Every month, Establishing Shot brings you a selection of films from our group of regular bloggers. Even though these films aren’t currently being screened at the IU Cinema, this series reflects the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema and demonstrates the eclectic tastes of the bloggers. Each contributor has picked one film that they saw this month that they couldn’t wait to share with others. Keep reading to find out what discoveries these cinephiles have made, as well as some of the old friends they’ve revisited.
To hear more about this month’s picks, be sure to join us for the live portion of this round-up, which will be presented as a virtual event tomorrow, May 2. Register now!
Laura Ivins, contributor | Party Girl (1995)
In the mid-’90s, Parker Posey was THE indie actress. It seemed like she was in everything, appearing in four to five films a year throughout the mid- to late-’90s. Her roles are diverse, but she’s most well-known for her comedic films, and she seems particularly drawn to characters that are unusual and unapologetic.
Party Girl, for me, is the quintessential Posey role, the one that encapsulates her ’90s indie persona. Her character, Mary, spends her time throwing parties, vogueing with drag queens, and wearing a colorful collage of designer clothes. She’s irresponsible, both with her money and her social relationships, but of course we follow her journey toward a more meaningful life. For Mary, meaning lies in the Dewey Decimal System. It’s a classic coming-of-age tale.
I think what I love about Mary — and so many of Parker Posey’s characters — is that she’s sometimes really unlikeable but is still fascinating to watch. She’ll never be a role model for how to treat a significant other; she’s rude to her friends; and she shirks even basic responsibilities like locking up the library before she leaves. “I’m a loser,” she says. “Shoot me.”
But then she does something really charming, like her repeated order at Mustafa’s (Omar Townsend) cart — a falafel with hot sauce, a side of baba ganoush, and a seltzer — or the way she organizes Leo’s (Guillermo Diaz) records according to the Dewey Decimal System. She’s never exactly considerate, but somehow it works.
Noni Ford, contributor | Marie Antoinette (2006)
A girl, a queen, a wife, a mother, and an iconic figure in history. There’s so many different ways to view Marie Antoinette, especially as she has been villainized and celebrated in equal measure throughout media. In Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, we get a more sympathetic look at a girl who was thrown into a French court she did not understand and felt ostracized by during a time of major upheaval in government. The film was booed at upon its premiere in 2006 with many upset by the costuming, the casting, the historical inaccuracies, the music, and that famous pair of Converse sneakers (for first-time viewers it can be a fun game trying to spot them). And while I think all of these things are valid criticisms, they are also the things that make me love this film so much. Rip Torn as Louis XV is definitely unconventional casting but it works. The current-day rock music is disconnected from the historical context, but perhaps the best way to illustrate her lifestyle is through the vantage point of opulent rock songs. And while the costumes aren’t always accurate, they are fun, which captures the thrill of fashion at a time when trends were moving rapidly amongst the aristocrats of society.
The movie isn’t a documentary and it doesn’t try to be, it strives to capture a mood, a feeling, a bit of her story. This was the first Sofia Coppola film I saw and absolutely adored and I still have a lot of love for it. In Coppola’s eyes, Marie Antoinette is not just a figurehead or a prop used to show a French fantasy, she’s a girl who becomes a woman and contains multitudes. She grounds this depiction so that by the end of the film, we never lose sight of the fact that she was a real person who lived and died during a turbulent time in history.
Jack Miller, contributor | The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)
Though the great American filmmaker Sam Peckinpah acquired the nickname “Bloody Sam” for his action classics like The Wild Bunch (1969), Straw Dogs (1971), and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), which introduced hitherto unseen levels of graphic violence to the Hollywood screen, he also had a gentler side, warmer and more comic, though ultimately just as melancholic at its core. No film in his body of work demonstrates this better than the eternally underrated The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), Peckinpah’s personal favorite among his own movies. Cable Hogue stars Jason Robards as the titular prospector who miraculously finds water in the middle of the desert after nearly dying of thirst, and the film is carried along by equally wonderful performances from David Warner and the lovely Stella Stevens. This eccentric and mysterious film, with its underlying sense of divine reciprocity, wasn’t a hit with audiences or critics when it first appeared, but it’s a particular favorite of mine.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | Eega (2012)
Eega is one of the more strange and entertaining films I’ve seen recently. It takes a brilliant concept and milks it for all its worth with the help of great writing and impeccable music. That helps make it a gem in the body of work of its brilliant writer-director, S.S. Rajamouli.
This movie takes place in Hyderabad (the largest city in Telangana) in 2012. All good-natured Nani (Ghanta Naveen Babu performing under his screen name Nani) wants is the love of the beautiful micro artist Bindu (Samantha). But a wealthy and arrogant businessman named Sudeep (Sudeep Sanjeev) wants her for himself, so he kills Nani. Shortly thereafter, Nani gets reincarnated as a housefly and wages an intense, brutal campaign of revenge against Sudeep.
Eega has the type of premise that will make you either smile in surprise or shake your head, baffled that someone could think up such a weird idea. But Rajamouli makes that concept — a fly enacting shockingly successful acts of revenge against a human man — work thanks to his rigorous imagination. It feels like Rajamouli spent hours thinking up all the ways that a fly could fight against a human, and he includes plenty of incredible ones in this film. In addition, he makes all the characters feel well-drawn, and their humanity helps to ground the film’s outlandish story in emotional truth. Rajamouli and his cast make you care for the film’s main characters to the extent that Nani’s reunion with Bindu after she’s realized that he has been reincarnated (which is expressed mainly as a shot of him putting one of his fly-legs against her hand) is surprisingly sweet.
This movie is also as successful as it is because of its score. The music of composer M.M. Keeravani (who is also Rajamouli’s cousin) is bombastic in the best way. It makes you want to cheer on Nani as he fights Sudeep, and perfectly captures the sweepingly romantic feelings he has for Bindu. In addition to the score, Keeravani also created the music behind the film’s excellent songs, all of which will make you feel like getting up to dance.
Rajamouli has become one of my favorite directors since I first saw RRR (2022) at the Chinese Theater in Los Angeles last year. Eega reflects a lot of what I love about his work, as it shows off his great technical skill as a filmmaker (those action scenes of Nani as a fly causing mayhem are perfectly choreographed) as well as his ability to make you get invested with the emotional journeys of his characters, no matter how outlandish they may seem. You come away from watching this movie — which was originally an idea created by V. Vijayendra Prasad, a screenwriter who is also Rajamouli’s father — convinced that there is little its writer-director cannot do.
Eega is a singular and rollicking good time of a film. Its audacious and hilarious narrative needs to be seen to be believed, and so do its technically brilliant action sequences. While Rajamouli has made films that have been more successful, he has not yet made one that is as delightfully idiosyncratic as this one. It deserves to be seen and acquire new fans.
Michaela Owens, Editor | The Court Jester (1955)
Crafted specifically to show audiences all of leading man Danny Kaye’s immense talents, The Court Jester is simply one of the best comedies to ever come out of Hollywood. Granted, I might be a little biased since it has always felt like this film was made just for me. A riotously funny satire of swashbucklers with stunning Edith Head costumes, dazzling Ray June cinematography, and a top-notch cast that includes dastardly Basil Rathbone, the late, great Angela Lansbury, and living legend Glynis Johns? Yes, please!
When an evil usurper named Roderick ascends to the English throne after slaying the royal family, the only survivor, a baby, is hidden away in the woods with a gang of outlaws led by the Black Fox. While moving the child to a safer place, two of the outlaws — an ex-carnival entertainer (Kaye) and the Fox’s tough captain (Johns) — stumble upon an opportunity to invade the new king’s inner circle by having the entertainer impersonate a jester named Giacomo. What they don’t know, though, is that Giacomo is actually a secret assassin hired by the king’s right-hand man (Rathbone) to ensure the planned marriage of the king’s daughter (Lansbury) doesn’t happen, thus keeping his position as Roderick’s closest advisor safe.
Filled to the brim with witty lines, shifting identities, amazing alliteration, and clever tongue twisters that become exacerbated to the point of maximum silliness, directors Melvin Frank and Norman Panama’s script is supplemented by terrific songs from Sammy Cahn and Sylvia Fine, a brilliant lyricist who was also Mrs. Danny Kaye. One aspect of the script I also must mention is the prominence of its female characters. While swashbucklers often relegate women to being eye candy, The Court Jester‘s ladies cause the majority of the action and are allowed to be badasses, each in their own delightful way.
And then there is Kaye. Watching him here is the definition of “joy.” Everything he could do is distilled into this one fabulous film. In one scene, he will be vulnerable and gentle. Just minutes later, he’ll be charming and romantic. Two scenes later, he is rattling off an array of dizzying rhymes. Arrogance and vanity reverts to insecurity and fear and then reverts back, all within seconds. Kaye was truly one-of-a-kind, and with a showcase like The Court Jester, he proves that “life could not better be” indeed.