Friday, August 26, 2016

Favorite Scene Friday! Carrie (1976)

This week's FSF was written by Jacob Lusk of! Follow him on Twitter at @PannedReview!

Perhaps there is no American filmmaker more controversial than Brian De Palma. Depending on whom you ask, De Palma is either a connoisseur or a hack, a director whose love of Hitchcock inspired some of the most lurid, vervy thrillers of the 1970s, or some of the most derivative. Say what you will about him, but Brian De Palma knows how to tell a story visually, a skill that often feels lost on young directors today.


Carrie (based on the novel by Stephen King) remains the most urgent and affecting of De Palma’s shockers, perhaps because its story of the high school ugly duckling—who can move objects with her mind—feels so rooted in reality. There will always be Carries—lost and vulnerable souls whose experience of the outside world is openly hostile and cruel, who keep everything bottled inside, slowly molding their repression into a weapon of mass destruction.

The scene in which Carrie murders the whole prom is unforgettably awful and terrifying. But the scene leading up to that one, in which we witness the mean girls’ plot to sabotage Carrie being carried out—is maybe the most visually elegant, tense, complex sequence in the whole movie. I particularly love this scene because, without a single word of dialogue, so much happens, and so much is revealed.

Carrie and her date, Tommy (William Katt), have just been announced as the prom queen and king. They glide, dreamlike, toward the stage as the crowd cheers, and Carrie, once an outcast, becomes Cinderella, gleaming in her white dress like a fresh lily. Meanwhile, Sue, Tommy’s girlfriend (Amy Irving) watches from a distance, glowing with satisfaction: She fixed them up in the hope that it will help improve Carrie’s social life; it’s partly out of guilt, since Sue was one of the girls who mercilessly teased Carrie earlier in the film.

In this scene, the music by Pino Donaggio keeps vacillating: the strings go from soft and creamy-sentimental to ominous and dreadful, suggesting Bernard Herrmann’s death violins in Psycho. The camera, operating as Sue’s eyes (and thus, ours), spies a rope connected to a bucket high above everyone, and then follows the rope all the way down under the risers of the stage, where we see the silhouettes of Chris (Nancy Allen) and Billy (John Travolta). Chris, the meanest of the mean girls, hates Carrie, and she’s hungry to humiliate her on a grand scale.

Each time the film switches to a different point-of-view, the music changes: First to Carrie and Tommy, drinking in the crowd’s applause; then back to Sue, who has by now noticed the bucket haphazardly resting on one of the rafters, perhaps thirty feet above Carrie’s head. Back to Chris and Billy: Chris slaps Billy in the face for goofing off as he gives the rope a little tug; Sue approaches the stage to peak behind the paper decorations that conceal Chris and Billy; the teacher Miss Collins, Carrie’s only defender throughout the film, sees Sue and assumes she’s up to no good; Miss Collins approaches Sue; they exchange words; Carrie beams; Chris licks her lips like a shark, and tugs on the rope again; Miss Collins ejects Sue from the cafeteria; Chris pulls down hard on the rope. And down comes the bucket of blood, dousing Carrie from head to toe.

Cinderella vanishes. Enter Medusa.

What's your favorite scene from Carrie?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Favorite Scene Friday! It Might Get Loud: Guitar Building 101

This week's FSF is by Nick from French Toast Sunday! Check out his other guest posts here.

I love music. Probably even more than film. So when the two come together in musical or “rockumentary” form, I’m there. Well, most of the time I’m there. I didn’t see Rock of Ages or Mamma Mia. I consider jukebox musicals lazy and the only good song Abba ever put out is ‘Fernando’ and I challenge anyone who says otherwise. But we’re not here to talk about that or comment on run-on sentences. I wanted to break historic ground in the Favorite Scene Friday frontier and present the first ever favorite scene from a documentary. The film is 2008’s It Might Get Loud and the scene I’m presenting may be the greatest introduction to a documentary ever.


It Might Get Loud is a documentary/workshop where Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2), and Jack White (The White Stripes) got together and discussed everything music and guitar. The three get together to share their stories and influences, as well as demonstrate some of the secrets behind their craft. But before we even get to that, we start on a farm in Tennessee. It’s maybe mid-morning, cloudy, and amongst grazing cows and random odds and ends, we see a silent Jack White hammering a nail into wood. He stands on the ground, using an old porch as his worktable. The concrete is weathered and the posts supporting the weight of the awning are old and paint chipped. He’s wearing the makings of a three piece suit. Black trousers, black shirt, and a charcoal suit with matching bowtie. A trilby hat sits atop his head as he hammers another nail into the wood. You can’t see his shoes, but you assume they were once shiny, now matted with dust from the farm.

Cows look on as he ties a string between the two nails. Jack slides a glass bottle between the string and the wood and begins to hammer more wood. Still in a focused silence, he adds some basic guitar components to the wood, assumedly from a guitar he no longer uses. He plugs the creation into an amp, feedback garnering the attention from the cows. With one hand, he picks at one end of the crude instrument while the other works a slide up and down the string. He brings his creation to life as it cries it’s bluesy tears through a heavy distortion pedal. After a few seconds, he clicks the pedal, silencing the cries. Jack makes a cigarette appear from thin air as he remarks, “Who says you need to buy a guitar?” The epitome of cool. Smash cut to a real guitar chorting out a bluesy riff as the opening credits montage begins.

What follows is nearly one hundred minutes of being a fly on the wall in what is one of the coolest and most inspiring hang sessions ever. In this scene alone, yeah, Jack White is building a guitar, but really he’s showing you and telling you that you can do anything. You can create any thing, you can be any thing, and the craziest part: You don’t even need the basic tools. Make them all by yourself. Create them yourself. Go forth unto this world and pursue your dreams, passions, and inspirations. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this scene and just drank in the creative passion behind it. I’ve never watched this and not smiled when it ended. It’s awe-inspiring and just plain cool. Whether you like the artists and the bands they are in, or not, the collective history and innovation between these three artists is undeniable and being able to learn from them is well worth the price of the film.

What's your favorite music doc?

Friday, August 5, 2016

Favorite Scene Friday! Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: West Covina

We don't feature scenes from TV all that often for Favorite Scene Friday. In fact, I think we've only highlighted clips from True Detective, Breaking Bad, Community, Seinfeld, and Arrested Development. It's my humble opinion, but I think all of those can be considered some of the best TV shows ever made. So for a show to get featured for FSF, it's gotta be good.


Crazy Ex-Girlfriend follows Rebecca Bunch (national treasure Rachel Bloom), a New York attorney who abruptly quits her job and moves to California to pursue a relationship with her ex-boyfriend, Josh Chan (crazy, right?). That's exactly what we see here - Rachel breaks into song, hops on a plane (in animated form, no less) and winds up in her crush's hometown. And that's what this particular musical number is about: the very strip-mally West Covina, California, the so called "Pride of the Inland Empire". It's quick to see that West Covina, while not necessarily worse than New York, isn't any better. Unless you've moved there for love (and/or are insane). The dirty sidewalk appears beautiful to Rebecca and noisy traffic is merely the sounds of "a bustling town". But as "West Covina" points out, Rebecca's kind of in denial about why she left New York. Josh "just happens to be" in West Covina, Rebecca explains -  a place she moved to because she wanted to change her life.

Not only is there lots to be heard in this scene for the obvious reasons, there's lots of great visual details. Notice that Rachel's hair is straight when she's in New York and when she arrives in California it's a bit curlier. Her dress has also become bedazzled. There's also the bits in New York where Rachel blocks some letters in a sign for goulash so that it spells gosh and then the same thing happens for Josh.

There are so many other great, funny and weird things in this scene. The anime wigs. The visit to the strip club (I guess she was expecting Josh to be there for some reason?). The exchange between Rachel and one of the movers, whom Rachel speaks to in English and then in Spanish. And then there's the big dance number at the end. The marching band getting cut is a great callback to earlier in the scene, as is the giant pretzel. And the "Only two hours from the beach!" line is a running gag referencing the fact that, for a California town, West Covina really isn't that close to the beach at all. It's just one of the many great running gags in the show.

Beth Morrell

I won't lie, this is probably the biggest musical number of the entire season. I think the pilot had a bigger budget because the show was originally produced for Showtime. But that doesn't mean the rest of the songs are bad. In fact, they're all pretty great and unique. So check out Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It just happens to be great.

What's your favorite scene from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend?

What's your favorite musical?