Friday, January 29, 2010

The Maid (La Nana) - Alyson Hill

What a bizarre idea it is to pay someone to live with you, get up before you, cook all your meals, clean every nook and cranny of your house, take care of your children and to essentially inhabit your life in lieu of their own. This is one of many observations one is led to make while watching Sebasti├ín Silva’s “The Maid,” a darkly humorous character study opening today at The Loft. The film centers upon Raquel (Catalina Saavedra), who has worked as a maid for the Valdez family for the entirety of her adult life. Raquel is humble and dedicated, so much so that she regularly powers through migraine headaches in order to bring everyone else breakfast in bed and vacuum underneath armchair cushions. Seemingly without reason, she adores Lucas, the older Valdez boy, and hates Camila, the daughter, both of whom she has known since their birth.

At the film’s opening, we see that Raquel has worked herself into a state of extreme stress and fatigue. Though the Valdez family loves her and treats her as one of their own, Raquel seems to be perpetually striving to meet impossibly high standards to which nobody holds her. When Raquel’s behavior starts to become somewhat unhinged, Mrs. Valdez doesn’t dream of firing her — she could no more fire Raquel than she could “fire” her mother — but instead hires another maid, a young woman from Peru named Mercedes, to help out. Raquel is horrified and schemes to sabotage the whole arrangement. At first, her behavior is inexplicable and perversely funny, but watching her interact with one maid, then another and another, one gradually begins to understand: Raquel isn’t dedicated — she’s obsessive. She isn’t mean — she’s painfully awkward. And really, if you had lived a life of drudgery and isolation like she has, wouldn’t you be too? Raquel is like a real-life Cinderella, emotionally stunted and fiercely protective of her work, as it’s the only thing that makes her feel like she belongs.



“The Maid” has been winning awards left and right, it seems, and understandably so. But, to be frank, this stark, digitally shot film doesn’t really do much to entice viewers. Like much other bare-bones indie fare, it is almost entirely devoid of music, with the exception of the original song “AyAyAyAy” by Pedro Piedra, which is currently (and rightfully) in the running for an Oscar nomination. Visually, its drabness underscores what life must feel like for someone in Raquel’s career field, and the many slightly-too-close-for-comfort shots effectively illustrate the claustrophobic state of mind such a life would put one in — but unfortunately, the very characteristics that make this film effective also limit its rewatchability. “The Maid” is certainly a good, thought-provoking, and well executed film with a very original story, but its hyper-realism, while appropriate, prevents it from being one that you’d necessarily want to watch time and again. If you’re hungry for some food for thought, you can catch it all week at The Loft.

Alyson Hill is a staff member and aspiring projectionist at The Loft Cinema. She has a B.A. in History, German Studies and Classics, which is all well and good, but she likes this movie stuff better and hopes her life continues to revolve indefinitely around funny, creative people and the bizarre and beautiful things they create. An incorrigible Anglophile, her favorite things include The Kinks, Tony Richardson and brown ales.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Serious Review - Alyson Hill

Anyone who has seen one of the Coen brothers' masterpieces -- "Fargo," "The Big Lebowski" or "No Country for Old Men" to name a few -- knows what to expect of their films: innovative and engrossing stories, gloriously idiosyncratic regular-guy type characters, and impeccable attention to detail with regard to cinematography, production design and music. And with somewhere in the neighborhood of one zillion films to their names now, it's safe to say you have most likely had the pleasure of taking in at least one, so when I tell you that "A Serious Man" is everything one has come to expect of a Coen film, I think you'll know what I mean.

This newest offering from the brothers Coen is about Larry Gopnik, a professor, husband and father who is trying desperately to be a real mensch as he watches his life slowly swirl the drain. His wife is leaving him for his smarmy colleague (played perfectly by Fred Melamed), a student is trying to blackmail him, he's in the middle of a property dispute with his neighbor -- and that's just the first twenty minutes. In a scene reminiscent of the family shouting matches from Portnoy's Complaint, Larry's daughter, Sarah, repeatedly complains that Uncle Arthur spends hours in the bathroom "draining his cyst" while Arthur protests that he will be out in a minute. There are many more humorous moments to be found in this film, most them quite dark; one finds oneself laughing not because one doesn't sympathize with this poor schmuck -- Michael Stuhlbarg is nothing if not sympathetic as Gopnik -- but because we have all shared those moments, moments so sublimely catastrophic they seem to have been bestowed on us by the hand of a wrathful god. If you can't relate to that -- if you've never, say, woken up a week before a major holiday to find a pipe burst in your wall and flooded your living room -- then this film may not be for you.

"A Serious Man" is, of course, more than just a dark comedy; it is a reflection on the cruelty of life, and the frustrations of trying to lead a righteous one. It's like a re-telling of the Biblical story of Job, but with no payoff and set against the backdrop of mid-'60s middle America. This sounds bleak, and it is. It's also rife with tension, anxiety, and dread, but the flawless execution of the film keeps it from being a downer. The production design is nothing short of sumptuous, with lush, muted interiors and sunny, pristine exteriors. The look of the film is stylized yet historically accurate; the costumes are "drab chic," if you will, with half the characters wearing fantastically ugly horn-rimmed glasses and the other half donning two types of plaid at the same time. Doctors light up cigarettes while dispensing medical advice, the kids are hooked on Jefferson Airplane, and everyone, it seems, is smoking the reefer. The sights of Hebrew school, rabbis and bar mitzvahs, and the sounds of Hebrew, Yiddish slang and music permeate every moment of "A Serious Man," richly enhancing the film's character, as well as making it clear that the story is about Jewish-American life just as much as it is about misfortune, frustration and religious doubt. As a goy, there isn't a whole lot I can say about that aspect of the film, but I will say that the Jewish and sixties imagery are intertwined in a way that is simply exquisite to take in, and the film is worth watching for the audio-visual feast alone.


"A Serious Man" probably wouldn't rate as the best Coen brothers film, but that's not saying much considering how many critically-acclaimed classics the two are responsible for. It is certainly among the best, though, a grim delight that contains too much to be fully appreciated in a single viewing. "A Serious Man" continues throughout this week at The Loft.


Alyson Hill is a staff member and aspiring projectionist at The Loft Cinema. She has a B.A. in History, German Studies and Classics, which is all well and good, but she likes this movie stuff better and hopes her life continues to revolve indefinitely around funny, creative people and the bizarre and beautiful things they create. An incorrigible Anglophile, her favorite things include The Kinks, Tony Richardson and brown ales.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Stranger in the Lobby - Peggy Springer


Tonight after

Watching wings of desire

At the loft

Which is about angels

And how they are all around

Us

I was waiting in the lobby for tim

And I was standing by kyle at the ticket booth

And a lady basically walked right up to me

And said are you waiting for your angel?

I said I wish

She said we all have one

And every nation has one

She went on to talk to me and ask me questions

Did I like the film

What did I like about it

Then she told me her version of what everything meant

And what the filmmaker meant with every detail, etc

Even though she fell asleep for part of the film!

She made some good points though

And she was very friendly

And I told her I’m a volunteer so I’m around a lot

So maybe I’d see her again

And she asked me did I see umbrellas of cherebourg

And I said yes and she went on to tell me

About all the symbolism

In that and what everything meant…..etc.

Great lady!

Her husband walked up to us at one point

And asked us if we wanted any red vines,

Which he was holding

She laughed and said no

And when he walked away she said, that’s my husband.


Peggy Springer volunteers at The Loft when not working at a local coffee shop. She loves to write, take pictures, read, and watch things on screen. Peggy is considering returning to school, and otherwise does her best to welcome whatever life throws her way. Check out the Volunteer Vignette written by her on this blog. If you're interested in volunteering at The Loft, please visit our website for more details.


Monday, January 18, 2010

For the Love of Woronov - Billups Allen

One of the most unique and underrated actors ever to grace the screen in cult and horror movies has a role in a new film by Ti West called House of the Devil. Mary Woronov has had an extensive film career that has hovered in relative obscurity. Her deep voice, stern disposition and vicious presence make her stand out in any film in which she appears. Devoid of any tomboyish charm, Woronov puts forth an angry female presence that reduces the men on the screen to a wormlike state. Her dominatrix-style of commanding authority is unprecedented tough and feminine. Even in a minor role as a stagehand, Woronov comes across as in command of the screen during her scenes. She is a commander, and has only ever been vexed on the screen by The Ramones.



Woronov’s film career began in Andy Warhol films. She was a key member in the Exploding Plastic Inevitable; a series of Warhol sponsored multi- media events that were also home to The Velvet Underground. Her filmography is extensive. Notably, she was a contender in the Roger Corman classic Death Race 2000. She was regularly seen in movies with the late, great 80s comedy writer Paul Bartel. Bartel’s charmingly spineless femininity made him the Akroid to her Belushi; Bartel and Woronov comprised a terrific team that culminated into one of her only leads in the underground classic Eating Raoul. Woronov is best known for her role as Principal Togar in Rock and Roll High School.

Woronov’s extensive work in movies and television includes few leads, but her time on the screen is always captivating. Her authoritative acting style makes her lingering obscurity one of the most questionable situations in film. Her appearance in House of the Devil begins with her emergence from a shadow into shadowy under lighting framing her face in a sinister grin. No doubt, she is shot like this because her appearance on the screen is an event. As a character actor, she rarely appears on the screen for more than a few minutes at a time, but her time on the screen can make an entire movie worthwhile. Woronov’s website promises the release of a documentary about her life to be released in 2010.




Now playing:
THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (Ti West, 2009, 93 mins., Not Rated)

Billups Allen's interest in writing began composing lyrics for the band Shoutbus and later for the band Corn on Macabre. Lyrical duties led to writing poetry and short stories. Several of his short stories were published in a book entitled Unfurnished published by Florida’s now defunct Schematics Records. Allen currently lives in Tucson, Arizona where he writes Cramhole comic zine, writes reviews for Razorcake Magazine and the Tucson Citizen and hosts a radio show called The Groove Tomb. www.billupsallen.com




Thursday, January 14, 2010

Revisiting Wings of Desire


Slate writer Jessica Winter recently reflected back on Wings of Desire upon its Criterion release. She wrote, "it's surprising how beautifully Wings of Desire holds up 20-plus years after its release..." Read the full article here.

Wings of Desire plays Sunday January 17th at 1:00 and Tuesday January 19th at 7:00 for free as part of The Loft's Essential Cinema series.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Deathstalker (1983)

James Sbardellati’s 1983 action film Deathstalker warrants further study since the movie brings into play a lot of interesting historical questions. Is there such a thing as a medieval thong? Were women in the Dark Ages in a perpetual state of being sexually assaulted? Was mud wrestling a pastime at this juncture of human history? (A Wikipedia entry claims that the “place and time of origin of mud wrestling is unknown.”) Conan the Barbarian (1982) paved the way for a number of sword and sorcery style fantasy movies. It is pretty apparent that the producers of Deathstalker were Schwarzenegger fans. A muscleman known as Deathstalker (Rick Hill) is charged to collect three objects that give a person absolute power, or something, it is a little vague exactly what the implications are.


An evil king is in position of one of these objects and Deathstalker collects a group of followers along the way, each possessing a necessary attribute for the mission. Someone must have realized that this follows the plot of the Conan movies too closely, because when they arrive at the king’s place, the plot changes course and becomes a sort of Enter the Dragon (1973) fight to the finish style competition. The competition sort of falls into anarchy as well, but what Deathstalker lacks in plot, it makes up for in gratuitous nudity. The nudity in Deathstalker is abundant to the point of being absurd; it becomes entertaining in its own right. Not just as titillation, but also in the arena of trying to imagine what advantage a Red Sonya type warrior-ess would have sword fighting with no shirt on. You would think some type of armor would be preferable, but I am not well versed in medieval history, so I can’t say for sure. Aside from (who are we kidding, in addition to) this, Deathstalker is pretty good fun in the vein of Conan. Among its positive attributes, a man with a pig head has a bigger role than in Return of the Jedi (1983), the evil king wears death metal inspired make up so you know he is evil, there are loads of randomly placed colored lights, angelic voices blare after every victory, and a fully clothed man gets turned into a scantily clad Barbi Benton using editing techniques instead of special effects. (Score one for French impressionist cinema.) It is not the most gender sensitive movie ever made, but good for lots of solid Dungeons and Dragons imagery and many laughs. It must have resonated on some level as there is a Deathstalker 2, 3 AND 4. Conan only got 1 sequel. -Billups Allen

It's MONDO MONDAYS at The Loft, celebrating weird, wild and wonderful flicks from the Mondo side of the silver screen! Admission is only $2.00, and don't forget to check out our yummy "Mondo Munchies" snack bucket ... fill a cup for a buck!

Billups Allen's interest in writing began composing lyrics for the band Shoutbus and later for the band Corn on Macabre. Lyrical duties led to writing poetry and short stories. Several of his short stories were published in a book entitled Unfurnished published by Florida’s now defunct Schematics Records. Allen currently lives in Tucson, Arizona where he writes Cramhole comic zine, writes reviews for Razorcake Magazine and the Tucson Citizen and hosts a radio show called The Groove Tomb. www.billupsallen.com