Song of the Day: How You Like Me Now? (Performed by The Heavy)


Today has not been a good day to be an asthmatic.  Along with a high temperature in the triple digits, the air is full of all sorts of evil things that all seem to serve little purpose beyond inspiring me to reach for my inhaler. 

On a miserable day like this, it only seems appropriate to make one of my favorite songs of all time the song of the day.

Ever since I first heard it used in a commercial featuring a Sock Monkey taking a road trip to Las Vegas with his friends, the robot and the weird red thing, I have been in love with the song How You Like Me Now?  As performed by the British band The Heavy, How You Like Me Now is one of those songs that always makes me smile.  The easiest way to get me excited about seeing a film is to include this song in the film’s ad campaign.  Perhaps that explains why it’s shown up in trailers for everything from Faster to the Change-Up to the upcoming Ted.

For me, David O. Russell made perfect use of this song in his Oscar-nominated film The Fighter.  Who can forget the sight of Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg strutting through the streets of Lowell while this song played on the soundtrack?  It was an iconic scene, featuring an iconic song and I loved it.

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Snow White And The Huntsman”


Having proven yesterday how little I know about all things vampire with my review of Abraham Lincoln : Vampire Hunter, I figured I’d take a crack at another mythic genre, namely the fairy tale — or “folklore,” if you prefer — today. Why stop when you’re on a roll, right?

To be honest, though,  I guess what we’re here to talk about isn’t even “folklore” per se so much as the modern interpretation of a very popular piece of folklore indeed, since the film under our microscope this evening is first-time director Rupert Sanders’ Snow White And The Huntsman, the second “reimagining” of the Snow White legend to hit the screens this year following hot on the heels of Mirror, Mirror, and definitely the decidedly more “mature” of the two.

There were, frankly, a lot of reasons to be skeptical about this movie going in — Kristen Stewart sure isn’t my idea of perfect casting in the lead, for one thing — but on the whole, I actually walked out of this one pleasantly surprised. Not blown away, by any means — hell, not even bowled over — but it visually arresting enough and well-paced enough to sustain my interest throughout, even though the idea of Snow White as some kind of bad-ass warrior queen seems absurd to a guy like me who basically only knows the Disney version, and remembers it very faintly at that.

Sanders, who I understand got his start in music videos, definitely brings the kind of “these folks have a short attention span, so let’s not let up on the gas” attitude you’d expect from somebody fresh out of that milieu, and while he doesn’t really seem to be much of an actor’s director — Charlize Theron in given free reign to ham it up to the hilt with her interpretation of the evil Queen Ravenna, Chris Hemsworth is essentially just reprising his Thor role as the co-titular Hunstman, and Stewart does what she does “best,” namely look completely lost but somehow project an attitude that we’re supposed to think that’s “sexy,” and that we’re damn lucky she even inhabits the same planet as us mere mortals, as Snow White herself — but when he’s laying out a visual feast this scrumptious, I can live with a few of the ingredients being a bit sour and/or stale.

And what a feast it is! Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of liberal borrowing from the Tim Burton playbook going on here, particularly with little tricks like superimposing the heads of the likes of Bob Hoskins and Ian McShane onto CGI dwarves’ bodies, but Sanders’ overall vision of  the fantastic is considerably less color-saturated and joyful than Burton’s, and frankly a little edgier. When Burton goes “dark” or “morbid” he does so with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, while Sanders really seems to mean it — this shit is supposed be more than just a little bit intimidating.

In that sense, he’s probably closer to the original intent of the Brothers Grimm and their contemporaries than he may even have consciously been aiming for, since “fairy tales” weren’t just designed to keep the young’uns of years gone by entertained, but to scare the shit out of them by illustrating the consequences of what would happen if they didn’t do as they were told, as well. There’s irony, I suppose, in the fact that this film, clearly billed as an “adult” take on the Snow White legend, actually ends up being closer, in tone and spirit, to the original than the decidedly more “family-friendly” Mirror, Mirror, but it’s the kind of irony I can certainly get behind, especially when the end result, while ultimately as disposable as most any other summer blockbuster fare (notice how pretty much all my praise here is aimed solely at the film’s visual sensibility and nothing else — there’s good reason for that, as the story is essentially exactly the kind of  hollow, by-the-numbers modern Hollywood take on the proceedings that you’d expect), is this downright fascinating to look at. Beneath the surface, there’s not much of anything going on in Snow White And The Huntsman, to put things as kindly as possible —but the surface is so damn lush, cryptic, and enthralling that you won’t realize, or even care, that you’ve pretty much been had until well after you leave the theater.

‘Wings of Desire’ Review (dir. Wim Wenders, 1987)


 

I should probably start by saying that I’ve always had a strong personal connection to and love for films that explore human nature and existence. What it means to live, isolation, and the inter-connectivity of human beings and the strains between the physical and spiritual world are questions that have had the biggest impacts on me. This is probably why when I look back at my favorite films they are those directed by auteurs like Bergman and Kieslowski, who tackled these themes with such intimacy and beauty. I say this to remind you that I know what I like…so when I say “Wings of Desire”, after two viewings in one day, is probably my new favorite film, I do it without hyperbole. But be warned, like most intellectually challenging films, and those that connected with me on an emotional level more than anything, this review consists a whole lot of rambling and not so coherent thought.

I’d first like to just state that I truly believe that this is one of the most poetic and beautiful stories ever put to film. It is the tale of Damiel and Cassiel, two of many angels who have wandered earth since its beginning, bearing witness to its growth and the development of man. They are not the angels of the Christian faith, but rather those from poetry, more metaphorical and spiritual beings observing and acting as guardians. They can’t directly alter our fate but can often guide or comfort us in times of great pain. For example when Damiel finds a victim of a motorcycle accident lying on the curb, covered in blood, fearing his death as regrets start to surface, he comes to his side. To calm him Damiel places his hands upon the mans head and begins to recite beautiful memories and images. Suddenly the victim begins to do the same, his fear now replaced with a sort of tranquility, as if Damiel has helped him face death by making his life pass before him.

A great deal of the film follows Damiel and Cassiel through their usual routine of listening to the tortured thoughts of humans, helping those they can, and sharing with each other specific human thoughts or actions worth remembering. On this particular afternoon Damiel expresses to Cassiel his wanting to relinquish his immortality to become human. He explains that he has been on the outside looking in for too long. Now he yearns to live, to touch, to be hurt and most importantly to love. He wants to experience the importance of true existence when time and the acknowledgment of your morality creates a passion and joy for even the simplest things, like a hot drink on a cold day or rubbing your hands together to warm them up.

This desire to take on a human form is intensified when he begins to fall for a trapeze artist named Marion. He first encounters her in a local circus, gliding through the air on her swing dressed as an angel. Damiel’s fascination with her grows when the circus is shut down, and Marion falls into a sort of despair. She is alone, away from home, her dreams of being a great trapeze artist slipping. In this time Damiel visits her often, hoping that his presence helps her, while being spellbound by her beauty and how she handles her emotions.

Meanwhile, Cassiel begins to follow an elderly gentlemen named Homer, a professor and a poet, who has been unable to write, he has lost all motivation for his muse and storyteller are gone. The thing these characters share is afeeling of isolation and disconnection that mirrors the world around them. Marion loses her audience when the circus closes. She is now left alone, wanting to be loved. Homer explains how his listeners, once huddle together in groups with ears open are now scattered readers. This feeling of isolation and disconnect is made all the more poignant as it is set in West Berlin while a wall literally divided Germany. The two, along with most of the people we see our angels listening to, have thoughts filled with worry and sadness. They are missing something, we all are, but what? This is where Damiel and Marion’s eventual unity becomes very important. Offsetting them all is Peter Falk, playing himself, shooting a new film in the city. He displays a sort of passion in life that intrigues both Damiel and Cassiel. Falk cares about the simple things, even the most minor details and seemingly insignificant human moments. Here is a man that values every second of life, which gives Damiel all the more reason to want to share that experience.

On a technical level one of the films greatest achievements is how most of the film is devoid of color. It is meant to be the world seen through the eyes of the angels. Everything to them seems so plain, and all detail and color is lost. It is a bold choice, but one that not only works but when there is a transition to color when in a human perspective, the beauty, ecstasy and warmth of life is much more apparent. This imagery and cinematography, particularly the lighting, is all absolutely beautiful. This comes as no surprise given that it was done by Henri Alekan who did “The Beauty and the Beast” (1946) which is one of the most visually breathtaking black and white films ever made.

Perhaps my favorite things about the film is Bruno Ganz’s wonderful performance as Damiel. He has the face and presence of a man who has been around for a long time and doesn’t feel very much because he has seen and heard it all; yet he still expresses a sense of longing for life and love boiling under the surface. When he eventually takes a human form the joy he exudes is an absolute delight to watch. Right up there is another stand out performance by Peter Falk who sadly passed away last year. He plays himself, with that face and voice like no other, and is easily the most “human” character in the film.

Now under the surface of the beautiful imagery, the wonderful performances and poetic story there are many themes Wenders wishes to explore. What seems to come up most is how disconnected and divided we humans are, even though we live in a world filled with so much life and beauty. We are at times just too blind to see it. We aren’t angels yet we often look at the world as if it is in black and white. This divide seems to be present even amongst the world of angels as Damiel and Cassiel are both quite different; again these differences coming from ones ability to appreciate even the smallest of things. While Damiel is fascinated by life and drawn towards pleasure, Cassiel on the other hand seems drawn towards suffering. Cassiel spends numerous times thinking back to the war, seeing images and memories of the destruction. He seems almost haunted by these things which is why the idea of morality may not appeal to him. There is no joy in the life he sees, even though his own journal of human events contain moments of joy amongst the bad. He is conflicted, a feeling brilliantly displayed in one scene set during a Nick Cave concert. He is following Damiel who is searching for Marion. Cassiel stands behind the stage, eyes closed, as lights cast three moving shadows of him on the wall, like his fragmented soul is standing right before our eyes. What has he, a master of the spiritua world, not been able to find that Damiel has? The answer is an appreciation of the sensual, which for Damiel is represented by Marion.

But even she seems at times lost, asking questions such as “why am I me and why not you?” What is the cause of our individuality, why must we shut ourselves out to others? Why can’t we be one? What separates us? This is where Damiel’s relationship with Marion becomes not just a sentimental romance subplot, but an example of how unity and love are possible. If Damiel represents the spiritual, then Marion is the sensual, material world. The blending of the two, their love for one another, is what opens the door for more worldly love and a growing appreciation for life; and most importantly the binding of us all. It’s that connection to our spiritual, not just material, side that brings us true joy.

Of course this is only how I viewed the story. After my second viewing I spent a lot of time contemplating what it all meant, while also reading reviews and analysis from others. I always love reading how others personally view films such as this. Many came to similar conclusions as I did, and even those that viewed it differently seemed to share the same appreciation for it all as me. That isn’t to say some might not find it all overwhelming, especially when the pacing is slow and deliberate, though I personally never once found it dull.

So in the end, I think what I took away from the film is that the passion for and the celebration of life is what separates us from angels and connects us all. Our morality is perhaps the greatest gift we could have ever received. A gift we all share, and once we realize this and let sensuality and spirituality flow together than love and peace can conquer. It is this profound and beautiful notion that “Wings of Desire” delivers, set amongst a metaphysical and poetic tale of romance intertwined with political and philosophical questions and observations about human nature, connections, and existence that give it an emotional and intellectual state that few other films since perhaps those by Bergman and Bunuel have ever achieved. What is perhaps more astonishing is how it achieves this all without an ounce of pretentiousness. There are no manipulated or exaggerated claims by Wenders in an attempt to drive these themes home. He simply observes, in an often humorous and lighthearted manor, these universal fears, desires, questions and emotions; and it drew me in from beginning to end as I was mesmerized by everything on screen. It is because of all this that I say “Wings of Desire” is probably my new favorite film, and should be seen by anyone with a love for life and cinema.