first time. In addition to being dull, the style in which the movie was filmed was overly pretentious and, quite frankly, weird. Allow me to elaborate.

The major characters in the film are two stereotypical characters in cop-dramas. Furthermore, the dialogue shared between these characters are common among the fictional precinct-slash-cop-car setting: the conversation that concerns the case they're working on, yet relates to their own lives. That intellectually stimulating banter the partners engage in that, really, bores viewers such as myself. The detectives in this production are William Somerset (played by Morgan Freeman) and David Mills (played by Brad Pitt). Each of the impressive actors' performances are, shamefully, less than pristine, which makes the movie that much more difficult to endure, but we'll get to that. Detective Lieutenant Somerset is just about to retire, and feels it is his rite to finish this final case involving John Doe before his expiration. David Mills is fresh out of graduating the academy (or whatever) and is ripe with enthusiasm and self-assurance, with a load of aggression that will make him a fine candidate for the criminal he is chasing to abuse. Both police officers are prime stereotypes in such a cop-drama laced with suspense and pseudo-intrigue. Again, the film would, and should, such an element of intrigue since the seven deadly sins are concerned, but, unfortunately, does not on account of, perhaps, rotten directing? I don't know. Depending on the following retelling (sans spoilers), you can decide.

Throughout the film, a disturbing rustling accompanies every scene. At first, I thought it was a fault in my own sound system (I have several high-definition speakers, if you'd care to be informed) yet I discovered this was not the case when the noise intermittently appeared in every other scene. It was not rain either. Basically, the director thought it a fancy idea if he add an ominous ambiance to the film, which, he certainly felt, would add an awe-inspiring element of suspense and intrigue. For me, however, the cacophonous melody ruined any chance of enjoyment I had--pretentious, and not at all profound. There's a word to describe the director's intention. Beyond the sound, there is the plot. An extraordinary idea, indeed: a psychotic carries out "the word of God" by murdering seven individuals based on their sin. Ingenious idea, in my opinion. This is the very reason why I wanted to watch the movie, and the fact that it was a beloved cinematic relic among(st) those who appreciated films of the golden nineties. In my case, I did not receive the retribution I expected; apparently, the writer was not talented to the extent of forming a fantastic picture. Oh well. Without a decently orchestrated plot, therefore, the flaws of Se7en were much more striking, focusing primarily on the two key characters.
Detective Lieutenant William Somerset, as previously stated, is just about to retire, suggesting that he has seen everything there is to see on the job and should not be appalled by any particular case. This particular case, involving John Doe's mission from God, clearly, disrupted Somerset's sanity enough to will him to stay employed just a tad longer, until the maniac was captured. Before tangibly accepting the case, Somerset refused to get involved, while including his rookie partner in that declaration, then he put himself and Detective Mills on the case. Rather indecisive for a police officer, but that is how he is programmed. This being his first role in the crime-drama genre, Morgan Freeman is noticeably fresh here in a sense that makes him completely unrealistic and, consequently, not to be taken seriously. During the film, I had to chastise my dad from making mocking comments at his expense, though I did so with a beaming grin and bursting with laughter. His character is just so ridiculous and typical for those just-retired, wise black men (sorry, police officers) who have not a shred of indecency in their bloodstream. One scene, in particular, when Somerset is conversing with Mills's wife, marks my ridicule: She calls him to confide about a certain marital issue, to which Somerset responds with his own lovely story about getting married too young. Mills's wife--whose name is Tracy-- replies with graciousness and a heart-filled "thank you". If you were not as affected as I, then you may have to watch the scene for yourself to endure the cringing tartness of the display. Throughout the film, Morgan Freeman expresses blankness to such an extremity that I truly thought he had slipped into a snooze. It's hilarious, actually, and inclined my entertainment of the film, in a manner the director did not intend.
Detective David Mills, a rookie on the force, is, just that--a rookie. Shining star he is now, Brad Pitt was not that great an actor when he was just budding the the cinematic stratosphere. Amped with excitement on the idea of starring in a box-office hit of a suspense, Brad Pitt, evidently, was too giddy to apply whatever lessons he learned in acting school to the screen. His character, as aggressive and short-tempered as he was written to be, was accentuated to the extreme by Mr. Pitt. As David Mills, he appeared to have significant anger issues, far too prominent to be enlisted as a detective; moreover, he gave off the vibe of being an abusive husband, on account of them not being able to conceive and their poor living situation. Whenever Brad Pitt shared the screen with his then-fiancee, Gwyneth Paltrow, I had such a vivid instinct that he would strike her. The inherent feeling was heightened by the fact that I knew, beforehand, that Mills was the perpetrator of the sin wrath. Spoiler alert. Never fear, ladies, he never once hit her; in fact, he loved her very deeply, to the brink of killing for her. Suggestive spoiler. Brad Pitt certainly was not "born with talent", as seen here. He was constantly brimming with ecstasy, whether it was about the case or he discovered a lead or he was playing with his dogs, he was overflowing with energy. This contrasted the sage blankness of Morgan Freeman's veteran, as one can imagine. While the latter pondered over the case or fell into a day-sleep, Brad Pitt bounced with unstoppable vivacity in a way that made the average moviegoer cringe. You really feel embarrassed for him here. For both of them, really. Here is a pure example of Hollywood ripeness. Of course, each actor improved and blossomed along the way. Morgan Freeman continued to star in such crime-dramas as this, though in a much better lighting and much better movie; Brad Pitt enhanced his craft by appearing in more comedies, where he shines, as well as in reality as Brad Pitt. In Se7en, neither are remarkably impressive as some usually are "in their prime". At all.

Now for the one truly magnificent element of the film: John Doe. And who could portray the sadistic villain other than Kevin Spacey? Really, who could? He is utterly brilliant in this role. Period. That same year, he assumed the role of also-crippled Verbal Quint in The Usual Suspects, though I do not recall him being quite this magnificent. He appears, for a very transient period of time, near the end, when the film begins as it should have in the beginning. As he explains the logic behind each murder and how they relate to the sin the victim suffered for, one becomes entranced by the actor's deliberate intonation and hypnotic delivery. I can't say I was not convinced by his reasoning--but I did realize he was, indeed, insane. What Kevin Spacey accomplished here was embodying the rare psychotic sociopath. Psychopaths oppose sociopaths in a very subtle way, in that the former is typically more violent and impulsive and the latter has a grasp on reality and the world around them. With this brief analysis, John Doe is an ideal patient for both psychotic and sociopathic behavior, and Kevin Spacey demonstrates this distinction with such eloquence and skill that it becomes a marvelous feat. There is a reason that he was not credited in the opening, which would ruin the audience's anticipation of the question of "who is John Doe?". The impact of Kevin Spacey's performance is remarkably enthralling. Which gives you a considerable rationale to watch the film, if not just the final twenty minutes.

I was just searching for pictures of Kevin Spacey in the film and found a few images of Heath Ledger's travesty of the Joker. This, to me, implies that John Doe and Ledger's Joker are compatible. Don't you dare place this remarkable villain in the same category as that repulsive cretin of a comic-book menace. There is a great difference between the two, the key factor of which involves the talent of one and the absolute absence of talent in the other. Heath Ledger provided the world with an abhorrent performance that will, hopefully, be recognized as one in the years to come. I do not care if the actor has passed. He should not be honored as a relic solely because of that.

Although the film had an excellent foundation, the director or writer or combination of both prevented Se7en from being the profound film it could have been. Instead, viewers such as myself received a half-hearted, inadequate display of trite detective-banter, a simple storyline, and a two-hour long exposition. Rather than beginning in the first ten minutes, the movie finally became interesting during the conclusion, which does not make for a very good or positively memorable film. As for the suspense leading up to the revelation of the criminal and his logic behind his crimes, there is really nothing there other than pointless drivel between Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt. They try to connect their lives with the crime afoot, yet fall dreadfully short of the attempt. Neither of their characters are smart enough to connect the dots fast enough to keep the viewer on their toes, so to speak, which causes the film to become a lackluster attempt at an impeccably ingenious premise. While Kevin Spacey spares much of the film's shortcomings, the overall film receives a sour review from me. Focusing on the last twenty minutes, however, and you have yourself a fantastic picture, albeit a concise one.

P.S. I finally purchased Dan Brown's Inferno and am currently and rapturously reading it. Enjoy the rest of your week. I sure will.