Monday, June 25, 2007
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Settling the Score
This is my entry into the Filmmusic Blog-A-Thon over at Windmills of My Mind. Go on over to the hub for some great score talk.
One of the first things that I said after walking out of Brick was "Damn, that was a good score." The score and the editing are the two major successes of Brick, but the latter is a matter for another post. One of the great things Brick does is use film cliches to inform the viewer of any particular drama in the film. The prime examples of this are Tug's Theme, Laura's Theme, and The Pin's Theme.
Laura's Theme tells you everything you need to know about her. A silky piano tune reminds the character of the beauty and charisma of Phyllis Dietrichson, Kathie Moffat, or Brigid O'Shaughnessy. Where Fargo and Chinatown shun film noir archetypes, Brick embraces them, giving us a clear picture of the sort of character Laura will be. The ultimate piece to Laura's puzzle is the instrument Laura's Theme is played on. Instead of a simple piano, Laura's Theme is played on what sounds like a cheap Casio. Laura lacks any sort of class. Deep down, under the thin veneer of charm and grace, she's as much a two-bit criminal as anyone else in the film.
Tug's Theme takes a more classical influence than Laura. Consisting of only a deep bass, Tug's short temper and violence are portrayed like in Peter and the Wolf. It's a classical device that shows the viewer Tug's stereotypical character and allows him to break free of that molding. Tug's Theme melds perfectly with The Pin's Theme, showing the two's initial unity.
Though I love Laura's theme, it's The Pin's Theme that truly tickles me. A Godfather-esque trumpet declares his status, and his inevitable future. The high trumpet playing over Tug's low bass show completely different styles, but a harmony that can only come from two people realizing how badly they need each other. With The Pin as the brains and Tug as the brawn, they rule the city's crime ring. As a crime head in a noir detective story, The Pin can have only two fates: arrest or death. However, we can tell every time we hear that trumpet that they'll never take The Pin alive. His fate is a betrayal, not unlike if Michael Corleone had been killed near the beginning of The Godfather Part II when Fredo betrayed him.
The climax of the film comes as The Pin and Tug come to a final fight. The soundtrack, other than the sounds of fighting upstairs, consists of only the bass and the trumpet, both extremely chaotic, as if fighting for the viewer's attention. Though it is the trumpet which is more easily noticeable, the bass ultimately prevails through sheer force.
Brick is a true marvel in the modern cinematic landscape. It is a loving homage to Dashiell Hammett with a completely modern way of telling the same story. Sometimes it takes directly from the 40's noir of its birth, and sometimes it borrows liberally from those inspired by that time. But whatever it's using, it uses it well. A western guitar plays as we're first introduced to Brendan, our lone star hero; a violent bass for Tug; a fake piano for Laura and a trumpet for The Pin all set up the characters using our own knowledge of film so that these characters can color outside the lines. You couldn't ask for more from a film like this.
Monday, June 18, 2007
I was struck recently by an article by Ty Burr in the Boston Globe. You can read it here. Though the film eventually turns into a major advertisement for Tony Kaye's fall documentary Lake of Fire, Ty brings up a good point. For all the discussion that has occurred online on Knocked Up's avoidance of abortion, we (and I include myself in that) have completely forgotten that Waitress hardly gives abortion a thought, and apparently Mr. Brooks takes the topic into pro-life territory. I'm assuming that Mr. Brooks got less coverage because, well, do you know anyone who's seen it?
But what about Waitress? When Jenna (Keri Russell) is impregnated by her husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto), we see her misery. She makes "I Don't Want Earl's Baby" pie, but she never really considers abortion. To be fair, her decision is made for her halfway through the film when she tells Earl that he'll be a father. He makes the decision, though the impact on our view isn't so much about her being pregnant as about her entrapment in a loveless (from her perspective) relationship. As in Knocked Up, the female protagonist feels forced into a relationship based on pregnancy. Any hope for Jenna's escape disappear when Earl learns of the baby. The decision is no longer hers. However, her plan never was to have the baby. She hoped to make enough money to go to a pie-making contest so she could start over again, but she always planned on having the baby in her new life.
Now, I don't want to open up a can of worms here (I happen to be pro-choice, but I don't judge people on their views), but the recent discussion has made me wonder: what is it about Knocked Up's lack of abortion that raises discussion that Waitress just doesn't have? Is it because Jenna's from the South? Because Knocked Up is a "sleeper hit" this summer (I would call it a comedy hit, but let's not split hairs)? Because Jenna asserts herself to live her own life with her daughter where Allison succumbs to societal pressure to be in a relationship? I'm not sure. But if Knocked Up is going to get hammered for its views on abortion, then it shouldn't be the only one.
Since it is Sundae Monday, I give you the ultimate political answer to abortion, as presented by candidate Kang, or is that Kodos?
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
The Two Ripleys
Alternate Titles for this Post:
Get Away From Me, You BITCH!!!!
She Mostly Comes Out at Night, Mostly
She is the Perfect Organism
This post is my entry into Nate's Action Heroine Blog-A-Thon over at The Film Experience. Check out the hub for all things action-y and feminist.
My first thought when I heard about the Action Heroine Blog-A-Thon was to write something about Ellen Ripley, the accidental protagonist of one movie and flat-out heroine of three more. Then I figured that everyone would be writing about her, so I tried to come up with something more original. Then I remembered that Nobody Wrote About Nosferatu (!!) And so here I am, now, back with Ellen. Well, two incarnations of Ellen. I wanted to take a look at the difference between the horror heroine and the action heroine as shown in the evolution of Ripley's character from Alien to Aliens.
WARNING!! SPOILERS AHEAD for both Alien and Aliens!!
I seem to be in the minority of thinking that Alien is better than Aliens, though the latter is still a well crafted work that has influenced the very face of cinema. Aliens was one of the first sequels to alter the original's subject by adding a military presence. Recent examples of this include The Hills Have Eyes 2 and 28 Weeks Later. But this isn't about each movie's place in film history. It's about Ripley.
Well, Aliens is about Ripley. Alien is about the alien. It isn't until Dallas bites the dust that we truly see Ripley emerge as our protagonist. But we still like her. A lot. She knows the rules and follows them to the letter. In most movies of this sort, she'd be the first to go. She'd be the most hated character in the film and the audience would cheer as it watched the alien take her apart. But not Ripley. No, not Ellen Ripley, last surviving member of the Nostromo. We love her, because she follows the rules, but more importantly, because she fully believes in self-preservation.
The one thing that truly connects Ripley and her alien tormentors is that they all have one natural instinct: survival. Even the original alien was shown not to be a merciless killer when presented with Jones the cat. The alien attacks for two main reasons. To continue its life cycle, as in the murders of Kane and Brett, but for its own protection, as in the killings of Dallas, Lambert, and Parker. Similarly, Ripley puts her own well being before anything else, only thinking of Jones once her own safety is ensured.
Ripley's instincts alone are not what endear her to us in Alien. She is intelligent and rational, but never closed-minded. She actively thinks about and tries every possibility before setting the Nostromo for self-destruction. She can tell, like we can, that there is something terribly wrong with Ash before it is revealed that he is an android. She is able to devise a thorough plan when confronted with the alien in her escape ship, saving her life, in true horror heroine fashion, with her brain. Unfortunately, she doesn't get to keep that brain too much in her later adventures.
Throughout the course of Alien, Ripley is rational with fits of fear and anger. In Aliens, Ripley is angry and afraid with fits of rationality. To be fair, she has gone intense stress, and it was completely unreasonable of the Company to ask her to go back to the alien's planet. Nevertheless, she spends more time screaming at something than she spends rationalizing her situation, unlike in Alien.
Though many will claim her character is deepened by the presence of Newt and her new position as a mother figure, I argue that this sets her character back. As with most strong women on film, Ripley is eventually saddled with motherhood, and this weakens her character, within the scheme of her development. Watch Aliens and pay specific attention to Ripley's dreams. At the beginning, she is constantly plagued by nightmares, many involving the alien bursting through her chest in a perverse sort of birth. However, once she meets Newt, the dreams stop as she focuses more on Newt.
Ripley has fears about motherhood, but only once she has a child do her problems start to disappear. Where Alien was about men's fear of birth and childhood, Aliens was about a woman's acceptance of birth and motherhood. Ripley in Alien is a strong, intelligent woman. Ripley in Aliens is a woman looking for a child. I don't know about you, but I prefer that first one. She is a true heroine.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Sundae Sunday - Act Fast
Sorry about the lack of a proper Cape Fear/"Cape Feare" post. Things have been hectic lately. Suffice it to say that Ocean's 13 has a few enjoyable moments (the whole Zapata thing would have been a lot more insulting if Soderbergh didn't show a beer advertisement using Zapata), The Wall has shown me just how much I don't want to be a nihilist, Silk Stockings may have the most sexist moment ever captured on film, and if Trouble in Paradise is an accurate example of Lubitsch, then I need to do a lot of research into Lubitsch.
This is very exciting, but it will only be around through Thursday. You can watch all of Four Eyed Monsters on YouTube. This is certainly a film worth watching, so you should just take the 70 minutes and watch it. Oh, and make sure to register through them at Spout, so that Spout will give them money. Go now! Give them money. They deserve not to be in debt. And watch Four Eyed Monsters below.
Friday, June 08, 2007
This is the first part of a two part contribution to Esoteric Rabbit's Simpsons Blog-A-Thon. Part Two will be posted later today. If you want some good Simpsons reading, head on over to the hub.
It is my favorite episode of my favorite television series of all time. In my opinion, "Cape Feare" is the greatest half-hour of television ever produced. After rewatching it, there are still very few instants when I am not laughing. It has the best punchline in The Simpsons ("I think he's talking to you") as well as the best extended gag I think I've ever seen (the rakes). It includes references to Psycho, Gilbert & Sullivan, Linda Lavin, panda smuggling, and possibly the oddest death threat ever made ("Wipe Out" is somehow the perfect touch).
One of the main successes of "Cape Feare" and other Simpsons episodes of the time was its incorporation of offbeat cultural references without dwelling too much on them. This is something that Family Guy has taken to its logical extreme, mentioning a pop culture artifact and immediately cutting to a short parody. The Simpsons often avoids this, usually indulging its fantasies in quick dreams. The prime example in "Cape Feare" is a daydream Homer has in which he is John Elway, dressed as a turn of the century football player. When he runs in for the touchdown at the last instant, it is revealed that the score is now San Francisco 56, Denver 7. This sort of sketch is works by virtue of escalation. Each successive image builds off of the last one (Homer as John Elway? Homer dressed like that? Homer running it in? They still lose by 49 points? Why would he dream this?) to create the perfect comedy bit.
"Cape Feare" also indulges itself in a few running gags, such as the revelation of ridiculous laws (you are not allowed to put squirrels down your pants for the sake of gambling) and Itchy and Scratchy cartoons (having seen this many times before Goldfinger, I always thought Bond's escape looked something like this. "Cape Feare" is also one of the first episodes to feature the back room of Moe's bar. I have no idea what Moe was doing with illegal pandas, but I would pay good money to see Barney's reaction as they ran through the bar.
Yep, for me, "Cape Feare" is almost the perfect Simpsons episode. There's only one problem. I haven't read up on my primary sources. And so today I will watch Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear and rewatch "Cape Feare" to see how this new insight will shape my perception of the greatest half hour of television ever created.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
Sundae Sunday - Simpsons Edition
This week, Esoteric Rabbit is hosting a Simpsons Blog-A-Thon. For the first of my contributions, I present a few favorite moments from the show.
WARNING!!!! If you have not seen Planet of the Apes, do not watch the first video.
Somehow, this video became exponentially funnier after being forced to listen to the soundtrack to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It always seemed odd to me that a major musical would use music like Falco's "Amadeus," but the common use of modern music styles, taken to its logical end, results in a hilarious musical centerpiece.
Next, I wish to present a comparison. Both of the following clips make use of a left-field 19th century musical reference. Watch how The Simpsons finds a way to embed the reference within the plot developments. The development is not naturally humorous, but the use of props, and the inherent danger in the situation elevate the scene. And once Bart starts singing, you know you've hit comic gold.
Family Guy does not even try to make sense of its reference. As with most of its humor, the laughs come less from the hilarity of the situation than from surprise at the obscurity of a reference or the bawdiness of the joke. This sort of humor, while a welcome break at times, lacks the true depth of humor that The Simpsons can have.