Saturday, November 16, 2013

Rebel Without a Cause

Rebel Without a Cause (1955) | dir. Nicholas Ray | 111 min.

Rebel Without a Cause was one of the biggest canonical films I kept putting off. I made the mistake of assuming that it would be a whole lot of “buzz off, Daddy-O” and other West Side Storyisms. And while I wasn’t entirely wrong it manages to go beyond that to make a great statement about the lack of communication and understanding between generations.

This is my first James Dean film and it’s completely understandable why he became such a star in such a short amount of time – he’s immensely watchable. Despite actually being twenty-five during filming, he perfectly captures the conflicted mind of a teenager. He understands the world better than his parents do, but also comes to find that he really doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does. He can’t find a solution to his problems any better than his parents; none of the kids can.

Parts of the film do seem dated. I’m sure the obvious homosexual tension between Plato and Jim was a lot more shocking in 1955, whereas today it’s more normalized. Plato’s unreciprocated crush is still sad, especially seeing him hanging around while Jim and Judy are crawling all over each other, but it’s not quite scandalous in this day and age.

In general the whole white suburban leather-jacket gang trope has gotten stale. It’s been reduced to more of a joke by Grease and Fonzie. But while the shock is gone it’s still a great piece of entertainment, and the themes of disaffected youth are universal. Not to mention the beautiful Cinemascope cinematography that gives a curve to the edges of the screen, adding a layer of distortion to the atmosphere.

It’s also fun for some of the little details. Seeing a 19-year old Dennis Hopper is a surreal experience. And Dean’s famous “you’re tearing me apart” line becomes unintentionally funnier in a world where The Room exists. To be fair, Tommy Wiseau’s impersonation is spot on; he just doesn’t have the suaveness or inner-turmoil to pull it off like Dean.

Score: 81 (Good)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Stella Maris

Stella Maris (1918) | dir. Marshall Neilan | 80 min.

Stella Maris (Mary Pickford, in one of her famous dual roles) is a young girl who, unable to walk, is kept bedridden by her aunt and uncle who lovingly shelter her from the evils of the world. A sign hangs above her door that reads “All unhappiness and world wisdom leave outside. Those without smiles need not enter. Stella is kept completely ignorant of the crime and poverty that surrounds her, and her visitors are tightly controlled so that they won’t spoil the fa├žade.

Another young girl, Unity (also Pickford), has grown up in an orphanage in the town outside Stella’s mansion. She is hired by Louise Risca (Marcia Manon), the alcoholic wife of journalist John Risca (Conway Tearle), to help out around the house. Louise is bitter and abusive, ultimately hospitalizing Unity after beating her. She is sent to prison for three years and in his guilt John adopts Unity.

At the same time, Stella undergoes surgery to allow her to walk again. It’s a success, although it takes three years for her to fully recover. John, a friend of her aunt and uncle, meets Stella and falls in love with her, but they’re unable to marry because of his marriage to Louise. Divorce is never mentioned as an option. 

I was a bit taken aback by what dire lives these characters live. Even though Stella comes from wealth, having been shrouded from the truth about the world sends her into a depression when she is finally able to walk and experience society for herself. It’s a horrifying prospect, not unlike the allegory of the cave, to be lied to for your entire life. She finds sanctuary in her love for John, but becomes suicidal when she learns he has a wife. She tells him “I no long pity the blind! All the ugliness of life is shut away from them.” 

Unity, coming from nothing, is ecstatic to be living with John, but can’t help falling in love with him. Unable to have him for herself she resolves to murder Louise so that he may at least be free to marry Stella.

It’s a dark, grimy world with an insidious tone and ramshackle scenery. Stella Maris a film that wrestles with whether ignorance truly is bliss, but ultimately it’s the evil in the world that reminds us of why love must be treasured.

Score: 76 (Good)

Monday, November 11, 2013

I Have Some Mean Things to Say about Sharknado

Rubbish. Garbage. Trash.
I would say “Manufactured Dreck” if the term “manufactured” didn’t imply some degree of effort.

Sharknado is the product of making a film based on a title. Its tagline is “Enough Said,” as if the absurdity of its concept is all it needs. It is born of the millennial wink-wink nudge-nudge irony where filmmakers feel obliged to let the audience know they’re in on the joke.

The acting is trash. The script is trash. The effects are trash. The directing is trash. The editing is trash. The lighting is trash. The sound design is trash. Trash. Trash Trash Trash.

The only compliment I can pay to it is that it is exactly what it sets out to be – inept in every conceivable manner.

There is no joy in Sharknado.

Burn it to the ground and spread the ashes in the sewers.