26 July 2011

24. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Joel skips work, meets a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, the introverted, sensitive man's ultimate fantasy.

And then, a mystery. A big, ballsy skip in time. Elijah Wood shows up, asking weird questions, then Joel is crying in his car, Joel is doing pills. The audience asks: what's happening?

Minute 25 -- He learns about Lacuna, about Clem erasing him.

Act 2 -- He goes to Lacuna, decides to have it done to himself.

Fun and games -- He enters his own memories, and like lucid dreaming, he learns he can mess with things.

Elijah Wood starts dating Clem after her erasing. Fakes a meet cute.

In Joel's memory, we get some Act 2 badtimes: flashes of his memory of Clem: she drinks too much, he hides his feelings from her, they are incompatible. Parallel of them erasing his memory with their relationship and breakup.

Dunst obsessed with Wilkinson; Ruffalo obsessed with her.

After sifting through the bad stuff, Joel finds a few memories he likes, wants to keep: Charles River, under covers.

Midpoint: "I want to call this off!" The midpoint often involves a new problem the MC has to solve.

Joel and Clem have to outrun his memory now. Goes into childhood memories, loses Ruffalo and Dunst. They re-erase memories they already had gotten.

Joel, via Clem, decides to hide in humiliations. He's caught masturbating, for example.

Wilkinson comes over, Dunst quotes and then kisses him. This is a classic 2nd to 3rd act twist. His wife comes, sees them through the window, reveals that he already erased her memory of their relationship.

Dunst, devastated, finds her own tape, others.

We see how Clem and Joel really started. "So go." The movie fully embodies its theme: the fantast that you can go back and do things over, do them better, correct your mistakes, say the things you wish you'd said, do the things you wish you'd done.

The procedure is done, we repeat the original section, Joel and Clem in Montauk. This is the redo.

Dunst quits, makes a package for all their clients of their tapes. Joel and Clem listen to a tape, he kicks her out of his car. Vice versa happens. They decide to try again.


25. The Wizard of Oz

It's as archtypical of a hero's journey as you'll find, made unique by featuring a female protagonist and a classical Hollywood conservative renewal of our collective values: "there's no place like home", a message we needed after The Great Depression.

1. Ordinary world. Dorothy, an orphan, lives in Kansas, where she feels out of place. What's amazing about this part of movie is that it's a microcosm and a parallel to the later parts: the three workers on the farm rescue her and later become her companions in Oz, conflict with Miss Gluch/The Wicked Witch, and her balancing act on the fence is a metaphor for her adventures. Her desire for adventure is so strong, in fact, that it is manifested through song: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

2. Call to Adventure. Miss Gluch takes away her dog, so Dorothy runs away.

3. Rufusal of the Call. Professor Marvel, a mentor, tells her her journey is fraught with danger, and uses magic to show her that her Auntie Em is sick.

4. Meeting with the Mentor. She's already met with Professor Marvel, but immediately upon being swept away (the power of her emotions and desire for change and adventure have taken her all the way to a new world), she meets a new one: Glinda, the good witch, a new mentor for a new land. Glinda lays out the rules of the new world.

5. Crossing the first threshold. The storm takes her away from Kansas, the bland, black and white "home" she is tired of, and into Oz, a magical land that's even in color. This transition to color works wonders for two reasons: one, because it does come at an important structural point and two, because it is a technical showoff but in service of the story. It is similar to the steadicam shot in ROCKY, wherein Rocky runs up the steps of the museum and we circle around him, showing no dolly tracks. That worked because it signaled Rocky's accomplishment of conquering his loneliness -- he'd beaten the city -- and it also came at the end of act 2. So: if you want to show off, do it at an act break.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies. The Yellow Brick Road; The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion; the flying monkeys, The Wicked Witch and the Wizard.

7. Approach the Cave. They go "off to meet the Wizard", although it is never that easy. Toto escapes again, the Wicked Witch writes a warning in the sky, Guardians protect the Wizard's castle.

8. The Ordeal. The hero must face death and defy it. The Wicked Witch has Dorothy and her sidekicks tied up, and Dorothy simply throws water on her, melting her.

9. Reward. For killing the evil Witch, Dorothy gets her broomstick. She presents it to the Wizard, who is enraged at having his bluff called. Like he did before with Gulch's garden, Toto uproots the illusion of the Wizard's power. He's really an old man, not any more powerful than anyone else. And yet, he offers further rewards: a diploma, a medal, a heart. But these are placebos for their real desires. Fake it till you make it.

10. The Road Back. This is the third act. They prepare a hot air balloon. Because of Toto, is goes off without Dorothy. She is not yet ready to return, has not fully grasped her own lesson.

11. Resurrection. The Good Witch returns, tells her the secret of the ruby slippers.

12. Return with Elixir. She taps her heels, returns home. Whether or not it was "real", her elixir was the lesson she learned: "There's no place like home."


A framing device: "I killed Dietrichson." Did it for money and for a woman, and didn't end up with either. Like one of his other classics, SUNSET BOULEVARD, Wilder subverted classical cinema conventions by giving away the ending at the beginning and keeping us guessing about how it happened.

The movie begins when MacMurray meets Stanwyck and is instantly smitten. They flirt, talk insurance.

Minute 19 -- she wants life insurance on her husband, reveals a bad marriage. He realizes her ruse, tells her she's bad, knows she wants to kill her husband.

She comes to see him at his place, breaking the unspoken rules. He knew she would, they kiss. She admits he was right: she does want her husband dead. He agrees implicitly. They are deep in it now, point of no return, act 2 begins.

At the act break, we are back to the framing device, the Dictaphone. He continues telling his story:

"You're going to do it and I'm going to help you."

MacMurray explains the concept "double indemnity": there's a double payout on life insurance for certain accidents.

They meet in a grocery, discuss the contract. The plan is off due to a leg injury.

Minute 43 -- Gets offered a "desk job" as a claims man. It's back on -- he'll take the train.

Minute 47 -- Set piece, the murder. VO of all the plans and prep. CU on her face as the murder occurs.

The problems begin -- their getaway car won't start, a harbinger.

"It was the walk of a dead man." -- his boss is suspicious.

Keyes agrees they will have to pay the claim.

Minute 70 -- Keyes comes to visit, his suspicions as Stanwyck is about to arrive -- dramatic irony.

Kid reveals she suspects Stanwyck killed her birth mom too.

Keyes reveals the whole plot, doesn't suspect MacMurray -- man on the platform of the train. MacMurray goes into Keyes' office and finds out who he suspects.

Plans to kill her, revealed in VO. And vice versa.

She shoots him, grazes him. He shoots her back.

He finishes his VO, Keyes arrives, collapses. They share a moment.

This one is also notable for hardboiled dialogue and use of voiceover, the intricate yet economical plot, the foundations of noir tropes, and the overarching idea that lust is as powerful as any drug (especially in a repressed society), and can drive you to murder.


Opening image: the theatre, a playbill. We are in a fantasy, and we know our setting.

Rush needs a play to pay his debts. Goes to Shakespeare, who owes him one, but Shakespeare has writer's block, can't take the job.

Mentor -- his proto-therapist tried to help, gives him a bracelet which will allow him a muse.

Paltrow is a royal, suffocated by her status (think Rose in TITANIC), who wants real love, poetry, beauty. Not a glorified merger.

Shakespeare discovers his lady fucked by another dude, burns his play. He's single now.

Minute 22. Paltrow auditions, Shakespeare likes it, chases her: "Follow that boat", an update (a regression?) of that old trope "Follow that cab!"

Paltrow will bind boobs and wear a wig, an inversion of the male actors in Elizabethan theatre who would play women, since none were allowed as actors themselves.

Firth, the villain, getting set up with Paltrow as she and Shakespeare flirt, Firth threatens.

"Who's that?" "Nobody, he's the author."

The film's scenes mirror his play.

Paltrow is told she is to marry Firth, she's bummed. This is classic act 2 bad times.

Paltrow and Shakespeare in a boat. She's revealed finally to be herself, they fuck.

Midpoint: Queen reveals she's been fucked, Firth makes a bet. Burbage discovers Shakespeare's bracelet, a real swordfight breaks out during a rehearsal swordfight.

Act 2 bad times continue: Paltrow discovers he's married, real Marlowe is killed by Firth.

Minute 80: Shakespeare and Firth swordfight.

Whiff of death: Paltrow revealed as woman, theatre closed, play done. Burbage puts the play back on!

Act 3 -- Paltrow is married, the play day -- she returns, plays Juliet.

The Queen is at the performance, deems the play good, Firth loses bet.

Although the lovers cannot be together, their love lives on in a new play Shakespeare has begun writing.

This one is notable for some good plotting and parallels between a classical author's work and the work of fiction, and while I give them credit for sticking with the somewhat downbeat ending, I don't think it is one of the finest screenplays ever written.

30. Unforgiven

The reason this movie is so brilliant is because it works on two separate levels: the actual storyline of the movie, wherein a reformed killer in the Old West goes on a quest to murder two men who mutilated a prostitute; and the higher plane, where that storyline is used to shatter myths about an entire genre of entertainment, as well as an important period of time in our country's history.

Like any good classical Hollywood cinema, the catalyst moment happens within the first few minutes: two cowboys cut up a hooker. The hooker was new to it, and hadn't ever seen a flaccid penis, and laughed at it. Like another great western, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, this movie explores how the traditional American man mutes all his emotions to squeeze them into anger and rage. In this case, the john was embarrassed, and chose to show that through anger. And so he destroyed someone's face as a result.

This is a man's world, and the women are property, so the only result is that "Skinny gets some ponies?!"

And now we see William Munny. A stranger comes to town. He's "The Scofield Kid", and he's heard the legends of Munny, wants to partner with him to kill the men for the reward the hookers have started to rustle up.

Debate: Munny refuses, but the subtext is that he is not really a hog farmer at heart, and he also desperately needs the money. He goes and forms his posse with Freeman as act 2 begins.

Set piece: Richard Harris is English Bob. His scene serves to show the ways in which power is exhibited by violence during this time. It's also a setup about the main conflict in town, which is that the sheriff and his men are the only ones allowed guns, and anyone else will be beaten. English Bob shows power through his insults about the president and through his flaunting of his hidden guns; Hackman shows his power by stripping away Bob's through violence. By extension, he shows his power to the hookers, to get them to call off their reward.

Munny and Ned meet up with The Kid, who can't shoot. He's all talk. They near town.

English Bob is in jail, and his biographer, Beauchamp, is working on "The Duke of Death". The myths about the Old West were already around during that time due to men like Beauchamp. Little Bill dispels the myths. He's didactic about it, but we buy his exposition in dialogue, his almost aside to the audience, because he's deflating a foe's ego while talking to a naive character (Beauchamp is a surrogate for the audience -- we learn while he's learning).

Besides, in learning, we get a great suspense scene about how fast drawing isn't what it's cracked up to be. It's more important to be accurate. And more importantly, we learn that (especially if you aren't drunk), it is difficult for anyone to make the decision to kill a man. Even if that man is the only thing stopping you from getting out of jail.

Midpoint -- Beauchamp is now with Little Bill, at his house, his biographer now. Munny and posse arrive in Big Whiskey, their guns on them. Little Bill comes to strip them of their guns, beats Munny to a pulp as the other two escape.

The set piece detailing the killing of the first cowboy happens in a beautiful canyon, and there's nothing glamorous about it. Even though he's a villain in the movie, he didn't actually do anything to the girl (he was just the cutter's friend), and even brought an extra pony for her. In many ways, he's a victim. But he's got a price on his head, so he is sniped. But he doesn't die quickly, he dies slowly. He's crying for mercy, for help. He's thristy. He's human.

Ned gets nervous. He doesn't have the taste for killing anymore, leaves, is found by the lynch mob that forms after learning about the murder of the first man. Freeman is tortured and killed by Little Bill.

The second man, the one who actually did the cutting, is killed by The Scofield Kid while in the outhouse. Two things to consider: The Kid is jittery as hell while doing it, and he murders the man while he's taking a crap. And he's the one who's supposed to be a hero?

Eastwood is back to drinking, and no wonder. "It's a hell of thing killing a man. You take away all he's got, and all he's ever gonna have."

They get the reward money and learn that Ned's dead. Thus ends act 2.

In act three, all bets are off. Munny is drinking again, he's got a taste for killing again, and he's got a reason to kill now. He claims he "ain't like that no more" and that he mostly used to kill because he was a mean drunk, but now he's killing for revenge.

One brilliant thing about this movie is the arc of Eastwood's character: he seems a broken man, haunted by the weight of the wrong he did in the world, reformed due to the love of a good woman but shouldered with the burden of her death and his need to raise his kids as a single father. He seems old, tired, beaten, and we almost don't believe the stories Ned and The Kid tell about how he used to be a cold-blooded killer, a ruthless man.

But then he comes back to Big Whiskey. And kills everyone. Beauchamp is excited to see a real myth in action, an actual bad man. Now he's got something to write about that's better than his embellishments.

Think about the ways this movie shatters our illusions about the romance of the Old West and Westerns in any medium: angry, almost psychotic men ruled everything; people like the Scofield Kid bought into myths and tried to live them out; drunkeness was the cause of so much of the violence; being a fast draw didn't mean as much as we think it did; horses aren't that easy to ride; the game of telephone used to embellish the hooker's injuries ("cut her eyes out", etc.); a supposed gunslinger who needs glasses, of all things; blacks and Indians as real characters, instead of background or villains; the treatment of the killings of the "villains"; the uprooting of the kind of characters Eastwood himself used to play. All brilliant.

More troublesome, however, is how the movie literally puts women into those two demeaning camps: Madonna (Munny's wife, now dead, who reformed him, and is seen as an angel) or whore (the prostitutes, who disobey the man who owns them, who give out "free ones" in advance of the killings they ordered). This is a man's world, that much Eastwood and Peoples could not deconstruct.