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If you look at the top critics for Tetro on Rotten Tomatoes you can basically see this following review. I got lazy and thought it would be kind of fun to try and edit all the review text on that site into a single review. I’ll at little bits of stuff but mostly the review will be made up of the quotes taken from rotten tomatoes top critics. (I’ll cite them all at the end too!)

Tetro is a visually lush cinematic fugue about love, ambivalence and two brothers fleeing the dark shadow of their domineering father (1). Returning to his origins as a theater and film student, Francis Ford Coppola deploys striking visuals, music, dance and classic drama to spin a tale of familial conflicts and brothers reunited (2). It has a verve and vitality that’s been missing from [Coppola’s] pictures for 25 years, and its various and visible flaws all result from too much of that verve rather than too little (3). The direction of this film is extraordinary. With Tetro, it feels as if the Coppola is regaining his footing, figuring out which parts of his past to hold on to and which to let go (4). He returns to the motifs that made his 1970s films powerful (5). The black-and-white cinematography alone is as intoxicating as a bottle of the director’s finest red (6). Tetro percolates with energy and bawdy knockabout humor (7). Gallo is great in this film it seems as though this role fits well into his previous two films: Buffalo 66, The Brown Bunny.

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[However] The heavy symbolism of binding family ties can become too much to bear (8) at times. Despite the overwrought plot and unabashed pretension, there’s something admirable about the fact that Coppola clearly made this movie for himself (9). [Even so,] what makes it eminently watchable is the craft. Cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. films in luscious widescreen monochrome that looks almost wet. Osvaldo Golijov’s score is another pleasure (10). Coppola is still very much alive(11). Despite all its longueurs and extreme aggravations, Tetro deserves to be seen as the late work of one of the cinema’s most accomplished masters of mise-en-scène(12).

1: Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
2: Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter
3: Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com
4: Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times
5: Stephen Cole, Globe and Mail (heavily edited)
6: Aaron Hillis, Village Voice
7: Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune
8: Christy Lemire, Associated Press
9: Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News (key tone edits)
10: Peter Howell, Toronto Star
11: Wesley Morris, Boston Globe
12: Andrew Sarris, New York Observer

There you have it. 12 reviews mashed into one. Sure I ripped a few quotes to shreds to make it all fit but I still got it done. I had fun. I may do this to some other movies.

A Serious Man

Now that there are ten pictures up for the “illustrious” award of best picture of the year it means that I have to watch seven movies instead of maybe the usual four so I can get all angry at the Oscars once again. (It was the Oscars from last year the provoked me to make this blog.) The strange thing about the Oscars is that they usually pick at least one good film to nominate for best picture. Well the list is expanded and there are a few good films on the list this year, one of which happens to be the latest philosophical piece from the Coen brothers, A Serious Man.

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The film centers around Larry Gopnik, a Jewish physics professor and family man that has life drop one hardship after another on his plate. Larry’s wife is leaving him for another man, his son, Danny, is a morally corrupt thirteen year old, his daughter is more concerned with her hair and her friends than the rest of her family, and his brother Arthur is a socially inept mathematical savant with a drippy cyst and problems with the law. Couple that with Larry’s professional problems and you have the recipe for one unhappy man. Larry searches for answers as to why Hashem as cursed him with such a terrible life. He seeks advice from the Rabi but it mostly leaves him with just more questions.

The performances by all the actors are wonderful and there are some pretty funny moments that help to break up the very somber mood of the film. The film’s editing serves the story well, with a very relaxed pace. The characters are great in this as well. A Serious Man is to the 1960’s American Jewish community what Fargo was to the Northern Midwest. The film has at least one character fall into just about every Jewish stereotype there is, yet it is all done tastefully. The characters don’t seem like stereotypes however, all of them feel very real. This realism can be attributed to the nature of the problems that Larry faces. There isn’t anything too outrageous that happens to Larry. Everyone usually goes through at least one of these problems in their lives.

The ending threw me off at first. It ends much in the way as No Country For Old Men. Although I realized the message the Coens were trying to get across. It was said in the start of the film in a quote. I really didn’t like that quote and I think the film could have done without it since the same message was presented a few times later in the film. Although the quote might be important for people to connect all of the dots in the film and understand what the past two hours were about. I could expound at length about what the film means, but this is a review not an analysis/review like my Avatar post. I enjoyed the film much more once I understood what the point was. It is a simple point but it is still done in a cool way so I think it really makes up for it. I think I enjoyed this film so much because it is telling people something that I personally hold to be very true about life and with that I’ll let you see the film and figure it out for yourself.

Look for an analysis of the film in coming months when I have had some time to let it percolate in my mind for a while.

Grade: A-

Avatar

Disclaimer: Avatar has been written about hundreds of time by now with reviews ranging all sorts of categories. I have had strong feelings about the film and I have read a lot of these reviews. My opinions have remained true to what they were as I was walking out of the theater. I have read a review that looked like the reviewer used my head as a note book while writing a review. I know that enough time has passed since the film has come out that there are people that have deep rooted opinions of the film and I am no exception. However, I am going to do my best to adhere closely to my own opinions. Now to what I thought.

The history of cinema has changed. Although when every movie comes out cinema history is changed, yet we now have the first film that effectively uses three dimensions that aren’t goofy and awkward. The first time in history, we have a movie that was made better by 3-D. Although if 3-D was not there we would have the most boring two and a half plus hours of drivel that was ever released in 2009.

James Cameron is a master of detail. You look around the background of his early sci-fi work in Alien and the Terminator movies you’ll notice tiny details in the frame that really add to the over all universe and wonder of these films. In Avatar Cameron shows a lot of the same flair. However, this time it is all done with computers! Usually I would hate this. I think films look so much better with out computers trying to imitate real life, it is much better to have an actual dumb person driving a stunt car than to have a fake computer car crash and poorly integrated into the frame with actual scenery. However Cameron and his tech-team have done a fantastic job of actually pulling off C-G that does not look passable but actually looks real. For this reason alone the film is worth one viewing, in an IMAX 3-D theater. On the other hand, you may be kicking yourself an hour into the film after the glitz and glam become boring and the only thing left to pay attention is the actual movie.

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Avatar revolves around Joe Everyman American Jake Sully: a paraplegic marine from Earth sent to the forest moon of Endor Pandora to jump in a Matrix-style tank to get behind the wheel of once fancy and apparently aside from the fact that it is remotely controlled a functioning Na’vi (the native inhabitants of Pandora) body. He is sent to take the place of his fallen twin brother who was a researcher trying to convince the natives to abandon their home to let the evil greedy men destroy it and take the precious oil unobtainium stores from underneath. Sully is given orders to spy on the Na’vi from his hard-ass-take-no-shit Sergent. He goes along with this plan and is willing to sell out the brown blue guys, because hey, they live in trees and they don’t know what real civilization is. You can see where this goes. Sully gets involved with the tribe and now feels guilty about being a total dick. He then goes against his commanders and takes side with his radical science buddies and his blue friends.

Now everyone and their mother who has a negative opinion of this film will point out all of the similarities of this film to many other pieces of sci-fi and colonial films. It is obviously there. Now there really isn’t much of problem with the film being derivative in theory. Had Cameron and his brain trust of tech guys paid a little attention to something that wasn’t generated through a high powered computer. There is very little to like in this story and even less to like in terms of characters. The characters are more archetypes than characters. There have been so many of these same types of characters in many other films that it is hard to connect with them emotionally. All of the character development techniques felt stolen and glossed over as if Cameron knew that he had an unoriginal story with unoriginal characters but since he spent such a large amount of money on visual effects people won’t really care. The worst character by far is Parker Selfridge, the “evil capitalist” that is so obsessed with money that blah blah blah, played by Giovanni Ribisi. He plays this role as a poor man’s Jeremy Piven. Seriously it is as if Ribisi just watched a few seasons of Entourage before he came up with his idea for his character. Selfridge is the guy that everyone who really loves the film for it’s “political message” just love to hate.

The underlying theme of Avatar is really where the film falls from an annoying but cool looking blockbuster (see Sherlock Holmes) into a trash heap of annoying-heard-it-all-before moral blather. On the surface, Cameron is telling the world that we shouldn’t be ravaging the land of other humans who have just as many rights as we do all in the goal for mad stacks of cash, embrace the differences of other rather than scorn them, and respect nature and become in touch with more natural aspects of life. The problem I have with this is that that theme has been present in many, many other films (Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, and countless other post-colonial films from the 80’s and 90’s) that I as if we really need to have something like this made again. The themes are all solid. All the things he is trying to say are true, yet it feels a bit like anti-smoking ads: we all know cigarettes kill you and we have since the 70’s is it really necessary to stage fake protest and target the adds to teens? I ask Cameron the same question do we really need yet another two and a half plus hour film about the horrors of colonialism? Now I’m not saying that this theme shouldn’t be revisited every now and again, but Avatar adds nothing new to this particular type of film other than the fact that you have to wear 3D glasses to enjoy it.

Secondly I can’t over look the hypocrisy that this film presents. As I stated earlier the film adores nature. The Na’vi are literally connected with the animals that provide them with transportation and other such helpful things. The audience is manipulated (fyi it isn’t a bad thing to manipulate your audience, a lot of times it is really great) into loving the natural world that is Pandora. Everything is so wonderful and the wonders of the Na’vi god are really seen first hand. However when one looks at the way in which this film was made you see that it is the furthest thing from natural and organic as you can get. The audience is supposed to feel that as a population humans need to be less concerned with money, yet the filmmakers cover-up the naked “savages” in order to keep a PG-13 rating and hopefully make this thing turn a profit. The magic “nipple-magnetic” is just one example of the things used in the film to make money. It is very hard for me to listen to someone that is telling me to stop being so money hungry when the person exemplifies everything they are trying to stand up against.

Lastly, Avatar still bangs around that theme of the noble white man. The guy that sees the evil of his own race and is willing to do whatever it takes to stop his own kind from doing “evil”, because lord knows those blue people are too fucking stupid to do so themselves.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel however. It is no secret that Avatar was one hell of an expensive movie. And it is an even more obvious that this film is making mondo cash right now. I hope that James Cameron has found a way to make studios so much money in the future that they’ll have a little money to throw at film makers that actually have something original percolating up in their brains. Maybe this will start another period of the Miramax and Fox Searchlight films of old. Although one can’t be too certain. What is certain however is that James Cameron did a lot of work to make what is a really cool demo of his fancy motion capture/3D technology that really should have only been an hour long. I’d say see the film once. Spend the extra to see it in IMAX as well. It will make you hopeful for the future when a better film maker gets his/her hands on this technology and makes something truly great and actually does change the history of cinema.

Grade: D

The new millennium has moved from the cute, cuddly early years into the awkward, strange teens. With that I will be looking back, in the next few weeks, at the best movies of 2009 and the past decade.

I’m planning on writing more reviews for films as well. I know I’ve been slacking and that’s the reason that only four of you are actually reading this. My blog isn’t dead. I just have been busy with other things. However I’m planning on changing that so be ready for lots of new content in the future. I may be writing more about topics on films rather than just reviews too. I’m looking forward to what I can make this blog become. Let’s hope I follow up on all of my promises.

I know this is a movie blog but I see the opportunity for self promotion and I’m takin’ it! So check out the crappy electronic music I’ve made.

Listen to Panther Party here!

I wrote this paper for my one of my film classes. It is a paper I didn’t think was too bad. I just turned it in (late) so I don’t know what I got on it but I think you might enjoy reading it.

With a budget of $27,000 dollars all put onto a series of credit cards, Clerks is the shining inspiration for do it yourself film making. Director Kevin Smith believed so much in his project and his friends that were helping him so much so that he was willing to gamble with his entire future in order to make a film that most involved in the project had little faith would even been seen in Smith’s basement let alone in theaters. However the film was successful and Smith’s gamble paid off. Smith is now a highly respected film maker and it is all thanks to his first film. Clerks is such an engrossing film for the counter culture of the early 1990’s. The reason Clerks became a cultural phenomenon rather than a $27,000 mistake was because it captured the mood and feeling of the Generation X common man.

The film is ultra-low budget and as a result there is not a lot of highly technical and complex camera or lighting in the film. While this could be viewed as a bad thing is really is a strong selling point of the film. The film was shot on 16mm and on black and white film stock. The grainy black and white gives the film a really lower class feel. The lighting is almost a non factor in the film, it was meant to serve as a purely utilitarian aspect rather than an artistic one. Yet the low budget aspects of this film evolve into something very artistic. All of the bare minimum technical facets of the film really fit the subject matter. The characters in the film are all about the bare minimum in their lives. They don’t care about fancy things in life, but rather they only care about small things that provide distractions to their lives. The characters all wear basic, cheap clothing, drive cheap cars and have low paying jobs. There is nothing expensive in these characters lives. Thus all of the low budget techniques and raw feel of the shots add to the overall mood of the film. Ninety percent of the film takes place inside the Quick Stop convenience store. The fact that the film rarely depicts the world outside the store suggests that the characters are stuck inside their jobs like a prison. It also makes the store something of a character is self. The audience gets the feeling of actually spending and extended amount of time within the store. Viewers are no longer looking at the place as a store that one goes into for less than three minutes and runs out. By the end of the film the audience feels as if they work at that store and they know all of the ins and outs of the location. It is as if the viewers has just finished a shift in the store. The store personifies the The situation the two central characters are in. It is the setting for most of the annoyances and frustrations that the characters, and by extension, the audience feels.

Clerks is centered around two hapless store clerks, Randal and Dante, that are bored and disenfranchised with society. Dante is dealing with the feeling of not living up to his full potential, the expectations everyone else has for him, and the relationships with the women that are further complicating his life. Dante struggles with things that he can’t control. He thinks that a lot of things are holding him back but he really is just letting things that he doesn’t want to deal with hold him back. He is comfortable in his situation yet he can’t stand it. Dante pines for his high school girlfriend that he lost in the past. He can’t get over her which is perpetuated by the fact that he is keeping a connection with her. Dante’s current girlfriend seems to be a really great catch but he can’t leave her past actions in the past and is bothered by trivial things in her personality. Dante is also easily molded by his peers. He doesn’t have that strong of convictions which explains why Randal is able to convince Dante to get into all of the hi jinx that ensue throughout the film. Dante is meant to be the everyman of the working class of the 90’s, and he shares all of the common philosophies of his generation.

If Dante is the everyman, Randal is the embodiment of what every real life “Dante” wants to be. Deep down inside all of the the frustrations that Dante has he wishes he could vent it in such a violent and free way as Randal. Randal is more of a force than a man. Whether he is berating a customer at the store or trying to convince Dante about something that the two of them happen to be discussing, his unflappable crassness and devil may care attitude make him the quintessential model for everything that appealing to the “Dantes” in the audience. Randal really has no personal problems or concerns other than ditching his retail duties and having fun while getting paid for it. Randal is eloquent and convincing. He really has a way with words and can convince Dante into doing just about anything .

The really interesting thing that Clerks does is that both of the main characters are archetypes for the counter culture in the 90’s.

The biggest strengths of the film are the writing and dialog. A good example of this is when Randal and Dante discuss their favorite Star Wars film. Randal is in the Quick Stop store to avoid doing work at the video store while Dante has just pulled a Pringles can off of a man’s hand. Dante describes the feeling he has at the end of The Empire Strikes Back which is a feeling that most people of that generation attribute to the film. Randal then goes into an eloquent discussion on why Return of the Jedi is the best film by way of the mass murder of innocent construction workers. Aside from the inherit comedy in this scene there are some other really deeper, interesting aspects of this writing. Randal and Dante are participating in an activity that the most of the viewers of this film have participated in. Moreover, Dante’s feelings on the theme and mood of Empire are shared by the target audience. This type of writing really lets the audience empathize with the character; like Dante could easily be a member of the viewers’ circles of friends. Randal on the other hand seems to have a unique position on the entire situation, yet not an unbelievable position. The thing that makes all of this so interesting is that these characters are pulling you into their worlds. The audience really gets a feeling for how these characters are living out their everyday lives in their respective jobs. Dante and Randal don’t really care about anything that is going on around them, rather they only want to follow their own goals (talking about anything rather than work). The fact that not much happens in this scene speaks to the feeling that the film is trying to get across. People’s lives are filled with things that they hate and any little distraction that can get them away from it will be exploited.


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Another scene that adds to the overall feel of this film is that scene after the fight Randal and Dante have. The two young men are sitting on the floor in a sea of candy and snacks that their altercation produced. Dante starts to yell at Randal about the surface frustrations he is feeling towards Randal, who the obvious catalyst to produce the sordid state that they are in. How ever Randal retorts back at Dante for blaming all of his problems on others. This scene is the writer Kevin Smith telling his target audience that he understands how people can get in this situation and that he knows it is difficult to better one’s station in life, yet it is a two way street. People can’t keep wallowing around in self pity, wondering why luck dealt them such a terrible hand. Randal is giving the audience a lesson about themselves, in an albeit blunt fashion. The bluntness works for the film however. The message of what Randal is saying needs to be put so bluntly since Dante can’t see it for himself.

Clerks is a film that describes a generation. It can be looked at as a way to look at the attitude and mood of the 90’s. Dante constantly feeling down on himself and feels like there is so much to live up to. When things fail he holds himself up in a sanctuary of coolness and nonchalance. If Dante feels less personally attached to the things in his life it will not be as hard on him when things fail. Many young people shared these same feeling toward their lives and Kevin Smith’s skillful lighting and low budget film making allow people to easily relate to the characters and therefore feel like they can take something meaningful away from the picture.

Check out this deliciously terrible horror short “Thanksgiving”

Happy Turkey Day y’all! Hope you have a good one! I know I will.

Polanski Short Film

Enjoy!