Weekly Scene(s): My Mom’s Favorites

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It’s late May, and that means Mother’s Day has come and gone. It also means that my mom just came to visit us (me and my boyfriend) in New York City, a raucous, joyful occasion. Clearly, those two facts mean that a blog post about my mom’s favorite movie scenes—and how they rubbed off on me—is in order!

I mention my dad a lot in relation to film, if not here than at least in my academic papers and personal writing on the subject. He introduced me to a great many genres and titles that have since become favorites of mine, and I treasure the notion that they will always have added meaning because they came from him.

But my mom has always been a major influence on me as well. Our sense of humor is almost perfectly in sync, and while she can’t appreciate horror or war films (see: My (Birth)Date With Hannibal Lecter), I have found myself in an uncontrollable fit of laughter with my mom all too often. And it is, and always will be, a joy!

So let’s dig deep into the scenes that make us, my mom and I, howl with laughter; those moments that bring us together in the way that only a mutual film-watching experience can. Continue reading

Review: ‘Song of the Sea’

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Had I caught Tomm Moore’s brilliant Song of the Sea when it was first released, it likely would have cracked my top ten films of the year. It stands alongside How to Train Your Dragon 2 as the most accomplished animated feature of last year, a triumph of elegant, emotional storytelling and gorgeous, CGI-enhanced hand-drawn imagery.

Sea, along with his slighter previous feature The Secret of Kells, mark Moore as a prodigious talent in this field of cinema. Both movies were deservedly nominated for the best animated feature Oscar, and though they lost out to bigger budget studio fare, they remind me in the best possible way of Ireland’s answer to the fantasy realms envisioned by Hayao Miyazaki.

There is a traditional quality to the storytelling that feels timeless: both Moore and Miyazaki emphasize cultural specificity over easily accessible humor or characterization, and their focus on environmental causes and deeply felt familial relations add another layer of sophistication. They are, perhaps, less child-friendly as a result; though there were many young kids in the theater when I finally saw Song of the Sea, I couldn’t help but feel that the more emotionally-stirring moments (and there are many) may have been lost on an audience focused more on visual splendor, something the film delivers in spades.

I suppose, then, that Song of the Sea is sort-of perfect as an animated feature which reads on multiple levels: as a brother-sister adventure tale, as a gorgeous and wondrous bedtime story, both nightmarish and dreamy, and as a story about mourning and what it takes for a child to grow into a young adult.  Continue reading

Weekly Scene: District 9

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In anxious anticipation of Chappie, I’d like to revisit Neill Blomkamp’s 2009 classic District 9.

This sci-fi drama is a thinly veiled cinematic representation of South African apartheid, with an insect-like alien species—referred to as “prawns”—substituted in as an undesirable “race” of citizens. After their spaceship stalls out of Johannesburg in 1982, the “prawns” are forced into a district of the city which quickly grows beyond its means, becoming a dirty, overrun shanty town.

The main action of the film involves Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley, stellar in his first film role), a goofy and nerdy employee of the Multinational United (MNU) Department of Alien Affairs who is assigned to lead a relocating endeavor for the “prawns.” While investigating a hut in District 9, Wikus is sprayed with an alien substance of some kind and, as the film progresses, he begins to transform into one of the “prawns.” Throughout this process he befriends two of the aliens, Christopher Johnson and his young child; Christopher claims that with his help they can reverse Wikus’s transformation and get the alien ship out of Johannesburg for good.

Interested? You should be. Continue reading

Weekly Scene: Airplane!

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I’ve set myself an impossible challenge: choose a scene from Airplane!, the film with easily the fastest joke rate I’ve ever encountered. When one clip contains at least five laugh-out-loud moments, you know it’ll be hard to pick which one works the best.

I also can’t believe it’s taken me this long to highlight one of my favorite films, what I would consider, along with Some Like It Hot, the best comedy of all time. The silliness is unsurpassed, the physical comedy unmatched, and all of it stamped with a signature wit. This is smartly stupid, laugh-a-second comedy at its best.

I was introduced to Airplane! by my mom, who has always had a stellar sense of humor—turns out her entire side of the family (the Ehrmans) loves the film, and if you’ve ever wanted to find a room full of people crying tears of joy, look no further. I don’t remember exactly when I watched Airplane! for the first time, but I do know that I was young enough that I did not “get” a good portion of the jokes. One of the beautiful thing about a film this referential, crass, and bawdy is that it shifts and changes constantly; every time I watch, I discover a new joke or reference to savor. Continue reading

Weekly Scene: Weekend

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What to say about Weekend? If Brokeback weren’t my de facto favorite film—for all the reasons I have shared here in previous posts—this one would swoop in and take the crown.

Far less well-known, this British indie flick directed by Andrew Haigh (before he got involved with HBO’s Looking) is a quiet, stirring, simmering pot of big beautiful emotions. It is also a two-hander; that is, the two main characters dominate the screen for almost the entire film, often for long stretches of very queer, very meaningful conversation.

Prior to Weekend, the queer cinema I had ingested was relatively chaste, hemmed in by Hollywood standards of production and the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) rating system which, no surprise, favors heterosexuality. Haigh’s low budget film did not have those concerns on its mind and, when I caught it freshman year at NYU, I was mesmerized, turned on, emotionally drained, and, quite simply, happy. Weekend represented for me an idealized form of queer cinema: erotic, intelligent, political, and deeply humanized.  Continue reading

Welcome One And All!

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Here it is as last! I’ve roped you into reading my film blog! No, you probably haven’t been anticipating it. And no, you may not even care what I have to say. But trust me, this baby has been gestating for a few solid years and I am a proud, proud papa.

Let me explain the name I’ve chosen…

I Wish I Knew How To Quit Film: that’s a lie, and hopefully you’ll appreciate the irony. It’s also, of course, a take on a famous quote adapted to film in Brokeback Mountain, my go-to favorite movie, and a flawed one at that. I credit Brokeback with spurring my interest in cinema as a true art form, one as susceptible to critique and our undivided attention as any great aria, Van Gogh, or concerto. I saw it for the first time in ninth grade alongside my mom and sister (more writing about that to come), and was instantly infatuated with its images of male-male desire. Less so director Ang Lee’s restraint, its evocative score, and the deep sadness pervading stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal’s performances.

Still, I carried the film with me through high school and into college at NYU. There, in my freshman year, I wrote an essay on the ways in which filmmakers and critics reinforced a homophobic and oddly romanticized attitude toward the film. I was forced to deal with some of the less-than-admirable qualities of the translation from short story to screen, including a severe reduction in homoeroticism (Lee commented at one point in the film’s press tour that it was far more erotic to watch men herding sheep than to watch them having sex) and a new emphasis on the hetero-home lives each man faces after coming down from Brokeback. From there on out, I critiqued and admired my favorite movie in equal measure. It somehow came out the other side wholly intact. Still my favorite and, taken to a sort-of extreme, worthy of tattooing on my leg, Brokeback Mountain hit me in the right place at the right time; I’m actually really happy I can’t seem to quit it.

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It seems fitting, then, that my first film blog should pay homage to Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, if only in title. The content, on the other hand, will be as diverse as the films I see.

For as long as I am able, I hope to use this space to write reviews, essays, and short musings of my own. I also sincerely hope that my blog can be a communal space; I’d relish contributions from other cinephiles, and comments from friends, family, and anyone else interested enough to care.

Film may be my obsession, but I am devoted to the notion that it is a populist art form: (relatively) accessible, interpretable by anyone, and, most importantly, a tool for camaraderie.

I’ll come back to that notion in a forthcoming post. For now, check out the scene (NSFW-language included) from Brokeback Mountain that gave my blog its title; it’s a doozy, but oh-so-wonderful!

And of course, thank you for reading. Feel free to subscribe for post updates and share as much and as often as you’d like.