Sunday, July 22, 2007

A look at the Coen Brothers (1996-2004)

I just saw Fargo so now I´ve seen 6 Coen brother films: Intolerable Cruelty, Ladykillers, and Man Who Wasn´t There are genre experiments of the sort you´d see as film school theses, while Fargo, Big Lebowski, and Oh Brother Where Art Thou bear a more distinct mark of the filmmakers:
-Epic-like narratives (this is more the case in Big Lebowski and Oh Brother Where Art Thou and Fargo to a lesser extent) with long winding storylines
-Vague references. I use the word vague here, because i think a little too much is made of their ability to work in their filmic references into their work. The Big Lebowski-Big Sleep connection is somewhat shady in my opinion.
-Characters who arrive at the ends of their story arcs through means in which they never planned themselves. For instance, George Clooney and company has no clue how he´s going to get out of being hanged when a humongous flood miraculously saves them. In Big Lebowski, Jeff Bridges is royally screwed when he loses that briefcase but in a stroke of luck: it turns out there was never money in that briefcase. In The Ladykillers, the characters´ fates aren´t really determined by anything but unfortunate luck.
-A strong sense of place (Minnesota in Fargo, the Deep South in Ladykillers and Oh Brother, California in Intolerable Cruelty)
-Sidekicks to the protagonists that do more harm than good (Steve Buscemi´s wanting to get laid at inopportune moments and panic under pressure in Fargo, John Goodman´s aggressive outbursts in Big Lebowski, the gay baron in Intolerable Cruelty, the guy with IBS in Ladykillers)

My impression of the three that remained popular is that:
-Fargo was an extreme critical hit garnering an oscar nomination and a place in AFI´s top 100 and made several lists of best films of the decade
-Big Lebowski was an extreme cult hit
-Oh Brother (my personanal favorite and the only one of the three to make my personal top 100 list and garner 4 stars) was somewhere in between. It made many top 10 films of the year list and earned an oscar screenplay nomination.

I was wondering why these three films were received this way. My theories:

-Fargo involves murder as a comic gag while big lebowski and oh brother only involve stealing and adding murder to a plot insantly makes things more serious. Oh Brother has characters like John Goodman die but they never really show his death so they never get as graphic as Fargo.

-I also think that Big Lebowski works as wish fullfillment. The protagonist goes through things and lives a life that young men would love to have: tell off some older authority figure and not have to have respect for your elders, smoke pot and get away with it, knock up a woman and not have to deal with the responsibility of fatherhood, hang out with your buddies all day, escape any negative repercussions when you mishandle large amounts of money, etc.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Monk gets post-modern

I'm not used to TV episodes showing the self-referential sophistication of movies but I was pleasantly surprised by the season premiere of Monk.

It seemed to me like Sarah Silverman's character was self-aware that Monk was a TV show, citing episode names and alluding to fan fiction. She also wished to press the "pause button" on the murder because she was bored. Her loss of interest in Monk at the end was like that of a wishy-washy TV viewer. The fact that she was in real danger once she stopped caring about the episode, she found herself in real danger is a possible knock at channel surfers who can't sustain their interest through one hour of telivision.

I'm not a humongous Sarah Silverman fan. She's pleasant in small doses like her snippet on the Aristocrats, but I personally don't think her wierd-for-the-sake-of-being-seen-as-cutting-edge humor is as great as some critics give her credit for but she was really great in this character.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sunday, July 15, 2007

To the anti-Michael Moore fans about Sicko

I was moved by this film and loved it, and feel empowered by it, but I also don't really care about the health care debate either.

I imagine that if in France, everyone gets unlimited sick leave, there's going to be abuse of that system and stuff and I'm sure there are pros and cons about universal health care. I also have never had problems with the U.S. Health system because I think my parents just probably have good coverage, who knows.

I have however had problems with the U.S. legal system (I once felt mistreated by my own lawyers when I needed legal representation a little while back) and can relate to this film in the sense of greedy professions that lost sight of the little guy a long time ago (which I feel can often plague the law community).

But more than that, I don't think this movie is just about the little details. It's about, "Sticking it to the man," as Jack Black says in School of Rock, or moreover, being critical of our government and the C.E.O.s of large companies. I don't know about the specifics, but it's obvious that the C.E.O.'s of companies don't care about most of the people under them and at least, that needs to change.

Whether we go for universal healthcare or not, I don't want to see people being kicked out into the streets of L.A. because they can't pay for hospital bills. I don't want to see a medical community who treats human beings as economic commodities and tries in every way possible to cheat them out of their insurance so they can have money in their pocket. I do not want to live in a system, where doctors are rewarded for letting their patients die. Do you? Can we at least agree on this?

I mean you can debate whether these things actually happen and maybe if too much is lost by finding a better solution, but can we at least start there? Can we at be united on the front that hospitals who want their patients to die so they can profit from it is not a good thing? I don't care about anything else. You can point out that hospitals usually like their patients to live and support that with a set of facts like Michael Moore does, and if you showed me that, I'd be even happier because I'd know that the problem isn't as serious as I thought it was. I also think we can debate whether France, England, Canada and Cuba are actually better than us, but don't you agree it's a great thing Michael Moore does by raising those questions and showing us those systems so we can see for ourselves?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

New Rules

This is my version of New Rules. It's based off the comedy bit that Bill Maher does on his HBO show. I'll keep adding to it as I think of more:

If you've joined the cast of ER, and find yourself successful there, that doesn't mean you can count it as a career resurrection. I saw John Stamos the other night (by the other night, this was some time ago) talking about how while his attempt to helm a series in Jake in Progress was admittedly a failure, he's happy to have found his groove on E.R. Newsflash: John Stamos, you are still not a successful TV actor. Joining the cast of E.R. is like being traded to the San Antonio Spurs as their 12th man and picking up a championship ring with them. Carrot Top and Fran Drescher could join the cast of E.R. and the show would still live to see another season. E.R. is just one of those shows like The Simpsons, Law and Order, and Meet the Press, that is no longer amazing television but has been going on for so long and is in such a secure timeslot that the networks just leave it alone. There kinds of shows don't end until way after they have passed their prime.

Conan O'Brien (and probably David Letterman too) can no longer use people as punchlines to his monologues that he has as guests on his show. I saw Lindsay Lohan on his show the other day and he was as cordial to her as can be for someone who exploits her family dysfunction on a weekly basis. Conan O'Brien also cannot use the star of a just-cancelled NBC sitcom like John Lithgow, Matt LeBlanc or Whoopi Goldberg as a punchline to a monologue joke if he had that guest on at the beginning of the TV season to plug their show and he himself noted how much he "just loved their show."

All the major newspapers should collectively limit themselves to a quota of ten stories on how handsome and dashing George Clooney is to a minimum. And if we're gonna praise George Clooney for his ability to bring publicity to the misery going on in Africa, then why don't we write articles about what he actually does in Africa rather than write articles about how great of a guy he is because of what he does in Africa.

Anyone who acts as a first career gets priority in casting to anyone who acts as a second career and uses the publicity to promote their first career, whether it be stand-up comedian (Dane Cook, Kevin James), actress (Mandy Moore, Alicia Keys, Jessica Simpson, 50 Cent, Justin Timberlake, Li'l Bow-Wow, Drew Lechay, Nelly), basketball players (Shaq, Darius Miles), or rich girl (Paris Hilton). Speaking of which, Joe Simpson cannot be allowed to make movies (Employee of the Month or Blonde Ambition) simply because he wants to find something for his daughter to do.

No more commercials for movie promotions saying "It's official. Jackass 2/Saw III/RV/Silent Hill/Failure to Launch is the #1 movie in America. Come see what all the buzz is about" without enclosing a disclaimer to the public that you're film is the #1 movie in America for this past weekend and not the whole year. You must also disclose that in any given year about 30 pictures share that honor with you and that you're only competition was:
-Fearless and Flyboys in the case of Jackass 2,
-The Departed in its 4th weekend of release in the case of Saw III
-United 93 which only had a 1/3 the number of theaters that you did for opening weekend and Stick It in the case of RV
-Two equally forgettable movies like The Sentinel and American Dreams in the case of Silent Hill
-The Shaggy Dog and The Hills Have Eyes in the case of Failure to Launch

The Cooler (2003)

The Cooler (3 Stars)

The key players in the story are old-fashioned casino owner Shelly (Alec Baldwin), a cocktail waitress Natalie (Monica Bello), and his good luck charm Bernie Lootz (Macy). By `good luck' charm, I mean that Bernie is referred to in Vegas lingo as a `Cooler,' which is good for Shelly who's financial success depends on how much gamblers lose on his floor. Bernie's asset is that he is so unlucky that he can break any gambler's hot streak, simply by getting near them. Obviously the question that pops out here is `What?? How can this guy change the outcome of cards and dice?.' The answer is in reality, no, Bernie couldn't alter the outcomes of anything, but the key to the film lies within how it treats Bernie's powers as scientifically plausible and because the film's entire plot is based on something that doesn't happen in reality, the film lies within an abstract world. With respect to that, the surreal explanation for Bernie is that being a Cooler for him is easy, because off the job he's extremely unlucky, so it's just a constant state. This just makes Bernie a very down-on-himself guy, but his luck changes when Natalie comes along and the two fall in love. Unfortunately for Shelly, a love struck Bernie is incredibly bad for business, and with the new management breathing down his neck, he has to resort to extreme measures. Alec Baldwin had no hype, whatsoever, before this movie came out, and yet he managed to work his way to a front-runner for a golden globe and oscar nomination this past year, so that says a lot about his performance in itself. In this film, Baldwin's character starts out as just your typical mobster, someone we even feel sympathetic for, because he has to deal with a younger business-oriented guy brought in to modernize the casino, but Shelly is so persistently stuck in his ways and his ways are so crude and violent that Baldwin makes a true villain out of the character. The film is brooding and slow but it's well-made and eventually things do end up happening.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A rundown of my film school education

In case anyone was curious to know about what films I was exposed to in my film school education, here's a list of all the films that I watched as part of the curriculums of my 6 courses that I needed to complete the film school minor. I also sat in on part of a films in society course and a film noir seminar, but the main gist is covered here. The 6 courses I took were movies as art, films in society, film adaptations, movie history to 1960, film genres, and film comedy. Asteriks indicate that part of the film was shown:
Birth of a Nation (1915) (films in society)
*Intolerance (1919) (film history)
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) (film history)
Safety Last (1923) (film comedy)
Battleship Potempkin (1925) (films in society, film history)
The General (1927) (film comedy)
Blue Angel (1930) (film history)
City Lights (1931) (film history)
Strangers in Paradise (1932) (film history)
42nd Street (1933) (genres)
Duck Soup (1933) (comedy)
Merry Widow (1934) (genres)
It Happened One Night (1935) (history)
Top Hat (1935) (genres)
Modern Times (1936) (comedy)
*Swing Time (1936) (genres)
Grand Illusion (1937) (history)
*Bringing Up Baby (1938) (history. comedy)
Gone with the Wind (1939) (society)
Wizard of Oz (1939) (society)
Ninochta (1939) (comedy)
The Bank Dick (1940) (comedy)
Citizen Kane (1941) (history)
The Lady Eve (1941) (comedy)
Double Indemnity (1944) (genres)
*Scarlett Street (1945) (genres)
Big Sleep (1946) (genres)
*Lady in the Lake (1947) (art)
Bicycle Thief (1948) (history)
Third Man (1949) (art)
Sunset Boulevard (1950) (genres)
Strangers on a Train (1951) (history)
High Noon (1952) (genres)
Singing in the Rain (1952) (genres)
Shane (1953) (genres)
Brigadoon (1954) (society)
The Searchers (1956) (genres)
Wild Strawberries (1957) (history)
Touch of Evil (1958) (genres)
Some Like it Hot (1959) (comedy)
Breathless (1960) (history)
8 ½ (1963) (history)
Dr. Strangelove (1964) (comedy)
A Hard Day’s Night (1964) (art)
Wild Bunch (1969) (genres)
McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971) (autuer)
Cabaret (1972) (genres)
Chinatown (1974) (genres)
Day for Night (1973) (art)
Young Frankenstein (1974) (comedy)
Days of Heaven (1978) (art)
The Red Shoes (1986) (art)
Age of Innocence (1993) (adaptation)
Sankofa (1993) (society)
Rising Sun (1993) (society)
*Much Ado About Nothing (1993) (adaptation)
Pulp Fiction (1994) (society)
Persuasion (1995) (art)
Romeo and Juliet (1996) (society)
Waiting for Guffman (1997) (comedy)
Big Lebowski (1998) (comedy)
Pleasantville (1998) (society)
End of the Affair (1999) (adaptation)
Ghost Dog (1999) (society)
*Matrix (1999) (art)
Bamboozled (2000) (society)
*Oh Brother Where Art Thou (2000) (comedy)
Gladiator (2000) (society)
Wonderboys (2000) (adaptation)
Momento (2001) (adaptation)
Girl with a Pearl Earing (2003) (art)
*Intolerable Cruelty (2003) (comedy)
*A Mighty Wind (2003) (comedy)
Lost in Translation (2003) (history)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) (art)
Sideways (2004) (comedy)
Merchant of Venice (2004) (adaptation)
Sin City (2005) (art)

Memo to America and Tom Cruise: It's time to make up

I have had just about enough of the way America is treating Tom Cruise. Poor guy. As a nation, I think we've been a little selfish and inconsiderate to treat someone who's been our favorite actor with such disdain just because he's in love with a girl and wanted to express it and his religious beliefs. Because we all know that in this country it's taboo to proselytise your religion (um...hello, Christian Evangelicals). However, I still can't believe how wishy-washy our nation is. We've held this guy up as our top movie star for 20 years and then all of a sudden, we don't like him anymore because he's crazy? Sure, he's crazy but isn't that what you love him for?

I knew a girl who loved the film Jerry MaGuire but didn't like Tom Cruise because he was crazy and I just don't get that. Tom Cruise's characters are usually not stoners or relaxed people. His screen persona is that of a crazy person. In Jerry MaGuire, he plays a guy who decides to quit his job on the spur of the moment, stays up all night writing some manifesto about how *drum roll* we should be nice to our clients, asks his seceretary to marry her for seemingly no good reason at all, and shouts things at the top of his like "Help Me, Help You" to Cuba Gooding Jr. That guy sounds twice as crazy as the real Tom Cruise and we still love it. The actual Tom Cruise in real life new Katie Homes for longer than he knew the secretary before proposing to her and hasn't ever quit a job. In fact, Tom Cruise is considered by pretty much every director and costar he's ever had to be the hardest-working person they know.

I know Cruise comes off as conceited and arrogant, but actual reports from people who know him say he's the opposite. The more I've looked into Tom Cruise since the couch-jumping incident the more I see less and less to dislike about him.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Saved by the Bell: The E True Hollywood Story

I watched the E! True Hollywood Story of Saved by the Bell today and it was kind of interesting but at the same time, the E! True Hollywood Stories often come off as a little melodramatic.

I really didn't feel much pity for the stars' problems on the show. Their main problem was that the stars felt they were missing out on a normal high school experience by being on the show. What a bunch of whiny crybabies.

So you make millions of dollars from being on TV instead of actually going through high school. Besides, they were going to a high school. It just happens to not really be an accredited school, they don't actually learn anything from books (although who knows, maybe they had an on-set tutor) and the high school exists in a studio rather than a building. Big deal. If Sean Penn or Daniel Day-Lewis were on Saved by the Bell, to them it would have been a real high school. It's called Method Acting.

Besides, they influenced every future high school student for the next 10 years. My age group grew up at the height of Saved by the Bell's popularity and influence. We watched Saved by the Bell in our preteens and it gave us an idea of what we should be like when we got to High School. Guys modelled themselves after either Slater or Zach (and away from Screech) and the girls modelled themselves after either Jesse, Kelly, or Lisa.

Should John Stewart run for President?

Answer: NO

In case you were gonna ask me whether John Stewart should run for Preisdent, let me just answer you in advance. NO.

First of all, let me state that John Stewart's program is quality television, I don't disagree with that. I have an interview with his correspondent John Oliver coming up, and I find him as well as the rest of the Daily Show staff, including Stewart, to be comic geniuses.

But just because Stewart can make snide comments about the administration doesn't mean he can do a better job than them. John Stewart is funny, I'll admit, but I'm tired of his fans elevating him to a Godlike pedestal of rightousness. Sure, it's fine to watch this show for a laugh for some interesting satire on the current state of government but don't entrust your hopes and dreams for our nation's political future into the guy.

I think it's a far healthier outlook to reserve your admiration for the people in the actual Government. Sure, there are a few rotten eggs in the basket, but it's imperative as a nation for us to place our trust and our full support in the ones that aren't. There are some cases of scandal in the government, but by and large, Congress is composed of dedicated public servants who work long and hard to try to reach out to everyone and fight for their needs. I think it's far easier to sit back and be a critic of the government than it is to work for the government and do a good job at it. I'm tired of people thinking the comedians like John Stewart are right about everything and every single person in the government is an idiot. Sometimes when I hear his criticisms and I actually think and analyze what he's saying beyond a comic level, I disagree with him.

John Stewart is great at being critical of politics but as educated citizens, we need to be equally critical of John Stewart.

For the record, I'm much more a democrat than I am a republican and I know most of his targets are currently republican since he attacks whoever's in office, but I'm just pre-emptively saying this for when he goes and attacks the democrats next year when they win back control and he starts making snarky comments at them.