Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Project 365: Movies 147 - 152

147 / 365: Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
© Warner Bros.

There's something magical about watching the planetarium sequences of Rebel Without a Cause under the stars with a group of old movie lovers. We went to a screening hosted by Street Food Cinema here in LA, on a sprawling lawn at sunset, and it was something to behold.

If you've never seen Rebel Without a Cause, I find it doubtful that you've never at least heard of it. The final film of three featuring the legendary James Dean released just months after his tragic death in 1955, it tells the story of Jim Stark (Dean), a sullen teenager who moves to Los Angeles and starts at a new high school. He struggles to find his place, meeting the least popular kid in school, Plato (Sal Mineo), and the most popular girl, Judy (Natalie Wood)—he also meets the rough and tumble gang of popular boys who aren't so happy to have his laid back, bad boy attitude in their school. It is a culture where friends have to be earned, a qualification of 'coolness' through a tryout or battle. Of course, Dean is by far the coolest dude who ever lived, so it's not surprising that Jim has a power over everyone.

That 'coolness' might actually be a distraction from the real story. At its core, it's movie about daddy issues and how to navigate life as a young person when you're absorbed in the frustrations brought on by a disappointing father. Dean slinks through life, determined not to become the doormat his father is—he cries out, "Dad, you better give me something, you better give me something fast [...] Stand up for me." These moment take you back; his acting is so powerful, emotions fester and bubble up, you forgive the film its faults. And it's certainly not without a few.

You can't help but sense the B-movie elements here. The film was originally being shot in black and white, with the hokey nature of the plot dialed up in true WB melodrama fashion. And then James Dean became a mega-star with the release of East of Eden, and everything changed. The film was re-shot in color, and Dean's most iconic image was born: the red jacket. But that doesn't mean the teen drama disappeared. On the contrary, if anything it felt sharper, more exaggerated in this new Technicolor format. Wood's lipstick is that much more red next to Dean's jacket, and it all feels overwhelmingly tangible and sexy.

There is this moment in Rebel when James Dean pulls a 'Brando in On the Waterfront' move (no coincidence it came out the year before this was filmed)... and it makes my knees weak. This insanely sexy, natural, completely without prompt handling of a woman's clothing accessory (Brando's moment consisted of man-handling Eva Saint Marie's glove, and it was hypnotic). Dean knew exactly what he was doing, but at the same time, he's never even thinking about it. He just acts it. Look at that picture above, look at the way his hand is moving. I can't—I can't even right now. Rebel may not be Dean's best movie (that would be East of Eden), but it's without a doubt his most iconic. It might even be one of the most iconic movies in film history.

Rating: ★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Theater
Seen Before: No

148 / 365: Inside Out (2015)
© Disney / Pixar

New movie release, reviewed previously on Through the Reels. Read the full review here.

Rating: ★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Theater
Seen Before: No

149 / 365: Rocky (1976)

This movie was the #57 film on my AFI Top 100 countdown challenge. Read my full review here.

Rating: ★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Blu Ray
Seen Before: Yes

150 / 365: Hot Girls Wanted (2015)
© Netflix

Leave it to me to be compelled to watch a documentary about the amateur porn industry—or rather, less about the industry, more about the girls who fall victim to it. We follow a group of barely legal girls who upend their lives after finding call-outs for "Hot Girls" on Craigslist. This notice belongs to an amateur porn manager in Miami, and it's shocking that people actually answer his posting or take it seriously in any way, but they do and it's really tragic. As it turns out, though, he's actually a kind of sweet guy who tries in his own sordid way to take care of these girls when they arrive at his front door, all wide-eyed and bushy-tailed.

The most fascinating part of this documentary is how everything actually starts out really great for all of them. By "great," I mean that the girls are happy with the work and are proud to be taking part in this new exciting venture. But that all lasts for a very short time, and even their manager acknowledges the shelf-life on pretty new faces. While they may start doing videos that are sweet with nice costumes, makeup and professional lighting, that may only continue for 3-6 months. Then... it's off to the niche market these nineteen-year-olds go. The filmmakers are all women (the film was even produced by Rashida Jones), so the focus of the movie is always on the girls and how they feel about what they're doing. It's sensitive, but unflinching, and while it doesn't show you everything that's happening on these sets, it certainly talks about it.

The style of the film, though, is where I had an issue. The subjects are remarkably honest, and that's where the meat of the material comes from, but the filmmaking still feels amateurish. One girl, Tressa Silguero, takes us on this journey with her, but we end up hopping around to a plethora of other girls. Meeting them is wonderful, but I never felt any resolution. Structurally, the documentary isn't anything special. It's a short watch, likely to make you a bit sick to your stomach thinking about how easy it is to lure willing young women into porn with the promise of money and fame that will never come.

Rating: ★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

151 / 365: Dope (2015)
© Open Road Films

New movie release, reviewed previously on Through the Reels. Read the full review here.

Rating: ★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Theater
Seen Before: No

152 / 365: Set Fire to the Stars (2015)
© Strand Releasing

New movie release, reviewed previously on Through the Reels. Read the full review here.

Rating: ★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Theater
Seen Before: No

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