Import Fridays – Ricky


Ricky (2009, dir. Francois Ozon)

Starring Alexandra Lamy, Sergi Lopez, Melusine Mayance, Arthur Peyret

Ricky would be just another sappy, sentimental film if it weren’t for that opening scene. Where in the film’s chronology does it fall? The middle? The end? Both are completely plausible. The scene in question is one in which working class Katie (Lamy) is speaking to an off camera social worker about being unable to pay rent and care for her two children. Only when the end of the film is reached does the ambiguity of these scene truly surface.

The plot follows Katie who is raising a daughter and working in a chemical factory to make ends meet. One day, she meets new employee Paco (Lopez) and two begin a relationship and Katie ends up pregnant. Katie gives birth to a little boy, Ricky, and slowly but surely Paco makes a run for it when he gets scared. In the meantime, Katie and her daughter discover Ricky growing strange appendages out of his shoulders and finding ways out of his crib and onto the top of an unreachable dresser. Things develop in an odd way from there, ending with paparazzi chasing Katie and her miracle child around. The film has a touch of the bittersweet in its finale and, as I mentioned before about the film’s opening sequence, it can be seen as a downbeat film.

Ozon is balancing realism in his first half with fantasy in the second. It almost feels like two films, yet never loses a consistent style; an admirable achievement. The explanation behind Ricky’s special abilities is never explained and Ozon never shows an interest in explaining it. There are some hints: Paco’s unknown origins or the chemical factory where Katie works. But it doesn’t really matter WHY Ricky is the way he is, but that there is an unquestioning love between he and Katie. Sadly, the film doesn’t delve into this as deeply as it should and fails to earn its finale scene between Katie and Ricky. Overall, an intriguing film from a French director who is doing some stunning work in contemporary cinema.

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Director in Focus – New Director Poll

This month will be my last covering the films of director John Sayles. For my next director, I’d like the readers to choose. The poll will be open till the end of the month. Below are the choices and brief description of them:

Francois Ozon – French director specializing in films focused on female characters, sexuality plays a key role as well as the surreal. I have seen Swimming Pool and Ricky.

Pier Paolo Pasoloni – Italian poet and author whose films adapted great works of literature such as The Canterbury Tales and Oedipus Rex. I have never seen any of his films.

Claire Denis – French director who positions her actors in carefully intricate poses and shots, focus on sexuality in her work. I have seen Trouble Every Day.

Brian DePalma – American director who makes slightly surreal and highly stylized noir and thriller films. I have seen Phantom of the Paradise, Raising Cain, Mission: Impossible, and Mission to Mars.

Vote in the poll on the left side of the page. Excited to see who everyone picks.

Cinematic Television – The Comedies

In the last decade the ante has been upped on both network and cable television. While channels go the cheap route of “reality” tv, they have also worked to develop higher quality scripted series. These higher quality series have a lot more in common with film, than previous television programs. They employ complex cinematography, a higher caliber of acting, and a devotion on the part of viewers to following longform story arcs, not “done in one” stand alone episodes. We’ll be looking at some of these series that have really stood out for me, starting with

The Comedies


Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000, created by Judd Apatow and Paul Feig)
Starring Linda Cardellini, Jason Segal, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Busy Phillips, John Francis Daley, Samm Levine, Martin Starr, Joe Flaherty, Becky Ann Baker

This can be marked as the beginning of the Apatow movement in contemporary comedy. The series was broadcast by a less than enthused NBC, who seemed to go out of their way to air episodes out of order and move the series around the schedule without letting viewers know. The series gained a following when it was reran on Fox Family and then when it was released on DVD in the last few years. The premise follows the Weir sibling, Lindsay (the Freak) and Sam (the Geek) as they go through a year of changes in 1980. Lindsay, a straight-A student and member of the Math-letes, starts hanging out with a group of classic rock loving stoners, and Sam deals with his desire to lose his childish geek image and win the heart of his long time crush. Unlike other nostalgia based programming, there is no maudlin sentiment here. The emotions and resolutions to stories feel honest and real. Characters have parents who are incredibly flawed, and those flaws don’t go away at the end of the episode. One episode in particular deals with a cheating parent, the episode ends on a very ambiguous note. If you haven’t discovered this gem, I highly recommend you hunt it down.


Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000 – present, created by Larry David)
Starring Larry David, Cheryl Hines, Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman
Featuring Richard Lewis, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Bob Einstein, Shelly Berman, Vivica A. Fox, Wanda Sykes, J.B. Smoove, Paul Dooley, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, Jerry Seinfeld, Michael Richards, Kaitlin Olsen, Paul Mazursky, Richard Kind, Ben Stiller, Mel Brooks

If you enjoyed Seinfeld, then Curb Your Enthusiasm will blow your mind. The neurotic basis of George Costanza, Larry David, has created a series in which he plays himself as a buffoon constantly getting into awkward situations based on the misunderstanding of other or, more often than not, David’s own hang ups about minutiae. The series is one of the few to really capture improv comedy working right. A lot of comedies have followed since and don’t seem to have actors of the high level working in them that Curb does. A typical episode of Curb might involve Larry getting into an argument with a wheelchair bound man about using the handicapped toilet stall, followed by him inadvertently insulting a lesbian receptionist about she and her partner’s desire to adopt a Chinese baby. The jokes are never played as mocking these people, but rather comes from David’s desire to see all characters, regardless of their specificities, shown as jerks. He sees that people are more or less jerks when it comes down to it, and how he plays this out is hilarious.


Arrested Development (2003-2006, created by Mitchell Hurwitz)
Starring Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Portia de Rossi, Tony Hale, Michael Cera, Alia Shawkat, Jessica Walter, Jeffrey Tambor, David Cross, Ron Howard
Featuring Liza Minelli, Ed Begley, Jr., Henry Winkler, Mae Whitman, Judy Greer

There has never been a more complex, layered, and enjoyable comedy on network television than Arrested Development. From the moment it debuted, Fox seemed to have little interest in it, while viewers and critics loved the hell out of this show. The premise is that George Bluth, owner of the Bluth Corporation is arrested for violating trading laws and his son, Michael finds he’s now in charge of the company and the self-absorbed and moronic family around him. Every actor is bringing their A game here, and the casting is spot on. There are no other actors who could play this character so over the top and still be endearing. The series also incorporates a large number of cameos and employs many of the players from HBO’s Mr. Show (Cross was one of the creators of that skit comedy series). Since the cancellation of series, network television comedy has never seemed as promising to me. A featuring film continuing the adventures of the Bluth family is in the works and set to be released next year, here’s hoping it can live up to the series.


Eastbound and Down (2009 – present, created by Jody Hill)
Starring Danny McBride, Andrew Daly, John Hawkes, Katy Mixon, Ben Best, Jennifer Irwin
Featuring Will Ferrell, Craig Robinson

From the minds behind The Foot Fist Way and Observe & Report, comes this amazing HBO comedy series. Kenny Powers, a blatant parody of ignorant, racist Atlanta Brave John Rocker, is thrown out of Major League Baseball after being caught using steroids. He returns to his hometown in North Carolina where he becomes a substitute PE teacher at the same middle school his high school sweetheart works at. Kenny goes about abusing the hospitality of his brother and family, treating the middle school principal like a jerk, and ingesting an unhealthy amount of drugs. The highlight of the series comes when Kenny deals with local car dealer Ashley Schaeffer (Ferrell) which culminates in an insane pitching demonstration. The entire first season plays out like an extended movie, with a series finale that could serve as a perfect ending.


Bored to Death (2009 – present, created by Jonathan Ames)
Starring Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis, Ted Danson
Featuring Olivia Thirlby, Oliver Platt, John Hodgman, Bebe Neuwirth, Jenny Slate

This HBO series is a sort of comedic version of Paul Auster’s City of Glass novel. Schwartzman playing a writer named Jonathan Ames (meta, eh?), loses his girlfriend and out of boredom posts a craiglist ad as an unlicensed private eye. He begins to get cases and finds himself getting caught up in the fun of it. He typically incorporates his indie comic book artist friend (Galifiankis) and pot smoking boss (Danson) on the cases as well. The series has a much more muted sense of comedy than Eastbound and Down, one of the best aspects of HBO’s comedy programming. They do a very good job of balancing multiple styles, yet never lose their quality.

Jolly Good Thursdays – Peeping Tom


Peeping Tom (1960, dir. Michael Powell)

Starring Karlheinz Bohm, Moira Shearer, Anne Massey

Released the same year as Hitchock’s Psycho, critically panned in Britain, pulled from theaters after an incredibly short run, and reviled by its director, Michael Powell. Peeping Tom sounds like it should have been forgotten. However, the film was years ahead of its time and is a masterful piece of commentary on voyeurism and the film audience. Infamous for containing the first nudity in British cinema (a nude model’s bare breasts are glimpsed for a couple seconds), but is about much more than seedy exploitation.

Mark Lewis is film studio cameraman by day, with side job taking nudie pictures for a corner newsagent. What no one knows is ,that from time to time, Mark takes to the streets with his camera and films the faces of women he murders. This is the result of a psychologist father who experimented on the compulsion people have to gaze, or be a peeping tom, on his own son. He fetishistically films young Mark, waking him up in the middle of the night by tossing a lizard in his bed or making him listen to the sounds of women being murdered. Now, with Mark alone in the world he has been lost in the damaged inflicted on him. He befriends a young boarder in his large mansion and fights his urges to make her gaze into the camera.

Peeping Tom  has some very clever camera play, especially during the murders where we see everything through Mark’s camera. And it does a very effective job of getting across the seediness of the world Mark inhabits. At the photo shoot over the newsagent’s shop, one model complains that Mark needs to hide her bruises from the camera, while another is frightened of people seeing her harelip. Powell creates exterior, physical deformities to emphasize the corruption infesting Mark. Are these women truly this scarred? Or it a manifestation of Mark’s psychosis?

One of the most interesting aspects of the film is, that despite Powell’s dislike of the picture, he weaves himself so personally into it. He plays young Mark’s father in old reel to reel footage, cast his own son as young Mark, and his own wife as the body of Mark’s lifeless mother in a funeral scene. In addition, the most elaborate murder is performed on actress Moira Shearer, famous as the prima ballerina in The Red Shoes. Powell and Shearer reportedly could not stand each other, he viewed her as an “airhead”. The film Mark is working on involves a director struggling with a red-headed flighty actress he is having to do retakes of constantly. In addition, Shearer plays the younger actress’ stand-in and is presented as an aging actress on her way out. A rather cruel, yet clever, way of Powell addressing his own problems in cinema.

Hypothetical Film Festival #9 – The Luck of the Irish

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here is a film festival in celebration of the Irish people:


Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959, dir. Robert Stevenson)

Starring Sean Connery
A very overlooked Disney film that is absolutely amazing! Crazed ol’ Darby O’Gill claims to have seen and even stolen the gold of the Leprechauns. His daughter is embarrassed by his reputation as a crazy drunk. That is, until the day she sees the Leprechauns too. I remember loving this film as a child and being terrified out of my mind when the evil banshee makes her appearance. Darby O’Gill is notable for being the film that brought young Sean Connery to the attention of producer Robert Broccoli, who was having a difficult time of casting the role of James Bond in Dr. No.


In the Name of the Father (1993, dir. Jim Sheridan)

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite, Emma Thompson
Based on the true story of an thief in Northern Ireland who is wrongly accused of being part of an IRA bombing of a London pub. Gerry Conlon (Day-Lewis) and his friends are beaten into confessions and spend the next 15 years in prison, while on the outside, Gerry’s father (Postlethwaite) with their lawyer (Thompson) fight vigorously to free him. This is one of the great pieces of contemporary Irish cinema by one of the greatest Irish directors there has ever been.


The Magdalene Sisters (2002, dir. Peter Mullan)

Starring Anne-Marie Duff, Nora Jane Noone, Dorothy Duff
For almost 200 years, the Catholic Church ran the Magdalene Asylums throughout Ireland, where young women who had had sex out of wedlock, were working as prostitutes, or simply victims of rape were sent because they were “unclean”. This film focuses on three teenaged girls sent to one of these places where they are forced into slave labor through laundry work, one hundred percent of the profit being kept by the nuns that run the facility. This a heartbreaking film about the dehumanizing being done by religious institutions to people who already brutally victimized.


Breakfast on Pluto (2005, dir. Neil Jordan)

Starring Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea, Brendan Gleeson
This wonderful modern fairy tale, tells the story of Kitten Braden (Murphy), a young cross-dressing Irishman who goes on a picaresque journey through his homeland and onto London in a quest to find his long lost mother. This is one of the greatest achievements of prolific director Jordan, whose name is synonymous with Irish film. The picture touts a brilliant soundtrack of period music and some amazing visuals. Cillian Murphy is amazing and completely becomes his character, one of those few actors I do forget is in there when he is performing.


I Sell the Dead (2008, dir. Glenn McQuaid)

Starring Dominic Monaghan, Ron Perlman, Larry Fessenden, Angus Scrimm
A very overlooked picture that is both a comedy and mix of horror and sci-fi all wrapped up in an Irish package. Dominic Monaghan is a grave robber in the late 19th century whose partner finds a body they believe is a circus freak’s. To the modern audience we recognize it as an space alien. The alien body has the effect of resurrecting the dead and soon there are reports of zombies plaguing the countryside. This is not just a horror-comedy in name only, but a legitimately funny film that shows a real love for classic cult horror like Evil Dead.

Newbie Wednesday – The Men Who Stare At Goats


The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009, dir. Grant Heslov)

Starring Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Lang
If you remember the jokingly done reports in the media about prisoners of war in Iraq being exposed to Barney the Dinosaur’s “I Love You” song on a loop, then you have already heard of the writing of reporter Bob Wilton. In a mix of fantasy and reality we get this very suspect account of a secret unit of the U.S. Army, in operation since the Vietnam War. Director Heslov doesn’t deliver a film of any great magnitude, it has its moments, and we end up with a very quirky, very uneven comedy.
Bob Wilton is an Ann Arbor, MI reporter who ends up just outside of Iraq as the war is breaking out. Months earlier he interviewed an odd man who claimed to have been a psychic in the employ of the Army. By chance, Wilton runs in Lyn Cassady (Clooney), the man the interviewee claimed had been the best in their unit. Wilton and Lyn begin a strange journey across Iraq that ends with figures from Lyn’s past reappearing and culminating in an LSD fueled finale.
Jeff Bridges plays a ultra hippie, Bill Django, the founder of the New Earth Army, the unit devoted to using peace and love to combat enemy troops. A lot of these ideas won’t seem far fetched if you know anything about the experimentation the military has done on the paranormal for combat purposes. The film even brings up the infamous MKULTRA experiments done by the CIA on soldiers and civilians alike, where psychotropic drugs were added to water without the subjects’ knowledge and their reactions were recorded.
I never found myself laughing during this film, a few grins here and there, but was never really impressed with anything I saw. The film seems to not know what it wants to be: a satire of the army, a satire of the new age movement, a commentary on the absurdity of this current and all war. Because of this lack of a “thesis statement” the film seems to wander aimlessly with no point at the end. Coupled with very amateurish voice over (a big no-no unless you know how to do it right) and an original score that felt cheap, its a film that could easily be missed without regret.

Wild Card Tuesday – Hunger


Hunger (2008, dir. Steve McQueen)

Starring Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham
The fight between Catholic and Protestant sides in Northern Ireland has devastated that country since the late 1960s. Each side has visited monolithic brutality on the other in of the greatest displays of community inflicting such cruelty on itself. But the cruelty that was the worst, was that of employees of the British empire on IRA members imprisoned in facilities across the country. Director Steve McQueen never give support for the terrorist actions of the IRA, but advocates that all prisoners, regardless of their crimes, deserve humane treatment.
The film’s focus is real life IRA soldier Bobby Sands (Fassbender). While the film doesn’t explicitly cover his activities with the IRA, he was no saint. He helped ferry weapons for the movement and was involved in the bombing of a furniture store in 1976. The film chooses to portray Sands as a figure unwilling to budge an inch for the brutal authority crashing down around his head. In this effort he has allowed himself to become dehumanized. Simply put, he has been caged and treated like an animal, so he will behave like one. Sands smears the walls of his cell with his own feces, allows the daily meals to rot and mold in a corner, and funnels his bed pan (synchronized with the other prisoners) out into the hallway. Is it vile? Yes. But there something innate within us that despise authority that wishes to break us, so it comes off as bizarrely admirable.
Bobby’s most memorable, and final, triumph came when he began a hunger strike in 1981 which took his life after several painful months of starvation. Michael Fassbender destroyed his body through malnutrition to take on the gaunt, sunken appearance of a Holocaust victim. He become the specter of death with additional help from an incredibly talented makeup department. His back is covered in open sores, he’s unable to urinate for the prison doctor’s physical, and he stains his sheets with black, acrid blood. The moments before Sands passes are truly powerful. The film moves into his consciousness as hallucinations of his younger self appear and his mind travels back to long distance race where he and both Prot and Catholic youths ran together, in fields of golden amber. Director McQueen doesn’t want you to take the IRA’s side, he wants you to realize how irrelevant any side is, and simply see a man dying.
The aesthetic choice made by McQueen are magnificent. For the first 30 minutes of the film there is little or no dialogue. Only 50 minutes in is there an actual conversation between two people for extended amount of time. Here Sands and a priest from his community debate the point of standing in defiance of authority. The priest tells Sands he must submit to the uniform being enforced on the prisoners and Sands simply won’t budge. Once again, neither side wins in the debate. They simply come to the conclusion that neither of them will change their ideas about it. Hunger is one of the best examples of director using the language of cinema to tell a visceral and moving story. There is no maudlin sentimentality, yet there is a deep emotional core. Not for those lacking a strong constitution, but one of the most amazing British films I’ve ever seen.