Sunday, December 4, 2011

Northern Exposure - S1E2

The Voice of the Borough of Arrowhead County, about to get an ass-whuppin'.
“Brains, Know-How and Native Intelligence,” Season 1 Episode 2, originally aired July 19, 1990
Ahh, that’s the stuff.
Chris Stevens (John Corbett) had a blink-and-you-no-it’s-shorter-than-a-blink-oh-never-mind appearance in the pilot, but here his voice opens the episode, carrying over the town of Cicely, as he relates from his DJ booth at KBHR of the moment during a juvenile crime spree – GTA and a B & E – that “completely and irrevocably” changed his life: discovering The Complete Works of Walt Whitman, which he proceeds to read on air.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Descendants

The descendants survey their past. (Copyright Fox Searchlight Pictures.)
In The Descendants, the new film directed by Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways), George Clooney plays Matt King, a lawyer closing a development deal on twenty-five thousand acres of property on Oahu, Hawaii – property that he is the baron of, being an heir to royalty, and must handle in consideration of his many cousins. This familial obligation, critical to the future of the island, takes him away from his immediate family, however. In his own words, he’s “the back-up parent.” When his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) falls into a coma after a water-skiing accident, Matt has to care for his two daughters: ten-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and seventeen-year-old Alexandra or “Alex” (Shailene Woodley), who goes to a boarding school on the main island.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Northern Exposure - S1E1

(Not a Hollywood backlot.)
Northern Exposure is my favorite TV show. I feel that in starting these reviews, I should be up front about that. I recognize that many other series might be “better” (The Wire, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, etc.), or more influential (Hill Street Blues, Taxi, The Simpsons, etc.), or more daring (Twin Peaks, Community), and there are even some shows that at times elicited from me a more intense personal reaction (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Wonder Years), but in my experience no show was as formative, exploratory, literary, and earnest as the one that ostensibly started as a fish-out-of-water tale of a young doctor from New York City being forced to serve out a contract in a fictional small town in rural Alaska – on its surface, not something I can exactly relate to. The series had its missteps, including changes in the later seasons when David Chase was a producer, but it still has much to offer. In watching the series again, there were moments that still made me cheer, and moments that made me cry from sheer beauty.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Blue Velvet - opening breakdown

In honor / apropos / opportunistically of the new Blu-ray release of Blue Velvet and its special features (which Noel Murray wrote a stellar review of at The A.V. Club), I thought I'd post something I wrote quite a while ago for a critical studies class. It's a breakdown of the opening of the film - specifically, how it reflects two different Soviet montage theories.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Like Crazy

Like Crazy stars Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin as Anna and Jacob, two college students in Los Angeles who fall in love and, at the last moment, decide to ignore the looming expiration of Anna’s student visa. When she doesn’t return to England as preconditioned, the consequences affect their relationship and this provides the focus of the movie. This set-up at times invites a reaction similar to what one might have throughout a horror picture: “No, don’t do that!” When these seemingly intelligent college graduates try to bypass something as complicated as international law in order to stay together longer, for a relationship that – while passionate and heartfelt – lacks in experience, it’s difficult to fully root for them being together. As such, the movie feels a little predetermined, though not exactly slight.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene, the powerful feature debut of writer and director Sean Durkin, starring newcomer Elizabeth Olsen in the title role(s), is one of those films that seemingly comes out of nowhere and then is hard to shake for a while after. Its story and style are so unique and at first unfamiliar – it doesn't fit neatly into a particular genre – that it might not connect if not for the assured, nuanced hand of Durkin (who won Best Director in the Dramatic Competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival), and the fully realized performance of Olsen in a demanding and complicated role.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Notorious - more in-depth paper

[Oh, what the hell - here is my original draft, featuring more of the film, which was too long for the assignment. I had some extenuating circumstances at the time, so I was granted the opportunity to rewrite it and bring it in at exactly three double-spaced pages. I still think there's some good stuff in this version, and the two posts serve as examples of expanding my scope or limiting it.]

The first part of the analysis -- the cellar scene -- can be seen here, starting at the 6:09 mark (though I recommend watching from the beginning).

The second part of the analysis -- the bedroom scene -- can be seen here, ending at the 2:13 mark.

Notorious - scene breakdown

[I wrote this about a year ago. I had a longer version that I felt was more fully realized, but the professor was strict on keeping it to three pages, even though we had to cite three outside sources, which I'll include in the notes.]

In Notorious (1946), Alfred Hitchcock at times burdens the film with flourishes of camerawork that threaten to distract from the more assured and subtle direction in other significant moments of the story. Hitchcock and his director of photography Ted Tetzlaff create suspense through some gorgeous set pieces, yet other scenes feel didactic, the exposition unnecessary. In the pivotal sequence in which Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains) realizes that his new bride Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) is an American agent, the style is too egregious to possibly work as a metaphor for the breaking of the deceitful veneers of the characters.

The Royal Tenenbaums - scene breakdown

[I wrote this for a critical studies class in 2006. It's longer than what I've posted before, due to the required length. I believe the assignment was just to break down any scene in a film, without citing any outside work.]

The sequence during The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001) wherein Richie attempts suicide illustrates the power of matching style and substance together. The scene is effective dramatically not only because its tone and approach capture the unique reality of the moment, but also because its structure is strikingly different from that of the rest of the film. This abrupt break in style (particularly of editing) lends a super-natural quality to the event, which of course fits the emotional content of the character’s action as well as marks a critical shifting of the plot. Close analysis of this dynamic technique will reveal the method in which structure adds to the meaning of the scene.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Take Shelter

The new film Take Shelter begins as a simple but intriguing character study of Curtis (Michael Shannon in an award-caliber performance), a blue-collar family man plagued by disturbing visions of a coming storm. It develops into an engrossing family drama and a commentary on how systemic socioeconomic problems can worsen the stigma of mental illness – all while the film builds a sense of measured dread and uncertainty as to what might happen. It’s as if David Lynch and Terrence Malick were equal influences on writer/director Jeff Nichols.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in the new “cancer comedy” 50/50, based on screenwriter Will Reiser’s own battle with cancer and its effects on his relationships, and the actor is an ideal choice: he has built up audience goodwill with his roles in the last few years, so that we’re naturally inclined – beyond the usual interest afforded a protagonist – to want to see him be well, even as he struggles with his loved ones. Though the film’s title is taken directly from some internet research that Gordon-Levitt’s character Andy does on his chances with the rare form of spinal cancer he’s diagnosed with, it can be also be thought of the way in which this psychological burden might be shared with those close to him.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Drive stars Ryan Gosling as a getaway driver and Hollywood stunt driver for hire. His character is never named, noted only in the credits as "Driver." When he meets Carey Mulligan's character Irene, a young mother who lives next door in a seemingly low-rent apartment building in Los Angeles, and she asks him what he does, he says "I drive." I just want to be sure before I continue the review that you're clear on the complexity of the protagonist, his myriad attributes a deep treasure chest - a boon, if you will - to be discovered by the hopeful audience member and carried out after the film into the world beyond, waiting to be shared. Do you remember what it is that Gosling's character does?