Friday, February 27, 2009

Your mom's an architect...

It's been quiet around here -- too quiet. School unfortunately has a way of cutting into my movie-viewing time, but today it made up for that by presenting me with quite a lovely opportunity. I'm going to break here from my usual classic-movie theme to talk about a more current independent film, Happy Birthday, Harris Malden. Why? Well, because one of the actor/writer/director/producers went to my school, and today he and one of his buddies came by the Honors film series to show us their movie and were kind enough to stick around and talk to us afterward.

The movie centers around a man (named, if you can't guess, Harris Malden) who for much of his life has drawn his facial hair. In the shelter of his community on Franklin Street in Philadelphia, this is all well and good; there is a silent agreement among Harris' friends and neighbors to never, ever bring it up. It's left up to Harris' best friend, Paul, to keep him from venturing out of the neighborhood, but when Paul can't keep the outside world -- in the form of his obnoxious girlfriend, Susan -- from intruding on Franklin Street, Harris has the very existential crisis that Paul has spent his entire life trying to prevent.

This is not just a movie about a man and his mustache. I found a lot of different themes running through this movie -- truth, community, the nature of friendship -- but the one that I could relate to most was change. In one of my favorite scenes, Harris says to Paul's grandmother that he feels like he's still talking about the good times he's had in the past, while everyone else is trying to move forward. I think that this is something everyone goes through at some point; I certainly did when I went off to college, in between losing touch with old friends and making new ones. And that, in a nutshell, is why I enjoyed this movie so much. I'm a sucker for films that take a completely off-the-wall premise, and manage to say something meaningful with it.

Now, on to my post-movie experience. Ben Davidow and Eric Levy were both on hand to answer questions after the screening, and they had quite a few interesting things to say. Here's some of what I learned:

  • This film is independent in every sense of the word. The guys of Sweaty Robot did everything from pre-production to distribution. I happened to have caught this movie on a PBS affiliate from New York last weekend, and apparently that was their doing as well. They're trying to get on PBS stations in other major cities as well, so keep a look out.

  • Shooting took 20 days. In August. In Philadelphia. From what I gather, it was a little warm. The 'stache kept melting off, so instead of makeup in some scenes they had to use foam latex and glue. Due to budget issues, they had to start buying cheaper, thicker latex, which is why in some scenes the mustache looks 3-dimensional. Nick Gregario, who played Harris, is listed as the Foam Latex Mustache Engineer in the end credits.

  • For the most part they stuck to the script, but a few scenes were smooshed together and others were added after filming started. The scene between Harris and Grams that I mentioned above, for instance, was filmed when they had a spare minute in between shots of the birthday party.

    Many, many thanks to Ben and Eric for coming out and talking to us, and to the Rowan Honors Film Series for sponsoring this event.
  • Friday, February 13, 2009

    You'll do as I tell you, and if I tell you to lie you'll do that too...

    Screw Valentine's Day; the most interesting "holiday" this weekend was today, Friday the 13th. Since I'm not home to go see Rocky Horror and have no interest in viewing the latest slasher-movie remake, I thought I'd celebrate by finally posting something about the only horror movie I've seen lately that's actually earned the label.

    A lot of movies try to create suspense by using plot twists to keep the audience on its toes. Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte is one of the few movies I've seen use that technique successfully. Not only did this movie keep me guessing; it managed to do so in a way where everything still made perfect sense by the end of the film. Director Robert Aldrich strikes the right balance between presenting questions, leading the audience astray, and providing clues to the right answers anyway. Yes, there are plenty of opportunities to correctly guess how the story is going to play out, but these hints are so obfuscated by the madness entrenched in that old Southern house that I jumped from theory to theory several times before having my suspicions confirmed -- and there were parts of the solution that I never saw coming.

    Even the movie's unusual opening credit sequence brings the creepy. There's something about Bette Davis standing alone on a black screen, looking utterly devastated and vulnerable yet completely out of context, that's more than a little grotesque. It sets the tone beautifully for the rest of the movie.

    Hush... Hush is all at once a psychological thriller, a classic horror flick, and a whodunnit mystery that's consistently one step ahead of its audience. It's not a movie to watch while half-asleep on the couch; if the all-star cast doesn't command your attention, the intricate plot certainly will.

    Friday, February 6, 2009

    Superior Scribbler Award

    Many, many thanks to Sarah for honoring me. The rules are as follows.

    1. Name five other Superior Scribblers to receive this award.
    2. Link to the author and name of the blog that gave you the award.
    3. Display the award on your blog with this LINK which explains the award.
    4. Click on the award at the bottom of the link and add your name to the bottom of the list.
    5. Post the rules.

    I'd like to pass this on to Fletch, Carrie, Wendymoon, Stacia, and Ed, in the hopes that you will all click on those lovely little links and see these wonderful blogs for yourself.