December 19, 2008

My new film!

So if you did not already know, I am a film major at Emerson College. I have just completed my latest film, shot on 16mm. And what would be the point of having a blog if I couldn't pimp my work?

I have an internet version here. It's not the greatest quality, but you get the idea. I couldn't upload it to YouTube, because it's too long. Instead, I uploaded it to Median, which is Emerson College's version of YouTube without length limits. The bummer is that it's a Flash-based site, so I can't provide a direct link. It should be one of the first titles on there, but if not, you can search "Teenage Christ."

Here ya go:

Comments welcome, as long as they are glowing positive reviews.

Happy holidays...I think you'll find the subject matter of this film fitting for the season. Share it with friends! Free publicity woohoo!

December 9, 2008

What are your favorite cinematic themes and/or elements?

Think of your favorite films. What do they have in common? What draws you in again and again? Perhaps it's a particular actor or director, or films of a certain country, but are there thematic elements you seem to gravitate toward? Here are the five themes that can almost invariably get me to a theater or video store.

1. Unrest in the suburbs. Mosey over to this post to see my full exploration of that little fetish.
2. Challenges to masculinity and/or destruction by too much power. This theme appears in some older movies, such as Written on the Wind (1957), where it takes the literal form of impotence that drives one of the male leads to insanity. That can be fun and all, but I also gravitate towards stories that show the dangers of being overly masculine (or having others expect you to be). The last few years have been ripe with these films - The Departed, There Will Be Blood, and No Country for Old Men stand out as examples. Just as too much testosterone can shorten your lifespan (true business!), being too macho ultimately destroys you. It's an interesting change of pace from the indestructible he-man that Hollywood depicted for so long.
3. Real relationships between real people. Hollywood glamour and magic can be nice, but sometimes, it's just grating. You can't always watch gorgeous celebrities reading picture-perfect screenplays of romance (or even picture-perfect destructions - Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a great film, but far more theatrical than real life). The closer to real a relationship is, whether in terms of passion, dialogue, or attractiveness, the more I'll dig it. Examples: the stream-of-consciousness dialogue in Before Sunrise, Zach Braff farting on Jacinda Barrett in The Last Kiss, the unglamorous marital messiness but ultimate reunion of Harvey and Joyce Pekar in American Splendor, people with bad social skills falling for each other in Punch-Drunk Love. As much as you hear that the cinema is escapism, people can connect more to the real.
4. Bittersweet endings. A good ending can make or break a film. Lots of older films (noirs and crime films in particular) have slapped-on happy endings put there by the Production Code (see my exploration of that subject here ) that seem awkward, but can be forgiven with knowledge of the extenuating circumstances. Crap endings in modern films - when the director/screenwriter actually has options - infuriate me. Both happy and sad endings have their place, but I believe that the Holy Grail is the bittersweet ending. Maybe things went to shit, but there's a glimmer of hope. Maybe you lost the girl, but you gained a friend. Without explicit spoilers, Casablanca, Annie Hall, and The Squid and the Whale are examples. Alternately, I like endings that show that things don't really change, or that cycles continue, such as Election or Thank You For Smoking. Another version of the bittersweet ending is one that is technically a happy ending, but doesn't give you a huge movie kiss on a silver platter. See: The Apartment, My Fair Lady (even though I hated MFL).
5. Combating aggression with intelligence. In The Big Sleep, Humphrey Bogart remarks to a gun-toting thug, "My, my, my! Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains! You know, you're the second guy I've met today that seems to think a gat in the hand means the world by the tail." SO COOL. I'm a sucker for films where protagonists can defeat enemies with just their wit. Courtroom dramas are a subdivision of this genre that I naturally love - such as Inherit the Wind, where Spencer Tracy takes down a whole courtroom of creationists by, like, making sense.

What premise or themes are you drawn to?

December 3, 2008

11 Great suburban unrest films

With the impending release of Revolutionary Road, the new Sam Mendes joint about how - get this - not everyone in 1950s suburban America was happy with their cookie-cutter lives, I got to thinking about suburban unrest in films. Well, perhaps "got to thinking" is the wrong term, since I am always thinking about it. My boyfriend always mocks my obsession with these films, but I can't help it, since it hits so close to home. I come from an almost laughably stereotypical suburb where everyone filled their emotional voids with money and pushed their unfulfilled dreams onto their kids. To me, there can never be enough films that pull back this perfect facade. Here's a sampling of films that I feel explore this theme exceptionally well (in rough chronological order of release).

1. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
This was Hitchcock's favorite film of his own, because, as he said, it brought murder "back into the home, where it rightfully belongs." Murder in a creepy motel is all fine and good, or on an exotic adventure, but Hitch gets it: it's creepier in your own house. Especially when you suspect that your own flesh and blood (in this case, a favorite uncle) is a widow killer! Some critics call this Hitchcock's most "American" film, because it is rooted in the traditional American paranoia of someone infiltrating and destructing our perfect lives.

2. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Let's take a trip in the way-back machine, to when all this business started. Suburbs as they are now known started cropping up at the end of WWII, so this film would have been one of the earliest to explore the idea that these perfect communities do not exclusively contain perfect people living perfect lives. This film was also revolutionary in putting forth the argument that teenagers actually have real problems. Every time I hear James Dean yell "You're tearing me apart!" to his parents in this film, it gives me chills.

3. All That Heaven Allows (1955) and

4. Far From Heaven (2002)
I'm mentioning these together because the second is an homage to/reimagining of the first. It basically takes the concept further, asking what if the forbidden love had not been between the housewife and the younger man, but the housewife and a black man? And oh, her husband is gay too? Both films are heartbreaking explorations of how the suburban ideal keeps people from being themselves - and being with those they truly love.

5. The Graduate (1967)
Okay, yes, we've all heard of The Graduate (I hope?!). Benjamin is burnt out - he can't be a slave to his parents' expectations anymore. Mrs. Robinson is just as unsatisfied as he is with the "plastic" (yuk yuk) life they lead. So they turn to the short-term solution of sex. Everyone wants to escape, but nobody really gets anywhere.

6. Blue Velvet (1986)
While I can't exactly say that I like this film in the traditional sense of the word, it's definitely unique and compelling. David Lynch has painted a surreal universe where you are constantly asking which is freakier: Dennis Hopper huffing gas and committing graphic acts of sexual violence, or the chipper and fake everyday people of Lumberton. Lynch subtly implies that there's twisted stuff going on behind every closed door in the burbs.

7. The Ice Storm (1997)
Set in the 1970s during a time of changing values, this film tells the tale of neighboring families getting increasingly intertwined. The ensemble cast is amazing, but Joan Allen stands out in her role of the housewife who just can't stand by and watch her husband cheat and her anymore. Her gradual build towards an outburst can be seen as representative of suburban repression everywhere.

8.The Truman Show (1998) and
9. Hot Fuzz (2007)
I mention these together because, though they diverge wildly in style and content, they are both riffs on a much more literal interpretation of the suburban lie: that it is an actual conspiracy. Whether those nice neighbors are actually members of a violent gang or actors interacting with you for the pleasure of a worldwide viewing audience, the burbs are certainly not what they seem.

10. American Beauty (1999)
Duh. Dad's having a midlife crisis, Mom's having an affair, daughter's having a whirlwind romance with a dangerous stranger, the dangerous stranger's parents don't speak, etc. It's not new or groundbreaking territory by any means, but it's done well and with a snarky edge.

11. Little Children (2006)
Oh, Little Children. You are challenging, you are painful, you are real. It's incredible that Todd Field managed to elicit sympathy for a bunch of adulterers and even a child molester. It's even more incredible that parts of this movie are actually funny.

As a disclaimer, I am aware that there are certain things that would qualify for this list, but I have not seen them. They include, but are not limited to: Edward Scissorhands, The Virgin Suicides, and countless classic zombie or horror films that I don't have the nerves and/or stomach for. Kindly do not freak out at me for this.

What are you favorite films of this genre?