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Netflix Challenge: The Imperialists Are Still Alive!

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Directed by Zeina Durra (2010)

Starring: Elodie Bouchez, Jose Maria de Tavira, Karim Saleh

I don’t feel like I understand this movie fully, not because the plot is complicated (it isn’t) and not because it deals with complicated themes (not sure).  I feel like it’s because the main character is largely unsympathetic and I can’t figure out why without feeling embarrassed.

Palestinian-Jordanian-Paris-born artist, Asya (Bouchez), currently living in New York has found out that an old friend has probably been kidnapped on the way from Houston to Saudi Arabia.  She finds out at a gala where she meets Javier (Tavira), with whom she begins a relationship.  This also coincides with Israeli bombing of Beirut, where Asya’s brother is currently living.  While alternating between various parties, limos and apartments, Asya is paranoid that her art will get her arrested or worried about her brother.

There are a couple of really great scenes that I liked: at a club’s bathroom, Asya takes her eyeliner and distractedly traces the tiles below the mirror.  Later on as she follows her friend Karim (Saleh) to a convenience store to buy cigarettes, but they are invited to stay and listen to the news from Beirut in the back of the store.  Neither of these scenes involve talking between the characters, just methodical actions.  I don’t think the movie would have been improved with more of these scenes, but I think they stand out from the mediocrity of the rest.

I guess I just don’t feel sympathy for a rich artist, no matter how paranoid she is before her brother’s in danger or how mean she is to other people when the bombing starts.  She seems like she has the ability to live anywhere, so why doesn’t she?  Her boyfriend asks if she wants to go to Mexico and she just responds that it would feel like being on the run.  And I feel bad, because I can’t relate to her.  I’m not an immigrant to the United States and I’m not from the Middle East, but I’m also not extraordinarily rich with extraordinarily rich friends.  I can’t live wherever I want to or afford to have a maid.  I can’t even afford to own a cat.  And is the fact that I dislike the main character a real reason to dislike an entire movie?

I can’t deny that The Imperialists are Still Alive! has interesting things to say, but on the whole it’s not packaged well.  Who are the imperialists here, is it the rich 20-somethings who trot to the backrooms of Chinese restaurants for gambling or is it the American government, as the movie accuses?

A Little More Homework: Blindspots 2012

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In joining Ryan and James, I’ve decided to clear up some missing films as apart of my New Year’s Resolutions.  A lot of my list are understood to be capital-c Classics, but a few have been sitting near the top of my Netflix queue for too long without earning my full attention.  So once a month, I will write a blog post about these films – adding a little more work to my filmic syllabus, but hopefully getting me back into the swing of blogging again.













False Advertisement

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My American Independent Film teacher just emailed us our syllabus for the semester.  On the front page it says “Should probably be called New American Cinema.”

Oh.  Now you tell me.

Not that I’m not excited to learn about New American Cinema, which is a rather big hole in my movie-watching habits, but it definitely the likelihood of my predictions by a mile.

The three that I got right: Stranger Than Paradise (1983); Synedoche, New York (2008); The Future (2011)

And as a brief means of defending my dignity, I did get a lot of auteurs right.  We are going to be watching plenty of Cassavetes, a Spike Lee, a Steven Soderbergh, some Gus Van Sant.

The thing is, New American Cinema is different from American Independent if only that the former inspired the latter.  We’re watching a lot more Altman, Scorsese, and Coppola than I would have expected, but really I should have seen at least two Malick films.

Anyway, I’m not gonna bother listing out the syllabus, but hopefully there will be some posts forthcoming under the “Movie Class Film” tab.

The Great Syllabus Guessing Game

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In a little over a week, the Fall Semester will be upon me.  I’m currently enrolled in American Independent Cinema and rumor has it that this professor wants our homework to be all movie watching, all the time.  With my handy Directory of World Cinema: American Independent at my side, I think it’s time to play Guess the Syllabus.

I’ve had this professor once before, so I know he likes Anderson, Baumbach and Tarantino (although he also assumes that most college kids have seen at least some of their movies).  He also includes at least a few recent films, so I’m guessing there will be one 2010 or 2011 theatrical release.

Mullholland Dr.


Synedoche, New York

She’s Gotta Have It


Boogie Nights

A Woman Under the Influence

Killing Zoe

The Man Who Wasn’t There

The King of Kong

Buffalo ’66

sex, lies and videotape

Lost Highway


Broken Flowers

Easy Rider

Five Easy Pieces

Stranger Than Paradise

Mala Noche

Pink Flamingos


All the Real Girls

The Station Agent

Before Sunrise & Before Sunset




Pull My Daisy


And the 2010/2011 spot goes to… I really want to say The Future, but seeing Holy Rollers again would be super.  And there will probably be a Sofia Coppola spot, so I’m gonna go with “Somewhere”.

Naturally, it would be better if this syllabus took me completely by surprise and introduced a whole slew of American Independents that I’ve never even heard of.  But, y’know, we’ll see.

Summer Reading 2011

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I set myself a loose goal for this summer: to read at least fifteen books.  It’s nearing the end of June, and I’ve already finished twelve (It helps that I have a long bus ride to my job).  Since I’m trying to decide between In the Night Cafe and Look Homeward, Angel for my next read, I figured it was about time to do a quick recap.

First Time Reads:

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon

I bought this thinking “Oh yeah, I would love to read a Noah Baumbach movie.”  I wasn’t wrong, per se, they share a lot of the same tropes.  Since this was Chabon’s earliest novel, it has a different style from previous works of his that I’ve read.  It wasn’t quite as enthralling as The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, but not quite up to par with Wonder Boys.  However, it was a novel that took place during the summer, when I really wanted to embrace the season as fully as possible.

Minor Characters by Joyce Johnson

Joyce Johnson is a really cool lady, who I’m surprised I only found out about this year.  Her memoir discusses what leaving her parent’s house at age 17 meant during the fifties, but she was seeking independence and adventure.  She was a member of the key circle of the Beat Generation, having an on and off affair with Jack Kerouac for a few years.  Most notably, Johnson discusses how the women of the Beat Generation, as artists and as people, were not given the same respect by the men.  It’s a wonderful memoir of defining oneself as a woman before the women’s liberation movement began.

Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link

I really enjoyed Kelly Link’s short story collection Pretty Monsters when I read it last summer, so I was very excited to pick up one of her older collections.  Link has the ability to create strong, bizarre little narratives that are just a little bit spooky.  I didn’t really love this collection, but I did enjoy it.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Thanks to Midnight in Paris, I was set towards reading more things that took place there.  A not so secret part of this reading goal was to try to read more classics, and I hadn’t read any Hemingway novels yet.  I wasn’t terribly interested in it until they got to Spain, and I’m not so sure what this says about me…

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

When I was stuck in LaGuardia, the book I had brought for my trip was almost over.  I ran to the last Hudson News that was open and grabbed SSTL as soon as I saw it– I had meant to for awhile.  And it is really depressing.  It gets a lot of commentary that compares it to 1984, which is fair and I can appreciate that style and the point of the novel.  It’s just… not what I would have wanted to read while on vacation.

Love is a Mixtape by Rob Sheffeild

Now this is exactly what I would have wanted to read on vacation!  It’s a book about one of my most favorite things — mix tapes!– and how making them helped Sheffield to relate to this friends and family, most notably his wife.  The majority of the essays are about their marriage and how he felt after her death.  It’s a really excellent read about love and music and it’s one of the best books I’ve read this summer.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

To be honest, I don’t remember this one too well.  It’s all short vignettes centering around a Latino neighborhood in Chicago, but beyond that I’ve got nothing.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

This book felt like getting through a marathon.  Thanks to Minor Characters, I know that Kerouac was too much of a whimpering artiste to let an editor touch his manuscript when, lo and behold, it would have been so much better if it had been edited down a bit.  Nothing sticks out from On the Road, no phrasing amazes me.  The only thing I thought terribly interesting was how the number of coffee stains on the pages dwindle after the one hundred mark.  Not even desperate hipsters could get through this book.


Paper Towns by John Green

I didn’t consciously decide to read through John Green’s novels, but that’s what happened (somehow).  Of the three that he wrote by himself, Paper Towns is my favorite and the one that I would objectively call the most put together.  It references Walt Whitman and breaks the Manic Pixie Dream Girl identity, but it’s also a beautiful work of a novel.  Green’s writing style is amazing throughout and he has these perfect little metaphors thrown in at just the right places.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Contrasted with his other two, solo novels, An Abundance of Katherines is a romantic comedy, about a child prodigy trying to grow up into a genius.  It also involves a road trip and a fabulous supporting character in Hassan.  And if you like footnotes, trust me that this book is for you.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

I read this before I had seen the Miyazaki movie, and I remember that this one had a more coherent, if complicated, plot.  Re-reading it proves that this is mostly true, but it shares more similarities with the film than I would have guessed.

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Explaining why I like Looking for Alaska so much involves one of the books main themes- “I go to seek a Great Perhaps”- and the fact that I first read it when I was fourteen.  The novel is about Miles, who goes to boarding school in order to find an adventure that he hadn’t found for himself in Florida.  He becomes the sort of person who drinks, smokes, plays pranks, has sex and forms friends nearly effortlessly.  And in all the weirdness of being fourteen and approaching high school, the events of Looking for Alaska represented my own Great Perhaps.  If you strip my sentimentality away, it’s still a sweet novel about love and loss.

Announcement: Costumes Series

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I’ve been thinking about doing a Costume-themed Series on the blog for awhile.  It’s not a secret that I love costume films.  Right now, I think every Wednesday I’ll post a movie and give some love to one (or more) of its costumes.

What would be awesome would be some suggestions!  What movies would you like to see?

Current Suggestions: The Fall (Blue Bandit’s costume), The Fountain (Queen Isabella), Moulin Rouge! (Dancers and Satine), Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth the Golden Age, Vanity Fair, Curse of the Golden Flower, Sleepy Hollow, Jodhaa Akbar, The Lord of the Rings, Stardust, Kingdom of Heaven, Ever After, Dangerous Beauty, Interview with a Vampire, Phantom of the Opera, To Catch a Thief

ETA: Alice in Wonderland, My Fair Lady, House of Flying Daggers, Across the Universe, The Age of Innocence, Black Swan, 8 1/2, Singin’ in the Rain, The Wizard of Oz

Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year!  Here’s hoping we all remember the words to “Auld Lang Syne” tonight,

and that blogging remains fun and interesting,

and the movies of 2011 are excellent.


Me and Orson Welles

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Directed by Richard Linklater (2008)

Starring: Zac Efron, Claire Danes, Christian McKay, Zoe Kazan, James Tupper, Leo Bill

This is like half of a good movie, which then meets up with some Coming of Age Male fantasy that I don’t really understand or feel like I have to. Me and Orson Welles is about Richard Samuels (Efron), a 17-year-old who is cast as Lucius in the Mercury Theater production of Julius Caesar.  The movie is awesome when it’s about the production and Orson Welles– Christian McKay is brilliant– but the movie is really terrible whenever Zac Efron’s involved.

Zac Efron is evidence ‘A’ that the Disney Acting School for Young Actors teaches bad habits.  Not only can he not deliver jokes very well or have chemistry with love-interest Sonja (Danes), but it’s really obvious that he doesn’t know how to sing correctly.  He has an okay voice, but it’s been trained to end every note on a high inflection, which makes him sound a) nasal and b) 21st century pop-style.

Strangely enough, part of the problem isn’t just Efron.  His character is a skeez in the script, at once annoying and rather misogynistic.  For one thing, he’s That Dick when he’s in class, around his rich family, talking to Sonja, et al.  He just lies and then acts innocent, and is pretty much a grade-A dick. He also throws out these old-time words like he should be pat on the head for remembering them, it’s so cute.

I’d even go so far as saying the film is misogynistic, where the men can place a bet on whether a woman will put out, but if she sleeps around she’s in the moral wrong.  That said, that comes from Richard’s perspective and I’ve already outlined why he’s a dick.

Sidenote: Here’s where I’m getting a Juvenile Fantasy vibe from, like here’s an older lady vying for some inexperienced Jailbait action. Naturally.  Danes, for her part, is a peach who’s just been given the wrong material.  Her character doesn’t have much to do besides talk about possibly meeting David O. Selznick and not have any chemistry with Richard.

Okay, so here’s where the movie did right: Christian McKay is awesome. He’s great as Orson Welles, and I’m kind of hoping someone is working on a Welles biopic screenplay so that he can play him in a better movie.  There are parts that are him directing the actors onstage and yelling at the band, and those were great.  If the movie had just been about preparing for opening night, sans Efron, it would have been great.

The opening night montage was really epic, actually, and got across what a game-changer this version of Caesar was.  I really liked Leo Bill as Norman Lloyd (he also played Darwin in The Fall), so I like him even more.  James Tupper really looks like Joseph Cotton, but I wish they had given him some voice training in order to sound like Cotton.  Would have anted up the film for me, I’m just saying.


(5) Short Reviews

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I saw a lot of movies this weekend that I really liked, but somehow I can’t seem to get any motivation for writing long-form about them.  However, the way I see it, I could always link back to this post if I ever get any real reviews out of the way.


Fairy Tale: A True Story

Which I remembered (sort of) from when I was little, but ended up enjoying a lot from it!  Still a good movie to watch, even as an adult, especially if you appreciate set design and art direction.


This came out in the summer and is directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the man who gave us the lovely Amelie. Speaking of, I mostly remember the criticism being disappointment that this wasn’t another Amelie, but I liked it a lot!  It was surprisingly funny and engaging and I liked the street family Bazil is adopted into.  They’re quirky in a Luna-Lovegood kind of way, which is the kind of quirk I like.  It’s a plot-centric revenge movie with a lot of cool imagery and weird scenes.



Oh geez, a midnight showing when I was already tired, of a movie I had already seen that I knew, going into it, would be very, very long.  However, I struggled through and somehow dozed off during all of the explosions anyway.  I had wanted to write a good piece on Inception over the summer, but couldn’t find anything to say other than “It’s really, really good guys!  Really!”  Then there was a brief period where I tried writing about it from a Jungian spin and gave up.  Sometime in the future, it will happen.

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

While I’ve done a Visual Films post on it and wished it would join the illustrious Criterion Collection–especially since it’s currently out of print–I’ve never done a proper review for The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. I love it for it’s strangeness and theatricality and sexual deviancy.  Helen Mirren and Michael Gambon are spectacular in it and I am envious of some of the costumes, which interacted with the set design.  However, on rewatch I started to dread seeing the final act.  There’s a lot of gruesomeness and cannibalism, sure, but there’s also a lot of Mirren’s character talking rather than doing much.  It’s very engaging the first time around, but I just wanted to get it over with by that point.


While it’s not the weekend anymore, I certainly got a great chance to see The Fountain with a quick question and answer portion afterward with producer Eric Watson.  The movie is really beautiful, and spread across its three timelines worked well.  The Fountain is able to hit that intersection of science fiction and fantasy and take off running, the genres trailing in its wake.  Watson was very cool and had very in-depth answers for questions which illuminated some of the creative roles a producer accomplishes while working on a movie.  Also, the enlightenment that Brad Pitt can be kind of a dick with roles.


Let’s Take it Easy

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This week has been really hard y’all.  I mean, really. Fucking. Hard.  Two essays and a website with a dash of art-group drama: that kind of hard.

So today is just going to be some nice pic-spam, a sort of shooting the breeze entry. It’s October!  That’s one of my most favorite months!  Time to start it out on a nice note.

Good things about This week:

I got a package in the mail.

It included the Lo Scarabeo Art Nouveau tarot deck;

To which I say: Gah!  So pretty.  Art Nouveau is experiencing something of a comeback right now, which I love.  It’s a lovely style and a Tarot deck is well suited to it.  I should also mention that I collect decks– I have a Rider-Waite, Halloween, King Arthur, and Gothic themed decks already.

The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh edited by Mark Roskill;

Apparently, it’s a bit hard to come by a good version of Van Gogh’s letters.  There is a Complete collection, which has every one of them, is in multiple volumes, complete with art work, but costs several hundred dollars.  For $10.20, and based on the reviews, the Roskill edition is the best for the most relevant letters and best organization.

and The Saddest Music in the World.

Which is a pretty awesome movie, but I will save my praise for the next episode of Some Cast it Hot.

Meanwhile, in Russian Lit class, we have been reading A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermentov.

A Hero of Our Time is the sort of novel about a sociopath that Bret Easton Ellis wish he could write.  No one is at once creepy and sympathetic like Pechorin, who is able to exude charm and influence while at once acknowledging that he is a moral cripple.

Also, our book cover looks like this:

And if THAT isn’t awesome, I don’t know what is.  That is like, the best damn cover for a 19th Century Russian novel ever.  I defy the universe in finding a better one!

In related news, my life seems to becoming more and more Russian somehow.  I have Matroshka key doo-dads and Russian Ark is at the top of my netflix queue.  We’ll be watching Battleship Potemkin in film class next week.

I don’t know how to transition from that into this.

But here’s a picture of Cary Grant and a puppy.  YAY.

I have no idea what’s more adorable in this picture, seriously.


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