Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Dr-Jekyll

The idea of split personalities has always fascinated me. I have always thought that everyone has some sort of split personality. One that was put on in order to cope with the outside world, mostly professional and the true one that you only let a select few see or nobody at all. This is what intrigues me about people. When I meet someone I always wonder what they are like with a girlfriend or boyfriend vs what they are like as just my co-worker, my friend or just a stranger. It is sort of game I play in my head. With Dr. Jekyll, he found a way to exorcise that second personality and make it known to the outside world. He just couldn’t control the results.

My theory is that Dr. Jekyll was always a base man, he just never let it show. He buried his needs in the strenuous work of science, treating the poor and courting a moral woman. But he was too curious what would happen if he gave into his desires. What would have happened if he had relations with that beautiful Italian dancer? What would have happened if he decided to drink until he was drunk, took opium or bedded several women at the same time? As the saying goes curiosity killed the cat. And it killed Dr. Jekyll as well.

The transformation of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde is probably what makes this film so intriguing. John Barrymore plays the good Dr. Jekyll with such heaving goodness I almost want to slap him. When he transforms the first time into Mr. Hyde, he grows visibly ugly, but the transformation mostly relies on Mr. Barrymore’s ability to play such a different character. He excels at being such an obvious evildoer and it is refreshing to see this character on the screen. I quite frankly could care less about Dr. Jekyll. Mr. Hyde is the more infinitely interesting character. As the film progresses, Mr. Hyde gets more and more ugly resulting in stringy hair, elongated fingers and a cone head. He also becomes more difficult for Dr. Jekyll to control. After a while, Dr. Jekyll transforms into Mr. Hyde with no help from the chemical he made at all. This results in the murder of a man who was supposed to be his father in law and the eventual conclusion of the film itself.

John Barrymore is an interesting actor. He is known just as much for his theatrical performances as his cinematic achievements. This knowledge brings a bit of weariness to watching his films thinking that the will over act and try to play to the back of the theater. Such things do not translate to the screen very well. But even in this semi early effort from him, you can tell that Mr. Barrymore is acutely aware of the camera and produces gestures that are small but impactful. There are places in the film where he was over acting, but it is easily overlooked for those times when he lifts one finger and it transform from Dr. Jekyll’s finger to the hideous Mr. Hyde’s. If you are interested in seeing this film, be aware that Mr. Barrymore is the only good actor in the film. Each other character is pretty forgettable, except for the beautiful Italian dancer who has way too small of a role.  I know that this was a vehicle for Mr. Barrymore but come on. Give me something. I feel like this is my complaint for a lot of silent pictures that I see. It is not enough to see the woman the main character is in love with just sit there and look pretty. At several points in the film different people say about her that she is extremely moral. And yet all she does is sit waiting for Dr. Jekyll. I would have picked the beautiful Italian dancer as well if I were Dr. Jekyll. Just goes to show you that having a bit of wrongness to you is more attractive than being pure. Especially if you are pure and bland.

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Reprise

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I live for the moment after I have seen a great film. I feel complete. I get a quiet smile on my face and I sit in silence for sometime, contemplating not only the great film that I had just watched but the emotions, the ideas behind that film. Then of course it circles back to my own life. Just how I am going to express how I feel about this film to that one reader who actually takes a peek at my reviews? I am usually at a loss for words. At least for a couple of moments…

Reprise is a great film because it deals with what is most inherent in us all. It deals with the vulnerability we all have. Whether it is just after you have published a great or not so great novel, after you kiss a girl for the first time, after you say something stupid, or after you just opened up your soul to another human being, vulnerability is scary. The two main characters in this film are both writers. They both send their transcripts off to a publisher house at the same time. One gets accepted, the other does not. So at the beginning of the film, the viewer thinks the person who is most likely to be successful is the man who publishes first. Of course the director puts a wrench into the proceedings… The film explores what it takes to keep writing. Despite being broken up with, despite having a mental breakdown, despite having terrible friends who like to fuck with your mind, you need to just keep writing. That is easier said than done.

I don’t know why or how this film resonated with me. Maybe it is because I fancy myself a writer and I know exactly what they are going through. Maybe I have been in a relationship that has consumed me and made me slightly crazy for the love he seems to be withholding in the past. Maybe it is because I once had a best friend where we shared similar goals but through unforeseen circumstances had to depart from each other. Whatever the reason is, I liked this film a lot. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you will think that I am crazy for thinking so highly of a film that you find ridiculous and pretentious. Quite frankly I could give a shit what you think.

The Impostors

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It is always really hard for me to say something unique after watching a film that I only thought was okay. Take the Impostors for instance. This film about a duo who through a series of comical events end up on a ship trying to hide out from the cops while also trying to foil bad people’s plans to kill. Set in the twenties, the film does a good job invoking comic duos like Laurel and Hardy, but the plot is flimsy to the point of boredom. What am I to say that is new and unique about a film most people won’t ever watch? Well I guess I will try.

Stanley Tucci is a famous actor, but he was also a director in the mid to late nineties. Before making this film, he made a touching film about an unsuccessful Italian restaurant trying to save grace by having one last big night. It said so much about brothers, the joy of cooking, and trying so hard at a passion only to fail at it. (Like I am doing here…) That film made my top ten of that year and I could watch it again and again. This film was everything that Big Night wasn’t. The Impostors didn’t touch my heart in any way, it didn’t reveal any undeniable truths and it certainly did not showcase some amazing food. It seemed here that he just gathered a bunch of his acting friends, asked them what characters they wanted to play, and cast them as those characters. While everybody is good in their roles, nobody seemed absolutely essential to the light story. In fact I think he focused too much on the extraneous characters instead of the main villains. In fact if he had just stuck to one villain, the film would have improved dramatically. Instead I counted four villains, depending on the time of the story. Each one had their own motivations, dreams, and character quirks that were not fleshed out to any satisfaction.

I wish that this was a short film. I say this because I felt the first scene in the film was the best scene in the whole film. Set in an outdoor cafe, the two friends play off one another much like the silent comedians did. They mock one another, fight over giving up their seat for a woman, and finally fight to a fake death. It was the perfect ode to who they are trying to honor with the whole film. There didn’t need to be anything else. In fact if you have a few minutes of free time and a Netflix account (who doesn’t these days) I would suggest looking up this film and watching the first ten or so minutes of it then immediately shut it off. You will then not have to waste the next hour and half trying to see if they capture that same magic again.

Killer’s Kiss

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Killer’s Kiss was one of the first films made by the great auteur Stanley Kubrick. As a big fan of his filmography, I was thrilled to finally catch up with where he started out. Man did he come out swinging. This film drips with film noir conventions and yet seems to be fresh and interesting. I envy anyone who got to see this on its first movie theater run. They would have a seen a genius just being born.

The story is an easy one to predict for anyone who is at all familiar with film noir. A failed boxer rescues a helpless woman from an evil bad man, only to be thrown into the trouble himself. The story doesn’t matter. Neither do the performances which are good  not great. It is what Stanley was able to do with the camera on such a low-budget. For example, our hero has a nightmare where he travels down a towering New York City street. He shot it normally and then used the negative of the shot and made it jerk around like it was out of someone’s mind. It was such a small and forgettable aspect of the film made memorable by his techniques. Another example of his great camera work is setting the climax of the chase sequence in a room full of mannequins. The hero and the evil man fight with limbs, heads and torsos, each grappling for the upper hand and the ability to get out of the claustrophobic room. This room provides Stanley with insanely iconic shots. At one point in the room, the hero hides out underneath a bunch of hanging plastic hands. He looks back and you can see the hands barely grace the top quarter of the screen. C’est magnifique!

Of course I can sit here and grip about all the horrible inconsistencies, the holes in the plot and the voiceover that was never charming. But I don’t want to. These things don’t break the film for me. In fact I think it adds to its uniqueness. This film is not perfect, but I don’t care.

Years before he becomes a master, he was already thinking like one. It is wonderful to know that a man who has made such an impact on my viewing life was always a genius, even when he was living on welfare and forced to hide his filming because he didn’t have the proper permits. Whether he has the budget of millions or hundreds, he can make a film that takes my breath away. Good job, Mr. Kubrick.

Leave Her To Heaven

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I have to admit something to you: I love to watch an actress be a total bitch on-screen. I find it sort of empowering (although a lot of my college feminist friends would take issue with that) to see a woman be conniving and backstabbing on-screen. There is just a sort of magnetism to them that overpowers any other person in the film. I have only seen Gene Tierney in a few pictures but she seems to really excel at being a bitch on-screen. According to film historians, Leave Her to Heaven is Ms. Tierney’s height of icy bitchiness. I definitely believe it. It is awesome.

Gene Tierney plays a woman obsessed with her husband. She will do anything to get some time alone with him. This includes killing his paraplegic brother, falling down the stairs to have a miscarriage, and many other smaller things. That’s right. She kills an innocent handicapped young man because he comes between her and her husband. Her red lipstick and beautiful green eyes shine on-screen as she says such mean and conniving things. Her husband is innocent and sweet, therefore boring. I don’t even recall the actor’s name. But I do recall Vincent Price being the male version of her. He prosecutes her sister for her murder and he does it so over the top that I want to re watch every scene he is in. Vincent Price is always such a treasure to watch on-screen. Every scene is enhanced by the Technicolor process. Each dress Gene wears, each interior she walks into, each time the camera focuses on her face with those bright red lips, pops and makes the film even more over the top.

Her need to be loved and be wanted was totally justified. She is not wanting any thing that isn’t required to have a good relationship. She wants to be alone with her husband, but he seems to not want the same thing. She is unfulfilled by the domestic life, always setting the table for him, cleaning the various houses, cooking and lounging around while he works on his book or hangs out with his brother. He never recognizes this need. If he had realized from the beginning that she needed some alone time with him, then she maybe would never have done the things she resorts to. But of course if he did pay attention to her, then there would be no source of drama.

This film is a definite classic.

Dear Zachary

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Instead of writing this review, I am willing to do anything else. I am willing to smoke a cigarette (something that I do not usually do, except if I have been drinking) adjust my factory settings on my computer, play with my dog, surf aimlessly on the internet, or watch a centipede make a perilous journey down our railing. Anything to not have to relive the emotions I experienced while watching this documentary. But I guess I will anyway.

Dear Zachary was made by a man who lost one of his best friends. Taken too soon from him, the filmmaker decided to make a visual scrap-book to his unborn child. While this may seem precious, it is not what it seems. You see this best friend, he was murdered by his ex girlfriend who found out shortly after the event that she was pregnant with his baby. So the parents of the murdered man pick up and move themselves to be with their only grandchild. This of course is just the surface of the film. What lies underneath is much more devastating and heartbreaking.

While I was watching this film, I could not help but think that I would like to meet these parents. They seemed to be two of the most kind-hearted, wonderful human beings. Why all of this happened to them is beyond comprehension. The pure love and admiration that the filmmaker has for these two people is so beautiful to watch. It was a miracle that these parents stayed so warm and caring to everyone around them after losing such an integral part of their lives. If such devastating events would have happened to me, I probably would have been a complete mess. I don’t even know what I would do if my dog died, let alone anyone that I actually birthed (I haven’t done that yet, thank god).

This film resists normal criticism because of the personal nature of the film. Any flubs, any items that the filmmaker chooses to leave in that maybe would have made a tighter narrative if left out,  all lead to the emotional impact of this film. I can tell it was a labor of love, made not only to mourn the passing of someone great, but also to celebrate a life so rich and amazing. I ran the gauntlet of  emotion while watching this film. I will probably never watch this film again. But I am glad I watched it the first time.

Passing Strange

Great Performances

Oh, the wonders of the deep deep depths of my Netflix instant queue. Full of films that I have no recollection ever adding to my queue let alone why I decided to one day watch these gems, I get a pleasant surprise every time I randomly click one to watch. Passing Strange was one of those films that I didn’t know anything about it except for the lacking synopsis Netflix gives. (Seriously… Netflix. Your synopses suck big ones. You should just hire me already… I am a genius at giving amazing reviews.) I did not expect this to be a filmed stage performance of a musical about a rocker’s life. I did not expect this stage play to be filmed by Spike Lee. I also did not expect to like it as much as I did.

Like several other musicals, this musical is a journey of self discovery. You see young girls becoming women, young boys becoming men through trials and tribulations all the time in musicals. There unfortunately is nothing unique in this man’s journey. But what is unique about this musical is the way this run of the mill story is told. It is told through the creator of the musical who it just so happens to be his own story. He stands (or sits) on stage and sings, quips, and rocks while the standard story is taking place. One other thing that is unique about this musical is the story is about a black rock musician that did not come from the slums of any inner city. All too often you see coming of age stories that are about black men coming from a ghetto. As more and more black people pull themselves up by their bootstraps, this narrative becomes less true to real every day life. However just because you are now middle class, does not mean that your story no longer matters. This musical proves that.

The one issue I had with this film was how incredibly long it was. This is my major critique of every musical I have ever sat through (with some notable exceptions like Once or Moulin Rouge). Unfortunately songs that progress the story also make the story sooooo long. This is why I shy away from musicals in general. You can get the same feeling hearing one line of dialogue that you can get from hearing an entire song in this musical. When those songs are unique and interesting, it doesn’t matter how long the song is. But when the song exists purely to move the story along, it makes me yawn and take a mini nap in the middle of the story.

A musical made by a black man and a white woman is unique enough to garner a viewing of this filmed version. So many musicals are fueled by men who have been in the business for so long that you feel as if you have seen every single musical time and time again. This musical gives the genre a breath of fresh air. I hope the creator behind this musical continues to be creative in other mediums as well as in musicals. We really need him.

 

 

By the way who is excited for Spike Lee’s adaptation of Oldboy? I know I am…

Snow White and the Huntsman

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I may offend some people here, but I am going to write something anyway… I hate Kristen Stewart. She is one of the worst actresses out there and I just want to choke her every time I see her serious face on-screen (which is really just a cocked “d’oh” face). Her line readings are always flat and emotionless, she mumbles everything, and she always looks like she smelled something bad. Why do people keep casting her in otherwise good films? How does anyone look at her and say “yes” she looks like she would make a good heroine. Now that the Twilight film franchise is over (I think) I think her film career should fizzle out pretty quickly here. At least that is what I pray for every night.

Kristen Stewart puts a damper on everything she touches. Snow White and Huntsman would have been a great film if it wasn’t for her presence. I think the director realized this. Although Snow White is the titular character and it is essentially her story, it is the evil queen that the main focus is on. Maybe this is due to Charlize Theron’s wonderfully over the top performance as Ravenna, but the film lived every time she is on the screen. It just got better every time she decided to utter a word, tramp around her castle, emerge from a milk bath all scarily, or yell at her brother. So why did the powers that be put this powerhouse acting against a limp noodle. I wasn’t wanting the dwarfs, the woodsman, and the princess to win. I wanted the queen to win. She was way more badass than Snow White was.

I really enjoyed watching this take on the Snow White story. She is no longer just a helpless young woman. She is a Joan of Arc like savior for her people. She is in control of her own destiny. If I were to ever have a girl, I would make her watch this interpretation of the story before she watched the traditional Disney one. Not only are the characters stronger, the sense of danger more immediate, but the film is also prettier to look at. This is definitely one of those films that you catch on cable and get sucked into re watching the film again and again. I guess Kristen Stewart did not totally ruin this film…

Nostalgia For The Light

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It is hard for me to put into words just how beautiful this film is. Shot in the Atacama Desert in the middle of Chile, the director focuses his camera just not on the physical setting but also the metaphysical one. He points his camera to the sky and shows us all the beauty that the stars can give us. Atacama desert is the driest desert in the world with no recorded rainfall. This makes it ideal for astronomers to view and study the galaxy’s past with high-tech and fascinating technology. But the director does not just show the stars’ past, but also his country’s past. Rocked by a dictatorship that destroyed the lives of thousands and thousands of people, Chile is a country that just wants to forget about their past. But a few women refuse to. Instead they comb the desert where Pinochet buried a couple of thousand political prisoners before moving to an unknown location. In this desert, you can find parts of these people who were picked up by the bulldozer used to move the bodies. These women search every day for a piece of their loved ones. They refuse to stop searching. They want answers just like the astronomers want answers.

The director links these two themes by exploring this idea. And he does it in such a way that it took my breath away. I wish I had seen this film when it came to my little art theater in town. This film begs for as big as screen as possible. It uses every inch of the screen to convey a beautiful sense of wonder. This film makes me not only want to go to this place to see how wonderful the sky is but also to help these aging women find their loved ones. No one should be robbed of their family like the people of Chile were. It is unfair to sweep the events of such a brutal dictator under the rug like the current government of Chile is doing. Instead they should do everything within their power to bring these people some closure by finding out where they took those bodies.

After seeing this film, it gave me need to not only study the cosmos but also to study Chile’s turbulent background. I am thirsty for a the ability to understand. To understand everything.

Cleanflix

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I have always been fascinated by stories of people taking a piece of art and editing it to avoid controversy. A painter once painted a strap on a dress that wasn’t there in order to appease the European elite. Major studio films danced around sexual acts by using stand ins such as lighting cigarettes for each other in order to be in compliance with the Hays Code. Even today filmmakers are still taking out seriously graphic things in order to avoid getting an unsuitable rating and therefore killing any distribution deals. The consequences for these people are very serious. People still burn books that they find offensive. They also burn CDs, DVDs, and restrict anything that is questionable from coming over the border. Because of this we haven’t seen some Asian and European classics to enjoy because they have a level of nudity or violence deemed unsuitable for our pure eyes. Why are so many people afraid of pieces of art just because they have violence, nudity, or radical ideas in them? For a lot of people in the Utah area it is because religion tells them that they should not watch such bad things on the screen because then they will do bad things in real life. That is how Cleanflix came about.

Cleanflix was a company that edited films in order to make it safe for Mormons to watch them. Major Hollywood releases would be taken through this process, permanently altering the director’s vision just so that the viewer can avoid an uncomfortable moment. These stores were majorly successful to the point that it caught Hollywood’s eye and forced them to shut down. But the owner operators of these very successful businesses were not going to take that ruling lying down. They bent the rules until they found another way and another way and another way to rent to such a profitable audience. The whole time these men had no regard for the piece of art that was being mutilated at all.

Although working with a compelling subject matter, the documentary falls short in a couple of ways. First off the choice to have no narrator was a hinderance for the first part of the film. There was a lot of set up that had to be done in huge chunks of text on the screen. The other problem was the focusing on one man’s story that wasn’t amazingly compelling. He was one of the owners of an edited video shop that kept re opening even when the government told him not to. He also tried to seek as much attention as possible and became a mini celebrity. This was all before he got caught soliciting sex from under age girls. While this is definitely an ironic story, they missed a oppurtinuity to explore the idea of censorship for moral reasons in more depth. It started out as an intellectual film and ended in a case study.

Despite my problems with the film, it is still worth watching if only because they are not afraid of the censorship conversation. We think of censorship as something that happened in the past, but it still happens today just in ways that don’t get as much press. It also brings up the question, should creators care about how their product affects the viewer? Should we think twice about putting an extremely gory scene into a film because someone small or someone with high moral standards might see the finished product and get upset by the scene? These questions I asked myself when watching this film. I came to the conclusion that no one should get upset by curse words, boobies or radical ideas. They should get upset about restricting our viewing of these things. Don’t think of the insane parents that are purchasing these films in video stores, but instead think of their children. Their children deserve to grow up and be able to ask uncomfortable questions. One way they can think of these uncomfortable questions is by seeing films where they see something they don’t quite understand. They need to learn what is moral and not moral individually not en mass. If they don’t then they will become the next generation of drones that I saw in this film. People that spit out what a prophet tells them without truly understanding the implications of what they are saying.