August: Osage County – Dysfunctional Family Bursting into Fire

Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) disappears, Violet, his wife (Meryl Streep) calls the family to Osage County. 

I believe this could be the start of any ordinary scenario, however Tracy Letts, wrote her play, August: Osage County, so that family, reunited, is yet torn apart.  
John Wells, the director, kept the theatrical aspect for the movie, perfectly conveyed by the acting of its two most amazing actresses: Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts
We observe several elements of theater: a lot of gesture, loud voices coming at each other (not letting us understand a thing sometimes), and a very confined decor. Indeed, the film takes place in specific rooms of the house, quickly filled up with the family members, and even though, the house is in the middle of vast plains, it is ignored by the camera. 

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So here we are, stuck, with crazy people, about to kill each other, with no way of escaping. If the storyline is a déjà-vu; american family, where nobody is really close to each other, and madness and mystery govern, there is material. When I say to material I am talking about the actors performances and the music. 

Let’s take the character of Barbara Fordham (Julia Roberts), married to Bill (Ewan McGregor), although, separated (but not divorced), she has a daughter of fourteen years old, Jean (Abigail Breslin), who smokes pot, and isn’t really open to discussion. Barbara is tired, and even though she tries her best to do the right thing every time, she has a tendency of loosing it, and causing pain around her. Impulsive, she ends up looking like her mother, whereas it wasn’t her goal. 
Lets speak now about Violet; she has mouth-cancer, and is frequently, for not saying always, high on pills, her husband disappears, her daughters are living away, and she is the result of constant abandon. She has two other daughters of forty something years old, Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) who isn’t married yet, and Karen (Juliette Lewis) who’s dating a three-times-divorced rich guy. They are quite disconnected, and naive, and those two characteristics prevent them from freaking out. Unlike Barbara, and her mother, knowing how this family works, they are applying the ostrich policy. 

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Nevertheless, all the characters are lost, and surrounded by madness, that is initially trigged by lots of pain. That’s why, we, spectators, are quite confused, concerning whether we should laugh or cry at some scenes. Concerning whether we are looking a comedy or a tragedy. And here comes into action, the music.
Music has a big part in the movie, however we may never notice it. And this is simple: there’s a scene, intrigued, you watch, wait to see what happens next, and a music comes, sad or not, you combined the two, and start feeling something, feeling sadness, feeling the deep sadness that is eating the characters, where no one has the right to happiness. But that doesn’t last long, we are quickly moving on to something else.
And when there’s no music, and just them screaming at each other, or laughing sarcastically, we laugh two, and find that comic.  

The story isn’t a strong one, but everything else made it important.

August: Osage County is as good as if the play was being filmed. 

 

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Dallas Buyers Club – Matthew McConaughey, drawing his “straight line of success”

Unlike Nicolas CageMatthew McConaughey had darn good parts in his last films chosen damn right.

EXCLUSIVE: Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto film scenes together for The Dallas Buyers Club in New Orleans.

He is Ron Woodroof, a real Texan, rodeo cowboy, who loves whores and cocaine, in his last feature: Dallas Buyers Club, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.
Homophobic, it was quite, tragic and ironic, when he was diagnosed with AIDS.
Next to Jared Leto, who won and deserved a Golden Globe for his outstanding performance embodying Rayon, a lovable transexual, and Jennifer Garner, playing the role of Dr. Eve Saks, Matthew McConaughey, gave everything he had, for one of his best, or maybe his best, role. He perfectly got his character, and even though he had to be skinny (50 pounds lost), and get a mustache, he was handsome, because, his acting, was beyond everything else.

The story is defining his character in a way, because, when he discovers that he had AIDS, after having sex with a heroin addict prostitute, he tried everything to get better. As the doctors said he only had 30 days left, his anger, turned into an urge to survive. Its 1985, and scientists are trying to find a cure to this unbeatable disease, and by the time Ron learns about his HIV, a new medicine, AZT, is about to be tried. As he doesn’t want to be part of those who gets the placebo in the testing, he buys it from a guy, working at the hospital. Well, it appears to be not working, and after doing some research on his own, and getting medicine not supported in the country, he runs his own pharmaceutical market, with those new drugs that made him feel better.

The whole purpose of his action, is not only getting better himself, but helping the others. He moved to, hating homos, to helping them. Dallas Buyers Club, is also a great life lesson, about, solidarity, and not judging before knowing. Ron found himself in the same situation as gays, he finally stayed more with them than other people, not to mention his old friends turning their backs to him. He overcame his prejudice. And his relationship with Rayon, is one the best example, of this overcoming.

The movie, is what I love to call, a truly humanistic film, that is to say, having actors embedded in their characters, and strongly conveying emotions, and experiences, with palpable feelings, that we might someday, discover too. Rayon, just like Ron, wants to survive, they are both the depiction of joyful people, enjoying life and fearing death, even though, both are brushing with it everyday; one drug addict, and one rodeo-cowboy.
Ron’s character is interesting for us, viewers, because we are witnessing his evolution, and facing his determination to denounce the FDA and selling his medicine that is making HIV victims better. But he is also trying to have his moments, some intimacy. He misses sex, and falls into denial sometimes, when he feels weak. And I would call those elements, meticulous finishes, that give the character his final structure, and make him believable, give him credit.

I truly hope Matthew McConaughey, gets an Oscar for this role. This would be fair and he deserves it, and even if the competition with Leonardo DiCaprio is pretty strong.

Dallas Buyers Club, is ferocious, powerful and awfully human. Watch it you will not be disappointed. 

Blue Jasmine – Woody’s Come Back

It’s been since Vicky Cristina Barcelona that Woody Allen didn’t surprised us with one of his well done “dialogue-only” movie. Blue Jasmine and the incredible performance of Cate Blanchett, who deserved her Golden Globe, surprised me in a really good way.

Jeanette (Cate Blanchett), changed her name into Jasmine, married Hal (Alec Baldwin), a successful businessman, specialized in fraud, and lived a luxurious life, until her husband got caught. After that unfortunate event that ruined her, she moved to San Francisco, at her sister’s place, who is quite her opposite. If one is a tall blond, loving rich, handsome man, and wealthy life; Ginger (Sally Hawkins), is a short brunette, divorced with two kids, who lives in a modest apartment, with her no-good boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale). One thing that could explained that? They both had been adopted.

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As in every Woody Allen film, this one deals with love, break-ups, make-ups, and life-questioning. Once again, without knowing who directed Blue Jasmine, Allen’s touch, is embedded into the way it’s filmed, the music chosen, and of course, the dialogues.
However, if sometimes his films seem heavy and boring, his last work, is as light as a feather. The story is pretty well sewed, and it is full of suspense while being predictable, which is a weird thing to experience. That is to say, there are things you are really wondering about, waiting to happen, things that you know for sure will happen, and finally, the oddest of all: things you know will happen, and yet you’re surprised when they do.
Blue Jasmine, is nothing more, that another funny, light, quite interesting, film to watch, when you need to find a balance between a psychological film, and a childish comedy. But there is this level of “intelligent rom-com sprinkled with melodrama” that is most of the time, found in Woody Allen’s movies, that is not found in his last feature. Indeed, Blue Jasmine doesn’t have the “intelligent dialogue” part, usually played by the director himself. There is only Cate Blanchett, who embodies this often seen, anti-hero, who doesn’t know who she really is, what she want to do, and can’t take it by herself. She seems misunderstood by her entourage, holding to the only thing she knew but that disappeared, and made her world collapsed.

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A last point to notice is her relationship with her sister which is interesting too, because, she appears as if she is giving her advice, but then is actually, completely indifferent, and doesn’t really care. She drinks, she thinks, she’s not mentally present, she’s up there, drowning in her head, filled with thoughts.

What I appreciated in this movie, is that Woody Allen, didn’t try to make it a big thing, and Cate Blanchett’s performance, added life to it. I would strongly recommend people to watch it, even though they shouldn’t think about it as the movie of the year, or a big mind blown, but more as a casual film, who would be worth more than a glance.

Film Noir: Translating A Post-War Fear and Instability Among Americans

From the rise of crimes due to prohibition during the 1920’s, through the poverty caused by the Great Depression in the 1930’s, until the blurry reasons why America entered the Second World War and the growing fear of the USSR holding the atomic bomb, the country went through a lot of change, with no longer clear gender roles and a lot of psychological suffering. Change became the first cause of an irrational anxiety and paranoia among the population. This was translated in movies, and in film noir movies in particularly. Those were the result of a society whose principles and values were no longer unquestionable.

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In 1946, Nino Frank, a French movie critic, attributed the name of “film noir” to the wave of American dark crime films, that appeared during and after World War II. Actually, they proliferated a lot between the 1940’s until the end of the 1950’s, and were characterized by specific features, linked to what inspired those films to be constructed the way they were. Indeed, film noir is the fruit of the German expressionism and hard-boiled novels, or more commonly called, pulp fictions. Film History students of the University of Florida said on their online blog, The Museum of Film History, that “expressionist used the visual arts to create a look into the emotional and psychological state of being by use of distorted images and irregular shapes.” Thus, some scenes in 1922 Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s Nosferatu, such as when Count Orlok climb up the stairs and his nonhuman shadow is being projected on the wall, is pretty much symbolical of film noir. A low key lightening, or chiaroscuro, introduced by the German paintings and movies, provided those types of shadows and this technique will be strongly used in future American film noir movies. As for the pulp fictions, some authors,such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain or Cornell Woolrich were icons of the detective novels in the 1920’s and 1930’s, and a lot of their work was later adapted in movies; Hammett’s Maltese Falcon in 1941, is one the most famous, directed by John Huston with Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor, later symbols of anti-hero, and femme fatale of those movies. But also, James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity put into the screen by Billy Wilder in 1944 is really emblematic. But film noir gathers also other characteristics such as, filmmakers tightened by low budget, black and white photography, and story related elements such as a narrative. Tim Dirks said on his website film site about film noir that “storylines were often elliptical, non-linear and twisting”, taking place in cities such as New-York or San Francisco, full of “murky and dark streets”, where it rains a lot and with characters living in low rent apartments or hotel rooms. And to generalize, the themes approached are often close to sex, violence and crime perfectly illustrated by Touch of Evil directed by Orson Welles in 1958. However, directors were bound from 1934 to 1966 by “the Motion Picture Production Code commonly called the Hays code which censored taboo subjects” as mentioned John P. Hess from FilmmakerIQ in a video called Introduction to Film Noir. Tim Dirks adds that “film noir is not a genre, but rather the mood, style, point-of-view, or tone of a film”, which reflects a historical time period.

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Indeed film noir is the reflection of a dark and pessimist period in the United States of America. Fear has taken every space in citizens’ minds, and in different shapes. The A-bomb, known between the hands of the Russian communists was threatening, and was the catalyzer of movies like The Lady from Shanghai directed by Orson Welles in 1947. Political turmoil is rising from the traumas caused by the atrocities of the war, including genocides and rise ofdestructives weapons. J. J. and S. L. M. Blaser (2008) said in their essay “noir films generally question social and governmental institutions”, and according to Westcombe (2003), they narrate a “post war malaise” of the end of the 1940’s which was a combination of disappointment and frustration. It was actually a wave of disenchantment that led to “questioned the fundamental optimism of the American dream” as said by Mayer (2007). All this, created characters, heroes, or more anti-heroes, who had a not so good relationship with their society, and felt the need to escape it, just like the protagonist of Killer’s Kiss directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1955, felt the urge to leave his lousy apartment and actual city where murders and corruption reigned. The feeling of entrapment highlights the need of putting into action, doomed heroes, left to Westcombe ‘s “noir’s spider web of fate”. Those heroes were most of the time psychologically troubled, developing mistrust towards everything, and subject to paranoia and confusion, reflection of the war’s psychological consequences on the American population.

However, it is important to clarify one aspect belonging to those film noir movies; the hero was always a men. Women were eroticized and villainized; a misogynistic view was adopted, and a message pro- “nuclear” family was conveyed. Indeed, after the men returning from war, women, who were, during the whole time, in the workforce and doing what their husbands were doing before the war, had a hard time renouncing their jobs and, sort of, independence. This frightened Americans. The women had to go back to her housing chores and duties, while men returned to their status of breadwinners. There was a clear crisis of culture, where there was an urge to find a place for women. Film noir movies were here to question but also promote an ideal; the “femme fatale”. The spider woman, as named by Westcombe, was dangerous, source of problems, and here to distract the hero. Film noir movies, made sure to punish “bad” women, just like they did in The Maltese Falcon or Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing directed in 1956. As J.J. and S.L.M. Blaser said “these women are destroyed, punished, or converted to more traditional roles after learning that their independence was a mistake”. “She reinforces film noir’s fatalism” adds Westcombes, and might be compared to “the vamp” of the 1920’s, threating the concept of “nuclear” family. Therefore, it is showed what woman is supposed to be; supporting the men, being a little ignorant, and focusing on her house and children. The hero is supposed to resist to the femme fatale and choose his stable women, or he will be punished also, which led us to think that if you play your role you’ll be okay, otherwise, you’ll be punished. This is the reason why, it is rare to have happy endings in noir films. Marginal, murky streets, and dark cities, are compared to the uniformity of suburbs, and a “cult of domesticity” is conveyed. Noir films were established to scare the viewer of a change in gender roles and showing how women’s independence could be harmful and destroy the family institution, basis of the society.

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Film noir, is the creation, fruit, of all fears American citizens experienced from the 1940’s to the 1960’s. Dark period of trouble, disorientation and trauma, those movies translate the consequences of change in their country, on citizens’ mind, adding the mistrust held against the government and the corruption maintained in an underworld. From different influences, filmoir, never died, and gave birth to contemporary movies, such as Pulp Fiction directed by Quentin Tarantino in 1994 or Sin City directed by Robert Rodriguez in 2005.

Reference list: 

Blaser J, J. & Blaser S. L. M. (2008). No Place For A Woman: The Family In Film Noir. Retrieved from http://www.filmnoirstudies.com/essays/no_place2.asp

Bousel, M. (Producer), Kubrick, S. (Producer) & Kubrick, S. (Director). (1955) Killer’s Kiss [Motion Picture]. United States: United Artists. 

DeSylva, B. (Producer), Sistrom, J. (Producer) & Wilder, B. (Director). (1944) Double Indemnity [Motion Picture]. United States: Paramount Pictures & Universal Studios

Dieckmann, E. (Producer), Grau, A. (Producer), & Murnau, F.W. (Director). (1922) Nosferatu [Motion Picture]. Germany: Prana Film.

Dirks, T. Film Noir. Retrieved from http://www.filmsite.org/filmnoir.html

Harris, J. B. (Producer) & Kubrick, S. (Director). (1956) The Killing [Motion Picture]. United States: United Artists.

Hess, J.P. Introduction to Film Noir. Retrieved from http://filmmakeriq.com/lessons/introduction-to-film-noir/

Horsley, L. (2002). The Development of Post-war Literary and Cinematic Noir. Retrieved from http://www.crimeculture.com/Contents/Film%20Noir.html

John Abbott. Influences of Film The Noir. Retrieved from http://eng3122.wordpress.com/group-6-main/influences-2/influences-of-film-noir/

Mayer, G. & McDonnell, B. (2007). Encyclopedia of Film Noir. Connecticut: Greenwood Press

Schmidlin, R. (Producer), Zugsmith, A. (Producer), & Welles, O. (Director). (1958) Touch of Evil [Motion Picture]. United States: Universal Pictures

Wallis, H. B. (Producer) & Huston, J. (Director). (1941) The Maltese Falcon [Motion Picture]. United States: Warner Bros.

Welles, O. (Producer) & Welles, O. (Director). (1947) The Lady From Shanghai [Motion Picture]. United States: Columbia Pictures.

Westcome, R. (2003). What is this thing called film noir anyway?. Retrieved from http://www.crimeculture.com/Contents/RW-ThingCalledNoir.html