Archive for January, 2011

January 31, 2011

The King and I


The King’s Speech, produced and distributed by the Weinsteins, is yet another film that will have perceptive audience members whispering, “I’ve seen this before.”  It seems that the overwhelming majority of movies today, even those of the so-called “indie” scene, follow an ample of amount of rules in regards to casting, pacing, and familiar plot lines.  The King’s Speech features a protagonist facing a daunting challenge that he must overcome.  He has a strong-for-her-time wife who employs an unorthodox specialist to help out.  Despite failures, frustrations, questions about the strange methods of the hired help, declarations of giving up, and mounting pressure, the protagonist turns out just fine in the end.  Run-time: 118 minutes.

Emerging as an Academy Award front-runner, The King’s Speech features the biggest British stars-Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush, and Guy Pierce-giving some of their biggest performances.  Though I favor Bridges this year, should Firth win the Best Actor Oscar, I doubt I’ll find myself shattering my coffee table with a sledgehammer before the exit cue music begins to roll.  He is masterful in this work and we all know that when actors undertake roles of characters that possess some kind of physical or mental handicap, mounted and molded gold will almost invariably find itself on said actor’s mantle.

However, Firth would earn the trophy for hatching the truly endearing aspect of this film for the viewer’s eyes.  Perhaps the reason this piece is gaining such critical and mass acclaim, even with all of the rehashed, hackneyed ploys to make it appealing, is that it is about all of us.  Be it a king, a president (I noticed an ironic correlation between the unfortunate King’s forced pauses and FDR’s rehearsed ones, both creating a dramatic effect), or any person propped up on a pedestal, the theme of this movie is that we all share the traits, experiences, and challenges of simply being human.  The best moments in the movie are when “Bertie” (Firth) and Lionel (I also wouldn’t be floored if Rush won too) are together on screen, sharing their thoughts, feelings, and pasts with each other.  These scenes along with the climactic speech bring out the humanity in the King.  In many ways, Bertie is brought down to the level of the common man, but, most ironically, it is his bravery that makes him worthy of being called “Your Majesty” by Lionel in the film’s closing moments; this after Bertie recognizes he has a “friend” in Lionel, the first of his life.

I refuse to put a “spoiler alert” at the top of this column because if you’ve seen maybe ten movies in your life, little of this film’s outcome will be remotely surprising.  With that said, this film will entertain and have you rooting for it come Oscar night in a few weeks.  It explores the surprising lack of power a British monarch actually has, but in an effort to have watchers of the film relate to a king.  It even displays a king relating to one of us.  I’m not sure that many others besides Firth and Rush, regardless of their resumes and recognizable faces (“It’s a big-budget British movie, I guess they have to put these guys in it.”) could have pulled this off so well.

January 15, 2011

Pongbook: The Foreshadowing Metaphor in “The Social Network”


Pong was the first big video game.  When it hit the arcade in 1972 and infiltrated homes in 1975, it changed entertainment forever.  All you gamers out there need to close your eyes for a minute and try to think not about Black Ops, but instead picture two white rectangles throttling up and down a black screen attempting to strike a little white box back at the other (or just watch this).  That’s it.  Pong was the garage on the virtual street to XBox 360 and PS3.  Who knows where fun will go from here?

I just saw The Social Network the other day.  Though the film was terribly overrated, I couldn’t help but appreciate the editing job done in that film.  David Fincher and co. did admirable work cutting up and piecing together the scenes that pitted Mark Zuckerberg against multiple opponents in various lawsuits.  The emphasis placed on all that Zuckerberg had to overcome (or steal) to be crowned “The Youngest Billionaire in the World” is what keeps the plot moving.

Foreshadowing the battles Zuckerberg would find himself in was his development of “Face Mash” in the early goings of the movie.  He hacks into the various campus “facebooks” in the area, downloading and uploading pictures of locals onto a new website.  Viewers of Face Mash would simply look at two pictures of girls placed side-by-side.  Then they vote on who is more attractive, “Right” or “Left.”  This scene features quick cuts of college dorm buddies monosyllabically pontificating on their approval of some chicks over others.  With much tribute to Beavis and Butt-Head, they flip-flop laughingly, “Right…Left…Left…Right…Right,” and so on.  At one point, a female student sees the monitor and with a quiet anxiety marked by some disbelief says, “That’s my roommate.”

The game is a hit.  The traffic to the website actually crashes the Harvard network, finding Zuckerberg for the first of many times having to defend his actions against others in a chair in a room peopled by those claiming to be victims of his ruthless brilliance along with their lawyers.  This would be reminiscent of Face Mash itself-two girls going head-to-head (literally) against one another, unknowingly vying for an E-thumbs up on their level of physical beauty from guys that they likely don’t know and never will.

Like Pong, the allure of Face Mash is its simplicity.  Face Mash even looks like Pong.  However, what would be most complicated for Zuckerberg would be his own real-life game of Face Mash, except with millions of dollars being up for grabs as opposed to an unseen head-nod of recognition of hotness.  He goes up against both friends and enemies in the film and Face Mash not only foreshadows his battles, but also the emergence of Facebook.  The intuition and know-how he put into his Pong-like, primitive page, was a preview of his abilities that would reach an apex in the form of the website that shows no signs of slowing down on the street of possibilities in virtual entertainment.

January 12, 2011

The Emergence of “Perfection” – Aronofsky’s “Black Swan”


***Spoiler Alert***

Like the Brothers Coen, though with a mere emerging track record, Darren Aronofsky is buffing his way to “All-Time Great” stature in the little known Hall of Directors.  He has simply, continuously put out impressive, quality film after superb film.  Ever since his feature-length debut, Pi, he has garnered much due attention and praise for his efforts.  And that Academy may have to reward him with a statue in the coming months for his latest, Black Swan.  This release is the best film I have seen since Slumdog Millionaire and my only concern on Oscar Night will be that the Academy will continue their tradition of snubbing directors (The Coen Brothers (Yeah, I know, I’m up their collective ass), Martin Scorcese), actors (Jack Lemmon, Helen Mirren), and the like early in the careers, while rewarding them years later for good, but not comparable accomplishments.  This would be, as Thom Yorke might put it, “fuh-ucked up.”

The film is about a ballerina, Nina Sayers (incredibly portrayed by Natalie Portman), whose dream is to dance the lead in a performance at Lincoln Center.  She gets her chance with Swan Lake, but the pressures of performing at that level begin to have a drastic impact on her deteriorating mind.  Her director chooses her over the more naturally-talented, Lily, (easily Mila Kunis’ best performance in her youngish career) because he sees potential in her.  Thomas Leroy, the director, sticks with Nina throughout the rehearsals, despite his harsh criticism and the appearance that the show will inevitably fail if the lead doesn’t get her shit together.  Thomas does everything to get Nina to “let go” of, I guess, her inhibitions and somehow relegate much of her training into the rear view; he even makes sexual advances towards her, which becomes a source of great ambiguity through much of the film (viewers aren’t sure if he just wants to bang her or if it’s an unorthodox motivational tool).  Through suspicions of whoring herself out, Nina’s overbearing mother brings added weight by attempting to be nurturing and supportive, but falling far short as it becomes more apparent she’s simply a “stage mom,” trying to live her own dreams vicariously through her daughter.

The aspects of the film that obviously allow this piece to earn its reputation are the said ambiguity and varied motivations of the players, but too the layered internal conflict of Nina (as clearly symbolized by the duality of the incredibly challenging role she has been tasked to portray as both the White and Black Swan in the show), and, on a more aesthetic level, the performances of the actors themselves.  Due to her desire to have her daughter reach stardom, Erica Sayers has driven Nina to have her life completely revolve around everything ballet.  This is made evident in a quite a few places, like, when asked by Thomas if she has ever had a boyfriend, Nina replies, “A few, but nothing ever serious” and, earlier in the film, when viewers see Nina go through the ritual of breaking in her dancing slippers (wonderfully shot and cut by Aronofsky and co.).  So, Nina has never been able to “be a kid,” thus the struggle with her sexuality, her lack of a social life, and inability to aptly deal with this mountainous stress.

As the movie progressed over the course of a tensely grueling 108 minutes, I began to feel that one thing could easily be lost on the audience and critics because the film is so very dense, this being the fact that Aronofsky’s work is also very much about art itself.  The ballet production company and all included must constantly live up to the expectations of literally being the best in the entire world.  Thomas states as much when reminding Nina that he will be presenting her talents to the world as a means of upping her level of performance to unknown heights.  At one point in the film, Nina explains that Swan Lake, even with the tragic ending, is “beautiful.”  Viewers see no beauty in the lives of the people actually putting the show on and Nina, in modeling herself after the swan, commits suicide.  Sure, she takes this action because of a new awareness of the drudgery of her existence, but her dying words also indicate another reason for ending her life, along with Aronofsky’s theme.  Nina, everyone around her, and those before her too (personified by Beth Macintyre) have always striven for “perfection;” however, once that is attained, there is nothing left to live for.  Aronofsky is saying then that there is something admirable, even beautiful, in imperfection and humanity.  If art is a commentary on man, then it too should be flawed.

With all that said, I feel it is ironic that in the process of presenting this message, Aronofsky may have delivered a perfect film.  Pi was his first and provided a sound foundation, establishing his style and niche.  He gained big-time notoriety with Requiem for a Dream, but, for me and a lot of others, it was perhaps too intense (Despite absolutely loving that film, I have yet to see it a second time for fear of purging at its close.).  The under-appreciated The Fountain took forever to produce and it showed, as he dipped into murky, self-indulgent waters, while The Wrestler saw Aronofsky possibly go a tad too far in the other, easily-accessible direction.  With Black Swan, Aronofsky has put together a work that combines all he has learned from his previous experiences.  It’s tough to stomach at times, but certainly bearable.  It’s heavy, yet compact and comprehensive.  He may not be able to duplicate this again, so I hope to see him on stage soon, but in an expensive suit that will make Joan Rivers swoon, as opposed to a tutu.  We’ll reserve those for Bjork.

January 2, 2011

2010 in review


The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is on fire!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa has 296 steps to reach the top. This blog was viewed about 1,000 times in 2010. If those were steps, it would have climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa 3 times

 

In 2010, there were 13 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 19 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 497kb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was December 19th with 131 views. The most popular post that day was “Inception” X 13 = Quality + Quantity (Part I).

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, forum.rpg.net, mail.yahoo.com, en.wordpress.com, and astoriamusicandarts.org.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for wpeckepa.wordpress.com, walter peck was just doing his job, walterpeckwasjustdoinghisjob, “justin kirk”, and walter fight club.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

“Inception” X 13 = Quality + Quantity (Part I) December 2010
5 comments

2

Walter Peck Was Just Doing His Job October 2010
7 comments and 4 Likes on WordPress.com

3

“Inception” X 13 = Quality + Quantity (Part II) December 2010

4

Pitt vs. Norton: A Brutal Casting Call October 2010
10 comments

5

About October 2010
2 comments