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The Lens Flare

Random Review 4: Network

I’m sort of embarrassed to say that Network is the first Sydney Lumet film I’d ever seen. I walked into the screening with a lot of preconceived notions. This was an iconic filmmaker who had recently died…I wanted it to be good. (Otherwise, let’s be honest, I look like a pretentious asshat.) Whenever I go into a film with high expectations, it doesn’t end well. 

I didn’t need to worry. I was floored. I thought this was a film about a crazy dude who looses his mind on television one day. But Network is so much more. I was totally unprepared for the darkly satirical nature. If you know anything about me, you’ll rightfully assume that I found this delightful. Friendship, romance, murder: it’s all wonderfully ridiculous. I really hate talking about the plots of movies simply because something like Network is way too fun to be spoiled. (I realize that not many people may call this movie “fun.” I’m okay with that.)

Getting past my sheer giddiness, I was also taken aback by just how relevant Network is today. Since the invention of the printing press, the masses have proclaimed the downfall of media which will inevitably lead to the demise of mankind. Obviously, this hasn’t happened. Yet traditional media still becomes   anxious when anything on YouTube other than pet videos gets a little too popular. 

A similar anxiety occurs in Network, but in a very unexpected way. 

I wish had some more intelligent thoughts right now about the nature of media and how it controls our society, but I would rather engage in a dialogue instead of prattling on about how we’ve destroyed the purity of “new media.” 

I think the reason I loved Network so much is it reminded me of just how much power media has, but also how much more powerful a single person can be once he takes control of what he creates for his viewers. 

Sure, that power might ultimately lead to your assassination, but still. It makes me think a lot about the responsibilities of not only artists, but also producers.

(by alex)

Random Review 3: Midnight in Paris

The magic of Midnight in Paris really begins the moment we see Owen Wilson’s face twist in confusion after Zelda introduces him to her husband, Scott Fitzgerald. The zaniness just escalates as his character meets Hemingway and other notable authors of the 1920s. 

After that, the film just feels like Woody Allen Porn. It’s no coincidence that Owen Wilson looks and acts like a young, awkward, yet woefully pretentious Allen. Like many of his others, the set pieces scream LOOK, LOOK, WOODY ALLEN MADE THIS FILM and it gets old to the viewer very quickly. 

I can excuse all of this and continue to enjoy Midnight in Paris. However, any filmmaker, even Woody Allen, knows that it’s better to SHOW rather than TELL. But t one point, Wilson’s character literally STATES THE ENTIRE THESIS OF THE FILM to another character. 

I do not know why the public seems to adore this film. The heart of the film is the gimmick of seeing 1920s artists and writers in their natural element. At times it’s fun in a very novel (get it?) way, but Allen is preaching a very tired message that isn’t surprising or thought provoking. But in case you don’t understand what he’s trying to say, just wait. Again, Owen Wilson’s character will spell it out for you in the final act.

(by alex)

Random Review 2: Page One

I got the sense while watching Page One that The New York Times is really, really screwed. I actually didn’t have that opinion until I saw talking head after talking head of very angry reporters. They all seem to hate the Internet…a lot. 

There is a stark contrast in the film between “veteran” journalists and “new media” specialists. The old guys talk about the golden age of the newspapers and how everything has gone to shit while the young kids who know what Twitter is gush about “real time” news. Both groups come off as out of touch with the public. Additionally, all the journalists, young and old, have an air of self-perceived superiority. 

While well made, Page One made me even less sympathetic to print media. I thought this documentary would give insight to how journalism is evolving as an art and information source. Instead, I felt disheartened as I watched dozens of aging white men lament the death of professional journalism. 

I imagine watching the inventor of the VHS complain about his relevancy for an hour and a half would be similarly unpleasant. 

(by alex)

Random Review 1: Tarnation

Coinciding with the reboot of the Lens Flare podcast, I’m going to (poorly) reflect on a different film each day. I will probably forget, get bored, or find something easier to do. There’s not reason for me to blather on about movies I’ve just watched other than the fact that I am a very distractible film student. Watching the work of people who are (incredibly) more talented than I can’t hurt, right?

PS: My opinions are uninformed and stupid. Please don’t listen to them.

Tarnation is unlike any film I’ve ever seen before. A heartbreaking examination of a son’s relationship with his schizophrenic mother, Tarnation challenges the boundaries of what is and isn’t a documentary. The film is comprised of over a decade of home movie footage shot on various different cameras and formats. Our protagonist and director, Jonathan Caouette, spent hours performing monologue’s in which he usually portrayed distraught women. These home movies are wedged between photographs of his family, videos that showcase his budding queer identity as a teenager, as well as footage of his mother as she defends into insanity over the years. 

There’s really no point in talking any more about the plot. Tarnation isn’t a film to be seen, it needs to be experienced. While this is an incredibly pretentious thing to say (I’m banging my head on the desk as I type that), anyone who has seen Caouette’s bizarre and moving opus will agree. Made for only a few hundred dollars on iMovie, Tarnation also showcases what is possible for young creative people in the modern era. There’s not reason anymore not to get off your ass and make something meaningful. 

(by alex)

Alex’s Top Ten Films of 2011

Disclaimer: Numbered “best of the year” lists are arbitrary. This is in no way me saying “these were the best films of the year.” I have hardly seen a complete showing of the movies put out in 2011; these are just some of the ones I saw and enjoyed the most. Lists like these are meant to start conversations, not end them.

10. Tabloid: I don’t even know what to say about this movie. Comprised almost solely of interviews, Errol Morris tells the story of a supposed rape/kidnap and makes into a rollicking adventure. I’m not even sure what I felt during this movie, but I was grossly invested and highly entertained. 

9. Young Adult: You might not enjoy watching Young Adult. It’s incredibly funny in a painfully truthful way, which makes you see how sad and pathetic the main character is. This isn’t for everyone, especially people who enjoy the typical plot driven resolutions to films, but it really struck a chord with me. 

8. Fright Night: I saw this movie because I was bored and wanted to see David Tennant as a satirical Chris Angel. Fright Night is that and SO MUCH more. Other than The Muppets, this is the most fun I had in a theater all year. It may be that I just wanted to see a movie in which there’s really no exposition and vampires are just BAD THINGS THAT NEED TO BE KILLED, but it is oddly well made. 

7. Shame: You will DEFINITELY not enjoy watching Shame. But it’s really, really good. I promise. 

6. The Muppets: I mean really–it’s the Muppets. What more do you need? Singing? Purely sincere joy? You’re in luck…
5. Tree of Life: I had to put Tree of Life on this list. There are so many things about this film I hated, including the finale. But no other film this year has generated as much thought or discussion or mockery from my own head. Yes, about a dozen people walked out of the theater within the first hour. But hey…there are also dinosaurs. So there’s that. 

4. Another Earth: There are a lot of things wrong with Another Earth. It screams the fact that it’s a low budget indie film. Behind all the static shots of dust (Literally: there are about three shots of dust. It’s pretty, but still…) and it’s contemplative score, Another Earth shows that science fiction can ask interesting questions while focusing on deeply human stories. 

3. Hanna: I think “modern day” fairy tales have been overdone at this point, but Hanna still resonated with me. Maybe it was the amazing set pieces, maybe it was the thumping score of The Chemical Brothers. Or maybe it was that weird little part where the main character, completely out of her element, hangs out with a really weird family (which is hilarious). 

2. Drive: Gorgeous cinematography. A badass Ryan Gosling. Adorable Carrie Mulligan. Perfect car chases. Awesome score/soundtrack. What else do you need?

1. Weekend: “I don’t want to watch another gay movie.” I’m pretty sure that was the first thing I said as soon as I was told to watch Weekend. Typically the films by LGBTQ filmmakers that end up on Netflix Instant aren’t exactly masterpieces, let alone anything more than soft core porn. Weekend, however, is my favorite film of 2011 by far. Quiet, deeply intimate, and almost heartbreakingly believable, it simply tells the story of what happens one weekend after two men hook up in a bar. Everything about Weekend makes me happy that movies exist. Each shot is not only beautiful, but extremely personal (and not in a “oh look I’m shaking the camera it’s handheld and AUTHENTIC” kind of way). Both actors, relative unknowns from the UK, are extremely believable and likable. But if I had to pick absolutely one thing that makes this film perfect it would be the script. Never has conversation felt so real. The subject matter is able to tackle gay issues without being preachy, yet it still focuses on the feelings of two people, not a “gay couple.” If there’s one movie you see this year, please…let it be Weekend. (PS: Some will argue this film isn’t for everyone. Well. They are wrong.)

(by alex)