Sunday, May 19, 2013
I mentioned the other week that Amazon released 14 pilot episodes for original series. They haven't made a decision about which series will get picked up, but I watched a bunch, so here are some thoughts. High level summary: "Meh."
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Star Trek: TNG Tidbits
The Star Trek: The Next Generation Third Season BD came out recently, replete with bonus materials. Of course, it's obscenely expensive (Star Trek releases have always been so) and probably only purchased by obsessives. Us normal fans just fire up episodes on Netflix pretty easily, but then we miss out on remastered HD visuals and bonus features. Fortunately for us, Hercules from AICN has done a seemingly comprehensive recap of all those special features, and there's lots of behind the scenes gems to be had. The general consensus is that season 3 is where TNG turned the corner from a decent show into a great show, and a lot of these features apparently focus on that. Some interesting tidbits:
* A "technobabble generator" created as a joke by a friend of Shankar became a frequently utilized not-joke writers' room tool.Always funny to hear about the teching the tech tendencies of the writers...
* Moore and Braga lament that "Star Trek: Generations," which they labored on for a year, didn't turn out as well as "All Good Things," which took two weeks to write.Frakes hits the nail on the head with that last one. I mean, I get why it was done (the show must go on, and having Riker off on some other ship would be either contrived or lame), and it made for some good episodes (The Best of Both worlds 2 parter with the Borg being the most obvious), but the character of Riker was such an experience hound, always game for just about anything, that it's hard to believe he would turn down a captaincy.
* Ironically given the subject matter of his first script, Moore was not a fan of children living aboard the Enterprise. He also never understood why a psychotherapist was always sitting on the bridge next to the captain. Moore was also no fan of the replicator, which he believed an enemy of drama.Lots of other interesting stuff in Herc's post...
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
The State of Streaming
So Netflix has had a good first quarter, exceeding expectations and crossing the $1 Billion revenue threshold. Stock prices have been skyrocketing, going from sub 100 to over 200 in just the past 4-5 months. Their subscriber base continues to grow, and fears that people would use the free trial to stream exclusive content like House of Cards, then bolt from the service seem unfounded. However, we're starting to see a fundamental shift in the way Netflix is doing business here. For the first time ever, I'm seeing statements like this:
As we continue to focus on exclusive and curated content, our willingness to pay for non-exclusive, bulk content deals declines.I don't like the sound of that, but then, the cost of non-exclusive content seems to keep rising at an absurd level, and well, you know, it's not exclusive. The costs have risen to somewhere on the order of $2 billion per year on content licensing and original shows. So statements like this seem like a natural outgrowth of that cost:
As we've gained experience, we've realized that the 20th documentary about the financial crisis will mostly just take away viewing from the other 19 such docs, and instead of trying to have everything, we should strive to have the best in each category. As such, we are actively curating our service rather than carrying as many titles as we can.And:
We don't and can't compete on breadth with Comcast, Sky, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Sony, or Google. For us to be hugely successful we have to be a focused passion brand. Starbucks, not 7-Eleven. Southwest, not United. HBO, not Dish.This all makes perfect sense from a business perspective, but as a consumer, this sucks. I don't want to have to subscribe to 8 different services to watch 8 different shows that seem interesting to me. Netflix's statements and priorities seem to be moving, for the first time, away from a goal of providing a streaming service with a wide, almost comprehensive selection of movies and television. Instead, we're getting a more curated approach coupled with original content. That wouldn't be the worst thing ever, but Netflix isn't the only one playing this game. Amazon just released 14 pilot episodes for their own exclusive content. I'm guessing it's only a matter of time before Hulu joins this roundalay (and for all I know, they're already there - I've just hated every experience I've had with Hulu so much that I don't really care to look into it). HBO is already doing its thing with HBO Go, which exlcusively streams their shows. How many other streaming services will I have to subscribe to if I want to watch TV (or movies) in the future? Like it or not, fragmentation is coming. And no one seems to be working on a comprehensive solution anymore (at least, not in a monthly subscription model - Amazon and iTunes have pretty good a la carte options). This is frustrating, and I feel like there's a big market for this thing, but at the same time, content owners seem to be overcharging for their content. If Netflix's crappy selection costs $2 billion a year, imagine what something even remotely comprehensive would cost (easily 5-10 times that amount, which is clearly not feasible).
Incidentally, Netflix's third exclusive series, Hemlock Grove, premiered this past weekend. I tried to watch the first episode, but I fell asleep. What I remember was pretty shlockey and not particularly inspiring... but I have a soft spot for cheesy stuff like this, so I'll give it another chance. Still, the response seems a bit mixed on this one. I did really end up enjoying House of Cards, but I'm not sure how much I'm going to stick with Hemlock Grove...
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Miss Jean Brodie's Modestly Magnificent, Matriarchally Manipulative Springtime-For-Mussolini Movie Quiz
Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as always, I'm chomping at the bit to provide my answers. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, Professor Severus Snape, Professor Ed Avery, Dr. Anton Phibes, Sister Clodagh, and Professor Arthur Chipping are also available... This time around, Miss Jean Brodie has concocted "a genuine corker of a questionnaire which is sure to divide allegiances and facilitate shocking betrayals of confidence over accusations of cheating and excessive IMDb referencing, even if you're taking the test alone." A curious assertion, seeing as though Miss Brodie herself has cheated by including several questions recycled from previous quizzes (marked with an asterisk). Well regardless, let's sharpen those #2s and start cheating:
1) The classic movie moment everyone loves except me is:
The challenge with this question is that it's tough not to just pick a classic movie I don't love and pass that off as a "moment"... so yeah, I'm not a big fan of Easy Rider, except, you know, the classic scenes where they're motorcycling past gorgeous landscapes, set to awesome classic rock music. I actually do love those sequences, even if I don't love the movie. Looking at other responses, it seems that When Harry Met Sally... is not faring so well, but I think that scene is fine. So I'll choose something from a film I really do like, in a sequence that is expertly framed and staged: the crop-duster sequence from North by Northwest. Like I said, it's well done and visually arresting, but at the same time, why would anyone think that this is the best way to attack someone? It's one of those engineer's disease things where I get taken out of the movie as I try to figure out logistics of what's going on. A failing that lies squarely on my shoulders, not Hitchcock's, but that's the best answer I can give for this one.
I'm shocked that no one has given the answer that first leapt to mind. Maybe it's too obvious but this line from Double Indemnity encapsulates everything about noir pretty neatly: "Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money - and a woman - and I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman. Pretty, isn't it?" That it is.
3) Second favorite Hal Ashby film
Well, I've only seen two, and since I love Harold and Maude, it looks like The Last Detail takes this one by default. However, I should really get off my arse and see Being There sometime.
4) Describe the moment when you first realized movies were directed as opposed to simply pieced together anonymously. *
I honestly can't think of a specific moment in which this happened. I guess it was a sorta slow revelation. I can't even really remember when it was that I sorta developed my own personal auteur theory, which, to be sure, was not particularly well considered. It was really just a realization that the director attached to a project was a more reliable indicator of quality than the actors, purely based on being burned by great casts in bad movies (which, come to think of it, was also realization that dawned slowly, over the course of years, to the point where pinpointing a moment seems impossible).
5) Favorite film book
Given that I read a lot, I'm a little surprised at how little I read about film. My default answer would have to be Understanding Movies by Louis Giannetti. My copy is the 8th edition, but I think it's up to the 12th or so now. It was the textbook we used when I managed to take a film course in college (despite having almost nonexistent electives) and it provided me with a nice toolbox for film analysis...
6) Diana Sands or Vonetta McGee?
Vonetta McGee, mostly because of her work in one of my favorite bad movies: The Eiger Sanction. From memory, her character's name is Jemima Brown and she thinks Clint Eastwood can "broil a mean steak." She actually doesn't have that big of a role in the movie, but for some reason, I found her memorable.
7) Most egregious gap in your viewing of films made in the past 10 years
I feel like I've kept up with everything that I've wanted to keep up with. The gaps tend to be things that have never really moved me. Stuff like Mumblecore or contemporary Iranian cinema (or similarly obscure foreign groupings of films that aren't Asian). I've seen some of this stuff, but I don't really have any desire to check out more, especially since the gaps in my viewing from films made before the last 10 years are so much greater!
8) Favorite line of dialogue from a comedy
You've got to be kidding me. Way to narrow it down, Miss Brodie! I'll just give the first thing that came to mind, which is Dan Aykroyd's perfect delivery of "Listen... do you smell something?" in Ghostbusters. Unfortunately, that's probably not even my favorite line in that movie, let alone all comedies.
9) Second favorite Lloyd Bacon film
Dude has 130 director credits in IMDB, and I don't think I've seen any of them. Call this one a mulligan.
10) Richard Burton or Roger Livesey?
Richard Burton, because I actually know who he is and have seen him in movies and stuff.
11) Is there a movie you staunchly refuse to consider seeing? If so, why?
There are tons of movies I don't particularly want to see, but that's not really a staunch refusal, and I'd probably watch anything once, if properly motivated.
12) Favorite filmmaker collaboration
It's funny, I didn't even consider the director/actor collaborations that everyone answers for this one. My mind went immediately to Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, who collaborated on Grindhouse and Sin City (and probably others). For director/actor combos, I'd go with something like John Woo and Chow Yun Fat, or the obvious Scorsese and De Niro.
On DVD, it was Devil in a Blue Dress, which was very good. On streaming, it was Side by Side, an interesting documentary where Keanu Reeves (!?) interviews filmmakers about the rise of digital filmmaking (and the fall of photochemical film). Definitely worth a watch. And in theaters, sheesh, it was A Good Day to Die Hard, which I suppose was entertaining enough, but didn't really do that much for me.
14) Favorite line of dialogue from a horror movie
Another impossible question, though this seems more manageable. The first thing that came to mind was Psycho, but even there, I've got two: "A boy's best friend is his mother." and "We all go a little mad sometimes." Some good ones in Halloween too: "It's Halloween, everyone's entitled to one good scare." and Dr. Loomis' ravings about Michael Myers: "I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes... the *devil's* eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply... *evil*."
15) Second favorite Oliver Stone film
A tough one, since I have a clear favorite (JFK), but the rest are all sorta on the same level. I'll say Platoon as a second favorite.
16) Eva Mendes or Raquel Welch?
I have to admit that neither filmography does much for me, but despite One Million Years B.C., I'll have to go with Eva Mendes, who still shows some promise...
17) Favorite religious satire
Life of Brian. Duh.
18) Best Internet movie argument? (question contributed by Tom Block)
19) Most pointless Internet movie argument? (question contributed by Tom Block)
Hay, you asked the same question twice! Take your pick: Is film criticism/culture dead? Let's rank Pixar's films! Is X film sexist/racist/whateverist? Is Ferris Bueller a projection of Cameron's, ala Fight Club? (Good call with that last one, Jeff Gee, thx) Here's a quiz consisting of 31 questions about film, you should totally answer them. And so on.
20) Charles McGraw or Robert Ryan?
Wow, two people I know and like about equally. Granted, I haven't seen more than a few movies from either actor (despite their lengthy filmographies), but I'll go with the coin toss winner here, Robert Ryan.
21) Favorite line of dialogue from a western
In Once Upon a Time in the West, three men confront Harmonica, who asks if they brought him a horse. The leader, clearly planning to kill Harmonica, sez that it "...looks like we're shy one horse." To which, Harmonica replies: "You brought two too many.", then proceeds to shoot down all three, then take one of the horses. There are some others ("When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk."), but I'll leave it at that.
22) Second favorite Roy Del Ruth film
Yep, it looks like I need to take another mulligan here.
23) Relatively unknown film or filmmaker you'd most eagerly proselytize for
Last year's hyperactive Detention merits a mention here, as it is certainly one of the most underseen films that I think would be popular if only people knew it existed. On the other hand, it is a reallly weird movie and probably has limited mainstream appeal. But I love it.
24) Ewan McGregor or Gerard Butler?
Well, here's the thing, I don't think either of these guys are particularly great at picking projects to work on. They can be great at times, but they're both in a lot of crap too. And I mean a lot of crap. Ewan McGregor might have a slight edge at this point, I guess, and he usually manages to be good, even in bad movies (see: Star Wars prequels)
25) Is there such a thing as a perfect movie?
In terms of objective evaluation, probably not. Fortunately, no one is even capable of objectively evaluating a movie (at least, not in a meaningful way). But then you get into the morass of subjectivity, and it becomes difficult to pick out what's perfect. Perfect movies are like love. It may not be perfect for everyone, but it's perfect for me at that particular time, and things that I'd hate in any other person/movie, I'm willing to tolerate... nay, love in some others. So yeah, that makes sense, right?
26) Favorite movie location you've most recently had the occasion to actually visit *
Well, this is lame, but I'll have to give the same answer as last time: 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, most recently seen in Blow Out. Oh, oh, wait, the Llanerch Diner from Silver Linings Playbook. Technically, I haven't eaten there recently, but I've driven by it since seeing the movie...
27) Second favorite Delmer Daves film
Nope, never seen any of his movies. I had 3:10 to Yuma on my DVR at one point, but then my DVD pooped out and I had to replace it. So close, yet so far away.
28) Name the one DVD commentary you wish you could hear that, for whatever reason, doesn't actually exist *
Tons of options here. Orson Welles seems like he would be fascinating. Certain contemporary filmmakers, for whatever reason, don't do commentaries for their own films, like The Coen Brothers (who have done a couple, but not most), Quentin Tarantino, and Christopher Nolan. So let's get the four of them together in a room and have them do a commentary for... well, any movie, really, but let's say Pulp Fiction, just for the yuks.
29) Gloria Grahame or Marie Windsor?
Can't say as though I'm overly familiar with either, though I have seen movies by both. I'll go with Marie Windsor, for The Killing...
30) Name a filmmaker who never really lived up to the potential suggested by their early acclaim or success
There are a depressing number of answers to this question. M. Night Shymalan is an obvious one. Richard Kelly is another, though I did enjoy The Box more than most and he's still young enough that he could emerge big time.
31) Is there a movie-based disagreement serious enough that it might cause you to reevaluate the basis of a romantic relationship or a friendship? *
I can't say as though there is. I value differences of opinion and if we all liked the same exact stuff, life would be rather boring. I don't get the internet fanboyistic tendency to harass people who hold different opinions about movies, games, etc... I'm sure there would be stuff that a friend (romantic or not) likes that would give me pause if I found out at a certain crucial period of our friendship, but then, I probably have the same sort of weird taste for something too. I mean, come on, did you see above where I said I liked The Eiger Sanction?
* a classic or, if you must, recycled question from quizzes past that Miss Brodie thought might be interesting to revisit
And that's all for now. As always, it was a blast coming up with answers for this one...
Sunday, February 24, 2013
The Academy Awards! At this point, every conceivable opinion you could have about the Oscars has become gauche. Whether you're genuinely enthusiastic, profoundly bored, or searingly cynical, you've got a pretty lame outlook on the event. It's not your fault, it's just the hand we're all dealt. I've found that two things help make the show palatable: beer and mockery. And predictions!
For the past 9 years (!?), I've been "liveblogging" the Oscars. When I started this practice, blogging was still mildly hip and cool. Now the concept of a "liveblog" is hoary and lame. As such, who the hell knows what I'm going to do tonight. I will certainly update this post throughout the show, but I probably won't do so as often as I have in the past. Or maybe I'll take to twitter, like any sane person would do. We'll just have to wait and see what happens, won't we? If you're interested, previous installments are here: [2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004]
In accordance with tradition, I'll lay out my predictions for major awards right now:
Update 7:30 pm: It looks like Twitter will work for this, so I'm just going to insert a twitter widget here. Feel free to leave a comment here or @ me on twitter...
Wednesday, January 09, 2013
More Year End Movie Cramming
I've made some excellent progress on the annual year end movie cram session, uncovering at least two top 10 films in the process. Of course, I've also discovered some additional movies that I figure I'll watch before I ever get around to compiling a top 10. Some of these show potential, some are almost certainly horrible, but I want to watch them anyway, because I'm a glutton for punishment. Not really, but most of these are on Netflix Instant, so I'll probably give them a go anyway.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
So I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and I have no idea what to make of this movie. My thoughts on this movie have become a gigantic bundle of contradiction, and instead of eventually resolving itself in time, it's just getting bigger and bigger, like a snowball rolling downhill and turning into an avalanche. I've seen a lot of reactions to this film, and I've had the rather odd experience of agreeing with what everyone said about the film. Which is to say, I agree that the film is great, that it is horrible, that it's action packed, but boring, that 48 FPS in 3D is pretty cool, that it really sucks too, that somehow the first third of the story is overlong, yet I can't wait to see more. What the heck is going on here? Let's break it down a bit more.
Let's talk about the elephant in the room first. The Hobbit is the shortest book in the whole Lord of the Rings series, and it's a rather simplistic adventure tale written for children, yet Peter Jackson and crew have decided to split this up into three films. What's more, each film is looking to run close to 3 hours in length. The cynical response to this is to call it a simple money grab, and for sure, New Line certainly greenlit the project for exactly that reason, but I get the impression that Jackson genuinely believes in what he's doing here. I also get the impression that Jackson is being enabled by those around him, that few are telling him not to do something so extravagant. That is pure speculation, of course, but I feel like Jackson got a little carried away with this project and no one tried to stop him.
But how is it possible to do this? Well, technically, I suppose this isn't just a straight adaptation of The Hobbit. The story is certainly padded out, but not by making events in The Hobbit last longer, but by delving deeply into the supplemental materials of Tolkien's universe. Stuff like The Simarillion, of which there exists a ton of material to draw upon.
So rather than a Wizard and a bunch of dwarves dragging a hobbit along on an adventure, we get all these background sequences where we see historical digressions on dwarf culture, or Radagast the Brown riding a sleigh pulled by bunnies, or a mysterious necromancer mucking with the lands, or Gandalf speculating on the rise of Sauron with the elves, and so on. There is an interesting balance that Jackson is trying to go for here. The Hobbit is a really light story, which means that it could be a bit jarring when viewed in light of the more intense LotR trilogy films. These new scenes help integrate the movie with the rest of the series and give it more depth... but I'm not entirely sure that was needed. Again, I didn't find any of these things boring or poorly done, but then, they're just not necessary either.
Does this actually work? Damned if I know! If you're down with the whole Tolkien universe, and I suppose I am, then it's all good, I guess. I'm the type of person that appreciates details that hang together in the end, even if some things aren't strictly necessary. On the other hand, I can totally understand the complaints that this movie is overlong and boring. There's a lot of unnecessary stuff here, and while I appreciate detailed narratives and explanations, I'm also a fan of economical storytelling. While Jackson and Co. managed something rather spectacular with the original LotR trilogy, ruthlessly trimming parts of the story that were superfluous (I mean, is anyone really all that upset that Tom Bombadil didn't show up in Fellowship of the Ring?), they went in the complete opposite direction with The Hobbit, adding tons of extraneous stuff that wasn't even in the narrative to begin with. I can appreciate the skill with which this was done and I was never bored while watching the movie, but at the same time, I would probably have liked this better if there were only one movie that was tightly plotted.
I hold out hope that at the end of this whole process, instead of releasing even longer extended cuts on DVD/BD/Streaming, Jackson will buckle down and produce a 2-3 hour cut of the movie (which, again, is looking to be 9 hours or so long). Given the amount of extra stuff in this movie, I'm pretty sure that would be possible. I also doubt this will happen officially, but I can pretty much guarantee such a thing will show up on the internets, Phantom Edit style. It would probably be an insane amount of work, but I wouldn't put it past Tolkien fans, who certainly qualify as cult fans, despite the popularity of these movies.
Alright, next up is the presentation. I saw the movie in 48 FPS IMAX 3D (jeeze, that's a lot of acronyms). It was simultaneously interesting and terrible. I guess I can see where Jackson is coming from with this. 48 frames per second does impart more information to the viewer, and it makes fast camera movements appear smoother and more detailed. This is especially helpful when it comes to 3D, and I think this is the first time I saw a 3D movie in IMAX without emerging from the theater with a splitting headache. Should that be attributed to 48 FPS? I'm not sure, but from what I've seen, that might be a fair bet. On the other hand, I found the presentation lacking in many ways. One of the interesting things about it is that I don't really know how to describe it. I'm not alone, either. Everyone seems to be grappling with the problem of describing this presentation, whether they're proponents or detractors. Many have called it more realistic looking and smoother, which sounds nice, but then, detractors are saying it looks like an old, crappy TV show or a video game. There's also the notion that more realistic looking can also contribute to a sorta uncanny valley kinda experience, where the supposedly better experience of more FPS ends up feeling creepy or unnerving. From my perspective, while the movie clearly has great production design and special effects, the presentation detracts from the experience considerably. I suppose I fall down more on the detractors' side here. I found it distracting at first, but eventually got used to it. But the fact that it was no longer distracting doesn't mean that it looked good. Ultimately, I found the whole enterprise rather pointless. I didn't get anything extra out of it, except that this is yet another piece in the puzzle of my cognitive dissonance with this movie.
There's a part of me that wonders if my instinctual response to this is because I'm used to film and that I'm just being a luddite, but I've really grown to dislike 3D, and I don't think that 48 FPS has really changed my mind on that. There's just something so strange about the experience that it's really hard to get over it. This feels like more than just a simple change that I need to get used to. Besides, it's not like I've never seen higher frame rates. For example, I get why video games go for higher frame rates - it's an interactive experience, so faster feedback is always going to feel better - but I don't see the need in the world of film.
There are some things I'm not so conflicted about. Ian McKellen has always been fantastic as Gandalf, and this movie is no exception. Martin Freeman is a wonderful addition to the cast and comports himself rather well, especially in key scenes like the game of riddles with Gollum. Speaking of which, that scene with Freeman and mo-cap Andy Andy Serkis as Gollum is the highlight of the movie. While the beginning of the film felt meandering and overstuffed, the last third was pretty well done and delivered some satisfying arcs that I didn't realize were being set up earlier in the film. Oh and remember that first, horrible trailer with that dwarf song? Yeah, I hated that trailer, but the song actually felt much better integrated into the movie. I thought it was actually somewhat movie. If, like most of the film, a little unnecessary. But it was a good kind of unnecessary.
In the end, I really enjoyed this movie. I also kinda hated it. I... really don't know how to parse my response here. Ultimately, I think I would have rather had a single film that told the simple story with the normal 24 FPS 2D presentation. But I don't begrudge Jackson for trying something new either. Gah, I feel rather feckless when thinking about this movie. I keep throwing thoughts at it, but nothing seems to stick. It's like I'm stuck in some sort of quantum loop, both loving and hating it all at once. The cat is both alive and dead, the electron is a particle and a wave, it's all very paradoxical. But it is happening... so what do I say? I don't know. I do know that I'll try to watch the next movie in regular 2D. Assuming that will even be possible. And I do still hope that someone puts together a 3 hour (or shorter) edit of the entire series at some point. I suppose that says something.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Year End Movie Cram Session
With the end of the year approaching and most blogs and newspapers and other outlets already releasing their top 10 lists, I always find myself excitedly rushing to catch up with movies I missed throughout the year... while keeping up with the late-year prestige releases. Some might find this to be a chore, but I always end up having a lot of fun discovering movies I didn't know about or think I'd enjoy. Oh sure, there's the occasional tedious bore too, but that just makes the real surprises that much more enjoyable. As of this writing, I've seen 48 movies that would be considered a 2012 release, which is actually a little low compared to the past few years, perhaps because I didn't end up at any film festivals this year. So I've got some catching up to do, and fortunately, there are lots of good movies coming up or already available on streaming... Indeed, the latest episode of Filmspotting SVU has covered this very topic, and some of their streaming choices have an overlap with my choices below...
Current Releases or Coming Soon
Wednesday, December 05, 2012
Cult Movies in the Internet Age
Recently on Twitter, Dan McLaughlin asked: what would you regard as cult classic films made after 2000? As Sonny Bunch notes, this very much depends on how you define "cult" films. As it turns out, I've written about this before:
Cult films are (generally) commercially unsuccessful movies that have limited appeal, but nevertheless attract a fiercely loyal following among fans over time. They often exhibit very strange characters, surreal settings, bizzarre plotting, dark humor, and otherwise quirky and eccentric characteristics. These obscure films often cross genres (horror, sci-fi, fantasy, etc...) and are highly stylized, straying from conventional filmmaking techniques. Many are made by fiercely independent maverick filmmakers with a very low budget (read: cheesy), often showcasing the performance of talented newcomers.Not a bad explanation, but the whole thing is still a bit subjective. Sonny observes that modern cult movies have an additional obstacle:
In our modern, hyperconnected age, however, a key component of "cult" is lost. If you've heard of a film, you can see it. It's on TV and if it's not on TV it's on a streaming service and if it's not on a streaming service it's on DVD and if it's not on DVD you can probably torrent it. That element of discovery, of being in on something no one else is in on, is lost.He's very right about how connectivity plays into this. A big part of why something would be considered cult was that you really had to work just to get a chance to see it. For example, nowadays everyone knows about the 80s and 90s Hong Kong action movie scene (and even if you haven't directly seen them, you've seen a million Hollywood movies influenced or just plain ripping off those movies). But back in the 90s, a buddy and I used to ride the train into Philly and skulk around Chinatown trying to find crappy bootleg VHS tapes of movies we were never quite sure what to make of... I mean, the internet existed and it didn't take long to figure out who John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat were, but who's this Tsui Hark guy? Ringo Lam? Johnny To? What the heck is Wu Xia Pian? It's not like we had iPhones and internet connections. We just saw a poorly labeled VHS with a title on it and took a chance. We ran into our fair share of duds that way, but more often than not, we found some fascinating stuff.
Nowadays? You just throw Full Contact into your Netflix Instant queue and marvel at the bullet-cam shots, all from the comfort of your couch.
Of course all the other elements of cult still apply. The quirky, non-mainstream sensibility, the passionately loyal fanbase, the obsessive analysis and debate on the internet. Of course, even that element has been eroded by our connected age. Lost fanatics were endlessly analyzing numerology or recording episodes and going over them frame by frame like they were the Zapruder film. These are cult movie tendencies gone mainstream.
And indeed, cult movies don't always stay cult. No one would consider It's a Wonderful Life a cult classic these days, but despite it's pedegree, it had a lackluster release and languished in obscurity for decades. It wasn't until some observant TV execs noticed that its copyright had expired without being renewed that it started to become mainstream (and how could it not - apparently multiple stations would air that thing repeatedly during the holiday season). This might give another clue as to why the internet is breaking down cult movies: on the interwebs, no one gives a crap about copyright!
Anywho, we should probably get to the meat of the question. As a working definition, I'll say that a movie must enjoy a certain degree of obscurity as well as a small but fiercely loyal and dedicated fanbase (as evidenced by large-scale public demonstrations, obsessive analyses, comprehensive wikis, etc...) I'll start with Sonny's first batch of suggested post-2000 cult movies:
In the end, I agree that the internet is a bit of a game changer for cult movies. The internet trends towards the Long Tail and ever-smaller niches (not just in entertainment), which are traditionally the domain of things like cult movies or other underground scenes. Of course, none of this is going away, it's just changing. In accordance with Kaedrin law, I will end with an appropos Neal Stephenson quote from The System of the World:
"It has been my view for some years that a new System of the World is being created around us. I used to suppose that it would drive out and annihilate any older Systems. But things I have seen recently ... have convinced me that new Systems never replace old ones, but only surround and encapsulate them, even as, under a microscope, we may see that living within our bodies are animalcules, smaller and simpler than us, and yet thriving even as we thrive."
Sunday, December 02, 2012
Companies Don't Force You Into Piracy
But let's be honest with ourselves, that doesn't mean that all those same media companies don't suck. Let me back up a minute, as this is an old argument. Most recently, this article from The Guardian bemoans the release window system:
A couple of months ago, I purchased the first season of the TV series Homeland from the iTunes Store. I paid $32 for 12 episodes that all landed seamlessly in my iPad. I gulped them in a few days and was left in a state of withdrawal. Then, on 30 September, when season 2 started over, I would have had no alternative but to download free but illegal torrent files. Hundreds of thousands of people anxious to find out the whereabouts of the Marine turncoat pursued by the bi-polar CIA operative were in the same quandaryThis is, of course, stupid. This guy does have a pretty simple alternative: wait a few months to watch the show. It's a shitty alternative, to be sure, but that doesn't excuse piracy. As Sonny Bunch notes:
Of course you have an alternative you ninny! It's not bread for your starving family. You're not going to die if you have to wait six months to watch a TV show. You're not morally justified in your thievery.Others have also responded as such:
This argument is both ludicrous, and wrong. Ludicrous, because if piracy is actually wrong, it doesn't get less wrong simply because you can't have the product exactly when and where you want it at a price you wish to pay. You are not entitled to shoplift Birkin bags on the grounds that they are ludicrously overpriced, and you cannot say you had no alternative but to break into an the local ice cream parlor at 2 am because you are really craving some Rocky Road and the insensitive bastards refused to stay open 24/7 so that you could have your favorite sweet treat whenever you want. You are not forced into piracy because you can't get a television show at the exact moment when you want to see it; you are choosing piracy.This is all well and good, and the original Guardian article has a poor premise... but that doesn't mean that the release window system isn't antiquated and doesn't suck. The original oped could easily be tweaked to omit the quasi-justification for piracy. Instead, the piracy is included and thus the article overreaches. On the flip side, the responses also tend to overstate their case, usually including something like this: "you can't have the product exactly when and where you want it at a price you wish to pay." This is true, of course, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating for consumers. And with respect to streaming, the media company stance is just as ludicrous as those defending piracy.
Here's a few examples I've run into:
I get that these are all businesses and need to make money, but I don't understand the insistence on alienating their own customers, frequently and thoroughly. I'm not turning to piracy, I'm just a frustrated customer. I've already bought a bunch of devices and services so that I can watch this stuff, and yet I'm still not able to watch even a small fraction of what I want. Frustration doesn't excuse piracy, but I don't see why I should be excusing these companies for being so annoying about when and where and how I can consume their content. It's especially frustrating because so much of this is done in the name of piracy. I suppose this post is coming off petulant and whiny on my part, but if you think I'm bad, just try listening to the MPAA or similar institution talk about piracy and the things they do to their customers to combat it. In essence, these companies hurt their best customers to spite non-customers. So I don't pirate shows or movies or books, but then, I often don't get to watch or read the ones I want to either. In a world where media companies are constantly whining about declining sales, it's a wonder that they don't actually, you know, try to sell me stuff I can watch/read. I guess they find it easier to assume I'm a thief and treat me as such.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
A couple months ago, the Filmspotting SVU podcast discussed what's known as Hyperlink Cinema, those movies that are comprised of multiple, seemingly independent but actually interconnected narratives, and co-host Matt Singer came up with a test: "Would these stories hold up on their own without each other? If we pulled one story out and made it a short film, would that short film be worth watching on its own?" That's an interesting criteria for these movies, as so much of what makes them interesting is not the story itself, but the structure. These movies are screenwriters' dreams, lots of opportunity for playing with time and locations and themes, and devising a way to make it all a big puzzle that unravels itself as the movie plays out. What Singer is getting at with his test is that many of these films sacrifice character or drama in order to make the structure work...
So how does Cloud Atlas, the new film from the Wachowski siblings (is that what we're supposed to call them now?) and Tom Tykwer, hold up against that test? I'd say it doesn't hold up that well, but there's enough going on in this movie that I think it remains worthwhile, and given that the theme of the movie is essentially that everything is connected, it makes sense for the movie to be a slave to its structure. Based on a sprawling, ambitious novel by David Mitchell, the movie tells six different tales, ranging from the distant past to the distant future, with the same actors playing roles in each timeline. There's some notion of reincarnation or distant relationship between each actor/character and each timeline, and each story is connected to each other in some way or another.
Unfortunately, all of the stories are trite and clichéd. Some work better than others, but I get the impression that they're almost parodies of their respective genres. The movie is certainly self-aware enough that it might try for that sort of thing, and not having read the book, I can't say whether or not that was an intention, but in practice, it doesn't quite congeal the way I think they hoped it would. That being said, none of the stories are boring, and the real triumph of this movie is one of editing. The transitions between each story are relatively seamless, with visual motifs used to great effect while still quickly and effectively establishing which story you're in. While I was puzzling out how each story related to the other (which is part of the fun of hyperlink cinema), I was never confused as to what story I was watching or what was going on. The Wachowskis and Tykwer make this look easy, but I'm of the opinion that this sort of thing is much harder than it looks, and I was really surprised at how well done that aspect was.
Of the six stories, the one I liked the most was set in a futuristic Korea, where a clone escapes servitude and becomes a sorta rebel. It had a very 70s science fiction sorta feel to it, complete with shocking Soylent Green style revelations. The ending of this segment left a little something to be desired, and there is some amazingly bad makeup in evidence here, but it was the most interesting of the six segments. I actually enjoyed all the other tales well enough, though again, there's a lot of cliché to wade through, including some really on-the-nose type stuff (especially with the slavery segment).
While I don't think any of these stories, if lifted from the movie and screened separately, would work by itself, each one of them has a hook that could lead to a great story or movie. The general ideas of each story are solid enough, it's just perhaps the act of compression combined with the didacticism of the script that lets the movie down. I'd be really curious to see how well the book actually accomplishes this. I imagine a lot of subtleties of this story would be better suited to the written word than the screen.
For instance, this is a movie with a message, and boy do they really want you to know that. This is one of the more didactic movies I've seen this year, with characters constantly spouting the story's themes in clumsy and awkward dialogue. The notion that everything is connected, that small actions have far-reaching consequences, that inaction is an action, these are all fascinating topics, but the movie clearly doesn't trust the audience to make those connections and frequently lays them out in bald, explicit, literal speeches. This sort of thing tends to work better on the page than it does onscreen, and because I'm sure Mitchell was not constrained by things like length, he could perhaps have spread the themes out so they didn't seem like a sledgehammer hitting your face.
In terms of performances, everything is mostly adequate, though I do think some of the makeup jobs were distracting and unnecessary (others were not nearly as bad, and some were very successful). From a technical perspective, everything works very well. Visually impressive, and for a movie this didactic, I thought a lot of the visual transitions between stories were exceptionally well done. Again, the editing is perfect, and the music is quite effective as well.
I've ultimately come away with a good feeling from this movie, but it's also clearly got some big flaws that hold it back. I'm actually quite impressed with how well the stories were weaved together, and I found the movie entertaining and thought provoking, I just wish that the filmmakers trusted us viewers a little more.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Pop Quiz, Hot Shot: James Bond
So I saw Skyfall a few days ago, and whenever a new Bond movie comes up, it seems that I always reminisce about all the other Bond movies I've seen. After approximately two minutes of exhaustive googling, I've determined that there aren't any quizes or memes or whatever that I can
1) Favorite James Bond actor?
Well, it might seem trite and cliche to say Sean Connery, but there's a reason he's the typical answer to this question. He more or less originated the character as we know him, so it's tough to go with anyone else. However, if Daniel Craig continues his run (he's 2 for 3 at this point, by my reckoning) for a few more good movies, he could give Connery a run for his money. Unlikely, though.
2) Favorite James Bond movie?
Casino Royale is the movie that really hooked me into Bond, and I think it remains my favorite for numerous reasons. In particular, the first third of that movie is utterly perfect and the best action film out of all of the series. The second and third acts drag a little bit and things do get convoluted at times, but it all worked out reasonably well for me. I'd say Goldfinger deserves some recognition as the film that really refined and perfected the Bond formula. Of the other Bond films, I like a lot of them, but many are middling efforts at best, and most don't seem to age very well. That being said, even the bad ones aren't without their charm, which is why the series has been so enduring.
3) Worst James Bond movie?
I'll give this to Never Say Never Again, though Diamonds Are Forever is nipping pretty closely at its heals. The commonality with both these movies is that they were failed attempts to reinstate Connery as Bond. Also, they're nigh incomprehensible stories. The one saving grace for Diamonds are the henchmen, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. Oh sure, they're silly characters and make no real sense, but they stand out in a movie that bad. That's kind of damning with faint praise, to be sure, but that's why I went with Never as the worst.
4) Favorite villain/henchman?
The one/two punch of Auric Goldfinger and Oddjob from Goldfinger is pretty hard to beat.
5) Favorite Bondian double-entendre?
Another obvious win for Goldfinger: Pussy Galore. However, that answer is so blindingly obvious that this should really be the Pussy Galore memorial list. And thus, I think Octopussy merits special mention, not just because it's silly, but because they actually went ahead and named the movie after the double entendre.
6) Favorite Bond girl?
The obvious answer is Honey Ryder, played by Ursula Andress, from Dr. No, but since that's so obvious, I'll go with Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green, from Casino Royale.
7) Name an under-appreciated Bond moment.
Moonraker has garnered a rather low reputation among the Bond films, perhaps even rightfully so, but one of my favorite moments in all of the movies is in Moonraker. Bond is hanging out at the estate of the villainous Hugo Drax, and in his villainy, he invites Bond to participate in a pheasant hunt. He even hands Connery a shotgun. But it's a ruse! One of Drax's henchmen has taken up residence in a nearby tree and levels his sniper rifle at Bond's head. Just then, a few pheasants are kicked up. Bond lifts his gun, gives the birds a lead, then pulls the trigger. Drax laughs and says "You missed!" Cut to man in tree falling, cause Bond just shot him. Bond says "Did I?" Annnnd scene! Sheer brilliance. Watch it online here.
To finish this comprehensive survey of James Bond films, I leave you with this parting thought, something I think we all say at some point whenever a new Bond movie is out:
Sunday, November 04, 2012
Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections on the Disney/Lucasfilm Deal
In the midst of the Frankenstorm, those of us on the east coast felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out... in joy! We feared that... something wonderful had happened. Alright, so calling this deal "wonderful" is an exaggeration, but on the whole, I think this will be a positive thing for Star Wars nerds everywhere. For the uninitiated, earlier this week, Disney purchased Lucasfilm, a deal encompassing the Star Wars franchise as well as ancillary entities like ILM and Skywalker Sound. In addition, Disney announced that it plans to release Star Wars Episode VII in 2015. No details on the creative aspects of that movie except that George Lucas will remain involved as a "creative consultant".
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
6WH: Week 6.5 - Speed Round and Halloween
It's hard to believe that six weeks have passed and the big day has arrived, but here we are. As per usual, I have not actually written up every movie I saw during this festive Halloween season. Sometimes a movie just doesn't fit with a given week's theme, or perhaps I only caught a portion of it on television, and sometimes I just don't have much to say about a movie. So every year, I close out the marathon with a quick roundup of everything I saw that hasn't already been covered. Stay frosty everyone, here we go:
Sunday, October 28, 2012
6WH: Week 6 - No Discernible Theme Week
Coming down the homestretch! Though we're battening down the hatches in preparation for the Frankenstorm (pretty much directly in the path over here), we nevertheless took in some horror films this weekend, because we're dedicated like that here at Kaedrin. Alas, no real theme this week, though that's a sorta yearly tradition of its own. Let's see how we did:
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
The Six Weeks of Halloween horror marathon continues with this BBC series written by Steven Moffat, who would go on to produce the most excellent Sherlock series as well as take on the show running responsibilities for the most recent seasons of Doctor Who. Like Sherlock, Jekyll is a modern-day retelling of a famous Victorian-era story, in this case Robert Louis Stevenson's famous novel, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
As with a lot of other British shows, this one is a simple, 6 episode season that has had no real follow-ups (though I suppose Moffat left things open enough in the end to continue the story if needed). Once again, this is a bit of a modernization of the story, so Moffat is able to play with the conventions established in Stevenson's original novel, even to the point of self-awareness by referencing Stevenson's novel.
The show starts a little on the slow side as it establishes the setting and situation our main protagonist is in. Many mysteries and conspiracies are cycled through, and our main character has quite the interesting arc, making you wonder who is the real villain of the story. For the most part, this plays out in a grand tradition of fun, as you learn more and more about Jekyll and Hyde, their origins, and how they impact those around them. I don't want to give much away, but there are plenty of red herrings and mysteries that are eventually resolved in a somewhat satisfactory manner.
The production is generally well orchestrated, with solid visuals and music, if perhaps not quite as polished as a usual TV production would be. It shares a lot in common with Sherlock, though it clearly retains an identity of its own.
As horror, it's not really gory or scary, per say, but it certainly touches on such sub-genres and establishes a tension all its own. I found the beginning to be a bit on the slow side, but it became more involving as things went on, and there were certainly of twists and turns ans the series progressed, each episode ending on a minor cliffhanger, but proceeding anyway. I wouldn't call this a masterpiece or anything, but I had a fun enough time giving it a gander during the Six Weeks of Halloween...
Sunday, October 14, 2012
6WH: Week 4 - Now Playing
Alrighty then, enough with the obscure historical horror. Out with the old, in with the new. This week, we look at some current horror flicks. Two are still in the theater, one just came out on Netflix Instant (it was apparently in theaters a month or two ago), and all are worth watching.
Posted by Mark on October 14, 2012 at 07:30 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Professor Arthur Chipping's Maddeningly Detailed, Purposefully Vague, Fitfully Out-Of-Focus, Back To School Movie Quiz
Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as always, I'm excited to provide my answers. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, Professor Severus Snape, Professor Ed Avery, Dr. Anton Phibes, and Sister Clodagh are also available... This time around, Professor Arthur Chipping, colloquially known as Mr. Chips, notes that "school is back in session, which means it’s time for yet another movie quiz." There's no real theme to the quiz this time around, but in the spirit of the Six Weeks of Halloween, I'll try to steer things into the realm of horror whenever possible (Update: only partially successful at this.) Ok, enough jibber jabber, let's answer some questions.
1) What is the biggest issue for you in the digital vs. film debate?
This is a tough one because all of the issues that are coming to mind are sorta meta-issues. In theory, digital lowers costs for productions and makes things much easier to distribute (this includes theatrical distribution, but also stuff like On Demand and, of course, the internets). In practice, the movie industry's obsession with piracy has pretty much muffled most advantages on the distribution side of things, and theater chains haven't exactly jumped at the opportunity to leverage digital distribution in an ideal way. It would be great if my local Regal dedicated a few timeslots a week to offbeat, indy, or even older film series. Judging from my own anecdotal experience with that theater, they could certainly stand to sell a lot of tickets that way. However, I know that this is easier said than done. Studios make showing movies in a theater an expensive proposition right from the get go, whereas, even a handful of tickets for something you already have the right to show will make you money. Again, digital could make this easier, in theory, but from what I've heard of digital distribution, the process is incredibly onerous and painful to use thanks to all of the copy protection, DRM, etc... The future is digital, and from a technology standpoint, we're almost at the point where you'd be able to implement an ideal distribution network for all movies (heck, most media in general). Unfortunately, the business side of things is holding technology back.
2) Without more than one minute's consideration, name three great faces from the movies
Since I've been watching a lot of horror films lately, the names that come to mind are Angus Scrimm, Bruce Campbell, and Shelly Duvall. Distinctive faces, all.
I have a deep dislike for movie musicals. That being said, a full length Planet of the Apes musical, a la The Simpsons, would probably still be better than that Tim Burton remake. "I hate every ape I see, from Chimpan-A, to Chimpanzee!"
4) The last movie you saw theatrically/on DVD, Blu-ray, streaming
In theaters, Frankenweenie, which I enjoyed greatly (probably the best Tim Burton movie in a decade, probably more). On DVD, it was The Devil's Backbone, which I also thought was quite good. On Blu-Ray, I've got Bernie, a movie that really surprised me in that I totally loved it. And on streaming, Bloody Birthday, a so-bad-its-good Kids are scary and hate you! movie (part of this past weekend's Halloween horror movie marathon). Actually a pretty good run here.
5) Favorite movie about work
The obvious answer here is Office Space, though looking at other answers, I see Glengarry Glen Ross, The Hudsucker Proxy, and His Girl Friday, great movies all. But I'll stick with Office Space.
6) The movie you loved as a child that did not hold up when seen through adult eyes
I realize I'm in the minority here, but Terminator 2: Judgment Day is kinda terrible. It still holds up as a solid action film with good special effects, I guess, but it jettisoned everything that made the first movie special without really adding anything interesting to the mix. I loved it at the time, but as I got older I started to see the cracks. This David Foster Wallace article neatly encapsulates my view, though I don't know that I'd put it quite the way he does (nor would I extrapolate in the way he does). Ok, fine, it doesn't "neatly encapsulate" my view, but you should read it anyway.
7) Favorite "road" movie
Many possible ways to take this. Mad Max and The Road Warrior are obvious answers, but I'm also fond of Midnight Run (a different sorta "road" movie, I guess), and in the interest of keeping it real with the Six Weeks of Halloween, Road Games makes for an intriguing concept. It's perhaps not perfect in execution, but the premise of taking Hitchcock's Rear Window on the road is beautiful and I really enjoyed it.
8) Does Clint Eastwood's appearance at the Republican National Convention change or confirm your perspective on him as a filmmaker/movie icon? Is that appearance relevant to his legacy as a filmmaker?
Completely irrelevant and it doesn't change my feelings towards any of his movies, whether I love or hate them.
9) Longest-lasting movie or movie-related obsession
These questions seem awfully imprecise and vague. I'm not entirely sure what this is getting at, but in accordance with my marching orders, I'll say horror movies.
10) Favorite artifact of movie exploitation
Again with the imprecision. Is this asking about exploitation films? Or about artifacts that are exploiting movies? For the former, my answer would have to be the trailers and posters, the trashier the better. For the latter, well, let's just say that this action figure of Boba Fett sitting on my desk here holds a special place in my heart.
I'm not sure if I ever fell asleep outright, though it was a very near thing when I saw The Squad at Fantastic Fest. It was a few days into the festival, in the midst of a day with 5 movie viewings scheduled, and it was just an awful, boring, stupid movie. I may have rested my eyes for a moment or ten.
12) Favorite performance by an athlete in a movie
The first thing that popped into my head: Kurt Thomas from Gymkata (he single-handedly defeated the Soviets... with Gymnastics!) Popular opinion seems to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Airplane!, which is certainly a worthy choice. And if you count wrestlers, you've got Andre the Giant from The Princess Bride, and Rowdy Roddy Piper from They Live. But who are we kidding? Gymkata is set in the fictional country of Parmistan. Population: Communists. And they're defeated because of their baffling but convenient placement of pommel horses throughout their country.
13) Second favorite Rainer Werner Fassbinder movie
It begins: I have not seen any Fassbinder movies. As usual, I expect similar answers to be given for several other questions in this quiz.
14) Favorite film of 1931
Hoo man, this is a tough choice. M or Frankenstein? Yikes. I can't decide, as both are superb (though I can decisively pick them above other 1931 movies I've seen, which are surprisingly many).
15) Second favorite Raoul Walsh movie
Oh, this question is diabolical. Back in Professor Peabody's quiz, you asked for our favorite Raoul Walsh movie. At the time, I hadn't seen any, so I had to abstain, but I eventually went out of my way to watch White Heat, just because of the quiz (this came in handy on another quiz). Alas, that remains the only Raoul Walsh movie I've ever seen, thus I must abstain from this question as well.
16) Favorite film of 1951
Strangers on a Train, hands down. There are other worthy contenders, but no one beats the Hitch.
17) Second favorite Wong Kar-wai movie
I must admit that I'm not a huge Wong Kar-wai fan, though I've seen enough of his movies to declare Chungking Express my second favorite.
18) Favorite film of 1971
This is another tough one. I'll go with Dirty Harry for now, but I do have a fondness for The Andromeda Strain as well. Lots of other juicy choices that year too, but I'll leave it at Dirty Harry...
The Wages of Fear, after Diabolique.
20) Favorite film of 1991
Raise the Red Lantern is a masterpiece, though it's not something I love to rewatch all the time, like The Silence of the Lambs. Still, that's a pretty great one-two punch.
21) Second favorite John Sturges movie
I'll go with Joe Kidd, though I should really watch more of his movies...
22) Favorite celebrity biopic
The first thing that came to mind was Amadeus (does that count as "celebrity" in the modern sense, especially given that it's more about Salieri than Mozart?), but Ed Wood is a ton of fun (hmm, Tum Burton getting a lot of action in today's quiz).
23) Name a good script idea which was let down either by the director or circumstances of production
Too many to answer. Most recently, I was thinking this about a few German Krimi movies I watched for the Six Weeks of Halloween. Some really fantastic ideas there, but they wound up a little on the messy side when translated to the screen.
24) Heaven's Gate-- yes or no?
I haven't seen the movie, but sure, why not? I find it hard to say "no" to a movie, even one I don't particularly like or agree with. I kinda equate "no" with censorship, and fooey to that.
25) Favorite pairing of movie sex symbols
The one that immediately came to mind was Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, but upon further reflection, the George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez combo in Out of Sight is probably a better choice, as that movie is clearly superior. I'm not even that big of a fan of Clooney or Lopez, but I really enjoy that movie and they have great chemistry together.
26) One word that you could say which would instantly evoke images and memories of your favorite movie. (Naming the movie is optional - might be more fun to see if we can guess what it is from the word itself)
27) Name one moment which to you demarcates a significant change, for better or worse, on the landscape of the movies over the last 20 years.
A lot of options here, but in accordance with decorative gourd season, I'll pick something from the horror genre. The Blair Witch Project wasn't the first "found footage" mock documentary (heck, it wasn't even the only one of those from 1999), but for better or worse, it popularized the idea to the point where it broke out of the horror genre. Two other horror movies could also qualify for this: Scream (reviving slashers in particular, and horror in general) and Saw (popularizing the whole torture porn thing).
28) Favorite pre-Code talkie
Gabriel Over the White House, a completely bonkers but surprisingly relevant movie. I was totally flabbergasted by this movie when I first saw it. It's this tacky, unbelievable leftist authoritarian fantasy, and it's utterly riveting.
29) Oldest film in your personal collection (Thanks, Peter Nellhaus)
The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926), Hitchcock's first movie (part of a collection I bought once).
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Special Extended DVD Edition clocks in at 251 min (And the other LotR extended editions would probably also top most of my other movies). Coming in second would be the Das Boot Director's Cut, clocking in at 208 minutes, barely edging out The Godfather: Part II which is "only" 200 minutes (though, notably, the only theatrical cut mentioned in this answer).
31) Have your movie collection habits changed in the past 10 years? If so, how?
I don't buy nearly as many DVDs/BDs as I used to. This changed most dramatically when I first signed up for Netflix (somewhere around 2005, give or take a year), though more recently the cheap availability of online streaming has also begun to change my habits. Discs are becoming more and more of a pain. I have to, like, get up and walk over to the player in order to swap out discs. Alas, when you're into exploring obscure movies, discs are usually your only options.
32) Wackiest, most unlikely "directed by" credit you can name
I always enjoy it when Alan Smithee directs a film.
33) Best documentary you've seen in 2012 (made in 2012 or any other year)
I've not watched a ton of documentaries thus far this year, but I did really enjoy Bobby Fischer Against the World. Heckler was actually a very interesting discovery, and it becomes more of a meditation on criticism in general than heckling. Ok, so maybe "mediation" is too weighty, but I really enjoyed the movie. Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel and Machete Maidens Unleashed! were great fun, but not exactly insightful or anything.
34) What's your favorite "(this star) was almost cast in (this movie)" anecdote?
Well, Tom Selleck was considered for Indiana Jones (apparently he turned it down). I don't think other answers are possible.
35) Program three nights of double bills at a revival theater that might best illuminate your love of the movies
There are seriously way too many options here, but I came up with something that covered a few interesting themes:
Night one: James Cameron (back when he was still awesome) - The Terminator and Aliens - These are just two of my favorite movies of all time. They pair well together and would make for an exciting, adventurous start to my three nights of double features.
Night two: Cultural Cross-Contamination - Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars - Let's see here, John Ford westerns inspired Akira Kurosawa to make structurally similar samurai films, then crazy Italian Sergio Leone takes one of those samurai films and converts it back to the world of westerns, infusing it with spaghetti. Bitchin.
Night three: Sensory Overload Night - Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Detention - This will be an exhausting, but rollicking night. A good way to end a three day marathon of double features though.
36) You have been granted permission to invite any three people, alive or dead, to your house to watch the Oscars. Who are they?
I always stink at questions like these. Let's see here. Stanley Kubrick, Armond White, and Alison Brie. Kubrick and White will either come to blows, or have the most interesting conversation evar, which will represent a nice bonding experience for me and Alison.
37) Favorite Mr. Chips. (Careful...)
Not having seen any of the movies featuring the good Professor, I will have to abstain from this question. I will, however, wax poetic about Charlie's Chips. Does anyone remember Charlie's Chips? It was this giant delivery truck that would tool around town, delivering potato chips in giant tins to anyone who subscribed. When you ran out, you simply put out the bin, and the Charlie's Chips dude would pick it up and deliver you a full container of chips. This was somehow a rational business model in the 1980s. So there, nothing to do with movies, but all this talk of Chips made me think of it, so there. I hope you're happy now.
Sunday, October 07, 2012
6WH: Week 3 - Revisiting 1981
This was originally going to be a week chock-full of slashers, but despite an excellent start on that front, things gradually got less-and-less slashery. As it turns out, all three movies are bona fide members of the horror class of 1981, a year in which changes in distribution and low-budget independent filmmaking conspired to release an explosion of horror movies on an unsuspecting populace. Much of this was driven by the slasher craze, but horror in general was booming in the early 80s and particularly in 1981. Naturally, I've already seen a lot of the classics from that hallowed year, but there were a few high profile movies I'd missed out on for whatever reason, so here goes:
Posted by Mark on October 07, 2012 at 07:18 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, October 03, 2012
6WH: Tales from the Crypt - Season 1
Tales from the Crypt was one of those shows I was vaguely aware of, but never really watched much. Let's just say that I was young and foolish and didn't appreciate the Crypt Keeper's puns. Now? I value a good pun. Is that value ironic? Oh God, am I becoming a hipster? Well, whatever, I figured it was worth revisiting this show, and since the first season was only six short episodes, it wasn't too much of a time investment. It's funny, but I never quite realized just how much talent was involved with this show. In this first season alone, we've got episodes directed by Walter Hill, Robert Zemeckis, and Richard Donner. And that's not even considering the familiar actors and writers. Plus, the episodes are a relatively short 25-30 minutes, so even if you don't care too much for an episode, you don't have to put in that much time. So let's see how the first season fared. There were only 6 episodes, so I got through them pretty quickly:
Posted by Mark on October 03, 2012 at 10:14 PM .: link :.
Sunday, September 30, 2012
6WH: Week 2 - The German Krimi Film
One of the more obscure sub-genres of film is the German Krimi, which translates to "crime" or "mystery thriller". Interestingly, these movies all had their origin in the crime novels of ridiculously prolific British author Edgar Wallace (dude wrote somewhere on the order of 175 books). I had never heard of these movies before, but J.A. Kerswell devoted a short chapter to this movement in his Slasher Movie Book.
...the krimi was at its height of popularity from the end of the 1950s to the mid-1960s (although it was still being made into the early 1970s). Mostly filmed in Germany, the krimi films fetishized England and presented a decidedly Germanic idea of Englishness, which produced an otherworldly, alternative reality. ...These krimis are typically peopled by dastardly villains in outlandish costumes - featuring everything from a green skeleton in a cape to a whip-grasping monk in a red habit and pointy hat.By today's standards, these are pretty tame films, and as the description above might imply, they're not out-and-out horror, though they have leanings in that direction. There are some key horror conventions on display here though, including POV shots, macabre mad scientists, masked killers, and, strangely, a lot of throwing knives. I'm glad I tracked these down, but the overwhelming reaction I had to all of these movies was that they had some interesting ideas that weren't quite fully developed. This was perhaps due to the time they were made, but hey, if you're looking to remake movies, these seem like great candidates to me. Anywho, let's get this party started:
Posted by Mark on September 30, 2012 at 07:56 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
6WH: The Slasher Movie Book
I like slasher movies. There, I said it. Of course, longtime readers of the site (all 5 of you!) already knew that, as slashers tend to comprise an inordinate proportion of movies watched during the Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon I do every year. As sub-genres go, it's not particularly well respected, but again, I like them. I've written about this before, so I'll just say that I find them comforting, like curling up under the sheets on a cold autumn night. Oh sure, they're all working from a relatively limited and predictable formula, but sometimes that works and I'm a big fan of folks who are able to find new and interesting ways to think inside the box.
Despite all the slasher movies I've seen, I'm far from an expert. Enter The Slasher Movie Book. I didn't realize this, but the book was written by J.A. Kerswell, who runs Hysteria Lives! website as well as the Hysteria Continues podcast I mentioned recently.
Having read the book, I think it's safe to say that Kerswell is indeed an expert, and not just on slasher movies. Indeed, the first several chapters of the book cover broad swaths of horror movie history. He's mostly focusing on proto-slashers, but it's clear that Kerswell has broad expertise in the rest of the genre as well. As most horror movie histories begin, this one starts with the Grand Guignol (a theater in Paris that specialized in short plays featuring graphically portrayed acts of torture, murder, and general mayhem), but quickly transitions into silent horror films (which have guided my recent viewings).
From there Kerswell spends a chapter on German "Krimi" (translates roughly to "Crime" or "Mystery Thriller") films, a sub-sub-genre originating in the 1950s that I'd never even heard of before (as such, I will be devoting this coming weekend to some Krimi films I was able to wrangle from Netflix, tune in Sunday to see the results!), then moves on to the Italian Giallo movement (which is a sub-genre I've enjoyed greatly) and other similar proto-slashers from the 60s and 70s.
But the bulk of the book focuses on the Golden Age of the Slasher film, those hallowed years between 1978 and 1984 when slashers were formally codified and replicated ad nauseam. Starting with Halloween and basically ending with A Nightmare on Elm Street, there were seemingly hundreds of slashers made and released in that era. And Kerswell's seemingly seen every last one of them. I mean, I know I said I'm not an expert, but this dude outstripped my knowledge on just about every page. The book is nearly comprehensive, especially in the Golden Age portions. Unfortunately, that breadth of film knowledge comes at the expense of depth. Most films warrant little more than a sentence or two. The classics of the sub-genre obviously get more attention, though even these portions are not exhaustive. But really, how could they be? There are probably a thousand movies mentioned in the book; going into meticulous detail on every single one would be tedious and boring.
Instead, Kurswell does a pretty deft job and summarizing the ebbs and flows of the genre, from the origins of various conventions in early films to the progression of said conventions through the Golden Age. He traces the genre's roots as they move from gritty realism to a reliance on the supernatural to the self-reflexive parodies that kept it alive. He's identified the trends and movements within the genre while cataloging examples to demonstrate. This is a book I assumed would bog down in repetition or simple regurgitation, like that part in the Bible where Jeremiah begat Jededia, Jededia begat Jebediah and so on, for like 10 pages. But this never really reached that kind of boring territory for me. Of course, I'm kinda obsessive about this stuff, so this book fed me a steady stream of new and unknown movies, all contextualized with stuff that I was already familiar with. It worked well.
The book rounds things out with a look at International slashing, the dark days of slashers, "Video Hell", the reinvigoration of the sub-genre at the hands of Scream, and a survey of latter day horror.
I found out about the book from Brian Collins, the guy who runs the estimable Horror Movie A Day website, and I think his review is pretty spot on, and he's qualified to make statements like this too:
...there's enough evidence throughout the book to suggest that I won't always see eye to eye with him, as he refers to New Year's Evil as "dull" (no movie with a killer name-dropping Erik Estrada can be considered as such, in my opinion) and considers the (IMO) rather bland House On Sorority Row to be a top-tier slasher on the same level as My Bloody Valentine. But I have to remember that everyone has their own favorites; the book's introduction explains that Halloween II was his first slasher and thus he has a soft spot for it, though he's thankfully honest about its shortcomings in the text itself. And he's on the right (meaning: MY) side for some other underrated flicks, such as the 2005 House of Wax, and he also (correctly) refers to Cold Prey II as one of the best post-Scream slashers, a bit of a surprise given his affection for Halloween II, which it was clearly aping.Brian is dead on (read: he agrees with me) about New Years Evil and House On Sorority Row, and some of his omissions are good calls to... One omission I would mention is Alice Sweet Alice - Kurswell does mention it in passing under it's original title (Communion), but I would have expected more info on what I thought was one of the clear proto-slashers (I mean, not even a picture of that creepy mask? Come on!) You can't please everyone, I guess. As mentioned above, Kurswell needed to walk a fine line here. Too much info and the book gets cumbersome and boring, too little information and doofuses like me whine about it on the internets. Again, this book is about as good as it gets when it comes to breadth of information.
It's also a very pretty book. Paperback, but all in color, with oodles of gorgeous poster art and stills. I'm not one of them poster art curators that seek out foreign lobby cards and obscure movie art, but I can appreciate that sort of thing when I see it, and if that's your bag, you'll love this. Tons of goofy stuff, along with genuinely effective imagery.
It's a fun book for fans of the sub-genre. Kurswell seems genuinely enthusiastic about the subject and treats it with a respect that few do. As a result, I've come away with dozens of movies I want to track down (if not, uh, hundreds). But don't worry, I'm only planning on spending one week on out-and-out slashers (probably next week).
Posted by Mark on September 26, 2012 at 10:18 PM .: link :.
Sunday, September 23, 2012
Six Weeks of Halloween 2012: Week 1 - Silent Horror
The leaves are turning, the wind is gusting, little plastic corpses and bite sized candy are showing up in grocery stores, along with graveyard themed decorations and mutilated pumpkins. It's my favorite time of the year, and as usual, it's time to celebrate the season by watching lots of horror movies. As usual, Kernunrex has gotten the festivities started off in style, and gives as good an introduction to the concept as one could hope for:
Halloween, the high holiday for horror geeks, has no equal. When is the science fiction fest? Which day do comedy kooks celebrate? Would there ever be a spaghetti western wingding? No, horror is special; it's primal and emotional, tapping into the deepest parts of our psychology and yanking at those uncomfortable pieces we normally pretend do not exist. Something this unique deserves more than a mere day of honor at the end of October. I say: let Halloweentime last for six weeks!Hell yes! Six weeks of horror movies and pumpkin beer, let's get this party started. Stock the Netflix queues, batten down the hatches, it's gonna be a bumpy ride. Every year, I start off the season thinking to myself: self, you should probably become more familiar with silent-era filmmaking, why not spend a week doing so? Then I promptly forget as I tear through a bunch of trashy slasher movies or Giallos or what have you. Well not this year!
My experience with silent horror films is pretty much limited to a viewing of Nosferatu not that long ago. I guess you could also consider Hitchcock's silent film The Lodger as horror too. The silent era of film is a bit of a blind spot in general, so it's definitely something I should be making myself more familiar with, and this provided a good excuse. So it was a quiet weekend, if you take my meaning. Let's see how much choices were:
Update: Rex posted some thoughts on The Cat and the Canary.
Again Update: Bonehead XL is also writing about The Cat and the Canary. It's all Cat and Canary, all the time on the internet! You should watch it too! Ok fine, he's got a bunch of other reviews too and his site promises to be another 6 weeks of Halloweeny fun.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
More X-Files Episodes
In what's sure to be an anticlimactic post, I'm going to list out a few of my favorite X-Files standalone monster-of-the-week episodes. Apologies for the lateness of this post, as my host apparently experienced some "hardware failures" over the weekend. All is well right now, though I had skipped the Sunday entry (first miss in years, so cut me some slack, Jack) and I even lost some Beer Blog stuff (though regular posting has resumed there as well). But I digress. Where was I? Ah yes, X-Files. A couple weeks ago, I revisited the series in general and listed out some of the most popular episodes. Today, I'm going to list some of my personal favorites, which may or may not be episodes that frequently show up in best-of lists. It will be earth-shattering to you all, I'm sure. Here goes:
Sunday, September 09, 2012
Revisiting The X-Files
I'm not a big TV person, but as it turns out, this is less a result of quality than it is of convenience. I think it's the broadcast model that really grinds my gears, but in this age of DVRs and Streaming services, I find myself gravitating towards a lot of television shows that are fully available. This includes a lot of discoveries, but I also value the ability to go back and revisit a show I once loved. As you might guess, I've been watching a lot of The X-Files lately (the whole series is available and easy-to-mainline on Netflix Instant).
Clocking in a 9 seasons and 200+ episodes, it's not a series that lends itself to a single blog post, but it's still worth talking about. There were, of course, two main threads in the series: a continuity of alien/government conspiracy plot-based episodes (though not the first series that attempted such long-term storytelling - Twin Peaks and Wiseguy come to mind - it was still quite ahead of the curve in this respect), and a series of one-off creature of the week type episodes. The continuity episodes established an elaborate mythology that quickly became too dense and nonsensical to me. I'm not sure if that's just because I missed the occasional episode (and thus had no idea what was going on), or if it was because the overarching conspiracy just made no sense, but the general consensus is that the overall storyline went on a little too long, was drawn out over too many seasons, and just got overly complicated and downright silly in the process.
I was always more interested in the one-off standalone episodes though, and they're the ones I keep returning to... Some are memorable favorites, some are new discoveries, things I'd never seen before. One thing that strikes me now is that the series really did consist of an eclectic mixture of elements that worked surprisingly well. There are stoic episodes consisting of deadly serious tragic figures, or lighthearted comedic takes on normally staid subjects. There were a lot of horror or science fiction tropes thrown out there, but also more realistic takes that only feinted towards the paranormal (in particular, there were some serial killer episodes that had little to no supernatural elements). The series was one of the few that could scare you like a good horror movie, instill suspense like a Hitchcockian thriller, impart that expansive sense of wonder that's the hallmark of great science fiction, or just plain make you laugh with expertly crafted comedic episodes.
I haven't really revisited any of the mythology episodes, but the standalone stuff has held up remarkably well. Monsters, aliens, psychics, freaks, serial killers, urban legends, claustrophobia, disease, the series took on quite a broad set of topics. In addition to the subject matter, the series is notable for its production values. In particular, I think the series had great cinematography. Sure, it sometimes gets a little too dark and the special effects are certainly showing their age, but for a TV show made in the 1990s, it's remarkable. Most television of that era had a sorta "flat" feel to it, but the X-Files always seemed to have qualities more closely related to film. That's not particularly rare in contemporary television (especially with the rise of pay cable network television like HBO), but back in the day, watching television that had filmic qualities was quite an eye opener, and as the series progressed, they managed to push boundaries and play with conventions more than most shows of the era. Take, for example, the episode Triangle, which consisted of four continuous shots (there were actually a few more than that, but clever editing made each segment seem continuous, with only commercials breaking up the action).
I had originally planned to list out my favorite episodes that were also somewhat obscure - the ones you don't hear much about - but perhaps it would be good to quickly revisit the series' regularly accepted best episodes (and save the obscure ones for their own post). Unlike a lot of series, I find that my favorite episodes are pretty well represented among the typical best-of lists out there, so here they are:
The X-Files has a clear legacy, but few shows that followed have really captured what made this show great. The broader legacy includes all of the shows writers and directors, who've gone on to write and direct shows like Lost and Breaking Bad. There have been a few recent heirs to the series, though none has really approached the versatility or depth of the X-Files. Still, shows like Warehouse 13 (a sorta mashup of X-Files and that wacky Friday the 13th series) and Fringe do their best, and even succeed in some limited degrees. At this point, I'm guessing there won't be another series like The X-Files, and maybe that's ok.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
Director Joseph Kahn has only made two movies, but they're both impossible to categorize. Oh sure, Torque is clearly a Fast and Furious clone, but Kahn made it his own. It's a movie that "so bad it's good" doesn't even begin to describe. Back in the day, Nick Nunziata did as good a job as possible describing it:
When I say that Torque is the most shamelessly synthetic and overstylized action flick ever made I mean it in the nicest way possible. This film makes cheese blush. It gives bullet time lead poisoning. From the first computer assisted race sequence to the climactic Chop-Kawasaki and Mach 48373 race through the city, Torque revels in excess in ways that would resurrect Don Simpson and eject him from his grave in slow motion as doves gather and carry him to the surface of Venus where he is pelted with little rocks shaped like Jerry Bruckheimer's night terrors. As the film unfolded I seriously found myself falling in love with its utter fakeness and bold arrogance. You know the kind of love I'm referring to. The love an inmate finds after cell blocks B and C ventilate his colon enough so that he forgets what it was like before the whistling sound began to waft from his drawers twenty-four hours a day. Before his ass had its own climate. Torque is that rough lover, the one who punches you in the eyes when he/she is happy and does spinning monkey kicks to your coccyx when he/she feels melancholy. This film has the Goodyear blimp testicles to recreate a quote from The Fast and the Furious (also produced by Neal Moritz, one of this film's many Summerian summoners) and then scoff at it.I can't say as though I truly enjoy Torque as much as its cult following suggests, but Kahn's latest film, Detention, is something I fell in love with right away.
Within 5 minutes of Detention, I was on board. And, judging from the reviews (and even audience reactions), most other folks wouldn't be. But that's ok. This isn't a movie for everyone. It's a movie for the information-overloaded internet and texting generation (you could consider me on the outside of that, I think, but not so far outside that I can't appreciate what this movie is going for). Referential, manic, kinetic, goofy, this thing makes Scott Pilgrim look like an Ozu film. Smash cuts, whip pans, excessive cross-cutting, flashbacks, flashbacks within flashbacks, on-screen text, and did I mention how referential this movie is?
It's not a subtle movie. You could say that's a bad thing, but for me, it's rocketed past unsubtle and into some sort of transcendence. This is a movie that makes hyperbole seem inadequate. You could say that this is a movie that's trying to hard. It could feel like an exhausting experience, an endurance test, or maybe a seizure-inducing bomb. It seems like everything that I think is great about this movie could equally be considered a flaw by detractors. But while I can see why people would feel that way, I quite enjoyed it.
The story, inasmuch as you could say it has a story, is about Riley Jones, a high-school "loser" who runs afoul of a slasher-inspired killer. Er, sorta. It's like a demented mixture of John Hughes and Donnie Darko and Freaky Friday and countless horror films. Kahn is riffing off of current horror movie trends, notably torture porn, but fusing it with references from the 80s and 90s. In fact, the 90s references seem to be about on par, if not more prevalent, than the 80s references.
The movie is so fast paced that I suspect it will reward multiple viewings. It's packed with references, not only in the dialogue, but also in the visuals and conceptual design. For instance, there's a movie-within-a-movie slasher franchise called Cinderhella, and our main character, Riley, is walking around with one shoe for most of the movie. So while this film is ostensibly hitting you in the face with a sledgehammer (in the form of editing and writing), there are some subtle touches when it comes to stuff like this. The references are widely sourced; not just movies, but also music and fashion and probably stuff I didn't even come close to picking up on... If you get it, it's awesome, and if you don't, you might not like it. On the other hand, this is a movie made for the internet age. In interviews, Kahn suggests that he expects the audience to pick the movie apart and look up references on the internet. Indeed, I can see this movie gaining a big cult following who will go on to cultivate a wiki or something that would catalog all of the myriad references. Is this a good thing? I guess that depends on your perspective, but I'm glad someone is playing around with that sort of thing for this new generation. Referential art is certainly not a new thing, even excessively referential art.
Kahn is pushing the boundaries of information processing. Consider how fast the on-screen text is displayed. which is clearly calibrated for a younger, texting-obsessed audience. Other folks might be tempted to tell this movie to get off their lawn, and that's ok too. I will admit, the movie is all over the place. That might trip it up some in the second and third acts, but it ultimately holds together well and I suspect that some of the seemingly goofy plot machinations that emerge later in the movie fit together tightly. For a movie featuring time travel, angry Canadians, alien bears from the planet Starclaw, and copious amounts of vomit, this is quite the feat. Again, I think repeated viewings might be necessary to break the code.
This is bold, audacious, adventurous filmmaking at its best. Sure, it's totally bonkers, but it's got a manic energy that's hard not to like. A part of me, the part that tries to overanalyze and nitpick everything, doesn't really know what to make of it, but on a pure entertainment level, it's something that really appeals to me. I suspect you'll be hearing more about this movie when it comes to Kaedrin awards season... (Incidentally, I tried to take some screenshots from the BD, but it appears that BD's copy protection means I can't actually watch it on my PC, despite having a BD drive and "approved" player. Yet another instance of DRM making it hard on those of us who want to support filmmakers.)
Posted by Mark on August 26, 2012 at 06:34 PM .: link :.
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Final Girl Film Club: The Initiation
It has been far too long since I've joined in on the Final Girl Film Club, so I'm rectifying that situation with this month's pick: The Initiation. It's not quite the cheesefest of some slashers, but on the other hand, it actually acquits itself reasonably well. Definitely a second tier effort, but well worth watching for fans of the sub-genre.
Things get kicked off, as they often do in slashers, with a tragedy in the past. A young girl awakes in a room filled with decapitated dolls (this is brought up again later in the movie, though never really explained). She hears strange noises, so she goes to investigate. As she approaches her parents' room, she glimpses them knocking boots in the mirror. Naturally, she takes this opportunity to stab her father in the leg... at which point, some strange man bursts into the room. The father grabs a bottle of liquor and attacks, but he only succeeds in dousing the man in alcohol. Stunned, he falls backwards into the roaring fireplace, whereupon he immediately bursts into flames. All pretty standard slasher tragic history stuff here, but then the twist: It's all a dream! (This sort of cliched "twist" is a recurring theme in the movie.)
It appears that this is a recurring nightmare for Kelly, a college freshman played by Daphne Zuniga. She's probably most famous for her work in Melrose Place, but to me, she will always be Princess Vespa. Here, she's pledging a (not at all creepy) sorority, and the head of the sorority informs her (and her sisters) of the typical 80s college movie prank they must carry out: they're to break into Kelly's family's mall and steal the security guard's uniform. Delightful.
Meanwhile, Kelly's got the hots for her dream analysis professor Peter, who thinks he may be able to help her interpret her recurring nightmares. He takes her to "The Dream Factory", otherwise known as the basement, whereupon he hooks her up to all this fancy equipment, with the help of his wacky aid, Heidi. We immediately trust Peter because he's super intelligent, as demonstrated by his repeated references to Freud and Jung. Also: Science! Anywho, we find out a little more about Kelly and her dream as well as a childhood accident where she fell out of a treehouse, slipped into a coma, and then emerged weeks later with amnesia. As Heidi speculates, that ain't no nightmare man, it's a memory! Heidi will later perform quite the Scooby sleuthing on Kelly's past...
Elsewhere, people are mysteriously dying, courtesy of the aforementioned gardening implements. This relatively short list of victims includes Kelly's father, who is beheaded on his way to see his mistress. In one of the film's more brilliant and retrained comedic touches, Kelly's mother notices that he forgot his glasses, and runs outside, only to find his car driving off (this is presumably the killer covering his tracks), and exclaims "Sometimes I think that man would forget his head if it wasn't attached!" This, again, is just after he was beheaded.
Next up, we finally get to the aforementioned mall prank... but it appears that our killer has gotten there before our heroines. There's a lengthy sequence in which the porn mustachioed security guard who doesn't know how to button his uniform shirt and wears cowboy boots is stalked by the killer, eventually succumbing to yet another gardening implement. Not sure who this guy is, but he clearly thought this was his prestige moment and gives a full-throated scream as he dies. I believe he was nominated for an Academy Award that year, but didn't win.
It's ultimately all good fun. There are a series of obvious twists and turns in the final minutes of the movie, again carrying forward the theme of cliched plot devices. This movie really does check off the slasher boxes pretty well. It's got everything. Past tragedy, suppressed memories, Freud, Jung, sanitariums, burn victims, evil twins, awkward revelations of child abuse, lots of T&A, obscure tools that are nonetheless common weapons in slasher movies (most notably the speargun), bad 80s music, faux-science, the list goes on and on. Pretty much every thing about this movie, every kill, every plot development, every character is derivative of other slashers... and yet, it works. It works pretty damn well, actually.
That is the paradox of slasher movies, I guess. They're so formulaic and so derivative, and yet, so comforting in their sameness. It's like horror movie comfort food. Like putting on a warm sweater on a cold winter's night. As slashers go, I'd put this in the upper portion of the second tier. It's clearly not top tier stuff, but it gets the job done well, and there's a lot of nice little touches. This movie essentially represents a really nice appetizer for my upcoming 6 Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon, which I now cannot wait for...
Some more screens and commentary below the fold, though not a ton, as it's a pain to take screens off of Netflix's streaming.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
I watch a lot of movies and thus it follows that I also consume a fair amount of film criticism, mostly through the internets (reviews, forums, podcasts, etc...) One thing I've noticed recently in a few high-profile movies is that many reviews resort to long lists of nitpicking. I'm certainly not immune to this tendency - I tried to minimize my nitpicks in my Prometheus review, but if I were so inclined, I could probably generate a few thousand words picking the nits out of that movie. I really disliked that movie, but were the nitpicks the cause? Another movie I could probably nitpick to death is The Dark Knight Rises... and yet, I really enjoyed that movie. We could quibble about the quantity and magnitude of the nitpicks in both films, but a recent discussion with a friend on both movies made me start wondering about nitpicks again. It's something I've seen before, though I don't think I've ever really written about it in detail.
The origin of the term comes from the process of removing the eggs of lice (aka nits) from the host's hair. Because the nits attach themselves to individual strands of hair, the process of removing them is tedious and slow. You could shave all the hair off and later, chemical methods of treating lice infestations became available. But the term nitpicking has lived on as a way describing the practice of meticulously examining a subject in search of subtle errors in detail. In the context of this post, we're talking about movies, but this gets applied to lots of other things.
When it comes to movies and TV series, nitpicks can go either way. Some will claim that the existence of nitpicks are evidence that the show or movie is sloppy and poorly made. Others will claim that the nitpickers are missing the forest for the trees. Nitpickers just don't "get it" and are taking the fun out of everything. In fairness, there's probably an element of truth to both sides of that argument, but I think they're both missing the point of nitpicks, which is this: Nitpicks are almost always emblematic of a deeper problem with the story or characters. Oh sure, there are some people who can't turn their brains off and nitpick because they're just analytical by nature (one definition of engineer's disease), but even in those cases, I think there's something to be said for a deeper dislike than the nitpicks would seem to indicate.
Nitpicks are the symptoms, not the disease. I didn't dislike Prometheus because, for example, their spaceship was in a constant state of thrust at the beginning of the movie or because there was no explanation for how the ship maintained gravity in space. But both of those things were immediately obvious to me, which tells me that I wasn't really immersed in the story that was being told. As the movie unfolds, a number of breathtakingly stupid plot developments were continually taking me out of the story. Perhaps if the movie wasn't so stupid, I may have overlooked those initial observations, but as the nitpicks mounted, it became harder and harder to overlook them. I don't go into a movie hoping that it will suck. There's a certain amount of goodwill that a movie has to wear away at in order to ruin immersion, and for whatever reason the quantity and magnitude of nitpicks with Prometheus wore out that goodwill pretty quickly. The Dark Knight Rises, on the other hand, didn't bother me nearly as much. In fact, as I mentioned in my review, most of the nitpicks I have with that movie came to light after the fact. It's what Hitchcock calls a "refrigerator" movie: something that makes sense while you're watching it, but falls apart under critical examination (while standing in front of the refrigerator later in the night). That being said, for lots of people, that wasn't enough. And that's perfectly understandable.
In general, it seems that people are perhaps less objective than they'd like to think. One of the great things about art is that the pieces that move us usually aren't doing so solely on an intellectual level... and when it comes to emotion, words sometimes fail us. Take, for example, a comedy. The great thing about laughter is that you don't have to think about it, it just happens. Different people have different tastes, of course, and that's where subjectivity comes in. But for whatever reason, we don't like to admit that, so we try to rationalize our feelings about a given movie. And if we don't like that movie, such rationalizations may manifest in the form of nitpicks. None of this is absolute, of course. Most art works on both intellectual and emotional levels, and as you gain experience with a given medium or genre (or whatever), you will start to pick out patterns and tropes. One of the interesting things about this is that what gets labeled a "nitpick" can vary widely in scope. Nitpicks can range from trivial mistakes to serious continuity errors, but they all get lumped under the same category. As such, I think it can be difficult to discern what's a nitpick and what's the root cause of said nitpick.
A few years ago, I was discussing John Scalzi's book Old Man's War in an online forum. I (and a number of other forum members) enjoyed the book greatly, but one person didn't. When asked why, she responded that it was disappointing that, during one scene earlier in the book, a doctor spent time explaining how some machines worked to his patient. This is a nitpick if I've ever seen one. What she said was true - it was somewhat unrealistic that these two characters would stop what they're doing to have a discussion about how certain technologies operated. But I was wrapped up in the story by that point, so I barely even noticed it. Even after it was pointed out, it didn't ruin the book for me. She was not invested in the story though, so that scene was jarring to her. After further discussion, it turns out that this was a specific manifestation of a larger issue she had with the book, which was that it lazily introduced concepts through awkward exposition or dialogue, and never followed through on any of it. I don't particularly agree with her on that, but I can see where she's coming from.
I think the lesson here is that when people are nitpicking a movie to death, it's not necessarily the specific nitpicks that are so bothersome. Perhaps, in some cases, it's the combined weight of all the nitpicks that causes an issue, but I suspect that even in those cases, the nitpicks are merely the most obvious examples of a deeper problem. I think both critics and defenders would do well to recognize this sort of thing. It's fun to list out nitpicks or examples of something you don't like about a work of art, but that's not really what criticism is about. I don't mean to say that you can't or shouldn't do this sort of thing, just that it would be useful at some point to look back at that list and wonder what it was about the book or movie or whatever that inspired you to meticulously chronicle minor errors or whatever. This is probably easier said than done. I can't say as though I succeed at this all the time, but then, I'm just some dude wanking on the internets. Ultimately, all of this is somewhat superfluous, but it's something worth considering the next time you find yourself cataloging trivial errors in detail.
Sunday, August 05, 2012
Obscure Movie Corner
I always hate it when I see a list of "Movies you've never seen before" or somesuch on the internets. It just seems so... presumptuous and conceited. Like all lists, sometimes they're good, sometimes they stink, usually they're somewhere in the middle. Well, recently a friend of mine asked me for some recommendations for movies he might not have seen (based on a discussion in meatspace about Christopher Nolan's first film, Following, a movie he had not seen). "Go deep," he says, so I did. This all happened on twitter though, and that 140 character limit is a bit chafing. Plus, it seems like an interesting topic for this here blog, which will also let me bloviate about these movies at length. I always enjoy highlighting the offbeat or obscure movies out there on my blog, and one thing you'll notice about some of the below recommendations is that a lot of them have shown up on the yearly Kaedrin Movie Awards or Top 10 lists (2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006) or elsewhere on the blog. But sometimes I think they get buried and again, I always like an opportunity to shine a light on obscure movies that folks don't talk about much... So here we go:
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
On The Inevitable Batman Reboot
This list of five things he wants in the Batman reboot (assuming that the next film in the franchise will be some form of reboot) has some interesting notions. I'll have more to say about some of his other demands, but if I were ever tapped to make a Batman movie (or comic, for that matter), this one would be my keystone:
Make Batman a detective.He loses me with the Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes reference (I guess they're fine for what they are, but are they really something to emulate?), but otherwise, this is spot on. Batman's first appearance was in Detective Comics, after all, and he's supposed to be the world's greatest crime solver. Why not give him an actual mystery to solve? As the Devin Faraci (the author of the piece) notes, this aspect of Batman is historically underplayed, but everyone loves a good sleuthing, so long as the mystery is actually clever and not just obscure (i.e. don't hire Lindelof and Abrams, though I suspect people would lobby for that duo). To my mind, this sort of story would be an ideal fit for The Riddler as villain, but I'm getting ahead of myself. More on villains later.
As for Faraci's other suggestions, I don't feel strongly about most of them, but let's take a look anyway. Maybe I can muster up some invective or praise:
Sunday, July 22, 2012
The Dark Knight Rises
On Thursday into Friday, I took in a marathon of all three of Christopher Nolan's Batman films. This presentation has put me into a more reflective mood than I would have if I'd only seen the latest installment, The Dark Knight Rises, so there's going to be a fair amount of wandering discussion to start the post. The short, spoiler-free news here is that The Dark Knight Rises is a worthy successor to The Dark Knight, though it doesn't quite approach the latter's true greatness. To a certain degree, this film does suffer a bit from sequelitis, but much less so than any other comic book franchise to reach a third installment. I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but if you want to avoid them, I'd stop reading and come back once you've seen the film.
The modern comic book franchise has an interesting pattern that is unlike most movie series. The first film tells the origin story, and is generally competent and commercially successful. Rarely do these first installments achieve greatness, as origin stories are difficult to pull off. The origin itself is usually the most interesting part, but it also crowds out the villain or inciting conflict a bit, making the conclusion of the movie seem rushed or awkward. Still, by that time, the movie has probably ingratiated itself to the audience to such a degree that imperfection is tolerated if not celebrated. For his part, Nolan did an excellent job with Batman Begins, which is one of the better origin stories in modern comic book movies.
But the interesting thing about comic book movies is that the second film often eclipses the first. There are, of course, exceptions to this. The Burton/Schumacher Batman series certainly fell prey to the challenges inherent with sequels. Iron Man 2 suffered less from being a sequel than from being a building block in a larger scheme, though the problems are similar. However, most comic book sequels in the oughts were surprisingly good (perhaps because they learned from Burton's mistakes). The origin and world-building was out of the way, and the filmmakers were free to tell a straightforward story arc. This made for sequels that were tighter and more assured than their predecessors. Think X2 or Spider-Man 2. And, of course, The Dark Knight (which is my personal favorite).
This leads into the third film, which, for numerous reasons, tends to be the last film. One of the interesting things about comic book movies is that they often tend to retain the creative team from film to film. This becomes a commercial challenge, as the productions then get more and more expensive, and with expense comes other limitations. Plus, the actors have aged and the director wants to move on. Knowing that this is their last chance with the material, the third film often becomes crammed with the comic's famous remaining story arcs. Multiple villains, additional characters, and at least two major story arcs get smushed into a single narrative, muddying the waters quite a bit. As such, series with a good second installment end up faltering under the weight of expectation (because the second film was so good), expediency, commercial considerations, and overstuffed narratives. We end up with Spider-Man 3 and X-Men: The Last Stand. Neither series has fully recovered, though both have had spinoffs or reboots, with varying degrees of success.
So, does The Dark Knight Rises succumb to the same pressures? Perhaps, but it's as good as I could have ever expected. It's certainly miles ahead of the aforementioned third films, even if it doesn't quite reach the heights of its predecessor. It's worth taking a look at why The Dark Knight was so successful. To my mind, it's because that movie transcended its origins. It felt less like a comic book adaptation, and much more like its own entity. This isn't to hate on comic books. I'm not someone who looks down on the medium or anything, but one commonality to most comic book movies is that they feel like an adaptation. And what do we know about adaptations? The book is usually considered to be better than the movie (with a few rare but notable exceptions), and while I haven't read a lot of comic books, I suspect this is the case for the grand majority of film adaptations. But I don't get that feeling from The Dark Knight. There are some who will complain about how grounded the movie is, almost like it's ashamed of its comic book origins, and that's certainly a discussion worth having, but to me, that's just the film trying to be its own thing. It's a realistic take on the concept of a vigilante, and it acknowledges the problems with such a stance (something few superhero movies do). There's a devil in the details vibe to the film that just works so well - Batman is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't. The Dark Knight isn't good for a comic book movie, it's a good movie, period. Again, it transcends its roots, and that's why I love it.
Now, it is not a perfect film. There are some plot machinations that didn't fit well and Nolan is not known for direction action sequences (to my mind, he's much more notable as a writer and storyteller than as a visual stylist, though he can certainly hold his own), but to me, all of that is overlooked because of the narrative and emotional arcs that were weaved through the film.
The Dark Knight Rises has similar imperfections, but it never gells together quite as well as its predecessor, and indeed, it feels like an adaptation again. Like a lot of third installments, there are more villains, more side characters, more story arcs smushed together here, but Nolan somehow manages to make it work. I was very worried about all the new characters - Catwoman, Bane, Blake, and several others - and while I'm not sure all of that was necessary, they did a good enough job with it all. It helps that they cast talented and charismatic actors in those roles. Anne Hathaway is wonderful, a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stuffy series (but, uh, stuffy in a good way). It's unfair to compare her to Heath Ledger's joker for a number of reasons, but from a charisma and charm perspective, she did remind me of that performance. Unfortunately, while she has a hefty side role, she doesn't really have a ton of screentime (one of the problems with having so many characters). Joseph Gordon-Levitt does an admirable job as rookie cop Blake, but I couldn't help but think that his character felt a little tacked-on. I wouldn't change it, because I ultimately like where its going, but it does add to the feeling that the film is a bit stuffed.
So we come to Bane. I have mixed feelings on this matter. In truth, I think Nolan exceeded my expectations. Bane is a worthy villain, even if his byzantine plans are a bit of a retread for the series (we find out why later in the movie). He also shares some of the villainy duties with other characters, though Bane is clearly the big bad here. Tom Hardy does his best, but for a character that is so expressive, it's frustrating that we can't ever see his face (the various costumes and disembodied voice are a little strange too, but I went with it). At one point in the film, there's a bit of a flashback, and we do get to see him sans mask. It's such a weird feeling, because Hardy really is a magnetic presence in any film, and he displays that more in a split second of the flashback than we get whenever he has the mask on. He works as a villain, but he's got big shoes to fill, and it's tough to beat Ledger's Joker. It's a bit of a conundrum, one of those things that makes the movie feel like an adaptation, rather than its own thing. Again, I've not read a lot of Batman comics or anything, but I'm guessing that Bane works better on the page than he does on screen. The being said, he gets the job done.
Christian Bale is dependable as always, and he's given some heft to chew on in this film. Nolan has taken the character in an interesting direction. As the film opens, Batman hasn't been seen for years and Bruce Wayne is something of a recluse. Selina Kyle piques his interest, and he eventually figures out a way to don his costume again. It's an interesting dynamic, and I'm glad to see that they've acknowledged the wear and tear of the superhero lifestyle (even if it's handwaved away a bit later).
I won't go into too much detail about the plot. It goes places I didn't expect, which is nice, but it also feels comic-booky. Again, I don't mean that in a pejorative sense, except insofar as it makes this movie feel like an adaptation. I suppose you could argue with that distinction, but that's what I get out of it. As previously mentioned, Bane's plan is audacious and complex, and thematically, the film tackles relevant economic themes, particularly the occupy movement, and it does so in ways I didn't really expect. Does the plot hold together well?
Alfred Hitchcock might help here:
Dear boy, quite obviously you've never heard of the icebox syndrome... I leave holes in my films deliberately, so that the following scenario can take place in countless homes. The man of the house gets out of bed in the middle of the night, and goes down stairs and takes a chicken leg out of the icebox. His wife follows him down and asks what he's doing. 'You know,' he says, 'there's a hole in that film we saw tonight.’ 'No there isn't,' she says and they fall to arguing. As a result of which they go to see it again.Hitchcock referred to this as "the icebox trade" or "refrigerator talk", neatly encapsulating the notion that a movie works well while you're watching it (because of a fast pace or tense atmosphere), but that falls apart while standing in front of the refrigerator for a post-movie snack. This is something that impacts both The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, though I think it impacts that latter far more. For me, it ultimately worked, the same as how Hitchcock's films worked, but I've seen other folks complain about this aspect of the film.
As an action director, I feel like Nolan has made some strides in the right direction. I did get a weird vibe from the two big fights between Batman and Bane, mostly because it made me think of Rocky III, with Bane in the role of hungry up-and-comer Clubber Lang, and Batman as the complacent champion, Rocky. Again, it's weird to be thinking of that movie during this one, but that's what happened. Indeed, I got another weird movie connection with Alfred's Affleckian speech about seeing Wayne in Italy or somesuch. These aren't really complaints though. The fights were clearly choreographed and well shot, and the ending of the film is satisfying. Nolan managed to kill off Batman without killing off Batman, which worked for me (though this hint of optimism may strike others as being too convenient, I kinda loved it).
In the end, what we've got here is a good film. It's not as transcendent as its immediate predecessor, but it stands up favorably to the first film, and indeed most of the comic book canon. There are a lot of things about this movie that will mold to fit your preconceptions. If you're inclined to go with it, as I was, it will come out ok. If you're not, if you're looking for reasons to dislike it, you'll come out with your suspicions confirmed. That being said, it's a fitting end to Nolan's trilogy, even if I'm certain the series will continue. The series as a whole has raised the bar for comic book movies, and few have even approached its high points.
Sunday, July 01, 2012
First things first: Merida's hair is glorious. I'm not an animator and I don't work with computer graphics very much, but I have a detail oriented mindset and thus I think I can appreciate all the work that went into getting that hair to work so well. Apparently there was a whole team of folks at Pixar working on a new hair simulator that could handle Merida's curly red hair, and again, I'm no expert in this realm, but I'm guessing the amount of physics that went into modeling how different bits of the hair worked was large and complex. Then they had to tweak it all to simulate wet hair (for what I believe is only a single scene in the movie). It's impressive stuff.
So... is the movie Brave as good as the hair portrayed within? Maybe! It's not a top tier Pixar production, but I'd put it somewhere towards the top of their middle tier. Which is to say, it's better than most films (animated or not). Pixar is at a strange place right now. After an impressive run in the oughts, they appear to be running out of steam. Or are they? It's strange that every time a new Pixar film is released, there seems to be a referendum on the whole of their oeuvre. People love to rank the films and argue whether or not they've made a truly bad film (for the record, I don't think they have, even if I didn't love Cars 2).
And this film had even weightier expectations because it was the first Pixar film to feature a female as the protagonist. It was also the first Pixar film to be directed by a woman, though she was apparently replaced at some point in the production, leading to a co-director credit. In recent years, there's been a fair amount of talk about Pixar's gender problem, but I'm on record as arguing that this sort of analysis completely misses the point: "Traditional Disney fare was always a sorta female dominated affair. Lots of princesses and love stories and yada, yada, yada. There were the occasional male-dominated stories, of course, but overall, animation was female dominated. One of the big things Pixar did to establish itself as something new and different was to focus on boys ..." Put simply, I don't think this movie is getting a fair shake in this respect. If this was a Disney or even Dreamworks picture, I think folks would be raving, but they expected so much from Pixar that I think the film is getting crushed under that weight of undeserved expectation.
I appear to be playing into this a little bit. I mean, I've written three paragraphs already and I haven't actually said anything about the movie, except how awesome the hair is. And while the curly red hair is spectacular, it's also a bit superficial. So let's get into it. The film focuses on young Scottish princess Merida, a fiery tomboy who loves riding her horse, archery, and climbing mountains. Her mother is in a constant struggle to get her to act all lady-like, but her father seems content to encourage her less elegant pursuits. Things come to a head when visiting clans vie for Merida's hand in marriage. I will admit, this is something of a rote premise. The initial parts of the first act come off as being very Disneyish. There's even some bad Scottish kilt-lifting jokes (which I suppose are unavoidable, but still). Now, "Disneyish" isn't inherently bad, but I can totally see why people wouldn't be very thrilled by this setup. Fortunately things get better from here.
It's hard to describe the rest without getting into spoiler territory, but I'll try. In essence, Merida runs away and meets up with a witch and there's a curse and she ends up spending some time with a friendly bear. And it's fantastic. This is where the movie sets itself apart. The bear is fantastically animated, walking around on two legs and somehow managing to maintain some sense of dignity, though I think the bear eventually learns the value in acting in an undignified manner.
The real heart of the story, though, is Merida's relationship with her mother. This, I find, isn't something that's very common in movies like this (I could certainly be wrong about that, but I found it refreshing). Now, I'm a guy, so I don't know how well the movie actually captures that whole dynamic, but it's got a ring of authenticity to it (and in general, female critics seem to praise this part of the film, even when they don't like it overall). There's an excellent scene in the first act where the director is cross cutting between the mother and daughter, establishing the things they want to say to each other but can't or won't. There's some stuff in the second act that works really well between these two, which leads into the final act. There's a bit of a grinch-like transformation at one point, making me wish there was perhaps a little more meat on the bone of the story, but there's a clear throughline to the plotting that ultimately works well. In a very real sense, the movie is as much about the mother as it is about the teenager (which, again, is a refreshing change of pace).
It's a movie that isn't perfect. It did leave me wanting more - more of the mother/daughter relationship, heck more of the father/daughter stuff, even some more of the little brothers, and especially more of that excellent second act stuff with the bear - but that's not the worst problem a movie can have. Like I said, there's a clear throughline to the story, so I'm willing to go with it. The premise is a bit rote and the transition between acts is a bit rushed, but I think they managed to put enough of a spin on the typical "princess" story that it was worthwhile. The score is fine but the songs are dreadful. That's the one part of the film I don't think I can really overlook. Just horrid.
What we're left with is a very good film. I think it's being a bit unfairly maligned. It's true, Pixar has done better, but that doesn't make this a bad movie. I don't know that it will make the top 10 at the end of the year, but it will certainly be a contender. Well worth seeing, and I think that mothers and daughters will get a lot out of this (but don't worry, there's plenty of action and adventure for the guys). ***
Posted by Mark on July 01, 2012 at 07:02 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Promethean Link Dump
I certainly had my issues with Prometheus, but I also must admit that it does strike a nerve. There are isolated sequences of sublime beauty or wrenching tension, but they're not held together by anything substantial. I think the movie is stupid, but it's at least interesting stupid, which is why I think the film has become so divisive. It's got such a well calibrated sense of stupid that it actually makes you want to talk about it, which most dumb movies don't manage. Even if you're just cataloging the movie's many flaws, you're still engaged with it in a way you don't with regular bad movies.
This movie is a special kind of bad, and as such, there's a lot of interesting discussion surrounding the film. As I mentioned in my previous post, it seems like everyone is talking about this movie, even folks I wouldn't normally expect. For instance, every podcast I listen to on a regular basis has devoted a segment to Prometheus, even the ones that aren't solely focused around movies. Extra Hot Great, Filmspotting, /Filmcast, Reasonable Discussions, Slate Culture Gabfest, NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour, The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show, and probably a bunch of others have all done so. But there's a ton of other discussion surround the film that I also wanted to point to, in case you were jonesing to read about the film, which I admit is kinda fun, even if I didn't love the movie:
Sunday, June 17, 2012
I am surprised at the reception Prometheus is getting in the press. I wasn't a huge fan, but for the most part, it's getting positive reviews, even from people I'd expect wouldn't review it well. Adam from Filmspotting gave it a pass (to his credit, Josh did not), Ebert gave it 4 stars, A.O. Scott was generally positive, and heck, even the snobs over at the Slate Culture Gabfest were pretty happy with the movie. In fact, it seems like everyone is talking about this movie. The weird thing about all this is that every one of those positive reviews acknowledges the things I hate about this movie, but for some reason, they don't seem to care as much. The consensus seems to be that the movie is gorgeous and visually stunning, but stupid (which is usually attributed to the script). I agree with that, but I guess I place a higher value on storytelling than critics.
I suppose I can see where they're coming from, but as a Science Fiction nerd, I'm wondering if I hold movies like this to a higher standard than the more general film nerds out there. Part of it is that there really are so few science fiction movies out there that actually capture the same sensawunda feeling I get from reading science fiction... and one of those movies is definitely Ridley Scott's first Alien film. To me, this sets a high bar, and Prometheus doesn't even come close to that level of storytelling.
Prometheus certainly strives for more than Alien, and I suspect that ambition mollifies some critics, but I would much rather a film that delivers on what it promises than a film that reaches for the stars and doesn't even come close. I'm ultimately not even really willing to credit the film for ambition, as its attempts at depth are all ham-fisted and awkward at best.
The film certainly starts out with some promise. I was a little on-edge when we first see the spaceship in a series of admittedly pretty establishing shots. This is a nitpick, but the engines were firing, as if the ship was in a constant state of acceleration. This is typical in a Hollywood film, but rewatching Alien made it a depressing thing - this was something the earlier film got right. In the grand scheme of things, it's not important, and I was willing to overlook it at first, but looking back on the film now, I find it emblematic of the intelligence displayed in the film. This is where being a science fiction fan probably kicks in - I like a film that at least makes an effort at scientific plausibility and rigor, and this film has almost none.
I was quickly heartened to see the montage of the robot David, played excellently by Michael Fassbender, as he went about his duties on the ship while the human crew slept for the 2 year duration of the trip. There's a focus on character there that isn't really present in the rest of the film. After that opening sequence, Fassbender's David is generally relegated to playing the sinister robot that no one can trust. This is also a bit depressing, because at one point, it almost seemed like the film was really going to deliver on the parallels between the humans looking for their creators, and David's struggle with his. Part of the problem with any ensemble piece is that the story will often not give enough attention to the side characters, or it will give too much attention to everyone and muddle the results. We see both in this film. I think there was a lot of potential in the story for David's character, but it is mostly squandered.
The more we learn about the plot, the worse the movie gets. We're treated to a clumsy scene of exposition where the two main scientists in charge of the expedition explain what's going on, and in the process they neglect to display any scientific prowess at all. They make crazy inferences from millenia-old cave paintings, attribute the whole thing to a race of "engineers" that actually created the human race (despite not having even a modicum of evidence), and fall back on spiritual hooey when questioned. Now, the whole science versus faith struggle can be an interesting one and certainly warrants exploration, but while this film makes overtures in that direction, it never really goes more than skin deep. These are just sloppy plot points used to get our hapless humans into dangerous situations with monsters and stuff.
Charlize Theron plays the corporate suit, meant to be smarmy and icy cold like the other businessfolk in the Alien universe, but she never quite comes off that way. She seems mildly selfish and concerned with her own well-being, but her display of basic knowledge about things like quarantines (I mean, seriously? This is an expedition to find alien life on an alien planet, and there's no easy quarantine procedure?) and self-preservation comes off as being slightly refreshing in a movie where a geologist responsible for mapping an alien cave system gets lost. I think Theron's performance is pretty good, but she's just written very poorly. She has a scene with the ships captain, Idris Elba (who does a fair enough job representing the "trucker in space" archetype established in the original Alien), which is cliched and a little off, but actually works because, you know, there's two people acting like normal human beings. But otherwise, she's given some pretty shit lines (I found it odd that she actually pronounced the word comma between "No, father" at one supposedly revealing scene later in the movie... oh wait, she didn't pronounce it, the script was just that bad) and her characters arc really goes nowhere.
I don't want to turn this into a catalog of nitpicks and complaints about how wrong everything is in the movie. Others have done a pretty good job nailing stuff like that down, but I do want to call out the worst offender. Right, so we have a group of scientists exploring a series of alien cave systems. They come across a long-deal alien being. The geologist immediately freaks out and wants to leave, which, ok, fair enough. Then the biologist joins him? In other words, the person who would ostensibly be the most interested in a dead alien body decides to leave too. Ok, fine, I can deal with that I guess. Then they get lost, which I think I already mentioned makes no sense, as the geologist has been mapping the entire place with his fancy probes, but whatever, they're lost and there's a storm outside and no one can get them. So they make their way to the creepiest location in the building, a room with a bunch of vases leaking suspicious black liquid. Ok, sure, let's go with it. Then an obviously aggressive and terrifying snake-like alien creature pops up like a cobra, spreading some flaps to reveal its teeth... and the biologist guy decides to approach it like it was some sort of adorable puppy. Now look, I get it, these characters aren't aware that they're in a horror movie, and as a prequel, they're unaware that this thing has face-hugger-like attributes, but it's acting in obviously threatening ways and the biologist, of all people, decides he should just stick his hand in its mouth or something? To no one's surprise, it attacks him and eventually shoves its way down his throat, doing god knows what to him. Quite frankly, I don't even really remember what comes of him. It's sorta dropped later in the movie.
Like the aforementioned thrusting engines at the beginning of the movie, this is just one representative example of the many things this movie gets so very wrong. It's a movie that pretends it has some sort of lofty goals of exploring mankind and creation and spirituality and all sorts of stuff, but the fact of the matter is that the people in this movie aren't really characters. Some of them get a solid set-piece or two, but they're otherwise bland plot-delivery devices, useful only so that the screenwriters can tell us what the movie is about (rather than letting us grapple with those big questions ourselves). Like I said, some of the characters get some good moments, but these only become more frustrating when you realize that they don't really add up to anything.
For example, there is a great set-piece where our main protagonist (at least, I think she is) finds out that she's "pregnant"... of course, she's pregnant with some sort of alien organism, rather than a real child (in an awkward exchange earlier in the film, we learned that she was barren). Sinister robot David wants to freeze her for the trip home (normally that sort of thing would be left to the corporate weenie of the expedition, but whatever), but she bravely escapes and runs to a med-pod and gets it to extract the organism. It's actually a really well executed sequence, and Noomi Rapace gives a great, raw performance here... but it's just sorta floating in the middle of the movie. It's not entirely clear why any of that happened or what difference it made and it doesn't really fit with the whole biology of the Alien universe. In fact, the movie seems to assume that complexity is what makes the whole Alien life-cycle interesting, but that's just so wrong. The original Alien portrayed a rather elegant system, and Aliens grew on that and expanded it in a logical way. This film just throws in extra steps and new creatures for the sake of doing so.
The film is gorgeous, well composed, even a little interesting. The first forty minutes or so show a lot of potential, but the rest of the movie fails to deliver on any of that promise. Nearly everything about this movie is well done, except for the script, which is just horrible. The fact that it's a prequel to Alien, a movie that got all of these things right, only makes it more disappointing. I suspect that Sonny Bunch is right when he speculates as to how this movie got to be made as an Alien prequel, rather than as a standalone feature:
Ridley Scott: You see, it’s a movie about finding out who we are. It’s a search for God, in a way—and a reflection of what happens when God has judged you to be a mistake. We’re talking a big budget, high-octane movie with a spiritual side.I don't know that it happened exactly like that, but I do know that the prequel aspects of this movie are absolutely worthless. It adds nothing important to the Alien canon, and you could argue that it, in fact, subtracts rather much from the series. This could have been a good movie, which only makes it all the more depressing. Given Ridley Scott's previous work, I have to wonder if there aren't a few other versions of this film on the cutting room floor. Perhaps one with a noir-like voiceover that the studio thought might work, and a 5 hour directors cut or something. But I really can't see how that could possibly save this turkey. There's enough interesting stuff going on in the movie that it always manages to hold your attention, and I suppose there's a few scenes were big stuff done blow up real good, but the film is ultimately lacking in the most important area: the storytelling.
Sunday, May 06, 2012
Sister Clodagh's Superficially Spiritual, Ambitiously Agnostic Last-Rites-of-Spring Movie Quiz
Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as always, I'm excited to provide my answers. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, Professor Severus Snape, Professor Ed Avery, and Dr. Anton Phibes, are also available... This time around, Sister Superior Clodagh "has fashioned a quiz organized loosely around themes of religious belief and representation in the movies", which, now that I think about it, isn't a particular specialty to me. Perhaps it's my 16 years of Catholic schooling (and exposure to actual nuns) that has caused me to neglect religious filmmaking, or maybe it's because most films examining religion aren't particularly sympathetic. Whatever the case, here are my answer's to Sister Clodagh's quiz:
1) Favorite movie featuring nuns
I had a tough go on this one. There are a lot of movies with nuns, but few where the nuns are actually prominent characters. My first thought went to Two Mules for Sister Sara, a movie I don't even remember that well, except that I remember enough to know that it doesn't really qualify for this question... I've actually not seen this quiz's namesake in Black Narcissus, so that's a no go. Looking at the other answers at SLIFR, I see one that works for me though: Sister Mary Stigmata (a.k.a. The Penguin) in The Blues Brothers. The nuns I've come into contact with never contained mystical powers, nor did they smack their students with rulers, but I grew up in the namby pamby 80s. I've heard stories, though. (Oh, and in the course of one of the other questions below, I found Dead Man Walking - which is a great movie featuring nuns... among other things.)
I'll go with Ronin (with The Manchurian Candidate being my favorite), but while I've seen at least 5 or 6 other Frankenheimer movies, I probably should also take a look at Seven Days in May and Seconds (which would be the punniest answer to this question, tee hee).
3) William Bendix or Scott Brady?
Hell, I don't really know who either of these people are... But looking at their filmography, I see that Scott Brady was in Gremlins, which is pretty awesome. Then again, I can't even picture him in that and William Bendix is in a few movies I'd like to catch up with at some point: Hitchcock's Lifeboat and William Wyler's Detective Story. But not having seen those movies, I guess this one goes to Brady on a technicality.
4) What movie, real or imagined, would you stand in line six hours to see? Have you ever done so in real life?
I have certainly never done so in real life (though I do seem to recall a huge line stretching around the block for Return of the Jedi in my youth... I don't remember how long it took to get in, but I'd be surprised if it was six hours). At this point in my life, I can't imagine doing that for simple entertainment purposes - heck, I get annoyed when I have to wait more than a minute or two to buy a ticket these days. But I suppose that if someone invents a movie that will confer some sort of powers (or immortality or something) to its audience, I'd be willing to wait the six hours for that. I'm not holding my breath though.
5) Favorite Mitchell Leisen movie
I can't say as though I've seen any of his movies, though perhaps I have seen an episode of The Twilight Zone that he directed (if so, I have no remembrance of it). I have done an exhaustive ten-second analysis of his filmography though, and shall thus declare Death Takes a Holiday a movie that interests me. So there.
6) Ann Savage or Peggy Cummins?
Peggy Cummins, because I've actually seen movies that she's in... and I even recognized her name. Poor Ann Savage... but it's hard to compete with Gun Crazy and Curse of the Demon.
7) First movie you remember seeing as a child
As if I needed a reason to question the reliability of human memory, this question hurts. The first movie that jumped into my head was The Terminator, but that came out way too late to be my first movie, and I know I've seen others before it. As previously mentioned, I remember the line for Return of the Jedi, but my memories of that showing must have been superseded by the dozens of other times I've watched that movie. I do remember watching Dumbo at some point. I have no idea how old I was at the time, but I'd put that at around 4 years old, as that age is where my mind points to as containing the first real, concrete memories (including a distinct memory of asking how old I was - I may have done that before, but I was 4 years old when I started actually keeping track of my age).
8) What moment in a movie that is not a horror movie made you want to bolt from the theater screaming?
I can't say as though I've ever wanted to do that. I can only remember walking out on a movie once, for Tank Girl, which was emphatically not what I wanted to watch at the time. I do remember getting sick in Cloverfield - and I'm not typically prone to motion sickness either - but instead of bolting from the theater screaming, I simply closed my eyes until my body was able to establish some sort of equilibrium.
9) Richard Widmark or Robert Mitchum?
Robert Mitchum, hands down. I mean The Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear (both of 'em), and Out of the Past... heck, even Scrooged. Tough to compete with Mitchum's filmography.
10) Best movie Jesus
This is a tough one, as most of the obvious choices are from movies that I'm not that big a fan of... I honestly can't think of a truly great performance as Jesus. Dafoe's Jesus is pretty good, I guess, except that's not really the Jesus I know. I've never seen Sydow in The Greatest Story Ever Told, and from what I hear, the movie ain't particularly good (though he's apparently good in it). Honestly, the best answer I've seen for this one is John Turturro from The Big Lebowski....
11) Silliest straight horror film that you're still fond of
There are probably dozens of answers I could give here, as I tend to enjoy silly horror films, but the only real possible answer for me is Phantasm. Granted, I does still strike a nerve at moments and can be genuinely compelling, but it's low budget and horrible acting sometimes make the film laughable. In particular, the sequence where the Tall Man's finger turns into a bug is a masterpiece of silly cinema. It's a movie that I've always loved though, perhaps because it is earnest, but silly.
Emily Blunt by default, as I've actually seen movies she's in. This is mildly unfair though, as I'm much more familiar with the filmic period of Blunt than the filmic period of Gray (who was most active in the 30s and 40s).
13) Favorite cinematic Biblical spectacular
Ben-Hur, hands down my favorite Biblican spectacular, probably because it only touches on the Bible peripherally. Most of the other Biblical epics struggle to compete with the minds eye from having read the Bible from a young age. Ben-Hur is based on a novel and had multiple film adaptations before the Charlton Heston, William Wyler take that I love so much, but it still feels like an "original" story, something I value more and more in these days of remakes and marketing-driven films.
14) Favorite cinematic moment of unintentional humor
The obvious answer is the "I hate sand" monologue from Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, but I wasn't really laughing at the time because I actually wanted those movies to be good. I don't really have a list of unintentionally hilarious cinematic moments, but I could probably come up with hundreds of examples if given enough time. Another few that just came to me: several moments in The Happening are just cringe inducingly funny (I'm thinking about the scene where Marky Mark pleads with his students to care about the bees, or the scene where he tells this completely off-the-wall story about how he went to a pharmacist or something), and then there's the scene where Miles Dyson dies in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which is just hysterically funny in a moment that is supposed to be deadly serious.
15) Michael Fassbender or David Farrar?
Michael Fassbender, though again, we're hit with two different time periods, and I'm much more familiar with Fassbender's work than Farrar's... Also, Fassbender is pretty fucking awesome.
16) Most effective faith-affirming movie
I had a hard time with this, then the ideas just kept pouring through to the point where I can't pick a favorite. I'll start with a pair of Christmas classics: It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, then move to more modern times with Field of Dreams and one that I saw in the SLIFR thread that I would have never thought of, but which fits: Groundhog Day.
17) Movie that makes the best case for agnosticism
People seem to take different stances on agnosticism, so this question will definitely provoke different sorts of answers depending on how you define agnosticism. Some think it's all about doubting or questioning the existence of a deity, and their answers indicate such (including snarky ones like "anything directed by Michael Bay makes me question the existence of a god"). Personally, I tend towards the notion that agnosticism is really about the difference between belief and knowledge - I think we are all agnostics of a sort, even if we call ourselves Christian or athiest or Muslim or whatever. The movie that comes to mind here is Contact, which explores the subject at angles. I don't think the movie is perfect and some aspects haven't held up as well as I'd like, but I do love the conflict at the heart of the story. Science versus religion, fact versus faith, knowledge versus belief. I have not read the book, and from what I understand, the film stops short. But judging on the film itself, I think it makes a certain sorta sense that aligns with a lot of my feelings on the myriad subjects tackled. In essence, I don't see the conflicts described as being all that conflicting. Science and religion sometimes struggle with the same questions, but their approaches are so fundamentally different, and the questions so impenetrable and that I think both are necessary...
18) Favorite song and/or dance sequence from a musical
I generally hate musicals, so I have no idea, but I'll choose the most obscure thing that comes to mind, which is a song from Stingray Sam that consists mostly of the two parents' names and their offspring's name, which is a portmanteau of the parents' names - for example, Fredrick and Edward produced Fredward. It's a brilliant song. Here, watch it:
19) Third favorite Howard Hawks movie
The Big Sleep, with His Girl Friday being my favorite, and Rio Bravo being my second favorite. In all honesty, the answer could be any of those three, depending on my mood, as I love them all. I also have an affection for Sergeant York, but that's a more sentimental and personal thing...
20) Clara Bow or Jean Harlow?
I'm going to have to take a mulligan here, as I'm not really that familiar with these actresses' filmographies. I've frequently observed that I need to get better acquainted with the silent era, though I've not made much progress in that direction.
21) Movie most recently seen in the theater? On DVD/Blu-ray/Streaming?
Most recently seen in the theater was The Cabin in the Woods (which I loved), though after tonight, it will be The Avengers. On Blu-Ray, it was The Thing remake/prequel/reboot thing (pun intended) that strikes me as being an object lesson in how CGI effects are inferior to practical effects. Also, it was a fine, but pretty unnecessary movie that doesn't really come close to the classic Carpenter version. On streaming, it was Machete Maidens Unleashed!, a documentary about the Filipino exploitation scene in the 60s and 70s (this will come up later in the quiz).
22) Most unlikely good movie about religion
I have not seen Life of Brian in many years and thus don't remember much about it other than it was funny and surprisingly thoughtful.
23) Phil Silvers or Red Skelton?
Yeah, so I don't really know either of these guys. Skelton sticks out in my head, but I don't really know his filmography that well. And Phil Silvers was in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, which I remember enjoying despite the fact that it's a bit overlong.
24) "Favorite" Hollywood scandal
Not much of a scandal follower myself, so I can't really think of many, except perhaps the Hollywood blacklist stuff, but even then, I'm not too interested in that sort of thing. I'd rather watch movies than gossip about actors and actresses, thanks.
25) Best religious movie (non-Christian)
This was surprisingly difficult, as most every religious movie I've seen seems to involve Christianity in some way or another. The Wicker Man came to mind, but that's not really a serious exploration of paganism, and much of it is played off of the Christian leanings of the main character. A Serious Man is a great movie and it's got a lot to say about Judaism. I've got to give credit to the guy who answered I Walked with a Zombie, which also brings to mind The Serpent and the Rainbow, both of which (superficially) involve Voodoo. It's been so long since I've seen Gandhi that I'm not sure how religious it really was... Jeeze, this question is harder than it should be.
Erm, yeah, once again I'm not terribly familiar with any of their work, but I'll go with King Hu for his work with the Shaw Brothers and his work on Wuxia Pian pictures.
27) Name something modern movies need to relearn how to do that American or foreign classics had down pat
This is a deceptively difficult question to answer, but I'll say dialogue, writing in general, and originality would be welcome in modern movies. Hollywood seems to be stuck in this weird marketing mindset which says that movies can't be successful unless they're based on an existing property. Hence the recent spate of remakes and reboots, along with the trend towards franchises that's been on the march for several decades now. It's not so much that this stuff is inherently bad as that it's seemingly pervasive these days, to the point where Hollywood is putting out movies based on board games (which I'd honestly not mind if they actually went out of their way to hire someone talented to write an interesting story - I'd love to see that sort of thing flourish, but from what I've seen, that ain't happening). Conversely, American independent cinema is running too far in the opposite direction, making unpalatable, aggressively insular, "personal" films that are often actively hostile to their audience. That sort of middle-ground where movies can be entertaining but still very good seems to have been lost.
28) Least favorite Federico Fellini movie
Shocking confession: I've never actually seen a Federico Fellini movie. I should probably get off my butt and see 8½, but I've heard so much about that movie and despite the praise, it never sounds even remotely interesting to me. Ditto for La Dolce Vita. Call me a philistine, I guess.
29) The Three Stooges (2012) - yes or no?
Sure, why not? I've never been much of a Three Stooges kinda guy, and I probably won't see this in the theater, but I'm not actively opposed to it either. This might just be my temperament though, as there's a question like this in every quiz, and I'm pretty sure I always answer "yes" because perhaps it feels like censorship to say "no" and who am I to judge what other folks like.
30) Mary Wickes or Patsy Kelly?
Boy do I suck at these. I don't really know either one that well, but I'll go with Patsy Kelly. Because I said so, that's why. Also, she's apparently in Rosemary's Baby. So there.
31) Best movie-related conspiracy theory
I have no frickin idea what the "best" conspiracy theory is, but one I just ran across thanks to that Machete Maidens Unleashed! documentary is that one of the women who went over the the Philippines to film one of the many women-in-jungle-prison movies made there was never heard from again. The folks at SLIFR have identified a couple of other good ones though, such as the rumor that Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landings on the Universal lot and the one where Steven Spielberg directed Poltergeist. But the best one is probably The Dark Side of the Rainbow....
32) Your candidate for most misunderstood or misinterpreted movie
I'm going to go with The Godfather, for a number of reasons. The big knock against the film is that it's "romanticized" or "sentimental", but I think that completely misses the point. Like a lot of great gangster movies, The Godfather does show a sorta romantic aspect to the mafia of olden days, but it also doesn't shy away from the nasty stuff either, and the very end of the film is quite disheartening. There's also a lot to be said about the cycle of violence in the film that many folks seem to gloss over. I suppose a lot of this is arguable, but perhaps that's why The Godfather is a classic.
33) Movie that made you question your own belief system (religious or otherwise) I'm having a lot of trouble with this one, in part because it's either too specific, and I can't think of an example that matches that criteria, or it's too vague, and nearly any movie that makes me think would qualify. I lean towards that more general version, but again, that means that there are so many movies that could fit into the answer to this question that it would really be unfair to answer with one or two movies... and I don't have time to list out hundreds!
Well, that wraps up this edition of the movie quiz. I know I'm really bad at the actor/acress vs actor/actress questions, but I still love these quizzes and am already looking forward to the next one (which will hopefully be in the summer instead of skipping a season like this time)....
Sunday, April 22, 2012
The Cabin in the Woods
It's difficult to talk about this movie without spoiling it, but I'll start with the notion that if you're a fan of horror movies, you should really go see this(more spoilertastic commentary will be below the fold). This is rather strange, as the movie isn't entirely a horror film, though it contains lots of horror elements and tropes. It's not really a horror comedy either, though it is very funny at times. It's got satirical elements, but it's not really a satire. It's a strange beast, but a very interesting one. Movies like this don't come around that often, so check it out.
Again, trying to avoid spoilers here, but looking at the filmmakers is instructive. The film's got a script from Joss Whedon, which should tell you something, and then you've got Drew Goddard, a regular in the Whedon and J.J. Abrams writers stable. In other words, expect genre deconstruction and mysterious folk lurking in the shadows. Or something.
It's certainly not a perfect film, but it's probably the best thing I've seen so far this year, and the most fun too. Unfortunately, it's hard to talk about it for fear of spoiling. It's not a movie that relies on a single twist or anything and you can tell from the movie's title what's coming. Heck, it's not so much a title as it is a premise: kids go to a cabin in the woods. Guess what happens next? But Whedon and Goddard make the sub-genre feel fresh in a way you don't see very often. Again, it's not reliant on a big surprise, but rather a series of small twists and tweaks, starting from the first scene in the film, none of which are particularly earth-shattering on their own, but which build upon each other to create an effective cumulative result. Again, if you're a fan of horror movies, you need to see this.
Well, that's probably enough trying to skirt around the details. Spoilers aho, fun ahoy! So very quickly, yes, there are five kids (each conforming to a stereotypical archetype like "The Fool" and "The Virgin") that go to spend the weekend in a remote cabin in the woods. And yes, they are attacked by a family of redneck zombies after they read some latin aloud whilst investigating a creepy basement. But the most interesting thing about the movie is that the kids are basically being manipulated by some sort of shadowy organization; an effort lead by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins. At first, this organization seems like the villain, but it seems that this ritual destruction of youth at the cabin is actually necessary to forestall an even bigger disaster - the rising of the Lovecraftian elder gods.
Of course, the kids don't play along quite as expected, and while first half or two thirds of the movie are pretty conventional, the shit really hits the fan in the last third. When we first find out what the kids were facing (redneck zombies!), I was a little disappointed... but then you get that last sequence of the film, where everything just goes crazy. Horror fans will delight in all of the references (throughout the whole film, but especially in the climactic sequences). Unfortunately, the film doesn't quite stick the dismount. It's going fantastically for a while, but then Sigourney Weaver shows up and delivers some clunky exposition that didn't quite hit the right note for me. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't ruin the movie or anything, and the ultimate outcome of the film is fine.
To use the gymnastics metaphor, this movie is like a routine that starts off conventionally, well performed, but nothing we haven't seen before. But then, about two thirds of the way through, some really amazingly acrobatic stuff starts happening, leading to a huge dismount. The movie doesn't stumble, but it's not an entirely clean landing either. It's the sort of thing where the audience at home is exhilarated by the performance, but the announcer says something like "Ohhh, that's gonna cost them a tenth of a point" or something absurd. Still very high scores and everyone cheers, but not quite a perfect 10.
There's a ton of metaphorical possibilities with this movie though. For example, Devin Faraci effectively argues that the Whitford and Jenkins characters are actually the heroes... or maybe anti-heroes of the piece, not the kids:
That's the real twist of the movie. After all, you know right from the start that the events in the cabin are being controlled. But the assumption is that this is something insidious, something evil. I've seen a lot of reviews that utterly misunderstand the truth about Downstairs. The truth is that these guys are saving the world. Once a year they engage in a sacrifice that saves the world. It's terrible, and you may have issues with how they go about it - especially the way they blow off steam partying and betting - but the reality is that there are dark forces that needed to be contained, and this is how it's done.Whedon and Goddard have apparently often compared themselves (in the roles of writer/director) to the Whitford and Jenkins characters (the ones manipulating the kids in the movie). If they're the filmmakers, then the elder gods could be the audience - us. Or you could say that the elder gods are the studio execs and we're the kids being slaughtered. You could go the more serious rout and claim that the young are being sacrificed at the behest of their elders.
In any case, there's lots to chew on here, especially in the realm of media and the audience relationship with creators. It calls to mind a lot of other films, while still being distinct and worthwhile on its own. I'm think of The Truman Show or maybe even Rubber, which are a little more explicit in their exploration of audiences, but still quite effective.
Many of the questions that are called to mind in this movie surround the tropes and conventions of horror, which you could argue have become stale and are somewhat disturbing in and of themselves. I mean, why do we enjoy watching the young get slaughtered by monsters? Seeing this movie now also paints The Hunger Games in a less flattering light, as that book/movie never really worked for me. I could tell it wanted me to be asking these same questions, but I was never immersed enough in the world to care. The Cabin in the Woods has a lot of things that I'd think would pull me out of the story too, but they never really did. I mean, the logistics of capturing, storing, and maintaining the monsters would be pretty absurd, as is the notion of the "Red Button" (though I appreciated the touch of the two step activation system - it's not a button anyone would ever want to press, but if you're going to build it, it's comforting to know that they made it safe enough that it wouldn't be accidentally triggered!)
I could probably ramble on and on about the symbolic interpretations of the movie or all of the references, but I'll just end with a few of my favorites:
Wednesday, April 04, 2012
Weird Movie of the Week
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week we discovered some presidential badassery. This time, we've got a ripping tale of aliens, nazis, and lasers:
Watching Zone Troopers, you get the feeling that it's accidentally ten times better than it's meant to be. The plot and dialogue seem like they were written on a comic shop toilet stall: Four likeable WWII soldiers named things like "Sarge" and "Mittens" stumble across enemy lines and the Reich's most carefully guarded discovery: a massive interplanetary spacecraft. One of its pilots has escaped unharmed, and joins our boys in a full-metal lazer-battle against Hitler's lil' shits. We even get to see Eva Braun's boyfriend get smacked straight in the kisser!Ah, the 1980s. Apparently this movie is actually real and is available through the magic of Manufactured-on-Demand DVD from MGM. Or something.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
IV, V, I, II, III, VI
Have you figured out what this post title is about? Yes, folks, it's time for some epic Star Wars geekery. Fortunately for me, Rod Hilton has done all the legwork in a very long and well argued essay. The title of this post is known as the Ernest Rister sequence, and it represents the order in which the Star Wars films should be viewed.
There have traditionally been two main strategies for ordering the series. George Lucas would have us watch them in chronological order, which is obvious lunacy for numerous reasons (which Hilton studiously trots out), but most of us nerds have decided that the natural progression is actually in order of release (which is IV, V, VI, I, II, III). There are less flaws with that ordering. Hilton's reasoning here is a bit stilted, as it rests entirely on the "Special Edition" versions of Star Wars, but to my mind, the primary problem with the release order strategy is that the series then ends with a whimper. The prequels provide background and little else, and even that background is largely already known. Ending a six movie marathon with III would be quite a downer.
We could add a third strategy here for those bitterest of nerds, which is simply IV, V, VI without any acknowledgement that there were other Star Wars movies. Hilton, to his credit, acknowledges the charm of this option (and even links us to some Despecialized Editions of the movies), but he also sought out other orderings, just in case you actually do want to watch the other three movies. Enter the Ernest Rister sequence: IV, V, I, II, III, VI. The argument for this strategy is surprisingly compelling:
George Lucas believes that Star Wars is the story of Anakin Skywalker, but it is not. The prequels, which establish his character, are so poor at being character-driven that, if the series is about Anakin, the entire series is a failure. Anakin is not a relatable character, Luke is.Hilton goes on to then suggest his own variant of the Enest Rister sequence, which he calls the Machete Order: IV, V, II, III, VI. Haha, I see what he did there.
Search your feelings, you know it to be true! Episode I doesn't matter at all. You can start the prequels with Episode II and miss absolutely nothing. The opening crawl of Episode II establishes everything you need to know about the prequels...Hilton has a very detailed and, naturally, nerdy description of why this is the superior sequence. For my part, I find this an acceptable order. My biggest concern is Vader's shocking revelation in Episode V. As long as that surprise is maintained, I'm pretty happy with the ordering, and there are a lot of things to like about the Rister or Machete ordering. Unfortunately, my nieces have already be indoctrinated (using the traditional order of release sequence), so I can't test the theory out on them, but if another opportunity to introduce someone to the series ever comes up, I might give it a shot. One nice thing about the Rister/Machete order is that both start with the best movies in the series, and once you get past the reveal in part V, you can lay out the strategies to the person watching and see which way they'd like to go.
Ok, so I think that's enough nerdiness for now. (Thanks to JVL for the link)
Wednesday, March 07, 2012
Tasting Notes - Part 5
Yet another edition of Tasting Notes, a series of quick hits on a variety of topics that don't really warrant a full post. So here's what I've been watching/playing/reading/drinking lately:
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Favorite Films of 2011
Once again, I find myself attempting to sum up a rather unusual year for movies. Here we have a year of movies that managed to transcend mediocrity, but none which achieved true greatness. There were a ton of good movies released this year, ranging from a good way to spend a few hours to... a very good way to spend a few hours? Again, nothing seemed to really hit on all cylinders this year.
The theme of 2010 was a questioning of reality. I don't see a theme in 2011, but I do see some patterns. The one that sticks out to me is that there seemed to be a preponderance of art house genre pictures. These movies tend to be low budget schlock-fests, even when they're good. But this year, several talented directors took on unusual genres, and instead of schlock, we got deliberate pacing punctuated by visually spectacular moments of beauty. From cosmic existentialism (The Tree of Life, Melancholia, Certified Copy) to straightforward action (Drive) to westerns (Meek's Cutoff), we got a ton of unusual takes on standard genres this year. There are even more examples that will be listed below. Does this really qualify as a Theme (capital T) for 2011? Probably not, but it's the pattern I'm most struck by... it seems that all the interesting movies this year were playing with form and genre...
As of this moment, I've seen 75 movies that would be considered 2011 releases. Add in the 19 movies I saw at Fantastic Fest, and that brings the grand total up to 94 movies. This is a record for me, though probably much less than a lot of critics would see in a year.
The standard disclaimer goes double for this year: creating a list like this is an inherently subjective process, and I seemed to have struggled with the list more than expected, to the point where I'm having trouble orienting films on a pure 1-10 scale. For the past several years, I've always had a pretty easy time with the top 5 movies of the year. I would have a little more trouble with the 6-8 picks, and the final two were always impossible to pick. This year? I feel like I've got 10 movies I want to cram in those 9 and 10 slots, with maybe a few in the 6-8 realm... As such, I'm breaking from tradition this year and listing out my top 10 in alphabetical order. A bit of a cop out, sure, but what are you going to do? Sue me?
I used to put this list together by trying to figure out the best films of the year, but in the past few years, I've been gravitating more towards my favorite films. There were films I really respected this year that never quite connected with me the way they did with critics, so I have a feeling my list will be more personal and unusual than most top 10s... Indeed, this is probably the least commercial list I've ever put together (there are normally at least a few big budget Hollywood type films on the list, but not so much this year...) My hope is that this will make for a more interesting list to read, but enough babbling, let's get this show started:
Top 10 Movies of 2011
* In alphabetical order
* Also in alphabetical order
But still worthwhile, in their own way. Presented without comment and in no particular order:
These are films that are almost universally recognized in critics' circles, but which didn't really connect with me. Again presented without comment and in no particular order:
Despite the record number of movies I saw this year, there were still a few that got away. This could be because of limited distribution, or because I just didn't find the movie that compelling until after it was out of theaters or something like that... Again presented without comment and in no particular order:
Anyways, stay tuned next week for the annual Kaedrin Oscars Liveblogging event! It should be a real corker.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
The human brain is basically a giant correlation machine. Well, ok, that's a drastic simplification, but I've often written about how correlation and induction play an important role in life. This is a large subject, but today I want to focus on one result of our predilection towards correlation: our tendency to develop complex taxonomies. For books and movies, we've got genres. For beer, we've got style. Retail stores have departments. You name it, chances are that there's a complex taxonomy describing variations (you'll notice that this post tends to consist of examples from my obsessions with movies, beer and technology, but this would all be relevant to a wide variety of subjects).
This tendency invariably leads to nerdy arguments about specific examples and where they fall within the taxonomy. Is Inglourious Basterds Science Fiction? Are comic book movies science fiction? Should we make a distinction between science fiction and science fantasy? What exactly constitutes a West Coast IPA? What do we call Black IPAs? What are the defining characteristics of a Weblog? What are some examples of the Hillbilly Horror genre? Take a trip down TV Tropes lane, and you're guaranteed to find a comprehensive list of genres, sub-genres, and myriad conventions or cliches.
Why go to all this trouble to categorize everything? What is it about the internet that seems to magnify these discussions?
Well, the most obvious reason for such excessive categorization is that it will communicate something about the particular instance being discussed. Categorizing movies into various genres helps us determine what we're in for when we sit down to watch a movie. Style guidelines communicate what kinds of characteristics to expect from a beer. Genres and styles provide a common ground for both creators and critics, and the reduce the pool of possibilities to a more manageable number.
Those are good things1, but they're really only scratching the surface of why we taxonomize. Most people get frustrated by taxonomies. It seems that every genre, every style, is inadequate, especially when their favorite instance is pigeonholed into a particular category. Hence, we get the aforementioned nerdy debates on the nature of science fiction or west coast IPAs. Genres and styles are blurry along the edges, and there's a great deal of overlap. Individual works often fit into many categories. If one were so inclined, they could make each category excessively inclusive or moderately narrow, but worrying about the blurry edges of taxonomy is kinda missing the point. In the parlance of hackers, the blurry edges of taxonomy are a feature, not a bug.
I've been reading Steven Johnson's book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, and he makes a fascinating observation that genres are the stacked platforms of the creative world:
For understandable reasons, we like to talk about artistic innovations in terms of the way that they break the rules, open up new doors in the adjacent possible that lesser minds never even see. But genius requires genres. Flaubert and Joyce needed the genre of the bildungsroman to contort and undermine in Sentimental Education and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Dylan needed the conventions of acoustic folk to electrify the world with Highway 61 Revisited. Genres supply a set of implicit rules that have enough coherence that traditionalists can safely play inside them, and more adventurous artists can confound our expectations by playing with them. Genres are the platforms and paradigms of the creative world. They are almost never willed into existence by a single pioneering work. Instead, they fade into view, through a complicated set of shared signals passed between artists, each contributing different elements to the mix.
I love the description of genres fading into view, perhaps because you could say that genres never really come into full clarity. That may frustrate some, but that inherent blurriness is where taxonomies derive power and it's what allows geniuses to create their most amazing works. And this does not just apply to art. In Brew Like a Monk, Stan Hieronymus relates an anecdote from Michael Jackson (the beer critic, not the pop star):
As Hieronymus later notes, if we didn't make "rules," we wouldn't know when to break them.
That is the power of taxonomy. It gives us a place to start. It gives us the basic rules and techniques. Defining such conventions may seem limiting, but it's actually freeing. You have to understand those conventions before you can break them or combine them properly, which can sometimes result in something inspirational and brilliant. Ironically, this seems to happen with such regularity that I'm sure many "innovations" we see today are repeats of previous revolutions. As Johnson notes, genres and style are part of a stacked platform. They're built on top of even more basic building blocks, notably technology. Technology often recontextualizes existing taxonomies, opening them up to subtly different interpretations. The same innovative idea can be magnified and mutated into something different by technology. It's very rare that something completely new emerges from history. It's more likely something that has existed for a long time, but slightly tweaked to match the times. Taxonomies are platforms. They are not limiting. You build things on top of platforms, and that's why we go to the trouble of categorizing everything we can.
1 - Nerdy fury on the internets is one thing, but for the most part this isn't really controversial stuff. However, once you start placing taxonomies on human beings, things get a little more complicated. If one were so inclined, an interesting discussion on the nature of prejudice as it relates to the human penchant for correlation could yield interesting insights. Unfortunately, this is not a post for that more weighty (and controversial) subject.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Weird Movie of the Week
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week we examined a touching tale of bovine mutation. This time, we've got presidential badassery:
Sunday, January 01, 2012
My Most Anticipated Movies of 2012
Before I get started on recapping the 2011 movie landscape (yes, I know most folks are already done with their year end recaps, but here at Kaedrin, we work at a more leisurely pace), I thought I'd look ahead at 2012. My impression of 2011 is an odd one. I really enjoyed many movies I saw, but there were few that really blew me away. It's not quite a year of mediocrity, but it isn't a spectacular year either. 2012, though, is shaping up to be at least very interesting and possibly one of the best years in a long time...
The Obvious Blockbusters:
Most folks already know these movies are coming and they're also something of a known quantity, so I'm separating them out. There are, of course, other big blockbusters coming, but these are the ones I'm most interested in:
It seems like 2012 is brewing up a lot of original screenplays with talented directors, which is a welcome development. And an exciting one too!
There are some movies in the pipeline that may or may not be released in 2012. But when they do come out, I'd probably be interested in them:
For whatever reason, these films aren't inspiring as much interest in me as they seem to be in everyone else...
Sunday, December 18, 2011
'Tis the season... for cheesy horror movies! It's something of an annual tradition here at Kaedrin, though the pickings are getting a bit slim these days. Two of the three movies below are only slightly related to actual holiday scares. That being said, I always seem to have fun with these movies, even if they aren't so great:
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Nerding Out on Star Trek
Star Trek has been in the news lately, as J.J. Abrams preps the new movie. It seems that Khan will be the villain again (originally thought to be played by Benicio Del Toro, but that has apparently not happened), though there is also apparently a secondary villain who plays an older mentor to Khan. Or something. It was the obvious choice and I'm interested in seeing what Abrams does with the new movie, but in a lot of ways, it's also a disappointing and lazy choice. Not just because Khan was the villain in the original second Star Trek film either. As Devin Faraci also notes, I think one of the things people forget about is that one of the reasons that film worked so well was that Khan wasn't the obvious choice:
Khan wasn't an obvious choice for the original Star Trek II. Basically Harve Bennett watched every single episode of the original series because he thought Star Trek: The Motion Picture lacked a good villain, and took a shine to Space Seed; while it was always regarded as one of the better episodes of the series, Khan wasn't quite the iconic villain he is today.I think I would have rather seen Abrams go in a completely different direction. Either mining the original series for other obscure characters to update for the big screen, or maybe even - and I know this is crazy talk - creating a new character from scratch. The Star Trek reboot was extremely popular, so they've got a built in audience for this next installment. As long as you can make a trailer with a bunch of lens flares, swish pans, and explosions, people are going to go see the sequel. Why not take a chance? Khan is an iconic villain because of his context - none of which has been built up in this new reboot universe.
Anyway, I got to thinking about the existing movies and just for shits and giggles, I ranked them from favorite to least favorite below. Mostly because this post just wasn't nerdy enough. Here goes:
A sentient nebula chases the ship, which has nowhere to hide, because usually it would be in a nebula. Data adopts a dog, snake, and parrot.Heh, great stuff. Speaking of great stuff, RedLetterMedia has reviews of all the Next Generation movies (in the same style as their brilliant Star Wars prequel reviews) that are certainly worth checking out. Well, I think that covers all the Star Trek nerdery I have right now, so there. I hope you enjoyed it.
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
The 2011 Holiday Movie Season
The holiday movie season has traditionally been Hollywood's dumping ground for Oscar bait. Prestige pictures are rushed out the door to meet eligibility requirements, and film nerds rejoice that we're actually getting some more intelligent, subtle fair. Well, in recent years, the trend hasn't quite reversed, but big tentpole action films are being released during the holidays now. Avatar came out on Christmas, for instance, and this year, we've got stuff like Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. But there are still some interesting looking movies coming out as well, so here's a few that I'm looking forward to:
I'm actually a little more on top of things than I thought I was with this year's crop of movies. Part of it is that I've managed to catch up with several films on DVD/BD lately. I'm sure a few other things will pop up between now and when I actually compile my top 10 of 2011, but as of right now, this is looking like a banner year (especially if you add in my Fantastic Fest watching) in terms of movies seen...
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Weird Movie Synopsis of the Week
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we saw a tale of Elephant vengeance. Against Nazis. This time, courtesy of my friend Dave, we've got a touching story of bovine mutation:
"In this unsettling chiller, a genetic experiment intended to boost bovine fertility goes awry when one of the cows spawns lethal mutant offspring."Short, but sweet. Does it surprise anyone that this is a film that is available on Netflix streaming? I thought not.
According to Dave, this movie is actually much more well-made than the premise might lead one to believe. I guess we'll just have to see about that, won't we? The movie is called Isolation, and IMDB has rated as a rather hefty (for this kinda movie) 5.9 rating from 2500+ users.
Sunday, October 30, 2011
6WH: Week 6 - The Slasher Calendar (Again)
I've done this before, so I won't go over why so many slasher films are centered around holidays and dates, but yeah, they are. I don't know that I've seen every holiday slasher, but there are certainly enough that you could create a calendar of events throughout the year, with at least one or two slashers per month. Fortunately, there are some holidays that are still open, so if I were to actually make a slasher, Flag Day is still available (perhaps I could combine it with jellyfish and crocoroids). Anyway, in visiting the calendar this year, it's become clear that I've exhausted most of the good holiday slashers, and am in the distinct second or third tier. But no matter. Slashers are like cinematic comfort food. So let's get on with it:
Posted by Mark on October 30, 2011 at 08:03 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Dr. Anton Phibes' Abominably Erudite, Musically Malignant, Cursedly Clever Halloween Horror Movie Quiz
Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as always, I'm excited to provide my answers. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, Professor Severus Snape, and Professor Ed Avery, are also available... But now, here are my answers to the sinister Dr. Phibes:
1) Favorite Vincent Price/American International Pictures release.
It is perhaps dreadfully uncool to pick the film the entire quiz is named after, but my pick is honestly The Abominable Dr. Phibes. It's a fine film by itself, but it's also much more influential than most of its contemporaries, influencing the likes of Seven and even Saw (not to mention the franchise that spawned and the whole torture porn sub-genre).
2) What horror classic (or non-classic) that has not yet been remade would you like to see upgraded for modern audiences?
This is quite a difficult question. For one thing, a lot of movies that get remade have no real need of a remake - they're perfect the way they are. So what does need a remake? Well, there are some movies, no matter how great they are, that are just products of a different time, and could use some updating. There are some movies that just don't have enough of a budget or production value, and they could also benefit from a remake. Finally, there are movies that have a really neat premise that fall down when it comes to execution. That last one is especially difficult because they're not normally good or beloved, and thus are unlikely to be greenlit by a studio exec. But for the purposes of this question, there are no studios or commercial concerns, so what movie to pick? Well, when it comes to classics, the obvious choice would be Creature from the Black Lagoon - the only of the old Universal monsters that hasn't been updated and redone ad nauseum. The reason for the Gill-Creature's lack of remake probably has less to do with the popularity of the character than to the fact that it was one of the few Universal creature features that was totally original. Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy (which is mildly arguable, but I'm including it anyway) are so popular because the characters are in the public domain (Universal owns some aspects of the appearance of the various monsters, but that is easily avoided because the characters themselves are not). Because of this, characters like Dracula can be continually reinterpreted and reinvented for new audiences and generations. Indeed, Dracula has racked up over 200 appearances in film - one of the most portrayed fictional characters in all of cinema. But the Gill monster? It will never be as popular because Universal had so tightly controlled the copyright... at least, not until the film enters the public domain. On the other hand, maybe it's a silly movie that wouldn't survive a reinvention. But we won't know unless we get someone talented to give it a shot, and it's probably worth trying.
3) Jonathan Frid or Thayer David?
Well, I've never been much of a Dark Shadows kinda guy, so I'm afraid I can't really give a good answer for this, except to say: Jonathan Frid. Because I feel like it.
4) Name the one horror movie you need to see that has so far eluded you.
There are a lot of questions like this in these quizzes, and my answers tend to fall on a particular era of film: Silent Films. In keeping with that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is probably the one classic horror film that has so far eluded me. Along with several hundred others, but I keep thinking to myself: Self, you should really become more acquainted with the Silent Era. And then I promptly ignore that impulse. Indeed, for this year's 6 Weeks of Halloween marathon, I had originally intended to devote a week to silent films (including Caligari), but there's only one week left, and I really want to watch me some slasher films. But I will get to silent horror at some point. Oh yes.
5) Favorite film director most closely associated with the horror genre.
A truly difficult and tricky question. Does someone like David Cronenberg count? He spent the first decade or so of his career putting out solid or even great horror films, but he has since moved on to other genres (mostly). How about John Carpenter? He's made two of my favorite movies of all time (Halloween and The Thing), but he's also made some stinkers and he hasn't even made a decent movie in over 15 years (though I have yet to see The Ward). Maybe it's just that I'm bad at picking favorites. Names are just coming to me. Mario Bava. Don Coscarelli. Alfred Hitchcock (does he count?) Sam Raimi. Wes Craven. Jeeze, we could be here for a while. I'll stop now.
6) Ingrid Pitt or Barbara Steele?
Hey, I'm actually mildly familiar with these two. Mildly. I'll go with Ingrid Pitt, because I've seen her in more things, but Barbara Steele is no slouch...
7) Favorite 50’s sci-fi/horror creature.
A tough one. The Gill Creature kinda qualifies (is that really sci-fi?), but in the interest of variety, I'll go with The Blob. There's something just so great about the inhuman, unfeeling nature of the blob.
8) Favorite/best sequel to an established horror classic.
Aliens is the first to come to mind, but while it's quite a tense affair, I don't know that I would call that a horror film (though the Alien certainly was) so much as an action/adventure/thriller. The other obvious choice is Bride of Frankenstein, a film many believe is better than the original (though I'm not with them on that, it's still among the best sequels). And while I wouldn't call anything in the Friday the 13th series "classic", I do have an inordinate fondness for Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI. Yeah, did I say I have trouble picking favorites? Because I do. Oh, and Phantasm II. And definitely Evil Dead II. Ok, I'll stop now.
9) Name a sequel in a horror series which clearly signaled that the once-vital franchise had run out of gas.
This one's really hard, because there are so many horror series, all of which run out of gas from time to time, only to be revitalized (even if only for a short time). There are probably a bunch of Dracula movies that would fit that mold. But what the hell, I'll just say A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, which just stopped the series in its tracks (not that it was soaring so high at that point, but still) and I don't think it ever really recovered...
10) John Carradine or Lon Chaney Jr.?
These two actors have over 500 films to their credit. Yikes. I'll go with Lon Chaney Jr., for The Wolf Man alone.
11) What was the last horror movie you saw in a theater? On DVD or Blu-ray?
Last horror movie I saw in the theater was Paranormal Activity 3 (I was surprised that the series had not worn out it's welcome - I generally enjoyed it). On DVD, it was Lucio Fulci's goretastic The Beyond (fun, but not much to it other than gore, which I will grant, is pretty awesome in that movie). On Blu-Ray, it was Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, a mildly diverting film that was enjoyable enough, though again, nothing special. On Netflix Streaming, it was The Sentinel, a decent 70s haunted house film that is nevertheless kinda sloppy and disjointed and very weird. Interesting, but nothing to go crazy about.
12) Best foreign-language fiend/monster.
The most obvious answer would be Godzilla, though I've never been a particularly huge fan of those movies. The "fiend" part of the question does indeed open this up to probably too broad of a category, so I'll just leave it at Godzilla.
13) Favorite Mario Bava movie.
Oh, this is a difficult one, but after a microsecond of thought, I'll go with Blood and Black Lace. Impeccable.
Oh, this is an easy one, right? Cause there aren't that many actors or actresses that do a lot of horror films, right? RIGHT? Ok, fine, I'll go Boris Karloff for the actor, and Jamie Lee Curtis for the actress.
15) Name a great horror director’s least effective movie.
John Carpenter's Vampires and Ghosts of Mars. Another question that could probably have a thousand answers, unfortunately.
16) Grayson Hall or Joan Bennett?
Again with the Dark Shadows? I decline to answer. Ok, fine, Joan Bennett. There. You happy now?
17) When did you realize that you were a fan of the horror genre? And if you’re not, when did you realize you weren’t?
When I was in fifth grade, I hated horror films. Or, at least, I was terrified of them and avoided them at all costs. Then, one halloween, I spent the night at a friend's house, and we watched Halloween. Nothing like peer pressure to get you to watch something you wouldn't normally watch. And I was shocked to realize that I loved the movie. I was hooked. I started watching all the 80s slashers that came on TV (through my fingers at first, then when I realized that it wasn't that bad, I really started to eat up horror films), and now I watch nothing but horror movies for the six weeks leading up to Halloween every year. Not to mention all the other horror films I watch throughout the year.
18) Favorite Bert I. Gordon (B.I.G.) movie.
I can't say as though I've seen a lot of his movies, but Empire of the Ants comes to mind.
19) Name an obscure horror favorite that you wish more people knew about.
This is a hard one because "obscure" can be a relative term. What constitutes obscure for a horror fanatic? It's difficult, because horror fanatics watch a lot of obscure movies just for the hell of it. But my pick will be Mute Witness, a movie that I rarely hear about, even in horror film circles. I won't ruin it by talking too much about it, but it's about a mute woman who witnesses a murder and then has to escape the clutches of the murderers, even though she's in a remote area and can't speak.
20) The Human Centipede-- yes or no?
Yes. Look, it's a disgusting concept, but I have to admit that the first film is reasonably well made and even restrained. It was nowhere near as bad as I feared. On the other hand, the sequel is pretty foul. But even that is well shot and there's something interesting about what he chose to do in that movie. These are films I would probably never recommend to anyone, but if you're inclined to watch disgusting movies, these are fine.
21) And while we’re in the neighborhood, is there a horror film you can think of that you felt “went too far”?
The aforementioned IMDb - The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence is certainly a candidate, but the one that came to mind after that was Martyrs, a film I have a lot of respect for, but which also made me wonder what the hell I was doing watching this thing.
22) Name a film that is technically outside the horror genre that you might still feel comfortable describing as a horror film.
Genres are inherently fuzzy. That's part of their charm! That being said, a couple examples would be Blue Velvet and The Silence of the Lambs and maybe even Se7en. Did I mention that I'm bad at picking just one film?
23) Lara Parker or Kathryn Leigh Scott?
Alright, Jesus, I'll watch Dark Shadows, ok? Just stop giving me these choices!
24) If you’re a horror fan, at some point in your past your dad, grandmother, teacher or some other disgusted figure of authority probably wagged her/his finger at you and said, “Why do you insist on reading/watching all this morbid monster/horror junk?” How did you reply? And if that reply fell short somehow, how would you have liked to have replied?
I haven't been around too much of this sort of attitude, so I don't really have an answer prepared, but I'm sure I could come up with something about the nature of fear or something. And quite frankly, anyone who's so lacking in empathy that they can't understand why someone would *gasp* like something different than them, is probably not worth responding to...
25) Name the critic or Web site you most enjoy reading on the subject of the horror genre.
Brian Collins and his amazing Horror Movie a Day. I don't know how he does it.
26) Most frightening image you’ve ever taken away from a horror movie.
A difficult one, as the most frightening stuff, for me, is the stuff that's not shown. But just to answer the question, I'll say Phantasm has quite a few shots that haunt me...
27) Your favorite memory associated with watching a horror movie.
Well, I've already mentioned my first viewing of Halloween, so I'll call out my first viewing of Paranormal Activity. Before it got hyped to high heaven, it was just a small film, struggling to get a release. The filmmakers managed to wrangle some midnight screenings (and later used footage of the crowds in their trailer), one of which I got to attend. It was a big and fun crowd, there were lots of scares, and as a midnight showing, I didn't get home until around 2:30. And if you've ever seen the movie, you know that all the bad things that happen... happen at around that time. Let's just say that I stayed up for a while after that.
28) What would you say is the most important/significant horror movie of the past 20 years (1992-2012)? Why?
Two films come to mind. Scream's postmodern approach made it ok to make horror movies again. I know a lot of people don't like it or love it, but it is an important film, if only for the influence it's had on the genre. The other film would be The Blair Witch Project. It wasn't the first found footage, mock-documentary film (nor was it even the only one made that year!), but I think it might be the most effective one, and given the strength of the format over the past decade or so, I think that deserves a callout.
29) Favorite Dr. Phibes curse (from either film).
"Death of the first born" from The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Ironically, an quasi-unsuccessful curse, as well. But it was elaborate and horrifying, moreso than most of the others.
Well, at least you didn't say I could only pick one movie.
And there you have it, another great quiz. I'm already looking forward to the next one!
Posted by Mark on October 26, 2011 at 07:28 PM .: link :.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
6WH: Week 4 - Wes Craven
The six weeks of Halloween continues with three as yet unseen Wes Craven horror films, including some of his most recent work. Craven's an interesting director. He's worked primarily in horror and he's made at least two or three seminal films in that genre, but even his "lesser" works generally have something going for them. Even in films that don't necessarily work, he always manages to strike a nerve or two, which is more than could be said for most other directors. This week, I watched three of his films:
Posted by Mark on October 16, 2011 at 07:15 PM .: link :.
Sunday, October 09, 2011
6 Weeks of Halloween: Week 3 - Val Lewton Horror
In 1939, RKO-Radio Pictures was the smallest of the major studios. Its first ten years had been tumultuous, but things were looking up. They had just offered the talented youngster Orson Welles a multimillion dollar contract, hoping to capitalize on his success in their radio division. Welles' first film was Citizen Kane, which opened to critical praise and has gone on to be frequently cited as the greatest film ever, but which also lost money for the studio at the time. In addition, Charles Foster Kane was obviously based on newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who took the film none too kindly. In response to Welles' hubris, Hearst's media outlets boycotted the film, intimidated theaters into following suit, and threatened RKO exects with exposing fifteen years of suppressed Hollywood scandals. Welles' second film, The Magnificent Ambersons was even less successful.
After some leadership shakeups, one of the ways RKO sought to reverse their fortunes was to focus on B movies, and specifical B horror movies. Enter Val Lewton, who was offered "artistic freedom" if he accepted a few conditions:
Posted by Mark on October 09, 2011 at 08:51 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, October 05, 2011
Fantastic Fest Dispatch #3
Coming down the homestretch, only a few movies/events left to go over. See also: Dispatch #1 and Dispatch #2.
Sunday, October 02, 2011
Fantastic Fest Dispatch #2
As mentioned in the first dispatch, Fantastic Fest was quite a hectic but fun week for me. I don't really have much to say in terms of an introduction, but there are some thoughts on the festival itself interspersed with the movie reviews below. Also, just to mention that this technically represents the second week in my annual 6 Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon. It doesn't take the general form of most 6WH posts, but there's plenty of horror and weirdness below, so enjoy! See also: Dispatch #1 and Dispatch #3.
Update 10/5/11: Added some images to this post. Fixed some typos. Added links to other FF dispatches.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Fantastic Fest Dispatch #1
So things have been quite busy so far. Not much time to really record detailed thoughts, but since it's Sunday, I'll list out a few of the movies I've seen earlier in the week. Tons of fun stuff going on, but quite frankly, not much time to discuss. I'll probably have more time to cover movies next weekend (and since I'm traveling on Wednesday, probably no post then either)... Also, this is technically the first week of the 6 Weeks of Halloween Marathon. Not all of the below movies are horror and thus aren't necessarily Halloween movies, but they're all pretty weird and at least a few are pretty horror-focused. See also: Dispatch #2 and Dispatch #3.
Update: Dispatch #2 and Dispatch #3 have been posted.
Posted by Mark on September 25, 2011 at 01:31 AM .: link :.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Netflix's Woes, Continued
In the wake of Netflix's pricing increase, it's been estimated that they've lost somewhere around 1 million customers. On Sunday night, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings attempted to explain the move. He starts off the announcement by saying "I messed up. I owe everyone an explanation."
He then proceeded to explain how he would make up for everything... by totally screwing over customers even more.
Essentially, Netflix is splitting into two independent entities (both owned by the same parent, for now). One is the DVD by mail service, which will work the same as ever, but which will not be named Qwikster. The other is the streaming service, which will retain the Netflix name. I see no reason to do this, but whatever. Maybe it's an accounting thing. But then Hasting drops the bombshell: "Qwikster.com and Netflix.com websites will not be integrated." Um, what? All the sudden, this whole thing went from baffling to insane. The ratings you give movies on Netflix won't be reflected on Qwikster (and vice versa), if you want to change address or credit card info, you have to do so on both sites, and you presumably won't be able to tell if a movie is available on streaming when looking at the Qwikster website.
Now look, I'm not a Netflix hater. I love the service and even with the price increase, it's a great value. I remember the old days of Blockbuster and do not want to return. I even defended their price increase back in July, essentially calling all the controversy an infantile response to Netflix's reasonable reaction to unreasonable studio demands. If the studios charge 10-100 times as much for Netflix to stream movies, it's only natural that the price would increase.
But this new change is utterly ridiculous. What's more, it seems to make no sense whatsoever. I'm not an expert in business practices, but I can't find a single compelling reason to make this change at all. There isn't a single operational benefit to the switch and there's now a massive usability hurdle placed in front of the customer. I suppose there could be some sort of internal accounting or business or stock reason to make this change, but even that doesn't make sense. In July, their stock was nipping at $300 a share. Now? It's at around $130 a share. How does this benefit them? My guess is that the stock will rebound a bit, but that they'll continue to bleed subscribers. The only thing I can think of is that Netflix really does want to just sell off the DVD business and focus on streaming. Depressing the stock prices the way they have means that maybe potential investors will see it as a more attractive investment or something. I don't understand why that would be a viable option, but it's the only thing I can think of...
For the first time since subscribing to Netflix over 6 years ago, I'm looking into alternatives. I will most likely keep their streaming service, but the way they're setting up the DVD service seems to beg customers to look for alternatives. Before the split, Netflix was a unique value proposition. You had access to nearly every movie available on DVD. The streaming selection was limited but growing, and you could always fall back on DVDs if needed. Now? There's no compelling reason to use either of Netflix's services. The only thing that could save this would be if Netflix actually expanded their streaming selection significantly, something I don't see happening anytime soon. And if they keep bleeding customers the way they are, their position at the bargaining table will only get worse as time goes on.
Streaming may be the future of video content, but there's a fairly significant chicken-and-egg problem that needs to be solved first. In order to get favorable deals with the studios, the streaming service must boast a very large number of subscribers. In order to get those subscribers, a streaming service must boast a very large selection. Again, I don't see how this move helps Netflix in any way.
In the end, I'm flabbergasted. I just cannot comprehend what is going on right now. Netflix was great while it lasted. It's a shame it's going away.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Link Dump - Action in Movies Edition
Some interesting movie-related links I've run across of late:
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
So this story is a week old at this point, but it's so amazingly stupid that I can't seem to wrap my head around it. It seems that George Lucas is still screwing with the original trilogy, and he's made the most egregious and ridiculous change yet in the new release of the original trilogy on blu-ray. Here it is (stick with it, the change is about 30 seconds in):
It’s hard to believe this because Vader crying ‘Noooo!’ was one of the most widely derided aspects of Revenge of the Sith. It’s easy to believe because Lucas is so out of touch and loves the idea of on the nose symmetry between the two trilogies.And the story has been confirmed by multiple sources, including the NY Times.
It's a flabbergasting change, for a million reasons. Of course, there are tons of stories about it all over, and folks are already creating funny mashups and posting screenshots of canceled orders (I think that's my favorite response actually).
But really, no parody is needed. Lucas's antics have gone beyond the point of outrage or controversy (like some of the other changes Lucas has made) and into pure comedy gold. Russ Fischer notes that: "There is a troll at work here; we just don’t know yet if it is George Lucas, or some anonymous prankster." At the time, the story hadn't been confirmed yet, so Fischer was thinking of the whole thing as a hoax. However, even though it's not a hoax, I think Fischer was on to something there. I think George Lucas is trolling us. I think it's become clear that he is literally playing a practical joke on us, one that has been decades in the making. He spent several years making these amazing movies that everyone would grow to love, only to abandon the whole thing when he finished. Fifteen years later, he put his long-term practical joke in motion by tweaking the old films (Greedo shooting first being the most egregious change), then releasing three poorly made prequels. Not satisfied with the reaction to this (which, granted, made him even richer), he continued his changing of the classics (even convincing Spielberg to change E.T.!), noting that fans went bonkers over every change, no matter how small. He even went and ruined Indiana Jones while he was at it.
But none of these things were good enough, and strangely, he seemed to keep making money off of these atrocities. Every troll gets to this point, sooner or later. When Lucas realized that he could do anything, I think he actually sat down one day and wondered to himself: Everything I've done so far has been small potatoes, how can I really piss these people off? Lots of people have speculated about why Lucas has made the changes he has. Some think it's pure greed - for every change he makes, he can sell a new copy to the same old customers. But that rings hollow. The real prevailing wisdom here is that George Lucas actually believes he is making the movies better. He is an artist! And this is his vision! Or something like that. Well, maybe he really is an artist. Maybe this is his crowning achievement. It's not an achievement in film though, it's an achievement in trolling.
I know it's unrealistic to expect that these Blu-Rays won't sell. They will. But the only way to defeat trolls is to ignore them. Or perhaps applaud their trollishness... and then ignore them. Well played, Lucas. But I'm not buying your movies anymore.
Sunday, September 04, 2011
Tucker & Dale vs Evil
In horror movies, taking a vacation in the woods never seems to work out so well. There are a number of variations on the theme, including the traditional slasher (exemplified by the Friday the 13th movies) and, of course, the Hillbilly Horror subgenre in which a bunch of kids find themselves in a rural area (usually in the deep south or, most notoriously, West Virginia), hunted by inbred cannibals. As it turns out, hillbilly horror cinema is a surprisingly deep subgenre, including the likes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Cabin Fever, Deliverance, Wrong Turn, and dozens of others.
Tucker & Dale vs Evil is a new horror comedy that takes full advantage of that tired premise by turning it on its head. It begins with the typical establishing shots of Hillbilly Horror, following a group of college kids as they go camping in the woods of West Virginia. I don't want to give too much of it away, but the twist is that after the initial sequence, this film is told from the perspective of the hillbillies... and it doesn't quite play out like you'd expect.
Again, I don't want to ruin the movie, and quite frankly, I'd recommend avoiding the trailer, as it gives away a number of the comedic beats in the film. It is perhaps not a perfect film, but I was quite taken with it. It's currently available on Comcast's VOD (and perhaps other cable providers' VOD services), though it is a bit expensive (still cheaper than most theaters though). I believe it's slated for a limited theatrical release later in the month as well. It's well worth checking out, especially for fans of horror.
Incidentally, writer/director Eli Craig was the guest on the /Filmcast last week, which is where I heard of this film in the first place. Check out the episode (and the After Dark episode)...
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Weird Movie of the Week
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we looked at a horror movie featuring bunny suit wearing chainsaw murderer. This time, let's examine a movie about elephants. And Nazis. According to IMDB's surprisingly informative user review, Elephant Fury has a rather interesting history:
Sensation director and actor Harry Piel made the film "Panik" in the period 1940-1943 that was banned by the Promi: the animals running loose from a zoo after a bombardment reminded in 1943 too much of the real bombardments and in Berlin indeed one day the animals from the zoo were running through the streets. The only copy of the film was later destroyed by a bombardment also, while after the war the negative was confiscated by the Russians. In 1951/2 Piel was able to reclaim the negative, shot some additional material and edited a new version under a new title.By all accounts, it's not particularly good, but the entire thing is available on YouTube (embedded above) and the short description is tantalizing: "Wild Animals Escape Zoo to attack Nazis". Note that the animals do not escape the zoo and attack Nazis. They escape to attack Nazis. Motivation is important, even to animal actors.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
It's not the worst movie ever made. In fact, it's pretty good. Much better than I expected. It has its problems, and I'm still not entirely convinced that it needed to exist in the first place, but now that it does, it's probably worth checking out. It does not start well, though.
The first scene in the movie is an ape-poaching sequence. It's not terrible, but it's also pretty pointless and doesn't really connect that solidly with the rest of the film. It's not until the second sequence in the film that the bad really gets horrible. I'm going to quote, from memory, some dialogue from the script. It's approximate, but I think you'll be able to see why it's so bad.
JAMES FRANCO: Cliché.Yeah, but from these inauspicious beginnings, the film slowly starts to reverse itself. Interestingly, and perhaps appropriately, it doesn't really right itself until Caesar (which, without getting into details, is basically James Franco's pet ape) grows up and starts to demonstrate his real intelligence. The special effects of the film are getting a lot of buzz. In particular, Andy Serkis's motion-capture performance as Caesar is even being mentioned as a potential Oscar nominee. Not all of the effects are perfect, but those folks over at Weta Digital know where their bread is buttered, and so the really important parts are done extremely well.
One of the problems with the film is that once Caesar begins to gain his independence, the human side of the story becomes less important. By the end of the film, the humans really don't have much to do. Oh sure, there are a couple human villains, but James Franco, for example, doesn't really have much to do once you get to the midpoint of the film. A lot of the human side characters are never really given much to do, even though some are played by really good actors.
The thing I like about the movie is that the film doesn't quite succumb to the traps that are set up early in the movie. For instance, without getting into specifics, the Apes and humans aren't really at war. There is one really fantastic action set piece on the Golden Gate Bridge, and there are some "villains" among the humans, but for the most part, there isn't a full scale war here. The apes aren't out for revenge and they're surprisingly restrained and reasonable.
In the end, there are some real clunkers in the dialogue, and there are some plot holes and really major, groan-inducing clichés, but the film manages to overcome them. It ends much stronger than it begins, which is actually a nice change of pace. I feel like a lot of movies start well and fall apart in the second or third act. This is a film that starts poorly, but gets better, leaving you with a good feeling at the end. It's definitely worth a watch, but maybe as a matinee or DVD. I've got some more spoilertastic comments in the extended entry, for those that have already seen it. Here be the spoilers:
Sunday, August 21, 2011
A couple of weeks ago, I bit the bullet and booked my trip to Fantastic Fest, a movie festival focusing on genre film (mostly horror, fantasy, SF and action). It takes place in Austin, TX and is primarily held at a couple of big theaters there, notably the Alamo Drafthouse (I've never been to one, but from all reports, they're great). Everything I've heard about this festival is that it is amazing, especially for genre-hounds like myself (and this year's festival aligns pretty well with the beginning of my annual 6 Weeks of Halloween marathon).
They haven't announced the schedule yet (and they should totally get on that), but they have released a bunch of the movies that will be showing. I'm really psyched to see a bunch of these films. Many genre films and filmmakers don't get wide releases, so it will be really nice to be ahead of the game on some of these. Even more interesting is the fact that I haven't heard of the grand majority of the films announced so far, which hopefully means I'll be discovering some films that I wouldn't normally have even had the chance to see. Again, they haven't announced the schedule, but I figured I should take a look through the two blocks of released titles to see what I'm interested in. I suppose there's no real guarantee that I'll get to see all the films I want, but I'm definitely hoping to catch up with most of these films:
Posted by Mark on August 21, 2011 at 07:33 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
More on Spoilers
I recently wrote about the unintended consequences of spoiler culture, and I just came across this post which has been making waves around the internets. That post points to a study which concluded that readers actually like to have a story "spoiled" before they start reading.
The U.C. San Diego researchers, who compiled this chart showcasing the spoiler ratings of three genres (ironic twist stories, mysteries or literary stories), posited this about their findings: "once you know how it turns out, it’s cognitively easier - you’re more comfortable processing the information - and can focus on a deeper understanding of the story."Jonah Lehrer apparently goes so far as to read the last 5 pages of the novels he reads, just so he has an idea where the story's headed. He clearly approves of the research's conclusions, and makes a few interesting observations, including:
Surprises are much more fun to plan than experience. The human mind is a prediction machine, which means that it registers most surprises as a cognitive failure, a mental mistake. Our first reaction is almost never “How cool! I never saw that coming!” Instead, we feel embarrassed by our gullibility, the dismay of a prediction error. While authors and screenwriters might enjoy composing those clever twists, they should know that the audience will enjoy it far less.Interestingly, a few years ago, I posted about this conundrum from the opposite end. Author China Miéville basically thinks it's extremely difficult, maybe even impossible, to write a crime story or mystery with a good ending:
Reviews of crime novels repeatedly refer to this or that book’s slightly disappointing conclusion. This is the case even where reviewers are otherwise hugely admiring. Sometimes you can almost sense their bewilderment when, looking closely at the way threads are wrapped up and plots and sub-plots knotted, they acknowledge that nothing could be done to improve an ending, that it works, that it is ‘fair’ (a very important quality for the crime aficionado - no last-minute suspects, no evidence the reader hasn’t seen), that it is well-written, that it surprises… and yet that it disappoints.There's a lot to parse out above, but I have two thoughts on the conclusions raised by the original study. First is that there may actually be something to the cognitive benefits theory of why people like this. The theory and methodology of interpretation of text is referred to as hermeneutics*. This is a useful field because language, especially figurative language, is often obscure and vague. For example, in the study of religious writings, it is often found that they are written in a certain vernacular and for a specific audience. In order to truly understand said writings, it is important to put them in their proper cultural and historical context. You can't really do that without knowing what the text says in the first place.
This is what's known as the hermenutic circle. It's kinda like the application of science to interpretation. Scientists start by identifying a problem, and they theorize the answer to that problem. In performing and observing their experiment to test the problem, they gain new insights which must then be used to revise their hypothesis. This is basically a hermeneutic circle. To apply it to the situation at hand: When reading a book, we are influenced by our overall view of the book's themes. But how are we to know the book's themes as a whole if we have not yet finished reading the parts of the book? We need to start reading the book with our own "pre-understanding", from which we hypothesize a main theme for the whole book. After we finish reading the book, we go back to each individual chapter with this main theme in mind to get a better understanding of how all the parts relate to the whole. During this process, we often end up changing our main theme. With the new information gained from this revision, we can again revise our main theme of the book, and so on, until we can see a coherent and consistent picture of the whole book. What we get out of this hermeneutic circle is not absolute and final, but it is considered to be reasonable because it has withstood the process of critical testing.
This process in itself can be fulfilling, and it's probably why folks like Jonah Lehrer don't mind spoilers - it gives them a jump start on the hermeneutic circle.
Second, the really weird thing about this study is that it sorta misses the point. As Freddie points out:
The whole point of spoilers is that they're unchosen; nobody really thinks that there's something wrong with people accessing secrets and endings about art they haven't yet consumed. What they object to is when spoilers are presented in a way that an unsuspecting person might unwittingly read them. The study suggests that people have a preference for knowing the ending, but preference involves choice. You can't deliberately act on a preference for foreknowledge of plot if you are presented the information without choosing to access it.And that's really the point. Sometimes I don't mind knowing the twist before I start watching/reading something, but there are other times when I want to go in completely blind. Nothing says that I have to approach all movies or books (or whatever) exactly the same way, every time. And context does matter. When you see a movie without knowing anything about it, there can be something exhilarating in the discovery. That doesn't mean I have to approach all movies that way, just that the variety is somethings a good thing.
* - Yeah, I plundered that entry that I wrote for everything2 all those years ago pretty heavily. Sue me.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Old Podcast Episodes
I sometimes discover a podcast long after it's started, and if I like it enough, I'll head back through the archives to check out some older episodes. In honor of some of the gems I've found by doing so, here are a few really good episodes that are probably worth listening to:
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
I like podcasts, but it's depressingly hard to find ones that I really enjoy and which are still regularly published. I tend to discover a lot of podcasts just as they're going through their death throes. This is sometimes ok, as I'm still able to make my way through their archives, but then I run out of content and have to start searching for a new podcast. I will often try out new podcasts, but I have only added a few to the rotation of late. Here's some recent stuff I've been listening to:
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Streaming and Netflix's Woes
A few years ago, when I was still contemplating the purchase of a Blu-Ray player (which ended up being the PS3), there was a lot of huffing-and-puffing about how Blu-Ray would never catch on, physical media was dead, and that streaming was the future. My thoughts on that at the time were that streaming is indeed the future, but that it would take at least 10 years before it actually happened in an ideal form. The more I see, the more I'm convinced that I actually underestimated the time it would take to get a genuinely great streaming service running.
One of the leading examples of a streaming service is Netflix's Watch Instantly service. As a long time Netflix member, I can say that it is indeed awesome, especially now that I can easily stream it to my television. However, there is one major flaw to their streaming service: the selection. Now, they have somewhere on the order of 20,000-30,000 titles available, which is certainly a huge selection... but it's about 1/5th of what they have available on physical media. For some folks, I'm sure that's enough, but for movie nerds like myself, I'm going to want to keep the physical option on my plan...
The reason Netflix's selection is limited is the same reason I don't think we'll see an ideal streaming service anytime soon. The problems are not technological. It all comes down to intellectual property. Studios and distributors own the rights, and they often don't want to allow streaming, especially for new releases. Indeed, several studios won't even allow Netflix to rent physical media for the first month of release. In order for a streaming service to actually supplant physical media, it will have to feature a comprehensive selection. Netflix does have a vested interest in making that happen (the infrastructure needed for physical media rentals via mail is massive and costly, while streaming is, at least, more streamlined from a logistical point of view), but I don't see this happening anytime soon.
Netflix has recently encountered some issues along these lines, and as a result, they've changed their pricing structure. It used to be that you could buy a plan that would allow you to rent 1, 2, 3, or 4 DVDs or BDs at a time. If you belonged to one of those plans, you also got free, unlimited streaming. Within the past year or so, they added another option for folks who only wanted streaming. And just a few weeks ago, they made streaming an altogether separate service. Instead of buying the physical media plan of your choice and getting streaming "for free", you now also need to pay for streaming. I believe their most popular plan used to be 1 disc with unlimited streaming, which was $9.99. This plan is now $16.98.
As you might expect, this has resulted in a massive online shitstorm of infantile rage and fury. Their blog post announcing the change currently has 12,000+ comments from indignant users. There are even more comments on their Facebook page (somewhere on the order of 80,000 comments there), and of course, other social media sites like Twitter were filled with indignant posts on the subject.
So why did Netflix risk the ire of their customers? They've even acknowledged that they were expecting some outrage at the change. My guess is that the bill's about to come due, and Netflix didn't really have a choice in the matter.
Indeed, a few weeks ago, Netflix had to temporarily stop streaming all of its Sony movies (which are distributed through Starz). It turns out that there's a contractual limit on the number of subscribers that Sony will allow, so now Netflix needs to renegotiate with Sony/Starz. The current cost to license Sony/Starz content for streaming is around $30 million annually. Details aren't really public (and it's probably not finalized yet), but it's estimated that the new contract will cost Netflix somewhere on the order of $200-$350 million a year. And that's just Sony/Starz. I imagine other studios will now be chomping at the bit. And of course, all these studios will continually up their rates as Netflix tries to expand their streaming selection.
So I think that all of the invective being thrown Netflix's way is mostly unwarranted (or, rather, misplaced). All that rage should really be directed at the studios who are trying to squeeze every penny out of their IP. At least Netflix seems to be doing business in an honest and open way here, and yet everyone's bitching about it. Other companies would do something sneaky. For instance, movie theaters (which also get a raw deal from studios) seem to be raising ticket prices by a quarter every few months. Any given increase is met with a bit of a meh, but consolidated over the past few years, ticket prices have risen considerably.
Ultimately, it's quite possible that Netflix will take a big hit on this in the next few years. Internet nerd-rage notwithstanding, I'm doubting that their customer base will drop, but if their cost of doing business goes up the way it seems, I can see their profits dropping considerably. But if that happens, it won't be Netflix that we should blame, it will be the studios... I don't want to completely demonize the studios here - they do create and own the content, and are entitled to be compensated for that. However, I don't think anyone believes they're being fair about this. They've been trying to slow Netflix down for years, after all. Quite frankly, Netflix has been much more customer friendly than the studios.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
As it turns out, Aliens from other planets do exist. On the other hand, whether intelligent life exists is apparently still open for debate:
They're Made of Meat, but it shares some similarities.
Sunday, July 03, 2011
The Unintended Consequences of Spoiler Culture
Chuck Klosterman's recent article over at Grantland (Bill Simmons' new site) features some interesting musings on twist endings and the spoilers that can (potentially) ruin them.
...could The Sixth Sense exist today?It's an interesting premise, but even Klosterman admits that it's impossible to know for sure. He gives a few examples: the aforementioned The Sixth Sense, the semi-recently concluded TV show Lost, and the new TV show The Killing. I think part of the problem with the article, though, is that it lacks some of the context of what makes these particular twists work.
Take The Sixth Sense. Writer and director M. Night Shyamalan, as of right now, is almost comically known for his reliance on twists, but it's important to remember that back in 1999, Shyamalan was an unknown. The movie was basically a Bruce Willis vehicle, and even then, it was dumped into theaters in August, the month Hollywood releases movies to die. So what does all that mean? Well, there wasn't much buzz about the movie beforehand - few people were following the making of the movie, thus they didn't have to worry much about spoilers on the internet (and while it's probably worse today, there were still plenty of movie rumor sites active back in the day). The only thing the filmmakers needed to do was to ensure that the marketing didn't give away the twist1... and luckily, the film had other readily marketable elements.
Shyamalan's problems came later and are mostly his own fault. After the twist ending of Unbreakable, he had pretty much pigeon-holed himself as a twist ending writer. Twists rely on an audience that isn't expecting a twist. This works in a movie like The Sixth Sense because there were lots of other things going on. The reason the twist works so well is that the film wasn't asking you to explain anything throughout the film. The ending provided an answer to a question we didn't realize needed asking. And it did so in a way that didn't feel cheap or contrived. It just fit. But it probably wouldn't work so well if you were looking for it all throughout the film.
This is where Klosterman's point comes in. Once you're known for writing twists, it becomes much more difficult to pull them off. I readily agree that Shyamalan and Damon Lindelof (of Lost) will have trouble writing a new movie/show that is heavily reliant on twists... but only because both of those writers have abused the twist in their previous work. The same goes for most TV series, especially police procedurals, all of which tend to fall into certain established patterns of red herrings, etc... A while ago, in reference to Hitchcock's earliest works, I made a similar observation:
...the "twist" at the end of the story wasn't exactly earth-shattering. These days, we're so zonked out on Lost and 24 that our minds immediately and cynically formulate all the ways the filmmakers are trying to trick us. Were audiences that cynical 80 years ago? Or did the ending truly surprise them?In this respect, Klosterman is certainly correct: if audiences are looking for your twist, you're going to have a really rough time. So writers known for their twists - even if it's just one big twist - will have to contend with that.
The problem here is that this doesn't necessarily mean that Hollywood is skewing away from twists... just that writers like Shyamalan and Lindelof are. Nothing's stopping anyone else from writing a twist ending, and there's no real shortage of examples, even in the past couple years (I have a whole category devoted to plot twists in the yearly Kaedrin Movie Awards). They just happen to come from movies where we're not necessarily looking for the twist2.
Klosterman also points out that hiding the twist can also lead to disappointment. His chief example:
Take the 2008 sci-fi film Cloverfield: The marketing campaign was flawless. Without revealing any aspect of the story, the trailers for Cloverfield made it clear that something cataclysmic was going to happen in New York, and that this massive event was some unthinkable secret. Considering how the media now operates, the makers of Cloverfield did a remarkable job of keeping its details clandestine. Yet this secrecy probably hurt the film's ultimate reception — when people realized it was "only" an updated version of a traditional monster movie, they were often disappointed.Well, that's certainly one way to look at it. Another way to look at it was that audiences were disappointed because the movie kinda sucked3. Also, that's a "twist" manufactured by marketing, not one related to storytelling or anything. In a very real sense, Super 8 has similar issues, though I think that ended up being a much better movie.
Ultimately, I think the "twist" is here to stay. Oh sure, it may go away for a while as the Shyamalans and Lindelofs of the world move on to more straightforward narratives. But the twist will make a comeback soon enough, just when we least expect it. Which is, of course, the whole point of a twist.
1 - This is not a trivial challenge. Terminator 2: Judgment Day provides an interesting example. Watch that film with a blank slate, and you'll notice that it's written as if the audience doesn't know that Schwartzenegger's terminator is a "good guy" and that Robert Patrick's T-1000 is the villain. In the absence of marketing, it would be reasonable for someone not familiar with the movie to assume that it's following the same pattern as the previous installment. When I was little, I was a huge Terminator fan, so I distinctly remember a lot of the marketing surrounding T2... and they gave all of it away. Of course, the reveal happens relatively early in the film, but I still remember finding it a bit weird that they spent so much time trying to obscure what everyone already knew.
2 - The first example that came to mind was kinda odd because it's not very prominent in it's film (and I doubt anyone would call it out in a discussion of twists), but I always liked it: the last scene in Batman Begins (in the board room, not the action sequence on the train) is wonderful, and I think it did more to cement how much I liked that movie than anything else. It fits very well with the story, and there are even hints about it earlier in the movie. But it's an action film and the twist was far away from most of the central plot points, so I never saw it coming.
3 - I guess that's a bit unfair. The film has its merits, but most people who saw it complained about the shaky cam much more than the fact that it was a monster movie. Seriously, even I had problems with the camerawork in that movie making me sick, and I'm normally fine with that sort of thing. The premise is actually the best part about the movie - a monster movie told from the perspective of normal folks fleeing the attack. No spunky scientist teaming up with a hardened military veteran to take down the monster, just normal folks trying to survive. Unfortunately, the execution of this was... lacking.
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Tasting Notes - Part 4
Another edition of Tasting Notes, a series of quick hits on a variety of topics that don't really warrant a full post. So here's what I've been watching/playing/reading/drinking lately:
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
The Horror Class of 1981
So a bunch of horror movie websites are collaborating on an examination of horror films from 1981. Six sites, 5 films each, 30 films total. When I found out about this from Brian Collins' post on BAD (Collins is the man behind Horror Movie a Day), I quickly put together a top 5 of my own. I'm clearly outclassed here though - all of my films, even the obscure ones and honorable mentions, are featured among the 30 featured films.
In any case, 1981 was a surprisingly good year for horror films. Folks who follow my 6 Weeks of Halloween posts know that I'm a big fan of slasher films, and in 1981, slashers were at the height of their popularity. You apparently couldn't go a week without a new slasher film being released. Most were horrible, I'm sure, but the year wasn't limited to slashers either. There were also a couple of the finest werewolf movies ever made released in 1981. There were psychics and ghosts and demons and even killer piranhas. A banner year for horror, which is surprising because the 80s don't exactly have the best filmic reputation for horror (especially having just come after the excellent 70s horror).
So without further ado, my top 5 1981 horror films (in alphabetical order):
And for reference, here are the links to the aforementioned sites' (much more comprehensive) writeups:
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Two (Bad) Movie Ideas
At lunch with some coworkers today, the inevitable topic of Palau came up. You see, we all work for a retail website and most of us live in Pennsylvania. Anyone in PA who has attempted to order online will no doubt recognize the pet peeve when filling out the Shipping Address: You enter your info, tab to the State field and press "p", expecting to see Pennsylvania come up... but instead, we get Palau.
This brought to mind a video I recently saw on the interwebs. It's from Jellyfish Lake in Palau. It's a surreal video, and quite dissonant if you're used to typical jellyfish, but these have apparently evolved differently: "Twelve thousand years ago these jellyfish became trapped in a natural basin on the island when the ocean receded. With no predators amongst them for thousands of years, they evolved into a new species that lost most of their stinging ability as they no longer had to protect themselves."
So my first movie idea was a killer jellyfish movie, filmed at Jellyfish Lake in Palau. Andy why not, they've done it for every other type of creature, even seemingly ambivalent ones. The video linked above is almost scary all by itself. You just want to scream, Look out, Jellyfish! Oh God, they've surrounded you! Run! Go! Get to the choppah! All we'd really need is a decent physical actor/actress, a good makeup guy (for the gore), and a camera that can operate underwater. Just imagine all the cool shots that could be in this movie. Indeed, the typically boring horror movie POV shot could be quite effective here - jellyfish have an interesting, irregular pattern of movement, which could make for a really good staling sequence. The great thing about this is that it would not involve any CGI - all practical effects, and in the case of the Jellyfish swarm, I apparently won't even need to do anything special. This could be a great (bad) movie.
Of course, the topic then shifted into Sci-Fi (sorry, SyFy) original movies like Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus and Mega Python vs. Gatoroid. In speculating on the origins of Gatoroid, I stumbled upon my second movie idea. You see, I figure that our story starts with an alligator that has taken up residence in the sewer system beneath a popular gym. Like all gyms, there are lots of steroid abusing muscle-men in residence. But! One day, the police make a drug raid, and in order to avoid getting arrested, our juicing heroes flush all their illegal drugs down the drain... right to our hapless alligator, who unwittingly ingests said drug/sewage cocktail, thus ceasing to be an alligator and turning into Gatoroid!
Now, assuming that's not how it actually happens in Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, I think we're on to something here, but to avoid copyright woes, we may have to switch our monster from an Alligator to a Crocodile, thus making him Crocoroid.
Now all I need is a few million dollars.
Update: A coworker comments: "Why not make Crocoroid's achilles' heel be jellyfish? Then you only have to make one movie." I've made him an executive producer.
Sunday, June 05, 2011
Professor Ed Avery's Cortizone-Fueled, Bigger-Than-Life, Super Big Gulp-Sized Summer Movie Quiz
Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as always, I'm excited to provide my answers. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, and Professor Severus Snape are also available... But now, here are my answers to
1) Depending on your mood, your favorite or least-loved movie cliché
I seem to have read this question differently than everyone else. I thought it meant we had to give a cliché that, depending on our mood, we liked or didn't like. Others seem to have taken it as meaning your mood at the time of answering the quiz, pick a favorite or least-loved cliché (which is certainly a lot easier than the first one). Well, my cliché kinda/sorta falls into my original reading: I hate/love fakeout dream sequences. Most often seen in horror films, they can be very effective... but they're also overused, often even within the same movie. Some abusers of this include Event Horizon and The Descent (and yet, I really enjoy The Descent). The other thing that often bothers me about movie dreams is that they're so weird. I mean, that's sorta the appeal of dreams in the first place, but dreams in movies often just play out as special effects extravaganzas. And like most special effects, they need to be used to enhance the story. The trick is that the dream sequence needs to have some sort of purpose beyond the ability to mortally threaten the protagonist without actually mortally threatening them, or some other silly shock... Unless it's a Nightmare on Elm Street movie, in which case, all bets are off. Or, I suppose, the dream sequence in A Serious Man. So yeah, dream sequences. Sometimes I love them, sometimes I hate them.
2) Regardless of whether or not you eventually caught up with it, which film classic have you lied about seeing in the past?
I'm honestly having trouble coming up with one, which bothers me because I'm sure it's something I've done before...
3) Roland Young or Edward Everett Horton?
Who? If there was ever a time for me to lie about having seen films, it would be these quizes!
4) Second favorite Frank Tashlin movie
I can't say as though I've seen any of his movies, though I'm sure I'm quite familiar with his work on Looney Tunes (he seems to be a big Porky Pig director)...
5) Clockwork Orange-- yes or no?
Yes, but probably only because Kubrick earned his bullshit with other efforts. It's a good movie, though it is quite unpleasant to watch.
6) Best/favorite use of gender dysphoria in a horror film (Ariel Schudson)
What an amazingly strange question! There really can't be that many qualifying films here, but I'll go with Sleepaway Camp and it's shocker ending. (One of the other commenters answers Psycho, but I'm not sure that really counts as dysphoria).
7) Melanie Laurent or Blake Lively?
I'm not terribly familiar with her filmography, but I'm going with Melanie Laurent, based solely on her performance in Inglourious Basterds. Blake Lively is a fine young actress, but it's hard to compete with a film like that...
8) Best movie of 2011 (so far...)
According to my records, I've seen 15 movies thus far this year, and my favorite three are Rubber, Hanna, and I Saw the Devil (if I have to pick one, it would be Rubber)
9) Favorite screen performer with a noticeable facial deformity (Peg Aloi)
Do scars count as a deformity? If so, the first that come to mind are Harrison Ford's scar on his chin and Tina Fey's left cheek scar. I don't think it matters in either case though.
10) Lars von Trier: shithead or misunderstood comic savant? (Dean Treadway)
Why isn't pompous ass an option? Or all of the above?
11) Timothy Carey or Henry Silva?
I'm not overly familiar with either of them, but I'll go with Carey for his work with Kubrick on The Killing and Paths of Glory. Also, he was apparently on Airwolf.
12) Low-profile writer who deserves more attention from critics and /or audiences
This is an extremely difficult question. Writers are rather low on the totem pole in Hollywood, so it's difficult for most screenwriters to gain any lasting momentum after their initial break. And usually, critics are pretty receptive to those first big success films. Two people came to mind for this: Christopher McQuarrie (of The Usual Suspects fame) and Andrew Kevin Walker (of Se7en fame). Both have relatively small filmographies, but only because much of their work goes uncredited in films.
13) Movie most recently viewed theatrically, and on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming
Theatrically, it was X-Men: First Class, and entertaining and fun superhero movie that actually seems pretty forgetable. On DVD, it was Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, an unpleasant but very well crafted Peckinpah wester set in modern times. On Blu-ray, it was The Tourist (and hey, it's got a script by Christopher McQuarrie), which I enjoyed a lot more than I was expecting (though I can see why critics were baffled by it). On streaming, it was Transcendent Man, a documentary about Singularity proponent Ray Kurzweil (very interesting and well worth a watch).
14) Favorite film noir villain
The first that came to mind was Orson Welles's Harry Lime, from The Third Man. Menace with a grin.
The immediacy of deciding what to watch and then being able to watch it moments later. The biggest problem, of course, is that the selection isn't particularly great just yet. But someday hopefully soon, it will be...
16) Fay Spain or France Nuyen? (Peter Nellhaus)
Once again, I'm pretty unfamiliar with both of these, though France Nuyen was in one of those Planet of the Apes sequels!
17) Favorite Kirk Douglas movie that isn't called Spartacus (Peter Nellhaus)
I hate to go with the obvious answer, but clearly Paths of Glory is the winner here.
18) Favorite movie about cars
A difficult question because while the movies that keep coming to mind have memorable cars or car chases in them, they aren't really about cars. Some that I eventually thought of: Mad Max/The Road Warrior and Death Proof. And there are, of course, tons of popular choices that I've never seen...
19) Audrey Totter or Marie Windsor?
I got nothing, though Marie Windsor seems to have been in a couple movies that I've actually seen, so I guess she wins by default.
20) Existing Stephen King movie adaptation that could use an remake/reboot/overhaul
That's a tough one, if only because of just how many Stephen King adaptations there are. I'm not actually a huge fan of King, but I did really enjoy The Stand... and that TV mini-series was kinda lame (especially once you got past the first episode). I think IT, Salem's Lot, and Christine could probably use some updating, though each of those movies/mini-series has its pluses (though the recent Salem's Lot kinda sucked).
21) Low-profile director who deserves more attention from critics and/or audiences
Does Johnny To count as low-profile? I mean, he's probably the most exciting action director working in Hong Kong today, but he still seems to be overshadowed by the likes of Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, and John Woo. If he doesn't work, I also thought of Ti West (The House of the Devil) and Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes), both of whom are young, but who have shown a lot of promise.
22) What actor that you previously enjoyed has become distracting or a self-parody? (Adam Ross)
I have to admit that I find Robert De Niro distracting in most movies these days. It doesn't help that the movies he chooses seem to be pretty bad these days (though I suppose I do enjoy a few of them).
23) Best place in the world to see a movie
I wish I had a better answer to this, but I can't really think of anything. There are a number of components here, but for me it would be a combination of technical matters (i.e. nice seats, unobstructed view, good video and audio quality, etc...) and a good crowd to watch movies with (i.e. a crowd of film lovers who won't interrupt during the movie, etc...) If there are theaters that consistently display these attributes, then I'd be all for them. There's not much around here that qualifies though. Perhaps, someday, an Alamo Drafthouse will show up!
24) Charles McGraw or Sterling Hayden?
No contest: Sterling Hayden. The Godfather, The Killing, The Asphalt Jungle, Dr Strangelove, and many more make him hard to beat here.
25) Second favorite Yasujiro Ozu film
I have, sadly, not seen any Ozu films. Perhaps I should pretend to have seen some and say Floating Weeds. Or something.
26) Most memorable horror movie father figure
The obvious answer is Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson in The Shining, but since there's already been too much Kubrick talk in this quiz, I'll go for a less obvious answer: Bill Paxton's character from Frailty.
Not being particularly familiar with Sensurround, it seems like a surround-sound type of audio system which would benefit a lot of horror movies, though no specific movies are coming to mind.
28) Chris Evans or Ryan Reynolds?
I'll go with Chris Evans here, as I think he's taken some more chances, though I think both of the actors are pretty decent.
29) Favorite relatively unknown supporting player, from either or both the classic and the modern era
An interesting subject. There are a lot of "character actors" or "that guys" (or "that gals") out there - Filmspotting even did a top 5 on this subject just a few weeks ago, and it's hard to beat that list. However, the one that came to mind (that isn't on Filmspotting's list) was William Fichtner. A quintessential "that guy" in my opinion.
30) Real-life movie location you most recently visited or saw
30th Street Station in Philadelphia, most recently seen in Blow Out.
31) Second favorite Budd Boetticher movie
Another mulligan needed here, as I don't think I've ever actually seen any of his movies...
32) Mara Corday or Julie Adams?
Julie Adams, because her name sounds familiar, not because I know what I'm talking about.
33) Favorite Universal-International western
Yet another mulligan on this one. Not a genre I'm particularly well versed in...
34) What's the biggest "gimmick" that's drawn you out to see a movie? (Sal Gomez)
I suppose 3D would qualify, though that ship has pretty much sailed. I now try to watch the 2D version if at all possible.
35) Favorite actress of the silent era
This would imply that I know enough of the silent era to answer, which I don't.
36) Best Eugene Pallette performance (Larry Aydlette)
I suppose that would be as Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood, though once again, I have to note that I'm not terribly familiar with the man's filmography.
37) Best/worst remake of the 21st century so far? (Dan Aloi)
Let's see, for the best remakes, I'll say Ocean's Eleven and The Departed are worthy remakes (I'd include True Grit, but I haven't seen the original). The worst remakes category is a little harder, as I generally try to avoid bad movies! Nevertheless, I've seen some of the Platinum Dunes horror movie remakes, and most of them are pretty terrible.
38) What could multiplex owners do right now to improve the theatrical viewing experience for moviegoers? What could moviegoers do?
Ensure their equipment is functioning properly, and police the theaters to throw out unruly/obnoxious people. Moviegoers can stop being so unruly/obnoxious.
And that just about covers it.
Wednesday, June 01, 2011
Weird Movie of the Week
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we looked at a Hitchcockian tale of mustache disappearance. This time, we've got a bloody, gory and supremely weird movie trailer:
Wow, I'm not quite sure what to make of that. Of course, creepy bunny suits have a surprisingly deep cinematic history, but this one goes a few steps further than normal. Devin Faraci has the lowdown on the film:
It looks kind of hackneyed and silly but also nicely shot - at least much more nicely shot than a movie featuring a bunny suit wearing chainsaw murderer should be. I did some research and at first got excited that this film was about a truly bizarre urban legend from Fairfax County, Virginia that has also spread to Washington, DC. The legend is about a maniac in a bunny suit who attacks people with an axe at a railway overpass. Supposedly it’s based on fact.Wow. Considering that the film was made in 2009 and was apparently never released, I'm betting we won't even be able to watch this if we wanted. But according to the film's offical Myspace page (Myspace? Yikes.) there's a sequel in the works:
The little germ of a idea has sprouted into a full on 20 page treatment.... a full script is not that far behind. There seems to be a wealth of ideas as to how to continue the story with the characters of Bunnyman. What's really positive about this, is after watching the film, everyone wants to see more. The character has sparked interest, and people want to know what happens next.Wow.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Taking my cue from Ben, I'm browsing Netflix to see what it's recommending for me. Of course, I can't actually watch this stuff on my nice big-screen TV because PSN is down due to a super-fun security breach and for some reason they won't let me watch Netflix movies without logging in. Thanks, Sony. Anyway, first up, their "Top Picks for Mark":
Posted by Mark on April 27, 2011 at 06:16 PM .: link :.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Tasting Notes - Part 3
Another edition of Tasting Notes, a series of quick hits on a variety of topics that don't really warrant a full post. So here's what I've been watching/playing/reading/drinking lately:
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Weird Movie Synopsis of the Week
There are weird movies, and they will often have a funny plot synopsis on IMDB or Netflix, because weird stories become even weirder when condensed. Then there's La moustache. The synopsis from Netflix:
Marc (Vincent Lindon) has worn a mustache all his adult life. One day on a whim, he decides to shave it off. Certain his wife will comment on the drastic change in his appearance, Marc is baffled when neither she nor friends notice at all. Even more disturbing is that once he calls attention to it, everyone insists he's never had a mustache.It is, of course, a French film.
Greek philosopher Epictetus is often attributed with saying something to the effect of: "It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters." And so I ask you, gentle reader: when you read that plot synopsis, how did you react? I, of course, added the movie to my Netflix Watch Instantly queue at position #1. (hat tip to Boobs Radley, who is awesome. See also: this.)
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Recent Television on DVD/BD
I don't watch a lot of live television, but thanks to the magic of DVD/BD/Netflix Instant, I can catch up on a series pretty quickly if I want to. The biggest issue with this approach happens when the series isn't done yet, and you have to then either slow down and wait between episodes (and deal with things like commercials!) or wait a year or more for the next set of DVDs to come out. That being said, watching a TV series like this can get really addictive, really fast. Here's a few things I've been watching lately:
Update: Damn you, cliffhanger! (Just finished the last episode of Sherlock.)
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Top 5 Long Takes
On this week's Filmspotting podcast, the hosts did their top 5 long takes. For the uninitiated, a Long Take in cinema is referring to an uninterrupted shot that lasts a lot longer than the general editing tempo in the film, usually several minutes. Of course, there are a lot of ways to implement this concept. Some filmmakers, like Ozu or Tarkovsky, are known for more static long takes, meaning that the camera is stationary and the action simply unfolds in front of it. Other folks, like Scorsese or Wells, took the concept further by moving the camera to follow the action. This is usually accomplished by mounting the camera on a dolly and rolling it around on preset tracks (or by using cranes) - thus yielding the term Tracking Shot. The invention of the Steadicam in the mid 70s allowed for smooth tracking shots without the tracks.
You could say that most Long Take/Tracking Shot combos are a lot more showy and maybe even distracting, but I generally enjoy those sorts of pyrotechnics, so long as they're used for a reason, so that's what I'll be focusing on. Now, there are a lot of really famous long takes, but I don't want to make a super-boring list either, so I'll just mention three of the most famous first: The opening sequence of Touch of Evil is a masterpiece and often tops lists like these. The Coppacabana scene from Goodfellas is another classic that always shows up on these lists. Paul Thomas Anderson was seemingly inspired by Scorsese (though he puts his own touches on it as well) in his film Boogie Nights, which features a couple of bravura sequences, including one where the camera even follows someone as they dive into a pool. There are even some films, like Hitchcock's Rope or Russian Ark, that are comprised of just a hadful of shots (indeed, the latter is only a single take). There are, of course, tons of other famous shots like this, but I'm going to be focused on relatively short takes (in the 3-20 minute range). I'm also going to shoot for some more obscure stuff on my list, including some action films (sorely lacking in the Filmspotting lists). I'm going to try and avoid most of the films on the Filmspotting list as well, so there are some other obvious shots that I'm trying to avoid (of course, they also mention about 30 films in their discussion, so it's hard to be completely unique here).
I do have one honorable mention though, and it's a strange one. I don't think I've ever heard it referenced in long take discussions before, but it's definitely at least 2-3 minutes long. I'm not sure why this one sticks with me so much, but it's the scene in Tarantino's Jackie Brown (which has a couple of good long takes, including another opening shot) where Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) goes to talk to Beaumont Livingston (Chris Tucker) at a hotel. It's a long scene, and the camera follows them around a bit, but stays relatively stationary, despite the fact that they get into a car and drive around for a while. Again, I don't know why, but that scene always sticks in my mind when I think of long takes.
Well, I suppose that's enough blabbering about Long Takes. Feel free to share any of your personal favorites in the comments!
Sunday, February 27, 2011
In accordance with tradition, I'll be liveblogging the Oscars tonight. If you're interested, here are previous installments: [2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004] Check back for frequent updates (starting around 8:30 pm EST), and feel free to hang around and leave comments to play along (I've re-instituted anonymous commenting for the event, though I have added a CAPTCHA to prevent spam - sorry for any inconvenience)...
To start things off, here are my predictions for the major awards:
Update 7:59 pm: Yeah, it's still Red Carpet torture time, so not much to say yet. Instead of watching this, I'm going to check out Alex's Oscar Roundup and maybe watch some of the Flyers Wives Fight For Lives. See you at 8:30, when the ceremony actually starts.
Update 8:27 pm: I'm looking forward to Source Code, though I'm getting a feeling from the commercial that just played that I'll have similar issues as I had with Duncan Jones' previous effort, Moon. Anyway, only 3 minutes to go. In anticipation of some sort of lame musical number, I'm going to crack open my first beer of the night. I'm starting off relatively tame tonight, with a fancy can of Dale's Pale Ale.
Update 8:30 pm: Hurm. The first montage of the night? Over/under is 8. I'm taking the over.
Update 8:33 pm: Great opening skit here. Much better than the lame musical number I'm still expecting later in the show. Love the accents when they're making fun of The Fighter. "The naked girl from Love and Other Drugs" Heh.
Update 8:37 pm: Is there any young actor that has turned their careers around as dramatically as James Franco? I can't think of any. Of course, like Devin Faraci, I Honestly Believe James Franco Could End Up Doing Porn. Not a bad start to the show though, decent monologue too. Fingers crossed for no musical numbers.
Update 8:39 pm: Oh, burn, "Marky Mark". He seems to be a good sport about it, but as someone named "Mark", I have to admit that it's really freakin annoying when people call me "Marky Mark". I imagine it's doubly so for, uh, the real Marky Mark.
Update 8:41 pm: Does that count as a montage? I mean, it's just from Gone With The Wind, but still. We'll make that a half-montage (bringing the count up to 1.5). And now, a Titanic quasi-montage. Make that 2 total montages.
Update 8:49 pm: Well, that didn't take long. I'm now a few minutes behind due to the magic of the DVR. I simply can't resist! Sorry about that. So I just saw that Alice in Wonderland won Art Direction. Nice job, I guess. Decent speech so far, but you know she's not going to be able to say anything because he's hogging the mic.
Update 8:53 pm: She didn't say anything? By choice? Who knows. Maybe she was drunk! Cinematography goes to... Inception! I'm 0 for 1, but I don't mind. And what the hell man, take your glasses off, don't put them on your forehead. Moron. Haha, he chastises the audience for clapping as they're "taking up his time"
Update 8:59 pm: Only three minutes behind now. Kirk Douglas takes the stage. I can never think of this guy without picturing his "prestige" moment in Path's of Glory. He's not sounding so great right now though. But he's right, Anne Hathaway is indeed gorgeous. Helena Bonham Carter just gave a look that she knows she's not going to win. Jackie Weaver looks very happy. Mellissa Leo looks nothing like her character. Supporting Actress award goes to... Jesus, I wish I had someone to hold my cane. He's really dragging this out. But I kinda like it. Melissa Leo wins! And I'm 0 for 2. Yay!
Update 9:01 pm: Kirk's minder from the mental clinic just ushered him off the stage. Heh. She's really speechless. Kinda nice to see that sort of thing, I guess. Holy shit, she just cursed. Awesome. Stupid delay caught it though. They seem to be giving everyone time to talk, moreso than usual. Nice politics at the end of the speech. Ok, come on, next award. Or montage. Or something.
Update 9:06 pm: I love Mila Kunis. Justin Timberlake is Banksy? Heh. Oh come on, who cares about Shrek anymore. Oh, look, I know the first animated short. Because they put it in front of Pixar movies. Timberlake is making fun of old man Douglas, and it's pretty hilarious. And the short that no one cares about wins.
Update 9:10 pm: So is that guy, like, 4 feet tall? Or is the guy standing next to him, like, 7 feet tall? He's tiny! Tall guy manages to get some words in as well, despite the music attempting to play him off. And best animated movie goes to: Toy Story 3. Duh. I'm 1 for 3!
Update 9:11 pm: He's talking like Toy Story 3 was a hard-sell or something. Weird.
Update 9:17 pm: Damn these quasi-montages. We're up to 2.5, I guess. Whoa with the white tuxes guys. Isn't Javier Bardem's accent quaint? Toy Story 3 being an adapted screenplay because it's based on the previous films seems strange to me. Adapted screenplay goes to Aaron Sorkin for the Social Network, because duh. Let's see if he says something good in his speech. It's so obvious that he wrote this speech ahead of time. Heheh. Oh man, they're really trying to get him off the stage. I blame old man Douglas!
Update 9:20 pm: The Figher is "Original"? Hehehe. Oscar for Original Screenplay goes to King's Speech. I'm now 3 for 5. Don't call it a comeback! Great speech so far though. "Late bloomer" indeed, oldest person to win this award. Probably also a prepared speech, but it's.. more natural. And he's already being ushered off stage. And he mentions the F word, heeheh. Nice. I can't believe King's Speech was rated R.
Update 9:22 pm: And I'm finally caught up to real time again. Since it's still a commercial, I'll just say that this Dale's Pale Ale is pretty awesome for what it is. I could drink the entire 6 pack tonight, I think...
Update 9:26 pm: Oh mother fucker! Musical number. "Hugh Jackass" ok, that's kinda funny I guess. Anne Hathaway is very talented, I just can't stand musical numbers. And what the hell, Jackman is apparently right there in the audience. Nice, James Franco is in a dress and "just got a text message from Charlie Sheen." I know you thought I was kidding about the Franco doing porn thing earlier, but now? Not so much, right? Seems very possible.
Update 9:28 pm: Is it me, or is the pre-award banter better this year than in previous years. Best Foreign picture goes to In a Better World, and I'm now 4 for 6. Score. She seems overwhelmed, but not as much as Melissa Leo! And she's very gracious and classy, but boring.
Update 9:31 pm: There's Christian Bale, rockin the crazy-man beard. It suits him, I think.
Update 9:33 pm: Christian Bale wins! I think he might actually be drunk. I know I joke about that sometimes, but seriously, he seems drunk. Or maybe that's just him. He's not embarrassing himself though, and even seems to have a sense of humor about his reputation. Decent speech. I wonder how Marky Mark feels about not being nominated. He's one of the few people not nominated for that movie (not that he deserves to be, but still).
Update 9:37 pm: This was a few minutes ago, but I can't get over seeing Geoffrey Rush with a shaved head. It's so... I don't know what to make of that. It doesn't look right. On an unrelated note, I love how JJ Abrams feels no need to tell people what his movies are actually about. I am looking forward to Super 8 mostly because I have no idea what it's about (I gather it's some sort of Area 51 SF/Action thing, but I'm not sure).
Update 9:38 pm: Holy shit, the President of the Academy! Run! Save yourselves!
Update 9:44 pm: They were only on for, like 10 seconds, but they're like a black hole of boringness. It's like someone scratching the record player. And another montage, this one less quasi- than the others, so I'm putting us up to 3.5 on the Montage count. Man, weird, it's a musical montage too. Still counting it as one full montage. Winner for best musical score goes to: Trentie-poo and Atticus Ross for The Social Network. I'm 6 for 8, a much better showing than I started with. And Trent and Atticus both give a nice, measured speech. Good job fellas, I really like your soundtrack.
Update 9:46 pm: Remember what I said about the pre-award banter being good? Yeah, forget that. Interminable. Sound goes to Inception. Racking up the technical awards, Inception is. Writing like Yoda speaks, I am.
Update 9:48 pm: Wait, didn't we just do sound editing? Well, the Oscar goes to Inception. Again. Good job guys. Next award please.
Update 9:56 pm: Marissa Tomei gets the thankless task of talking about the scientific awards that no one cares about. I would probably find them mildly interesting though. Ohh, burn. "Congratulations Nerds!"
Update 9:57 pm: What the hell is Cate Blanchett wearing? Why do I even bother to pick makeup? But I was right, The Wolfman wins! "Gross" as Blanchett says. Rick Baker is a master though. I'm 7 for 9. Doing pretty good now! Classy move letting the other winner talk. "It was always my ambition to lose an Oscar to Rick Baker. Hehehe"
Update 9:59 pm: Alice in Wonderland wins best costumes. I didn't realize that anything in that movie was actually real. Ohhh, she's got a cheat sheet! And she's... reading right off it. Um, huh. Lame. Can, uh, someone usher her off stage. Ah, here comes the music. Actually thankful for that this time.
Update 10:03 pm: Montage 4.5. OBAMA! YEAHHHHH! OBAMA! LET'S BURN THIS MOTHERFUCKER DOWN! OBAMA! He's a good president because he likes movies and I can relate to him! Kevin Spacy: moron. Oh shit, an actual musical performance. Shit, shit, shit. I thought we got rid of this last year. Shit.
Update 10:05 pm: Oh fuck, they're doing all the songs now. I'm getting another beer. Maybe something stronger than a Dale's Pale is appropriate now. If anyone from work is reading this, I apologize in advance for tomorrow. It's not my fault though. Stupid Oscar musical performances. At least they're all together now.
Update 10:09 pm: Or maybe not. They only did 2 of them. Does that mean we have to suffer through 3 more? Can't we just give the award to Randy Newman like we always do and be done with it? Incidentally, I didn't mention it earlier, but this year had several really awesome music scores. The Social Network was certainly a deserving winner, but Inception had a great one, as did Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and even Tron: Legacy. But I guess we can't have Trent Reznor doing a live show at the Oscars, though I wouldn't mind seeing that. Of course, he's all older and boring now. AHHHHHHH. Stella Artois commercial. Sorry.
Update 10:13 pm: "Shorts are the hardest categories to pick on your home oscar ballot" because no one gives a fuck, Jake. No one gives a fuck. Sorry, that came off sounding kinda angry. And the winner is... Who cares? Next award please.
Update 10:14 pm: She's posing like the Incredible Hulk. Look at those muscles!
Update 10:16 pm: "Shoulda got a haircut." Hehehe. Alright, you redeemed me having to sit through the shorts awards. Guy is funny, even giving the straightforward thanks that he does. Nice.
Update 10:18 pm: What the hell? Auto-tune!? Wasn't that overplayed, like, years ago? Does this count as a montage? Yeah, definitely. 5.5 montages so far tonight. A million dollars isn't cool. You know what's cool? An OSCAR, bitch!
Update 10:19 pm: OPRAH! YEAHHHHHHHH! OPRAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
Update 10:22 pm: Why do all documentaries have to be so activisty. Oscar goes to Inside Job, and I'm 8 for 10. Go me. Still would have liked to have seen Banksy attempt some sort of acceptance speech. Ah this guy seems like a big douche. "Forgive me, I'm going to make a boring, trite political statement." Eh, not that bad, he seemed to pull his punches a bit. If you're going to do it, go whole hog. Scream or something.
Update 10:26 pm: Shocking, Billy Crystal is still alive. Of course, his career isn't! Ba-dum-tsshhh.
Update 10:29 pm: MONTAGE! 6.5. This is a montage that isn't even about movies though, it's Bob Hope highlights from hosting the Oscars. Haven't we already done this before? We have to have had a Bob Hope montage before.
Update 10:33 pm: FIGHT! FIGHT! Did Hereafter actually happen? That's a movie that just disappeared off the face of the planet, isn't it? Inception wins best Visual Effects. Score, I'm 9 for 11. Jesus, there's like five million different people that worked on the visual effects for this movie.
Update 10:35 pm: Film editing goes to Social Network and now I'm 10 for 12. Sweet. Nice hug, and nice reference - "We wanna thank everyone that Aaron thanked..." Haha - Oh, and thanks to the academy! Please don't ruin me because I didn't thank you!
Update 10:40 pm: So this Weyerbacher Merry Monks beer says it's a Tripel, but it doesn't really taste like a tripel. A little too peppery and boozy. Not bad, though. "How to Train Your Dragon, that's disgusting" Hehehe. "Winters Bone." Haha.
Update 10:42 pm: Oh shit, more musical performances. Kill me now.
Update 10:44pm: This beer is 9.3% ABV, and it's still not enough to put up with this music. GAHHH.
Update 10:48 pm: And the Oscar goes to Randy Newman for Toy Story 3. Like I said we should do, like, an hour ago. Did we really need to suffer through all those other nominees? Yeah, right, you're surprised. I'm 11 for 13. Thank God this award is over. Oh shut up Randy, 4 songs is too much. It's bad enough that we have to listen to your stupid song!
Update 10:52 pm: Holy shit, is that Celine Dion? I thought we were done with the music. Gaahh. Run! Run for your lives! She will devour us all!
Update 10:53 pm: Yay dead people! Hello Sally! And don't call me Shirly.
Update 10:57 pm: That was montage #7.5, and here comes #8.5, for Lena Horn.
Update 11:05 pm: Last year, we awarded the Best Director award to a Woman for the first time. This year, we didn't even bother nominating one. Holy shit, Tom Hooper wins, pretty much guaranteeing a Best Picture win for The King's Speech. David Fincher mus be pissed, but he seems to be clapping and happy about it. Class act. And Hooper is at least very kind to his competition. "Triangle of man-love." Ok. I'm 11 for 14, dammit.
Update 11:08 pm: The moral of the story is "Listen to your Mother." Right on. Lifetime achievement awards have apparently been relegated to a separate event, like the nerd awards (i.e. the technical awards). Why? They're much cooler than, for example, the short film awards.
Update 11:11 pm: What are the odds that Anne Hathaway and James Franco are going to knock boots after the ceremony tonight?
Update 11:13 pm: Oh man, I know this is a major award, but they're really drawing it out, aren't they?
Update 11:16 pm: Natalie Portman wins! Crowd is really into it... I'm 12 for 15. And she's crying. Just like her role! Thank Mila Kunis for the lesbian kiss scene, thank Mila Kunis for the lesbian kiss scene, thank Mila Kunis for the lesbian kiss scene, thank Mila Kunis for the lesbian kiss scene, thank Mila Kunis for the lesbian kiss scene, thank Mila Kunis for the lesbian kiss scene. Dammit. She didn't thank Mila Kunis for the lesbian kiss scene. Classy move thanking people with thankless roles though.
Update 11:19 pm: "Flub, drink at home" Don't mind if I do!
Update 11:26 pm: I like the way the're doing the big awards better this year than they did the past few years. Surprising amount of applause for Jesse Eisenberg here... But come on, who are we kidding, this is going to Colin Firth, and probably deservedly so. I do think I might have voted for James Franco for this one, but I really can't fault anyone for voting for Colin Firth. And, of course, he wins. 13 for 16, I am. Talking like Yoda again, I am. "I have a feeling my career has just peaked" Hehehe. And a nice, solid, classy, British, dryly funny acceptance speech.
Update 11:32 pm: Man, they're playing the King's Speech over the other nominees. Foreshadowing? Thanks a lot. Does this count as a montage? Probably not. But still.
Update 11:37 pm: I seem to have truly screwed up my award count. Not only did I wrongly think I picked one correctly, but I seem to have missed an award somewhere. But best picture goes to: big surprise: The King's Speech. 13 for 17, I am.
Update 11:37 pm: 13 for 17 works out to around 76 percent, which is pretty decent, though maybe a hair below recent years. Oh well. Overall, a pretty good show. Haha, dude is getting played off by music, good on him for asserting himself. Well, that pretty much wraps up the show, only about 10 minutes over schedule. Not bad, Oscar folk. Wow, Anne Hathaway's new dress really emphasizing... uh, nevermind. Shit, it ends on a musical number. Fuck. This is my last update. Have a good night folks. It's been real.
Update 11:43 pm: Haha, they were just playing music from Top Gun. Yeah, so I lied, wanna fight about it? But seriously, this one is my last update. Probably.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Best Films of 2010
2010 was a really strange year for movies, though in the end, I don't think it's as bad as a lot of people are saying. I think this has to do with the bad first impression made by the abysmal first half of the year. It wasn't until the middle of the year that things began to turn around for me and by the end of the year, things were looking up. Indeed, many of my favorites turned out to have been released in that first half of the year, just with limited distribution. As I caught up with some of the smaller films from earlier in the year, I managed to fill out most of the below list.
As of right now, I've seen 81 movies that would qualify as a 2010 release (with the usual borderline 2009 releases that don't make it to my market or DVD until 2010 - usually foreign films). It turns out that this is something of a record for me, though I have to admit that around 50 of those have been watched since November (previous years were generally more spread out through the year) and mostly on DVD or Netflix Watch Instantly. Anyway, this is probably way more than most ordinary folks, but also less than most critics. I had no problem putting together a top 8, but those last two slots were really difficult to fill. Not because I couldn't find a good film to put there, but because there were too many films that I could put there. Many of the Honorable Mentions could easily fit in those last two slots (the first two listed below).
The other thing I found really interesting about this year is how thematically similar a lot of films were. I actually mentioned this in a recent book review:
One of the themes of 2010 cinema has been a question of reality. Is what we're watching real? Or is it a fabrication? Or perhaps some twisted combination of the two? Interestingly, this theme can be found in the outright fictional (films like Inception certainly induce questions of reality), the ostensibly true story that is notably and obviously fictionalized (a la The Social Network), and most interestingly of all, the documentary. Films like Catfish and Exit Through the Gift Shop are certainly presented as fact, though many questions have arisen about their verisimilitude. Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck collaborated on I'm Still Here, a supposed documentary about Phoenix's strange transition from a well known actor to a crazy aspiring rapper that Phoenix and Affleck have since admitted was something of a hoax (I have not seen the film, but from what I can see, many of the events certainly did happen, even if they were manufactured). In most cases, audiences don't seem to mind the blurring of reality with fiction (this includes myself), so long as that blurring is made clear (that may sound paradoxical, but it is perhaps better understood as the main component of the Reflexive Documentary: movies that acknowledge the biases of the filmmakers and the subjectivity of the material at hand are more trustworthy than movies that claim objectivity). Indeed, one could probably make a case for the presence of fiction in most non-fiction stories. Bias, subjectivity, and context can yield dramatically different results depending on how they're portrayed.And there are even some other themes that people have been noticing this year (i.e. strong female leads, interesting Mother characters, etc...) This sort of consistency doesn't seem to be present in the past few years, and I found that interesting. Ultimately, I think 2010 has got a bad rap. It's certainly not one of the best years in recent memory, but as usual, I've managed to find a lot of stuff to like.
As always, I should note that this list is inherently subjective and of course most people will find something to gripe about. So be it. One thing I've found interesting in the past few years of doing this list is that I've gravitated away from trying to put together a list of the best films, instead favoring my favorite films. What I'm ending up with is a mixture of both components here and it's a tricky line to walk, but I think it ultimately makes for a more interesting list. So without further ado:
Top 10 Movies of 2010
* In roughly reverse order
* In alphabetical order
But still worthwhile, in their own way. Presented without comment and in no particular order:
Despite the fact that I've seen 81 of this year's movies (and that this post features 30+ of my favorites), there were a few that got away... mostly due to limited releases, though a few of the flicks listed below didn't interest me as much when they were released as they did when I heard more about them.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Over the past year or so, I've been making my way through seasons 2-6 of Lost. I watched the first season on DVD shortly after it came out, and after following along with the broadcast for a couple weeks of season 2, I resolved to stop watching until I had some indication that the show would actually end (i.e. I was worried the writers would continually make stuff up and withhold any answers indefinitely). I dutifully avoided most contact with the series until early last year. By that time, the writers had declared a definite ending point and from observations of friends' responses to new episodes, I gathered that the show was picking up steam, rather than bogging down.
As you might imagine, given the fact that I pretty much ignored the series for a few years there, I'm not a huge fan of the series. I didn't actively dislike it either, I was just never hooked or convinced that it was going anywhere interesting. But then there were some things I was able to glean about what was happening and then Netflix made all of the seasons available on their Watch Instantly service, at which point, I had no real excuse to keep avoiding it. I burned through season 2 pretty quickly, though again, I was pretty unimpressed. Season 3 was even more of a slog, though I had been warned that this was the case. Apparently during the course of Season 3, the writers/producers agreed on an ending (or at least, how many more seasons/episodes remained). There was an almost immediate improvement in the quality of the episodes, but again, I was not terribly impressed.
Don't get me wrong, I was enjoying myself. I had no issues burning through a bunch of episodes all at once, and having the entire series at my fingertips made that prospect all too easy. Nevertheless, I never really had a problem taking a break either. Last year, I gave up Television for Lent. Despite just having started season 3, I had no problem staying away for 40 days. Later in the year, when I had finished season 5, but season 6 wasn't available on DVD/Netflix yet, I wasn't all that broken up about it. If this was a show that I loved, such delays would have been quite frustrating. As it was, I'm lucky I even remembered to check for season 6.
Ultimately, I'm glad that I did. I still have a lot of issues with the series as a whole, and even the last season itself, but in the end, I found it to be a worthwhile venture. I've tried to avoid Spoilers for most of this post, but there are some things you may not want to know and there are definitely spoilers towards the end of the post. To summarize my thoughts, I found the ending of the series to be emotionally satisfying, but not intellectually satisfying.
This is actually an interesting reaction for me, because I usually respond in the opposite way. For example, a few years ago, I saw the movie Capote and thought it was fantastic. The writing, the acting, the direction, cinematography, just about everything about the film was extremely well done. On an intellectual level, I found it amazing. On an emotional level, I didn't connect with it nearly as well. I have no idea why. There were a couple of scenes towards the end of the film where I kept thinking to myself This is devastating! and yet, I never actually felt devastated myself. I only really recognized the devastation on an intellectual level. There are lots of other movies I feel similarly about, and it's a real shame, because that feeling (or lack of feeling, as it were) leaves those films feeling a bit hollow in my mind.
Lost (at least, the final season) ended up being the opposite, especially when it came to the "Flash-Sideways" sequences. Nothing seemed to make much sense intellectually, but it was emotionally satisfying nonetheless. I'm sure there are tons of people who hate those sequences. They're full of sticky-sweet sentimentality and schmaltz. I'm a guy who doesn't mind a happy ending, but lots of people seem to hate them. You often see these people excoriating Hollywood cinema for this sort of thing, and to be honest, they're not entirely wrong. But sometimes they are, and for me, Lost worked. At least, in that specific respect, it worked.
I think my problems with the series have primarily to do with a few early choices that the writers seemed to get away from in later seasons. First, the series initially seemed like a science fiction story. It is not. It is a fantasy. But the writers attempted to use tropes from SF to spice up their story (in particular, the Dharma Initiative and time travel subplots), and that does represent a bit of a problem because the explanation for a lot of the mysterious happenings on the island basically amount to something like "A wizard did it!" or "It was magic!" Even when it comes to the time travel stuff, there isn't really any science in that fiction - it's all fantasy. There isn't anything inherently wrong with that sort of thing, but leveraging SF tropes implies a certain plausibility that Lost could never really deliver. Once I realized this, I became a little more accepting of some of the more ridiculous aspects of the series, most of which can be summed up as: The island is a weird place and Jacob has weird powers. However, I think there were a number of times when the series established some convention or set of rules, then went ahead and broke them for no other reason than that it would, like, totally make for a sweet cliffhanger. I think this is, in large part, why the series is not intellectually satisfying for me.
This sort of inconsistency was especially frustrating from a characterization standpoint. Jack and Kate love each other, but then Kate loves Sawyer, but Sawyer's evil, no wait he's just a con-man with a heart of gold, but then he does something evil again, but he's really a good guy, but no, he's only out for himself, but then he gets married and settles down and now he wants to kill Jack, but Jack loves Juliet, but Juliet is married to Sawyer even though she really loves Jack, but they're divorced and did I mention that Sawyer is selfish and only looking out for himself but that he's in love with Kate, no, wait, I meant Juliet and then Ben loves Juliet but she doesn't really care, but Jack and Juliet are divorced and Kate and Jack are together but then they're separated and Jack wants to leave the island, but only until he wants to return to the island because it's his destiny, but no, really it's Hugo's destiny, but Jack still has some sort of destiny on the island and isn't meth awesome!?
Now, here's the thing: most of that is actually fine. I don't have a problem with a character who changes their mind or goes through something traumatic and is changed in the process. The issue is that many of these changes happen only because the plot requires them to, not because of a natural outgrowth or reaction of the character. Even worse, the plot often doesn't require such twists - they're only included to make for a snappy cut to commercial or cliffhanger ending. So you get these weird character reversals where Kate wants to leave the island, but she doesn't want to leave, but she does, but she doesn't. All within the course of, like, 15 minutes. I don't know, maybe I'm exaggerating. I didn't make a note every time I thought to myself: Wait, what? Why would this character do that? Oh dammit, end of episode, fuck! But I know I had such thoughts often. (If I ever rewatch the series, I will try to document these occurrences).
Perhaps towards the end of the fifth season and leading into the sixth, this issues seemed to straighten out a bit. I didn't have nearly as many problems during the sixth season. Maybe that's because my brain was so addled by the previous seasons that I knew what to expect, but still, things seemed more consistent. Of course, this only leads to my next question, which is: What the hell were the first 5 seasons for again?
I mean, there's a very basic conflict at the heart of the Lost universe. Jacob vs. Smoke Monster. Protect the magic golden light. That's really it. The rest of the series is basically just some messed up people trying to work through some personal issues. Some of them think the island can help, most don't, but in the end, the island brought them together and ultimately brought out the best in them (well, in a bunch of them). That's all background though, and the aforementioned central conflict? It isn't even revealed in the series until, like, late in the fifth season. We don't even hear Jacob's name until the third season, and even when we think we've seen him, we haven't.
I can accept the fact that it takes a good amount of time to establish characters and their backgrounds and the series is fantastically complex when it comes to that web of character interactions, on and off the island, in the future and in the past. But did we really need 4-5 seasons of that before we got on with the actual story?
Well, this post is turning into a bit of rant about the things I didn't like about the series, and that's not what I initially set out to do. None of the above is to say that the series isn't worthwhile. Indeed, much of it could be construed as nitpicks. I don't think it's possible to have a show air for 6 seasons and not have such nitpicks. Shit happens. A cast member want to quit, so you need to write a quick exit (bye bye, Mr Eko!). Other cast members demand way too much money and a couple others get a DUI so they all need to be written off. These things happen.
And even then, the writers managed to build a story with, like, a hundred main characters. That sounds like hyperbole, and I suppose it is, but it's not that far off. What's more, most of those characters are interacting, before, during, and after their stay on the island. The non-linear exploration of such connections is actually pretty impressive in its own way. If you're a science fiction type, you certainly won't be impressed because there's no real explanation beyond "Magic" or "Destiny" or "Fate" or something, but there is something admirable about the number of characters and the extent to which their stories were woven together. The "Flashback" conceit was something I was quite dubious about at the beginning of the series, but the writers managed at least one shocking twist in that respect. The "Flash-forward" was a brilliant idea, and it was quite well executed. The "Flash-sideways" of the last season was a little baffling, but quite resonant from an emotional perspective.
So we come back to my basic feeling about the series: satisfying on an emotional level, but not on an intellectual level. I have my issues with the series, but it's still a well produced, well written series that can get addictive at times (of course, I was able to stop when i wanted as well, but there were a lot of Dammit! Ok, one more episode! moments as the writers laid one of their cliffhangers on me - even some of the lame ones that break character are still compelling in some way).
Sunday, January 23, 2011
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher
One of the themes of 2010 cinema has been a question of reality. Is what we're watching real? Or is it a fabrication? Or perhaps some twisted combination of the two? Interestingly, this theme can be found in the outright fictional (films like Inception certainly induce questions of reality), the ostensibly true story that is notably and obviously fictionalized (a la The Social Network), and most interestingly of all, the documentary. Films like Catfish and Exit Through the Gift Shop are certainly presented as fact, though many questions have arisen about their verisimilitude. Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck collaborated on I'm Still Here, a supposed documentary about Phoenix's strange transition from a well known actor to a crazy aspiring rapper that Phoenix and Affleck have since admitted was something of a hoax (I have not seen the film, but from what I can see, many of the events certainly did happen, even if they were manufactured). In most cases, audiences don't seem to mind the blurring of reality with fiction (this includes myself), so long as that blurring is made clear (that may sound paradoxical, but it is perhaps better understood as the main component of the Reflexive Documentary: movies that acknowledge the biases of the filmmakers and the subjectivity of the material at hand are more trustworthy than movies that claim objectivity). Indeed, one could probably make a case for the presence of fiction in most non-fiction stories. Bias, subjectivity, and context can yield dramatically different results depending on how they're portrayed.
It is in this frame of mind that I picked up The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale. It was immediately obvious that I was in for something that blurred the lines between fact and fiction. As Summerscale herself acknowledges in the introduction (page XIII):
This book is modelled on the country-house murder mystery, the form that the Road Hill case inspired, and uses some of the devices of detective fiction. The content, though, aims to be factual. The main sources are the government and police files on the murder, which are held in the National Archives at Kew, south-west London, and the books, pamphlets, essays and newspaper pieces published about the case in the 1860s, which can be found in the British Library. Other sources include maps, railway timetables, medical textbooks, social histories and police memoirs. Some descriptions of buildings and landscapes are from personal observation. Accounts of the weather conditions are from press reports, and the dialogue is from testimony given in court.Even with the acknowledgement, the book is an odd amalgam of embellished factual accounts of a horrific murder, straightforward biographical information of the titular Johnathan Whicher and the family Kent, and a survey of mid-nineteenth century detective fiction. There are times when Summerscale follows one of these three tangential threads too far, but for the most part, she manages to weave them together in a deft and engaging fashion.
The mystery at the center of the book concerns a gruesome murder of three-year-old Saville Kent in 1860. Local police bumbled through the investigation, eventually leading the government to dispatch Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Jack Whicher to the small town to investigate. Whicher sized up the situation and quickly came to the shocking conclusion that the murderer must have been a member of the Kent household. Everyone from Saville's father to his nursemaids came under suspicion, though Whicher favored Saville's half-sister, Constance Kent. However, Whicher had been brought into the case nearly a week after the murder. The evidence was mostly circumstantial and most leads had gone cold before he even started the case.
And it was a very odd case. It's easy to see why fiction authors appropriated so much from the story in later novels. Every clue, every piece of new information, every close examination of the evidence at hand seemed to make the case less clear. Summerscale writes (page 75):
The family story that Whicher pieced together at Road Hill House suggested that Saville's death was part of a mesh of deception and concealment. The detective stories that the case engendered, beginning with The Moonstone in 1868, took this lesson. All the suspects in a classic murder mystery have secrets, and to keep them they lie, dissemble, evade the interrogations of the investigator. Everyone seems guilty because everyone has something to hide. For most of them, though, the secret is not murder. This is the trick on which detective fiction turns.Summerscale delves into the tricks of Whicher's trade from time to time, and it does make for fascinating reading. I love to read about the devils in the details on which something like this murder mystery hinges. For instance, one of the mini-mysteries the case presents us with is a missing nightdress. This sounds like a minor detail, but Whicher immediately seizes upon the missing clothing as a precious clue. Summerscale takes the opportunity to describe the origins of the word "clue" and why Whicher was so keen on solving the mini-mystery of the missing nightdress (from page 68):
The word ‘clue’ derives from ‘clew,’ meaning a ball of thread or yarn. It had come to mean ‘that which points the way’ because of the Greek myth in which Theseus uses a ball of yarn, given to him by Ariadne, to find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth. The wirters of the mid-nineteenth century still had this image in mind when they used the word… a plot was a knot, and a story ended in a 'denouement', an unknotting.Summerscale then proceeds to detail several cases where Whicher himself managed to solve a crime due to the fortuitous discovery of unique or identifiable clothing, eventually concluding (from page 70):
The thread that led Theseus out of the maze was true to another principle of Whicher’s investigation: the progress of a detective was backwards. To find his way out of danger and confusion, Theseus had to retrace his steps, return to the origin. The solution to a crime was the beginning as well as the end of a story.I have a fascination with such details, so of course I wouldn't have minded if Summerscale indulged in more of such analysis, but it's clear that she was trying to walk a tight line. I would be easy to stray too far from her focus on the mystery and the man sent to investigate, and she manages to walk that line well enough.
Whicher is an interesting man in himself. Most of what we know about him is in his police reports and correspondence. I would have loved to read more about the man, but from what I can tell, Summerscale has unearthed every conceivable piece of knowledge about the man, and still came up a bit short. As a plain-clothes detective, he obviously avoided attention as much as possible, which probably explains some of the missing information - for instance, there doesn't appear to be any pictures or paintings of the main available. That being said, he's certainly a worthy subject for study. He seems to possess keen observational skills as well as a knack for finding holes in a story and clues. He appears quite confident in his perceptions, though as the subhead of the book notes, he is somewhat shaken by the mystery at Road Hill House. His initial investigation yielded no convictions and he returned to London a different man, though I think calling this his "Undoing" is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. Indeed, after Summerscale establishes the central mystery, I feared that the subhead implied that no solution would really be found.
Fortunately, there is a closure of sorts, though I will not spoil the book by delving too deeply into that here. Suffice to say that by the end of the book, we are a bit closer to what actually happened, though the inherent difficulty of rebuilding a picture of the past is one of the themes of the book. In today's day and age, with TV shows like CSI showing what you can do with forensics in explicit detail, it's easy to forget how difficult it would be to figure out what happened in the past (and to be honest, even given the advanced forensic technology available, shows like CSI still gloss over the difficulties of a murder investigation). Mr. Whicher had no such forensic luxuries in his day and had to rely on his cunning and intuition, perhaps moreso than would be comfortable with modern populations. Indeed, one of the undercurrents of the book is how England was reacting to the notion of a "detective" - a concept that was somewhat new to the world. Many felt that detectives were too intrusive and seedy, in it only for the money or glory. Whicher does not seem like that type though. He's reserved and curious, confident in his prowess, but honorable in his manner.
Of course, I'm basing my opinion of the man on what could be argued is a partially-fictional representation of the man and his actions. This question of what is real and what is fiction is something that kept coming to mind while reading this book. Part of that might be the year in film, as previously mentioned, but I think other readers would find such questions arising when reading the book as well. Of the three main components of the story I mentioned earlier (murder mystery, biography, and survey of detective fiction), it is the latter that calls reality into question the most. There seems to be a general idea that quoting fiction in a formal argument is bad form, and as such I can see some people being taken aback by Summerscale's book. While impeccably researched and sourced, she does give the book a flare you don't normally see in non-fiction. As she mentions in her introduction, she uses many devices of detective fiction in her writing. She directly references detective fiction of the day, as well as authors like Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry James, and Wilkie Collins (Arthur Conan Doyle is not really referenced until later in the book, as Doyle did not start writing his Sherlock Holmes books until well after Whicher's heyday). Some of these references are to non-fiction - Dickens interviewed Whicher, for instance, and Summerscale includes many of Dickens' insights into Whicher and the case at Road Hill House - but some references are directly from detective fiction. Again, some might find that inappropriate, but I'm sympathetic to such techniques, and I think Summerscale does an exceptional job mixing fact and fiction, to the point where I don't think the book would be as informative or interesting if it didn't mix those seemingly incompatible components. Ultimately, I think this combination yields some insights that a traditional scholarly effort might have missed, and I quite enjoyed the book for the way it treated both real and fictional detectives (page 304):
Perhaps this is the purpose of detective investigations, real and fictional - to transform sensation, horror and grief into a puzzle, and then to solve the puzzle, to make it go away. 'The detective story," observed Raymond Chandler in 1949, 'is a tragedy with a happy ending.' A storybook detective starts by confronting us with a murder and ends by absolving us of it. He clears us of guilt. He relieves us of uncertainty. He removes us from the presence of death.It was a good read, and I would recommend it to any one interested in mysteries or the era. Special thanks to longtime Kaedrin reader and friend, Spencer, for giving me this book.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
2010 Kaedrin Movie Awards: Arbitrary Awards
So we're finished with the formal awards, but there are always some other awards that don't really require a lot of nominees... and there are some movies that have something so uncommon that it's worth bringing up. Interestingly, some of these awards have actually become a yearly thing, despite never really being conceived as such. In any case, here they are:
* Sorry, I forgot. It's not a train, it's a missile the size of the Chrystler building! Please accept my humble apologies.
Posted by Mark on January 19, 2011 at 08:10 PM .: link :.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
2010 Kaedrin Movie Award Winners!
The nominations for the 2010 Kaedrin Movie Awards were announced last week. Today, I'll be announcing the winners of those formal awards. Later in the week, I'll cover less traditional categories in what we like to call the Arbitrary Awards, and at some point in the near future, I'll post my top 10 of 2010 (this will most likely happen in early to mid-February). So let's get this party started:
Posted by Mark on January 16, 2011 at 06:45 PM .: link :.
Sunday, January 09, 2011
2010 Kaedrin Movie Awards
It's finally time for the 5th Annual Kaedrin Movie Awards! As of today, I've seen 69 movies that would be considered 2010 releases. This is on par with the past few years [Previous Installments here: 2006 2007 2008 2009], but a little less than last year. Regardless, this post marks the beginning of my end of the year recap (only a little more than a week late!) The categories are the same as last year, but will proceed a bit differently. I'll post all the nominations today, but I don't think I'll be announcing one or two winners a day (as I've done the past few years), instead opting to announce them all at once next Sunday.
2010 has been an unusual year for movies. In particular, the first half of the year was pretty disheartening. It wasn't until about mid-summer that things started turning around, and as I've been playing catchup for the past couple of months, I've been finding some diamonds in the rough from the first half. In the end, while I don't think it's been a particularly good year for movies, I think that abysmal first half has ruined the year's reputation. That or the endless parade of mediocrity that seems to be this year's theme. There are a couple of movies I'm still hoping to catch up with before I release my top 10, but there's no reason to delay the awards for that. Besides, one of the points of these awards is that they allow me to give some love to films that I like, but which aren't necessarily great or are otherwise flawed (as such, the categories may seem a bit eclectic). Some of these movies will end up on my top 10, but the grand majority of them will not.
The rules for this are the same as last year: Nominated movies must have been released in 2010 (in the US) and I have to have seen the movie (and while I have seen a lot of movies, I don't pretend to have seen a comprehensive selection - don't let that stop you from suggesting something though). Also, I suppose I should mention the requisite disclaimer that these sorts of lists are inherently subjective and personal. But that's all part of the fun, right? So here are the nominees for this year's awards:
It's been a bad year for villainy... I was able to fill the category, but only by putting some real stretches on the list. As with previous years, my picks in this category are for individuals, not groups (i.e. no vampires or zombies as a group).
Heroes, on the other hand, are having a much more badass year. There were so many choices, I had to actually cut a few people off the list and I still ended up with a very large list... Again limited to individuals and not groups.
Another lackluster year for comedy. I ended up pulling a few unconventional choices into the list...
Interestingly, this is a pretty decent year for young actresses, as the grand majority of nominees are female. As with previous years, my main criteria for this category was if I watched a movie, then immediately looking up the actor/actress on IMDB to see what else they've done (or where they came from). This sometimes happens for even well established actors/actresses, but not so much this year...
Sometimes even bad movies can look really great...
I'm a total genre hound, despite genres generally receiving very little attention from critics. This is a category normally dominated by Horror, but there's at least one solid SF nominee (and another two that are sorta mixtures). The list is still weighted more towards Horror, but a respectable showing for both genres:
A surprisingly long list of options this year (in each of the 4 years I've been doing this, there's only been 3 options). Now, at least one of these is a pretty bad movie, but I included it anyway.
Always a difficult award to figure out, as there are different ways in which a movie can disappoint. Usually, expectations play just as big a part of this as the actual quality of the film, and it's possible that a good movie can win the award because of high expectations.
This was a decent year for action, though not especially a standout year. This award isn't for individual action sequences, but rather an overall estimation of each film.
Not a particularly strong year for the plot twist either, though there are a few standouts.
This is always a strange category to populate because the concept is a bit nebulous, but nevertheless, there are a few interesting choices...
A 2009 movie I didn't get to see until 2010... This is always a problem for the amateur movie lover. Towards the end of the year, 500 movies come out, but they only play in New York or LA for a grand total of like 3 hours (enough for 2 showings at each theater!) Plus, there's always a movie I dismissed and neglected to see which I end up seeing a year later and loving. A few good ones this year (er last year, no this year):
It looks like there isn't a clear leader in nominations, but there are 4 films coming in at 4 nominations each: Inception, Kick-Ass, Machete, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Nipping at their heels is a whopping 5 films with 3 nominations each, including: True Grit, Winter's Bone, Triangle, The Millenium Trilogy Movies (perhaps an unfair advantage there), and, surprisingly, Paranormal Activity 2. Even more films have 2 nominations each, and more than that with just 1. Overall, 34 movies were nominated (not including the 2009 movies or the "disappointment" award), which is still a pretty good showing, I think. So I'm going to give it a week and then hopefully announce all the winners next Sunday, followed by some Arbitrary awards and (eventually) a top 10.
Posted by Mark on January 09, 2011 at 10:42 PM .: link :.
Sunday, January 02, 2011
2010 Catchup Progress, Part 2
The year has ended, but the 2010 Catchup continues. Last time around, I had only seen about 5 of the movies on my original list, but I've been some pretty good progress since then, knocking about 10 more movies off the list (plus 2 additional films that weren't even on the list):
Posted by Mark on January 02, 2011 at 08:37 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Professor Hubert Farnsworth's Only Slightly Futuristic Holiday Movie Quiz
Good news everybody! Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as always, I'm excited to provide my answers. Previous installments answering questions from David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, and Professor Severus Snape are also available... But now, here are my answers to Professor Farnsworth:
1) Best Movie of 2010
Well, I'm still catching up on a lot of 2010 releases and I'm terrible at picking favorites, but as of right now, I'll have to go with the relatively boring choice of The Social Network or Inception. Nevertheless, those are the two movies I connected with the most this year.
2) Second-favorite Roman Polanski Movie
These days I find it hard to separate the "fugitive child rapist" part from the "great filmmaker" part of Polanski, but I guess I'll have to go with Rosemary's Baby as my second favorite.
3) Jason Statham or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Well, they both make some rather craptacular films, but Statham seems to actually have a few really good films to his credit. Plus, I hate professional wrestling.
4) Favorite movie that could be classified as a genre hybrid
I thought this would be a lot harder, but the answer came pretty quickly: Alien. The two most prominent genres being blended here are science fiction and horror, and it's a superb example of both genres.
5) How important is foreknowledge of a film’s production history? Should it factor into one’s reaction to a film?
I've been thinking a lot about film critics lately. In particular, the age old question of why critics like different movies than mainstream audiences. Without going into too much detail, I think the primary differentiator is the knowledge and appreciation of context. For instance, in order to truly enjoy a movie made a hundred years ago, you have to have some knowledge of what it was like to live back then and also be aware of the limitations of film at the time, and so on. Indeed, it might even be worthwhile to look into what effects the film had on society at large. I suppose someone without that cultural and historical context can still enjoy the film, but not as deeply as someone who has studied all those external factors. Now, "foreknowledge of a film's production history" is but a narrow part of a film's context, but it's certainly relevant. Whether or not it "should" factor into one's reaction is almost irrelevant. All of one's knowledge factors into one's reaction to a film. What one should do, however, is be aware of this fact. Context is not limited to the direct knowledge of the film itself, but all knowledge. One of the reasons people enjoy rewatching movies is that while the movies don't change, we do, and so rewatching a film involves incorporating new knowledge and perspectives, which can still be illuminating. So I'd say it's important, that it should factor into one's reaction, and that as long as one acknowledges their perspective, it's probably a good thing.
6) William Powell & Myrna Loy or Cary Grant & Irene Dunne
Not particularly familiar with the pairings, but Cary Grant & Irene Dunne, because I said so.
7) Best Actor of 2010
My first instinct is James Franco for 127 Hours. However, a few others popped into my head: Christian Bale in The Fighter, Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, and maybe a few others. Also, I haven't seen a few films with contenders, like The King's Speech. But I'll stick with my instinct on this one for now.
8) Most important lesson learned from the past decade of watching movies
I think the aforementioned recognition of the role and importance of context in our reactions to movies is a big one. A lot of our reactions to films are colored more by context than I think we care to admit. Luckily, acknowledging that is the first step towards getting a more complete understanding of film.
9) Last movie seen (DVD/Blu-ray/theater)
In theaters, it was True Grit, which was great. I was a little worried about Jeff Bridges' voice in the trailer. Something sounded so off, so manufactured about it. But in the context of the film, it was fine. And the Coens, as usual, are fantastic at this whole moviemaking thing.
On Blu-Ray, it was Easy A, which was breezy, clever, and fun. Much better than expected!
On DVD, it was Silent Night, Bloody Night. Among the not-so-crowded holiday horror sub-genre, it's near the top, though I think it's also a bit overrated.
Also, I think it's time to add a new option to the list: Netflix Watch Instantly (or, at least, streaming). I'll go first, the last thing I saw on Netflix streaming was Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, an interesting look at someone I never thought much about (despite the fact that she's impacted my professional life in some ways).
10) Most appropriate punishment for director Tom Six
I don't think he necessarily deserves punishment, but the ironic thing to do would be to make him the middle piece, if you know what I mean.
11) Best under-the-radar movie almost no one else has had the chance to see
This is a difficult question because the reason "almost no one else has had the chance to see" something is that it didn't get a very wide release and/or isn't available on DVD. Unfortunately, that's almost as likely to affect me as it is anyone else! However, there are a few movies I've seen that might qualify. The first one that came to mind was Playing Columbine, a documentary about video games and their impact on society. I was really taken with this movie when I saw it at the Philadelphia Film Festival a few years ago, but it never really got a release and its DVD is not widely available (it's not even available on Netflix, though you can buy one for $35 from their website), so "almost no one else has had the chance to see" it. I don't know that it's worth the price of the DVD, but if you get a chance to see it and you like video games (heck, even if you don't), it's well worth watching.
12) Sheree North or Angie Dickinson
Angie Dickinson, because, come on, Rio Bravo. Then again, Sheree North is Babs Kramer. But Dickinson.
13) Favorite nakedly autobiographical movie
Though it certainly didn't happen the way it was portrayed on screen, I'll go with Adaptation. If you require something more traditional, I guess you'd have to go with Almost Famous.
14) Movie which best evokes a specific real-life place
I'm finding this one extremely difficult to answer. The first thing I thought of was the recent spate of Boston-set films that seem to portray the gritty underbelly of the town... but then, I've only been to Boston a few times and I'm certainly not up to speed on their criminal undergrounds. Next, I thought of 127 Hours because I saw that recently and it also has a very well established sense of space and location. I felt like I knew the geography of the area despite never having been there before. I don't think any of those are really good answers to this question, but that's what I came up with.
15) Best Director of 2010
Given my choice for best movie, the obvious answer would be David Fincher. The Coen Brothers probably deserve some consideration as well as a few others, but Fincher seems to take the cake.
16) Second-favorite Farrelly Brothers Movie
Hmmm, well, I guess it would have to be There's Something About Mary, though I do have a soft spot for Kingpin.
17) Favorite holiday movie
I go back and forth between the two classics: It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street. If forced to choose, I guess I'd go with Capra's masterpiece, but again, they're both classics.
18) Best Actress of 2010
The first actress that came to mind was Noomi Rapace for her performances in the Millenium trilogy movies from Sweden, but then Natalie Portman was also great in Black Swan, as was Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone. Heck, maybe even Emma Stone in Easy A. But as with the actors, I'll stick with my instinct on this one...
19) Joe Don Baker or Bo Svenson
At first, I thought: how could this not be Joe Don Baker. But when I look them up on IMDB, I notice that Svenson is in a ton of movies I like. As bit parts, sure, but still. I'll stick with Joe Don Baker though, as he was my first instinct...
20) Of those notable figures in the world of the movies who died in 2010, name the one you’ll miss the most
I think I'll go with what has to be a common answer to this one: Leslie Nielsen.
21) Think of a movie with a notable musical score and describe what it might feel like without that accompaniment.
The first thing that came to mind was the soundtrack to John Carpenter's classic Halloween. Part of the reason I'm choosing this one is because the story of how the music was created is famously due to the fact that an executive saw an early cut of the film without music and thought it wasn't scary. I've actually written about this before, quoting Carpenter himself:
I screened the final cut minus sound effects and music, for a young executive from 20th Century-Fox (I was interviewing for another possible directing job). She wasn’t scared at all. I then became determined to "save it with the music."And save it he did. Another example from the world of horror would be John Williams' score for Jaws, which incorporates a long build-up of tension that is eventually released in horror.
22) Best Screenplay of 2010
So Aaron Sorkin's work on The Social Network is certainly worth consideration here, but I'm going to go with Inception. You'll note that I didn't include Christopher Nolan in my discussion of best director, and I think that's because he's more notable as a writer than as a director. It's the ideas and storytelling that he excels at. I suppose you could argue that Inception is overly dependent on exposition and info-dumps, but I think the puzzle-like structure of the plot is an achievement in itself.
23) Movie You Feel Most Evangelistic About Right Now
Well, if someone wanted a suggestion for something in theaters now, I'd suggest True Grit. If they have Netflix, I'd suggest Exit Through the Gift Shop (a documentary about street art, with a twist) or, probably the most obscure movie here, Blood Into Wine (a documentary about wine-makers in Arizona, including Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan).
24) Worst/funniest movie accent ever
John Malkovich's ridiculously over-the-top performance as Teddy KGB in Rounders features the absolute worst/funniest accent ever. "Mr. Son of a bitch, let's play some cards!"
25) Best Cinematography of 2010
Roger Deakins' work in True Grit comes to mind.
26) Olivia Wilde or Gemma Arterton
My first thought was Olivia Wilde, but that's only because I know who she is. It turns out that I knew Gemma Arterton too, but not as well. Neither has a particularly impressive resume and I like them both, so I'll stick with my first instinct (though Arterton was my favorite part of the horrible Quantum of Solace, and she wasn't even the main Bond girl).
27) Name the three best movies you saw for the first time in 2010 (Thanks, Larry!)
Excluding 2010 releases (since we're already talking a lot about them in this quiz): The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, and Blood and Black Lace. Honestly, it was a bit of a slow year for me in terms of older films and I didn't make it very far on my list of the Greatest Movies I've Never Seen. Ohh, I forgot about The Birds - that should definitely be on this list...
28) Best romantic movie couple of 2010
Love and Other Drugs comes to mind. It's a pretty cliched film, but the two leads have a great chemistry together. Plus, nudity.
29) Favorite shock/surprise ending
Ever? That's incredibly difficult. I suppose I have to acknowledge Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, but I think that's mostly due to the fact that I was so young and impressionable at the time. Psycho has a pretty great ending that actually managed to surprise my jaded teen self... And I have to admit that Lone Star caught me completely off-guard. Se7en has a good one, and while I know a lot of people don't like it, I do think The Usual Suspects has a fantastic twist ending. I could keep going and never actually reach a favorite.
30) Best cinematic reason to have stayed home and read a book in 2010
Well, I don't need a cinematic reason to read a book, but I suppose the craptacular first half of the year (which, as I'm discovering on DVD/BD/Netflix, wasn't as craptacular as I thught) was a pretty good reason to stay home. Then again, the worst movie I saw in theaters this year came out relatively recently: Skyline (which is absolutely terrible, though I have to admit that I love the gloriously stupid ending).
31) Movies in 2011 could make me much happier if they’d only _______________
Uh, be better? Good movies are always welcome. I suppose we could do with less 3D BS as well.
Well, there you have it.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Early Christian history shows a lot of attempts by Church leaders to attract followers by setting their holidays to coincide with existing festivals and celebrations. In the case of Christmas, the Church chose December 25, as it coincides with pagan winter solstice festivals that were popular in most cultures. As such, most of the folklore surrounding Christmas is an amalgam of both Christian and Pagan traditions. Examples include Christmas trees, mistletoe, and, of course, Santa Claus.
Santa Claus, as we know him, can largely be traced back to the poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas, published in 1823 and written by Clement Clarke Moore. However, Moore was pulling from a long tradition of Christmas gift givers, which were, in themselves, pulling from older pagan traditions. And while our current vision of Santa is jolly, many of the precursors are more varied. We all know about the "naughty or nice list", but we generally shy away from graphic descriptions of what happens to the naughty. Many older traditions did not. Case in point, the Finnish "Joulupukki", which translates to "Yule Buck" or "Yule Goat".
One of the reasons pagan cultures chose to celebrate the Winter solstice is that the shortest days of the year are in December, and once you reach the solstice, the days start to get longer again. In Finland, these festivals would celebrate the return of the daylight and would often feature a personification of the evil spirits that were leaving as the days got longer. These spirits were often wore goat skins and horns and demanded presents. It was a loathsome creature, and it frightened children (which parents no doubt used to their advantage, getting their kids to act nice). Once the Christian traditions reached Finland though, this somehow got flipped around, with the spirits now benevolent and delivering presents instead of wreaking havoc.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a new Finnish movie that wonders what would happen if we discovered the original "Joulupukki". According to the research of the film's main character, young Pietari, the original Santa was not a very pleasant character, so villagers tricked him into freezing water, then covered the resulting ice cube in sawdust and so many rocks that they created a new mountain. Cut to present day, and a crazy American businessman is attempting to find the real Santa, and is excavating a nearby mountain, much to the dismay of local Reindeer ranchers. Pretty soon, their Reindeer show up dead and children start to go missing.
This is not your typical holiday movie, nor even is it your typical holiday horror film, a subgenre I've been exploring over the past few years. It takes a while to get going and while I enjoyed the ending, it was a bit of an anti-climax, as you never really get to see the true horrific power of Santa (on the other hand, I do wonder if that sort of explicit explanation would lose something)... That being said, the film has a dark, dry sense of humor that isn't quite explicit, but which made me laugh out loud several times. This is the debut film of writer/director Jalmari Helander, and it's clear that he has a good eye for interesting visuals and while he does not resort to many horror tropes, he does manage some creepifying visuals, such as the weird wooden dolls that Santa's little helpers leave behind while they're kidnapping naughty children or, heck, even Santa's little helpers themselves.
The ending of the film escalates into the absurd, but in an entertaining and welcome way. My favorite part was when young Pietari suddenly turns into an 80s action hero and starts dropping one liners like "It's either me or Santa. I suggest Santa." (OK, fine, that was 2 lines, but still.) I'm still not entirely sure what to make of the epilogue, though it's still a wonderfully absurd notion.
In the end, I don't know that this is up there with the Christmas horror classics like Black Christmas, but it's probably still an upper tier picture, and it's well worth a watch for fans of dark holiday shenanigans. ***
Update: After the movie, I headed over to the local beer bar, Eulogy, and had a nice Austrian beer called Samichlaus. Guess what that translates to.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
2010 Catchup Progress
So the great 2010 Movie Catchup has proceeded quite well so far and while there are still many things I've yet to see, I've made good progress:
Posted by Mark on December 12, 2010 at 04:21 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
2010 Movie Catchup
So the general consensus seems to be that 2010 hasn't been a particularly good year for movies... and for the first half of the year, I was definitely in agreement. Things have turned around a bit since then, though, and it's looking like some of the smaller films from earlier in the year are being released on DVD/BD around now. Normally, I've got a ton of current-year movies under my belt by this time in the year - usually around 60-70. When I finished off the 6 Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon last month, I took a loot at my list and saw about 30 movies from 2010. So all throughout November, I've been playing catchup on 2010 movies. I've made some headway, but there's still quite a few movies I want to catch up with before I put together the annual awards and top 10. So let's start with new movies that are coming out in December:
Posted by Mark on December 08, 2010 at 08:51 PM .: link :.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Another edition of Tasting Notes, a series of quick hits on a variety of topics that don't really warrant a full post [Previous Editions: part 1 | part 2]. So here's what I've been watching/playing/reading/drinking lately:
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
A few interesting links from the depths of teh interwebs:
Sunday, November 14, 2010
While not quite the accidental double feature I ran into a few weeks ago with Catfish and The Social Network, I saw a pair of movies this weekend that share an uncommon type of protagonist. Both are a bit off the beaten path and thus don't really have a ton of mainstream appeal, but they're both worth watching...
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is the third and (for the moment) final movie in Stieg Larsson's "Millenium Trilogy". It has the unfortunate reputation of being the worst of the three films, but while I can certainly see where that comes from, I think the problem lies more with the source material than the films. Which is not to say that the source material is bad or anything, just that this film and the second film are really part of a single whole. The first film made for a great introduction and featured a solid, self-contained story. The two sequels are intertwined. You can't watch one without needing to see the other.
The common complaint about this third film is that it basically represents a rehash of the entire series, and there is something to that complaint. However, I find that there's also something satisfying about how things play out, even if they do so in a mostly predictable fashion. For me, the thing that the first film had that the sequels don't is the relationship between Lisbeth Salandar and Mikael Blomkvist. That was what impressed me most about the first film, but in the sequels, the plot requires a physical separation of the characters and the interactions through intermediaries just aren't the same. And in this film, the majority of screen time belongs to Blomkvist, who isn't as interesting as Lisbeth (who spends most of her time in a hospital, jail cell, or courtroom, and her interactions are mostly speechless).
So perhaps it isn't quite as good as the first two films, but it's still a worthy effort that's better than most of its competition. To me, the first film is clearly the best. The two sequels, taken as a whole are quite good, but can't quite recapture the magic of the first. It's rumored that Larsson left behind plot outlines and half finished works for a number of additional sequels, and the original trilogy has been far too successful to let those sit unfinished. This could, of course, be a blessing or a curse. There are many pitfalls possible in potential sequels to these three films, but there is also the possibility of recapturing the magic. Also, while I'm not normally enthused about Hollywood remakes of foreign films (especially when they're made so close together in time), I have to admit that the talent being assembled for the remakes looks promising.
There are certain similarities between Lisbeth Salandar and the hero of Winter's Bone, yet they're very different characters. Ree Dolly is the primary focus of Winter's Bone, and she's a 17 year old who's faced with a sick mother and two kids to raise (not her kids - they're her brother and sister). She does not live for herself; everything she does is for the benefit of others. Early on in the movie we learn that she dreams of joining the army. Later, we find out that the only reason she would do so is because of the signing bonus, which would be a boon to her cash-strapped family. So aside from being strong and independent, she doesn't really share anything else in common with Lisbeth Salandar, but that's enough. Roger Ebert actually catches on to the most courageous thing about this character in his review:
Ree is played by Jennifer Lawrence, a 19-year-old newcomer who has already starred in Jodie Foster's next film. Lawrence embodies a fierce, still center that is the source of her heroism. She makes no boasts, issues no threats, depends on a dogged faith that people will do the right thing — even when no one we meet seems to deserve that faith. “Don't ask for what's not offered,” she tells her little brother, although the lives of her parents seem to be an exercise in asking and not offering. Did she raise herself?(emphasis mine) That she "depends on a dogged faith that people will do the right thing" is an interesting and rare thing in a thriller of this nature. Usually you can expect this sort of independent movie to be so steeped in misery that the only resulting feeling is despair. But this film is different. The "faith" espoused by Ree is something that makes her much more courageous than most film heros. It's not glamorous and it won't earn her any fanfare, but it gets the job done. This isn't to say that everything is fluffy bunnies and rainbows, but there is a very "real" feeling to the film.
The story is relatively straightforward. Ree's father, a meth cooker by trade, has disappeared after putting the family's house up as collateral on his bail bond. If he doesn't show up for the trial, the family will loose the house. When Ree is informed, she says "I'll find him," with the quiet determination and resolve that is uncommon for folks in her situation. The film does bog down a bit as Ree goes from person to person, many of whom are seemingly from the same family (though the relationships are rarely very clear), and eventually begins to piece together what happened to her father.
The film is perhaps a bit too long considering how simple the story is, and thus the pacing is a bit too slow, but it's still a striking movie. Filmed on location in the back woods of Missouri, the setting is atmospheric and evocative. In a time of economic downturn it seems appropriate, but I suspect the setting of this film was the same even when business was booming. Visually, the film is stark and while not showy, it's effective. The acting is great, especially the lead (as already mentioned, Ree is played by Jennifer Lawrence in an Oscar-worthy performance) and her uncle, played by John Hawkes. Given the nature of the story, there would be a real danger of falling back on caricature, but writer/director Debra Granik never lets that happen, which is quite impressive.
In the end, I really enjoyed both of these movies, even though both suffer from some flaws that many would find deal-breakers. I don't expect either to really broach the top 10 at the end of the year, but they're both quite interesting in their own ways and I'm glad I got to see them...
Posted by Mark on November 14, 2010 at 04:10 PM .: link :.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
6WH: Week 6 - No Discernable Theme Week
These six weeks have absolutely flown by, but lucky for me, Halloween falls on a Sunday this year, which is basically giving me an extra week of horror watching.
Posted by Mark on October 24, 2010 at 08:12 PM .: link :.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
6WH: Week 5 - Slashers
Coming down the homestretch already? The past 5 weeks have absolutely flown by... There's still a bunch of movies I want to watch and I'm not sure I'll even be able to get to them. In any case, this week, I got back to basics and went with a favorite sub-genre, the slashers! They've been a staple of previous years, but I specifically attempted to decrease my consumption this year because I like to mix things around a little. So far, I think I've done a pretty good job of that, but I couldn't stay away for too long - here's what I watched:
Posted by Mark on October 17, 2010 at 02:25 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
6WH: Link Dump: Other Halloween Movie Marathons
It would seem that I'm not the only one watching lots of horror movies in preparation for Halloween. Here are a few blogs I follow that have been watching tons of movies:
Posted by Mark on October 13, 2010 at 08:02 PM .: link :.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
6WH: Week 4 - Zombies!
The Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon continues with some zombies! I've never actually been that big a fan of zombie movies. Sure there are a few good ones and they have a certain amount of influence within the genre, but there's something that never really connects with me. They're such a blank slate that you can apply almost any sort of sociological message to them, which is one reason we see so many zombie movies. This isn't to say that the sub-genre of zombie movies is worthless though, and I can certainly accept that many people find these movies and their repetitive tropes to be comforting (after all, I'm a self-admitted slasher fan). Indeed, I don't mind the more mindless entries in the sub-genre, it's when pretensions start to run high that I start to waver. Nevertheless, there have always been some zombie movies that I've wanted to see for one reason or another, and below are three:
Posted by Mark on October 10, 2010 at 04:10 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
The Catfish Network
I saw two movies this weekend and it turns out that I'd inadvertently stumbled into a great double-feature. Based on the cryptic but positive comments on the /Filmcast a few weeks ago (not their recent review), I made a mental note to see the movie Catfish. I knew nothing about the movie except that a couple people on the internet found it interesting. In this world of constant film scoops and trailers that spoil the movie, it's pretty rare for me to see a movie without ever having heard of it, so I relish these opportunities.
Also opening this weekend is a movie I knew too much about: The Social Network. Directed by David Fincher with a script by Aaron Sorkin, this was one of the years most hotly anticipated films. The original teaser trailer, featuring a striking cover of Radiohead's "Creep" by a Belgian girls' choir and a quasi-cheesy montage of Facebook clicking, was intriguing, but the expanded trailer that featured actual footage of the film was... not so encouraging. Fincher's track record of the past few years has been a bit spotty. I really liked Zodiac, but it certainly had its problems. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was a bit of a mess, but it was watchable. In both cases, I think my problems were more with the script than with Fincher (though I guess you could say his judgment of what to work on was lacking). So when i saw that Fincher was making a movie about Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook, I was a bit skeptical. The involvement of Aaron Sorkin did pique my interest for a bit, but then I realized that his record over the past few years has also been a bit spotty. The trailers did nothing to help my skepticism... so imagine my surprise when I ended up loving the movie.
It is, of course, a really strange movie. I don't normally care for biopics, but this one gets it exactly right - it focuses on one, well defined episode in someone's life (where most biopicks get bogged down in tangents and don't really have a point). This is a good thing in any case, though perhaps it's even moreso because Zuckerberg is only 26 years old (or perhaps they were forced to limit their scope because he was so young). Anyway, the movie is fantastic. Sorkin's script is crackling with fast-paced, witty dialogue, the actors seem to be able to handle that, Trent Reznor's score is surprisingly well matched, and Fincher ties it all together.
The most interesting thing, though, is that I have no idea how much of it is true. It's not a documentary and I'm positive the story has been simplified and dramatized. Seeing that alone would have been interesting, but seeing it on the same day I saw Catfish was positively serendipitous. You see, Catfish is also about Facebook (after a fashion) and it actually is a documentary. And yet... I have no idea how much of it is true.
I don't want to give anything away with Catfish, so I'm not going to go into too much detail. There is definitely something real about the documentary, but there's also something a little fishy (pun intended!) about it. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter. Even if it was entirely fake (and it's not), it would be a worthwhile story (albeit one with relatively low stakes).
The Social Network tells the story about the founding of Facebook. Catfish depicts one of the interesting effects that Facebook has lead to (though it's not entirely reliant on Facebook)... If you're into movies, it's a great double-feature to take in.
Sunday, October 03, 2010
6WH: Week 3 - Ozploitation!
Last year, I had the good fortune of watching Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!. I love these types of documentaries about a narrow spectrum of movies. Making-of documentaries about a single film tend to get a bit repetitive, but in a movie like Not Quite Hollywood, you can cover dozens of interesting films (in this case, the film covers tons of obscure films from Australia's exploitation film industry). Unfortunately, not a ton of these films are available on DVD/Netflix, but I was able to find several for this week's Halloween movie marathon:
Posted by Mark on October 03, 2010 at 08:01 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
6WH: Slasher Statistics
There are certain RULES that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie. For instance, number one: you can never have sex. BIG NO NO! BIG NO NO! Sex equals death, okay? Number two: you can never drink or do drugs. The sin factor! It's a sin. It's an extension of number one. And number three: never, ever, ever under any circumstances say, "I'll be right back." Because you won't be back. -- Randy (Scream, 1996)The slasher film is an unusual beast. It's often criticized for its lack of originality, simplistic premises, repetitive nature, and strict adherence to formula. Of course, it's often praised for such qualities as well. For fans of the slasher, watching a new film that follows the formula is like eating comfort food.
Ahhh, horror comfort food. Watching an '80s bodycount film, I find, is relaxing. You kinda know what's going to happen and all of the characters act in predictable ways, but that's why it's like putting a sweater on on a chilly day.The funny thing about this is that the so-called formula isn't exactly precise. I've written about genres in general before:
A genre is typically defined as a category of artistic expression marked by a distinctive style, form, or content. However, anyone who is familiar with genre film or literature knows that there are plenty of movies or books that are difficult to categorize. As such, specific genres such as horror, sci-fi, or comedy are actually quite inclusive. Some genres, Drama in particular, are incredibly broad and are often accompanied by the conventions of other genres (we call such pieces "cross-genre," though I think you could argue that almost everything incorporates "Drama"). The point here is that there is often a blurry line between what constitutes one genre from another.As such, it's usually easy to spot a Slasher flick, even if there are lots of traits that are uncommon or unique. That being said, there are a number of characteristics common to a lot of slasher films:
So to me, the "true" slasher film was made between the years of 1978 and 1996, with the primary concentration being in the early 80s. Sure, there were a ton of influential films made before 1978 that featured or established important tropes, but none of those films even approached the success of Halloween and it's imitators. Similarly, films made after Scream were forced to acknowledge the tropes and conventions of the sub-genre, and thus they shouldn't really count.
In 1992, Carol Clover coined the term Final Girl to describe the lone surviving character at the end of slasher films, and a new controversy was born. Because of its seemingly rigid conventions, the slasher film is ripe for post-modern interpretations and deconstructions, and it's easy to get carried away with such things. Clover started a more academic discussion of the sub-genre, and it's continued for the past 18 years. The discussion has mostly revolved around the role of women in these films, with the general contention being that more women are killed than men, and in a more graphic way. There have been papers arguing one way or the other, and as you might expect, none are particularly definitive.
Which brings me to a relatively recent scholarly article, Sex and Violence in the Slasher Horror Film: A Content Analysis of Gender Differences in the Depiction of Violence (.pdf). Published in 2009, the article summarizes the existing arguments and, more notably, attempts to do a pretty thorough quantitative analysis of 50 slasher films.
The article is detailed and thorough enough that it would be of interest to any fans of the genre, even if it's possible to nitpick a number of details in their methodology. Given what I wrote about above, I think you can see where my nitpicking was focused. In particular, I was baffled by the film sample list (see page 11).
Earlier in the article, the authors discuss previous efforts, and dismiss them for various reasons. One of the previous articles is criticized for a small sample size - which is a pretty legitimate criticism. Another is criticized because it selected films by commercial success:
The sample size in the Molitor and Sapolsky (1993) study is adequate; however the decision to sample the most commercially successful films may raise problems with sample bias and interpretation of the findings (Molitor & Sapolsky, 1993; Sapolsky et al., 2003). Films featuring frequent presentations of extremely graphic violence may appeal to a smaller audience, generating lower box office revenues. Thus, the findings in the existing research may not reflect the true nature of violent presentations characteristic of the slasher subgenre.This I find less valid, especially given the author's concerns surrounding the impact of slasher films on society. If a film is not commercially successful, it is less influential, almost by definition.
All that being said, the authors came up with a new methodology which involved using IMDB's power search capabilities. To my mind, their new methodology is probably just as problematic as previous studies. Their definition of the slasher sub-genre seems a bit broad, and as such, some of the films chosen as part of their study are questionable at best. For one thing, they include several pre-Halloween films and several post-Scream films, which dilutes the sample. Indeed, some of the films are arguably not even slashers. For instance, the inclusion of two Saw films seems like a bit of a stretch. It is true that Saw leverages some similar tropes, but it's also one of the defining films in a different sub-genre - the "Torture Porn" film. Perhaps I'm splitting hairs, but I can't imagine anyone jumping to Saw when asked to think of a slasher film.
The lack of any sort of measurement of influence is another issue. This is a more general problem, but it impacts this study in particular due to the random nature of the sample collection. For instance, there is no way that a movie like Cherry Falls should be used as a representative member of the slasher sub-genre. A study that focuses on commercial success of a film (i.e. box office and home video sales) would never have included that film.
Ultimately, these complaints amount to nitpicks. Even with these flaws, some of the study's conclusions are still interesting:
Contrary to the findings reported in previous research, the current analysis suggests that there are several differences in the nature of violent presentations involving male and female characters. Male characters in slasher horror films are more likely to experience relatively quick, graphic, and serious acts of violence. Comparatively, female characters are more likely to be victims of less serious and less graphic forms of violence, such as stalking or confinement, with increased cinematic focus on depicting close-up states of prolonged terror. Women in slasher films are also more likely to be featured in scenes involving sexual content. Specifically, female characters are far more likely to be featured as partially or fully naked and, when sexual and violent images are concomitantly present, the film’s antagonist is significantly more likely to attack a woman.This is ultimately not all that surprising, though I do wonder about a few things. For instance, since the Final Girl is a common convention, and since the final battle with the killer is likely to last a lot longer than earlier murders, it would make sense that the violence against women characters is less serious, but prolonged. I suppose one could also argue about the inclusion of non-physical violence as violence, which could get a bit hairy. The stats surrounding nudity and sex are also interesting, though I wonder how they would compare against other film genres (action films, for instance). The study presents the slasher as some sort of outlier, but I don't know if that's the case (not that it would excuse anything). I don't know that any of these correlations can be tied to a causation, but it's interesting nonetheless.
It's an interesting article, and well worth a read for anyone interested in the sub-genre. Thanks to And Now the Screaming Starts for the pointer and stay tuned for the next installment of the Six Weeks of Halloween movie marathon. That's all for now, but don't worry, I'll be right back!
1 I'm particularly fascinated by pre-slasher films, of which there are many. Psycho, Peeping Tom, Blood and Black Lace (and other Giallos), Twitch of the Death Nerve (aka Bay of Blood), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Black Christmas, Silent Night, Bloody Night, Alice Sweet Alice, The Hills Have Eyes, and so on. Even some older films nor normally associated with slashers presage the idea, like Thirteen Women or And Then There Were None.
2 In particular, April Fool's Day and Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI, both released in 1986, began to recognize the conventions of the genre and started the self-awareness trend that would culminate in Craven's Scream. There are probably lots of other good slashers made during this 1986-1996 corridor, but the slasher film was seriously on the decline at that point.
3 It might be a bit insulting to Film Noir, but there are some parallels here. Critics basically defined the film noir after the fact and once that definition became popular, all new films that featured noir-like characteristics became known as neo-noir. Of course, this is not a perfect parallel, but there is a similarity here. Once people self-consciously started making noir films, they lost a certain quality, and the same is probably true for the slasher, and in particular, films like Scream and those that followed.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
6WH: Week 2 - Sixties Horror
At first, I didn't think I'd have a recognizable theme this week, but then I realized that these three films were all made in the 1960s (even though one is probably more of a thriller than a horror film, I'm going to let it slide, especially since it does feature several horror hallmarks). So here we go:
Update: Yeah, I should probably mention some other folks doing some horror movie blogging as well. Ben has been infected by my efforts and inspired to watch some horror in preparation for the season (this time, he's going for underwater horror), and of course, kernunrex continues his yearly marathon (which had originally inspired me in the first place). I haven't looked around a ton, but I'm sure lots more folks will be starting up once we reach October...
Posted by Mark on September 26, 2010 at 10:00 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Professor David Huxley's Laborious, Licentious Spotted-Leopard Labor Day Film Quiz
I'm a few weeks late to the party, but Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another movie quiz. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, and Professor Severus Snape are also available... But now, here are my answers to Professor Huxley:
1) Classic film you most want to experience that has so far eluded you.
The last film quiz had a similar question... and sadly, I still have not watched The Apartment. I don't really have a good excuse for this one either.
2) Greatest Criterion DVD/Blu-ray release ever
This is a difficult question, seeing as though I've probably only seen somewhere around 10% of the movies in the Criterion Collection (and many of the ones I have seen haven't necessarily been the Criterion version), but the first thing that came to mind was the Ultimate Three-Disc Special Edition Box Set of Brazil. I think a big part of this is that, at the time, Criterion was the only company putting out DVD releases this thorough, and this one blew me away. It featured two versions of the film - Gilliam's directors cut and the "Love Conquers All" version - and an exhaustive series of special features chronicling the film's production and the studio meddling with the US release that ultimately lead to the creation of a new version of the film that had a happy ending. This sort of treatment isn't that unusual today, but back then, it was, and it was all the more notable because it was created in service of a relatively obscure cult film.
3) The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon?
I had to rub my eyes for a second because these questions asking us to pick between two movies (or actors/actresses) usually feature at least one option that I'm not at all familiar with. In this case, I've actually seen both films (it's been a few years, but I've definitely seen both)... yet I'm still having trouble picking. For now, I'll say The Big Sleep, though it's not like I have anything against The Maltese Falcon.
4) Jason Bateman or Paul Rudd?
Wow, two in a row where I know what you're asking about. It's another tough one, but for now I'll have to go with Paul Rudd, though Bateman has been coming on strong lately.
5) Best mother/child (male or female) movie star combo
The only thing I could really come up with here is Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis, which appears to be a pretty common (i.e. boring) answer to this question...
6) Who are the Robert Mitchums and Ida Lupinos among working movie actors? Do modern parallels to such masculine and no-nonsense feminine stars even exist? If not, why not?
I'm at a bit of a loss here. I'm no expert on his filmography, but it's not like Mitchum was surrounded by contemporaries who did what he did, and I can't really think of anyone working today that comes close either. The closest I can come is Clint Eastwood, but he's still quite a bit different (interestingly, I was wondering the other day if any younger actors could fill Eastwood's type of role these days?). I have to admit that I'm not at all familiar with Ida Lupino, but when it comes to no-nonsense actresses, someone in the comments of the SLIFR thread mentioned Christina Hendricks. I guess that's cheating, though, as she's more of a TV star. No-nonsense characters seem to be less common these days though, so perhaps that could account for the lack of actors taking on that sort of role (or being type-cast as that sort of character).
7) Favorite Preston Sturges movie
The Lady Eve (these questions are easy when you've only seen one film in a director's filmography!).
8) Odette Yustman or Mary Elizabeth Winstead?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as she's been in a lot of decent movies already (and not so decent movies that I don't really mind). The most notably thing Odette Yustman has been in for me is Fallout 3, where she did voice acting for the Overseer's daughter (she shot me down).
9) Is there a movie that if you found out a partner or love interest loved (or didn't love) would qualify as a Relationship Deal Breaker?
I always find stories about this amusing, but I can't think of a single film that would ever provoke this kind of reaction in me. Perhaps if I hated every film she liked, there might be a problem, but in that case, I suspect it would really just be symptomatic of deeper problems.
10) Favorite DVD commentary
The tricky part about commentaries is that the best commentaries are usually done for bad movies. There's no pressure to defend poor choices or mistakes, and thus the filmmakers tend to be a little more comfortable and honest about the production. The biggest problem with this is that you actually have to watch bad movies in order to get to these types of commentaries. For instance, I've heard that Joel Schumacher's commentary for Batman & Robin is fantastic because he doesn't really hold back and openly admits mistakes and problems with the production. I have not heard the entire commentary, but I saw a clip once where he admitted to redesigning the batmobile in order to sell more toys (or some such). That's not my answer though - my pick would be Kevin Smith's (and the rest of the cast's) commentary on Mallrats. All of Smith's commentaries are entertaining, but the failure of this movie at the box office adds that extra dimension that can make a commentary great. You get lots of moments between friends, like when Smith and others berate Affleck for liking Malcolm in the Middle, but you also get stories about how the marketing failed the movie and how studio execs convinced Smith to tone down some of his more raunchy humor. It's excellent stuff. (I'd love to see a commentary on Zack and Miri Make a Porno, but Smith was apparently so distraught at some of the behind the scenes wranglings that he didn't want to do one - hopefully once he gets some time and movies behind him, he can revisit this...)
11) Movies most recently seen on DVD, Blu-ray and theatrically
On DVD, it was Don't Torture a Duckling, Lucio Fulci's disturbing Giallo (part of my 6WH horror movie marathon). It was a decent film with a few standout sequences, but it doesn't really compare to the top tier of Giallos.
On Blu-Ray, it was Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, a self-aware, neo-slasher mock-documentary. It features some interesting components and puts a name to the many conventions of the genre, though the only really new terminology that's coined is the concept of an "Ahab" (basically, in the context of slashers, the primary example of an Ahab would be Dr. Loomis from the Halloween films). Ultimately it's not a great film, but it was an entertaining enough watch.
In theaters, it was The Town, Ben Affleck's surprisingly strong sophomore effort as director. It's not going to win awards like Gone Baby Gone, but it's still a solid film. I wish more films like this were made and I'd be more than happy if Affleck spent the rest of his career putting out little crime thrillers set in Boston.
12) Dirk Bogarde or Alan Bates?
Ah, there we go! I'm not especially familiar with either of these actors, but I guess I'd give it to Alan Bates, as I've actually seen a few of his movies.
13) Favorite DVD extra
Well, I've already given two of my favorite examples (the Behind the Scenes documentaries about Brazil and the Love Conquers All version of the film, and Kevin Smith's commentary for Mallrats...) so I'm having trouble picking another favorite. Kevin Smith does have some other great special features, like the (seemingly) 2 hours of deleted scenes (with introductions) from Dogma. There are some interesting making-of documentaries on my copy of The Terminator and The Thing. Alien and Aliens also have pretty good special features. But now we're just getting into movies I like! Someone in the comments at SLIFR mentioned the Fruity Oaty Bars feature from Serenity, which I find funny (both because it warranted a special feature on the DVD and because someone actually picked it as their favorite extra). In a more general sense, my favorite extra feature is a commentary track (especially if done well!)
14) Brian De Palma’s Scarface— yes or no?
Yes. Though I certainly don't get the absolute worship the film receives, it is a reasonably well done movie.
15) Best comic moment from a horror film that is not a horror comedy (Young Frankenstein, Love At First Bite, et al.)
The answer here is obviously from Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI. I'll chose the title sequence where the camera zooms into Jason's eye, where you then see Jason sashay accross the screen, James Bond style, and swing his trusty machete, filling the screen with blood that eventually spells out the title. I laughed for a solid ten minutes when I revisited the film recently, not remembering that this film was so self-aware. There are several other choices in the film, such as a couple's attempt to bribe Jason with an American Express card, the fact that one of the children in the camp is reading Jean Paul Sartre's No Exit, and the way Jason holds a dismembered arm and cocks his head, as if thinking "Huh, his arm came off. Will wonders never cease." I suppose you could make an argument that this movie is a horror comedy, but most of the film retains the typical, earnest slasher movie style, so I think it counts (and there are a few legitimately creepifying moments, though maybe that's just nostalgic remnants of my childhood poking through). There are actually a bunch of other movies I considered for this, including Evil Dead 2, Dead Alive, Re-Animator, Tremors, and An American Werewolf in London (though again, you might consider at least some of those to be horror/comedies)...
16) Jane Birkin or Edwige Fenech?
I got nothing.
17) Favorite Wong Kar-wai movie
I have to admit that I'm not a particularly huge Wong Kar-wai fan, so I've not seen a lot of his films. Of the ones I've seen, I'd say In the Mood for Love, which does have a legitimately interesting premise.
18) Best horrific moment from a comedy that is not a horror comedy
This one was a lot harder than question 15... Does Raising Arizona count as a comedy? I remember finding The Lone Biker of the Apocalypse a bit creepy when I was younger... I guess another option would be the end of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
19) From 2010, a specific example of what movies are doing right
I loved Inception and hope its success augurs for more of the same. Even if it's just a few new movies that are not based on existing properties, I think that'd be a win. I'm not tremendously confident of that, but it'd be nice. Another thing that seems to be going well is the concept of digital distribution. I've caught a few movies on IFC On Demand, which means that I can watch some of those hard to find movies without even leaving home (even if it's playing in Philly, this means I can avoid the traffic and the parking, etc...)
20) Ryan Reynolds or Chris Evans?
Hey, two more people I know. This must be a record. Anyway, I guess I'd probably go with Chris Evans, as he seems to make more interesting choices.
21) Speculate about the future of online film writing. What’s next?
I'm not sure. Everything seems to be getting smaller. Perhaps film critics who post exclusively on twitter or some other sort of micro-blogging format. Or the other direction: the return of long-form film criticism. Ultimately, I don't think much will change. Old school outlets and criticism will continue to lose ground to the seemingly endless throngs of online critics who work for peanuts (if that).
22) Roger Livesey or David Farrar?
Filmspotting has been doing a Powell-Pressburger marathon, and so they've been talking about these two guys... but I haven't seen either of them, so I can't really pick.
23) Best father/child (male or female) movie star combo
The first that comes to mind is Kirk and Michael Douglas, which I guess is a boring answer, but the only others I can think of are also boring. Given my answer to the mother/child question, I suppose I could also go with Tony Curtis and Jamie Lee Curtis, just for the sake of symmetry.
24) Favorite Freddie Francis movie (as Director)
Not tremendously familiar with his work, but I guess I'll go with Tales from the Crypt. He seems to have a more impressive resume as a cinematographer than as a director.
25) Bringing Up Baby or The Awful Truth?
Seeing as though I've only seen one of these, I've got Bringing Up Baby by default.
26) Tina Fey or Kristen Wiig?
I guess I'll go with Tina Fey on this one, though I do really like both (Wiig, for instance, was the best part of Knocked Up, and she was only in it for about a minute or so).
27) Name a stylistically important director and the best film that would have never been made without his/her influence.
What started with John Ford westerns moved to Akira Kurosawa samurai films and then back to the westerns with Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood. If I have to pick my favorite spaghetti western, it would be The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but the entire sub-genre owes a debt to what came before.
28) Movie you’d most enjoy seeing remade and transplanted to a different culture (i.e. Yimou Zhang’s A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop.)
I was going to think of an answer for this, but then I saw Patrick's answer at SLIFR: "I'd love to see what Hayao Miyazaki would do with the Wizard of Oz."
29) Link to a picture/frame grab of a movie image that for you best illustrates bliss. Elaborate.
I had a surprisingly hard time with this. The first shot that came to mind was the end of It's a Wonderful Life. On the other end of the spectrum, I also thought about the end of Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, but again, I couldn't get a good screenshot of that (and I suspect that Capra's visual talent outweighs that of Danny Leiner).
I stink at these, but here are a few: Star Embargos, Inglorious Bastards, The Texas Chainsaw Picnic, Reservoir Puppies, Eyes Wide Open , and hmm, if I had to choose a favorite, it would be the Texas Chainsaw one.
And I think that about covers it. See you on Sunday with some 60s horror.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Six Weeks of Halloween 2009: Week 1 - Giallo Films
Halloweentime is my favorite time of the year, and like kernunrex, I celebrate the season by watching a ton of horror movies, eating bite-sized candy, drinking pumpkin flavored beer, and playfully decorating my home with (fake) corpses and mutilated pumpkins. I've got Netflix queue full of movies and only 6 weeks to get through them all, but if you have any suggestions, feel free to leave a comment or play along!
I'm starting this year with a distinctive Italian sub-genre known as the Giallo. The word "giallo" means "yellow" in Italian, and the sub-genre takes that name because of the distinctive yellow backgrounds on a series of pulpy, Italian crime/mystery novels.
Tuesday, September 07, 2010
Deep Thoughs on Piranha 3D
Piranha is not a good movie, but it is just about exactly what you'd expect and thus, it can be a lot of fun if you go into it with the right mindset. It's one of those movies (like Snakes on a Plane) where movie reviews and ratings won't really sway an audience. This is a movie where tons of ferocious fish chow down on a bunch of obnoxious kids celebrating Spring Break. That either interests you, or it doesn't. Either way, I don't think anyone expects it to be good, and it's not. So this isn't really a review, but I had some assorted thoughts I'd like to share.
Posted by Mark on September 07, 2010 at 01:29 AM .: link :.
Sunday, September 05, 2010
Another edition of Tasting Notes, a series of quick hits on a variety of topics that don't really warrant a full post. So here's what I've been watching/playing/reading/drinking lately:
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
An earlier post on Ti West's excellent The House of the Devil lead the cryptic emailer mentioned in that post to recommend West's previous film, the ultra-low-budget Trigger Man. It's an interesting little film, mostly because it is essentially a concentrated version of what some people really hated about The House of the Devil.
Like, House of the Devil, the plot of this film is easily summarized: three buddies head out to the woods for a relaxing hunting trip. With a title like Trigger Man and three apparently inexperienced young guys with guns, it played out almost exactly as I expected. But not right away.
I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that the deer does not shoot back at our hero, but there's no way that sequence would have carried the weight it did if we hadn't spent the previous 20 minutes trudging silently through the landscape, building atmosphere with every step. As someone who has been deer hunting myself, this movie actually does capture that sort of excitement that can only come after spending a morning waiting for something (anything!) to cross your path. After a while, even a squirrel can be exciting.
Of course, that's not all this film has to offer, and while I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen, I did find myself startled when it actually did happen. From that point on, I found myself surprisingly off balance, even when West reverts the film back into quiet nature walk mode (only to jolt me out of my reestablished reverie, I should add). There is even that horror staple of gratuitous gore at one point, but that sort of thing works much better in a movie like this than it does in a lot of other schlock-fests (though I do have a soft spot for slashers, for some unfathomable reason). Later in the film, an eerie abandoned factory makes an appearance, and West takes ample advantage of the strange shadows thrown by overpasses.
This is pretty clearly a low-budget film, and at times I did find myself wondering if the stylistic choices were done for artistic reasons, or because of technical limitations (or, as is sometimes happily the case, both). For instance, the film does have a distinct vérité feel. West never goes all Greengrass on us, but a handheld camera is clearly used for most of the shots. This does sorta put the viewer in the position of voyeur, as if if we're actually there, following the characters with a camera (but without the whole found-footage conceit). Indeed, there are numerous shots from behind, following characters as they move. I would be curious what choices West would have made if he had more of a budget.
The DVD had a Q&A session with West, cast, and crew, and one of the things that really surprised me was that he says almost none of the film is improvised. The film only has about 20 lines of dialogue, and most of it is pretty simple banter between the three leads (I thought for sure that the Predator reference was an improvisation). After finishing the movie, I contemplated whether it would have made for a good silent film (the concept of a modern-day silent film intrigues me) - and I think it would, so long as you could leave the sound of gunshots and maybe the babbling water of the creek.
Ultimately, while I enjoyed the film and found it satisfying, I would have a hard time recommending it to anyone but the most strident fans of West or slow burning horror (i.e. people who think The House of the Devil is for speed junkies). Perhaps being immersed in the hustle and bustle of teh internets primed me for spending some down time following some doomed hunters as they trekked through an eerie environment. I guess it's not a film I see myself popping in all the time... It's a wonderful experiment, and I enjoyed it on that level, but it certainly has its flaws. In any case, I guess this means I should check out The Roost (which, I have to say, seems like it would be very different from the other two West movies I've seen).
Sunday, August 01, 2010
Groundhog Day and A/B Testing
Jeff Atwood recently made a fascinating observation about the similarities between the classic film Groundhog Day and A/B Testing.
In case you've only recently emerged from a hermit-like existence, Groundhog Day is a film about Phil (played by Bill Murray). It seems that Phil has been doomed (or is it blessed) to live the same day over and over again. It doesn't seem to matter what he does during this day, he always wakes up at 6 am on Groundhog Day. In the film, we see the same day repeated over and over again, but only in bits and pieces (usually skipping repetitive parts). The director of the film, Harold Ramis, believes that by the end of the film, Phil has spent the equivalent of about 30 or 40 years reliving that same day.
Towards the beginning of the film, Phil does a lot of experimentation, and Atwood's observation is that this often takes the form of an A/B test. This is a concept that is perhaps a little more esoteric, but the principles are easy. Let's take a simple example from the world of retail. You want to sell a new ring on a website. What should the main image look like? For simplification purposes, let's say you narrow it down to two different concepts: one, a closeup of the ring all by itself, and the other a shot of a model wearing the ring. Which image do you use? We could speculate on the subject for hours and even rationalize some pretty convincing arguments one way or the other, but it's ultimately not up to us - in retail, it's all about the customer. You could "test" the concept in a serial fashion, but ultimately the two sets of results would not be comparable. The ring is new, so whichever image is used first would get an unfair advantage, and so on. The solution is to show both images during the same timeframe. You do this by splitting your visitors into two segments (A and B), showing each segment a different version of the image, and then tracking the results. If the two images do, in fact, cause different outcomes, and if you get enough people to look at the images, it should come out in the data.
This is what Phil does in Groundhog Day. For instance, Phil falls in love with Rita (played by Andie MacDowell) and spends what seems like months compiling lists of what she likes and doesn't like, so that he can construct the perfect relationship with her.
Phil doesn't just go on one date with Rita, he goes on thousands of dates. During each date, he makes note of what she likes and responds to, and drops everything she doesn't. At the end he arrives at -- quite literally -- the perfect date. Everything that happens is the most ideal, most desirable version of all possible outcomes on that date on that particular day. Such are the luxuries afforded to a man repeating the same day forever.As Atwood notes, the interesting thing about this process is that even once Phil has constructed that perfect date, Rita still rejects Phil. From this example and presumably from experience with A/B testing, Atwood concludes that A/B testing is empty and that subjects can often sense a lack of sincerity behind the A/B test.
It's an interesting point, but to be sure, I'm not sure it's entirely applicable in all situations. Of course, Atwood admits that A/B testing is good at smoothing out details, but there's something more at work in Groundhog's Day that Atwood is not mentioning. Namely, that Phil is using A/B testing to misrepresent himself as the ideal mate for Rita. Yes, he's done the experimentation to figure out what "works" and what doesn't, but his initial testing was ultimately shallow. Rita didn't reject him because he had all the right answers, she rejected him because he was attempting to deceive her. His was misrepresenting himself, and that certainly can lead to a feeling of emptiness.
If you look back at my example above about the ring being sold on a retail website, you'll note that there's no deception going on there. Somehow I doubt either image would result in a hollow feeling by the customer. Why is this different than Groundhog Day? Because neither image misrepresents the product, and one would assume that the website is pretty clear about the fact that you can buy things there. Of course, there are a million different variables you could test (especially once you get into text and marketing hooks, etc...) and some of those could be more deceptive than others, but most of the time, deception is not the goal. There is a simple choice to be made, instead of constantly wondering about your product image and second guessing yourself, why not A/B test it and see what customers like better?
There are tons of limitations to this approach, but I don't think it's as inherently flawed as Atwood seems to believe. Still, the data you get out of an A/B test isn't always conclusive and even if it is, whatever learnings you get out of it aren't necessarily applicable in all situations. For instance, what works for our new ring can't necessarily be applied to all new rings (this is a problem for me, as my employer has a high turnover rate for products - as such, the simple example of the ring as described above would not be a good test for my company unless the ring would be available for a very long time). Furthermore, while you can sometimes pick a winner, it's not always clear why it's a winner. This is especially the case when the differences between A and B are significant (for instance, testing an entirely redesigned page might yield results, but you will not know which of the changes to the page actually caused said results - on the other hand, A/B testing is really the only way to accurately calculate ROI on significant changes like that.)
Obviously these limitations should be taken into account when conducting an A/B test, and I think what Phil runs into in Groundhog's Day is a lack of conclusive data. One of the problems with interpreting inconclusive data is that it can be very tempting to rationalize the data. Phils initial attempts to craft the perfect date for Rita fail because he's really only scraping the surface of her needs and desires. In other words, he's testing the wrong thing, misunderstanding the data, and thus getting inconclusive results.
The interesting thing about the Groundhog's Day example is that, in the end, the movie is not a condemnation of A/B testing at all. Phil ultimately does manage to win the affections of Rita. Of course it took him decades to do so, and that's worth taking into account. Perhaps what the film is really saying is that A/B testing is often more complicated than it seems and that the only results you get depend on what you put into it. A/B testing is not the easy answer it's often portrayed as and it should not be the only tool in your toolbox (i.e. forcing employees to prove that using 3, 4 or 5 pixels for a border is ideal is probably going a bit too far ), but neither is it as empty as Atwood seems to be indicating. (And we didn't even talk about multivariate tests! Let's get Christopher Nolan on that. He'd be great at that sort of movie, wouldn't he?)
Sunday, July 25, 2010
The House of the Devil
This month's selection for the Final Girl film club is Ti West's 80s throwback horror film, The House of the Devil.
When I was growing up, there was a local legend about a building known as Satan's House (also known as the Cult house, the Devil's house, and probably a dozen other variants). Located in Southeastern PA, not that far from Delaware, the house sits at the top of a hill, and the road that winds around the hill is probably the creepiest part of the whole experience. The windy road is narrow and lined with trees. This alone would not be cause for alarm, but it seems that all of the trees... instead of growing up towards the sky, they grow horizontally, pointing away from the road (as if trying to escape the unspeakable horror of Satan's house). This isn't the best picture of the road, but it gets the point across: Du Pont family and that various members of the family married their cousins in the house (so as to keep their money within the family), and then used the house to hide away the inbred children (or monsters or whatever).
The funny thing about this is that it's probably just a house, and the trees lining the road probably grow like that because of the way the sunlight hits the area, but the conspiracy theories of Satanism persist even to this day. This sort of irrational fear of Satanism was rampant during the 80s, and director Ti West has latched onto that idea and created a remarkably authentic 80s-style horror movie featuring shifty families, satanic rituals and a creepy house. The film even starts with a cheesy text opening informing the audience that in the 1980s, over 70% of Americans believed in abusive Satanic cults and that another 30% rationalized the lack of evidence due to government cover-ups... Plus, it's based on a true story! Not sure if it actually is or if West is pulling a Fargo, but it doesn't really matter, does it?
The basic premise of the story is that a college student in need of some quick cash agrees to take a babysitting job at said creepy house. And that's pretty much it. However, writer/director West manages to wring a lot of tension out of this simple and seemingly overused premise.
I first saw this movie earlier this year, when I was still attempting to fill out my Top 10 of 2009. At the time, I was comparing it to another haunted house movie, Paranormal Activity. There are some superficial similarities here: both movies feature quasi-haunted houses, they both have something of a gimmick at their core (one a "found footage" film, the other imitating 80s conventions), and they're both pretty scary. However, The House of the Devil is made with more artistry and in a more unconventional manner. It's a masterpiece of misdirection and tension building. Unlike the repeated tense and release of Paranormal Activity, The House of the Devil opts to continually build tension while withholding release until the end. This is an interesting approach and the foreboding atmosphere of dread is hard to shake. Of course, from the title of the film alone, you know where it's heading, and aside from one moment early on in the film, it mostly proceeds along an expected path.
The other film this reminds me of is Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. Both films are an ode to underappreciated grindhouse genre films, albeit films of a different era and genre. Tarantino is going for the great car films of 70s with a little horror mixed in for good measure. West is going for those 80s horror movies where irrational fear of satanism was rampant. I think both films are hugely successful at evoking the feeling of their respective genres, but I think the one major problem with this approach is that these new films suffer from the same major flaws as the films they're imitating. In particular, the pacing is very slow and the characters tend to act pretty stupidly... For film nerds like myself, this isn't really much of a drawback, but it does tend to limit the appeal to more mainstream audiences. It's strange though, because these flaws are so obviously and lovingly reproduced in exquisite detail and with a lot of artistry. Indeed, getting that cheap, grainy filmstock look probably cost way more than doing it "properly" would.
That being said, once things begin to happen, the pace picks up and it's very engrossing stuff. I'm still not sure if it would crack my top 10 of 2009, but I will say that I'll be very interested in what Ti West decides to do next (apparently another haunted house style story). As usual, more screenshots and comments in the extended entry...
Update 7.26.10: Stacie has just posted her review and links to all the other Film Club Coolies (y'all!). I'm also informed via cryptic second-hand email that Ti West has seen my review and that he said the creepy trees in the photo above are just 10 minutes away from where he grew up, which is pretty awesome. I suppose I should mention that the below screenshots do contain some Spoilers, so proceed at your own risk. The Signal. He doesn't have as much to do in this movie, but he's still great here (and responsible for one of the best moments in the film).
And that about wraps it up.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Inception's Sense of Wonder
One of the things that really differentiates science fiction from other genres is the emotional thrill derived from expanding your awareness of what's possible. This doesn't always constitute a complete understanding of the universe around you, just a dawning realization that there's more to the story than you've thought (sometimes this can take the form of contemplating the incomprehensible or even just realizing what you don't know). This feeling is referred to as a "Sense of Wonder" (often abbreviated as sensawunda) and while a large portion of science fiction literature manages to evoke such emotions, SF cinema rarely even approaches the same accomplishments. There are some exceptions, of course, but for the most part, SF movies settle for gigantic spaceships and thunderous explosions and whatnot.
The opening shots of the original Star Wars provides us with a typical cinematic example. The camera pans across a sea of stars. You see a spaceship move across the screen. This imparts a frame of reference for the universe of the movie. Then a much larger spaceship (indeed, it doesn't seem like it will end) move across the screen in pursuit of the original. The frame of reference established by the original spaceship is thus immediately revised in light of this new data. Part of this revision is, no doubt, the expectation that the Star Destroyer will probably be dwarfed by something else (and later in the film it is, by the Death Star). This short sequence actually encapsulates a ton of information: the rebels are small and poorly equipped, the empire is large and powerful. The way the ships are framed on screen also underlines the empire's power over the rebels. And so on.
The realization of the scale and size of the empire is a very small example of sensawunda. And most films don't even contain that much (indeed, the really mind expanding things about Star Wars aren't really SF so much as they are mystical, but that's probably another discussion). There are analogs to this concept in other genres, most notably the horror genre, but the emotions are distinct (the emotion evoked in horror as you realize the scope of the conflict is fear, tension or suspense, rather than the awe or wonder of SF).
Christopher Nolan's new film, Inception, is one of the few films in recent years to actually even attempt to impart a sensawunda, and for that alone, it should be applauded. The interesting thing about Inception is that it manages to impart that sensawunda feeling without relying too heavily on precise explanations of the technology involved. Indeed, I don't think the movie would fare too well if judged solely on the basis of realism.
However, despite this lack of precise technological detail, the film does manage to evoke the sensawunda feeling by devising a set of rules and limitations, then playing around within that box to consistently expand possibilities and sometimes even surprise the viewer. The key catalyst for sensawunda here is that all of the various twists and turns in the story are all internally consistent and logical extensions of what has already been established.
I don't want to go into too much detail right now simply because I don't want to spoil the movie, but things do get pretty complicated and Nolan does manage to ratchet up the stakes considerably more than I had initially expected. There are some concepts or details that I must admit that I'm not entirely clear on, but even in those situations I have a gut feeling that everything does fit.
The critical reception seems to be very positive, though there have been a few high profile dissenters, notably David Edelstein and Jim Emerson. Edelstein writes:
Inception is full of brontosaurean effects, like the city that folds over on top of itself, but the tone is so solemn I felt out of line even cracking a smile. It lacks the nimbleness of Spielberg’s Minority Report or the Jungian-carnival bravado of Joseph Ruben’s Dreamscape or the eerily clean lines and stylized black-suited baddies of The Matrix—or, for that matter, the off-kilter intensity of Nolan’s own Insomnia. The attackers in Inception are anonymous, the tone flat and impersonal. Nolan is too literal-minded, too caught up in ticktock logistics, to make a great, untethered dream movie.(emphasis mine) I found that last line the most representative of complaints with the movie. Emerson's main complaint, that the dreams in the movie don't seem to be very dreamlike, is instructive, because from what appears on screen, Nolan is clearly not even attempting to make an "untethered dream movie". I think it's funny that Edelstein also throws out a number of other movies, none of which I like better than Inception. I do really enjoy Minority Report, but I don't think it captures that mind expanding sensawunda feeling anywhere near as well as Inception does. If you have a lot of problems with Inception, I really have a hard time believing that you'd think that Dreamscape was a better movie. There is some similarity in basic premise, but I think "Jungian-carnival bravado" is far too much praise for that film (which is an enjoyable enough movie, but also kinda silly and overblown in the way a lot of 80s movies were). The Matrix is the only film on the list that I think gives Inception a run for its money. Both films are derivative in the extreme, though I got a fresher feeling from Inception than The Matrix. On the other hand, The Matrix clearly outclasses Inception when it comes to action. In any case, I don't think any of those films should preclude anyone from seeing Inception.
Emerson also seems to hate Nolan's visual style, but to my mind, Nolan is much more distinctive as a writer than he is as a director. It's not the visual style of movies like Inception or Nolan's true masterpiece, Memento, that strikes audiences - it's the way Nolan plays with narrative and time that really differentiates him. This is more a function of the writing and editing than anything else, and even Edelstein admits that Nolan "thinks like a mechanical engineer" when it comes to his scripting (and this is a good thing). The editing in Inception is certainly worth praising here. Though perhaps not as extensive or bombastic as the eding in Memento, there's a real challenge here and editor Lee Smith deserves a lot of credit for whatever degree of suspense you feel as the film reaches its climax.
Nolan also seems to do a great job combining various genres and then putting a new twist on them. For instance, Inception contains elements of action films, heist and con movies, and of course, science fiction. Elements from each genre are mixed and matched in a way that hasn't really been done before (at least, not with respect to the layered "ticktock logistics" of the plot). This isn't a straightforward version of any of those genres, nor is it a simple combination.
The performances are all pretty good, though I think the real standout is Tom Hardy (of Bronson fame), who just devours the screen. Longtime Kaedrin friend Sovawanea pointed out one of the refreshing aspects of the film: "I found it rather refreshing that they didn't try to contrive a romance in the middle of the mission between Ellen Page and the rest of the guys." There's another element of the characters that I found really refreshing, but I don't want to say it because it might spoil the movie.
This has been a slow year for movies, but between Inception and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, things are at least looking up a bit, and both will most likely find their way onto my top 10 list at the end of the year.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
So Nick from CHUD recently revived the idea of a "Tasting Notes..." post that features a bunch of disconnected, scattershot notes on a variety of topics that don't really warrant a full post. It sounds like fun, so here are a few tasting notes...
Sunday, July 11, 2010
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Who Also Played With Fire)
Stieg Larsson was a Swedish journalist who wrote novels in his spare time. Shortly before his death in 2004, he began talks with a publisher, and his completed novels were published posthumously. These novels have met with tremendous success, selling more than 27 million copies in over 40 countries. In 2009, three Swedish films based on Larsson's novels were released in Scandinavia. Though American remakes are planned, the original Swedish films are all being released this year... The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was released earlier this year and has just recently come out on DVD (it's also available on Netflix's Watch Instantly service). The Girl Who Played with Fire just came out in theaters this week, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is due to be released in October. Together, the three novels/films are known as the Millennium Trilogy, named after a fictional magazine in the stories. I saw the two currently available films this weekend and was quite impressed.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was originally titled Män som hatar kvinnor, which translates to "Men who hate women", a much more accurate description of the themes of the story. The film opens with a disconnected set of sequences introducing the three main characters. This is probably something that works better in text than it does on screen, though the plot quickly connects the dots and it's not long before you know all the players and what's at stake.
Mikael Blomkvist (played by Michael Nyqvist) is a talented muck-raking journalist (writing for Millennium) who has just lost a libel case in which his sources were found to be fraudulent. He's sentenced to 3 months in jail, but he has 6 months to get his affairs in order. The elderly Henrik Vanger has been getting strange packages in the mail every year, and he believes they're related to a 40 year old missing person case (where his niece disappeared). Finally, there's Lisbeth Salander, an ex-con who works as a security researcher and who has just found out that her current parole officer has had a stroke. His replacement is a sadist pig who uses his position to coerce Lisbeth into providing sexual favors. Vagner hires Blomkvist as a freelance investigator, and Salander eventually joins him in his research.
The way these apparently disconnected threads are pulled together is well done and the film contains a perfect balance between plot and character. Most thrillers lean too far in one direction, but Larsson and those who have adapted his work do an exceptional job here. I suspect lesser writers, when confronted with an engaging character like Lisbeth Salander, would be tempted to make the entire film a character study about her. On the other hand, there's also the temptation to put all the emphasis on the mystery of the girl who disappeared 40 years ago. Again, this film strikes the balance well. We get some excellent character establishment when we find out how Lisbeth handles her new parole officer - a sequence that is not necessary for the thriller plot, but which establishes the character of Lisbeth Salander quite well (there's a thematic parallel between Lisbeth's situation and the mystery though).
Speaking of Lisbeth, her character is probably the most interesting thing about this movie. She's played with an icy intensity by Noomi Rapace in a performance that should probably be up for an Oscar (though I'm doubting it will be). There is something of a paucity of strong female characters in typical Hollywood cinema these days, so this sort of character is a welcome change of pace. Lisbeth is a tortured soul (let's just say that her parole officer wasn't the first man who hated women that she has run accross), but she's battled through it all, though she understandably has some issues with men. For instance, her relationship with the journalist Mikael Blomkvist is an intriguing one and it manages to walk a rather tricky line. Blomkvist is an old school investigator, while Lisbeth relies on modern technology to do her research. This sort of oil-and-water mixture often plays out through bickering clichés, but not in this film. Once the two characters meet, it doesn't take long for their seemingly disparate styles to merge into a comfortable balance. There is a chemistry between the two and while their relationship grows into the sexual realm, it never feels forced or cloying (another commendable avoidance of clichés).
Clocking in at about two and a half hours, the film covers enough ground and paces itself well enough that it doesn't really feel that long. Though we all know there are at least two sequels, the film ends with closure (as opposed to some sort of cliffhanger). In the end, we're left with an exceptional thriller that balances character development and plot in a well-paced fashion. This has been a disappointing year for movies, so to say this film stands out from the pack doesn't really speak to how good it really is. I can almost guarantee it will be at or near the top of my top 10 at the end of the year.
For a sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire is quite good, though I don't think it approaches the first. I think the biggest issue I had was that it fell into the trap mentioned earlier about focusing too much on Lisbeth. Many of the other characters from the first film make an appearance here, and a passable mystery is solved, though it appears that all of them are working from different angles. For instance, Lisbeth and Blomkvist rarely interact throughout the film, which mutes one of the more interesting facets of the original film. The film ultimately manages to pull it off, but again, it's perhaps not quite as expertly crafted as its predecessor. Part of the issue, perhaps, is that I have not yet seen the third installment. While the second film ends with a bit of closure, there are still some loose threads which are apparently tied up in the third film. James Berardinelli draws an interesting comparison:
In a strange way, the structure of The Millennium Trilogy reminds me of the first Star Wars trio. The first movie establishes the characters while providing a largely self-contained story with a few "hooks" that can be used to further the narrative in additional installments. The second and third movies are inextricably wedded and function best when seen as parts of a whole. Installment #2 is darker than its predecessor and ends in a cliffhanger. Admittedly, it might sound like a stretch to compare a Gen-X touchstone space opera to a Swedish mystery thriller series, but I'm referring only to the rhythms of the stories, not the content.Berardinelli also seems to be a little more forgiving of the lack of interaction in this second film and sees it as an equal to the first (if not better). Perhaps I'll feel that way after seeing the third film, but as of right now, I think the first is noticeably better than the second.
In any case, I'm very much looking forward to the forthcoming The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Apparently Larsson was mostly done with a fourth novel and had outlines and story treatments for several others, so there may be even further installments (though with the untimely death of Larsson, one wonders whether proceeding further would be wise).
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Animovie Double Feature
A couple more quick reviews of Anime movies I've seen lately.
Posted by Mark on June 13, 2010 at 06:40 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
This set of charts plotting the ratings of various film franchises is rather interesting. Some of them are just about exactly what you'd expect. For instance, the original Star Wars trilogy is very highly rated, and then if falls off precipitously when the prequels start. From there the series begins to climb again and surprisingly begins to reach the heights of the original trilogy.
There are a number of series that have even more pronounced and steady declines (Jaws, Planet of the Apes). Other series have a more chaotic progression. The even number rule for the Star Trek series is reasonably pronounced, except for part 10 (the reboot is not included, though I imagine it would be higher than the last two). The Indiana Jones series has a similar progression, except it's the odd number movies that are the best. I'm a little surprised at how low Die Hard 2 is in the series (it's at least as good as the other sequels). It's also a bit strange to see the latest Rocky and Rambo installments being so high. Perhaps that's because the source appears to be IMDB, and ratings there tend to favor newer movies for a while (after time, these movies tend to level out to more reasonable ratings). Interestingly, the Lord of the Rings trilogy features the most consistent ratings. There are a lot of series that have solid first and second installments, but the third movie is almost always a big decline.
Of course, the listed series are not comprehensive, so I took a few stabs at the missing series. Here, for instance, is the Friday the 13th series:
I have to admit that I'm a little surprised that parts IV and VI, which seem to be the fan favorites, are as low as they are. Of course, they're pretty high compared to most of the films around them, but still. I expected them to be a bit higher. Also, part 2 and the recent reboot seem extremely overrated. The reboot will most likely come down as time goes on (again, I think newer movies benefit from IMDB's system), but the love for part 2 confuses me. I suppose part 2 does have probably the best final girl in the series (and maybe of all time), but the story is crap and the ending is nigh incomprehensible. And Jason isn't even close to becoming an iconic character in that movie.
More series in the extended entry, including the likes of Halloween, Evil Dead, Dirty Harry, Bourne and more! And so we might as well continue the 80s slasher series, here's Halloween:
Mostly unsurprising. The one major outlier is part 3, which makes sense because that was the one that didn't feature Michael Myers.
This series is surprisingly stable. However, I think that the second one is a bit underrated, while the fourth through sixth might be a bit inflated. Also notable is the seventh installment, which rockets back up near the original. I'm not a big fan of New Nightmare, but it's definitely more interesting than most of the films in the series and the return of Wes Craven translates pretty well to higher ratings...
Another extremely stable series, though the second installment is clearly the best.
A pretty clear and definite decline in the series. Notable in that it's one series that hasn't really had a reboot (not that I want one - totally unnecessary).
Interestingly, this is the only series in this post to feature a third installment that has better ratings than it's predecessors. I have to admit that I'm a bit surprised by that. I really like Bourne Ultimatum but I wouldn't put it as that much better than the previous two installments.
Well, that's all for now. In other news, Flyers lost the Stanley Cup tonight. I'm glad they put up a good fight, but what a terrible goal to lose on... In any case, congrats to Blackhawks fans.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
The Murnau Stare
One of the films I forgot to include in my Greatest Movies I've Never Seen list was Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. It's a 1927 silent film and it features a number of iconic shots - most notably a scene where a woman and man pass through a bustling street (see this clip, about 3:36 in). One of the things I always find interesting about the silent film era is how much of modern cinema is represented, even back then. While technology and budgets have certainly improved, much of the visual language of cinema was coined during the silent era. In particular, Sunrise has a number of impressive tracking shots and the composite special effects are much more effective than expected.
The shot that struck me the most, though, was this one:
In the film, a city girl vacations in the country and tempts a farm man into an affair. She suggests he drown his wife so that he could be free to run away to the city. It's a rather simple premise, but the man is conflicted, and when he takes his wife out for a boat ride, he stops and favors her with the above stare. Does it look familiar?
Maybe it's just me, but it bears a striking resemblance to what's called the Kubrick Stare. Head tilted downward, eyes tilted upward. It was a favorite shot of Kubrick, and he often employed it in his movies, perhaps most famously in the opening shot of A Clockwork Orange:
A Clockwork Orange
It turns out that the phrase "Kubrick Stare" was coined by cinematographer Doug Milsome, a frequent collaborator with Kubrick. It seems that Kubrick liked to use the look himself when he was feeling angry or mischievous, and it's rumored that his stare was more intense than anything in his films. This shot from a Playboy interview in 1969 captures it reasonably well:
Again, Kubrick is famous for using this shot, and you can see it in most of his films, often multiple times (see the extended entry for more shots from The Shining and Full Metal Jacket) and being a big Kubrick fan, I was kinda surprised to see it, full formed, in Sunrise.
Of course, neither Murnau or Kubrick have trademarked that stare. In fact, it's a rather common human expression (indeed, my nieces frequently make that face whenever their crazy uncle Marky does something silly). Filmmakers of the stature of Kubrick or Murnau just managed to capture well enough that it stands out. Kubrick's consistent use of that image made it iconic enough that he sorta made it his own. Now, whenever someone uses a shot like that, it's considered an homage to Kubrick... but watching Sunrise is interesting in that light (seeing as though that film was made a solid 30 years before Kubrick even started making movies). More screenshots below the fold... Jack Nicholson flashes the expression numerous times throughout The Shining:
Vincent D'Onofrio seems to be using the Kubrick Stare by way of the Thousand Yard Stare (or vice versa?) in Full Metal Jacket:
Full Metal Jacket
There are lots of other examples I could use, but I'll leave it at that for now...
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Top 5 Most Anticipated Summer Movies
Playing along with Filmspotting's latest podcast, here's a list of my top 5 most anticipated summer movies. Like the Filmspotting hosts, I'm going to avoid the big name blockbusters and try to find some smaller films that I'm interested in... Movies like Inception, Toy Story 3, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The Last Airbender are all well and good, but we've all heard about them... What are the surprise hits, the genre pics, and the just plain weird movies we can look forward to?
Part of the reason I wanted to write this post is that I stumbled upon news of IFC Films' VOD program and their plans to brand a genre label, IFC Midnight. It turns out that their lineup for the summer is pretty interesting, and unlike a lot of small, independent films, you can view these in the comfort of your own home (assuming you have access to their VOD service through Comcast and the like) right around the time they come out in theaters (theaters which usually aren't near you, etc...). Not all the films below are going to be available this way, but some is better than none! Anyway, without further ado (and in no particular order):