CineMathematics or CinemaThematics. Your choice

Monday, March 31, 2008

Sundae Monday, Dear Reader

Before I get to this week's videos, I want to tell an amusing anecdote from earlier today. Today I went out to the Cine Lumiere, which happens to have some of the best programming in London (a Marcello Mastroianni retrospective followed by a week of Colossal Youth? Oh Hell Yes). This evening there was to be a showing of Robert Altman's The Player, which I haven't seen. After a lengthy introduction, the lights dimmed and the film began. A title card came up "Players." Hmm. I know the film is a satire, maybe this is a joke, right? Wrong. It turns out that the theater accidentally received a 70s tennis film instead of Altman's take on Hollywood. The worst part? They wouldn't even let me watch Players. Sigh. Ah well, c'est la vie.
This week I present "Wizard People, Dear Reader." If you have read any reviews of the SXSW entry We Are Wizards, then you may have heard the name Brad Neely. He recorded an audio narration to the film version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. One of the wonderful things about this is it both hilariously comments on the action of the film and allows a viewer to deconstruct the film on a purely visual basis, if one were so inclined. It's telling that Neely introduces his narration as "a book on tape," even though he is clearly narrating the film. There is nothing particularly exciting about the film visually, and this underlines the fact. It's still worth watching all 34 parts on YouTube because they are hilarious. Just keep in mind that Neely takes liberty with names, so you shouldn't be surprised to hear about Hagar the Horrible, the Wretched Harmony, Professor Hardcastle McCormick or Professor Snake (in this version, Snake is a woman). I'm just posting a few of my favorite moments, but feel free to check out the rest.

Chapters 1 & 2 ("Magical deeds are afoot Dear Readers. Magical darkness a must"):

Chapter 8 ("Holy Balls! He bought the Turkish Owl!"):

Chapter 19 ("Wink Wink, Harry. Wink Wink"):

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

4 Shots, 3 Locations and 2 Reasons to Watch This Movie

Do I have to turn in my movie blog by saying that I wasn't completely won over by 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days? The film certainly had its moments, but for a subject that should be so viscerally emotional, I felt the film was far too cerebral in its execution for a subject like this. Now that I have mentioned my big gripe with the film, I will say that I would recommend this film to anyone. The second half of the film makes up for the detachment of the first half with some wonderfully intense moments. What's even more amazing is that the intensity stems not from the action on screen, but from Cristian Mungiu's presentation.

This is best signified by the now well known shot that sits still focusing on Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) as she sits at her boyfriend's mother's birthday party. As conversation continues on general inanities, the camera remains fixed on Otilia worrying about the fate of her friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), who is currently undergoing an abortion. The camera traps us in this uncomfortable space with Otilia, and the result is as mesmerizing as it is unbearable. This shot is one of four distinct shots that show how 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days succeeds so greatly in its second half.

The second shot takes place back in the hotel where Otilia got a room for Gabita to have the abortion. We learn shortly after Otilia arrives from her boyfriend's house that the abortion is complete. Cut to a static shot of the fetus sitting in the bathroom on a towel. We can still here the conversation going on in the main room, but our view does not change. This shot pushes the film into dangerous territory by actually presenting us with that one thing we never see. The intellectual horror of the previously mentioned shot turns into a much more visceral repulsion. This is what was outlawed, and this is what Gabita and Otilia risked so much for. Is it right? I cannot comment on that. I was too busy being astonished by the sheer audacity to show that. I should also point out that the point of view is not detached from a normal person's perspective looking down on a small bloody mess. No, Mungiu doesn't want the audience to get away so easily. He places the camera at floor level giving the fetus its big close-up. The image is immediate and still makes me shudder.

Where the first two of these four shots were very specifically static, the third one is as kinetic (maybe more so) than images from the Bourne Trilogy. Otilia has been tasked with disposing of the fetus (that poor girl has to do everything, doesn't she), and she takes to the streets at night to find an appropriate place to get rid of this little bundle. As she runs through the darkened streets, the cameraman runs with her. This isn't a particularly new thought in the film (the cameraman walks along with Otilia earlier, and we see the shakiness there), but, as before, the intensity is ratcheted up to a whole other level. Now the cameraman is running and can barely control the camera. If the shot had taken place during the day I might have been sick to my stomach. As it is, the darkness saves the shot by shaking black figures against a black background. We are left with the sounds of Otilia panting as she runs around desperately trying to get rid of this fetus. Coming so soon after we witness the fetus, it is necessary that we barely make out the images on the screen, lest someone get sick. The lack of light allows Mungiu to convey just how intense the situation is without making us queasy, which is just what he needs to do.

The fourth shot, the final one of the film, was, at least to me, the most impressive. The ordeal is done; Gabita no longer is pregnant, and Otilia has disposed of the evidence. There is nothing more to do than grab a meal at the restaurant in the lobby of the hotel. As they settle into their seats, they do not speak a word to one another. The waiter comes with specialty menus, since there is a party going on in the other room of the hotel and this is all the kitchen has. Neither Gabita nor Otilia is in a position to complain, and so the camera settles in to watch them from a distance. What originally seems another static shot quickly reveals itself to be slowly pulling away from them. An odd little light appears on the right side of the screen. Slowly more lights begin to appear on the screen and ambient noise of the street rises on the soundtrack. By now it is apparent that the camera is looking from outside the restaurant window. Their story is over. The rest of the world is surrounding us, if only we will look. Otilia turns her head slightly to the left, and she looks straight at the camera. Her face shows the disgust of a woman who had to go through hell, and she is focusing that anger at the viewer. This is the first moment that the fourth wall has been broken, and its impact is immediately felt. In fact, nothing else can be felt, as that is the last image of the film. This shot simultaneously announces the film as a pro-choice film (at least that's how I read it. Who are you to tell that woman she cannot do what she thinks is best for her body?) and ends the film on a perfect note. For all of the film that preceded this moment, Mungiu has tried to make us uncomfortable by putting us in Otilia's place. With this final shot, he makes us uncomfortable by removing us from Otilia's place. We are a part of the rest of the world, and we have to deal with that.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Sundae Monday's Press Announcement

If you didn't know, R.E.M. has a new album coming out. Said album is supposed to be their best in over a decade, and that news has me very excited. In fact, you can listen to it RIGHT NOW!!! Just click this link and enjoy. I haven't had a chance to listen to it enough to turn in an opinion, but that's not why you come here. This post is about R.E.M.'s single "Supernatural Superserious" and a hilarious press announcement. Let's start with that:

Next is the video for "Supernatural Superserious." If you don't like it, you can make your own by clicking here. You can take the original video footage and edit your own version. This is a wonderful idea, both in getting the audience to interact with what they are consuming and revealing the process behind the creation of a music video like this one. One of the things I noticed about it was how the editing was deliberately not synced to the rhythm of the song. It has become commonplace to use this sort of editing, and it's nice to see a break from the tradition. Enjoy, for tomorrow you shall get new Raconteurs (that they announced last week!?! Jack White, you are one crazy SOB):

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

I Know Mabuse, And You Sir Are No Mabuse

The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse is the sort of film you would get if you let James Cameron direct Terminator 3, which is to say a very well made film that still pales in comparison to its predecessors. Fritz Lang approached the idea of Dr. Mabuse at three times during his career: first as a rising silent film director, second after the immense success of M just before he had to flee Germany, and the third as his final film. The 1,000 Eyes doesn't feel like a final film though. Its technical aspects are as accomplished as they were for The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, though less emphasis is placed on that new fangled sound element. Here, the most distinct feature is the editing, and the viewer can clearly tell that Lang and his editor Walter Wischniewsky are having a lot of fun. Fortunately, the fun isn't limited to them. The cutting on the opening scene hinges on the word "murder," and different scenes are connected by the similarities of sounds. It's entertaining to watch, and saves the film from becoming a bore.

If The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is a commentary on the impending Nazi rise to power, then The 1000 Eyes is all about Cold War paranoia. There are only two major characters who aren't hiding major pieces of their identities (including, strangely enough, the American), but each character only gets one about face. Once the lovably jolly insurance salesman starts noticing things, it's abundantly clear that he's hiding behind a facade. In fact, it's abundantly clear that a twist is coming, but the plot is too full of them to really involve the audience. By the end of the film, I couldn't really tell what the danger was, except that involved a nuclear plant. That's the film's main flaw: it spends too much time in what originally appear to be inanities like the relationship between the American and a suicidal girl. We feel no sense of great danger from this sense of Mabuse because the film is too detached from where the danger is. Similarly, the reasoning behind how some random guy got his hands on the Testament of Dr. Mabuse or how it could have influenced him is not given, leaving us with some random madman with some sort of plan to take over the American's nuclear plant and . . . destroy the world?

This is one place where The Testament is a much better movie. We don't know the extent of the Doctor's plans, but we see that there are people dying and buildings destroyed in this plan. This plan is complete and utter anarchy, and we can clearly see that. The new Mabuse's plan is so vague that it's hard to picture how exactly it will be so destructive. It become a matter of distance. This incarnation of Mabuse is too far from the original, who died at the end of The Testament, and the grand evil plan is too distanced from what we see. Mabuse isn't even responsible for the massive spying system installed in the hotel (damn Nazis). This aspect continues the idea of Cold War paranoia, but it never becomes a significant piece of the story. We can see somebody is watching our hero, but the implications are never addressed.

Perhaps the worst aspect of the film is its pacing. When watching The Testament, it was fun to watch these different story strands slowly coming together. There was a sense of destiny to the plot, a feeling from the very start that things would come together and that it would be exciting to watch. The 1000 Eyes, on the other hand, feels like a collection events tangentially related. There's an American and the girl he saved from suicide (the whole hypnosis aspect is barely mentioned), an insurance man just hanging around, and a police inspector looking into the murder of a television reporter. Only one is even related to the name Mabuse until well over half way into the movie. By that time, I was just hoping the movie would end so I could watch a movie worthy of Lang's talent. Maybe Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, the movie that started the tale of the good doctor.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's (Sundae Mon)Day

I would have posted something this week, but I spent the majority of the week "going green" (read: St. Patrick's Day weekend in Ireland). Last week gave me the opportunity to catch Fritz Lang's The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, so I should have a review up this week (the short version: well made but still disappointing). In the meantime, it's important to show a little Irish spirit for St. Patrick's Day, but I won't be putting on Dropkick Murphys. Instead, I present the Pogues. Enjoy this one with your Guinness.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Sock It to Sundae Monday

Sock puppets are making a comeback. For enthusiasts, it has been a long time of watching old Sifl and Olly episodes on YouTube, but now SockTube gives us exactly what we need. SockTube gives us parodies of movies as performed by sock puppets. They have performed all five Best Picture this nominees, and a few from this new year. All of the Best Picture nominees have massive amounts of spoilers, except Michael Clayton, considering nobody appears to have actually seen the movie. Each of these has some amazingly funny moments, but my favorite has to be There Will Be Blood "mousetrap smaller mousetrap bigger mousetrap!").

First, Juno:

There Will Be Blood:


No Country For Old Men:

Michael Clayton:

And now some non-Oscar nominees.


Step Up 2: The Streets:


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Butterknife: Bongo Board

While I'm talking about things in a timely and topical manner, I've decided to go back and start catching up on the Butterknife episodes I haven't written about. At this point, Butterknife has announced itself as a very physical series. Plastic Hassle revolved around people sitting and talking to each other, but Sicilian Style and Key Witness use the physical awkwardness of Ronnie and Mary for great comic effect. This week's episode, in particular the second half with Ronnie and Mary, seems a combination of elements from all three previous episodes. Ronnie and Mary try to balance on the titular board and then talk about Mary's day at the hospital. Though the physical aspects of the episode aren't as funny as Ronnie having to use a 3 point turn to get away from the guy who has confronted him or Mary getting stuck under the bed, they continue to tell more about how close Mary and Ronnie are.

The first half of the episode is unlike anything we've seen before in Butterknife. In fact, the emotional directness of the conversation reminded me of the voiceovers from Eric Rohmer's first two moral tales. If Sean Williams had extended his discussion of how he treats his girlfriend, it could have served as the same sort of obsessive narration as in The Girl at the Monceau Bakery. This sort of discussion is fascinating to watch, especially juxtaposed with the physical nature of the second half of the episode. Though it isn't my favorite episode so far (I don't know if the series will ever quite beat Mary and the bed), this certainly indicates good things for the future of Butterknife.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Vertigo Is Too Good For This

A year or so ago, AFI updated its 100 Years 100 Movies List. Though personal favorites like Fargo and The Third Man fell off the list, it was a general improvement. The Searchers and City Lights rose into the Top 20. Sunrise and The General made the list. The African Queen and Forrest Gump dropped (though Gump shouldn't be on the damn list). They even put my favorite Hitchcock in the Top 10. I love Vertigo immensely, but should it be in the Top 10? Based on its merits, of course. However, when we consider what this list is meant to do, Vertigo seems much more comfortable in its original place, below Psycho, Rear Window and North By Northwest. Allow me to explain.

This list is a list for beginners. It's for those teenagers who are starting to get into film and want some indication of quality that does not include the Star Wars Trilogy or the LotR Trilogy in their entireties. Any cinephile who knows his/her way around the internet knows that They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? is the ultimate source for generally accepted great movies. But the AFI list wasn't designed by cinephiles for cinephiles. It has decidedly middlebrow tastes (hence the Forrest Gump) with a slight eye for quality (hence the Citizen Kane among others). But if someone with little cinematic experience goes into Vertigo, they may come away with a bad taste in their mouth. After all, Vertigo needs you to understand a few things before you go see it.

As Ed Copeland so eloquently states, a full appreciation of Jimmy Stewart in Hitchcock's films, and particularly Vertigo, depends on a basic understanding of Stewart's collaborations with Frank Capra. Before you watch Vertigo, you should watch either Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or preferably It's a Wonderful Life. Without one or both of these, you can't appreciate just how wonderfully Hitchcock perverts our notions of the Average American Man.

Secondly, Vertigo is often described as Hitchcock's most personal or self-referential film. After all, for the first third of the film, Jimmy Stewart plays a man who stands off in the distance and watches a woman. He, like LB Jeffries before him, is an obvious surrogate as voyeur. However, Vertigo departs from this formula by expanding our knowledge beyond Scottie's and making Judy the audience protagonist. This is utterly shocking, though it takes a better understanding of Hitchcock to understand just why this is so surprising. Hitch's playing with the notion of the Hitchcock Blonde, but that requires knowledge of Hitch and his blonde ambitions. Though any number of Hitchcock films would help satisfy this void, I've always thought Baby's First Hitchcock (TM 2008) should be North By Northwest. It's Hitch's most straightforward thriller, and a good way to introduce a new viewer to some of the usual ideas and techniques Hitch uses in his presentations. Maybe add Rear Window or Notorious, or The Man Who Knew Too Much (either version, really). But a good experience with Vertigo requires much more than just an open mind.

Trust me on this one. I had only one Hitchcock film under my belt the first time (Rear Window, for the record). The experience was not a pleasant one, and I spent a good couple of years convinced that Vertigo was one of the most overrated films I had ever seen. I didn't understand just what Hitch was doing and how carefully he created his world and the overwhelming sense of doom that covers the movie. A second viewing, this time with some Capra and a lot more Hitchcock behind me, it was exceedingly obvious that my first experience was a mistake based on a general lack of knowledge of Hitchcock and understanding of his themes. Vertigo is a film that grows with every viewing, and especially with a greater understanding of what makes a Hitchcock film a Hitchcock Film. Just ask Marianna Martin. She can tell you exactly what comes with a well informed viewing.

Of all the good decisions that the AFI made in their updating, and there were quite a few, this is easily the worst. Someone who approaches this list with a pair of fresh eyes will look for the films at the top of the list, and they will find a deep, complex and challenging film. That film probably won't hit them in the right place, because there is so much more that should be experienced. As much as it hurts me to say it, this is a film that deserves to be much lower on this list. It is too good a film for its position.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Give the Sundae Monday Toys

Before I go into this week's Sundae Monday and catch up with a few weeks of Butterknife, I just want to point out yet another site you need to read on a regular basis. You may know about Garfield Minus Garfield, but if you don't, it's a blog devoted to removing Garfield from the normal Garfield cartoons. The results are slightly creepy but completely hilarious. An example:

I've been thinking about Sarah Silverman and Jimmy Kimmel and the "I'm F*cking [insert Goodwill Hunting star here]" videos that have stormed the internet (no swearing until it comes out uncensored). I was going to write about the problems I have with Kimmel's response video, primarily stemming from the reliance on 80's nostalgia (the presence of Joan Jett and Huey Lewis does not make Kimmel some kind of genius), but I got lost on YouTube watching Sarah Silverman videos. Silverman has a definite schtick, and if you're on that wavelength, then few comics today are funnier than her. If she's the kind of person you don't like, well then you should probably skip this Sundae Monday.

For the record, NSFW. You've been warned.

First, Sarah speaks for all the good little Jews out there who wonder why Santa has forsaken them:

Next, Sarah loves a bit of gorganzola:

Sarah wasn't just in The Aristocrats, she was an Aristocrat:

Sarah doesn't understand Jews driving German cars:

Sarah Visits the Elderly!

Finally, Sarah gets serious:

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