Review: Forever Into Space

Forever Into Space (2015)fis_card

dir. Greg W. Locke

starring: Kelly Sebastian, Tyler Evan Rowe, Oliver Fetter, Julianna Pitt, Jaz Valentino

A film that’s more about a feeling. Shot in crisp black and white, Forever Into Space is a glimpse into the lives of over-educated and underemployed twenty-somethings in New York City.  It centers on Audrey Harrington (Kelly Sebastian) a writer/blogger trying to earn a living off her writing, and her struggling friends.  The film pays homage to other New York-set films and subtly answers the criticisms lobbed at millennials.  With a budget of less than $1000, Forever Into Space is no budget film-making at its best.

The first comparison that comes to mind is ClerksForever Into Space shines in the small moments, where the characters are just hanging out, occasionally waxing philosophically. There is an homage to the bridge scene in Manhattan that puts the focus on the speakers rather than the object of their conversation. Maybe that’s a generational difference?  Unlike Clerks, here there is an underlying tone of hunger and disappointment.  It takes place in 2013 and economic uncertainty permeates the film. These are people who did what they were supposed to, like go to college, move out, get a real job; but they are constantly told that they are entitled brats who expect everything for nothing.  That disconnect is the films’ slogan, “the have-to-do-it-yourself generation.” It can be a bit slow, but its authenticity and immediacy make it worth a watch.

Surrealist Sundays: Diary of a Chambermaid

photo credit: imdb

photo credit: imdb

Diary of a Chambermaid (1964)

dir. Luis Bunuel

starring: Jeanne Moreau, Michel Piccoli, Georges Geret

People are not as they appear to Celestine (Jeanne Moreau), the new chambermaid of a wealthy household.  Bunuel’s film balances satire, comedy, and drama with skill.  The film warns to be skeptical of institutions.  After all, they are run by humans.

The film begins with Celestine arriving at her new job.  She’s from the city, Paris, and now working out in the country.  Her fur trimmed coat and tattered stockings mark her as an outsider within the household.  The servants’ clothes are ill-fitting and layered, whereas the family wears tailored, rich fabrics.  As a chambermaid, Celestine is able to move within the upper and lower classes with ease.  Her outsider status makes her unpredictable.  Celestine’s origins cause the household to question her morals.  The lady of the house, Mme. Monteil, warns Celestine to stay away from her husband.  That is easy for Celestine because M. Monteil is a coward.

The first illusion that is shattered for Celestine, is that the man runs the house.  Mme Monteil is feared by her servants, she bullies her husband, she controls the finances, and is rumored to be frigid.  She’s just following her priest’s advice to have sex less than once a week and to not enjoy it.   M. Monteil blows off steam by hunting and watching, staring at, Celestine as she works.  He feebly attempts to hit on her, but she brushes him off.  It’s hard to believe that he initiated any of the affairs, when he hides in his room whenever he’s in the house.

The second illusion shattered is that of the kindly, old man.  Mme Monteil’s father is sweet to Celestine.  He shows her his scrapbook and he asks her to read to him.  He also asks to stroke her legs while she reads, and for her to model his wide selection of women’s shoes.  Celestine obliges and because the dirty old man trope is played for comedy, it’s funny.  While, the upper class exploit the lower class and blame them for the consequences, the lower class imitates but wraps it in the flag of justice.

Joseph (Georges Geret) represents the politically minded lower class.  He is a man of the people, who excludes immigrants, women, and other races from his perfect society.  He publishes a reactionary newspaper, but because he is the house snitch, it’s okay.  In other words, he is a hypocrite.  Joseph’s patriotism works effectively as a mask for his dark nature.

foot stompAt first it’s cruel and small, he chokes the geese before killing them; then he choking Claire, a daughter of another maid, and forces her to stare into his eyes.  However, it plays as a strange, symbolic action, and not as threatening as it sounds.  Celestine sees through his talk.  Unfortunately, she isn’t able to stop him from molesting and killing Claire.  Joseph’s patriotism makes him an unlikely killer to the police.  Celestine’s mission of revenge is thwarted because no one believes her.

The film ends on a downbeat.  Celestine is married to a rich man, but still wishing for revenge. Joseph runs a bistro and is seen as a good citizen.  Image is everything.

Two’s Days: The Raid and The Raid 2

The only way out of a maze is through it. The fictional Jakarta of The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2 is a grimy, dark, industrialized maze filled with its own minotaurs and dead ends.  To call it hyper-violent is an understatement.  There’s a fight scene with a hammer that bests the scene in Oldboy (the original).  The fight choreography is for a dirty street fight.  Bones crunch and blood gushes.  It’s fast and brutal.  It is also exhilarating to watch.  The man responsible for the lightning fast beatdowns is Iko Uwais, who stars and is also one of the fight choreographers.  He plays Rama, the good cop who must navigate his way out of an underworld full of mobsters and corrupt cops.

On a side note, it is not necessary to watch the films in order.  Although The Raid 2 begins right after The Raid: Redemption, references to the first are made but do not hinder understanding of the sequel.  It’s like Kill Bill.
After having watched the sequel before the first, the first felt like an action dessert.

The Raid: Redemption is about a SWAT team raid on a building controlled by a drug dealer.  It is mainly a set up for the extended action sequences, which are cool, but don’t forward the story that much.  The fight scenes are shot and edited with clarity, and an over-the-shoulder perspective of the good guys.  What it hints at, and what is developed more in the sequel, is the sense of being trapped in a thick web of corruption.

The Raid 2 begins shortly after the events of the first.  Rama must now hide out in prison until the mob forgets about him.  However, his release date is being delayed.  Good news, he can start building a case on the mob boss, since his son is in the same prison as Rama.  Bad news, his superiors want to know which cops are in the mob boss’ organization.  Rama could continue to hunt down and arrest the criminals, which seems to be a losing battle, or he could just join the mob.  They are like a hydra.  Instead, he tries to just get out.  It’s not easy in a world of constant shifting alliances and selfish criminals.  Although, the tone is tough and dark, The Raid 2 has some flair with the baddies.  There’s a leather-gloved mob lieutenant, who is vaguely reminiscent of Dr. Strangelove, and the lethal duo of Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man.

A real strength of both movies is that the feeling of climbing out of quicksand is expressed in the action scenes.  The extended action sequences in The Raid 2 contain their own dramatic story arcs and have larger consequences than say, Henchmen #4 gone.  Characters, alliances, and tone are firmly established from the first fight, which is Rama fighting his way out of a grimy bathroom stall. Seriously.

Recommend: Yes, mostly The Raid 2. Watch The Raid: Redemption if you still need an action fix.  You won’t regret it.

Surrealist Sundays: Belle de Jour

lace detail picture

Belle de Jour  (1967) is a Bunuel film about a woman coming of age.  The young female protagonist enters into a degrading relationship that she finds sexually liberating.

The film stars Catherine Deneuve as Severine, a comfortably middle-class, frigid wife.  Belle de Jour doesn’t look too closely at the motivations of Severine.  Granted, her life is dull.  She’s a housewife with no children and a boring social life.  She and her husband sleep in twin beds and are polite to each other.  But in her dreams, she is being ravaged by her husband.  He flings mud on her and ties her up.

Through the grapevine, she learns that one of her neighbors moonlights as a prostitute.  Severine is fascinated at the thought.  She then seeks out that brothel, but not without trepidation.  The madam accepts her flimsy cover story and gives her a stage name: “Belle de Jour”.  She then begins an affair with a possessive, younger man.  He threatens to kill her husband to be with her.  On top of that, her husband’s lascivious friend discovers her secret and threatens to tell her husband.

By leading this double life, she becomes a more affectionate and well-rounded person.  However, she feels guilty.  After her first day on the job, she burns the underwear she wore.  The dream world and the real world collide uncomfortably.  Her lover, Marcel, is the exact opposite of her husband.  The new person she is becoming clashes with her comfortable bourgeois life.  Her husband can’t or won’t reciprocate affection.

jewelry box close-up She chooses to work only during the day, between the hours of 2pm and 5pm.  These hours become the “witching hour”.  A funny episode in the middle of the film, is when Severine is propostioned by a man with a monocle.  He asks her to be in nothing but a black veil, while lying in a coffin.  It is the only time a dream world scenario plays out in the waking world, and it comes with shame.

We are ashamed to live our dreams and fantasies, women more so.  When her husband’s friend discovers her, he says he has lost all interest in her.  Before, he would leer at her and come on to her, but now that he knows she enjoys sex, he thinks she’s dirty.  He can’t wait to ruin her reputation.  The real world is harsh and full of hypocrites and shame.

Despite the dream sequences and ambiguously happy ending, the film’s politics feel dated.

Getting by in LaLa Land: Film Noirs set in Los Angeles

creative commons

creative commons

As seen in the movies, its most famous export, Los Angeles is the place where dreams go to die.  In contrast to the tough but aspirational New York City, Los Angeles is deadly and cynical.  It’s a city where the picturesque exteriors and the schemers within them make it the perfect location for film noirs.  Inspired by Michael Mann’s intense Collateral, I look at the Top 5 L.A. Noirs.  The movies on this list feature conflicts between dreamers and schemers, desperate fame seekers, and smoggy skylines.