Barton Fink

Joel and Ethan Coen’s film “Barton Fink” defies assumption: On the surface it seems to be a period piece, and it is, but most of all it is a genre-blending film. It includes satire and drama, dark comedy and expressionistic qualities. It’s set in the cultural backdrop of the 30s Hollywood scene, with all the glamor and hazy bar smoke included; and an obnoxious neighbor in a seedy hotel played by John Goodman, the man born to play such a role.

Joel and Ethan said they wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink as they were grinding away at the screenplay for another film of theirs, Miller’s Crossing. It is about writers block. And that does sound tiring and dull. But in fact its not about writers block, but about the sidetracking of the author, played by John Turtorro, and his relations with his next door neighbor, Charlie.  Barton is a pseudo-intellectual, a wanna-be acclaimed writer who has passioned bursts of creativity; he powerfully tells Charlie, a meager insurance salesmen, how he wants to write for the common-man. The untold stories of everyday life. But when Charlie starts to tell a story, he interrupts, “Exactly!” and shouts something to cut him off, then leading into his next point on “understanding”. The Hollywood folk should stick to B-grade pictures, one thinks, and leave the common-man to the indie-filmmaker. It’s a satire on a writer’s ego, indefinitely. This could be turned around to seem that the Coen’s are giving credit to themselves. That they ‘represent’ the common man the way it should be, as in Fargo and Raising Arizona. But that feeling is not really given, as their is no explicit response or outrage towards the hypocricy of Barton’s actions.

The film has an expressionistic, sort of experimental quality to it. It features a William Faulkner look-a-like as a famous and prospering, but drunk, writer. And it’s a punch in the gut to Barton that this Faulkner look-alike, called Jack Lipnick, can be a master fiction writer and also be a drunk slurring misogynist. The film explores all the edges of a writer’s mind entertainingly and satisfyingly, and although its a bit too Lynchian for some, it is also a very rewarding and darkly funny film.

The King of Comedy

The King of Comedy, the nickname given to the legendary comedian Jerry Lewis, is a film about lonely passion and rejection. It was directed by Martin Scorsese in 1983 and is one of his most ignored films  in his career, although I found it to be very sensitive and well-made. It stars Robert Deniro as sociopath Rupert Pupkin, a self-idealized sociopath who wants nothing else than to become a talk-show host and comedian, like Lewis.

The film starts out with some unique scenes that contrast Rupert’s existence with the fantasies he has about his existence; he imagines he is sitting at a five-star restaurant with Jerry Lewis, arguing with him about taking over his show “for only six weeks”, when in reality, he would be lucky to squeeze out a two-word conversation with Jerry Lewis. A glimmer of hope shines at the beginning, when Rupert acts as Jerry’s bodyguard when he is being harassed by his fans. He gets in the car with Jerry and says he put his head out for him, a gash on his forearm as proof, and starts pitching his desire to be a comedian, not the act itself.

The comedian, Rupert, has a cut-out stage in his basement where he practices his routine. His mother periodically beckons him to be quiet, but we never see her face, like the mother in Psycho. What the film expresses unlike any other film is awkward tension; when Rupert is out on a date with a bar-tender he likes, when he is sitting in the reception room and says, “I’ll wait”. It is all about this inner tension and his desire to rid himself of it through comedy and personal demands.

If the movie was more successful, the final scene would be considered a classic: After forcing himself onto the stage, Rupert surprises us all with a magical act of witty comedy. Jumping on the bar-counter, Rupert plays the bar t.v. for the bar-tender, finally able to impress her with something real, not told. The King of Comedy is a brooding film, a meditation on popularity and star-power in American society, and an entree in Scorsese’s filmography that is on the same shelf of his greats, like Taxi Driver and Raging bull.

The Planet of the Apes (1968)

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Stars: Charlton Heston, Ronny McDowall.
Runtime: 112m

Charlton Heston stars in the luminous 60s sci-fi ‘Planet of the Apes’. The film features some era-astounding effects and surprisingly well-constructed storytelling. Three astronauts wake up from stasis to find their only woman co-worker has died in the midst of their journey. The red cliffs surrounding the sun-reflecting waters they’re pointed shuttle sinks in flows colorfully across the screen and the ventures to the apes begins.

The posse of astronauts find the furry-beasts on clifftops like draped Indians, and are thus stampeded by the many-forces, apes that are efficiently organized to the astronauts unknowing minds, and George Taylor (Charlton Heston) becomes the mainframe protagonist, caged in a prison with other mute proto-humans. He was hit in the throat by an ape, and so he too cannot speak, thus seeming like every other caged human; the attempt to persuade otherwise is often futile, but is the center of the story, for the only way off is by getting two benevolent scientist apes to take him.

George attempts his escape during a biblical reading but is consequentially re-captured. Once he finally beats the ape-ruling scouts with the help of the two ideology breaking scientists, he does not realize that what he will soon come to find is worse than anything imaginable, regardless that he is so far from the world he holds dear. The apes are a mirror of humans: self-centered, always-right, and
religiously indoctrinated.

Seven

What puts Seven above the normal detective tale is its method of discovery; It emits a picture-book quality by inspecting the crime after the murder’s committed and analyzes it in real language. A B-grade director would want to slide in flashback whiz-scenes of the murder, with shaky frames and loud beating music. But Fincher has the characters, detectives, and Doctor’s explain the outcome, and the visualization of each crime is more frightening than any flashback.

Two detectives must fight through the muck and poverty of their city and seek a murderer who, by way of the book-smarts of Detective Somerset, has a medieval modus operandi: Each murder relates to a sin in the seven deadly sins. They weave through after-effects of the murder, disgusting and impure, yet still Detective Somerset considers the man to be highly intelligent and methodical, while rookie Mill’s diagnoses him as just another wack-job, as if he has seen them all.

The cop-duo between Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman plays along well, in fact in some ways I find the screenwriter wanted us to pick our man; as if the whole murder-case was a question of righteousness, before they even knew they were being tested. They both had niches, vices, idiosyncrasies, but if it came down to a choice, I’d say hotshot detective David Mills was the least-respectable; he needed immediate gratification in all he did; arguing for him is a one-rant and get out ordeal; punching in doors and shouting at journalists is his personal equilibrium. Impulsive, unprecedented, and obscure, it would have been in no way surprising to me if the final shot revealed in text that he either killed himself or was shot in a break-in.

Seven is an undoubtedly great, stylistic film with an ending bound to tighten the stomach muscles, and a director who’s future will shine in the industry, partly because of the shared sense of methodology with his film’s murderer.

Cronos

Stars: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook.
Runtime: 119m

Cronos is a Guillermo del Toro homegrown film, showcasing the steamy streets of Mexico with fervor and style. It stars Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, and Claudio Brook. Ron Perlman especially stands out as a very dynamic and audacious actor. He is the retriever for his wealthy, gargoyle-sculpting Uncle.

Angel (Ron Perlman) walks archly through the antique-shop ran by Jesus (Federico Luppi), seeking a device called ‘Cronos’ that induces immorality, which his uncle, ill-ridden, desperately craves. Jesus has already found and realized the superhuman force of the Cronos, having clasped its metallic legs onto his palm. The chase is ongoing through out the narrative, as is Angel continuously yelled towards, for not being sly or fast enough for his Uncle’s liking.

The film doesn’t have any intricate plot-threads, but instead en-wraps the viewer in the characters personalities and tendencies. It is about who deserves to live the longest, and who would want to live in such unnatural of a state, not what can be done while in such a state, as many vampire-centered films gorge on.

“Cronos” is authentic Del Toro material, and the grandfather/granddaughter-duo sets the intimate stage for future greats by the Spanish director, like Pan’s Labyrinth.

Carrie (1976)

9/10

Carrie is another Stephen King adaption that is above par, thanks to psychologically tense directing from Brian DePalma, and Sissy Spacek’s tender performance as the subjected teenage girl. Carrie’s mother is a radical religious type who indoctrinates Carrie with vows of righteousness and conduct: She is devoid of all understanding of what happens to a teenager and instead has to focus on what teenagers ought not do; her lack of a normal life causes her to be ridiculed and made fun of by the girls at  school, and even the one’s who defend her do it behind her back and in small groups; In the end, she has no reason to  spare anyone. Carrie has special, supernatural powers of telekinesis and pyromania. What could these girls do to her to cause her to express the full capability of her powers?

The most intriguing thing I think about, that is never shown, is the mothers reaction to murder: Out of hate of boys and lack of prayer, what terrible quotes could be expressed by her about murder? Or was her life the same as her daughters? I feel the high-school depiction is more nuanced in that era, and the Protestant existence of the mother more accepted and common in her time. But if she doesn’t condemn murder, why do we see the girls who stand up for Carrie? Essentialy, is there any point besides gentle optimism when we are shown these scenes? The ugliness is so the director can over-compose the reaction and conclusion, and it is; the movie is a stylistic treat, a classic that is appreciated even by non-horror fans, and a brooding look at innocence and evil, a common theme that lives in the world of horror movies; The Exorcist being one, and probably the most pivotal.

The film takes domestic and teenage problems and turns them into a study of dynamics. When we see Carrie  getting a date for prom, it is a moment of a hesitant yet great joy, and we hope what she achieves through it is a must-needed sense of rebellion with her mother, which she shows as she sticks up for her right to go to the dance in the first place; but, as the conclusion comes into realization, we have a gut feeling of the emotional wreckage and consequence that will be inescapable: The gym-coach who feels sorrow for Carrie, the boy who seemed to be taking Carrie to the prom with good means, all thrown into nothingness with one outrageous prank, and at the peak of her happiness. An intelligent, kinetic film with much needed doll-like quality from Sissy Spacek that will surely endure as a classic.

American Psycho

American Psycho is a peak into the life of a corporate business man and his fancy designer clothes and restaurant reservations that hide the vices behind self-stature. The main character, Patrick Bateman, presents himself in an obsessive manner; he wears particular tailored suits and has hate debates about who has the best designed business card. A nice border-frame, no doubt, he compliments a co-worker. But behind the mask of presentation, Bateman is a horrible prostitute and woman killer, a man that no one would expect.

The film slowly chronicles the evolution of his conscience: the guilt becomes overbearing, but no one is stopping him. He almost needs someone to tell him its okay to keep him going. And that’s the ultimate satire: a corporate man can kill all he wants and not be found out. Guilty of non-association. The insanity of Bateman, played very creepily by Christian Bale, is the way he thinks its acceptable, and continues his lifestyle unperturbed. He is a connosieur of sorts, and murder just happens to be one of those. A sick look at murder and American ignorance, and boosted by a great performance by Bale, American Psycho is a unique piece of film-making.