Searching For Meaning

Contemplating the concept of existence leaves room for many questions. What does it mean to exist? Is there a difference between living and being alive? What is happiness? We can define what it means to be alive, at least in the scientific sense: we breathe to pump oxygen to our hearts; we consume nutrients to keep our bodies functioning. But, in order to define the existential state of living, we must go beyond this corporal aspect, something that may require personal will and enlightenment. You, the Living a Swedish film playing at Cornell Cinema this weekend, is a somewhat surrealist attempt to illustrate “the living,” people who are alive but who tread a fine line between dream and reality, between being alive and being something else altogether.

Lots of Love — Not a Lot of Reality

People with disabilities are portrayed quite callously in the movies: Cliff Robertson’s portrayal of Charlie Gordon in Charly, Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Arnie Grape in What’s Eating Gibert Grape?, Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump and Sean Penn’s less successful title character in I Am Sam. As Robert Downey Jr. also brashly points out in Tropic Thunder, playing a handicapped individual in a serious drama is a sure way to get an Oscar nomination. Not to say the above stated roles were in any way throwaway performances — quite the contrary. Still, it’s best to approach films with such a scenery-chewing centerpiece with caution.

No Photocopier Stomping Here

Ten years later, people everywhere are still quoting the sharp dialogue and witty one-liners of Mike Judge’s first feature length film, Office Space, but the only thing people in Ithaca may remember about their trip to the theater on Saturday to watch Judge’s newest flick, Extract, was how loud and excessive the two people in the middle row laughed throughout the entire film. Sure the movie had its funny moments, but none deserving more than a chuckle. Certainly not the hysterical laughter the middle row was providing them. No, Extract won’t go down in history as one of the worst movies ever, it will just become one of those “forgotten” movies that get subconsciously passed over in Blockbuster.

Coppola's Silver Screen Beauty Is Skin Deep

The horror … the horror. Lo and behold, famed director and screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola has laid an egg: he calls it Tetro. Carrying the tagline “Every family has a secret,” Tetro is Coppola’s second “amateur-again” film after Youth Without Youth. Tetro is Coppola giving himself second chance, his personal spurning of Hollywood and its fakeness, unoriginality … one could give Hollywood a bad name a thousand times over. At age 70, Coppola has left living room legends Apocalypse Now and The Godfather trilogy behind him, and has purposely regressed his budget with the intention of rediscovering what it is that made him apply to L.A. film school.

Talks the Talk, But …

Ah, the political biopic: so much opportunity, so much risk.
On the one hand, stories about the powerful offer us a chance to glimpse into the more glorious and grotesque aspects of the human soul — the determination, the fortitude, the vanity (there’s a reason Shakespeare wrote about Hamlet and Henry IV). On the flip side, these films necessarily address matters of public interest — and public record. Tell the tale poorly, and everyone will know.

'Whatever' is Right: New Allen Movie Disappoints

This article was originally published online on Jul. 8

The signature opening credit style is there, with the same white font on the same black screen, the same ragtime music playing over the names Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe. One can make out the comfortable old tropes, and one sometimes thinks one recognizes signs of life. But one is wrong. Whatever Works, the new Woody Allen movie starring Larry David, is the bleating deathpang of a towering auteur style gone stale, and a powerful argument that, if your choice for a leading role says he can’t act, you should believe him.

Learning Something From the French

The Class, directed by Lauren Calent and nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, has been called by critics “fierce, funny and moving,” a portrait of “conflict, tragedy and triumph.” All well and good, if you go in for that sort of thing. The Class is indeed a great film, but its particular greatness is obscured by its particular subgenre. Movies about young teachers trying to unite a class of underprivileged, ethnically diverse students are a bit like Slope Day acts — a new batch comes out every once in a while, and the audience reaches for the usual epithets. But what about when we get one we actually like? What then?