Monthly Archives: September 2013

Don Jon

That little Joseph Gordon-Levitt can really do no wrong: like this generation’s Ron Howard, he rose from child star to now accomplished director. I gotta say, he didn’t do too bad for his first time.

Dude says his "Hail Mary"s while pumping iron. Do people do this?

Dude says his “Hail Mary”s while pumping iron.

Don Jon is a story of Jon, a porn addict, but unlike Steve McQueen’s stellar melodrama Shame, the we’re dealing with the effects on personal relationships rather than a sad (but glorious) spiral into self-loathing – however, that discussion will have to come another day. Jon (JGL) is your typical New Jersey man’s man: loves his body, his pad, his boys, his girls, his family, his church, and his porn. Did I get that right?

Given that we are dealing with his life from his perspective, we are given enough male gaze action to make your eyes roll out of your sockets. Furthermore, considering he only compares his conquests with what he finds online, his sex-life is ultimately unfulfilled, because let’s face it, nothing’s as good as porn. He decides he wants to change his routine by finally trying an actual relationship once he meets Barbara Sugarman (Miss Scarlett) – a proverbial princess who’s learned everything she knows about relationships through romantic comedies. See what he did there? I’m not sure if this comparison is brutally honest or obnoxious, but for the time being it works.

You just want to knock their heads together.

You just want to knock their heads together.

Wouldn’t you know, both characters’ pettiness comes to fruition, and their relationship crumbles when Barbara finds that Jon was looking at porn yet again (but what was she doing in his history?), and Jon is caught in denial until he makes a quirky friend at his night class. With Esther’s help (played by the lovely Julianne Moore), Jon discovers what it really means to be in a relationship. Oh, and that porn isn’t real.

Don Jon is undoubtedly daring: it exploits and criticizes the flaws of media and the American alpha male. Right from the beginning we are given objectifying images of how men ought to approach women, while women, generally speaking, seek solace in illusionary romance – really, this is like the Dresden Dolls’ “Shores of California” meets Katy Perry’s “California Girls” (yeah, like I’d link to that tripe).

Small Spoiler

My only real issue with this piece is I feel that Esther’s character was like a little deus ex machina: she pops in just at the right time with just the right know-how to set Jon straight. I’m not really all that convinced that he would have went for her, no matter how desperate. At the same time, I feel if she didn’t pop in, the resulting fling wouldn’t have been as nearly as heartfelt near the end. While I applaud the effort, a more solid character introduction/interaction would have been much appreciated – though it was so great to finally see an adult female in this world of selfish brats.

Whew! Okay, Done

Oh hey, Tony Danza.

Oh hey Tony Danza.

Don Jon is the kind of romantic comedy that I think we really need right now. With the constant flux of media, there is less of a desire for actual communication – physical beings have become more or less a cure for loneliness. Fortunately, the lessons of the film are not delivered in an overly assertive manner. Now if we could work on some of that good ol’ character development I mentioned in the spoiler zone, this thing would be perfect. Good job, JGL.

Final Grade: A-

 

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Beyond the Black Rainbow

Beyond the Black Rainbow is essentially the Canadian lovechild that occurred after Kubrick and Cronenberg had an epic hookup while listening to some trance – then David Lynch popped by to say “hi.” Check this out –

Unfortunately, this lovechild didn’t really pop out as perfectly as that glorious trifecta would imply – but I’ll get to that later.

All hail Barry Nyle

I believe in Barry Nyle.

The plot, what little we have, revolves around the dynamic between Dr. Barry Nyle and Elena within the realm of the Aboria Institute circa 1980. As somewhat established, the Institute was built to help reach transcendence through science – Elena being the only proof of this phenomenon. Meanwhile Barry, Aboria’s #1 guy, lives a rather asinine existence – part putting up with his stuporous wife, part tormenting Elena simply because he can. Really though, Barry’s contempt for Elena stems from a deep-rooted jealousy, that she was in fact the only arguably “successful” outcome of Aboria’s treatments. Barry on the other hand, is a monster. After his exposure to Aboria’s…techniques, Barry is rendered a psychopath most fragile – a violent madman behind a composed facade.

After a round of hazing most cruel, Elena is soon set free by one of the Institute’s underlings, beginning her escape through Aboria’s labyrinth. Almost simultaneously, Barry strips away his disguise, revealing the creature Aboria unintentionally created. Finally accepting his true identity, Barry relentlessly hunts Elena dies as she rediscovers the world around her.

How can this story be almost two hours long? Mind-bending cinematography at a snail’s pace, that’s how. Not that it’s a bad thing – sure was a lot more fun to watch than Tree of Life. This picture is so beautifully filmed – sitting through it is a sometimes disturbing, but absolutely sublime experience. So while you’re given plenty of time to digest possible themes (and there are a few – control and identity, for instance), your eyeballs are subjected to all sorts of pleasures. I suppose I could also describe Beyond the Black Rainbow as a really long, glorified music video, but really I’d like to give director Panos Cosmatos (if that is your real name) more credit than that.

Isn't black-haired-creepy-girl a motif in itself by now?

Isn’t black-haired-creepy-girl a motif in itself by now?

As mentioned, there is a downside: the style outweighs the substance. Did it really need to be two hours long? No, not really. Though Cosmatos even mentions that the “hypnotic” pace was deliberate in order to create this self-described trance sub-genre, on found it’s far too easy to space out on the visuals than to piece together a coherent theme or themes. Again, such is the risk of creating a two-hour trance music video. On the upside, this warrants multiple viewings if so desired. Despite this, Beyond the Black Rainbow is definitely worth your time, if you’re up for it.

It would seem Beyond the Black Rainbow  does not have the cult film recognition it deserves. Perhaps it’s not old enough, or maybe because it’s one of those sneaky Canadian films that, like so many, were swept under the radar. The world may never know.

Prisoners

God-fearing survivalist suits him.

God-fearing survivalist suits him.

During a Thanksgiving outing, two young girls, Joy Birch and Anna Dover, go missing from their quiet suburb. As days go by, the police are forced to release the only suspect due to a lack of evidence. The resulting demand for answers forces the family members to descend into their own private hells. Desperate for resolve, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) takes it upon himself to do the unthinkable in order to find his daughter. Meanwhile, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) also breaks to the point of obsession as he faces the guilt wrought by these suffering families.

Prisoners is simply a solid, visceral film. The labyrinth motif makes its way through every facet of the story, to the point where it almost makes you want to throw up. Almost, considering how the concepts transcends through the literal and internal. And I think it’s fair to say that it’s not just mazes for the sake of mazes: we’re talking about some twisted psyches here – which leads me to the presentation of the film.

Dano plays this character with both sympathy and malice. Dude's underrated.

Dano plays this character with in a manner which earns both sympathy and malice. Dude’s underrated.

I found the plot structure admirable, considering that it does not play out like the average kidnapping suspense. The pace is slow (sometimes a little too slow), building and calculative, and you essentially only get the story from Loki or Duller’s perspective (okay, except for this one time), which better draws the viewer into this descent.

I found the story (as well as its finer details) not only to be original, but also believable. For instance, when Keller tortures suspect Alex Jones (Paul Dano), the torture is sloppy, brutal, and honestly frightening. Keller is practically a living portrait of desperation. Furthermore, we’re met with a new breed of killer – not just a rehashing of real life horrors.

Gripping and unapologetic, Prisoners is a fantastic suspense feature. And though the payoff isn’t as explosive as the usual American thriller (I just wanted a bit more exposition – maybe I’m just greedy),  the original mythos and the momentum of the piece is something truly admirable.

Final Grade: A

The Fascinating Metamorphosis of Walter White

I know I haven’t been going to the theatre less often lately, but honestly I’ve been too preoccupied catching up on Netflix. As we all know, Breaking Bad has been rocking the small screen ever since its emergence in 2008. Apart from the gripping, well-written story, I believe that the performances on this show are probably the most impressive displays of acting prowess I have seen in a long, long time. In order to discuss the metamorphosis from dead man to death dealer, I will do my best not to spoil key events of the show that are not already known by means of advertisement or whatnot. Granted, I’m still catching up myself (only getting what I can from Netflix) so I may be a little more in the dark than some. Regardless, I will do my best to dissect the psyche that is Walter Hartwell White.

Much like Bruce Willis, Walter White gets cooler with less hair.

Much like Bruce Willis, Walter White gets cooler with less hair.

The Birth of Heisenberg

In the beginning, Walter White is a pathetic little weenie of a man with a bad mustache. Walt is a high school chemistry teacher who also works at a car wash in order to make ends meet for himself, his pregnant wife, Skyler, and their disabled son, Walt, Jr. Just to paint a little picture of his family life, there seems to be a small power struggle between Skyler and the influence of his in-laws, while his own son prefers to be called “Flynn” as opposed to “Junior” – so the discontent with his home-life has been well-established.

Season-1

A true image of desperation.

After months of being afflicted with a pestering cough, Walt visits a doctor and discovers he has inoperable Stage 3A lung cancer. For some reason, Walt doesn’t tell his family about this discovery – not right away at least. I’m not sure if it is mentioned as to why, but I think it’s because he wants to regain a sense of control over his own life as well as the future of his family. Obviously, control is a constant issue with Walt.

Not wanting to leave his family in financial ruin, Walt takes it upon himself to find alternative means of income. Considering he’s a chemistry genius, cooking meth seems like a desperate but ideal outlet – he figures he can cook the stuff and have someone else handle the business end. No big deal right? Get in, get out – an easy business transaction with a huge payoff. Though he’s aware that his brother-in-law, Hank, is a DEA agent, this does not deter him from his easy-money scheme. After contacting former student/drug dealer Jesse Pinkman, their business is soon established, and Walter White is cooking meth so pure, it comes out looking like blue rock candy.

Once Walt’s blue meth hits the market, this causes all sorts of trouble with rival distributors, as well as earning attention from cartel. As these tensions rise, Walt builds a new identity to face these local mobs: Heisenberg. Behind this guise, Walt finds within himself the ability to be intimidating and thus earn respect. Now we’ve created the anti-hero.

The Transformation

Come season two, Walt is caught between being hunted by the cartel while struggling to keep his work a secret from Skyler. Jesse has become less inclined to help Walt due to the jeopardization of his friends/dealers. On top of this drama, his medical bills have become increasingly daunting. He needs to stay in this business, but will need more help in order to protect himself and his family. Walt’s choices not only determine the future of Walt and Jesse’s partnership, but we also witness the cogs in Walt’s brain turn as he determines what is really the “greater good.”

breaking-bad-gus-fring-walter-white

Business is business.

What we learn from season three is that fear is not only a great motivator, but also an excellent catalyst. In this season Walt becomes under the employ of Gustavo Fring, a fried chicken tycoon with strong ties to the cartel. Giancarlo Esposito plays this character exquisitely: this is a man with two faces, the exceptional and the terrifying. There is very little we know about Gus’ past, but from what we can tell, Gus understands the sacrifice needed to build an empire. It is only when Gus intimidates Walt and Jesse in order to keep them focused, that’s when things go downhill; Walt understands this man’s potential, truly fearing him while simultaneously envying his control. Ultimately, Gus acts as the catalyst for Walt’s full transformation.

It is in season four when the villain emerges from Walt. He believes Gus has driven him to take drastic measures to protect his family. Though it is true that Gus threatened his family, Walt never tries to call his bluff. It is this season that Walt performs actions that are desperate, cruel, and powerful. I’d give examples, but again, I don’t want to spoil things. I will say we also see the dynamic between Walt and Jesse shift even further – Jesse is teased with the idea of partner-hood, but Walt manipulates him to the point of near-insanity. One could discuss the growth and potential for our young accomplice, alas this article is all about Walter White.

"I won."

“I won.”

As we enter season five, everything has been set into overdrive. We know that Walt is building an empire, but in the process has become a total monster. There is no longer the man who simply wants to provide for his family. For all Skyler can tell, he doesn’t care about his family, he wants control. The same message can be read by the audience, though some take this badassery to heart without realizing that the Walter White that we grew to empathize with is dead and gone.

Or is he? I don’t know – like I said, I haven’t seen the newest episodes yet.

Walter White began as an underdog, became an anti-hero, then morphs into a full-on villain. While his actions have been impressive, his intentions have often had bafflingly terrifying implications. It’s great to see the little guy win, but to quote JoBlo “even Tony Montana had his limits.” Additionally, Skyler’s behavior, though having received much flack, is completely justifiable. By all means, I am not saying that I am not a fan of the character – I just find this transformation to be incredible. I can’t wait to see what happens to him and Jesse. I want to know what becomes of Walt’s empire, and the aftermath that will surely reign upon his family.  All I can tell is this is going to be good.

In memory of Gale Boetticher.