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I’m still sorting out my complete feelings for the movie but hopefully I can find something eloquent to say about this film. Needless to say,  Yasujirō Ozu’s story of mistakes, regret, jealousy and love is visually poetic and lovely to watch unfold.

My being more impressed of the film on a technical level isn’t an indictment to the story (because it’s great) but, as someone fascinated by the techniques, it was more exciting to watch the choices being made. The shot selection, scenery, color palette, set design; everything fit perfectly. 

This is my first Ozu film. With the emotionally resonant theme of family dysfunction, failure and young infatuation, it’s hard not to get sucked in. How Ozu is somehow still foreign, even to some film nerds, is peculiar. I look forward to digesting this movie some more and checking out the rest of Ozu’s filmography.

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A lot of things have been written about the message being sent by Martin Scorsese’s latest film The Wolf Of Wall Street –mostly centering on its moral responsibility. The idea is that Scorsese seems to be almost promoting the reprehensible things in the movie by his decision to make a comical and exhilarating and entertaining film. The Wolf Of Wall Street is a film about terrible, narcissistic people in love with money, sex and drugs; Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie, ruined many people’s lives and was just egregiously villainous. To present his life this way can seem to some like a stamp of approval.

These are fair feelings to have even if I don’t believe this film is endorsing anything. I don’t dispute someone making these claims but what I do disagree with is this idea that art should only push an agenda that matches that of what an audience deems morally upright. The job of art is to let the artist make their statement regardless of feelings. I don’t know why Scorsese or the film’s screenwriter Terrance Winter made this film but, if I had to guess, I would say that they found this story fascinating and wanted to make a movie just as fascinating.

I’m against this idea of hand holding that seems to be popular amongst the thinkpiece writers and morally upright that says that entertainment about bad people needs to succinctly tell you why these people are bad and why they need to be punished. Once again, I understand it, but I’m against it. Critical thinking tells you why Jordan Belfort is an egomaniacal monster–in addition to the grisly and dark last hour of the film–and I don’t need my intelligence insulted in order for me to get why all of this is wrong.

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What I found compelling about this film is how it deals with addiction. The addiction to vice, to greed, to masculinity, to alpha dog statuses; it’s a movie that indulges and gets hooked to the idea of indulgence and getting hooked. You feel the highs and the lows because you need to feel it. You need to witness the adrenaline rush that comes with making millions and getting high, you need the dizzying peaks and the sordid valleys that this film takes you through. Everything about this film is visceral and intense. You’re taken for a ride in order to understand why the ride is so addictive. The drugs in the film feel like a director waxing nostalgic about his own coke addiction and, most of the time, it’s effective. And every excess is a drug here: the money, the dirty sex and the animalistic nature of testosterone-heavy males getting off on making money– it’s all a drug and it’s all addictive.

Speaking of which, I’m of the opinion that Wolf Of Wall Street is one of the more scathing indictments of greed and American capitalism that we’ve seen in a long time. It may not come off as the most responsible but it gets to the dark, inhuman underbelly inherent in these types of people. Rather than telling you why they’re bad, you see why they do it. I wouldn’t call it an endorsement but I get it. The adrenaline rush and excess that comes with this business is tempting, outrageous and enviable; you know it’s wrong and why but you’re sucked in anyway. It gets into a primordial state of your being: that’s why the chest thumping, beastly, frat-boy ra-ra-ra-ing is important. It’s in our nature to conquer, destroy and con and Jordan Belfort’s preacher-like sermonizing is the perfect cheerleading for this behavior. All that being said, all of this is ugly even when it’s flashy and enticing. The greed is so poisonous it infects the minds of everyone involved. This is capitalism’s faultiness laid out: an easily manipulated system that can equal insane levels of excess due to greed and oneupmanship.

This is probably the most ‘Merica movie arguably ever. It’s Goodfellas for yuppie White guys and it’s a perfect portrait of who these Wall Street brokers are and the country that they live in. It’s all fascinating and uncomfortable and sickening. You’ll want to look away but you won’t be able to. There is a lesson in all of this but it’s not given to you by the movie but instead by your own knowledge of Wall Street and your own knowledge of how these people destroy lives to live the way they do and how they get away. It’s a mirror to a society that is real and a tamer, more indicting movie wouldn’t do much but try and make ourselves feel better about it. But with a movie that has such a black hole of a heart it’s tempting that people would rather have that instead.

 

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At its core, Room 237–the recent documentary that aims to present the different hypothesis of what Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was all about–is a film about the mind and how it works. It’s about how people take in information and interpret it to fit their worldview. It’s not just about conspiracy theories for a 30 year old movie but about why conspiracy theories are so attractive in the first place. Directed by Rodney Ascher, Room 237 takes on a number of The Shining’s perceived meanings as presented by different Kubrick enthusiasts, meanings that connect the film to things like: The Native American genocide, The Holocaust and “faking” the moon landing to name a few. A lot of it is contrived and flawed but all of it is interesting which, again, speaks to the power of a conspiracy. There’s a need for things to be more that a shallow surface. I love The Shining but I didn’t need to read into it too much to do so, for others (such as those in the movie) there had to be more to it than what was on screen for them to find it worthwhile. By 1980, Stanley Kubrick was already a revered figure in cinema; an almost movie-diety, who lurked in the shadows writing, researching and obsessing over each project he worked on. Even before his death he was more myth than man–a legend whose work begged to be dissected and deconstructed. That’s exactly what the talking heads of Room 237 do: break the movie apart and look at all the pieces. Even if you think (or just KNOW) that all of these theories are silly or coincidental, you can’t help but get sucked into it. The great thing about conspiracies is there’s always just enough given to you to make your argument sound right in your head. In other words: you can always find what you’re looking for–especially if you look hard enough. The magic of the conspiracy is it gives your inner paranoia traction, it feeds your personal sense of superiority for being ahead of the foolish “sheep” and, most important of all, it feeds into your own outlook of the world. There are a lot of things in The Shining that I think are deliberate and there are other things that are just there. I don’t think I’m right and they’re wrong, if anything I think we’re both in the general area. Room 237 refers to the room where Charles Grady, in the midst of severe cabin fever, had his wife corrected, it’s the room that Dick Halloran warns Danny not to go into and, as one Kubrick enthusiast proclaims, it’s the number of the lot where Kubrick filmed the space landing (allegedly). That’s part of the fun really, rewatching scenes in the movie while each theorist narrates what it all means; seeing people point out the inconsistencies of different scenes and different aspects of the movie and trying to argue why they’re there on purpose. It’s all great to sit through and, in a lot of ways, makes the documentary more sinister than the movie itself for the simple fact that it all makes sense to some level. My favorite theory is the Native American genocide on: it holds the most weight and is the most interesting. But the eeriest one had to be the idea that the film was meant to be seen forwards and backwards, not because the idea was eerie but because, one commenter super-imposed the films together and watched it and began pointing out moments thast seemed to match up perfectly. It’s equal parts chilling and awesome. If you watch it enough, all the conspiracy theories attached to The Shining make some sort of logical sense–hell, when I rewatched it I came up with my own conspiracies just to do it and found that it made sense–and that’s what beautiful about a conspiracy, no matter how batshit it may be, if you commit your mind to it enough they puzzle pieces will fall to place. The idea that nothing’s going on is a boring one; there’s always something going on. All you have to do is think outside the box; or in this case, the mythical window to nowhere.

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I’ve been  in love with movies since I was a kid. I loved every aspect of it: storyline, characters, art direction, cinematography, score… all of it. When I started getting into message boards and reading more books about the process, an influx of films I never would’ve known about came into my life at the right time and my appreciation for the film process grew tenfold. The first time I watched Dr. Strangelove I was astonished  by how well the silliness of it could be balanced with the seriousness of the subject; when I watched 8 1/2, that was the first time I truly felt hypnotized by a movie. The Royal Tenenbaums made me truly revere the detail and nuances that should go into filmmaking and the first time I watched The Seventh Seal, I questioned everything I thought I knew about in life. Over the years I’ve continued to appreciate the filmmaking process–especially as it’s started to make a huge impact on television–but my interest in actually watching movies have waned. It happens I suppose, when you go hard at something eventually you tire yourself out. When Roger Ebert died this past week, I started to think about the impact he made to industry and how much of a standard he set for writing about film. When I was a kid, I watched him and Siskel on At The Movies, It’s the first time I can remember truly caring about film and wanting to talk about it in a similar manner. At some point I lost that spark in me and it’s truly a shame that a man’s death had to bring me to the point where I get serious about it again. Nevertheless, that’s where I’m at; ready to bask in the escapism of cinema and connect to the first thing I ever loved again. RIP Roger Ebert: you truly set a standard that other critics and writers can only hope to achieve.

One of the big issues about HBO’s Girls was the lack of diversity on the show. Is it noticeable? Yeah, but not to the point that it actually matters to the show. It’s a reflection of the creator, i.e. a show about entitled rich kids dealing with life away from their parent’s checkbook. It doesn’t really bother me who is or isn’t on the show. What this debate did do though was remind me how we still don’t have enough black directors, writers and other behind-the-scenes workers. It’s amusing how the self-righteous on these predominantly white blogs and magazines call out shows like Girls for their exclusionary practices while ignoring the lack of diversity in their own site (no the one black guy you get to talk about hip-hop and review Tyler Perry movies doesn’t make you progressive).

Truth be told, I don’t really care how many black people you put on screen on your mostly white show, I care more about how many minorities in general are getting hired to write and direct–or even getting a shot to make their own show. Since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 there’s been no country for nonwhites–particularly for network television. For those not up to speed, the act basically allows corporations and ad agencies to be involved with entertainment production–basically taco bell and coca-cola can decide what you watch and SURPRISE! being white and looking like you have even moderate wealth sells products inadvertently to a lot of people. This explains why not only are there barely any shows led by all minority casts, it also explains why blue collar families (like the ones on Roseanne and Malcolm In The Middle) are rarely seen anymore. Companies are in the business of selling a lifestyle now more than ever and that means catering to the people they actually want buying their bullshit.

Knowing this and understanding the world we’ve always lived in, the only thing I truly want to see in the world are black and (other minority) creators. No more rappers, no more “vixens”, no more athletes. Tyler Perry and people who want to be like Tyler Perry aren’t going to cut it. What I’d give for the days of those early Eddie Murphy, Keenan Ivory Wayans and Robert Townsend days. Black directors and writers creating movies that happened to be black rather than being “black films”. Movies that respected the intelligence of the viewer instead of steeping down to the lowest common denominator in order to trick people into laughing at buffoonery.

The talent is out there, they’re just not being given their due. I understand that but frankly at this point, we all have to use whatever avenue we have. They have the internet which has always been a haven of true artistic integrity as long as it’s done with earnestness. There are still shows on the air that actually show minority faces in somewhat entertaining lights–The Mindy Project, Key & Peele, The Eric Andre Show, Totally Biased–even Community features a diverse background. It’s not all lost but it’s not exactly good or showing signs of getting better. As long as we keep looking at race from a thin microscope based on what we saw that one time from that one minority person, we aren’t really going to get anywhere… and if we don’t want to get anywhere then we have to force our way in. As a somewhat tolerable writer, I’m making my own place the best I can in this business. If I make it, I make it and if I don’t then… well, the game is the game.

My whole issue is that I want something more than faces of different colors holding hands under some misguided white liberal worldview that if we all play nice then race won’t matter. I just want to create, we all should want that and we all should get a fair shake. To quote the great Paul Mooney: “I don’t want a piece of the pie, I want the fuckin’ recipe.”

 

-I realize this mostly reflects a black view, I can only speak for my own race but there definitely need to be representation from all people.

The idea of family is one that has been permeating in my mind a lot lately–for the past year really. I guess that’s what happens when you move away from them to explore life on your own. As I try to figure out things for myself, I realize how much I yearn for the seemingly simplistic days of a world before responsibility and despite how much bad there was in our family, I miss them and yearn to get closer as each day passes. Which brings me to The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson’s de facto family case study. The cracked relationships between family members is nothing new for Anderson–he touched on it in his two previous pictures Bottle Rocket and Rushmore and has touched on it ever since. What makes this one the top-tier, other than specifically being about a fractured family, is it seems to be the most personal. In the commentary for The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson explains that the writing process started when, longtime friend and collaborator, Owen Wilson suggested he write about his parents divorce. Anderson admits he started out that way but as the story progressed it took a life of its own and went into a new direction–although it’s not hard to see that some autobiographical elements are sprinkled throughout.

Now, more than ever, this film resonates with me. With its themes of heartbreak, self-destruction,familial turmoil and peaking at an early age, I watch Anderson’s whimsically gloomy affair with brand new eyes. I watch it and see my own family, not because the events are familiar but because the themes are. From the opening scene with Alec Baldwin’s grizzly deep and straight-laced narration telling the tale of the family from “the house on Archer Avenue” over the organ instrumental of “Hey Jude” to the bittersweet sort-of-happy ending, The Royal Tenenbaums is a candid slice of upper crust Americana that somehow finds semblance with anyone from a dysfunctional setting. Its usage of color, infiltration of obscure pop and punk music of the 60s and 70s, its calculated and meticulous direction and focus–sometimes reminiscent of french films–it’s all standard Andersonian theatrics and it’s a credit to him that, although at times it straddles the line of self-parody, it’s still wonderfully poignant to this day.

Anderson’s expose on rich kid blues and genius families that aren’t so genius, has been standard watch for me since I first saw it on television years ago. It was the movie that introduced me to his filmography, a collection I instantly fell in love with and still love to this day. Anderson’s focus on the relationships made between people, family or otherwise, and the dysfunctions that ensue are unique and artfully rendered. I urge you all to watch it again (or for the first time) along with me this weekend and together we can all search our feelings and curse Wes Anderson for actually making us like Gwyneth Paltrow. (Even if it’s only for two hours.)

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