CineMathematics or CinemaThematics. Your choice

Monday, October 30, 2006

Sundae Monday

What would happen if we had Samuel L. Jackson as White House Press Secretary? Hmmm . . .

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Uncle Charlie's a Vampire?!

Note: This is my entry into The Film Experience Blog's Vampire Blog-A-Thon. You can check out the rest of the entries here. I guess this can also count as my entry into The Film Vituperatem's Hitchcock Blog-A-Thon, tough I plan to contribute more to that one as it comes. So until then, enjoy this vampirelicious take on Hitchcock.

Let's face it. Hitchcock isn't exactly one for the supernatural. But since I couldn't find a copy of
Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter
, I decided to go with some vampiric imagery rather than a vampire film. And that is found in abundance within Shadow of a Doubt, yet another one of Hitchcock's true masterpiese. A close reading can show how vampire imagery is used to portray the "fall" that we all must take in order to see the world as it is.

Uncle Charles is shown as a vampire from the very first time we see him. The first shot where we see him is a fade through the window of his room, showing him laying on his bed with his arms crossed over his chest. He barely moves, except to blow smoke from his cigar. The landlady enters, and he can barely talk to her above a quiet monotone droll. The landlady closes his shades, and he almost immediately becomes active. Only after he is enveloped in the darkness does he get up to examine the cops following him. Hitchcock has effectively set up this man as the personification of evil. He acts for no other purpose than to help himself, and he can only do this by draining others of their life forces. While normal vampires take a person's blood, Charles takes their money. He feeds on the widows, taking their lives and their money. It is the money that is continually emphasized. By stressing this connection between Charles and the embodiment of evil, Hitchcock forces us to examine how he is treated throughout the film. How does the world react to evil? And how does evil come about anyway?

One of the major plot points in Shadow of a Doubt is Charles' inability to be photographed. Once again, this suggests that he is a vampire, but here we get a more in depth idea of how the vampirism works. We are shown a picture of Uncle Charles from when he is a child, the Christmas day he got a bicycle and almost got killed. Charles has fallen. After that point, his photograph is never taken again. The link to a vampire is once again employed, but here we have more to it than just that Charles is a vampire. We now have a time when he became a vampire. He fell, and so he is now the walking dead. The fall is used later in the film, when young Charlie learns the truth about her uncle. We see the fall happen, though Charlie doesn't actually stumble. She learns the truth at the public library, and in a moment of pure bravura filmmaking, Hitchcock focuses in on the ring which has revealed the truth to Charlie. Hitchcock shows the ring, and then he pulls back until the camera has been lifted to the point where Charlie is a small point in the frame. Charle has fallen, and we see the effects immediately.

For the entire next day, Charlie is asleep. She only wakes up when dinner is served. Charles is not the only vampire anymore. He has his niece to join him on the dark side. The day after this, we see church being let out, but Charles is nowhere to be found. In fact, we never see Charlie in the church, just outside of it after the service is over. It is at this point that we see Jack Graham and Mr. Saunders waiting for them to reveal their plan for potentially capturing Charles. Charlie approaches the two detectives with her sister Ann and friend Catherine. In order to tell Charlie about their plan alone, Graham suggests that Ann tells Catherine the story of Dracula. This can also serve as a warning to Catherine, whom we have seen giving lusty looks to Charles.

The warning is actually a double warning to Catherine. One is to stay away from Charles. But it's the other that sticks closer to the ongoing themes of the film. Catherine should stay away from her lascivious ways, or else she will become one of the "fallen." The idea of the fallen comes again after the warning, when Charles and Charlie enter the Til 2 Club. Charlie has never been there before, and the waitress says she would never have imagined seeing Charlie there. That is because the Til 2 Club is for the lowlifes of the town, for those who have fallen from grace. The first time Charles tries to kill Charlie, it's by a broken step, where Charlie would have fallen to her death. But it's impossible not to fall. Everyone falls. Not only murderers like Charles, but normal people like Charlie. We are all like the walking dead, like vampires. Charles, the personification of evil, is lauded as a hero upon his death. If we are to make our way through the sea of evil, Hitchcock tells us we must first realize that we ourselves are evil. We are all vampires in one form or another.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Gone til Monday

So work has my going insane over here. I'll have something for the Vampire Blog-a-Thon, but other than that, I have too much crap to do. When I get back, I'll have thoughts on The Descent, Carrie, The Rules of the Game, The Earrings of Madame de ..., Sansho the Bailiff, and Day of Wrath. That's my weekend, or at least what I can make of it outside of my paper on Rebecca for my Hitchcock class. Now, if you'll excuse me, Sallust is calling my name.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Sundae Monday

This is going to (hopefully) a weekly feature, a tribute to that most delicious of desserts and that most annoying week beginnings. We'll start off with a great musical moment in the history of that greatest of shows, The Simpsons.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

BFFF: The Host

It's hard to say what hasn't been already been said about The Host. Yes, it's a phenomenal monster movie. Yes, it serves as a savage indictment of the way bureaucracy is unable to deal with most anything major in this modern world. I couldn't help but see a little bit of Hurricane Katrina in the portrayal of the government. But there was something else I realized at some point. The whole film is very Hitchcockian in its focus, and the ending strongly reminded me of The 39 Steps.

This is your standard monster movie plot, except it's enlivened with a compelling family drama subplot. Like Godzilla before it, the monster is created by mankind, and we need to stop it. The main difference is that there is more to the story than just a monster terrorizing a city in South Korea.

The story centers Park Kang-du and his family. This includes his father, Hie-bong, his siblings, Nam-il and Nam-ju, and his daughter, Hyun-seo. When Hyun-seo is captured by the monster, the rest of the family must work together to rescue her and kill the monster. Sound bland and familiar? Yes it does. It sounds bland and familiar. But The Host manages to turn most of the conventions on their head. When we reach the final climactic battle with the monster, it isn't a highly coordinated plan of attack. The family doesn't really come together except near the beginning to mourn the apparent death of Hyun-seo.

The family scenes work extremely well, mainly because there is very little overacting and the dynamic feels genuine. Despite what they might say at one point or another, they deeply care for each other, and they are willing to do everything they can to save Hyun-seo. There is one scene of phenomenal overacting, but it comes off as comedic, and at this point in the film it fits the general tone. The early scenes have a much stronger comedic aspect to it, especially concerning the first appearance of the monster.

This scene is beautiful in its construct, if only because they have created, on a visual level, one of the greatest movie monsters I have ever seen. It first appears in broad daylight, wreaking havoc on everyone in the area. I was surprised to find myself laughing at the joke I could see coming a mile away of a woman listening to headphones and not noticing the people running away until she is hit in the face by the monster.

I spent most of the movie unsure of what I thought about it, until the very end. The final scene, at least a few weeks after the events that make up the movie, show two people eating their dinner with the news on in the background. We hear the beginning of the news program, when they announce that they are about to say whether or not the monster actually carried a virus (an important point through most of the film). And in true Hitchcock fashion, we don't get to hear the important report. We merely get our two characters turning off the television and returning to their dinner. It's nice to know the McGuffin is still alive and kicking. We don't really care about the report. We care about the new family that has been formed. Just as we should.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Fly High, Free Bird

It was 29 years ago today that the music world lost the heart of Lynyrd Skynyrd to a tragic plane accident. This one's for Ronnie.

BFFF: Tideland

Don't believe what you've read about Tideland. The way it's being advertised, it's the same sort of film as Pan's Labyrinth, a tale of one girl's flight into her imagination to escape the horror's of real life, only to find that her imagination is just as dark. This is hardly the case. Tideland is the story of a girl in the prairie who lets her imagination run wild after her father has overdosed on heroine. Now, that may sound like what I just said it's not, so let me elaborate. There isn't any extensive quest through her imagination, only to realize that it was all a dream and everything's ok. This is not Time Bandits. The filghts of her imagination make up small parts of the film, depending on how you view the ending.

They may be small in the amount of time they take up, but they leave a lasting impression because of their sheer beauty. Seeing a whole house sinking into the ground like a battleship can leave quite an impression. But that's probably not the sort of image most people will remember. When we see Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland) cooking up a shot of heroine for her father, Noah (Jeff Bridges), I wouldn't be surprised if many people are so disgusted that they cannot move past it. And we see that within the first 10 minutes. Within the first 20 minutes, Jeliza-Rose's mother, Queen Gunhilda (Jennifer Tilly) has overdosed, with her father to follow suit soon enough. All in all, the first half an hour or so are wonderfully frightening and disorienting.

Though it's important to get past the shocks of the beginning of the film, it's necessary to keep them in the back of your mind, as they are referenced numerous times within the film. Jeliza-Rose has a set of four doll heads that keep her company, and each has its own voice and personality, each voiced by Ferland. At one point late in the film, we see the main doll head, the British accented Mystique, on top of a body that we can recognize as belonging to Jeliza-Rose's mother. This speaks volumes to the character of Jeliza-Rose, that these doll heads, which represent different aspects of her own psyche, also represent the mother figure she now lacks.

Mothers play an important role in Tideland, especially when talking about Dickens (Brendan Fletcher) and Dell (Janet McTeer). Noah's mother, who was supposed to be in the house he and Jeliza-Rose move to, is not there, and Dell and Dickens' mother is also dead. It's revealed that Noah and Dell were once "kissers," and so Dell takes the form of a surrogate mother for Jeliza-Rose. She shares a lot of characteristics with Queen Gunhilda, most notably their strong mood swings. In one scene, Dell goes from singing Jesus' praises while cleaning Jeliza-Rose's house to trying to kill a squirrel that lives in Jeliza-Rose's walls. After Jeliza-Rose has discovered Dell and Dickens' big secret (I'm going to tell it here, but suffice it to say it relates intimately with this ongoing motif), Dell refuses to give Jeliza-Rose any food. This is also after Jeliza-Rose and Dickens become kissers (and only kissers), leading to a humorous sequence of Jeliza-Rose and Dickens thinking her stomach rumbling is a baby in her stomach from kissing. At this point, Jeliza-Rose declares that she expects to give birth in the next few days, around the time that the film ends.

All of this mother talk comes together in the end of the film. I'm going to go into plot points, so consider this your spoiler warning.

The end of the film centers on a train crash, which Jeliza-Rose thinks of as the end of the world. This brings in elements from earlier, including Dickens' trying to derail the train, which he described as a "monster shark." Jeliza-Rose rushes out to see the dead monster shark, and runs into a woman who sounds a whole lot like Glitter Girl, another one of Jeliza-Rose's doll heads. The woman decides that they should take care of each other, essentially taking over as Jeliza-Rose's mother figure. Dell shows up, looking for the missing Dickens. This is the first time that the film presents a mother figure (Dickens and Dell are brother and sister) without her child, instead of the other way around. The effect is striking and puts a real face on the sense of loss that pervades the whole film, especially since it is a child now gone instead of a parent.

The final part of the film shows Jeliza-Rose sitting down with her new mother figure and looking at the fireflies buzzing around the train wreck. I have seen other views on the ending, but I took it to be a revelation of sorts that links back to the beginning of the movie, possibly showing that the majority of the film was in Jeliza-Rose's imagination. The very first scene of the film shows Jeliza-Rose sitting in an overturned schoolbus next to railroad tracks staring at fireflies buzzing around before a train comes rushing by. Before the train arrives, we hear Jeliza-Rose talking to her doll heads about the fireflies. She says the same exact things to this woman.

Spoilers over. Moving on.

Of course, this being a Terry Gilliam film, the images are gorgeous. Nicola Pecorini picks up where he left off in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The colors are extremely vivid, and the skewed camera angles, as usual, continually disorient the viewer. It is worth noting, though, that the strange angles disappear at the end of the film, suggesting a reestablishment in the real world. Since Tideland features a great deal of action in a wheat field, there will be inevitable comparisons with that pure object of beauty, Days of Heaven. While Terry Gilliam's images cannot quite compete with Terrence Malick's, they are close to that level of beauty.

Ferland is a true revelation, playing up to 5 different characters in one scene, if you include the doll heads. She lends both a strong emotional grounding and a refreshing naivete to the character of Jeliza-Rose. Jeff Bridges is great while he's alive, but it's Jennifer Tilly who really steals her scenes as a mother who'll nearly hug her daughter to death and then start beating her for taking some chocolate. The cast is just amazing, and there is everything in place to make this a great film. Now if only somebody will take notice.

Don't believe the hype. Terry's back.


Boston Fantastic Film Festival

This past evening marked the beginning of the 4th annualBoston Fantastic Film Festival. I will presonally be reporting on some of the films, namely Tideland and The Host. I'd see more of them, but I'm saving up for 50 Years of Janus Films.

Please note that both of these events are being shown at the Brattle Theater, which needs support. They need to raise over $200,000 by the end of the year. Please donate whatever you can, or just go there a lot. Maybe I'll see you there.

I saw Tideland already. The short review: One of the best of the year so far. I can't really understand how everyone thought it was so bad. Guess I'm here to add a different perspective. There is plenty more to read later, when I pump out a full review.

Also coming up: My review of The Host, as well as my contribution to the Vampire Blog-A-Thon. Either I need to watch a vampire movie fast, or I fall back on Shadow of a Doubt.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Excessive Verbosity in Grid Form

College life gives some opportunities that you can never get again, namely access to free newspapers. At Tufts I can get the Tufts Daily, the Daily Metro, and the New York Times. Now, not only do these fine pieces of journalism (well, some of them) offer insight into important affiars both local and globally, but they also gave me my first real chance to do crossword puzzles. How else can someone get through a 75 minute lecture on probability?

I happened to catch Wordplay at the perfect time in my life for me to love it and appreciate it. It's a film about our isolationism and how it can unite us. It doesn't put its point forward as effectively as Metal: A Headbanger's Journey or American Hardcore, which attack different issues with the same thesis, but Wordplay remains an entertaining journey into the way we can cut ourselves off from the world and still be a part of the crowd.

The main problem with the film is that this look into intellectualism is never targeted at anyone besides the very intellectuals who do the daily crossword. The film begins by running through a list of celebrities who do the New York Times crossword, and ends with a competition a la Spellbound. In between, we meet the competitors we will see at the end, and this is where the film makes some of its greatest successes. By learning about the people who love crosswords enough to enter this competition, we get a glimpse into a a different aspect of the high brow intellectual, the one that can separate us from the rest of the world.

By introducing us to these characters seperately, we get to know them before we see them interact with each other at the American Crossword Tournament. This is the part that adds perspective to the characters and allows them to become more than isolated intellectuals. However, it takes away from the idea of our interest in ourselves and our entertainment isolating us from the greater world. It gives these people a way to congregate and make connections that they wouldn't ordinarily be able to make. And it's all thanks to Will Shortz.

Wordplay was originally supposed to be a tribute to Shortz, but it focuses much less on the man himself than his works and what has come of them. The most about Shortz is given through Merl Reagle, a man who writes crosswords which Shortz edits. We see Reagle creating a puzzle, and we get to see Shortz edit it. This gives us a better idea of the man behind the puzzles than the competition, if only it shows us how much he loves what he does. We are given his background, but seeing how he works is a key in understanding the man.

Occasionally informative, Wordplay can still be entertaining, and the end of the competition works very well as a solid moment of tension. Wordplay proves how well it works by making us feel for the competitors, especially poor Al Sanders.

**1/2 / ****

Louis, I Thing This Is the Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

I know I'm a little bit behind the times. Blogs are soooo however long ago they were. But who cares? I've wanted one so I can join the community of bloggers that allows for much more direct and interesting discussions on the world. Also, I figure I can improve my writing by working on it regularly. See, math people are not so good at writing. I hope that being someone with my background will allow me to add something different to the discussion.

That said, I'll start with actual reviews in the next post.