30 August, 2005

Analyzing "Amy"

Kevin Smith's 1997 film, Chasing Amy is remarkable as it works as a hilarious comedy at times while aslo an excellent drama at other times. The film falls in the middle of Smith's as-of-now five part "New Jersey" series. It is arguably, the best entry in the series (Clerks (1994) gives it a run for its money). But since it is my favorite part of the series, I'm dedicating my first "Classics of 1990s Cinema" post to it.

The basic premise of the film is that a comic book writer/artist named Holden (Ben Affleck) falls in love with this woman, basically at first sight. Upon their second meeting up, Holden witnesses the woman, Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) making out with another woman. This kicks off one of the most interesting and awkward romantic element I have ever witnessed in a film. Holden really likes Alyssa, but she's sexually oriented in a way that doesn't allow for her to love back, in that way. In addition to this element is Banky's best friend and comic book co-writer (of sorts), Banky (Jason Lee), who has different ideas for the future of their book and is also a homophobe.

Among the notable supporting players are Kevin Smith staples Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) and Hooper X (Dwight Ewell). All three characters exist in the film to provide Holden with romantic advice regarding his lesbian/straight romantic plight. Hooper X is a homosexual and disects the situation through the eyes of a differently sexually oriented person for Holden in an attempt to help him. Jay and Silent Bob meet up with Holden at a diner (which myself and a few of my fellow Kevin Smith fans have visited and ate at) and try to help him out. Silent Bob engages in perhaps his longest speaking part in any of his films when he tells the story of a past relationship with a girl named Amy, from which the film's title is derived.

On the surface, this film would probably be categorized as a "romantic-comedy." I think this label is a tad misleading. It is a comedy with romantic elements. However, most of the comedy is well beyond the point of vulgarity normally found in your average, run-of-the-mill romantic comedies. I'm not complaining, I'm not easily offended, just making an observation. Additionally, the film disects human relationships and romance, transcending the line between homosexual and heterosexual. This sort of thing is almost taboo for most romantic-comedies because they look to appeal to the largest demographic by keeping the content as socially acceptable as possible. Another unique element of the romantic analysis in the film is that it is intelligent and original. Most romantic-comedies attempting to seriously critique romance do so in a manner so trite, it is soon forgotten by the viewers. Intelligent romantic-comedies like Chasing Amy are brilliant because of their original take on something that is so often done through cliche after cliche.

Chasing Amy, despite being the third part of a loosely tied together universe of films (the Askewniverse, for those of you who know what I'm talking about), the film can stand on its own. However, since I love Kevin Smith's other films occuring in the same diegesis as Chasing Amy, I'd strongly recommend watching Clerks. (1994) and Mallrats (1995) first. If you enjoy these three, then check out Dogma (1999) and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001). Perhaps not the first time around, but certainly on repeat viewings, one will be able to pick up the overlapping stories and characters that exist throughout the films. Chasing Amy is a film for any one who enjoys an occasional dose of vulgar comedy and has a soft spot for an intelligent love story.

28 August, 2005

Classic Cinema of the 1990s: Introduction

To begin, I'm going to stop with the recommendations, at least temporarily, so I can focus on the main subject of each post. If I have a deep urge to get the word out about something, then I'll revive the recommendation portion. With that aside, I'm here to discuss some cinematic masterpieces of the 90s. I'm probably bias in recommending these films, since most of my life thus far was spent in this decade. The 70s are my favorite decade in terms of the quality of film, but the 90s could well be my second favorite.

This is the intro post to a series of posts regarding films that I regard as masterpieces that were released in the 1990s. Although I'm not certain of which films I'll go into in depth, I have somewhat of an idea, and some films I won't go into besides a mention, because I've already covered them. Among the films that I regard as classics of the 1990s that I've already discussed are Pulp Fiction (1994), The Truman Show (1998), The Matrix (1999) and Magnolia (1999).

Some films that come to mind as high points of the 1990s are Jurassic Park (1993), Silence of the Lambs (1991), Schindler's List (1993), Unforgiven (1992), Heat (1995), Chasing Amy (1997), Being John Malkovich (1999), Before Sunrise (1995), The Iron Giant (1998), Clerks (1994), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Ed Wood (1994), Trainspotting (1996), Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), Goodfellas (1990), American Beauty (1999), L.A. Confidential (1997), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Barton Fink (1991), Toy Story (1995), Trois Couleurs (1993-94), Beauty and the Beast (1991), among others.

I won't be covering all of these films, and I may cover others that I didn't mention here. Check back soon for the individual posts regarding these films.

20 August, 2005

Stealing Mr. Ebert's Ground

O'Leary's Recommendations of the Day:
Album: Tenacious D, Tenacious D. Actor Jack Black makes up one half of this comedy/rock duo that not only makes me laugh my pants off, but additionally, rocks my pants off. This two front approach is so effective, it is safe to declare that this band tears my pants off mercilessly, something I quite enjoy when done in this fashion. For those of you who have been aimlessly wandering the last two sentences, check out this album from this unique duo and watch out for their feature film coming to theaters next year!
Film: The Goonies (1985). I've loved this film for as long as I can remember. It's one of the earliest films I can remember having a knowledge of. This kind of intelligence and depth can not be found in an adventure film starring teens and pre-teens today. The sheer imagination put into this film is awesome to see. The characters are all very well developed and are interesting to watch as the film plays out. Sean "Samwise" Astin can be seen early on his career in this film.

So as this weekend approached, there was only one film I was looking forward to seeing: The 40 Year-Old Virgin. The star of the film, Steve Carell, has amazed me first as a correspondent on "The Daily Show," then in his show stealing performance in Bruce Almighty (2003), and then as the boss of the American version of "The Office." Not only was I awaiting this film because of its ridiculous premise and star, but because it seemed to be the only film worth paying any attention to. Then, something caught me totally by surprise: the early reviews for Red-Eye were very strong. I was shocked. The trailer, frankly, made the film look like typical late August garbage. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive however, so I went to check out Roger Ebert's review. For whatever reason, Mr. Ebert hadn't reviewed this film either formally or with his "thumbs up" system. So, I headed the positive reviews, and checked it out. Since Mr. Ebert didn't post a review for this film, read my mine instead.

Red-Eye (2005) is the first film of master horror director Wes Craven that I have ever seen. Despite such renowned films as The Nightmare on Elm Street (1985) and The Scream Trilogy on Craven's resume, I've never seen one of his films before. However, I am well aware of his prowess in the horror/thriller genre. I went into this film with a positive outlook regarding it. The main selling point for me was actor Cillian Murphy's presence in the film. I have been blown away by his performances in 28 Days Later... (2002) and Batman Begins (2005). First off, he is the best part of this film. He delivers one of the most excellent villain performances in recent memory. Murphy plays Jackson Rippner (it obviously required a genius to concieve that name), a man who at first seems like a man trying to get with Rachel McAdams' character, Lisa, in an airport and then on an airplane.

Jackson drops a few hints of creepiness before he takes the full blown dive into the realm of creep during the two characters' flight from Dallas to Miami. The entire sequence of the two characters meeting in the airport is done very well. Despite the obvious and very realistic awkwardness that exists, you can see that the two seem to be bonding. All of this bonding seems like it was for nothing when the two go separate ways as they board the plane. Coinidently (or not), they end up sitting next to each other on the plane, with Lisa in the window seat and Jackson on the aisle. The bonding/small talk continues between the two for a bit until Jackson begins unveiling his true plans: his associates have Lisa's father at their fingertips and will kill him if she does not go along with Jackson and company's plan to kill a high ranking political official.

The choice to remotely control this entire situation from the plane was a brilliant one. The sheer sense of claustrophobia that sets in is one of the most thrilling parts of the film. Lisa has been put into the worst situation of her life while aboard a plane, where there is no where to go and no one she can tell without repercussion. The entire plane segment is excellent. As the plane lands and the film begins to race toward the end, the quality of the film begins to dwindle.

The first two thirds of the film are stellar. They successfully deliver an original and thrilling film. The film's final third could have been done better, but still manages to deliver a few good thrills. The first two thirds' brilliance far outweighs the final third's typical, somewhat cliche nature. This is a good film, despite the lackluster ending. It takes awhile for the audience to realize how trite the final third is as they are still enjoying the characters that were developed in the first two thirds. Check this one out on the big screen while it's still around, I think it'll be a much better experience than checking it out with a bunch of friends on DVD.

15 August, 2005

Alfred Kinsey and the Sexual Revolution

O'Leary's Recommendations of the Day:
Food: Chris Paul's Pizza. Pastey, white Anglo-Saxons have long been known for their pizza making prowess, so it should be no surprise that Chris Paul can make a fine pie. I'm not sure how long this phase will last, but one should endulge in it while it's still here.
Show: The Andy Milonakis Show. This show is certainly not among the classier things of society that I normally associate with, but watching it delivers a viewer some good fun. The short segments that make up an episode are very different from each other and some are down right stupid while others maintain some of that stupidity but manage to make you laugh. A good filler if nothing else is on.

Upon watching Kinsey (2004) a night or two ago, America's sexual revolution, in which sex was removed from its extremely taboo status and pushed much closer to the mainstream than it ever had been before, was presented to me for the first time in such vivid detail. Alfred Kinsey was the pioneer who nearly single-handedly changed America's-and perhaps the entire world's- view of sexuality as a whole. Here I'll be discussing the man, his work and the film in a combined study of the topic I've already introduced.

To get the cinematic matters out of the way first, here's a quick run down of the film. The film is somewhere better than good, but not quite excellent, in my mind. It takes a while to get going, but once it does it becomes very intriguing. The main characters, besides Kinsey himself, played wonderfully by Liam Neeson, didn't really interest me and for the most part, their interactions came off as unintentially awkward. Several interactions did stand out as being done very well though, both in the acting and their use to advance the story. The most enjoyable part of the film was its exploration of Kinsey's work and the reaction it recieved. How he was going about collecting data for his revolutionary sex studies was very interesting to see on the screen. The outrage and simultaneous intrigue expressed by the American people of the time (late 1940s-early 1950s) is the most enthralling aspect of the film. This film ends much stronger than it begins and turns out to be a great film.

Kinsey's collection of sexual data from Americans of all kinds was so interesting to follow. His strictly scientific approach to all things regarding sexuality, both physically and mentally, is depicted wonderfully in the film. It's too bad this man has nearly all but been forgotten in modern science teachings. He is basically responsible for creating our perception of sex, as it exists today. It is almost comical to witness the film's depiction of America's perception of sex as it existed before Kinsey's time. Sex was beyond the point of taboo, if such a thing exists. Sex was accepted as something between one man and one woman, not engaged in until after the man and the woman were married and the physical act did not venture outside of the culturally accepted, traditional "sex."

America's perception of "sex" today is quite different from this purist view displayed in the film. The debate over gay marriage currently raging in our nation is one inconspicuous indication of how far our nation has come sexually since Kinsey's work. His exploration of alternative sexual activities and varying degrees of sexual orientation have pushed them into more acceptable territory in the minds of the American people, so much so, apparently, that homosexual orientation has reached a point of acceptability that marriage for homosexuals seems to be approaching legality, and in some cases is already legal.

Before Kinsey, it seemed America was like an eighth grade dance in that the atmosphere is absolutely bland with the boys on one side and the girls on the other. Kinsey was the one who jumped out into the middle of the dance floor and got the party started. America's perception of sexuality remained stoic and stonewalled from the founding to the 40s, with very little change, and Kinsey came in and kicked down the flood wall, and the contemporary ideas regarding sexuality flowed in.

Alfred Kinsey should be commemorated more than he is today. He went against the accepted beliefs of Americans and broke the "perception of sexuality" mold. Kinsey should be applauded for this work that pushed America into the future and helped the society evolve. His willingness to explore the unknown should be viewed as the model for those seeking to enter controversial territory in the future. Despite the controversy surrounding the taboo of sex, Kinsey studied and explored it and helped the American society evolve into the great one in which we live today.

06 August, 2005

Some Ideas Regarding Guns and Gays: Part II, Gays

O'Leary's Recommendations of the Day:
Song: "Clocks," Coldplay. So I've absolutely loved this song since it came out two years ago or so, but upon purchasing A Rush of Blood to the Head, the album featuring this song, recently, my love for this song solidified and I am now convinced it is absolutely one of the greatest songs to ever grace human kind with its presence. I can listen to this song over and over, without any other songs playing in between and enjoy it. This song has been played everywhere since it came out, but I still absolutely love listening to it everytime I hear it.
Film: The Iron Giant (1999). This is easily my favorite animated film. It is incredibly intelligent and deep for an animated flick. Using the height of the Cold War as the setting, the film is able to get across messages of the futility of hysteria and prejudice. Also notable is the fact that a nearly unknown Vin Diesel provided the grunts and groans of the titular character.

I've got one question for people, heterosexual or homosexual: who cares? Why do people care so much about the personal, private affairs of individuals? If a man loves another man, or a woman loves another woman, why should laws and politicians and the religious right care so much? Those people can go on living their heterosexual lives and the affairs of homosexuals will not interfer.

I suppose you could say I support gay marriage and gay rights, but I feel more like, if you don't bother with my most personal and intimate affairs, I won't bother with yours. The main issue regarding homosexuality is marriage and civil unions. Now, if two men love each other and want to get married, why shouldn't they be able to? If they are legally prohibited from doing so, they'll live together for the rest of their lives, much like a heterosexual would, but when something happens to one of them, because they are not married the partner can not be included in any decision making or those decisions' outcomes. Civil unions are simply a joke. It is marriage by a different name, the different name simply exists so that homosexuals are forced to remain ostracized from society. If civil unions and marriages grant virtually the same rights to the couples involved, why not just call it all "marriage?"

The main argument against gay marriage is that it will forever change the "concept of marriage as an establishment." It should be noted that such an argument is being made by right wing nuts like Senator Rick Santorum, Pat Robertson and Ann Coulter, who anyone with any amount of sense knows not to take seriously (note: I don't take far leftists seriously either, so don't accuse me of bias). I think these people will be remembered in about 40 years similarly to how we now remember Strom Thurmond in terms of racial segregation. In the future, gay marriage will be a regular part of society and those who don't support it now will have a shameful legacy in the future.

While I don't see this conflict being settled, I do believe it will be settled in the next five years or so. Opinion regarding gay marriage is about fifty/fifty right now. The supporting faction is gaining ground as well, as gay marriage proposals are coming up for vote in nearly all elections, not to mention, such marriages are already legal in Massachusetts. It is good to see progress being made, however, national action needs to be taken or else state-by-state action will prevail and "homosexual sanctuaries" will spring up all over the country. Until national legislation is put in place, opinion will remain divided and with the passage of gay marriage legislation in various states, gay will be okay in some states, and not others. This reminds me of a time, about 150 years ago, when state by state, slavery was banned. Eventually, slavery was legal in half the country and outlawed in the other half. As you've probably realized by now, that led to the deadliest war in U.S. history. Despite whether you believe that such a comparison is too drastic or right on par, division is never a good thing for a country. So, our main goal should be one national precedent. With one law in place for the entire nation, there will be no more debate as to how to go about this issue and we can move on and continue evolving as a society.

04 August, 2005

Some Ideas Regarding Guns and Gays: Part I, Guns

O'Leary's Recommendations of the Day:
Film: Trainspotting (1996). The way this film came to me began with my love for a good zombie flick. A good zombie flick doesn't usually scare me, but I think they're so fun to watch. So, since I had seen the Dead trilogy (true, Land of the Dead has escaped me thus far, but I'll see it soon enough), I decided to give 28 Days Later a try. I was pleasantly surprised regarding the superb quality of this film. The director, Danny Boyle, got his big break from a small film back in the 90s, Trainspotting, so I gave that a try. It blew me away! The acting is superb, the soundtrack is intense and the story absolutely enthralls the viewer. Upon a second viewing I may devote an entire entry to this one, it's that good. But in the mean time, check it out so you know what I'm talking about when I do discuss it in depth.
Tea: Earl Grey. As a self proclaimed man of class, I enjoy engaging in classy things. Drinking the world renowned tea of Earl Grey was one such engagement. It is quite delicious and I recommend it to others. I take mine absolutely plain, just water and a tea bag, but if you must, throw in some milk and sugar and whatnot.

Here is the first part of this two part entry regarding two very hot issues in America today. I'll declare it right now, my leftward leanings will shine through in this entry. However, I just have to get my opinion out there and hear some feedback. This time, it's regarding my thoughts on guns and gays. Both issues remain debated in today's society and one is addressed directly in the Constitution. In other words, these issues are big and many clashing opinions exist regarding both issues. This entry's purpose is to present and argue for my opinions regarding both issues.

First, let's talk about guns. Technically and generally speaking, American citizens have the "right to bear arms" as guaranteed by Amendment II of the Bill of Rights. That document was written about 200 years ago and has been amended 19 times since; thus, it is not a flawless piece of work.

Guns really only serve a few purposes in modern day society: to sit unused for years in suburban homes, only to accidentally shoot a stupid teenager playing with it, to commit crime, and to build comaraderie among rednecks. To be frank, I don't support any of those purposes for guns. Comaraderie is a good thing, but how about you go to a pool party instead to find friends.

I suppose I should have included hunting, but I don't find hunting to be a legitimate form of anything. Most people who can afford guns aren't hunting for their livelihood. I don't buy hunting as a sport, I mean you're just killing defenseless animals. If you enjoy sinking your teeth into meat you just shot or you enjoy watching a weaker organism than yourself die at your disposal, enjoy yourself, but I'll be eating my store bought meat from animals in captivity that wouldn't have otherwise existed had there been no consumer demand for their meet and passing the time doing other things besides ending lives.

Then of course there's the "self-defense" argument. First off, if others didn't use guns, you wouldn't need one to protect yourselves. Guns obviously can be used for defense against non gun-wielding foes, but what is the frequency of break-ins or other things of that nature that require one to keep a gun in their home? Save some money, prevent accidents and don't buy a gun.

Guns will remain legal however, because of groups like the National Rifle Association. This ultra conservative faction holds firearms higher than any God. Additionally, a pick-up truck with a "The South Will Rise Again" bumper sticker must be owned if one wants to be a member. The NRA has recently supported a boycott of Conoco and Phillips 66 gas stations because the parent company ConocoPhillips will not allow employees to have firearms in ConocoPhillips parking lots. That's simply irrational. As a corporation, this company has every right to make policy decisions regarding their employees actions while on the company's grounds.

Lobbying by the NRA is also, at least partially, responsible for the lack of renewal on the Assault Rifle Ban. Why in the world would a private citizen need to own an AK-47? They are not engaging in guerilla warfare or fighting a battle for freedom from the Soviets! Absolutely insane political actions like this should render the NRA as ridiculous of an organization in everyone's mind as it does in mine.

All in all, I think the existence of the Second Amendment is outdated. Its content may have made sense two centuries ago, but it just seems unneccesary in today's world. I don't believe the Constitution is the right place for laws regarding firearms. I believe firearm laws should be placed among the laws concerning drugs, tobacco and alcohol, since firearms are already regulated by the ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Perhaps the removal or alteration of Amendment II would open up the door for some more relevant Amendments for our time, perhaps one regarding marriage and who exactly can get married to who. That argument is another argument completely, and thus will be discussed in the second part of this post.