Wednesday May 02, 2012
Wednesday May 02, 2012
Wednesday May 02, 2012
Atlas Shrugged: Part 1
How do I even approach reviewing this movie? Honestly, how? Ayn Rand is such a staunchly polarizing figure that any discussion of her work must, for some utterly baffling reason, go into personal opinion on her. She is the woman behind objectivism who cannot be objectively discussed. The irony of this is not lost on me.
For starters let me explain how my mind works when it comes to politics. I find most political discussion to be a waste of time. A majority of the people who engage in it have no real interest in sharing ideas, rather they are looking for affirmation. Regardless of whether that affirmation comes from the rabid agreement of someone who is “on their side” or the shouting down and marginalization of someone who is “on the other side.”
I only see one side with people who vary differently on how to move forward.
A few years back I read a comment by David Mamet that sums things up for me pretty well. He said something to the affect of their being a Jewish law or idea that one should never debate an issue unless they could first sit down with the other person and describe that persons side of the issue to them in a way that that person would agree with. No straw man, no slippery slope, no spin, just an honest recitation of their side.
Our current state of political discourse is sickening because people don’t do this. Instead they have allowed cable news shows to let them think that shouting down and embarrassing the other person is acceptable and somehow makes them win. Oh, and before you go off on a “Yeah, Fox News, blah, blah, blah” jag, realize that both sides do it. And before you respond, “Yeah, but Fox News is so much worse, blah, blah, blah,” realize that you are saying this sort of behavior is ok but only if you agree with the person doing it. This is a touch hypocritical, no? And before you slam me for being a brainwashed Fox News whatever, know that I don't watch TV news. It's all biased bullshit. I read my news and check multiple sources on each story I read so that I can at least attempt to put together what actually happened. I despise any news agency that attempts to tell me how to think about an issue when reporting the news.
So, let’s discuss the film and the author, then just the film, shall we?
Ayn Rand… to some she is a visionary who developed a brilliant philosophy that allows people to develop their own potential. To others she is a heartless, godless crone who made the world a worse place with her selfishness and long winded writings.
To me she is a woman who saw firsthand the horrors of Stalin and embraced the ideals of America to an absurd degree. I think that some of her ideas are fantastic and, if applied properly, can be very beneficial. I also think that she goes too far with them in a way that borders on parody.
Let’s take a quick look at her background. She was born in Russia in 1905. Her father was a pharmacist who owned his own business as well as the building that housed it. When the Russian Revolution struck the Bolsheviks seized the business, and her family was forced to flee to Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg). Growing up her family was destitute and often on the verge of starvation.
She was able to attend college, but just before graduation she, along with other “bourgeois” students were purged from the university. She was among a group of students who were only able to graduate after complaints from foreign students led to them being readmitted.
Later she came to America on a student visa and cried, what she called, “tears of splendor” at how amazing it all was.
Now, lets step back and analyze this. Her family lost everything to collectivism, she had her educational opportunities taken from her not because of a lack of ability, but due to the politics of the Soviet Union, and saw, in America, what she viewed as a better way.
What other form of philosophy could she develop? I completely understand where her ideology comes from. Hell, in this context it makes perfect sense. This was a woman who saw a large government legislating equality as a terrifying thing that would ultimately strip people of their individuality, rob people of their ambition, and ultimately lead to an oppressive state where nobody can raise themselves up. She feared it because she saw it firsthand. All she did was take the history she lived and grafted it onto America. Survive what she survived and then talk shit about her…
However, having a hard life doesn’t mean you’re right.
While I understand what she means by “The Virtue of Selfishness” I cannot agree completely. I do think that we need to have each others backs, so to speak, and that cooperation and compromise are the foundation of any civilization. But I do agree with her in that I don’t trust anyone who uses the word “fair” because as basic a concept “fairness” seems, it is really quite complicated. You see, “fairness” is entirely in the eye of the beholder. Does fair mean equal? Does fair mean earned?
I do love some of the characters she creates because of their unflinching individualism and self-reliance, but even I get a bit tired of them at times.
So, what about this movie?
As someone who labels himself a classically libertarian borderline anarchist (I enjoy labeling myself with as many fancy words as possible) who views the major political party system as akin to choosing a professional sports team (as Mr. Campbell puts it, the engine just burned out and we are debating what color to paint the car) which essentially means that I want to be left the hell alone., I find this films ideas as fascinating as I find the film itself bad.
This is not a good movie. It just isn’t.
Let’s start with the plot. Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 is set in a future where the world is falling apart. Oil shortages have made cars and planes too expensive so we turn to the railroad. As trains have become the dominant form of transportation, of course all the track has fallen into disrepair (because, you know, that happens when something becomes really popular, we just stop taking care of it). Henry Reardon has developed a new metal that is stronger and cheaper and would allow all the railways to be repaired at a low cost.
But he doesn’t want to share and nobody likes him for it. He will sell it at a fair price, and will work with anyone who wants to work with him, but he isn’t willing to let other people make his signature steel, so he is bad.
As this is Ayn Rand’s world, a world which is populated exclusively by people who can do things and make the world work, and people who can’t do things and conspire to bring down those who can, the machinations of government begin to work to bring down Reardon.
This is a cartoonish world where government basically takes over and dictates who can own what, who they can sell things to, and how much they can charge. It is full of rich people who believe in equality… as long as they still get to have pretty things and live in comfort. The movie addresses this in a very ham fisted way. You have a character, in the course of a few minutes, chastise his sister/business partner with the statement, “You can’t just take everything away from people who need our help,” before ordering an underling to “MOVE” as he crosses his path out the door. That’s right, we need to help people as long as they don’t interfere with what we want to do right now!
While this is going on a mysterious man named John Galt lurks in the shadows, offering exceptional people a chance to be exceptional away from all the useless ones that sit and conspire against them.
Essentially, this is worst-case scenario, slippery slope stuff. Keep making it harder for those who do the work to do the work and they will take their ball and leave, then were would we be?
At least I think that’s what it’s about. Really, I am not sure because the dialogue is a bunch of babbly exposition that is hard to follow for the simple reason that it is boring.
So we get a lot of the yap yap and a lot of broadly drawn caricatures in place of people and somehow I am supposed to give a crap what happens. Well, I don’t.
SPOILER ALERT: Oh, and the best part is that near the end the two main characters find an engine that runs on atmospheric energy, left completely intact in a barely hidden room in a long abandoned factory. That’s right, atmospheric energy. Might as well run on pixie farts and unicorn tears. END SPOILER ALERT
It’s not all bad. I mean the acting is fine (not great, not particularly good, just fine) and it looks very good at times (while at other times it looks like a SyFy production), but by and large it is just… flat.
It’s flat because Rand is a philosopher. Yeah, she wrote some stories that have had quite an impact, but she isn’t really a storyteller at heart. That is fine on the page, but on the screen it just doesn’t work. Movies are visual and feed on story, Rand is cerebral and feeds on words and ideas. The two don’t work together. Not that movies can’t be smart, but they have to be smart in a different way. I loved the book “The Fountainhead,” but found the movie laughable about 90% of the time. Philosophy is not cinematic unless your name is Terrance Malik.
The question I have is simple, why even bother trying to make a film out of this. It is expansive, it is cerebral, and it will draw predetermined responses from people. Those on the right will forgive more than they should and people on the left will hate it no matter what. It’s not so much a movie as an attempt to create some sort of rallying cry.
Monday Apr 23, 2012
Monday Apr 23, 2012
Monday Apr 23, 2012
Comedian Craig Ferguson one said that you should ask yourself three questions before you say anything.
1) Does this need to be said?
2) Does this need to be said, right now?
3) Does this need to be said, right now, by me?
Good advice, and advice that I tend to heed more often than not.
I feel that variations of these questions need to be asked before undertaking a remake, especially of a classic. Instead they should read:
1) Does this film need to be remade? (was there something lacking from the original, or has it fallen from public consciousness enough to make a remake necessary, has the world changed enough that a new look at this subject matter would benefit it)
2) Does this film need to be remade, right now? (Is there some pressing social or political issue that can be addressed by remaking this film, is there a new audience that would appreciate a new look at it)
3) Does this film need to be remade by me? (is there something special that I bring to the table either visually or thematically that makes me the person to bring such a vision to the world)
Sadly, in the case of Gus Van Sant’s “Psycho” remake, the answer to all three is “no.”
Before I go on, I want to address a criticism that some will level at me on this. Yes, I am a Hitchcock fan, but I am not a “hater,” yes I hate this movie, but I am not a “hater.” You see, the term “hater” is what you call someone when your over inflated sense of unearned self worth that was instilled in you when nobody told you that a “Participant Trophy” is no the same thing as an “MVP Trophy” cannot handle someone disliking what you dislike. So, instead of facing that someone has a different opinion than you, and that gasp mayhaps you aren’t right all the time, you marginalize the critic so you can disregard their criticism. Sorry, “Whitney” is a bad show, the Star Wars Prequels suck, and dubstep is horrible. Someone disliking things you like isn’t an indictment of you, it just means that someone has a different opinion and dismissing that might make you feel better, but it also makes you look weak. So… there.
For starters, “Psycho” is one of the most iconic films ever made by one of the most iconic filmmakers ever to make them. From the music to the performances to the visuals… people who don’t know this movie somehow still know this movie. Granted, that knowledge is generally misguided (Norman Bates doesn’t hit the screen until almost an hour into it, and there are only two killings), but they still know it.
So, the question is “Why?”
I kept asking myself this question over and over again during my viewing. Why? Why would Gus Van Sant, a very original and somewhat daring filmmaker, cash in his Oscar nomination chip to do a shot for shot remake of one of the most recognizable films ever? What could he possibly stand to gain?
From the beginning, when the project was first announced, I didn’t know what to make of it. My sister and I held the same opinion, this is what a film school student does for a director study assignment, this isn’t what an established filmmaker does.
I went further and stated that all he would do is draw unflattering comparisons and show the deficiencies in his own work.
Granted, I am an unapologetic Hitchcockian. I love his work unconditionally (even the ones I don't like) and have the man's trademark silhouette tatooed on my arm. So, know upfront that this movie had the deck stacked well against it from the get go.
So, now that I’ve seen it, what is my opinion?
Well… it was an interesting student film that, despite having some good performances and interesting moments, highlighted the difference between a filmmaker and a master filmmaker.
The problem is that this is a completely unnecessary film. Were it a straight remake it would make sense, but doing it shot for shot is utterly baffling. If you aren’t going to make it your own what is the point of doing it. It’s creatively bankrupt.
Let me show you what I mean by comparing the two.
Original- Crisp black and white. It’s moody and creates a lot of really great tension. The shot selection in this film is legendary and set the standard for this type of filmmaking.
Remake- Well… it’s in color, which takes a lot of the moodiness out of it. The sky behind the Bates house looks amazing, but other than that it looks just like the original. There is nothing expressive about this. It doesn’t feel organic, every shot is there because it has to be, not for the story, but because it’s a shot for shot remake. The addition of color actually weakens some of the scenes, in particular the shower scene. Instead of an incredibly effecting montage it feels like an editing project. Oh, and the shower scene was severly harmed by the inclusion of a needless shot of Anne Heche’s butthole. Watch it again, there is all kind of butthole in this piece.
Original- Bernard Hermann’s score for this film is one of the most recognizable and powerful ever recorded. It is innovative, emotive, and legendary for a reason.
Remake- They used the exact same music, so…
Original- I am a big Hitchcock fan and were I asked what the best performance in a Hitchcock film was I would reply, without delay, hesitation, or doubt that Anthony Perkins performance as Norman Bates takes that title HANDS DOWN! He is understated, charming, disarming, but has that slight… off centeredness that makes the character so amazing.
Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, and Martin Balsam give solid performances. Nothing revolutionary or career defining in terms of actual acting (Leigh is defined by this film though), but solid acting.
The rest of the performances are good, but feel dated today. It was the 60’s and acting was a bit more formulaic at the time, so watching it with our current method acting lense it comes off stiff.
Remake- Vince Vaughn does a very good job, but the performance feels off. He doesn’t have the disarming charm of Perkins. Instead he comes off much more intense and close to the edge. It’s hard to really judge this performance fairly because it is standing in a MASSIVE shadow. Every time he was on screen I kept thinking of how much more restrained and powerful Perkins was. This is the heart of the problem with a remake like this, it’s almost impossible not to draw this type of comparison because you could play them side by side. So, when I say that during the scene where he disposes of the car Vaughn’s face is too menacing and calculated, I have a direct point of comparison.
Heche, butthole not withstanding, does a good job, but nothing remarkable.
The rest of the cast is outstanding and is, in many ways an improvement on the original.
Advantage- Original (Lead), Remake (supporting)
Original- This was fairly revolutionary for the time. The idea of serial killers and psychotics was still novel and hadn’t been done to death. Also, the sexuality was fairly bold and revolutionary for the time.
Remake- Felt recycled. Not just because… well, it was, but because it didn’t add anything new. The original was shocking because it was original subject matter, by the time of the remake the themes and subject had been explored countless times, some good, some terrible. But to make the exact same film again… what was original now feels derivative, what was fresh is now stale, what was revolutionary is now repetitive.
Original- This was the work of a master filmmaker during the strongest period of his career. During a six year period he made “Rear Window,” “Vertigo,” “North By Northwest,” plus a few minor films. The man was on fire, so to speak, and was creating masterpieces like that was the only kind of film you could make. This was subtle and handled with a deftness of touch that most storytellers can only dream of.
Remake- There were a few differences I was aware of, and they made a pretty big difference. First is the performance of Vaughn. His performance was too big. Norman was quiet and seemed harmless, even when he is angry with Marion it’s a simmering anger. Vaughn comes off threatening, and that doesn’t work. His awkwardness is showy and his emotions are too obvious. You need to feel his vulnerability for his character to work. One could blame the actor, but I feel this falls more at the feet of the director, if you can’t get a better performance then don’t tackle the project.
Then you have two other slight changes that I think harm the film greatly. First is the scene where he watches Marion through the wall. In the remake he masturbates while he does it. This slight change turns it from unsettling and creepy to perverted and gross. It adds nothing to the scene and makes Norman off putting. Hitchcock was able to achieve a similar effect without using the obvious sex act and it made Norman creepy, but still somewhat accessible.
The second is the shower scene. If Van Sant says that he has had a more daunting task than this in his career, he’s lying. Recreating the shower scene from Psycho is like trying to recreate the Mona Lisa, even attempting it is an act of incredible hubris that I can’t wrap my head around, and it is destined for failure.
Everything about it felt off. The music didn’t feel on cue, the montage of stabbing felt like some bad student art film from East Germany, and it holds too long on Marion falling, giving us a whole lot of butthole (sorry I keep mentioning it, but it’s pretty distracting). The horror of the scene is enough already, you don’t need to hold on that shot, get to the blood and the drain and the eye.
Also, by going shot for shot Van Sant chained himself to filmmaking methods that feel dated. The voice over and much of the dialogue, though very effective in the original feel completely out of place in modern filmmaking.
So, Hitch throws a shutout, which is no surprise.
The Van Sant remake of “Psycho” is an exercise in frustration. Here you have a very good filmmaker fresh off his biggest success, cashing in his “make whatever film you want in the wake of your Oscar nomination” chip on a completely unnecessary remake. Before seeing it I was afraid it would feel like an experiment that would play like an unnatural student film and would only highlight Van Sant’s shortcomings. While I wouldn’t say it made him look bad it certainly didn’t do him any favors. But more than anything this made me appreciate the original that much more.
Call Tarantino a thief all you want, but at least when he steals things he does so in an original and interesting manner. The remake of Psycho is all of the theft, and none of the artistry. In the end, it is worse than a bad film, it is a wholly unnecessary one.
Saturday Apr 07, 2012
Saturday Apr 07, 2012
Saturday Apr 07, 2012
The Hunger Games
"The movie was good... but the book was so much better."
You. Don't. Say?
I use to say this. I did. It's not something I proud of, but it's the truth. There isn't anything harmful or wrong about this statement, it's just, if we're being honest, a non statement. Non statements are things you normally hear during political campaigns. Things like, "every American should have the opportunity to make their lives better." Wow, bold stance. Do you also think all babies should eat? They are safe statements because nobody can, or for that matter does, disagree with them.
There are statements like this about movies too. "Daniel Day-Lewis was really good in that!" You know, as opposed to all the times he sucked. "Michael Bay has a really strong visual style, but his stories are weak." Thank you for clearing that up. "Sean Connery uses the same accent in every role!" Yeah, and when you are Sean Connery, you can do the same.
But to me the most annoying is "The book was so much better." Why do I consider this to be a non statement? Well, let's look at "L.A. Confidential," a very good book and a very good movie that are very different from one another.
The book is 496 pages, spans several years, and has around 100 characters in it.
The movie runs 138 minutes (for those who don't know that means the screenplay was around 138 pages long), spanned around a year, and had significantly fewer characters in it.
So, for an exceptional adaptation you had to lose 358 pages, 9 years, and 60-70 characters. The page count alone should invalidate comparison. How can you hope to compare a story to a version of itself that is 72% shorter? Is it even possible? Add to that the necessity of losing 70% of the characters, and 80% of the time that passed and you begin to see the impossibility of adaptation. Then take into account the loss of narration due to the visual nature of film storytelling and the whole affair begins to look hopeless.
Yes some are good, some are even better than the book (it does happen), but it is a rare thing.
So, I propose looking at the films as films, not as extensions of the books. I will go more into this at another time, the only reason I mention it is because I am reviewing "Hunger Games and I've hear a lot of people say this about the movie and book, so I felt the need to address it.
The only thing I've hear more of than "The book was better..." is, "I liked it better when it was called 'Battle Royale,'" First off, good for you! I am impressed by your worldliness. Tell me more of your adventures in international cinema!!!
Yes, there is a basic similarity between the two, but it's just that... basic. Saying that "Hunger Games" is the same as "Battle Royale," is like saying that "The Godfather" and "Goodfellas" are the same movie because they both involve the mafia, or that "A Beautiful Mind" and "Good Will Hunting," are the same because they both involve math. Hell, it's more accurate to call "Die Hard" and "Home Alone" the same movie because they both involve wise cracking loners separated from their families on Christmas eve who have to go against a group of thieves who disguise themselves using only his intelligence in gorilla style warfare. Both include humorous airport scenes, broken glass, jumping out of windows, unlikely sidekicks with personal problems who save the day at the last minute, useless cops, and eventual familial reconcilliation.
If you criticize "Hunger Games" as a "Battle Royale" rip off, then you have to criticize "Battle Royale" for ripping off "The Running Man," "The Long Walk," "The Most Dangerous Game," "The Condemned," "The Man With The Golden Gun," or "Series 7: The Contenders." The only thing that makes these two more similar is the use of kids and the laziness and lack of research on behalf of the person making the comment.
"Battle Royale" is good. But let's not make it more than it is.
"The Hunger Games" is a different animal. It's set in a dystopian future. America was destroyed by an unmentioned apocalyptic event and a country called Panem rose from the ashes. Panem consists of The Capital, where the very wealthy live in absolute luxury, and the 12 districts, where people live near starvation and work to provide the capital with all the material trappings that give them that luxury. As "penance" for a past revolution each year the districts are required to offer one male and one female between the ages if 12 and 18 as tribute to participate in "The Hunger Games," a fight to the death tournament with only one survivor. Win, and your family is given a new life of wealth and comfort and your district is showered with gifts and food for the next year. Each district is required to watch. For the districts it is a cruel exercise in domination, being forced to watch their children murder each other. In the Capital it is a giddily anticipated entertainment, like the olympics.
We follow Katniss Everdeen, a young woman from District 12 (the mining district) who enters the game as a volunteer to take the place of her 12 year old sister who was drawn at random. Her life is a struggle to support her family in a world that seems bent on consuming them. We follow her to the capital and through the pageantry that surrounds this blood sport, and ultimately into the game itself.
The book itself is pretty streamlined story telling. There are parts that were excised for the sake of pacing and length, but they were parts that could be excised without damaging the narrative as a whole. The character of Katniss is strengthen somewhat in the movie. In the book she seemed less sure of herself at first and more vulnerable, whereas in the movie she seemed much more in control and confident. It's a subtle change, but I think it benefits the character immensely.
Normally, when I see a movie after reading the book I am a bit let down. I go in knowing that it won't be as good, but usually I end up pissed off because they leave out things that I think are important or put in things that don't make sense or rush things too much trying to put in as much as possible. That didn't happen here. Yes it is streamlined, but it's not hatched together. The things that are left out are minor and the film moves at a good enough clip and includes enough of the important that what is left out goes largely unnoticed. It's not the book and wasn't meant to be, what it is, though, is a well crafted story that works in the world of the source material while not attempting to alter it.
This is a very good movie. It's brutal and touching in equal parts, visceral and heartbreaking, and makes some fairly strong social commentary without beating you over the head with it. (Yeah, watching lonely people fighting for attention and affection on national television may not be as savage as kids killing each other, but we still take voyeuristic pleasure in the pain of another human being.)
The casting is absolutely perfect and the performances were a bit surprising.
Jennifer Lawrence kills it as Katniss. She is compelling as a young woman doing what needs to be done to protect and provide for her family in a desolate mining town (hmmm... Jennifer Lawrence as the oldest child forced to act as parent to a poor family in a mining town? This sounds familiar for some reason.). This is a difficult role and she nails it.
The other performances I was concerned about were Hamich, Cinna, and Rue.
Hamich- One of the best characters in the story. He is a former Hunger Games champion from District 12 who is charged with training and mentoring Katniss and Peeta (the male tribute). Whatever he experienced in the games has broken him and he spends most of his time drunk. This character could have been played as a caricature of the shell-shocked alcoholic war vet and played for laughs, but he wasn't. Harrelson showed an incredible amount of restraint and subtlety in creating a man who is doing what he needs to in order to get through the day.
Cinna- As Katniss's stylist he is the human face of The Capital. Where as everyone else there is a grotesque caricature of privileged excess and vanity Cinna is an actual human who seems to really care about Katniss as a person, not just as a source of entertainment. Lenny Kravits seemed like an odd choice, but he was absolutely perfect.
Rue- They could not have found a more adorable, less threatening actress to play Rue if they had tried. Amandla Stenberg is heartbreaking as a completely innocent child who you instinctively want to protect in the most brutal environment possible. She is heartbreaking and wonderful.
While the acting is superb there is a fair amount of praise for the direction. The visuals are evocative and add to the story. The editing style and visual effects are... well affective. There is some solid visual story telling here and it offsets and aids the narrative.
There is one thing I find maddening about this movie though. Earlier this year a documentary called "Bully" was released. It was made with the intention of shedding light on the problem of bullying in America and around the world. It was made to let kids who bully know that it's not acceptable and to let the victims know that they are not alone and that it does get better. I don't know if I would call it an important film, but I do think that it is an important issue and anything that can be done to shed light and help end it is a good thing (I say this as someone who was bullied at one point in my life). That film received an R rating because the word "fuck" was used a few times. "The Hunger Games," where brutal child on child murder is shown was given a PG-13 rating without even needing an appeal.
But I digress...
The Hunger Games is a solid adaptation that works for both fans of the books and the uninitiated. It's a visually striking, well acted production of a solid script. Forget the comparisons and check it you. You'll most likely enjoy it.
Until next time, may the odds be ever in your favor.
Friday Mar 30, 2012
Friday Mar 30, 2012
Friday Mar 30, 2012
Human trafficking is such an antiseptic term. It intellectualizes and softens something that is absolutely horrific. It’s the type of term that lives in the world of academia and statistics. There’s no emotional impact, no default outrage, no real teeth to it. I prefer to call it what it is, slavery. At this moment it is estimated that up to 4 million people internationally and up to 50,000 people domestically are held by human trafficking rings.
To put a finer point on it… there are, at this moment, 50,000 people owned as slaves in the United States. Not historically, not descendants of freed slaves, but actual living breathing human beings living as slaves right now. This is not just a forced labor situation either; we are talking about forced prostitution.
Some are sold by their parents, some are recruited into domestic service jobs only to find out when they are in another country with no ability to leave what the job really is, and other are taken right off the streets in the US and forced into it.
A majority are women and almost all are under 18.
These numbers are jarring, alarming, and disgusting and nowhere near enough people are aware of them.
Eden is the true story of Chong Kim, a Korean American woman who, at the age of 19, went to a bar with a fake ID, had a drink with a very nice fireman who offered her a ride home. He pulled over to make a phone call and by the time she realized that something was wrong… it was too late. She oke up in the trunk of a car and began a harrowing two year long nightmare of isolation, forced prostitution, and every type of abuse and degradation you can imagine.
This is not an easy or comfortable film to watch, but it is about something so very important that I believe it needs to be seen. Much like Damian Harris’s “Gardens of the Night,” which follows the younger spectrum of this abhorrent practice, it sheds light on a world so blackly dark and hidden from view that most people don’t know that it exists.
Unlike “Gardens,” which shows a world so vile and reprehensible that it exists entirely behind the curtains and closed doors, “Eden,” shows a normalized and, in some ways, accepted trade. It’s in the shadows, yes, but it is still in the light. The people who trade in it are somewhat open about it. There are parties with men in suits, fraternity parties, and underground S&M clubs where this type of traffic is a normal part of business. It’s an entirely corrupt world where even the law cannot be trusted.
Director Megan Griffiths does an outstanding job of finding the small pieces of humanity in a dehumanized world and contrasts them with the inherent brutality of the situation. Her direction is unflinching but not exploitative, honest but never preachy, and powerful without being manipulative.
The performances are phenomenal across the board but the film is moored by two standouts. Jamie Chung creates a heartbreakingly real woman whose sweetness and innocence are stripped away. Matt O’Leary gives an amazingly nuanced performance as Eden’s crack smoking handler. He is hateful and repellent, but is also very real.
This is a rare film in that it has changed the way I look at certain things. You hear terms like “human trafficking,” and “forced prostitution,” and are justifiably horrified, but they are just abstract concepts. Seeing the reality of women forced to live in dark storage lockers, four to a room on bunk beds, and knowing that it is happening now, in my country both horrified and sickened me. Suddenly, these concepts were no longer concepts, but living breathing facts.
In a world where millionaire athletes and musicians throw the world slave around it is fairly sobering to have the reality of it shown so plainly.
I rarely use the term “important,” to describe films as even the most “important” films rarely are. Usually it really means “self important.” This film however deals with an issue most of us would rather pretend doesn’t exist, but that is far more important than can be expressed.
“Eden” shows evil in its truest form. The evil that allows people to profit from suffering, the evil that exists when good people don’t stand up for what is decent, the evil that exists in a world where girls (and let’s be clear they are GIRLS) can be treated as disposable property.
Very Young Girls- Documentary about teenage girls forced into prostitution.
Gardens of the Nigh- Fiction film about a girl kidnapped into the world of child sex trade.
Thursday Mar 29, 2012
Thursday Mar 29, 2012
Thursday Mar 29, 2012
Paul Williams Still Alive
Celebrity is a bizarre thing. It’s fleeting, unpredictable, and fickle. To use an example from William Goldman’s “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” let’s look at the top 10 box office stars from the beginning and the end of the past few decades.(as voted by movie exhibitors).
1- Paul Newman
2- Clint Eastwood
3- Steve McQueen
4- John Wayne
5- Elliot Gould
6- Dustin Hoffman
7- Lee Marvin
8- Jack Lemmon
9- Barbra Streisand
10- Walter Matthau
1- Burt Reynolds
2- Clint Eastwood
3- Jane Fonda
4- Woody Allen
5- Barbra Streisand
6- Sylvester Stallone
7- John Travolta
8- Jill Clayburgh
9- Roger Moore
10- Mel Brooks
Only 2 people lasted the decade.
How about the 80’s?
1- Burt Reynolds
2- Robert Redford
3- Clint Eastwood
4- Jane Fonda
5- Dustin Hoffman
6- John Travolta
7- Sally Field
8- Sissy Spacek
9- Barbra Streisand
10- Steve Martin
Ok, one year later and half the list has changed. How did the decade end?
1- Jack Nicholson
2- Tom Cruise
3- Robin Williams
4- Michael Douglas
5- Tom Hanks
6- Michael J. Fox
7- Eddie Murphy
8- Mel Gibson
9- Sean Connery
10- Kathleen Turner
Wait… that is a totally different list. What’s going on?
1- Arnold Schwarzenegger
2- Julia Roberts
3- Bruce Willis
4- Tom Cruise
5- Mel Gibson
6- Kevin Costner
7- Patrick Swayze
9- Harrison Ford
10- Richard Gere
In one year… 7 people dropped off the list completely?
Well, these have to have staying power, don’t they?
1- Julia Roberts
2- Tom Hanks
3- Adam Sandler
4- Bruce Willis
5- Mike Myers
6- Tom Cruise
7- Will Smith
8- Mel Gibson
9- Meg Ryan
10- Sandra Bullock
In one year half the list changed.
Last one, I promise.
1- Tom Cruise
2- Julia Roberts
3- George Clooney
4- Eddie Murphy
5- Russell Crowe
6- Mel Gibson
7- Martin Lawrence
8- Tom Hanks
9- Jim Carrey
10- Harrison Ford
Four… not bad.
1- Sandra Bullock
2- Johnny Depp
3- Matt Damon
4- George Clooney
5- Robert Downey Jr.
6- Tom Hanks
7- Meryl Streep
8- Brad Pitt
9- Shia LaBeouf
10- Denzel Washington
So, what is the point of this long drawn out example?
Unknowns rise quickly, and established names fall even faster. You could be the biggest box office star in the world one day and within five years you’re struggling to self finance a direct to DVD piece of crap.
Fame is like the stock market, some people make tons of money and never lose a dime, some get rich and lose it all in a moment.
Some people vainly rage against the dying of the light, whereas others are more graceful and distinguished about it. Paul Williams falls into the later category.
Don’t get me wrong; Paul Williams is still a known quantity. You know the words to at least one of his songs and have seen him in at least one movie, you might just not know it. Hell, his own daughter was a fan of the Monkees song “Someday Man,” and had no idea her father wrote it. I’ve always known him as Little Enos from “Smokey and the Bandit,” but he’s been in many, many more.
Pail Williams was everywhere. This diminutive, deep voiced, incredibly charismatic guy was part of our cultural landscape. He was a favorite of Johnny Carson at a time when America loved who Johnny loved.
Paul was on game shows, talk shows, specials, movies; he was nominated for six Oscars and won one. He should have won two, but “It Goes Like It Goes” from “Norma Rae” beat out “Rainbow Connection.” You know, the classic “It Goes Like It Goes.”
Then one day, he was gone.
Not “gone,” but his omnipresence faded some, and when such massive exposure fades even a little it is tantamount to disappearance.
“Paul Williams: Still Alive,” is a very intimate look at a man who transitioned from personality to person.
Also, a close personal friend of mine for about a minute.
In the past I have been very critical of documentarians who inject themselves into the subject too much. That there are too many (Moore, Spurlock) who are so present that the film becomes the story of the filmmaker rather than the subject. This film comes dangerously close to that, but manages to avoid falling into that trap. It strikes a balance, the filmmaker is present and vital, but he never overtakes the subject.
Yes, the filmmaker is a big part of this film, but it is because his relationship with Williams. It becomes a part, but never overshadows the whole. Honestly, what better way to examine the relationship between performer and audience than to form a relationship between the performer and a member of the audience?
We see all sides of Williams from small personal moments at home to speaking engagements (Paul is a recovering addict, a licensed substance abuse counselor, and regularly speaks to groups about recovery.), to small concerts in the US to massive, sold out arena concerts around the world. It is also a film that doesn’t shy away from the very personal, going so far as to show Paul reacting in disgust at some of his past TV behavior. You get the picture of a real person who can learn and grow. This is a man who never really went away, he just shifted his priorities.
This is a very warm and personal film about a very warm and personal man. It’s about fame, celebrity, addiction, recovery, loss, and ultimately what you find through that loss. “Paul Williams: Still Alive,” succeeds where many other documentaries fail. It creates a moving and entertaining picture of a man who has gained and lost more than many of us ever will.