Saturday, October 18, 2008

Intro to Film

Hey friends. I've been neglecting this site for too long. I'm glad Drew hasn't. I liked getting together over the summer a couple times, it'd be fun to do it again.

Anyways, this semester, in addition to my usual high school teaching responsibilities, I'm also teaching an Intro to Film class at SLCC. Here's a few things we've watched so far:

The Color of Paradise

I like to start the semester out with this one because it's so different from what most people have seen, being foreign and iranian, but at the same time it's so easily accesible, so I think right off the bat it helps to ease their prejudices against foreign film. Also a great example of a pretty obvious but power theme supported by all the film elements.

Annie Hall

I hadn't seen this in a while and it still does the trick. One student mentioned how he thought the whole film was the equivalent of the Audience being Woody Allen's analyst and him trying to explain Why to us. I buy that.

American Graffiti

I've basically got this whole film memorized now. It was interesting how after seeing it a lot of the students said they talked to their parents or uncles and aunts who said this is exactly what it was like growing up in the 60's. So I tried to think of a film that shows what it was like growing up in the 90's. I couldn't think of one that is similar to my life. I'd say the closest thing is Freaks and Geeks. What about you folks?

Pan's Labyrinth

I hadn't seen this film before I showed it to the class, so I got to experience it for the first time with them. I loved all the recurring themes of laying up treasure in heaven vs. trying to hold on to earthly treasure. The ending was initially frustrating but ultimately exactly right. I think he does a great job of getting an adult to feel what a child feels when they read or see a good fairy tale.


I think I've written about this one before. Still love it. On the surface, I love what it says about marriage, and the effort it takes to make it work, but how when you dedicate yourself to it it's the best thing ever. Beneath the surface, I think it's about our relationship with God. Similar to Punch Drunk Love.

Tokyo Story

Man, this film is slow. But it makes it that much more refreshing when after about a half hour a few of the characters start talking about real stuff instead of just small talk.

The Hustler

We were studying "acting" this week, and I thought it fitting to honor Mr. Paul Newman, one of the finest. I hadn't ever seen this film. I really liked the beginning and the end and a few parts in the middle, but overall it could've been trimmed down 20 or 30 minutes and would be great. But still, the ending makes up for all the boring middle parts.


Studying editing this week, and this is a great example of Mr. Stone using the editing to prove his point. Here's a question: If you believed everything in the films were true and really happened, which one is scarier: JFK or Rosemary's Baby?

Friday, October 17, 2008


For a genre that is unique to American culture, it's surprising that we only get about one western a year. Appaloosa is a western by director and star Ed Harris and it's a pure genre exercise in the tradition of great westerns before it. In other words if you love westerns, you'll feel right at home in this film. There's nothing modern, current, or urgent about this film and I mean that in a good way. It could have been made anytime in the last thirty years.

The cast is good. Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are lawmen hired to clean up the town of Appaloosa. Jeremy Irons is the source of most of the trouble and Rene Zellweger shows up as a love interest for Ed Harris.

Ed Harris shows a lot of restraint as a director and a little different focus than most here. For instance, the music, cinematography, editing, and lighting all serve the acting rather than the story. The editing is very economic allowing the actors to live inside the frame longer and move about without needing a cut. I think this is because Ed Harris the director trusts his actors to carry the film without much back story from Ed Harris the writer. By allowing their performances to play out just a little longer, with less cutting, the characters can live and breathe on their own. The audience accepts them as real people that diminishes the need for much back story. I'm not saying it totally works, but I think this is what Ed Harris was going for. For example, when Rene Zellwegger shows up at the end of the first act, the movie doesn't explain why she is there or where she came from. All we know is that she is new in town and only has a dollar. The fact that she only has a dollar is detail enough for us to fill in a reason for her to have fled whatever life she had before. Films are less interesting when they have to explain so Harris simply doesn't.

The third act of this film is a strange duck, or maybe this is a comment on the entire film because by definition it does resolve the conflicts of the first two acts, but somehow the conflicts were more interesting unresolved.

I think one problem this film suffers from is that it doesn't know who it's main character is. It starts and ends with Viggo doing the voice over but it feels like Harris' story much of the time. Although they are partners, Viggo's character is much smarter than Harris' and yet Harris is clearly the boss. In the end, it's really Viggo who imparts any action toward resolving the conflicts and somehow its not very satisfying.

I like the first two acts of this film and I think there is a lot to enjoy here but I'm a little confounded by the third act and as a result, never really loved this movie. However in a drought of Westerns, I can still recommend it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is a teen comedy starring Micheal Cera and Kat Dennings. Each play an awkward teen destined to meet on one fateful crazy night in the big city. Nick and Norah are sober teens surrounded by a world of drunken, sex-starved, kids with misplaced passions and insecurities. Part of my problem with this film is that most of it is told in real time. There is no escape from the drunken girl who's running gag is that she burps or throws up in each scene. There is no passage of time where we get to see decisions played out. The film asks us to accept that when your a teenager, your life can change in one night. I can accept that however this film cheap-shots it's own premise as the night goes on.

The screenplay strains to come up with logical reasons why Nick and Norah have to be together even when they don't want to be. One such contrivance is that everybody in the city is trying to get to a concert by a band called Where's Fluffy. This band's idea of self promotion is not to tell it's fans where they are playing but instead leave clues on bathroom walls and with radio Deejays. In a world of instant communication, especially among teens, I doubt this strategy would last more than five minutes. I also don't buy that kids would drive all over New York checking each club and even buying tickets to "bait and switch" shows put on by other desperate bands. However the film is better when Nick and Norah are together so accepting this contrivance is to our benefit. In fact when they are together, their performances are genuine and funny. Cera has some great lines with great delivery. Good romantic tension is built as the two struggle to connect, unfortunately there's not enough of these scenes in the film. It's overcrowded with sick, gross-out gags, and SNL cameos that don't add up to much comedy and only serve to disgust. There is one scene involving a piece of gum and a bus station toilet that is so gross, that literally everyone in my screening walked out. All the secondary characters in Nick and Norah's world are selfish, drunkards, or gay caricatures leaving Nick and Norah the only characters that feel real. The fact that Nick and Norah's decisions even mean anything is due to the fact that they haven't given into the world that their friends have. For example they are the only two straight-edged kids in the film.

Some of the best moments between Nick and Norah come in the obligatory scene in which they finally become a couple. It starts out really sweet and even begins to reward the audience for sitting through all cheap antics the night brought on. But then it is punctuated by the most undermining scene in the film.

Earlier in the film there is a scene in which Seth Meyers from SNL has sex in the back of Nick's car because he believes it's a taxi. Meanwhile nick are Norah are trying to get to know each other in the front seats. It's meant to be an awkward scene but it's also meant to endear these characters to the audience. This is then undermined by the fact that when Nick and Nora finally do become a couple, the do the same thing in a recording studio.

This film is not about morality, but it uses morality to separate the characters that matter from those that don't matter. Essentially the two main characters I admired the whole film, became as cheap as everyone else in the end.