I saw four films in October. Here is what I thought of them.
I saw four films in October. Here is what I thought of them.
Following up my reviews of Shopgirl and Chinatown for Movie Rob’s Genre Guestimation with a look at Hollywoodland. Hollywoodland is a pretty solid 2006 release that attempted to revive the Noir genre, and I don’t feel like it has gotten enough attention over the years, which is why I chose to highlight it today.
The film follows Louis Simo, played by Adrian Brody, as he is investigating the death of George Reeves, played by a pre-Batman Ben Affleck. As he digs deeper into the life of the television star, he is exposed to the ever-corrupt Hollywood movie scene and the greediness of people trying to make it big in the city of dreams. The film demonstrates that in Hollywood, not everyone’s dreams come true. George Reeves was given a starring role on a highly rated television show and yet he wanted more. He could not have more because once he was Superman that is who he would always be. He wanted to star in major motion pictures and he wanted to be a success. He could not have all of that though because the small success he had gained in the end turned into his ruined career.
As is true in Los Angeles and Hollywood, many people come to make it as big stars and few actually get the satisfaction of achieving this dream. Hollywoodland contrats the parties of movie stars and producers with darker sides of the city like police corruption. It suggests Hollywood is where dreamers come and more often than not they are severely disappointed. Reeves has found success but is then restricted by it, and in the end unhappy with the way his life has turned out. This is a true Hollywood story. It happens every day and it happened to Reeves.
The film pits Simo’s own stalling career and unhappy life against that of Reeves. He is a prime example of the classic jaded detective from a Noir film. He drinks too much, has a rough relationship with his loved ones, and struggles to find success. In the end though, Simo might actually have a more hopeful, if not happier ending than most detectives in the genre. It is the ending that makes this film feel very much like a “Hollywood film” in that it can’t quite commit to too harsh a finish for our main character. It has to leave a smidgen of hope for its audience to cling to, and in that respect it is very LA.
I love stories about LA. It’s one of the reasons I chose LA Films as the genre for Movie Rob’s Genre Guesstimation. I just reviewed the film I recommended Rob watch (Shopgirl) so today I thought I’d check in on a classic LA Film, Chinatown.
In Chinatown, Jake Gittes is investigating the murder of an official from the Water Company. During his investigation, he discovers a hidden plot by the company to cheat thousands of farmers out of water that was promised to them (among other devious truths). The story shows that there is corruption and deception in everything. In the movie, Gittes is left dealing with betrayal and disappointment. He has come from a tragic loss in his former job to have the same thing happen all over again. He tries to prevent someone from getting hurt and ends up making sure that’s exactly what happens. Jake gets pushed around in a web of intricate lies and it really is a sign of how corrupt Hollywood and Los Angeles were in the 1930s. It shows the darker side of LA history.
The cinematography and production design of Chinatown allow the audience to view what Los Angeles and the rest of Southern California looked like in the 30s and 40s. The buildings, cars, clothes, shops, etc. are all made to look and feel like Los Angeles in the past. It is shot on actual locations all around Los Angeles County so it really feels like you’re right there with the characters. It even has the racial segregation and dried up river.
In keeping with Noir tradition, the film delves deeper into the idea of disappointed hopes through the use of shadow effects, a femme fatale, and a broken down detective who is weary and searching for something better in a city gone to crime. Chinatown uses this style to show the desperation of some people to find hope in the city after everything has gone wrong for them. Gittes loses in the end. He’s watched an innocent die and come face to face with pure evil and watched it win in the end. Chinatown shows that in Los Angeles dreams die and people lie. It isn’t a pretty side of the city but it might be a more truthful one. Chinatown is both a classic Noir, and a classic LA Film.
I picked LA Films as my genre, which I thought was a fitting choice seeing as I’m an LA native, and love films based on, or set in Los Angeles. I also like that it can include films from other genres.
Rob also asked that I recommend a film from the genre. It was a bit tough thinking of something he hadn’t already seen, or reviewed but in the end I suggested Shopgirl. Based on a novel of the same name, written by Steve Martin, it is a romantic drama that tells the story of a young woman working and living in Los Angeles, and the relationships she develops with two very different men.
Now, I may be cheating a little but I wrote an essay on this story back in college, and I found it on my computer, so I thought I’d share an edited version of that as my review.
As I watched Shopgirl, a thought kept running through my mind. People have detached themselves from others in their attempts to get ahead and keep up with the demands of a rushed life. They bury themselves in finding material success and when it comes to emotional satisfaction they are at a loss at what to do. They get so caught up with the thought of making a name for themselves that they can no longer function efficiently in any sort of non-business relationship. The idea is greater magnified in large cities where people are surrounded by the pressure to be successful. Shopgirl is a perfect representation of this idea of loneliness in the big city. The main character, Mirabelle, is a symbol of those who come to Los Angeles to find great success and happiness and end up finding only marginal success and loneliness.
Mirabelle has come to California to be an artist but works at the glove counter in a high-end department store. She makes just better than minimum wage and she has close to no social life. She is surrounded by people and does not know how to reach out to anyone. Her friends are hardly worth keeping; they leave her stranded most of the time and her love life is almost as non-eventful. She begins a rocky relationship with Jeremy who is about her age but very immature. They have some odd interactions that usually end with Jeremy making a complete fool of himself. Mirabelle then begins a relationship with the much older Mr. Ray Porter. However, they both expect different things from the relationship and communication is not always perfect which hurts them both in the end.
These interactions that Mirabelle has with others demonstrate how, even though situations may be awkward, people will still put themselves in that position just to feel close to someone. Even within a large city that is full of life and people, sometimes there are those who are unable to connect with others. They have detached themselves so much that they have to create “accidents” or awkward situations just to be acknowledged and responded to. Loneliness is a major theme in Shopgirl and there is a perfect example of this idea when Mirabelle calls Jeremy at one point for the sole reason of going to bed with him in order to have him hold her afterwards. They go through with the act because they are both social outcasts who are so desperate for human touch that they will do almost anything.
Martin’s ability to capture the true thoughts and feelings of his characters is amazing. I think what makes this film so worthwhile is the complicity of the characters and their own epiphanies about their actions. After their relationship has ended Ray comes to realize what he did wrong with Mirabelle. He only wanted a part of her. She wanted more. She wanted to be loved and cared for and he only wanted what would satisfy him physically. Their relationship could only end in the way that it did because neither of them was truly honest with what they were searching for. Only after the fact do they realize how they have inevitably set themselves up for disappointment. In the same fashion as this discovery, Jeremy makes his own discovery about himself. He goes through a change while he is on the road. When he comes back, he has matured to the level that Mirabelle is at. He has reached a point where he and she want the same thing. Jeremy is finally able to give Mirabelle what she needs and in return he gets the companionship he is searching for. They are both able to give some of themselves in return for some part of each other. This adds a nice touch to the end of the story. Mirabelle has found someone to love who will love her back and Ray has realized that what he is searching for cannot be satisfied with meaningless physical relationships.
Shopgirl shows LA in an interesting light. It makes casual references to the sites and restaurants and streets that everyday LA inhabitants visit and it seems to praise them. Yet, at the same time it criticizes the materialism of the city and its people. It shows Mirabelle’s ease at going through her daily routine but contrasts that with her deep depression. It is contrasts Mirabelle, who is a shy wallflower with her coworker Lisa, who has completely taken advantage of the material side of LA.
Shopgirl is the story of finding yourself in a place that takes the opportunity for identity away. It is the story of finding connection when it seemed impossible. It is the story of learning and growing in a city that restricts and limits people to a certain lifestyle. Mirabelle has found happiness in the end because she has learned from her mistakes and Jeremy has grown up. Both have come to understand the need for human touch in a big city where the opportunity to connect with someone does not happen often. So often people forget that there are others who go through the same transitions and pains that they go through. There is always someone who knows what it is like to feel lost and lonely in such a foreign place.
Finally catching up on all the books I read throughout the summer.
I saw four Horror movies in September. Here’s what I thought of them.
Now that the second season of Mindhunter is finally out, I thought it appropriate to finally get my review of the first season up. Slight spoilers for season one ahead.
Mindhunter follows the development of the FBI’s theories and practices around identifying criminal psychology and profiling. In the first season agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench team up with psychologist Wendy Carr to study imprisoned serial killers and apply the knowledge they gain to ongoing and future cases.
It has taken me a long time to digest my thoughts and feelings on this show. I honestly can’t remember when I started watching it (I want to say March? Maybe February?), or when I actually finished the first season. What I did know immediately was that I really liked the show. I’m a David Fincher fan and there is so much of his style in the first season. As an executive producer, and director of several episodes (including the pilot and the finale), it makes sense that his artistry would be a big influence.
I think his touch is most noticeable in the way tension is built throughout the series. There is a deliberately slow pace to the episodes, and scenes are often drawn out uncomfortably long. Sometimes this was a little heavy handed, and took away from its intended effect by drawing attention to how long it was taking to setup a particular story element. Most of the time though it had just the right impact, making a character or scene feel creepier just by letting things sit in the moment.
Of course, it helps when a director has a great cast to work with, and everyone on the first season of Mindhunter is outstanding. I have been a fan of Holt McCallany ever since his CSI: Miami days, which I watched religiously for a time. He has always been a strong supporting presence and it was great to see him get a chance to shine in a larger role. He is the perfect no nonsense, straight man to Jonathan Groff’s eagerly enthusiastic Agent Ford.
Groff, of course, is a standout for his portrayal of the younger agent. He is perfectly disaffected by the things they are hearing and learning in the interviews, and it isn’t until the end of the season, as he starts to have a panic attack at the realization that he has more in common with these killers than his coworkers, that he starts to worry about this emotional disengagement.
Now forgive me but it took me incredibly too long to figure out that Anna Torv was not Cate Blanchett. Torv looks very much like the other actress and they both are incredibly talented so you can see why the confusion would occur. Torv as Wendy Carr is the clinical cog in this serial killer study machine. She, as an FBI outsider brings the scholarly aspect to the study. She may be just as emotionally removed from things as Agent Ford but that is because she comes from a scientific background. She also doesn’t interact with the interview subjects so I’m interested to see if that changes in season two, and if so how her attitude adjusts as a result.
A show about serial killers obviously needs some of them around, and the casting directors did an amazing job filling these roles. The most memorable of them being Cameron Britton as Ed Kemper (the co-ed killer). His Emmy nomination was well deserved. He is creepy the entire time.
As for the structure of the show, it is essentially a procedural format. The agents go to a town, give their lecture, and help the locals investigate a crime while interviewing the closest serial killer. The monotony is broken up by personal dramas and the effort to get funding and support for the project at the FBI.
Mindhunter season one is a moody investigation of criminal behavior, how it was viewed four decades ago, and the actors involved in shifting that viewpoint towards what we know today. The world was changing in the late 1970s and suddenly there were new trends appearing in crime and people didn’t know how to react. The show does a great job of immersing its viewers in the world of 1977 and reveals what a scary place and time it was to be. Great performances, excellent writing, and near perfect direction give the episodes an ominous feeling throughout, building tension all season until the audience feels like they too are having a panic attack alongside Agent Ford at the end.
This was a much more successful, and enjoyable experience of the Malcolm McDowell double feature I went to in June.
This film was a lot of fun to watch. The idea of H.G. Wells hunting Jack the Ripper is interesting enough on its own, adding in the time travel element kicks it up a notch. It was great to see these two characters react so differently to the new time period, and I thought both actors were good. McDowell was incredibly charming as the slightly bumbling but earnest Wells, and Warner was cool and calculating as Stevenson. Steenburgen was such a bright presence any time she was on screen and you could practically feel the chemistry between her and McDowell radiating off the screen.
Seeing McDowell as H.G. Wells was a fascinating experience because I’m so used to him in darker, more disturbing roles. Here he got to play innocent and earnest, and I have to say he was quite convincing on both accounts. I highly enjoyed the film, and was glad that it was the second of the double feature as it allowed me to end the night on a high note.
I saw five movies in July, all of which I really liked. Here is what I thought of them:
An interesting take on the Ted Bundy story, this was well acted and effective in its tone and messaging. Rather than focus on the crimes, this film is all about the trial and events surrounding Bundy’s captures. There is more emphasis put on the impact of these events on his girlfriend. This shift in focus allows for heartier performances from the two leads, Zac Efron and Lily Collins.
Both Efron and Collins give good, solid performances. Collins can sometimes lean toward the melodramatic but she is convincing as the emotionally abused, naive Liz Kendall. It is Efron, however, that steals every scene he is in. Obviously he is the focus of the film but he deserves the credit. He is egotistical but charming, and he is incredibly delusional. Efron fully immersed himself in this role, and the result is a captivating performance that carries the film.
While the performances are good, the pacing doesn’t always work. Whereas The Deliberate Stranger did a thorough if not necessarily exciting job of laying out a detailed timeline of Bundy’s attacks, this film jumps around to try and hit certain “highlights,” so to speak. It plays more with style rather than paying detailed attention to accuracy. As such, it is an interesting experience in entertainment but not as any sort of historical commentary. The editing choices were also a bit odd at times. Again, I think this was a style choice that ended up making some things a bit hard to follow, if not pretty or interesting to look at.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the film are the reactions from people during Bundy’s trial, and his “celebrity” status. The film doesn’t shy away from casting Efron as Bundy in a good light but it also makes a point to contrast his charming personality with the violence of his behavior. Thus when his fans show up at the trial, they are not presented in a flattering manner.
Despite some pacing and editing issues, as a performance piece, and commentary on murder obsession culture, I thought the film was effective and insightful.