Sunday, June 26, 2011

Looking at Curtis Hanson

Just watched "8 Mile" (2002) which brings my films watched by Curtis Hanson total to a whopping five films. Hanson produced one of my favorite films in "Wonderboys" (2000) and made one of the moviegoing public's favorite films of the 1990's with "LA Confidential" (1997).

In addition, he also made one of the few chick flicks I would consider a great film with the 2005 "In Her Shoes" (starring Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette and Shirley MaClaine). Lastly, the only film of his I have seen that I consider kind of a drag is the gambling film "Lucky You" (2007) that starred Eric Bana, Robert Duvall, and Drew Barrymore.

Overall, he's a very strong filmmaker that has worked magic on genres that I would otherwise not be interested in. Even his noble failure, "Lucky You", shows the same traits as his other entries. Here's what I would consider to be Hanson's style: (note: I'm going to use abbreviations WB, IHS, LY, 8M, LAC)

1. Plots that move at their own pace-In WB,the protagonist english professor is about to lose his job for killing the president's dog and/or impregnating the dean's wife, he's just lost his manuscript, and he has until the end of the weekend to decide whether to abort his love child with his dean's wife and try to win her love. Yet despite this frantic crisis, most of the movie shows him in a melancholy state hanging around with his eccentric editor playing parlor games, getting high, and showing his even-more-eccentric student the time of his life. In LY, the protagonist risks his fortune and more with every bet he makes and even as he continually finds himself more and more in the red, an air of panic doesn't really set in there either. Similarly, IHS has one of the two protagonists, a lawyer, either quitting or losing her job and it seems insignificant.

2. Somber visual tones-8M plays into this because it's in the rust belt of Detroit and the harsh life of that town manifest themselves all around. LAC is a send-up to film noir so Hanson thrived on the dark interior spaces. The interior spaces (in Philadelphia and not Florida for the latter) in LY and IHS were pretty similarly shady and dark.

3. Strong Emphasis on Parent-Child Relationships-All five films have strong parent-child dynamics although I'm not entirely sure whether thematically they line up in any way. Let's see:
-A key plot point in LAC is that Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) has to decide whether to be like his father and be an honest cop. He ends up rejecting his father's methodology.
-Rabbit in 8M is trying to cope with a mother who hasn't gotten her life together. His poverty is a result of her but his emotional instability is also a result of her. As he succeeds in rapping, he is able to fix his mother and their relationship.
-In WB, Professor Grady Tripp is trying to decide whether he's a stable enough person to take on fatherhood and his salvation comes through that decision. He breaks into the home of his in-laws to save his hide, but the encounter with his father-in-law shows a paternal relationship there. He also takes on his most talented student as a surrogate son.
-The two sisters in IHS are damaged as adults because of the lack of a mother. They did grow up looking out for each other, however, but when that relationship is damaged, it takes a mother figure (they're grandmother) to repair them. Their salvation also comes through learning the truth about their mentally ill mother.
-The protagonist in Lucky You continues to make ill-advised risks because he's trying to live up to the card player and gambler that his father once. In the middle of the film, one of those ill-advised risks is playing his father directly and losing.

In all these films, people are defined by their parents or the lack thereof. The characters all deal with their parental relationships and in some cases take substitutes. The sisters in IHS use each other for support. Grady Tripp might be missing the guidance and separated from the father-in-law since he's divorced so he takes on a surrogate son, and when he's ready, he takes on an actual son.

4. Slow Secondary Courtships-In 8M, LY, IHS and LAC, there's a courtship that occurs during the movie. The characters meet during the movie so we see the relationship take place in its entirety. In the case of IHS and 8M, the characters also are leaving behind worse relationships that we don't see from the inside out so much. The relationships take place rather naturally and they're not the most important thing about the film but they do drive the film along.

5. Weary Characters alongside more excitable characters-Bud (Russell Crowe) from "LA Confidential" surely fits the bill. His colleague Jack (Kevin Spacey) is very much the opposite. Jack is eager to do his job and tackle a lead and is even eager to spread his legend, so to speak, by advising for a cop show. The bubbly Drew Barrymore is a counterpoint to Eric Bana in LY as is Horatio Sanz's character. WB has Tripp and his married lover as the weary ones. Tripp is balanced by his carefree editor.

"In Her Shoes" has the weary/excitable character dichotomy in three places: Between the two sisters (although the film's reveal is that younger sis is hurting underneath), between Toni Collette's choice of two lovers (one is unfaithful because he reveals a past where he was constantly rejected by girls whereas the other is optimistic, commanding and looking forward), and the grandmother and her circle of friends. The grandmother straddles the divide (although she hasn't necessarily dealt with her daughter's death and her alienation from her grandchildren) and is less eager to jump into love than her friends and suitor.

With the exception of LY, the carefree characters are all painted negatively: Jack is doomed by his eagerness and Bud's fate turns out better because he knows not to trust anyone. Grady's editor is seen as a nuisance and a bad influence on him. In IHS, the younger sis is the drag on her older sister.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Do please click on this link to this article about how movies seem to be culturally 25 years behind pop music. It's how I earn my revenue:

"Do the Right Thing" was a film that I was so interested in a couple years ago that I read about it in my textbooks and from Roger Ebert. When the film finally became available on netflix, the problem with watching it was that I already knew all the plot details.

For those of you lucky enough to not make that mistake: "Do the Right Thing" takes place over the course of a summer day on a primarily African-American occupied street in Brooklyn that's experiencing a heat wave. Spike Lee said that he researched that studies show there's a lot more crime during heat waves. So both metaphorically and literally, simmering tensions escalate over the course of the day. Much of the action happens in an Italian-owned pizzeria where Spike Lee's character Mookie tries to keep the peace and remain the voice of reason among conflicts that brew in the neighborhood and the owners' two sons. Mookie's role as peace maker is doubled by an older drunkard out in the street (Ossie Davis) known as Da Mayor.

Da Mayor gives advice when no one asks for it and fancies himself a wise sage although he isn't respected as such. He tells Mookie to always do the right thing, but Mookie's too pragmatic to bother with such advice. He has to safeguard his younger sister from wandering eyes, provide for his son, keep the mentally challenged guy in his apartment along with his trouble-making friend (Giancarlo Esposito) from getting themselves in trouble.

Later in the film's climactic riot, Da Mayor does the right thing by trying to break up the ensuing fight. He accomplishes nothing, so does it matter? Afterward, Mookie takes the situation into his own hands to do something. Is Mookie's action (won't spoil it) the right thing? The title seems to suggest as much by virtue of the fact that it's the pivotal action in a movie called "Do the Right Thing."

The movie is not only open-ended on whether Mookie did the right thing, it doesn't clue us in on whether Mookie was attempting to do the right thing. He could have just reacted irrationally in the moment.

Whatever the case, the film leaves a lot of questions which I believe is what Spike Lee was going for. Lee is a very intelligent and well-spoken man who has practically carried the weight of the black community on his back for twenty years. He also gets a lot of crap from everyone (recently Clint Eastwood).

When this premiered, Lee was thoroughly sliced and diced by the critics. One criticism that stuck out to me was that he didn't offer any answers to racism. I imagine that if Lee went any further and had been so arrogant as to even suggest a solution, then he would have suffered even worse backlash. He served the material best by creating a piece of work that throws out more questions than it answers.

It's a movie that's almost impossible to watch and not be drawn into asking questions and reconsidering your point of view. The fact that people were so enraged and continue to be enraged at Spike Lee, shows that in this film and his career, he's doing the job he set out to do by opening up dialogue. Although it's a shame people don't choose to engage in civil dialogue (i.e. Eastwood's "He can shit his face" comment).

For example, I entered into a message board discussion about Radio Raheem where a poster was virulent that Raheem was nothing more than a disrespectful bum who didn't deserve to be saved and that because Lee expected us to sympathize with him, he was promoting reverse racism and therefore an idiot. There's a lot I could say in response to that, but the point is that Lee's intelligence and technical mastery shouldn't be so quickly dismissed and that knowing Spike's attention to detail when it comes to stereotypical images, Raheem's on-screen image might be more than meets the eye.

It's simply unfortunate that people on the other end aren't always willin

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Thank you to several friends of my blog....

I think I now understand the urgent need of Oscar winners to thank as many people as they can when they're on that podium: Because creatively collaborating with people is a wonderful experience.

Part of what has kept me going with this blog is the wonderful collaborations I've had with people. When I haven't been making money off the blog (although the money helps, so click on this article about the childhood origins of Sandra Bullock who comes from my hometown) to give me much needed link revenue) the social element has kept me going:

Here's a list of people I'm proud to say I know who have helped me along the way:
First off is my one and only sister Yasmine who was one of my very early avid readers  At least, she began that way. I'll invite my sister to correct me if I'm wrong in the comment section, but I think her official stance is that she likes that I'm successful at blogging, but she hates the actual blog itself and no longer wishes to read it. This has been a great opportunity for me, as it allowed me to freely admit without guilt that I also hate her blog (it's a blog detailing the trials and tribulations of being pregnant as if she's the first person ever to go through it) and have since been off the hook for reading it. 

Brian Ehrlich has contributed a couple of blog entries. He's a film student from Minnesota that I met at my niece's christening. He's just now finishing the first of his two degrees en route to being a teacher. I imagine if I had the brain power of all the people in Brian's classes I could create a superblog. Brian's a wonderful person to bounce ideas off.

Chris Schrack is also such a person. An undying fan of Tim Burton and David Lynch, Schrack is a budding filmmaker who's working on his second independent film from his home base in Fairfax, Va. who took film classes with me and is the reason I inexplicably have a page on imdb.

My friend Nicholas Lazo, who I also know from film classes in college, has been generous enough to also contribute guest columns and provide insight into films. He was a directorial assistant on the Djimon Hotsou film "Never Back Down" and is currently in film school at USC.

I had another good friend, John Kaden, with aspirations to go to Hollywood some day. He settled in Virginia Beach after graduating college with me and has been a great motivator and a person to form ideas with.

My friend Eric Feldman, is a lawyer who was doing humanitarian work in Sri Lanka when we both discussed a mutual interest in writing comedy. We teamed up to write a sketch that was viewed and given a thumbs-up by Jake Hurwitz of the Jake and Amir web series and have been working on collaboration with comedy writing. Eric took sketch writing classes in New York City and has recently begun to get things published on the internet. Here's his travel blog on life in Sri Lanka and Geneva. It's

Anthony Gullino is a Pittsburgh-based film buff who wrote for his school newspaper reviewing films at Dusquene University. In addition, he has a work history with the Pittsburgh Film Office (not sure if he's still working there). He recently restarted his blog, although I don't know where it is. He has contributed articles here.

Kristi Harrison, a mom of three in Idaho, who writes comedy for has been a great voice of encouragement in my efforts to get published by cracked. She basically told me to try and try again when you get rejected and if I don't have thick skin, I'll never get anywhere. She is actually a very funny woman and her website is I wouldn't have been published on cracked without her help and given the cracked community a second chance either.

In college, I was fortunate enough to be in the same dorm my junior year as two entrepernuers who I'll just label Shy and C.O. The latter has a clothing line called Clockwise Clothing (@clockwiseclothing). The two have been unbelievably great friends and supporters over the years.

I was able to use my writing skills to collaborate with the former on his business idea for in 2008 and one of the writers I hired for that project was a freelance writer from the Carolinas named Logan Stewart who offered great tips on how to freelance write and such. I almost met with her when she came to D.C. but our schedules were too busy. Either way, it's been a thrill learning from her because she was far more experienced than me at the time.

Another writer who is far more prolific than I am and has a much greater following than me is Nathaniel Rogers. He's New York based and is the official blogger for the Tribecca Film Festival and blogs a lot but isn't making enough in ad revenue to support his operation and I admire the way that he's upfront about his need for donations as he tries to streamline his operation so that it can get more monetized. He can be found at

I first found him on the AIM about two months out of college and into my first newspaper job reviewing films. I asked him if I could get away with writing a review on "Flags of Our Fathers" without actually watching the films and he snarled in disgust. A couple years later, I caught him on the AIM again, and he probably forgot me the first time because he responded to me more favorably, haha, and featured a couple of my articles. He's doing a pretty awesome new series on his blog where he interviews his readers and I'm currently trying to get interviewed by him (for fun, not self-promotion).

Eddie Copeland is a classical film buff who runs the website He was one of the first people I got in touch with.

Noel Murray is a writer for the AV Club who has given me some good advice as I try to expand and has been generous with his time. I remembered his name from a podcast I downloaded and noticed he was friends with another facebook friend and contacted him on a whim to ask about writing for that publication. That led to my applying for the AV Club which didn't lead to anything directly but it set a couple more doors in motion. Since then, I have recently come into contact with another AV Club writer named Ellen Wernecke who publishes for the AV Club as well as keeps her own blog and has been generous with her advice. She appears to be in the trenches just as much as I am fighting for readers. If you're a book person, her blog is

A third AV Club writer, Rowan Kaiser, is an up-and-coming Oakland-based writer. He reviews TV for the AV Club although his real passion, for some reason, is games. For reasons unknown, Rowan is almost always online and always eager to talk. He's like a rock star who handles every piece of fan mail personally. Rowan hates it when characters on TV get together romantically, so take heed sitcom writers: every time you hook up your two main writers come sweeps, you're alienating the most powerful TV critic in Oakland.

I also have made a number of connections on twitter including notorious Community defender Noel Kirkpatrick and Georgia State graduate student in moving image studies, who recently started the blog Another twitter correspondent, Christine Becker is a professor of Television Studies at Notre Dame who's been generous with advice and bashes my grammar. She runs a reference site called News for TV Majors.

Speaking of people of people who blast my grammar, one of my very early supporters North Carolina-based journalist Daniel Johnson.. He worked at an art house type theater in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and was a major champion of old-timey restoration theaters. He hated my mistakes in grammar as well as my audicity to call myself a writer without having seen every film the Coen Brothers and Scorsese ever made along with my unwillingness to drop what I was doing right there on the spot to watch their entire catalog. Still, he was a big supporter for a while and he can be found at

Lastly, thanks to anyone I missed along with all my subscribers and readers.