Aunt Jeanne – Short Fiction

Emil, young people today look up at heaven and see
nothing. And the earth below their sparkling sneakers
is just service to a feeling. You’re the exception, Emil.
You will know how to treat a woman, you will know
God and be an extension of his Hand. You’re better
than them–your loneliness is the marker of great
difference. They can’t look at you Emil, the way
you really are, cause they look up at heaven and see
nothing.

Emil Bennett was driving around at midnight, thinking about his Aunt Jeanne, who raised him and told him all sorts of useful things–about how there is actually good and evil in the world and how, if Emil was decent, good things will come forth to him.

But her words now seemed false, or at the very least, simplistic in thought. Maybe there was actually something wrong with him and the way he remembered what his Aunt Jeanne told him. She had been dead for nearly a decade and what remained of her was a construction that glowed in Emil’s mind when he needed her, or thought he did. She was the only person that made him understand that there was nothing wrong with him, but with everyone else who were selfish and lacked the ability to see beyond themselves.

However, as Emil was driving down streets, stopping and going at intersections with no real plan or direction, he thought about the Aunt Jeanne that he had made, rather than allowing it to comfort him.

Suddenly, Emil was in the house he had grown up in, the place where his aunt and uncle raised him. He was walking down the hallway leading to the bedrooms. But he couldn’t look at the portraits hanging from the walls. They were all nebulous blurs floating in the sides of his vision. The walls, he noticed, as he was walking seemed to lack color even though they looked the same as they did back then.

Soon, he reached the end of the hall and opened the door leading to one of the back rooms where dust gathered on old books and heirlooms. Aunt Jeanne was sitting by the window. The window glowed a whiteness that shaped her face. But Emil couldn’t comprehend the face. Like the pictures in the hallway, it was vague, and like the walls she resembled everything that was once, but not in essence. Emil knew there was a smile there, but only because he had put it there in his mind, but yet could not see it. He turned and looked at the rest of the room. He used to read the old books and look at artifacts representing his family’s past and wipe the dust away. But all he saw were things filling a room. It all seemed like junk from a distance, but if he were just able to approach and start pulling individual items, meaning would be found and understood. But he couldn’t move closer into the room. His mind only allowed a distant glance.

Emil’s hands squeezed the wheel. He was at another intersection, the light red. In a moment he had forgotten the places his mind wandered to and how it got there. And the once-certain sadness that fueled his aimless driving had faded into a slight emptiness. The light turned green. He pushed forward, down the street, and minutes later went home, disappearing into his room.

247 °F (2011) – Movie Review

247 °F, directed by Levan Bakhira and Beqa Jguburia, is one of those movies that had the potential to be an incredibly stupid B-movie. After learning the premise of the film, a suspense thriller about three people getting trapped in a sauna, I anticipated the movie to be complete dreck. Fortunately, the film turned out to be actually decent, with some nice suspense and attempts at characterization.

The first twenty minutes are dedicated to boring expository scenes necessary to establish what needs to be established: Jenna (played by Scout Taylor-Compton) survives a car accident that killed her boyfriend. Three years later she is still traumatized, depressive and taking pills. To help push her out of her bubble a friend Renee (Christina Ulloa) insists that she stay with her and her boyfriend, Michael (Michael Copon) and his friend Ian (Travis Van Winkle) who takes an interest in Jenna, in a cabin for a weekend getaway. The cabin is owned by Ian’s cool uncle Wade (Tyler Mane) who smokes pot and lives a drive away. As Renee’s and Michael’s relationship starts turning sour due to Michael getting more and more wasted, Ian tries to flirt and converse with the reluctant Jenna. They drink, smoke weed, etc. and talk about going to a party that’s nearby. These scenes, while kind of dull, are actually alright compared to similar films as the writing and acting is better than average. At this point I was somewhat surprised but was just waiting for it all to start going downhill.

So they soon decide to check out the gas-powered sauna in the cabin that Ian’s pot-smoking uncle built. This is where I was expecting the movie to falter in some terrible schlock that I can laugh at. Eventually, after the drunk Michael has a fight with Renee he leaves the three who stay and sizzle in the sauna. Moments later, Ian tries to open the door but seems to be unable to. They quickly realize that they are trapped in what is perhaps the world’s most poorly-built sauna as there is no way to shut-off the heat from the inside. What makes 247 °F better than most films of its genres (and how it exceeded my expectations) is how the characters handle the situation. Ian, as established before, is actually quite well-read and seemingly intelligent as he tries to assess their situation without panicking (at least at first.) The two others that are trapped as well, Jenna and Renee, suggest that they break the tiny window, but Ian points out that the cool air that would come in as a result might be detected by the sauna’s thermostat and the heat will continue to rise within the sauna. But he eventually breaks the glass so that they could get more air and so that Ian can try to figure out if they can somehow move whatever’s blocking the sauna door. So what makes this particular movie stand out is that the characters aren’t completely stupid and thus annoying to watch. However, I wondered why Ian didn’t just take the heating rocks out, either with the towels or the wooden spoon, from the wire basket and let them cool, then block the gas valve. Some posters on the Imdb forums even thought of this as well, but maybe when one is in that kind of situation, mentally debilitated by the increasing heat, it’s understandable to be unable to think of a reasonable solution. Regardless, it’s still refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t try to build its suspense and horror from the dumb actions of its characters.

Another thing that works to the film’s advantage is that all of the film’s drama and conflict seems to be the result of human fallibility, rather than from some sinister force, psychosis, or madness. From Ian’s uncertainty as to whether removing the sauna’s thermostat is a good idea or not, to Michael’s accidentally jamming the door, and to Wade for thinking he can build a sauna on his own. Another thing that is also interesting is Ian flipping-out toward the end of the film as opposed to Jenna who becomes the more level-headed one in the moment. One would expect Jenna to be mentally worse than Ian, who was the most rational for a while, in that situation. This sort of reminds me of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia where the mentally unstable character is better able to rationally deal with incoming doom than her sister, who before was the more “normal” character. But a slight problem does arise out of this, as the audience isn’t surprised (and were probably expecting) Jenna to become the “hero”. This is like in Jack the Reaper where the audience just knows that the girl who was molested by her father would survive. I should also mention that when Ian finally does go nuts it ends up being pretty fucking hilarious, rather than terrifying.

So yeah…not a bad film. Not great by any means as there are some scenes that seem to drag, killing some of the tension, but still, I was sweating so much that it made my seat wet! Get it? Because the movie’s about a sauna. So the “reveal” that Michael was the one that trapped the other characters in a stove, and unintentionally, was supposed to be a surprise. But when Renee and Michael are arguing and Michael stumbles away I already knew that he was the one that was going to cause all the shit, and that he wasn’t expecting to as well because there would be little reason for him to block the door on purpose even though he was pissed-off and disappointed by his girlfriend. Other than that the movie is alright. Did I mention it’s based on true events? That’s pretty crazy ain’t it, except for the minor deviations from reality, like the fact that the sauna was actually electric-powered and that they were able to switch off the heat. But other than that this shit really happened!

247 °F is a decent B-movie that might be worth watching if nothing else is on or if you’re hankering for something suspenseful that isn’t total garbage. But be warned, the characters won’t be the only ones sweating! Wait, I already used that joke. Shit. Um…you’ll have a blistering good time! Yep, that’ll do just fine.

The 400 Blows (1959) – Movie Review

Let me address some common misconceptions about this film: First, it’s not some wretched, artsy-fartsy turd. The movie is actually entertaining in parts and is nowhere near pretentious. And second, the title does not refer the trials of the main character, but rather the fact that François Truffaut had to blow some guy four hundred times in order to get the movie made. That’s right. He performed oral sex on a single gentleman four hundred times. No wonder it’s considered a classic!

Actually, even though this movie is called a classic piece of cinema I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed when after watching it. That’s not to say it isn’t a good movie, in fact it’s pretty good but it’s not exactly deep or mind-blowing in the way other classics like The Bicycle Thief are. So I agree with critic Dan Schneider, who on his site Cosmoetica (which is a cool place that I encourage everyone to check out) says that, “there is not very much else to say about the actual interior film- for it is a picaresque whose vignettes just hang together enough to be an enjoyable viewing experience.” There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this for the movie succeeds in its realistic portrayal of the working class French even if some of the vignettes aren’t that interesting or go on too long, like one scene taking place at a puppet show entertaining an audience of small children or some of the scenes toward the end when the main character, Antoine Doinel (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud), is arrested.

The movie is pretty much about Antoine, a youth frustrated by school and his parents who don’t know what to do with him. What’s good about the film, as mentioned before, is its dedication to realism. Truffaut avoids Romanticizing the plight of Antoine and instead captures how little troublemakers adolescent boys are. There’s one scene that avoids being cliché. When Antoine’s teacher berates him for plagiarizing his paper the audience knows that Antoine actually did steal and is not actually innocent. Most movies have such a similar scene but it’s usually depicted when the main character is the true author as a way for the film maker to show the character’s “genius” and try to make the audience feel empathy for the wrongfully punished character. But here, Antoine is really thief the teacher accuses him of, yet the audience still feels sympathy for Antoine.

And Truffaut also avoids presenting Antoine as an over-the-top “troubled youth.” In fact, he seems to just resemble his other classmates who also like to raise some hell. In one scene, when the physical education teacher is having the kids run outside, the kids strategically break from the class in groups until only two kids are running alongside the teacher. Even though this scene has nothing to do with the plot it shows that despite the school’s dedication to discipline they have no real control over their students.

Another good scene is when Antoine and his friend ditch school and end up seeing Antoine’s mother cheating on her husband. Instead of Antoine being consumed by angst he is more concerned about whether his mother will tell his step-father that he was playing hooky. It shows that Antoine is a flawed and realistic character and not a caricature.

Family-life is also depicted realistically. There are scenes when the family is fighting amongst themselves (usually because of Antoine) but then moments later are shown laughing and enjoying each other’s company. There isn’t constant bitterness between them and the movie is allowed to show a family in its best and worst lights. As a result, the film is more interesting to watch than something like, say, American Beauty, which shows a family of bickering cardboard cutouts. Even though that piece of shit is clearly a message-movie, The 400 Blows has nothing to sale, or at least it’s not bludgeoning the viewers’ skull with it. The movie is more interested in giving an unbiased look at family life and that is more entertaining to watch stereotypes whose purpose is to push the screenwriter’s shit-message.

And there’s the famed final image of the film where Antoine, after fleeing from a school for a delinquents, runs to the beach and meets the ocean only to face the camera with a look of desperation. I know it sounds trite and overused but the way it’s framed prevents the scene from being so. However, it’s nowhere near as compelling an ending as those from movies like The Weeping Meadow or Crimes and Misdemeanors for it lacks the emotional and intellectual thrust to elevate the image with greater meaning. But it’s still an effective end, and a poetic commentary on the confusion and angst of troubled youth.

One of the tenets of good art is that it doesn’t treat the audience like a bunch dolts by trying hard to manipulate with emotion. So I can say that The 400 Blows, despite being over fifty years old, still holds up today for it addresses universal themes. No one’s going to remember dreck like American Beauty and that movie already seems more dated than The 400 Blows despite it being released in the late-nineties. As Dan Schneider points out in his review the movie isn’t quite as good as most critics claim but it’s still worth checking-out.