"Dance, Girl, Dance"/Feminist Cinema Pt 1

Director Dorothy Arzner’s Dance, Girl, Dance is a feminist narrative, about women in a male-dominated society, made in male-dominated film industry. It encompasses ideas and a language that was well ahead of its time & although the film is conventional, one cannot help but notice the importance this movie has had on an audience that was ignorant to the rights a woman should have. In fact, I took Maureen O’Hara’s Burlesque-hall speech to a packed audience of hollering men as a brave indictment and condemnation of a male dominated society that hadn’t totally advanced in Woman’s rights issues. Arzner’s camera focuses on the faces in the crowd, astonished by the display of courage Ohara’s Judy O’Brien puts forth with her case. It’s a stunning scene that stands up in a film that I admired more than liked.

Arzner is not only condemning the actions of the people on screen but also that of the audience watching her film. I truly believe that to make a film such as this one in 1940 must have taken a lot of backing from producers, then again the message is subtle and never entirely drawn out. Arzner doesn’t mean to give a lesson and just lets her characters do the talking for a change. I loved the way the film’s conventional narrative took on ballsy, important issues of the era. Lucille Ball’s Bubbles/Tiger Lilly gets fame and fortune by playing the whore, whereas Ohara’s good girl Judy struggles to find a place in a world dominated by men and those that want their women in scantily clad clothes & acting dumb on stage. The latter-day acclaim this film has won in its advanced feminist angles is reminiscent of Douglas Sirk’s 1950’s melodramas, with their dark messages hidden underneath glossy colors and characters that are more than meets the eye.

However, hidden messages notwithstanding, Arzner’s film is conventionally made and not entirely essential. The problem I have is that Arzner’s films—at least those I’ve seen—simply aren’t anything to get excited about. There’s always something interesting to catch or glimpse at, but stylistically, she has never been someone to brag home about. Dance, Girl, Dance started out strong but quickly became routine as it went along in its “girl tries to make it big in the city” conventions. I appreciated what she was trying to convey and the walls she was trying to break in her feminist themes but one comes out of the film thinking more about the layed out groundwork & themes than the actual story. As a piece of Hollywood history, it’s a real beauty but as a source of entertainment I’ve seen much better.

Emma Stone's awesomeness

If only the academy would think a bit more outside the box, then maybe Emma Stone's inspiring and sensational performance in Easy A would get the recognition it deserves and score her a nomination. You and I know this ain't happening and thus you will have no choice but to just listen to my opinion when I say she is a joy to watch in Will Gluck's comedy, partly inspired by the Scarlett Letter. The film itself might be slight and conventional but Stone, with her wide bug green eyes and red tinged hair, shines brightly and catches your attention in every scene. She is a revelation and Easy A is her breakout hit. Stone, just a mere 22 years of age, plays a naive high school student that decides to lie her way through her final years by pretending to be someone she clearly isn't. The premise is first grade Hollywood 101 but Stone brings real sophistication and heartfelt hilarity to the mediocre screenplay at hand. Only somewhat known for her role as Wichita in Zombieland, Stone is ready to break on through to the other side.

Affleck, The Town & Missteps

The Town (R) ★★½ or ★★★

Ben Affleck stars and directs In The Town, a film about cold blooded bank robbers in the corrupt, dangerous town of Charlestown, Massachusetts. If anybody saw Affleck's first stab at directing - Gone Baby Gone- they saw a raw, gritty style that was lacking in Affleck's more recent work as an actor. There was a rebellious style that you didn't find in -say- Gigli. Not to confirm that The Town is a total success. It's a hit and miss movie that has moments of true brilliance and moments of sheer cliche. The action is hit, the drama is miss. Given the fact that it takes time for a director to adjust and mature, I'm giving Affleck the benefit of the doubt with this one.

The good stuff? I liked the way the action was set up, especially the climactic heist which takes place in Boston's legendary Fenway Park. People are not kidding when they sing the praises of this close to 20 minute, tension filled finale. It's the peak of the film and -quite possibly- the best heist sequence I've seen since Heat's climactic finale close to 15 years ago. In that film director Michael Mann mixed character with drama to build up a real classic in the genre- a film that defined a generation of action directors and dared to have Pacino and Deniro go head to head in a film that had as much excitement with its mind games as it had through its violence.

Another high point of the film comes in the form of a car chase scene that takes place in the tightly constructed streets of Charlestown. It's an adrenaline rush that had me admiring Affleck's technically savvy talents for shooting action. Special mention also goes to the bank robbery that opens the film and opens the book on its main characters' judgments and choices throughout the picture. Affleck strives to pull off his own Heat & the influence is all over his picture. Too bad he doesn't pull it off. The flow Mann pursued perfectly in his film is missing here and Affleck seems to be straining to find a narrative style for the film's more dramatic points

Don't get me wrong, I dug the film but Affleck shouldn't have cast himself in the lead role and should have stayed behind the camera this time around. His acting puts a real strain on the story and leaves a coldness to his character and an emotional detachment to the audience. However, casting Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner and John Hamm (Mad Men) shows a great flair for casting and the production values are just top notch but there's something very calculative and cold with it all. I feel like Affleck still has much to grow upon & needs to find better narrative structures to his stories. For the time being, he's on track for better things & seems to be gaining more confidence with his game, he directs The Town in a classical approach reminiscent of late career Eastwood.

A "Link" to share

Here's a little something I wrote for The Link this past week, it is about Cinema Politico's opening night film. Nothing to brag about but -like everything else they show- a very warranted subject/cause. You can read my thought right HERE.

An Image 16/09/10

The lasting final image to Antonioni's surreal metaphysical L'eclisse, which features one of the most enigmatic endings in cinematic history. A kind of pseudo trip to the beyond and the closest Antonioni has come to representing Science Fiction in his work- even though in essence this a simple love story about cocky boy meets vulnerable gal. The last few moments of the film delve upon existence and a selected branch of images that evoke a kind of spooky, dreary mood that concludes with a lunar eclipse. What does it all mean? I'm not quite sure and Antonioni might be a bit full of himself but it's all hypnotic & just sheer fun to figure out.

MacGruber kicks ass

MacGruber (R) ★★★

I guess you can take this with a grain of salt but I thoroughly enjoyed MacGruber's zaniness and oft kilter comedy so much that I can't recommend it highly enough. When it first came out I shrugged it off as another half assed comedy and ended up not watching it. It was Glenn Kenny's review over @ Some Came Running and then Bill Ryan's over @ his The Kind Of Face You Hate that made me decide to give it a shot. I'm not quite sure why this movie is funny, maybe its the fact that I truly believe its films writers were very stoned when writing the screenplay or just that the film's main character struck me as being highly retarded, in a politically incorrect kind of of way of course. Is there something wrong with me liking such an inordinate film? I guess not, considering I laughed harder @ this movie than any other in 2010.

I don't usually cuddle up to movies such as this one, especially one that is based off a Saturday Night Live skit, but MacGruber won me over with its cheap special effects, trippy writing and overtly retarded atmosphere. Yes, there I am using again the word retarded but it really just is. The plot in this film is as thin as air and the character development as cold as ice. I'm sure you remember my Piranha review which ran here around 2 weeks ago. This is not the same type of movie. In Piranha the sheer horrible aesthetics and stylish shortcomings made it a wonder to behold and incidentally funny. In MacGruber they actually want you to laugh and you do, very hard. The film is consumed with a mental retardation- there I said it again- that it takes pride in garnering. There isn't much else to say and Im sure this won't be for all tastes, but give it a shot.

TEN BEST MOVIES of 2010 (so far)

Flawed or not, these are the ones that left the best impression on me so far in this lackluster year. The academy started nominating 10 last year and these would be my ten if the year was already over. There will likey be some changes in the next few months but I just thought I'd throw these out- since some of these are already out on DVD. There's still 4 months left to the year, so this isn't even close to final. In alphabetical order & not from first to last.

Fish Tank
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
The Ghost Writer
The Kids Are Alright
Un Prophete
Shutter Island
Toy Story 3
Winter's Bone

Runners Up;
Salt/Restrepo/Girl Who Played With Fire/MacGruber/Farewell/Piranha 3d/How To Train Your Dragon/Kick-Ass

Cronenberg Blogathon- A History of brilliance

(This review is being published as a contribution to Tony Dayoub's David Cronenberg Blog-A-Thon happening over @ Cinemaviewfinder.com)

One thing that has always made David Cronenberg a unique voice in cinema was that fact that this guy didn't give two shits what you thought of his films. He made personal, visionary movies that were so out of the ordinary that they made the experience of watching them incredibly hypnotic. I actually shouldn't be talking in the past tense, since our man is still making incredibly entertaining, artful films to this very day (History Of Violence, Eastern Promises). In essence, Cronenberg has put his imprint on cinema in ways no other director has before. His stylish & vibrant images are pure Cronenberg and instantly recognizable when looked at for the very first time. Who else can make a movie as ugly but brilliant as The Fly, strange but fascinating as Dead Ringers or erotic & violent as A History Of Violence.

In A History Of Violence -my favourite Cronenberg along with The Fly- he took what should have been another familiar Hollywood story and turned it upside down with his sinister use of eroticism, graphic violence & an ambiguous ending that had mainstream audiences scratching their heads in disapproval. As if he gave a fuck. The Stall family could have been very dull in the hands of another director but the freshness our friend David brought in was unique and completely original. Viggo Mortensen's Tom, a man with violence in his DNA, had to cope with the fact that not only was he violent in nature but so was his entire family & -as Cronenberg boldly states- so was the audience watching the film. It was a movie that had me looking at the mirror and learning things about myself that I couldn't imagine or fathom.

In a way everybody is Tom Stall, a violent rage lingers inside us waiting to come out at the most opportune of times- but we never dare to show it. We have a history of violence that cannot be ignored. Tom's wife -a sexy Maria Bello- likes her sex violent, rough & similar to rape, his son shoots a stalker with his own dad's rifle & his brother Richie -all hail William Hurt- is a highly respected thug that wants to kill his own brother. Talk about family dysfunction. The film's final scene is pure cliche, after much drama, the Stall family sits down at the dinner table completely drained out from the events that have just happened the last few days, after a few seconds of silence the screen goes black & a scene that had nothing going for it, has everything going for it. Cronenberg stuns his audience with an unconventional ending that he knows might infuriate.

Cronenberg sets up his movie like a classic Hollywood thriller. The style is modern, the scenery glowing with high colors & the pace almost frenetically generic. Yet with all these stereotypical styles colliding at once, he invigorates his film with a sense of originality & a bold statement with his use of graphic, strange sex and violence that shakes you up and twists you sideways. I can think of Todd Haynes doing the same kind of stylish statement in Far From Heaven, where he pampered up his decor in 1950's bubble gum melodrama but put risky modern era topics such as homosexuality and racism at the table. Just like Haynes' picture, behind the glitter and glossy colors of A History Of Violence lies a dark room filled with risky thematic substance & a real sense of dread.

Cronenberg means to shock us and he does. This highly addictive film is also his most hypnotic in terms of sheer grip. He's made rawer, dirtier stuff in his career but none of them have come together as a whole or as close to perfection as this one. If there is one movie that might just define his career 15, 20 years from now it's a A History Of Violence. It has the hallmarks of a classic in the making and has only been gathering more and more fans since its release close to 5 years ago. I remember watching it for the first time in an almost empty theatre on a cold, snowy day in Montreal. I had seen disappointment after disappointment that year & I had not much to write about in terms of worthy films- in fact I was even thinking of just letting go of the passion that has consumed me for years and move on to better things. At the movie's end as the Dinner table scene ended & the credits rolled, I had a smile on my face. Here was a great movie that made you believe in cinema again and had everything that brought you there in the first place. There's no better feeling than that.

Megan Fox would be the perfect modern day silent movie star

Thinkin of somethin there honey?

Yea that's right you heard it here first. Didn't you ever feel like just telling Megan Fox to shut up and look beautiful? That's what she does in the new Eminem video & admirably well to tell you the truth. She acts but without uttering a single word & with a fervor that reminds you of some of the great Silent movie stars. If we were still in the golden age of Silent cinema (1920's-1930's) Megan Fox would be one of the most respected actresses on the silver screen. I'm not trying to insult the classic silent vixens that stamped their marks on le Septieme Art's history but hell, if Megan Fox -with her hypnotic eyes, luscious lips & curvy form- had no lines to recite and was told to overact every gesture and just look pretty, she'd already have an Academy Award in her bedroom.

I want Gooooooold
Remember Zasu Pitts? Star of Stronheim's Greed? She was pretty but the greedier she got with her lottery money, the more her eyes started having lines under them & the more unattractive she was becoming. It's a virtuoso performance that Fox could easily pull off with her dead on beauty and devilishly dark hair. the 360 change at the film's mid point could get pulled off by Megan, who was drop dead hot in Jennifer's Body. Ya dig? Or maybe you just don't agree & think I'm pulling your finger here with this whole thread, well I'm not. Fox is not a very talented actress but so were some of those we herald as great from the silent era. They were also beautiful and we did not have to hear a single word from them to understand the emotional angst they were getting at.

Mack and Keaton hush hushing

How about Marion Mack in Buster Keaton's The General. She didn't have to do much- then again in any Buster Keaton movie, you don't do much and step aside for -well- Buster Keaton. You see where I'm getting @ here? Megan Fox would pull it off also. Listen, I'm not trying to put down Keaton's Silent classic -it's one of my favourite pictures ever- but the times are different and acting has changed quite drastically since Keaton & Chaplin first stepped foot. The General is pure and simply Keaton's show. Some of the stuff he pulls off in the movie is practically impossible for stunt doubles to pull off til this very day. I'm astonished at how close he was to his death doing those stunts, but leaving the scene unharmed with no scratch to show was almost a miraculous thing.

Cry my darling, cry

Then there's Janet Gaynor's heartbreaking performance in Sunrise. From the first scene to the last, she had me at hello. It's one of the seminal female performances of the silent era and one that I feel Megan Fox can quite possibly pull off because it IS wordless. Would it be better than Gaynor's performance? No freaking way. Gaynor was born to play the role of the wife, who's husband is cheating on her and gets tempted by his mistress to drown her. It's not a mistake that Sunrise appears on many 'Greatest Movies' lists on a yearly basis. It has the biggest heart out of any Silent movie I've ever seen. Its swooning music is touching enough to make even the most manly of men weep. Now were getting into the more artful and delicate territory in the silent film era.

I can't see you but I can see you

How about having our friend Megan as one of Chaplin's muses? Chaplin always casted knockout bombshells to be his co stars. I can think of the blind flower girl in City Lights- Virginia Cherrill- or Paullette Goddard's Gamin in the great Modern Times. All great work by great women but something that requires beauty and over exaggeration, a specialty of Fox, who's work in Transformers & Jonah Hex was ruined by her uttering a word or line. No words are required here. Chaplin knew that emotion could be understood through gesture and through a single stare of the eyes. If he were still alive, he would want only the most attractive actress to convey all these incredible emotions beside him. He was completely enthralled -at times a bit too much- by women his entire life, to the point of womanization and abuse.

Miraculously alive. Falconetti in Passion Of Joan Of Arc.
Just don't try to think for a second Fox can replicate Maria Falconetti work of art performance in 1928's The Passion Of Joan Of Arc. There's enough visual reasoning to believe that Falconetti's performance was touched by something completely mythical and unexplainable. It's a cinematic high that not even our friend Megan can half duplicate. Falconetti went on through stringent and harrowing conditions to portray Joan Of Arc and make a mesmerizing portrayal out of it. Better luck next time Megan, but even your looks aren't cut out for this kind of serious business.

An Image / Rouge (Kieslowski)

A film which spells out its themes in darkly lit red cinematography. Krysztof Kieslowski's romantic and very much auteuristic Red (Rouge) is a cinematic wet dream filled with images that take your breath away and a story that ends up being both touching and mesmerizing. Irene Jacob is the focus and the below images show the power and strength of the best film in Kieslowski's Trois Couleurs triolgy. It's almost impossible to share feelings about a movie such as this one because there is something very mystical and wordless about it. It is a meditation on fate, chance and parallel lives. A movie that has frustrated some and breathlessly dazzled others. The attention to detail is delicate and bravely done. There is a shade of red in almost every frame, enhancing Jacob's beauty and imprinting a melancholic theme to the overall film. I fell for her the first time I encountered Red, her beauty spoke of truthfulness and a sexual honesty that could not be shaken.

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