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  After posting my quick look at what “The Big Lebowski” is really trying to say, I thought I would look at another Coen Brothers comedy, that is really more than just a comedy.  “Raising Arizona” was made early on in the Coen Brothers career, but it is just as poignant and powerful as most of their other work.

  On the surface, “Raising Arizona” is a comedy about an “ex-convict” who with his “ex-cop” wife, kidnap one of five babies, just birthed to the Arizona family.   Plain and simple.  Now, the theme behind this movie is a little more obvious than “The Big Lebowski”, but I usually feel a lot of the symbolism that illustrates this theme, can get lost on some. 

  So what is the theme?  “Being of an adult age, does not mean you are ready to operate in this world”.  Or maybe more simply, being an adult by age, does not make you an adult by nature.

   Like past articles, I will try not to go into too much and just hit the major points, be it in order or not.  This brings me to what I think is one of my favorite images in the film.  When Gale and Evelle Snoats (John Goodman and William Forsythe) break out of prison, we see them coming out of a muddy hole outside the prison grounds.  John Goodman’s head slowly pushes out of the pulsating mound that was made possible by torrential rains, as he screams with a face full of muddy slop sliding down.  When he fully emerges, he plunges his hand down the hole and pulls out his brother whom he holds by one leg upside down as they both scream and wail.  This is their birth unto the world.  This is two men, coming out of a womb.  And the shots resemble much of what you would see in a real birth as the baby cries as the doctor holds it upside down and slaps it.  Now of course that may not be what really happens in most of the world, but it is an image that everyone has seen or heard before.

  By the end of the movie, when Gale and Evelle figure that they just aren’t ready to be part of this world, they go back to the hole they came out of, which is now dried and caked over from the hot Arizona sun, as they climb back into their symbolic womb, because they just weren’t ready to deal with real life and the challenges it brings.

  Now moving to our main characters, H.I. and Edwina (Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter) who have decided that since, Edwina, who can not have a child of her own, will steal one of the Arizona Quintuplets, since the Arizona’s probably have too much to handle on their own, so they won’t really mind. 

  I want to be clear on one thing before we move forward.  While the actions of our protagonists is of course, something to be frowned upon, to put it lightly, they are truly at heart, decent people.  H.I. is a repeat offender when it comes to late night convenient store hold ups, but he would never hurt another human being, that is clear.  And it is funny, when he is trying to wrangle up the five Arizona children, as quiet as he can possibly be, as they mischievously crawl around their room.  Most interesting of all is when one baby crawls underneath the crib and H.I. grabs the babies leg to pull him out from the tight space; the baby laughing the whole time.  H.I.’s face, however, when he is being pulled out from under a car as he tried to escape from Bounty Hunter, Leonard Smalls; is one of pain and fear.

  The shot and placement of the baby being pulled from under the crib, and the one of  H.I. being pulled out from under the car are one in the same; H.I., is a child, who does things without thought of consequence or understanding of any kind.  While we have empathy for H.I., he is ultimately a bad man trying to snatch this child.  Leonard Smalls, is an evil man, and I would say the spiritual predecessor and similar character to that of Anton Chigurh of a more recent Coen Brothers film, “No Country for Old Men”.  While the Coens did not write the story of “No Country for Old Men”, it is obvious why they decided to make the film, after seeing Randall “Tex” Cobb as Leonard Smalls.  And now this purely evil man, is pulling H.I. out from under this car, as he tries to scurry away, attempting to save his life.

  Once Smalls pulls H.I. out, and pummels him a bit more, he grabs H.I. in a bear hug and tries to squeeze the life out of him.  With the small freedom he has with parts of his arms, H.I. flails out of pain and panic at the chest of Leonard Smalls, finally pulling aside part of Smalls’ vest to reveal a Woody Woodpecker tattoo.   A snide looking Woody at that.  The same exact Woody Woodpecker tattoo, that H.I. has.  These two men, were at one time, one in the same.  If  H.I. doesn’t change his ways, he will become Leonard Smalls.  And while this is a post about a movie that says, just because you are “grown up, doesn’t mean you are”, then what is Leonard Smalls.  Well, Leonard Smalls is the person that thought he was ready for the world and since he didn’t know enough when he was younger or more probably, wasn’t raised by someone who was ready for the world either; he became a monster.

  Man, I could just go on and on about this one, but this is meant to be a short run down, not a long one.  I know I missed plenty of other things to talk about and really didn’t wrap this one up with a bow.  But I think, if you watched this movie before, thinking it was just a comedy, take what you have read here and watch it again, and let me know what you think or see.  It is one movie that you can always watch whenever it is on.

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If you know me, you know I do not drink alcohol, at all.  So with that being said, you may have been confused if you happened to see me last night sitting at The City Winery on Varick street, for about 5 hours.  I was there with my girlfriend and some other friends to catch the NY premiere screening of the film “Blood Into Wine”.

The film, a documentary about the Arizona vineyard owned and run by Eric Glomski and Maynard James Keenan, had sold out in a flash once tickets went on sale.  Now I,  like a lot of the attendees, swooped up those tickets fast.  Not only to see the film, but also due to the promise of a special guest Q and A following the screening, which everyone expected to include, Maynard James Keenan, himself.

And yes, he was there...

But this is not a post about a Q and A with the man, the myth, the legend, etc. This is a film review, of one hell of a fantastic documentary.   In an echo of the introductory speech given before the film, by the now east coast distributor of the wines made at the Arizona Stronghold; It does not matter if you are interested in seeing and being a part of anything Maynard touches, it doesn’t matter if you are the world’s greatest wine enthusiast, it doesn’t matter if all you love is a summer blockbuster that is all about the explosions and special effects, and it doesn’t matter if you really don’t care about anything; this film will move you.
Very quickly, for those who don’t know, Maynard is the lead singer for the band Tool as well as the mind and creator of his ever evolving solo, vaudeville-esque side project, Puscifer.  Around 2003 he bought up land in Jerome, AZ and started his own winery with the help of experienced wine maker Eric Glomski.
The film chronicles the hardships and rewards of the entire wine making process from planting to bottling and in the case of these two men, how to market a wine from Arizona, to a country with the mindset that wine not made in Napa, Italy or France, for example, is not a quality product.
But when everything is over, this film is really about passion.  It didn’t have to be about wine, though some things a laymen or even a connoisseur, may learn about the history and or myths about wine is fascinating, it could have been about anything.   This is a film about two men who are doing something they truly love, that drives them, that makes them want to explore their worlds further.   It is something everyone should feel in their lives and even if you have not taken that journey yet, watching Eric and Maynard at what is one’s craft and one’s growing craft, will move you; will inspire you.
It should also be noted that if you think you are walking into a straight forward documentary, you are wrong.  This film three-quarters of a learning experience and one-quarter ingenious laugh fest.  I dare anyone to see this movie and tell me they did not crack up at least three times (more if you have a sense of humor).
Do yourself a favor, If there is a screening of this movie near you, go.  If there isn’t and you are not up to booking your own screening, go to the film’s website: http://www.bloodintowine.com/ where you can pre-order a copy for yourself, to be released on September 7th. You will not be sorry.
I would like to finish this short review by apologizing to Eric and Maynard for the collective group of drunken maniacs who did attend the screening along with me, my girlfriend, my friends and the handful of civil audience members who were there and thank them for the tremendous job they did, in handling the questions and the screaming freaks, kudos.

Thank you gentlemen

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  If you haven’t seen it somewhere on this blog already, I am a film snob.  This doesn’t mean I only like arty films that no one understands, it really just means that I take in a whole lot more than just the visceral side of films.  So I won’t like a film just because it is action pack or has a lot of cool special effects.  I pick movies apart.  A lot of people see movies as just entertainment as if the movie is not trying to say something, like a book would.  I completely disagree of course and unless I am watching a bad spoof movie, I always look for what a film is trying to tell me, you know; a theme.

  I think it is great that “The Big Lebowski” gets so much praise from the general public.  I am a huge Coen Brothers fan and like to see them do well.  However, the fact that “The Big Lebowski” is seen by most everyone as just some funny comedy about a stoner, bowling and missing toes, does bother me a bit.  I mean, they even have Lebowski fests, where rabid fans dress as their favorite characters and watch the move in a bowling alley and recite lines along with the movie; ala, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”.  I wonder if any of these people looked further into what this movie truly is about; The death of the ideal of the traditional Western/American hero.

  Before the film was completed, the Coens said, they were filming their Western and that is what “The Big Lebowski” is.  But of course, The Dude, is the new age cowboy.  There is a reason the film takes place in Los Angeles, there is a reason why there are so many Gulf War/Saddam Hussein references, there is a reason the film opens up with a tumbleweed through the desert and LA landscapes, there is a reason there is a mysterious stranger/cowboy that The Dude meets at bar, or should I say saloon.  These elements are not put in just for comedy, they all have a point.

  I’ll try to make this short and not sum up each little piece of the movie in a 50 page essay.  The point of the movie is that, once America was all about the cowboy, who would come and save our skins from some terrible force and then ride back off west into the sunset, of course more precisely into the western land, symbolizing the western hemisphere’s dominance in the world.  As times changed, we idolized our solders, fighting overseas to keep the world safe from communism and other threats to personal freedom.  But in the world of The Dude, these people are no longer worth being idolized.  Cowboys are long gone in the way they are seen in out eyes and our solders are off fighting for oil, not freedom.

  This is where The Dude comes in.  The new heros of our land are the common man, who will out of nothing more than a good conscience go and aid a man who looks poorly upon the common man, with his kidnapped wife.  The Man who will help out a woman, who is practically a complete stranger, (whom had a very large man punch you in the face) conceive a child.  The man who will still stand by a friend who constantly provides the common man with poor misguided advice that spirals him deeper into a Kafkaesque world of  absurdity.  The man who will take the time in the middle of all this ridiculous crap to hold up the promise of seeing his land lord’s, one man interpretive dance performance.  The Dude.

  But there is another message layered in here.  This is a story about how we have forgotten our past/bastardized it.  Driving his car after it is retrived from being stolen, The Dude finds out that it was a high school kid who stole his car, via some poor homework he discovers within the vehicle.  The Dudes friend Walter, informs The Dude that this kid’s father was the Creator and Author of over 150 episodes of the TV Western classic, “Branded”.  When they arrive at home of, Arthur Digby Sellars, they find him to be dying, encased in an iron lung.  So here, in front of these men, is a man that they view as a legend, a man who wrote about the great western period America, no matter how embellished it may have been and not only he is being kept alive by a massive contraption that breathes for him, but his son can not even write a passing grade worthy paper, on American History.  Our past is dying, if not already dead and we are letting it wither away.

  Of course though, The Dude himself, is not perfect and is, in his own way, guilty of warping the past.  When The Dude, meets the character or   The Stranger, he is treated to an old American Proverb.  Now, I don’t want to assume that everyone  in the world does not know what is being said, but from talking to people about this, I believe most people hear this, “Sometimes you eat the BAR and well sometimes, the BAR, well he eats you”.  Of course, the real saying has the word, BEAR, in place of the word Bar.  It is simply The Strangers accent that makes you hear it one way instead of the other.  And when it comes time for The Dude to use this saying himself, not only does he say BAR, but he can’t even complete the phrase.  Now, this is also there to illustrate this movement from an older hero to a new one, but it is still a bastardization of what, once was.

  There is so much more to go into when it comes to this movie, but as I said, I am trying to write a blog post not an essay.  If would love to discuss this further with anyone else and would hope everyone out there really digs deep into the true meanings of the movies they see.  I am sure I already made no sense in my condensed explanations of this particular movie, but hey, sometimes you eat the bar…

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  If you know me, you know of my love for, “The Mars Volta” and most, if not all of the work of the group’s songwriter, guitarist and conductor; Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. 

  His first film to see the light of day to anyone other than his friends, and third to be filmed, “The Sentimental Engine Slayer” had its U.S. debut this past week in NY, as an entry in The Tribeca Film Festival.

  Following the exploits of  Barlam, played by Rodriguez-Lopez himself, “The Sentinmental Engine Slayer” is the story of a young man, who is just trying to better his life.  In doing so though, he can’t help but just ruin things even more, for himself and his family.

  The film is told in a pieced apart, non-linear style that frankly would confuse mainstream audiences, however, the film never really gets as far out of hand as one might expect.  It is a valiant first effort, or third effort I guess, for Rodriguez-Lopez who shows tremendous promise in the category of being a film maker.  The film looks polished enough that if i told you it came out of a small independent film house, you wouldn’t think twice.  In reality, shot at the end of 2007, the film was made by Rodriguez-Lopez with the aid of his friends and family and nothing else.  Shot, only so he can learn about the process and experience it, the cast and credits roll looks similar to what would appear as someone’s, summer BBQ guest list. 

  Through-out the film I can pin-point two specific scenes, both featuring Rodriguez-Lopez’s, Barlam, with the character of Oscar, played by Nomar Rizo, that are absolutely fantastic and show off the true film making talent that rests inside Omar.  Beyond the fact of how well these small personal scenes were put together, along with the film as a whole, they illustrate what I found to be the biggest surprise watching this film.  Omar Rodriguez-Lopez also has acting chops.

  I am not getting ready to hand him a best actor award or anything, but I was really impressed by the job he did.  Maybe it is more because, as a fan of all his work, I know the type of over-energized and nervous personality Omar exerts on a day-to-day basis.  It is sort of the same feeling I get from Woody Harrelson.  Knowing how much of a space cadet Harrelson is in real life, even his goofy character of Woody, on “Cheers” is a triumph.  Even if you don’t know the typical Omar mannerisms compared to those of his character Barlam, he still turned in a solid performance that was noteworthy.

  As I stated earlier, “The Sentimental Engine Slayer” is not a film for everyone.  If you are looking for something different from the typical churned out Hollywood fare/you are a fan of Omar’s work, then I would suggest seeing it if you have the chance.  If something more family themed was your idea, you missed out, the fourth installment of Shrek was only showing during the opening night of the festival.

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  America is the land of double standards.  Everyone is guilty of it, I will not exclude myself.  I can be a huge hypocrite at times, I know it, but at least I can recognize it.

  I recently had a discussion with my brother, stemming from his refusal to watch Lars Von Trier’s, “Anti-Christ”.  Now for those of you who don’t know, “Anti-Christ” is a pretty controversial movie that came to light to a lot of people when it first premiered at the Cannes Film Festival a year ago, as well subsequent film festivals.  No one really cared to mention what the movie was about, just the fact that is contained very graphic genital mutilation and a few other very gory items.  At each screening there were walkouts; at the screening I was at, there was a couple behind me that  walked out before the actual gore started.  I was going to see the film no matter what was in it, I am a very big fan of Lars Von Treir’s work.  His film Europa, (which was called Zenropa when it was first released in America), is my favorite modern, foreign film.

  Anyway, as I was saying.  My brother refuses to watch the movie.  His refusal is based on more than just the gore, but my big problem was his love and adoration for Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds”, a film that contains multiple scenes of people being scalped, a 10 minute tommy gun massacre with blood spurting left and right, and the cous de gras; a very detailed, close-up and bloody graphic scene of a swastika being gorged into someone’s forehead.

   We live in a world where people are obsessed with “Saw” movies, only because they want to see what inventive way someone thought up for a person to be brutally murdered and where someone can sit though an hour watching stupid American’s party it up in Europe or some other overseas destination in a “Hostel” movie, just to get to the last half an hour of people being tortured.

    I am not saying there is no controversy around these movies either, but because they are made by hollywood hot shots and big budget movie houses that know how to market the worst of the world to the hungry blood craven audiences; they get a pass.  I remember reading someone’s comment on an article about “Anti-Christ” where some one said, “This is the reason I am scared to ride the subway.  Thinking I would be afraid to run into the type of person who would see a movie like this”.  I am not going to suspect this person watches any other  type of movie that might contain some sort of gore or violence toward another person that is cartoonish or overly menacing, but my god, I am all of a sudden a sadistic murderer in this person’s eyes, because I saw a movie.

   You don’t have to see “Anti-Christ” if you don’t want to and you don’t have to like it if you do see it.  But you can’t honestly tell me how horrible it is or how atrocious it is, if you haven’t seen it; especially if you rave to me about something that can be just as bad.  The fact of the matter is, while it may be horrible, the things that happen in “Anti-Christ” speak to the theme of the movie and are actually important to the plot and overall point of the film;  they are symbolic.  While the things that happen in “Inglorious Basterds” are pure sensationalism and nothing else.

   I really could go on and on about this, but I really have to get back to chopping up this hobo I coaxed into my apartment.  I hope he tastes better than the last one.

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