Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham

Lena Dunham, creator of the HBO series, Girls, (something which I don’t know about; I’m a man’s man; I don’t have time for that show, I’m too busy eating a turkey leg) made what seems to me an autobiographical film, and further, something of a commencement speech for those college graduates eager to dive into life. Dunham, also writer and director, stars as Aura, an intellectual girl going through a post-graduate delirium. She returns anew to her home after college and after her break-up with her boyfriend; she’s essentially set up for a loss from the beginning. Aura has that bad taste in her mouth when she finally catches up with her family, sister Nadine and mother Siri (played by their real-life counterparts), who are too utterly caught up in their own successes to help Aura and her lack thereof.

Her sister is a partying, scholarship-winning wunderkind, while her mother is a successful artist/photographer who’s been admittedly riding on that success since Aura’s age – and both represent two ends of the age spectrum who have accomplished more than Aura and her liberal arts degree. In an attempt to resurrect her life’s direction, she tries spending time with her sister and mother, but finds them inaccessible and unwilling to acknowledge her.

She’s spurned, so she ends up at a party where she meets Jed, a rising YouTube celeb, and Charlotte, a long-lost friend of Aura’s; and gets a dead-end hostess job where she meets Keith. Aura bounces her time between all three, but eventually cuts it off with all of them after being screwed over one too many times. After a while, it occurs the thought that they were presented as clear failures as adults, antagonistic to the forward-progress thinking Aura tries to sustain throughout the film, like Ghosts of Christmas Future if Aura can’t get her feet off the ground. So she turns to her mother’s diary from her age as a hopeful guide, which turns out to be just as unreliable.

Time passes and Aura’s best-friend with whom she was going to be moving in with, gets a call from emotionally-stuck Aura professing how much her mother and sister need her to stay. The phone call itself is average enough, but I got a little teary-eyed (don’t worry, I did like 20 push-ups afterwards) given the times we see Aura try to sleep in her mom’s bed and denied, her lonely cries in the shower, sitting in her mom’s lap so she can be held. She doesn’t want to leave her family’s house – can’t because she needs their support, having to revert back to being a child, dependent.

The future is not any more certain for Aura at the end than it was at the beginning, but there’s a foretelling when we watch Aura eventually get accepted into bed with her mom, beginning to hear about the frivolity of her young adulthood Aura read about in the diary. But her mother becomes distracted from the ticking of the clock. Aura accommodates and moves the clock to the other end of the house. She comes back into the bedroom and asks, “But you can still hear it a little bit?” We wince. We can still hear it. The inference can be made that Aura, her sister, her mother, everyone is always getting older and so we have to make something of ourselves before that time runs out.

Tiny Furniture as a title refers to the miniatures her mother uses in photographs, though I don’t have the energy to delve into the profundity of it all. I’m not apologetic.

Anyway, good to know that the film has that low-budget vibe, but luckily doesn’t make us have to wade through all that indie quirk pretense, and goes straight for the jugular of that quarter-life crisis that marks the threshold to adulthood. It’s an impassioned piece of filmmaking, with the same gut honesty as one’s own diary.

– Kade

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Tim Curry’s Segment in The Worst Witch

 

5/5 Hot Dogs

“With its subversive technical prowess and well-timed, understated choreography, Tim Curry’s number in The Worst Witch proves to be a crowning achievement in a film, and further, in its transcendence beyond cinema toward the enhancement of the Halloween and macabre culture.

Though normally confined to the tropes of dark brooding or fantastic gore, horror is now redefined as a medium, delivering vicious scares as it almost blatantly attempts not to. In this way, Curry’s segment throws off the onus of creating mood or presenting audiences with jumps in favor of a kaleidoscopic ritual of dance, song, and green screen.

Many of the special effects mask (albeit enhance) the physical movements of Curry, but what we see of his choreography comprises of slow crosses and billowy twirls. The impression is made that Curry is a creature of both great bravado and incredible power. His cape, traditionally an accessory of power, consumes the sky as he flies across it as a display of veneration to the children below. The same cape later returns to form, creating an imbalance that puts the audience in an uncomfortable place. That place is revisited throughout the song while Curry histrionically curates a slideshow of un-frightening images.

These items work as single unit toward the goal of making horror resemble a children’s special, an expert move that causes the audience to meditate on what truly scares and what does not. As the question weighs down, Curry becomes the central conduit of child-horror. In the vein of a weatherman, he pedagogically presents and sings of what is “the creepiest” and “the scariest”. It is implied that it is certainly not the bugs and skeletons in the background, but in fact, Curry’s face and his 80s-public-access music, both of which are highlighted far more than the Halloween images.

Although the rest of The Worst Witch pales in comparison, Curry’s segment in the film does its best to usurp traditional horror with his fusion of dumbed-down scare imagery and masterful artifice.”

~ Clarence Higgle

Inside the Subconscious: The Master and There Will be Blood

This is just a short essay I wrote for an intoductory film class.  It asked us to write about the implicit meaning in two scenes by the same director.  I selected Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and There Will Be Blood.

Within the context of film analysis, there seems to be a subtle war within the frame between the implicit and explicit meanings being conveyed to the viewer. Paul Thomas Anderson is a director who lines every shot with kinetic and visual symbolism that often times can be rather disorientating to a viewer’s understanding of the work. Within his films There Will be Blood, and his most recent work, The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson uses brilliant cinematography to portray subconscious thoughts and allow the viewer to see far deep into the character’s implicit reasoning.

There is a scene in The Master, (nearly directly in the middle of the film), that showcases the effects of cinematography on anti-realistic elements. In this scene, Lancaster Dodd is singing a drinking song to a group of his followers.the_master_paul_thomas_anderson18 Dodd waltzes around between two rooms (what seems like a dining room and a study area) during this process, interacting with the individuals during certain parts of the song. The group itself is composed of mostly young women and men, with a few older women interspersed. The camera itself sits on a slide rail, and follows Dodd’s frantic movements by tracking left and right, framing him at the center of the dining room with a crowd around him, and then tracking his movements back to the study area, where there are more individuals and even two females playing the cello and piano. Most of the individuals are standing, their kineticism echoing that of Dodd’s hyperactivity – however, his wife is sitting, legs crossed, and there is a sharp smile on her face. This presents visual stress, her relative stoicism conflicts with the overall movement within the composition, perhaps hinting at conflict in the future (which happens after the scene ends). There is a cut from the wide menagerie of movement to frame a relaxed, drowsy looking Freddie. His face is filled with low-key lighting – the chiaroscuro within the shot shows the shadows within the wrinkles of his face, making him look much older. The bright colors within the clothing of the party-goers is contrasted with the mute, conservative tones of Freddie’s blue dress shirt, evoking a sense of drowsy melancholy. Even the camera reacts in this soporific manner – a dolly shot moves very, very slowly, enlarging Freddie’s figure (and importance) in the frame. Freddie’s eyes blink slowly, and his chest rises and falls, with no other part of his body moving. It is as if he has been drugged. Suddenly, there is a sharp cut back Dodd, which a radical change in the mise-en-scene. Every female is now naked, including Dodd’s wife. Dodd grabs one of the girls, her hand moves to reinforce his grip around his waist. The kinetic nature of the shot has not stopped, but we are now met with the realization of the sexual connection within every touch, every movement. The drowsiness of Freddie makes the viewer realizes that we are viewing the party from a first person perspective – we are gazing from Freddie’s eyes. The surreal, anti-realistic appearance (the abrupt nudity creating an oversexualized experience) is caused by Freddie’s drowsy, perhaps drug filled perception. Thus, we are given a glimpse into one of Freddie’s “sins” and a core concept of the movie – Freddie’s hypersexual nature.

The scene I selected from There Will be Blood is at the third quarter of the movie. Daniel Plainview must be “saved” in order to get Bandy’s tract of land for his oil pipeline. We are given a low angle shot of Eli There Will Be Blood_4Sunday, giving him an intimidating appearance. The shot is framed unusually close to his face, eliciting a feeling of claustrophobia – instead of Eli preaching to us, it is as if he is attacking us with his words. A cross lies slightly blurred in the background, with Eli’s face bobbing around, obfuscating certain portions of it. This is a symbolic presentation of the blurring of truth from Eli – he is covering portions of what he believes in order to appease his ulterior motive of fame and fortune. The high-key lighting makes everything seem a bit fuzzy and unreal, they are inside a church yet everything is awash with light. The light dilutes the colors, giving it a faded, false tone. A cut in the shot presents Daniel Plainview, his face is hardened, his mouth forms a grimace. We see Daniel walk up the stairs on the stage, standing squarely in front of the cross (which is simply a cross cut out of the wall). Light pours from the cross cut out, giving a certain aura of light around Daniel’s shoulders, embracing him. However, Eli quickly dismisses this comforting notion, and forces Daniel onto his knees, grabbing him by his hair. Daniel is now in a compromising position – his position of strength over Eli is diminished. The shot cuts to a close up of Daniel’s face, who is forced to look up at Eli to ask him how to pray. The claustrophobic nature of the close up not only forces the viewer to feel uneasy, but it also symbolizes the helplessness of Plainview. Here the frame stays, as we hear Eli accuse Daniel of various sins to confess – Daniel’s face is hardened, but an inkling of emotion can be seen through his quivering lip and darting eyes. The camera is stationary, providing us a rigid view of the scene, and emphasizing every movement that Daniel makes. Thus, we get a very emotional view of Daniel’s character, we see every muscle twitch, every hair raised, every shoulder slump. This hypersensitivity mimics the anxiety that is within Daniel’s mind – an implicit presentation of the character’s inability to think while under emotional stress. As the scene continues, we see this anxious mind begin to burst, as Daniel begins to yell the statements fed to him by Eli. Daniel is uncomfortable with the emotional stress, he is a man of more visceral types of pain. The tension in the scene crescendos sharply, as Eli begins to slap “the devil” out of Plainview. We are given a wide shot of the stage, presenting Eli battering Plainview. What we witness is the catharsis of two characters – Eli exerting his physical control over Daniel, and Daniel feeling “real” pain from his actions (as opposed to the metaphysical pain of sin). As Eli hits Daniel, Daniel smiles, mocking him, and asks him where his God is. Daniel is more comfortable with physical pain, and in fact gets an emotional release from the anxiety driven sequence before. Thus we are presented with an implicit view of the character’s feelings toward certain stressing situations – in a way, a view of Daniel’s subconscious nature.

La Jetee, Chris Marker

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La Jetée by Chris Marker is a piece of science fiction that forms the recurring theme of time travel into something new and beautiful. The film is most unique in it’s presentation – instead of us watching a movie in 24 frames per second, we watch 1 frame per every 2 seconds or so. It is a slide show of photographs, a film that encompasses the feeling and reality that any Ken Burns documentary has, (it in fact uses many techniques that are found within his modern documentary work), yet it captures the world of a fictional universe. This formal stylization allows the viewer to truly focus in on each and every still, admiring the characteristics of the predecessor to film, photography. La Jetée  is truly an admirable work of avant-garde film making through it’s use of the slide show, presenting statements on the philosophical aesthetic value of art and the psychological concept of recurrent memory.

When confronted with a motion picture, it is easier to quantize frames into scenes or shots in order to analyze the piece. It would be rather pointless to go through the film frame by frame in order to formulate an analysis (also it would take an enormous amount of time to do so), so an audience member usually notes the movements in the composition instead of it’s harmonies or individual notes. La Jetée  presents us with each and every note, and gives us the time to appreciate every still frame – much like an audience member at an art gallery. We may comment and recognize the contrasting chiaroscuro of every still and note the change in angles of every shot, (the images of the past are bright, and full of the motion of the world, the images of the future are still, dark, and dead). We are brought back to a time before film making, a time where art was exactly what was in front of us – there was no further explication to the piece other than what the artist had placed precisely for us. While the film is science fiction, (the events we are watching are ahead of our time line), we are implicitly transported back into the past of art critique;we are a time traveler in a time traversing movie. The film forces us to realize the beauty of cinematography without motion, the importance of the frame and the framed within movie making, the harmony of the still picture.

The slide show mechanic also comments on the psychological foundations of memory. The main protagonist (played by Davos Hanich) has a certain image indelibly etched into his mind – the image of a girl’s face watching a man die. He remembers seeing her when he was a boy, just before the airplanes came – the planes that carried the nuclear warheads that caused World War III. Humanity is driven underground, lost and without hope for survival. The man (Davos Hanich) is selected by certain scientists to travel through time to attempt to find a cure – the image of the girl hopefully serving as an anchor in time for him, so that he won’t become lost and ultimately fail in his mission to find something that will save the human race. The slide show is a composite sequence of mnemonic images – each with a certain cathexis, or emotional force, behind it. The man sees the girl not only as an aspect of the humanity pre-annihilation, but also as an idol of beauty and romance, strengthening the emotional connection the man has to the girl. The man remarks that, while in the past, things are surreal and dream like. A sequence in the film shows the girl sleeping, then gradually waking – the slide show moves faster and faster until it is fast enough to reveal the motion of her smile. The surreality of the world was destroyed at that moment, a sudden realness is obtained as we are shown motion in a very still world. It is as if his brain, attenuated to the reality of the future, is slowly becoming acquainted with the world of the past – one time line of memory being replaced by another.

La Jetée was quite an amazing film. It was odd to see a story unfold in the manner of slide show with narration – there was definitely a disconnect between the characters and I throughout the work. However, this disconnect is perhaps exactly what Chris Marker wanted. The man himself is disconnected within his own reality, his memories are not only of the present and the past, but also of the future. For a film that is only 28 minutes long, it definitely left me with a lot to think about.

Schizopolis, Steven Soderbergh

Aside

“In the event that you find certain sequences or ideas confusing please bear in mind that this is your fault, not ours. You will need to see the picture again and again until you understand everything.”

                -The Director

ImageSchizopolis is a film that has made me question whether there is truly any worth to critiquing art at all.  The quote above is delivered by Soderbergh himself at the very beginning of the film, as he stands on a stage speaking  directly to us, the audience.  Soderbergh proclaims that this film is the most important film of all time – he urges that every man, woman, and child on earth must see this film, or else it may tear our society apart.  If we do not understand his work, as stated within the quote above, we must watch the movie, again and again, until we understand everything.

So, what exactly is in the film itself?  Soderbergh plays the lead role – a man named Fletcher Munson, who works for a corporation called Eventualism.  Eventualism is a direct parallel to our worlds Scientology, a claim that can be reinforced in a multitude of ways, most apparently in that the Eventualism book cover shown in the film is that of an erupting volcano, which Scientology’s Dianetics shares.

While it may seem that some sort of plot is developing, perhaps one that will criticize Scientology, an organization which has been ridiculed and attacked recently by the internet activist group Anonymous – Soderbergh instead creates a story involving multiple characters and multiple points of view that is packed with visual symbolism and experimental techniques that tests the audience’s ability to decipher the complexity unfolding on the screen.  One character, Elmo Oxygen, spends the majority of his time on screen speaking in gibberish, communicating with other characters in a string of words that are completely unintelligible.  Some scenes have characters stating the premise of their lines instead of saying anything at all: “Generic greeting!”, “Generic greeting returned”.  All of these are meaningful pieces to this intricate and well-developed puzzle of a film.

Or are they?  I’d like to go back to Scientology for a moment, an organization that often uses psychology to reinforce their religious agenda – this is what creates the “science” portion of Scientology.  Through double speak and esoteric language, Scientology convinces its followers that what it is saying is both scientifically and spiritually sound, when in truth, it is neither.  Through a complex web of examinations and education, a follower of Scientology can gradually be rewarded with more knowledge, further complicated books filled with pseudoscience and ridiculous claims.  A follower attempts to understand these works in order to find meaning in his or her life, and often does.  It is simply the nature of the human mind to find meaning in often disjunct packets of sensory information – even when there is nothing truly to be found.

At the beginning of the film, Soderbergh tells the audiences that if we don’t understand the film, we need to watch it again.  He challenges us to find meaning in it by saying we probably are too dumb to figure it out the first time – classic use of reverse psychology.  The film is simply a psychological experiment, providing the audience with enough sensory information to come to thousands of various conclusions as to what Soderbergh was actually trying to say with his experimental scenes.  It is an unintelligible string of events that we, as human beings, make intelligible.

When we are attempting to find a deeper meaning, we are bound to find something.  Schizopolis presents countless moments where the viewer can attempt to create meaning and glimpse into the greater message Soderbergh is trying to make, but I’d like to believe that this is fruitless.  I think the fact that Soderbergh had no script for the project, and in fact wrote the lines for each scene right before filming, supports my hypothesis.  Soderbergh is simply playing with our minds, laying a trap that we can’t help but fall into.

Chasing Amy, Kevin Smith

ImageKevin Smith has a way with the English language that keep people rapt and laughing more times than not. A truly gifted writer. Shakespearean is not an inaccurate comparison at all. And just as I haven’t seen all of Shakespeare’s nor Smith’s work, I still get a sense of their style and what to expect. Regardless, Chasing Amy, Smith’s third feature film, doesn’t work under the same modus operandi of Clerks and Mall Rats with quips and diatribes the fore-front of the movie. It’s better.

Chasing Amy I think doesn’t make a song and dance out of his vibrant dialogue, and finally removed from his earlier volition of style over content, Smith instead uses his stylistic writing as a supplement to a greater emotional truth he found in Chasing Amy. The presence of human problems and feelings gives the film a lot of thematic weight in spite of its characters’ (or perhaps just Jason Lee’s) biting cynicism. What it is is a refreshing take on The Love Triangle. Millenniums of this and yet I can’t recall one involving a sexually-uncultured man who falls in love with a stern lesbian, and the man’s best friend who gets in the way of them in an unusual manner.

Not exactly a titillating log-line, but have faith the triangle warps and breaks by the end that there’s no easy shape to describe their evolved relationships together. Which brings me to the film’s cojones: growth. A comic book drawer, Holden (Ben Affleck) falls in deep with the intriguing Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams), who’s inauspiciously gay. There leaves Banky (Jason Lee), Holden’s best friend to try to keep them apart for reasons of his own. But of course, Holden has it convinced the girl who doesn’t like guys will like him. And the heightened reality of romantic-comedy stories gets the best of this one for a bit, as Alyssa actually does fall in love with Holden.  The film follows this change from Alyssa’s sexual preferences and Holden’s new understanding of Alyssa’s past lesbianism; the change works on a doubly internal level because I see the transitions as Alyssa’s reimagined worldview and Holden’s maturation with love. The two clash in that instant, where Holden struggles with Alyssa’s sexually-experienced path she tries to forget.

The film presents a really honest and unabashed view of love without contexts or constraints that society likes to place on it. There are, of course, many observations and discussions of homosexuality from the film (in particular, a conversation of how virginity and love-making are defined stands out), but the film expands its scope to include love’s selfishness, secrets, and imbalance – all brought to light in a satisfying finale. For a romantic-comedy, a genre stuck within its own rules and standards, Chasing Amy breaks a lot of the conventions in subject matter and character while reestablishing them.

The film leaves us with three triumvirs of love who can’t mesh together. C’est la vie. The insights it brings to the table, however, make life a little more bearable for Holden, Alyssa, and Banky, and for the audience, too. Flaring just as much wit if more than anything in Kevin Smith’s canon, and with certainly more heart and honesty than many, Chasing Amy reinvents the romantic-comedy movie.

– Kade

Clean, Shaven, Lodge Kerrigan

Clean, Shaven is an assault on our senses, throwing punches at our optic nerves like Anderson Silva at a UFC match. 

ImageThe film’s protagonist is afflicted with schizophrenia – which, according to the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia includes symptoms such as anxiety, anger, and false beliefs that others are trying to harm you or your loved ones.  Various scenes are seen through the protagonist’s eye; discordant noises and shrill screeches accent the score, presenting very uneasy, anxiety-building shots. 

The most basic of human instincts are attacked – our revulsion to gore and rot.  The protagonist incurs numerous varieties of pain and torture to himself in a paranoid frenzy, making the audience squirm in their seats and beg for the scene to finish.  The film does not censor itself in the portrayal of death, presenting full framed decomposing bodies and vicious physicality.

This is the most notable aspect of the film, in my opinion.  It creatively and effectively presents a character flawed with mental illness – a character that is struggling with his reality, and who must constantly attempt to decipher what is real and what is fake.  Unfortunately for the protagonist, he is often unable to discern his mind’s eye from his true one, and undergoes throes of anxiety and paranoia. 

The plot of the film revolves around the afflicted protagonist’s search for his daughter.  His daughter is currently within the mother’s custody – probably due to the mental instability of the father.  The daughter is the complete motivating factor for protagonist,  not only due to his emotional attachment to her, but also due to his hope that seeing her again will instill some sort of normalizing force on his life.  He hopes that manifesting a relationship with his own blood will liberate him from the paranoid thoughts that are in his head, so in a sense, the daughter is not only his kin, but also his key to mental freedom. 

Plenty more can be said about this work – the isolation of the protagonist against the broken family he was once a part of, the paranoid tic that arrives whenever he sees a girl near the age of his daughter (which leads to violent reactions), the entrance of the lonely detective who exploits the plight of a worried family in order to mask his own insecurities and inability to act.   However, I believe that these are simply the facets of narrative that simply carry the film forward – the notability of the work is within its riveting presentation of the effects of mental instability; these pieces warrant it to be watched by any aspiring film devotee.

Aside

ImageMy God. House is, to anyone of sound mind or taste, a punch to the stomach. And a gory punch.

There is always that trepidation when approaching foreign film, of confusing culture for comedy; and me never having been to Japan, I cannot tell whether vicious, flying firewood is a legitimate Japanese fear or if it is one of the most bizarre embellishments ever to be placed in a horror film. I truly cannot decide with anything in this movie, so I find it best to lay out everything in the most unbiased manner before I make any final judgments.

Seven girls, Gorgeous, Fantasy, Kung Fu, Prof, Sweet, Melody, and Mac embark on an innocent (again, a word I’m afraid of using to describe anything in this movie) trip to Gorgeous’ aunt’s house. Gorgeous is looking for a temporary holiday from her new step-mother whose scarf is suspiciously always floating in the wind – even when there isn’t even wind.

So screw that noise, these seven aptly-named girls are staying over at this aunt’s house for a summer fling, with only the aunt and her cat, Blanche, as its permanent residents. Mac, reliably hungry all the time as her name apparently suggests, buys a watermelon before reaching the titular house. They steep the watermelon in the well at the aunt’s house to keep it cool. Fantasy goes to retrieve it – turns out it’s a cackling, floating head. We could have sworn it was a watermelon. Some time shortly thereafter, Kung Fu battles a fleet of possessed firewood in the air.

Eventually, the girls fall slain to a number of possessed things among the house, whose owner actually turns out to be a vampiric spirit that haunts the refrigerator and the trusses of the house. She sics on them a piano that devours a girl; as does a light fixture and a mattress; and some household items beat the shit out of the remaining girls before they drown in the blood-bile from Blanche’s framed picture – typical horror movie fare. All this violence begs the question as to why. But of course, the aunt eats any unmarried girls that enter the house. If it was a snake it would’ve bit them – perhaps a more desirable fate, honestly. This would make a lovely parable illustrating the importance of marriage before visiting any family members, lest you be eaten by grand pianos and puked blood on by cat portraits.

Bipol’s allusion to Tim and Eric hits the nail on the head. I’m not at peace making the comparison, probably because Tim and Eric is a more pleasant experience, but I suppose it is because I’m comfortable with them. House uses a lot of animation in telling its tale of blood and gore. Again, the cheese of it is up for debate whether it simply of an older time period or if the filmmakers wanted some camp flare. And where Tim and Eric provide some familiarity in their sketches’ VHS tracking lines and green screen-ing which fit them into a time and place and particular genre of media; House is a theatrical film, in the same category as Jaws, a purported inspiration for the film no less. I profess little knowledge in the technological advances of film in the 1970s, nor do I know the first thing about conventions of Japanese cinema in or around that time, so I cannot dismiss the jagged, bright animations in the same way I cannot embrace them. I will, however, say that this was made the same year as Star Wars: A New Hope.

Regardless of if it should be or not, the film was hilarious and creative in spite of itself, or because of itself, or whatever pretense it has, or had, or will, or whatever.

Kade

To Be Or Not To Be, Ernest Lubitsch

To_Be_or_Not_to_Be_1942_posterHollywood of olden days, basking in its Golden Years, produced stars. And not just stars, but S-T-A-R-S, spelled in giant, gold-embossed lettering, hung on twinkling marquees for mink-coat darlings and three-piece suits to bat their mascaraed eyes and lick their cheese-and-wine-savoring lips at. See, the theatricality of old Hollywood was the nebula of movies during that time, and it consequently created celebrities in cinema’s players. A change in the stylistic paradigm back to Hollywood’s formative, stage-like productions only added to the reverence of the actors on the screen.

So we find Lubitsch’s 1942 masterwork, To Be Or Not To Be, in a contextual place adrift a sea of A-list billings, and made his film a meta-work which placed the theatricality of itself in the dramatic spotlight. Its primary characters: actors playing characters. The stage is set in Nazi headquarters established in conquered Warsaw, and the game is to contain crucial information about the Polish underground resistance from Nazi leaders. The situation is at once dire and a riot.

The brilliance of the film comes from the constant undulating on a comedy-drama mesh, knowing full well the reactionary nature of turning marginal actors into war spies in the heat of World War Deux. Jack Benny leads the ensemble as a not-so-famous Polish actor, Josef Tura with a struggling ego, unable to swallow the fact that someone walked out on his “To be or not to be” soliloquy as Hamlet. And funnier yet, the someone is a winsome pilot sneaking backstage for flirtatious swings at Tura’s actress wife, Maria (played by Carole Lombard). The three embark with the clutz cast of Hamlet to fool Nazi intelligence (an oxymoron as far as the film is concerned) into giving them the Polish resistance’s plans before reaching higher authorities.

The conflicts are stacked upon each other like layers, occasionally delineating from the film’s tightrope moments of covers almost blown to revisit internal conflicts. (Josef Tura’s hopeful inquisitions about whether the Nazis he’s deceiving have heard of him could literally kill someone with laughter.)

To Be Or Not To Be is a near-perfect consolidation of masterful writing and impeccable comedic acting – pulled together by veteran filmmaker Lubitsch in perhaps the highlight of his career and a truly magnificent story-telling feat.

– Kade

*And the film’s “Schultz” would explain this gem from long ago:

Chasing Amy, Kevin Smith

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Entering the mind of a Kevin Smith movie is a pleasant retreat into an idealized world where every conversation is full of razor-sharp wit and perfect comedic timing.  Smith has perfected his writing style throughout the “New Jersey Trilogy”, the last of which is Chasing Amy, a film that, I believe, truly manifests all that is Kevin Smith: geeky pretentiousness, frugal design, and a plot that is full of absurd – yet oddly relatable – situations.

            We gaze into the life of two comic book artists:  Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) and Banky Edwards (Jason Lee).  These men have lived together for most of their lives and know each other better than anyone else – a certain relationship that bridges the gap between a best friend and a brother.  All is fair and good until Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) enters into the fray, of whom Holden instantly falls in love with, thus corrupting the friendship between Holden and Banky.  However, throughout the film we see bits and pieces of Alyssa’s past life, which not only complicates the relationship triangle but in fact, completely contorts it. 

           The film questions the objectivity of societal roles and sexuality – presenting a fun, but insightful look on the contemporary perceptions of homosexuality, and the bias that is often unintentionally formed in the minds of those who perceive themselves as “open-minded”.  The interconnectedness of sex and love is examined, while also acknowledging the polarity between sex for pleasure and sex for love.  The effect of past sexual relationships and the emotional baggage it can create is also examined, and the stress that it can put on a partner is a very important motivating factor in the movie. 

            The true beauty of the film is how all of this commentary is interwoven into the lives of two New Jersey comic book artists.  All of the thematic statements found within the movie occur within venues such as bars, arcades, and the Manhattan Comic-con.  The passion and personality of the director is profoundly apparent in every moment of the film, and Smith’s ability to expound both on a dramatic Shakespearean experience while also fitting in his love for geeky media is something quite incredible.