The Weekly DISCussion

The Weekly DISCussion is back and more non-weekly than ever, but it still delivers two great movies to watch at home!

Must See DVD of the Week:Three

Three Kings is the third film from director David O. Russell.  Russell has since become very well known with his more recent films like The Fighter and this year’s Silver Linings Playbook.  However, in 1999, Russell released Three Kings, which is quite possibly his best film.  The story revolves around three American military men of varying ranks during the Iraq War (George Clooney, Mark Whalberg, and Ice Cube) who happen to stumble upon a possible location of hidden gold Saddam Hussein’s forces have stolen from Kuwait.  Their journey to find this gold takes them through the consequences of war in a surprising and stylized way that few films have ever successfully managed to do.  Like Platoon or more recently, The Hurt Locker, Three Kings focuses on the conscience of the soldier as well as the morality of the people who live in a war-torn country.  It is not to be missed.

Netflix Must Stream of the Week:Image

The Queen of Versailles is one of the greatest accidents ever to be captured on film.  What director Lauren Greenfield had set out to make was a documentary profiling billionaire real estate tycoon David Siegel’s efforts to create the largest single occupancy home on American soil.  What she got was a character study of that same family once the rug is pulled out from underneath them when the real estate bubble unexpectedly pops.  Suddenly Siegel’s kingdom is reduced to rubble as the film explores the financial challenges that his family must now face.  The film does not take the cheap approach of poking sticks at people who thought they were better than others.  That would be cruel and distasteful.  What the film does do, is expose some of the nastiness that sometimes goes along with those who have achieved the “so-called” American Dream.  We don’t enjoy watching people get ruined by things that are out of their control, but we are fascinated by people who are so affected by desire for wealth and power that they are incapable of helping themselves.

Advertisements

The Weekly DISCussion

In this holiday edition of “The Weekly DISCussion,” The People’s Critic is recommending two films sure to enhance your season!

This week’s Must See DVD of the Week is: Image

It is true that this recommendation is partially because I am trying to not go with an obvious choice.  However, Die Hard is absolutely a movie that is fun to watch around the holidays.  When terrorists take a group of employees hostage during their holiday party, it is up to New York cop, John McClane (Bruce Willis) to save the day.  Die Hard is responsible for reinventing the action thriller.  With its careful balance of terror, violence, humor, and excitement, Die Hard excels above standard action fare even to the extent of creating an iconic villain in Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber.  With another film in the successful franchise arriving in 2013, cuddle up with your special someone this season and check out where it all began with 1988’s Die Hard.

Netflix Must Stream of the Week: Image

This year saw director Robert Zemeckis return to live action film making with Flight.  Zemeckis has spent the last eight years of his career filming three separate, innovative motion-capture animated films, the first being 2004’s The Polar Express.  The story surrounds Billy, who is finding it difficult to believe in Santa Claus.  Suddenly, he is whisked away on a magical train to the North Pole where his belief is restored.  While not a perfect movie, The Polar Express manages to capture most of the magic of the beloved children’s book.  The human characters appear somewhat lifeless, but the film does manage to rekindle some of that childish wonder that may have been lost over the years.

The Weekly DISCussion

 

Must See DVD of the Week: Vertigo

This week’s Must See DVD of the week is inspired by yet another box set.  Alfred Hitchcock has recently been portrayed in two different instances: The HBO film The Girl and the theatrical release, Hitchcock.  Additionally, a 15 film Blu-Ray box set has been released to celebrate the brilliant, but eccentric, genius.  One film that is a must from this set is 1958’s Vertigo.  Originally panned by critics, this film has become known as Hitchcock’s masterpiece.  In it, Jimmy Stewart plays John, or is it Scotty, or is it Johnny-O?  Regardless, Stewart plays a private investigator who retires after his fear of heights gets a police man killed.  An old college friend later hires him to spy on his wife (Kim Novak) to discover why she’s been acting so strangely.  What follows is a series of twists and turns that are classic Hitchcock.  The film is haunting and a true cinematic gem.

Netflix Must Stream of the Week: Out of Sight

There was a time when Jennifer Lopez showed potential to be something more than a disposable pop diva.  Out of Sight is, perhaps, Steven Soderbergh’s greatest film, and it stars Jennifer Lopez as a federal marshal who gets wound up with a bank robber played by George Clooney.  This is a sly, smooth caper flick with humor, action, and excitement.  Both Clooney and Soderbergeh are on top of their game, along with several well-known, and often uncredited, supporting characters.  Adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel, Out of Sight is a lot of fun.  It’s even more fun if you live in Michigan, as much of the film is set there.

 

Marie-Antoinette

ImageBy popular demand from my followers, or should I say follower, I have decided to review the avant garde Pop bio-pic Marie-Antoinette, directed by Sofia Coppola. I missed this movie during its original run (by “missed” I mean “skipped” because I find Kirsten Dunst to be a half-step above Kristen Stewart in terms of acting ability). However, due to a recent trip to Paris and Versailles, the film suddenly had more of a draw to me. The film loosely follows the story of how monarch-to-be, Louis XVI (played by Jason Schwartzman) is matched up with Austrian-born Marie-Antoinette (Dunst) by his father for political reasons. Soon the teenage pair are ruling France from the decadent and hypnotizing palace of Versailles with little knowledge about or regard for the country’s well-being. This film has a unique style and tone. This is not your run-of-the-mill straight factual bio-pic. Coppola uses bright colors, modern music, and even out of place modern props like a pair of Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers in the background of one shot to play up the youth and inexperience of her heroine. Coppola looks to explain, albeit not excuse, the doomed couple’s flawed reign.

Even more important is the film’s setting. Marie-Antoinette is filmed entirely at the Palace of Versailles. This is a special privilege, not often permitted by the French government and it is crucial for the film’s full vision. Coppola not only saturates the film with youthful imagery, but she also utilizes the spellbinding mystique of Versailles itself in order to illustrate the tremendous disconnect young Louis and Marie-Antoinette must have felt from their constituency. The lavish luxury is palpable and, at times, even disgustingly over-the-top. Even with such a mouth-wateringly lush location, the film is often flat from the acting to the rather uneventful plot, purposeful as this may be. I am not clamoring for a fully historically accurate portrayal, but the film needs more than just two hours of moodiness. There is an obviously looming sense of doom throughout this film, and this feeling mixed with the childish depiction of the protagonists does foster a note of sympathy for the child rulers, which is a credit to the director. Overall, the film benefits from a unique vision and a setting that is one of a kind. These characteristics certainly help the film overcome some of its shortcomings. B-

 

Nashville

NashvilleDirector: Robert Altman

Writer: John Tewkesbury

Cast: Keith Carradine, Karen Black, Geraldine Chaplin, Henry Gibson, Shelley Duvall, and Lily Tomlin

I recently saw Nashville and feel that it is an important movie and has sort of been forgotten over time. Nashville is Robert Altman’s epic study of American culture, politics, religion, and show business. Altman explores the shallowness of American life, the emptiness of politics, the superficiality of religion, and the pure commercialism of show business by following the inter-twined lives of twenty-four characters during a five-day period in Nashville, Tennessee. These themes not only serve as guidelines to appreciating Nashville, but also they are themes vital and present in American society. Powerful and poetic imagery, style, and use of many aural and visual hallmarks aid the expression of these themes that Altman has developed throughout his history as a filmmaker.

The beginning of the film immediately introduces the audience to two of these themes: commercialism and political emptiness. The opening credits to the film are in the style of a stereotypical hard sell television commercial for a country/western album of “twenty-four of your very favorite stars.” The screen is full of attention getting devices with constant movement of images and words in all different directions symbolizing the confusion and uncertainty that the American public constantly faces. Altman’s brilliant trademark use of sound comes into play here as he overlaps at least three layers of sound during this sequence. All at once the audience hears music, lyrics, and the announcer confusing the viewer as to what he or she should be listening. This feeling of confusion is echoed when the announcer making this obviously commercialistic sales pitch ironically says, “… twenty-four, count’em, twenty-four of your very favorite stars…right before your very eyes without commercial interruption,” implying that what he is saying is not “commercial interruption.” After the opening credits, the film opens at the headquarters of the independent (Replacement Party) candidate Hal Philip Walker. Several of the stereotypes that go with politics are present: his truck is red, white, and blue, the slogan is “New Roots for the Nation,” a very general and empty political statement. However, once his voice is heard over the loud speaker, the audience is introduced to an obviously anti-establishment, anti-bureaucracy campaign. Also important to this scene are the obvious abundance of signs and billboards scattered all around the street. Here Altman actually puts the two themes of commercialism and politics against each other. Walker’s campaign van is just part of a sea of commercialism all competing for the attention of the viewer.

Probably the most important theme and message that Altman tries to illustrate is the shallowness of modern American culture. Altman does not say that all of America is shallow, but he tells the audience that this particular view is quite present in society. He personifies this view with Opal (Geradine Chaplin), a BBC reporter who is working on a documentary about (what else?) American culture. Altman uses Opal to relay this view because, as a journalist, she is part of the media where much of the world gets its information and creates its own views about life and society. Unfortunately and ironically, Opal is completely clueless about this subject and there are several instances in the film that make the audience aware of this fact. The first and most obvious instance is that Opal is British. A foreign or “alien” female character is a common element in several of Altman’s films (The Player, Mccabe and Mrs. Miller). Altman uses foreigners to play certain roles in his films, when he wants to create a distance between those characters and the world around them. Opal is completely oblivious to the reality of the society around her. She is constantly drawn toward the fake glitzy surface of American culture like when she interrupts Haven’s son, Buddy’s, song at Haven’s party to go talk to Elliot Gould, a famous actor. She thus denies Buddy his chance to sing, and her chance to report the reality of being the son of a superstar. Another way Opal personifies the shallowness of American culture is during the scene outside the recording booth, where a black gospel choir is being led enthusiastically by white gospel singer Linnea Reese (Lily Tomlin). Opal, instead of appreciating this particular American music style, immediately asks if Linnea is a missionary and then exaggerates the situation to the point where she sees the black singers as “tribalistic.” This is an amazingly shallow statement and symbolizes the presence of racism in modern society. Yet another example of Opal’s personification takes place in the big traffic jam sequence. Opal describes the pile up using her own cliches saying that she “saw a leg sticking out,” or “It’s America. Those cars smashing into each other and all those mangled corpses.” She fails to recognize the truth of the situation and describes this small non-fatal pile up for the benefit of her own reporting. Instead, she makes it into a large gruesome crash which metaphors what she believes is “America.” One final example of how Opal represents a view of imperviousness to real evidence about the true nature and culture of America is during the assassination scene at the end of the film. During the tragic and symbolic assassination of Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakely), Opal momentarily steps away and misses the whole thing. She then must ask people around her “what happened,” confirming her neglect for what is going on around her. Altman shows this view of how some people are oblivious to what is actually happening around them to be one of valid concern.

There is one common theme that connects nearly every character in Nashville and that is religion. Religion in Nashville is very superficial and no one really seems to have a particularly strong grasp on his or her faith. Altman shows his careful craft of editing during the church scene where he crosscuts between four simultaneous Sunday services. In each of the services it seems that many of the characters treat church as just another performance. At Haven’s (Henry Gibson) service he stands in the choir and sings very egotistically and loudly. He is actually trying to show off and out-sing the church chorus. Linnea directs a gospel choir at her service and Tommy Brown (Timothy Brown) joins in from a pew separate from the choir as if he were doing a special performance for an audience. Lastly there is Barbara Jean’s service where she sings about herself, pouring her heart out in a slow emotional gospel tune. “ All of these characters hold a very superficial view of religion and take part in it only if they can be seen and heard.

Several of the other characters in the film are indirectly connected with religion. For example, in the scene directly preceding the church sequence, Tom (Keith Carradine) is shown in bed with his band mate, ironically named, Mary (Cristina Raines). Mary has her head on Tom’s chest as she mouths the words “I love you.” The camera slowly moves up and focuses on a Jesus-looking Tom with his long hair and short beard. Altman then cuts to a large stain glass portrait of Jesus Christ at one of the church services the next day. This ironic juxtaposition symbolizes sex versus salvation, again mocking true faith in religion. Another indirect religious connection is with Opal. After the church sequence the scene switches to an auto junkyard. The bells from the church can be heard faintly in the distance as the audience sees Opal rambling on about a pretentious religious meaning she is attempting to gather from a yard of rusty old cars: “I’m wandering in a graveyard. The dead here have no crosses nor tombstones nor wreaths to sing of their past glory, but lie in rotting, decaying, rusted heaps. Their innards ripped out by greedy vultures’ hands. Their vast, vacant skeletons sadly sighing to the sky. The rust on their bodies is the color of dried blood – dried blood. I’m reminded of, of an elephant’s secret burial ground. Yes…These cars are trying to communicate. Oh cars, are you trying to tell me something? Are you trying to convey to me some secret?” Opal, as always, makes no sense and definitely shows little knowledge about the subject of religion and salvation.

Robert Altman’s Nashville is a brilliant and poignant commentary on America that focuses on some of the more prevalent and common themes in society. Altman puts his own personal touch on these issues and themes and creates an epic critique of American ideals and integrity. A

Nashville is rated R and has a running time of 2 hours and 39 minutes.