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A "cine-essay" by a filmmaker who knows her cine and her essays
Agnès Varda's "Women Reply: Our Bodies, Our Sex" is a "cine-essay" that attempts to answer the anthropological question "what is a woman?" by showing a wide-variety of unique women in the purest and sometimes most conventional form. For eight minutes, Varda depicts women addressing the audience about how they are more than a role, more than a babymaking unit, and more than meets the eye, most of all. Varda was a filmmaker during the time of the French New Wave, as well as a filmmaker who brought upon the importance of documentary/feminist filmmaking throughout her work in the sixties, seventies, and eighties. "Women Reply" Our Bodies, Our Sex" tries to coherently answer its question by first addressing the fact that women are more than the sum of their breasts, buttocks, and vagina, by showing us them in the purest form. It then shows heavier women, skinnier women, pregnant women, short women, and tall women, providing us with the ideas that all of these women have the potential to make a large difference in modern society as we know it. In 2014, these ideas sound like age-old answers to some of the most redundant questions asked. Looking at this particular short from the perspective of 1975, one sees its true value and artistry thanks to its directness and its willingness to take a stand and answer a very broad, open-ended question, even if the stand and the answer may be worth more than an eight minute short.
NOTE: The film can be viewed on the popular website MUBI, mubi.com/films/women-reply-our-bodies-our-sex
Directed by: Agnès Varda.
So chaotic and cold for being so loved and renowned
Growing up in the late nineties, early 2000's, the popularity of trading cards had surpassed the typical baseball cards and went on to those belonging to a strategy/duel game such as Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!. The international phenomenon only intrigued me because I was astounded as to how many different cards there were from both separate games. I remember the grocery store aisles having large, forty-plus card collector packs inside glass display cases, and kids all over challenging their friends and classmates to "duels" of all different kinds. I remember buying dozens of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards just so I could sit in my room, stare at them, and pretend like I knew what I was talking myself through.
Pokémon became the mega-hit of all these trading card games, however. It was a global entity that found a way to stretch itself across the world all the way from Japan thanks to its ubiquitous and neverending line of characters, its in-your-face design and marketing scheme, and its successful Television show on Cartoon Network buoyed by its stuffed animals, action figures, and Game Boy games all the more. What was the object of this game? I still have never head a clear, direct answer aside from the franchise's slogan, "Gotta catch em all," further cementing the idea that we, as kids, were being sold something we had no idea what purpose it had and we were just repeating corporate-created phrases and spending our hard-earned allowance on toys, games, cards, and other needless things whose significance we couldn't coherently explain. The franchise's slogan is such a tease as well, telling us how we need to "catch" all of these obscure animated characters but not as quickly as sleep-deprived artists can paint more of them and Chinese toymakers can produce them.
Cynicism aside, indulging in Pokémon: The First Movie was the most time I've ever spent one-on-one with these characters, and with three other films in the immediate film franchise, it likely won't be my last. This review will likely be brief, since there is simply not much to say with these characters, their motivations, or their struggles. The franchise's leap to the big screen is a mediocre endeavor, lasting only seventy minutes and existing simply as a marketing campaign for the Pokémon card game, which was already global enough before the release of this film.
Regardless, Pokémon fans everyone desperately tried to justify its existence as a theatrical film, even though the picture takes the same risks and does the same exact thing it would likely do as an hour-long special on Cartoon Network. The story opens with a group of scientists that have found a way to genetically clone a renowned Pokémon by the name of Mew. His offspring is now called Mewtwo, who then chooses to clone other Pokémen for his own power. This results in an even more overcrowded sector of Pokémon, leaving Ash Ketcham and his pals Misty and Brock to travel to Mewtwo's island where battles between the real Pokémen along with their clone-counterparts can take place.
For as big as Pokémon is as a franchise, it sure makes little to no sense. The morals and themes of the entire franchise teach us the fundamental ideas of love, togetherness, acceptance, and kindness, and yet all these characters seem to do is fight, yell, and use flashing lights as their weaponry. This is one of those films where so much happens but so little of it is interesting to anyone outside of the franchise's core age demographic, which is as young as eight and as old as thirty-eight, I presume. You'd think the longer you'd play and support such a program that implores you "catch" all of their characters, and the more you'd witness how many different games and characters the franchise releases, you'd wake up one day and realize your dream is like trying to win a one-hundred mile race on a treadmill that increases how much longer you have to run by two miles after you've just completed one mile.
The animation is often bright, some of the characters are kind of cute, and on rare occasions, the film manages to have some interesting elements thanks to its diverse creatures. Yet, Pokémon: The First Movie finds itself to be nothing more than an array of publicity and indescribable animated action sequences thrown together in a film. It's chaotic and often depressingly cold.
Directed by: Kunihiko Yuyama.
Une femme est une femme (1961)
Catches its director in a sillier, happier mood
A Woman is a Woman catches the elusive and acclaimed director Jean-Luc Godard in a relatively good mood as he centers this particular story around the makings of a musical, a staged affair, and communication through the use of various book titles for his sophomore directorial effort. Hot on the trails of his debut film Breathless, released in 1960, Godard followed up a year later with A Woman is a Woman right before all the acclaim and renowned remarks about his influence on film became relatively ubiquitous in film circles. I only note this because with A Woman is a Woman, there's an assumption that Godard is still saying what he wants to say with it, whereas something like Film Socialisme, at this time, his most recently-released directorial effort in 2011, that feels like he is compiling a wide-variety of images together that have no cohesion just to see if people will still say he's a genius and hold his work to high art.
If you can't already imply, I found Godard's follow-up to the endlessly intriguing French New Wave-staple Breathless to be pretty lukewarm and underwhelming. I did not expect A Woman is a Woman to be anything like his debut feature, mainly because I have yet to see two Godard films that are heavily alike in terms of what they portray, however, I did expect this particular film to have insight and intrigue to its material. With this film, it feels like Godard is throwing numerous things against the wall - be it ideas, commentary, characters, relationships, etc - and not particularly trying to tie them together in any way. The result is a massive conglomerate of ideas that are not fully-realized and a tedious cinematic affair at just eighty-four minutes long.
Godard's wife during the sixties and frequent collaborator Anna Karina is the main character here, as beautiful and as playful as ever as Angéla, an exotic dancer in a relationship with French yuppie Émile (Jean-Claude Brialy). However, their relationship seems to be predicated off of the likes of arguing about whether or not to have a child, eventually resorting to their assorted library of books to continue their argument in a unique but quickly-tedious method of storytelling. In the meantime, Émile's good friend Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is more than willing to have a child with Angéla. This sets off an even greater fire-storm of arguments that eventually lead Angéla to agree to have sex with Alfred in order to conceive a child.
Godard seems to be trying to do two major things with A Woman is a Woman. One, is find another way to tell a conventional story, this time by the use of intrusive but intriguing title cards along with the ever-present book titles held up by the characters. This creates a less linear but a more refreshing way to guide along a pretty tame and unremarkable story, even if it isn't completely successful. The second is its take on the typical American musical, referencing the likes of Gene Kelly and sometimes mirroring the styles set forth by popular musicals of the time like Singin' in the Rain and the work of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
With these two ideas, Godard already has plenty to work with, but the only problem is that nothing seems to really gel together. Other than the fun of seeing Karina and Brialy exchange some unpredictable dialog, witness frequent Godard collaborator Raoul Coutard's cinematography, and see Godard's first uses of color in film along with the famous CinemaScope method of widescreen filmmaking, there is simply not much to the story that retained personal interest.
Once again, Godard seems to get so wrapped up in doing everything differently that he seems to forget to have something to say, or forgets to make what he wants to say extractable and clear enough to identify. A Woman is a Woman may simply be a product of Godard getting to excited about taking part in a huge movement that went on to forever change cinema. He's excited, leave him be.
Starring: Anna Karina, Jean-Claude Brialy, and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard.
The Telephone Book (1971)
A film about sex that is rarely sexy
Rating: While France was experiencing a massive directorial overhauling of conventions and norms in the sixties, it seems the always intriguing city of New York City was experiencing something of a shift in their approach to American cinema as well. With Nelson Lyon's The Telephone Book captures such a peculiar time in seventies cinema, which is the underground cinema movement in NYC, where rebel filmmakers began realizing that they didn't have to follow in the footsteps of big time filmmakers and could make what they so desired in the comfort of their own neighborhood. One could loan their discoveries and beliefs to the development of what is known today as independent films, or films that lack the participation of large studios with blank-checks and huge distribution deals.
The Telephone Book is one of the most fascinating and truly unique cult films from the seventies you have never seen nor heard of. It concerns a young, eighteen-year-old girl named Alice (Shannon Kennedy), who possesses tendencies of a nymphomaniac. Alice lives in her NYC apartment, which is lined with explicit, black and white sexual photographs and lewd images that assist her in her own personal self-discoveries.
One day, Alice gets a call from a man claiming to be named "John Smith" (Norman Rose), a man with an incredibly deep voice and one who has the rare ability of being able to seduce women just by the sound of his voice. Alice is smitten by his charm and his smooth-talking ways, and after getting his name, makes it her goal to try and track him down and find him in person. Alice has become in love with what she finds the greatest obscene phone call in history.
Alice goes on an exhaustive search for the man, who claims to have one of the most notoriously common names in the country. However, even when she sticks to the telephone book focusing on just the people in New York City she is overwhelmed with results. The film follows her as she exhaustively searches for the man, running into some of New York's strangest and quirkiest souls. One of them is a stag film director who enjoys sex with multiple women at a time, while another subject provides for one of the film's most hilarious scenes. This scene involves your average everyman, who tries to find ways to get Alice to say dirty words and paying her in change so she can make more calls to find her real "John Smith." The man has a change dispenser clipped to the waistband of his pants, which represents his ejaculation and his level of arousal. You may already know where this is going, but the result is devilishly funny and provides for some of the strangest, most off-the-wall comedy the film has to offer.
The film is photographed in high-contrast black and white, providing an even edgier, more authentic experience of the 1970's time period along with the vibes of what feels like unadulterated underground cinema. The Telephone Book comes from the time period where risks in films were actually taken and the idea of subversion wasn't nudged at but boldly and bravely toyed with to the point where what emerged was something almost totally unrecognizable and sometimes frightening.
While sex is a huge topic in the film, and the intricate elements of sex are talked about quite frequently in the film, this film is not one for the erotic genre. Despite its subject matter, the picture is rarely erotic, but instead, more of a sensation, if anything. Even the fact that the film concludes with a surreal, seven minute animation sequence depicting graphic, mind-blowing sexual intercourse between two people on the phone in two separate phone booths solidifies that the film is more interested with being a sensory experience rather than an arousing one. The film was made during the time that "porno chic" was becoming popular, and even indulging in graphic sex scenes would've been a subversive move on the film's behalf. Instead, the film even ignores another groundbreaking element of the time to go off and do its own thing, which is even more unique. It's a film about sex that is rarely sexy.
The Telephone Book feels like the kind of thing John Waters would've made in the early seventies and added it to his collection of trash cinema set in the eccentric land of Baltimore, Maryland. It plays the similar instruments of shock, weird comedy, oddball events, fetish pornography, and individualistic style. Needless to say, I loved every minute of it.
Starring: Sarah Kennedy and Norman Rose. Directed by: Nelson Lyon.
The film teen birders have been waiting for but not expecting
Since maybe 2011 (around the time The Big Year was released), it seems that the sport or birding (known informally and incorrectly by many people as "bird-watching") has been flirting with mainstream recognition. An abundance of films on the topic have been made within the last few years, and basic research on my behalf shows birding events occurring all over the world.
"Absolutely anyone can be a birder. Except for blind people, I suppose," Ben Kingsley's character in A Birder's Guide to Everything, the latest entry in "birding cinema," if there were such a thing. The film stars Kodi Smit-McPhee as David Portnoy, a fifteen-year-old who loves birding and believes he has spotted a Labrador Duck, a species which is believed to have gone extinct. He snaps a blurry but somewhat discernible picture that erects hope that the bird is migrating to a common migration point that, of course, requires a coming-of-age road trip with some buds. David brings his assorted, quirky band of pals such as the rambunctious Timmy (Alex Wolff of The Naked Brothers Band fame), the awkward and asthmatic Peter (Michael Chen), and the group's crush Ellen (Katie Chang), pretty much because she's a female as they drive down in a buddy's car he technically didn't consent to loaning. If you're wondering where Kingsley comes in, he plays a birding expert, adding another element of diversity to his long-successful acting career.
The reasons for chasing the bird are aplenty. A good part of the reason is the team's love and fondness for nature and the outdoors, but, according to Timmy, the benefit is that proving that the Labrador Duck is actually a living species will help them "fame-wise, money-wise, and vagina-wise." I almost forgot to mention A Birder's Guide to Everything's deals with some complex themes such as birding and the functionality of teenage hormones. The latter needs no explanation as to why I believe it's complex, but I believe birding is one of the most difficult sports around because of the fact that I think it would be hard or next to impossible to hold down a full-time job while being an avid birder. You have to be willing to travel all over the world in hopes of spotting a rare bird just for a few seconds, which will hopefully be another time for you to snap a clear picture of your subject.
The film is another one of those contemporary coming-of-age films that follow a group of eclectic characters as they try to understand their position in life and what they're destined for in the real world. This usually helps when they have unstable homelives and are fascinated with an arbitrary topic such as birding. I use a tone of sarcasm here because of the fact that while A Birder's Guide to Everything really doesn't do anything wrong, these contemporary coming-of-age films are only a hair away from becoming a cliché. While I scarcely tire of films centered around teens and their struggles, many of these films are beginning to mesh together, what with last year's The Kings of Summer and Mud having very similar premises, despite both being brilliant films. If these films continue to be made with the same kind of quirky formula, eventually they will lose their uniqueness and become as cliché as the films centered around the nerdy guy getting the gorgeous girl.
Even with this idea, A Birder's Guide to Everything is still a wholesome little exercise, smart, genial, and utilizes its PG-13 rating with plausibility. I always fear coming-of-age films with PG-13 ratings because that ultimately means sexual content and language are kept to a minimum, which is simply not reality in many teenagers' lives today. However, this film utilizes it conservatively but believably, not making the subject matter go out of its way to be offensive nor neuter itself to the realm of not being believable.
It's also easy to appreciate the work by Kodi Smit-McPhee along with Alex Wolff, who got his start on the Nickelodeon program The Naked Brothers Band (but the less said about that the better). Both Smit-McPhee and Wolff have true potential to go on to be strong, capable actors in a wide-variety of work. Smit-McPhee portrays listless but not helpless in a way that works in a way that doesn't feel like a pitiful cry for cheap sympathy, and Wolff's energy and controlled goofiness carry his character.
Then there's the fact that A Birder's Guide to Everything effectively illustrates how one man's passion is another man's bewilderment, seeing as David's father (James Le Gros) has no concept nor practical knowledge to how his son's fervent love for birding works. It's hardly uncommon for parents to be struggling at trying to identify their children's hobbies, especially in the tumultuous world we live in today, where the likes and dislikes of kids grow increasingly peculiar thanks to things like the internet. Co-writer/director Rob Meyer and Luke Matheny illustrate this by telling it like it is; David's father has no idea (or real interest) in what his son likes.
A Birder's Guide to Everything is often just as odd as its title, but its warmness, depiction of an offbeat hobby, its quirky but realistic line of characters, and instances that beautifully detail birding and teen hormones are filled with all the tenderness and heart needed to make a project like this succeed as a whole.
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alex Wolff, Michael Chen, Katie Chang, James Le Gros, and Ben Kingsley. Directed by: Rob Meyer.
Vertical Limit (2000)
First-rate direction, second-rate special effects, fourth-rate characters
Film is one of the reasons I get out of bed in the morning. Conversely, it's also one of the many reasons I try to stay in bed for as long as possible. The medium has successfully made me afraid of rollercoasters (Final Destination 3), planes (too many to count), desert ground (the Tremors franchise), trains (Unstoppable), the woods (almost every horror film ever made), clowns (Stephen King's It), among countless others.
Add Martin Campbell's Vertical Limit to the above list for its depiction of snowy mountains and mountain-climbing, another activity I'll never be able to indulge in thanks to the paranoia bestowed upon me by the film. If possible, I'd like to see the correlation for Americans' participation in mountain-climbing after the release of Vertical Limit just to see if I'm not the only soul who felt the need to stay away from anything large, snowy, and with a peak.
Vertical Limit is a b-movie manufactured by the likes of Hollywood, who sometimes know how to make a good film of the genre and sometimes don't. While every now and then the industry throws out something like this or Eight Legged Freaks, it also was hellbent, for a while, on remaking several classic seventies disaster films such as Flight of the Phoenix and even The Poseidon Adventure.
While often advantageous with the direction and the filmmaking aesthetics, Hollywood has often been miserably bad at giving their film's relatable, believable characters that don't feel like anything more than the pawn of a big-budget disaster flick. This is sadly the case for Vertical Limit, with writers Robert King and Terry Hayes shortchanging characters and relationships and instead making the picture largely about its characters dangling from high-altitudes with scenes involving forced, unremarkable dialog are spliced in for good measure.
The story centers around experienced climber Peter Garrett (Chris O'Donnell), who lost his father during a climbing trip gone wrong and has now lived with the guilt and responsibility of his death for many years now. Six years later, we see he is retired from climbing, while his sister Annie (Robin Tunney) and a group of her teammates are still persistent with their climbing ambitions as they plan to climb up the treacherous K2 mountain in Pakistan. Annie climbs with the founder of the trip, Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton) along with his friend Tom McLaren (Nicholas Lea), who instantly find that the weather has a lot to be desired. The wind is brutal and the conditions are almost blinding thanks to the blowing and drifting snow.
Eventually, an avalanche occurs, trapping Annie, Elliot, and Tom in a cave, hurt, cold, and undernourished. Due to Peter's experience, he decides to form a group of equally-experienced climbers, all armed with nitroglycerin in case an explosion to create a hole in the ground is necessary for rescue, to attempt to search for and return the band of climbers to safety as soon as possible. One character reckons they have about forty-eight hours to live, and since the first audible amount of time for survival in films is usually correct, think of that as the imaginary time-limit for the film.
Right of the bat, Martin Campbell packs in exceptional direction with Vertical Limit, effectively showing off the mountainous regions, the treacherous conditions that come with the K2 expedition, as well as tricky aerial and midair shots of the environment for maximum effect. Campbell's directions is one of the strongest things in the picture, making the film a showcase for some of the most dangerous conditions possible while climbing a mountain.
However, the lack of character-depth makes this film a task to watch at times. Consider the first half hour. After the incredibly intense opening scene, which lasts about five minutes and sort of sets the film up for suspense and potential it can't really match at any point in the future, the next twenty-five minutes are wasted on boring exchanges of dialog at a pre-climbing party. These scenes would be better if they involved some character development or at least some ideas to ping-pong back and forth, since without it we have no connection to these characters. We sit within arm's length of them the entire time.
One can criticize the homebrew-style special effects if they must, however, I believe they emphasize what I was talking about earlier when it came down to the b-movie style the film was trying to achieve. Vertical Limit may not be a very strong film in the long-run, but there is an undeniable talent with Campbell's revealing and tricky direction, as well as a solid scene of intensity every now and again. But when a film focuses on an mountain expedition gone awry for two hours, one can only expect it to sour well before the film ends.
Starring: Chris O'Donnell, Bill Paxton, Robin Tunney, Nicholas Lea. Directed by: Martin Campbell.
The Producers (1967)
This is where comedic subjectivity is affirmed.
There comes a time in every critic's life, be it newspaper critic or online critic, syndicated or local, hobbyist or elitist, when he watches a highly-regarded classic for the first time and feels underwhelmed by it. He proceeds to write a not-so positive review of the film and what follows is a long-run of neverending hate-mail about the comment for the rest of his career.
If that's what my review of Mel Brooks' The Producers brings so be it. This isn't my first rodeo with not liking a relatively high- regarded classic. I proved not to be such a big fan of Easy Rider, the classic road movie that portrayed sixties culture in a way many found profound and accurate. My main reason for not loving that particular picture is because I found it "spoke to a generation that no longer had ears to hear it," and unless you're from the generation when big political and social changes began to take effect, chance are, it was an alienating and sometimes tedious film to indulge in.
That's a whole different complaint than the one about to make for Brooks' The Producers. Given Brooks limitless track record for uproariously funny and subversive comedies of yesteryear, I felt popping in almost any one of his films would be an immediate winner. The bottom line with The Producers is it's simply not that funny and never that interesting. Concerning a hack producer named Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and his neurotic accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), the film follows the two halfwits as they attempt to conjure up a travesty of a play when they run the math and realize that a bomb could work better for a producer than a hit in terms of shares and rights solicitation.
In efforts to produce a play that is destined to play for one night only, Max and Leo right and produce "Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden," a work that is labeled "a love letter to Hitler" written by an ex-Nazi Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars), which is German for "Frank Lovechild." The play turns out to be a musical, and to assure nothing but total and unprecedented chaos, the two producers decide to follow every step in the "what not to do" section in the unwritten book of performance art. They hire the wrong director, the wrong actors, pick the worst and potentially most offensive story, and find a writer who is four tires short of a car.
Mel Brooks does just about everything he can against the wall with The Producers and it's surprising and a shame to admit so very little of the humor actually sticks. To begin with, it's no denying Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder are extremely talented performers, but somehow, Brooks found the way to make both extremely tired, irritating, and tedious. This especially goes for Wilder, whose over-the- top neurosis exhausts itself well past the perimeters of being funny. Mostel, on the other hand, occasionally hits admirable strides, but his character is so blatantly selfish that it's difficult to watch him for very long let alone to side with him.
Furthermore, the ideas of satire are barely noticeable here - something the film should've set its sights on heavily. Instead, we get frequent vignettes of situations that aren't very funny simply because they're burdened by overacting and boring physical comedy. I never knew the latter words went together. Mostel and Wilder both have unbearable characters and, in return, give us somewhat unbearable performances.
Brooks has made a name for himself as one of comedy's great voice and, through some mystery far beyond anything I'm willing to conjure up at the moment, The Producers has become a staple in the comedy genre. It has earned its place on the American Film Institute's one- hundred best comedy films among many film critics' favorites as well. I conclude by saying that I don't expect my opinions to be agreed with or shared but at the very least respected. Sometimes I feel comedy is the most subjective of all genres because one thing that makes somebody laugh can make someone else uncomfortable or annoyed. The funny thing is I've seen films very similar to The Producers hit considerable highs. I suppose I'm just trying to figure out where it all went wrong here.
Starring: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, and Kenneth Mars. Directed by: Mel Brooks.
Blow Out (1981)
An aesthetically-sublime thriller
The great Alfred Hitchcock would've been delighted to see Brian De Palma's Blow Out but he would've been more satisfied with actually making the film. The film deals with many of the themes Hitchcock did in his heyday such as voyeurism, the figurative "MacGuffin," the intense mystery, the likable characters, and the slick presence of style by a tried-and-true cinephile.
De Palma casts Blow Out in a deeply bleak light. Shot on film obviously, with very dark tonalities and very dingily-lit environments to establish an effective mood, De Palma centers the film around Jack Terry (John Travolta), a local sound engineer who loves working with the wondrous and limitless medium of audio and sound. To him, regular sounds have a distinct poetry to them, bearing a natural and too often unseen realm of musicality.
One day Jack ventures outside to capture sounds of trees being rustled by the wind for a low-budget film he's working on when he witnesses a brutal car wreck right before his eyes. The vehicle appears to suffer from a blown tire before it careens off a bridge and into the water below. Without doing much thinking, Jack leaps in and is able to pull out a woman named Sally (Nancy Allen), who will later awaken in a heavily-sedated state in the hospital. The entire event is captured through Jack's sound recorder.
Jack is the only witness to the crime, and is told at the hospital room that the man who died in the accident was the governor and a possible presidential candidate. One of the governor's advisers tells Jack to remain silent about what he saw, and tells Sally that she would be best off to skip town for a few months, seeing as she is a simple escort who would never want to be seen with the married governor. However, when a frame-by-frame layout of a released video of the accident is released in a magazine, Jack goes through the meticulous effort of animating the video and adding the sound files into the video to try and recreate the event, albeit in a choppy, heavily-unpolished state.
Jack believes that someone hiding in the bushes adjacent to the road the governor was driving on and fired a shot into the governor's vehicle's tire, leading him to lose control, swerve, and crash off the bridge. He believes the soundbite of the accident he recorded that night which houses an audible, deafening bang before the sound of tires-screeching is proof in and of itself that the governor was shot off the road in an orchestrated attempt at murder. But with the safer, less edgy story of the cover-up being played and published everywhere, Jack's efforts to look deeper into the event make him seem nothing more than a ridiculous conspiracy theorist.
Travolta gives off the vibe he once did of being the young, cool-kid, yet one with a lot of brains and a lot of heart in Blow Out. Despite having a confident swagger and always seeming to be in a very assured state, the character of Jack Terry is deeply vulnerable, as he soon becomes the target of some shady figures that want to keep the governor's death look like a simple tire blow out. With Jack's professional sound engineering skills constantly being tested, the film plays like a hazy detective story that is brought to light by the use of incredible complex and unique technical equipment.
De Palma's focus on the technical aspects of the sound engineering world are what makes Blow Out truly unique. We see Jack cut and paste all kinds of equipment, operate on now-primitive sound machines that allow sounds to be emphasized as well as subdued in the background, along with seeing the remarkable coherency of everything done. These technical aspects give Blow Out an added layer to its thriller, making the film more and enticing and more of a unique experience to invest in seeing as these concepts and features are scarcely explored in a film.
Films about filmmaking can either get lost in a sea of self-referential humor or simply get lost in their own facile stories. Blow Out remains alive from the second it begins to the second the credits roll, with an unexpected final fifteen minutes that manage to house so much tension and suspense it's almost uncanny.
Starring: John Travolta and Nancy Allen. Directed by: Brian De Palma.
17 filles (2011)
The true-to-life vapidness of a group of teens
Instantaneously, 17 Girls reminds me of the American film The Bling Ring, which centered around a group of spoiled adolescents growing up in Hollywood that would venture out at night and rob celebrity's homes, stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of values. Their plans were more than just rob whomever whenever but sporadic, carefully-planned that would take place when the celebrity was out of town, judging by their Twitter feed and social networking activity.
The film was immediately criticized for being empty, somewhat superficial, and lacking any real depth, and brief searches for the Coulin sisters' (Delphine and Muriel) 17 Girls has warranted similar criticism. Let me reiterate the reason for the emptiness one more time. 17 Girls is based off another unfathomably true story, revolving around a group of teen girls who made a pact to get pregnant around the same time so they could all deliver at he same time and raise their babies together. This kind of act is empty and stupid, and the Coulin sisters make not attempt to disguise the true stupidity of what these girls did. However, they do make an attempt to justify it, and that is when we have a film.
This pact begins when seventeen-year-old Camille (Louise Grinberg) discovers she is pregnant after the condom breaks during sex with her partner. By making the choice to keep the child, despite abortion and adoption being available options, she manages to encourage her friends to also have children and get pregnant. One even resorts to getting impregnated by a twenty-four-year old homeless man.
The reason the girls give to justify their pact is their desire to be loved unconditionally and their hunger for companionship. If one were to look closely at the homelives of these girls, one would see nothing but emptiness and sadness, with no real parental guidance or dependency whatsoever. Their parents are barely around to cook and care for them let alone give them moral guidance or help them along in school or in life. The girls resort to getting pregnant as a means of being the parent they never adequately had growing up.
Make no mistake, these are shallow and narrow-minded girls and the Coulin sisters dually make note of that. The girls choose to go through with a process that is supposed to be wonderful and quite an emotionally-enriching experience and cheapen it to a spur-of-the-moment impulse that effectively robs it of any and all humanity. However, the Coulin sisters bravely try and justify why the girls did, which is the real uphill battle. Out of all the tabloid stories, the Coulin sisters picked one of the toughest to justify and humanize and the result with 17 Girls is remarkable.
I'm somewhat optimistic that one day we'll get a version of "the pregnancy pact" that tries to give an even deeper humanization of the girls involved with the pact. With 17 Girls, we're kind of at arm's length away from the story, never closing in on even one of the girls involved with this pact. However, as stated, the lack of character development only further gives these characters the vapidness they accentuated in real life by doing such an unthinkable act and cheapening what is supposed to be an intimate and massively rewarding experience. I constantly see people (myself included) complaining that movies shortchange their heroes and don't give proper justice to their own character. Here's a film that does perfect justice to its characters and their real-life personalities.
Starring: Louise Grinberg. Directed by: Delphine and Muriel Coulin.
Don gato y su pandilla (2011)
The epitome of fast food filmmaking
Top Cat is a seriously lame and lackadaisical attempt to revive an animated program from the 1960's that is probably a very miniscule pile of nostalgic dust in the minds of those who watched the show in its original run. The film was released in Mexico under Warner Bros., who handed the distribution rights over to Viva Pictures in the US and Vertigo Films in the UK, who wound up seeking out the talents of Rob Schneider and Danny Trejo for the releases outside of Mexico. Quite a lot of effort for an animated film that doesn't look good enough to sit next to the throwaway direct-to-DVD efforts and Asylum releases crowding a lonely Redbox machine at a grocery store near you.
Not since the legendary animated disaster Foodfight! has there been such a lazy, affront to the wondrous medium of animation. In such a colorful, limitless medium, Top Cat reduces itself to what looks like characters animated using hand-drawn animation placed over real-life backgrounds and ordered to function normally. However, the backgrounds are indeed animated; they just look blocky and bland enough to be considered real, especially seeing as the film looks like the colorful characters exist on a crystal clear camera lens while the backgrounds appear to be captured on a filthy, damaged lens.
To compliment the fourth-rate animation is a story barely fit for a short film. Sadly, it's stretched out to eighty-two minutes, making its narrative slimness make such a short runtime feel astronomically longer than it really is. The story follows Top Cat (Jason Harris Katz) and his gang of other cats that work to take money and power from those who don't deserve it and give it to those who hurt the other common animals of the neighborhood.
So this wacky gang of socialist felines get entangled in a messy circumstance involving a controlling villain who tries to take down Top Cat and his buddies. That's as deep as I'm willing to read into the story.
The issue here, however, isn't so much the narrative simplicity since it's outshined by the dreary animation. The issue is that the story moves at a glacial pace and the jokes in the film are anything but frequent. They feel as if they're rejected jokes from sitcoms gone past, involving puns, cheap references, and goofy toilet humor with no wit or soul.
Top Cat also appears to have a serious identity problem in the regard that it doesn't seem to know who it's catering to. Is this show geared to the adults who grew up watching the show? If so, this film had far too modest of a release - at least in the US and the UK - to even get their attention. If it's catered to the new generation, the film fails to give them something even in the same realm as a work by Pixar or Dreamworks, rendering this film even further down the later of bottom-barrel fare. It's a film that effectively pleases few and irritates many.
Voiced by: Jason Harris Katz, Rob Schneider, and Danny Trejo. Directed by: Alberto Mar.