Near Dark

This is a forgotten gem of a vampire movie. How do you become one? How do you survive once you are one? And best of all, is Edward right that vampires shimmer in the daylight? My tongue is firmly in my cheek as I write these questions.

Near Dark (1987)
R | 1h 34min | Action, Crime, Drama | 1988 (Peru)

A small-town farmer’s son reluctantly joins a traveling group of vampires after he is turned on by a beautiful drifter.
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writers: Kathryn Bigelow, Eric Red
Stars: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen

There is so much good to share about this film but really, I needed only two names to want to see it myself: Kathryn Bigelow and Bill Paxton. Bigelow directed this as her debut and she did a wonderful job. The camera angles, editing, acting, and overall tone all add up to a scary yet adventure filled film. Having recently seen “Detroit,” her latest endeavor and a very different themed film, I am struck by her ability to cross genres and make something highly entertaining in both.

Bill Paxton plays a very scary vampire. Something to note is the process vampires go through after they turn where they have to “feed” on human blood. It’s as psychological as it is physical. Oh and some may remember Jenny Wright, the actress that bites her lip so sexy in Pink Floy’d “The Wall,” she’s in this too. She is a vampire so she’s biting other peopl’s bodies this time. It was cool seeing here. She’s very mysterious and so far I like everything she’s done. The director, the actors, including a “beautiful drifter”

Elephant

I love movies where I feel like I am among the characters. This was certainly that sort of film. Gus Van Sant must have meant it that way in that there appears to be no agenda presented on how we can stop school shootings. But the shootings are there nonetheless. We track several students and a few teachers and parents going about their morning. Little is explained as everything the director wants us to see is merely shown. This was not an easy film to watch but I like how it allowed me to see inside a school shooting and draw my own conclusions. Nothing was shoved down my throat.

Elephant (2003)
R | 1h 21min | Crime, Drama, Thriller | 14 November 2003 (USA)

Several ordinary high school students go through their daily routine as two others prepare for something more malevolent.
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writer: Gus Van Sant
Stars: Elias McConnell, Alex Frost, Eric Deulen

I couldn’t give this film anything less than a 9/10 because it is so powerful and so halting. The director Gus Van Sant, who we know as the director of “Good Will Hunting,” has made a piece of art that shows us what a school shooting scenario looks like. This could be used in think tanks as official people look for solutions and ways to conduct preparation drills. It is just a little more than a blank canvas, we pour our own meaning into it.

The director shows us the shooters at home getting their semi-automatic rifle delivered and then practicing shooting in the garage with no parents at home. He shows the leader playing beautiful piano while the other surfs the web for more guns. But the movie shows plenty of ways and extended moments where armed teachers or staff could take out the killers. In other words, the point of view is not limited to conservative or liberal. Like I said, no solutions are given, it’s not meant that way. If interested you can look at my review of another Van Sant film that works the same way: not a case study just a case of a juvenile to look at. That film is Paranoid Park.

The actors are all unknown to me. I did recognize the drunk dad though he has a small part. I read that Van Sant made enough money off of directing “Good Will Hunting” that he could enjoy the freedom of making non-commercial films. Shouldn’t every successful director see it that way? He has given the world an amazing case to study and come up with its own individualized solutions. This film came out in 2003 and it is made to mirror Columbine. In the years since its release, we’ve suffered so many more school shootings it’s frightening.

Watch this film with high schoolers and ages up from there. It is not for kids younger than that. Have a conversation based on this film. It is an amazing piece. So, why did I give it a 9/10 and not a perfect score? Probably because it truly offers very little hope. I for one would have enjoyed it more if there were some. Perhaps I’m asking too much. My other 9 points I granted it say the rest. I recommend this film 9/10.

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Paranoid Park

It’s easy to judge young men who hang out at skateboard parks. “Get a job” we like to say and we look at them as children afraid to grow up, many times. But what about murder? The tragically hip youth of the millennials and Generation Y’s must come under scrutiny and judgement when murder is committed, mustn’t they?

Paranoid Park (2007)
R | 1h 25min | Crime, Drama, Mystery | 24 October 2007 (France)

A teenage skateboarder’s life begins to fray after he is involved in the accidental death of a security guard.
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writers: Gus Van Sant (screenplay), Blake Nelson (novel)
Stars: Gabe Nevins, Daniel Liu, Taylor Momsen

Gus Van Sant (“Good Will Hunting”) is our director here and he is doing what he is great at: simply showing us an average day-in-the-life of his protagonist. When he picks up his skateboard to take with him on his journey, we are taken with him. We follow him, taking notes in this mystery. As the detective starts to unravel the facts, you may guess who the killer is before anyone in the room. Or, you may just postpone your judgement, waiting to see some hint of emotion in the protagonist’s eyes that will reveal it for you. You’ll be waiting forever.

This young man is cold and not innocent. There is something about him I hate in myself: laziness and indifference. If you find yourself cheering for him, I would question why. The final act serves to seal the deal of what I am trying to say about him. In the end we are left with the question of how should we view such a person and are we all like him in some way, a way we must avoid? This was an engaging film. I don’t think I’d recommend it in a huge way but it has an amazing director and the characters are certainly developed, when they’re supposed to be. I gave this one an 8/10 for the interested crowd.

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Frigid

Frigid is a word to describe the girl in high school who won’t have sex with you. She always has other plans like her future, college, volunteering, a job. You might use the word to describe a wife that is never interested in sex. I don’t recall ever hearing this word used to describe men. I’m not sure why that is. Plenty of men don’t want to have sex. I’m not sure what you would describe them as.

As a closing thought, isn’t it strange how the frigid girls and wives usually end up the most successful? Maybe we put too much emphasis on sex.

Rumor that Makes Her Churn

Name that movie!

Churn is what you do when you know the whole school has an idea about you that is false. You also know something you said as a white lie in confidence to a friend got “leaked” and the rumor mill ran with it. You know as a rational person it will fade and the rumor will be fixed but for now, everywhere you walk on campus you think people are saying to themselves, “There’s that floozy.” What’s more, you’re still a virgin.

Life is Sweet

Mike Leigh is a different sort of cool director. As I watched this film I kept thinking, “Something’s different about this movie.” It’s certainly a great and entertaining drama comedy but there is one big “under the hood” aspect that really makes it special.

Life Is Sweet (1990)
R | 1h 43min | Comedy, Drama | December 1991 (USA)

A waitress, her cook husband, & their twin daughters ponder their lives over a few weeks in a working-class suburb north of London.
Director: Mike Leigh
Writer: Mike Leigh
Stars: Alison Steadman, Jim Broadbent, Claire Skinner

When Mike Leigh makes a film, he hires the cast without a script. From there, he pays the actors to improv with the basic story and develop their own script which is later used for the movie. This is organic and it promises to make the film more human and realistic I think. The film doesn’t have a twist and there is no notable escalating of action. It works perfectly as is.

Seeing Jim Broadbent in this recalls Harry Potter. He is so much younger in this though. All the actors in this went on to have hearty UK roles in TV shows and movies. If you like British media, this would be a walk down memory lane for you to see these actors in their youth. We learn lessons like one parent is often a better provider than the other and there may be something wrong with a twin sister that we didn’t realize as a result of her odd behavior. She’s not just stuck in post-adolescence.

In keeping with the style of organic writing, the script is just people living their lives. You pay more attention to their wallpaper as they talk than to clues to solve any mysteries, because there are none. You do experience people who love each other and do what it takes to keep the day to day going. Isn’t that what we’re all doing, if we’re lucky?

This film was very enjoyable and I give it an 8/10.

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Ep. 69 – American Splendor

I haven’t done a long written review on this one so I am posting the podcast I recorded. After picking this film based on its Metacritic score, I watched and learned of a unique talent in our times: Harvey Pekar (pronounced “Peek-are”). Listen to the episode below.

He was a comics artist who lived the artist’s life. I was hugely inspired by his story and specifically, Paul Giamatti’s portrayal of him in this film. I give it easily a 10/10 but be aware it is droll and sometimes very nerdy. In other words, it’s not for everyone. The film really touched me though and I talk about how at length in this episode. Thanks for listening, may Harvey Pekar rest in peace. My next film for commentary is “About Schmidt.” See you next time.

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Toxic

Toxic thinking can be when you dwell on things you have no control over for too long and perhaps too many times a day.

The trouble is that being responsible sometimes require you to have these thoughts so you can solve your problems. You can’t just become a complete hippie, ignoring these thoughts. To an extent they must be dealt with. For me the toxic point is when it starts to bring your mood down because that really doesn’t need to happen. Do the best you can and let the rest come what may.

Toxic also means deadly and I believe negative thoughts can kill us slowly, even quickly if allowed to grow ad thrive without check. Love the ones around you, whoever they may be because families take care of their own. One way to prevent thought toxicity is to love and empower those around you. For me that means my wife and kids, as well as some close friends. Learn what the things are that give you pleasure and happiness and do them. This also is an antidote for thought toxicity. Take on things that are solutions and that don’t contribute to the toxic stuff. Slowly, you’ll find you have ways to combat it.

We all have fears, not all of us are willing to take steps to conquer them.