Friday, November 11, 2011

Sweet November (A Quick Review of the Year So Far)

       As I am typing this I have recently got hit with that motivational slump people get on the last few weeks of school. So in order to pretend that I am being productive and wanting get my monthly post done here is another short post.

Ten Things I Never Thought Would Happen (But Totally Did)

       This was a weird year for cinema to say the least, not to that it was bad, in fact it was a really good year.  Yet some of the better films are so unexpected that they could easily have been the worst films of the year.  For greater irony the films that should have been great turn out to be mediocre at best. For example, I never thought that...

1.  A film about baseball statistics can be more fun than Cowboys & Aliens.



2.  Cowboys & Aliens even exists.

3. Pixar would be outwitted by Winnie the Pooh.


4.  A studio can remake of the fourth sequel of Planet of The Apes, which was the prequel of the series, then turn that into a reboot for a new series of films, and still make it a good film.

5.  Adult men actually watch My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic...

6.  ... and that the show is actually not bad... wanna see an awkward transition?

 Thanks Pinkie Pie.

7.  During a time when cinema is at a modern technology renaissance, filmmakers are going back to create silent movies.

This is real, and everyone who saw it, loved it.

8.  It is possible to make a film about William Shakespeare without doing any research on Shakespeare.

9.  Zack Synder would prove with his latest flop, Sucker Punch, that it is possible create a movie that is both pompous and mind-numbingly stupid.

10.  Martin Scorsese, a director who made a career out of violent, dark, gritty, and violent movies is making Hugo, children's movie.

       This weird year is actually from the aftermath of the summer when many predicted hits did not meet expectations.  By the Hollywood standard this was a terrible year as many high budget films like Cars 2, The Green Lantern, and Sucker Punch were critically panned and barely made any money.  Meanwhile there many critically acclaimed, albeit smaller films that never stood a chance thanks to really bad marketing choices; the most egregious example was when some idiot thought that Winnie the Pooh should premiere on July 15, the weekend now known as "The Great Harry Potter Massacre". Yet there were still many great films that came out this summer and the winter season, come on, a year with a Muppet movie is always a good year. Also Ryan Gosling and Michael Fassbender are shaping themselves to be the next Steve McQueen and Marlon Brando, respectively.  Carey Mulligan, Jessica Chastain and get this, Elizabeth Oslen are spontaneously becoming some of the finest actresses in the business. In short, while Hollywood had a few bad films this year, these random gems are more than enough to compensate for these failures and the independent film industry has never been better.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy Halloween (Cthulhu Says Hi)

            Since it is Halloween again I might as well write about some good horror movies.  I did not want to choose any obvious classics like Frankenstein or Psycho because they already have too much praise.  For this article I decided to write about two films that are fairly obscure to the casual audience that deserve more love in my opinion.

Indie Horror Double Feature (But Without That Hipster Taste)

The Call of Cthulhu (2005)
           
            One of the most tragic things about horror cinema is that there are hardly any adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories.  It is true that Re-Animator is an adaptation and there are many films that are inspired by Lovecraft like The Thing and Alien, but nothing from his prized Cthulhu Mythos has even been touched by Hollywood.  So while randomly searching around the web I noticed that The Call of Cthulhu was actually adapted into a silent short film.  I was so excited with this find that I could not write in third person... that may piss off all 3 of my readers.
            The screenplay of The Call of Cthulhu is very faithful to Lovecraft’s 1928 story.  The story begins as the narrator is given an anthology of journal entries and newspaper cutouts, gathered by his dying uncle.  The narrator reads this collection, much to his regret, and becomes entangled in a conspiracy that is connected to a cult and their god, Cthulhu.  The more he reads, the weaker his mind becomes; he is alone, vulnerable, frail, outnumbered, suspect, and all he has is the ability learn of his futility. It's kinda bleak.
            In this adaptation the filmmakers were very successful as they are faithful to the short story (check it out) and they made it feel fresh through experimentation.  In this case they filmed it in the style of a classic Silent Era production.  The film looks like something Fritz Lang would have made with surreal set pieces, ghoulish make-up on the actors and a constant use of the montage.  The horror in The Call of Cthulhu does not come from death or gore but from a paranoid, dense atmosphere and it is quite effective.  The only faults in creation is that there are a couple of scenes that are clearly filmed on green screen which can take away from the archaic feel.  In spite of a low budget, The Call of Cthulhu is still a great atmospheric tale of horror that will give anyone chills.
            DVDs are sold by the The H.P Historical Society and are available on Netflix through streaming and mail.  It's also only 47 minutes long so if anyone is not planning to sleep on Halloween (like the guy behind you) it's best to make it a starter to a double feature.

Attack The Block (2011)

            The story begins when Moses and his gang of thugs check inside a demolished car and an alien lunges at them.  But instead of running like every other clichéd bitch, they chase it into an outhouse beat it to death, and there was much rejoicing.  Of course this does not stop the rest of the alien invaders from crashing around the block.  Soon the entire block is being infiltrated by these jet black wolves from space, ripping human flesh in such gruesome fashion, now Moses is getting nervous.
            Attack The Block is touted as being from the makers of Shaun of the Dead, but this is misleading. Edgar Wright, the awesome British director of hits like Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim Vs The World is only an executive producer.  Attack The Block is actually written and directed by Joe Cornish.  But the thought that Wright tutored him is inescapable because it is made with similar proficiency and wit.  Joe Cornish is a fantastic find as he creates what is essentially a very basic B-movie alien invasion film like Cowboys and Aliens yet the plot stay fresh through some astonishing style choices.  The most astonishing thing about the film is the aliens are not slimy, multi jointed amphibian monstrosities that H.R. Giger had popularized, but black furred, simple, bordering on abstract creatures.  The kills are often hidden through quick edits and implicit camera shots but it is still a terrifying film thanks to the sympathetic characters.
            As mentioned last year in my Halloween review, in order for a horror film to work at the very least the characters must be likable and/or relatable.  Even though thugs are not good role models, Moses and his crew are &@$#ing awesome.  The actors are still raw beginners but they never fail to entertain thanks to the charisma and wit that they bring to their characters. Even better is that the camaraderie between the gang, it is so strong that they are practically a family with Moses being their surrogate father.  This provides for some genuinely unsettling fright, not only because they are gruesome, but tragic as well.
            Attack The Block is a magnificent little film that should have been a box office success.  Sadly, Attack The Block had an extremely limited release in America due to very miniscule reasons, according to Wikipedia.  Luckily the DVD was released on Oct. 25th which is plenty time to watch it in a Halloween marathon.

If any of these do not interest you then I am truly sorry. Here is a clip of man eating bunnies.


Is this not the cutest apocalypse, ever?


Friday, September 30, 2011

The Wire is Awesome (And I Got Classes to Worry About)

          Well it's September and that means another school year. I wish someone told me that sooner, but hey at least I don't have to worry about an eldritch abominations until October... wait. Anyway since the Emmys are pretty much over and I got to read a lot of Shakespeare let's do something short and sweet.


18 Reasons Why People Should Watch The Wire

1. The Wire is a fascinating and realistic cultural study about how class and social status affect the American Justice System.

2. It's also an awesome cop show filled with badass lawmen, merciless villains and strong violence.

3. But The Wire is not afraid not show a sense of dry humor during even in the darkest of times.


4. Features the only union on TV that deserves sympathy.

5.  Idris Elba and Dominic West are so convincing as a Baltimore kingpin and a Baltimore cop (respectively) that it is hard to believe that they both British.

6.  Actually, the entire cast is so brilliant that it is hard to believe that no one was nominated for an Emmy.

7. No seriously, for all the critical acclaim that The Wire gets, it was only nominated for two Emmys and lost both times.

8. It relies so much on continuity that following it on a weekly basis was impossible, on the other hand this translates beautifully on to DVD.

9. It's vulgar.

10."It's all in the game."-Traditional

11. There are about thirty plus characters in The Wire and more than half of them are more badass than Jack Bauer.

12. And one of them wears a bow tie.


13.  "Sheeeeeeeeeit."-Clay Davis

14. The theme song is "Way Down in The Hole" by Tom Waits. Hear that? Its the sound of a hipster fainting.

15.  It makes Law & Order feel like a lecture from your parents.

16. Since The Wire has been canceled for three years, it is not like anyone would have to worry about catching up.

17.  The writing is impeccable, everything from the dialogue, characters and the stories are written with such care and power that to say it is ambitious would almost be insulting. The Wire does not try to make a statement, it just tells it like it is and lets the viewer create their own opinion.

18.  Seriously, go watch The Wire, or Omar will get you.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Anime, Wait, Come Back! (this will only hurt a bit)

            So way back in May I got bored and decided to spend some birthday money on something cheap on amazon.com (tag not intended).  I bought the box sets of two television shows called 'Baccano!' and 'Cowboy Bebop'.  To my surprise, my sister saw my purchases and started questioning my taste in TV.  Two things came into my mind: 1) She might be stealing my job and 2) What was wrong with watching these shows? Then it occurred to me, 'Baccano!' and 'Cowboy Bebop' are anime, apparently Japanese animation is dorky, as she thoroughly informed me.  Which was weird since I never got flak for all of the other foreign flicks I have watched and reviewed.  So out of inspiration of the subculture of anime (and fear of other peoples opinion on it) here is:

A Long #@! Defense for Anime by a Casual Fan (with links)


Culture Clash
            We have heard the horror stories, parents notice that their kids love Pokémon, so they rent an anime DVD, pop it in the player and then BOOM, blood everywhere.  This exhibits a common complex misunderstanding with American and Japanese culture. The main demographic for American animation is children and their parents, while Japanese animation has developed far beyond the kid demographic.  An anime production can target one of five demographics: children, teen boys (Shonen), men (Seinen), teen girls (Shojo), or women (Josei). Even though most shows and movies are meant to target one demographic, it is common that anime can develop mass appeal.

Style
            The most common (and most ridiculous) complaint about anime today is that the eyes of the characters are out of proportioned.  “It looks unrealistic,” they say, as if the main goal of all animation was photorealism.  Funny enough, as strange as the anime eyes are, the roots of this style can be linked to Walt Disney, specifically Donald Duck.  Long story short, an illustrator named Osamu Tezuka read Carl Barks Donald Duck comics in the late 1940’s. Those characters were the inspiration for his own comic book (known as manga) character designs, then 700 stories later; he became “The Godfather of Anime”.  This may sound like a random tidbit yet it reveals a large truth about anime; the anime style is just as influenced by western culture as by eastern culture, if not more. While the Disney eyes were interesting for basic aesthetics Japanese animators could not get enough of Western culture. Whether it may be Philip K Dick, the 1930's, fairy-tales or even South Park, for better or worse, by the 1980’s anime creators’ preference have developed away from the traditional cartoon and into more ambitious ideas, perhaps too ambitious.
            The most common problem with anime is that the budget of a series is punishingly small compared to one of an American series.  The one thing that American animators always had is that their characters always move fluidly and dynamically.  This is because the average budget of an American production company is #$%@ing huge!  More money means producers can hire more animators to fill in more frames per second. A Japanese studio, for whatever reason, just can’t afford to spend huge amounts of money, and that is why the animation looks limited. Nevertheless, they manage to not make their shows look like the Mr. Magoo cartoons through techniques that create the illusion of movement like dramatic angles, strong voice acting, style changes, lighting and shadow effects, and in a worst case scenario, stock footage.
            Japanese animation has been an odd duck ever since the style has drifted away from their Donald Duck days, but that does not mean it was not innovative. The influence of anime on American culture is subtle; rarely does the actual style influence animators (‘Teen Titans’ and ‘The Boondocks’ are exceptions), but rather the content and themes. For example, ‘The Matrix’ is known far and wide as the film that revived both the action and sci-fi genre thanks to the Wachowski Brothers’ use of CGI, cinematography, cyberpunk themes and existential philosophies to create a refreshing and thought provoking piece. Yet, even the producers of ‘The Matrix’ admit that they borrowed elements from the film 'Ghost in the Shell'

The Fans
            Yeah, just ignore them.


Quality Control
            Ok I have to vent, there is really no possible justification that the most recognizable anime are these of cash cows franchises that have gone past the 300-episode line a long time ago and still have new episodes being produced. The most popular shows like 'Dragonball Z', 'Bleach', and 'Naruto' (the bright orange ninja) have passed their prime (if they ever had one) a long time ago. Yet these are still making a ton of money... 


            Look, it is true that great works like Star Wars can be franchised, but it does not make it better, if anything it leads to a loss of integrity (read: Prequel Trilogy). If success defined quality then ‘Avatar’ would have won the Oscar for Best Picture (yeah I went there).  Anyhow, a critically acclaimed series can be as long as 50 episodes but the best are often between 13 and 26 episodes long.  Like a mini series and British television, great anime is planned to have a proper story arc, not from creating an interesting premise and then running it into the ground, and that is the point of good television right?  It is about expanding the possibilities of storytelling by great artists through an alternative style, and there is nothing wrong with that.  And if it all still looks bad or weird remember two things: 1) Sturgeon's Law and 2) The West has made even weirder things.


Recommendations
            All of these shows are available on DVD, but even better is that some of these can be watched for free. I will post links so if you are partially curious then check out the sites. Don’t worry; if you hate the show then the worst-case scenario is that you’ll not spend $25-40 on DVDs. Also, each show has an English and Japanese dub track (subtitles included), feel free to choose which one you find most suitable.

‘Cowboy Bebop’ (26 episodes)
            On paper ‘Cowboy Bebop’ is an absolute mess.  It takes place in a future where Mars is a vacation spot; Tijuana is an asteroid and there are meteors constantly showering upon Earth.  The main characters include an ex-cop with a bionic arm, a Kung Fu fighting bounty hunter, a femme fatale, a girl named Edward and a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. There so many influences, references, and homages within a single episode 'Cowboy Bebop' that it is often claimed the show is a whole genre itself; yet that is half of what make 'Cowboy Bebop' so brilliant.  Whether it is jazz, space travel, samurais, Film Noir, etc. there is going at be least one thing each viewer will love about 'Cowboy Bebop'. The other half is the interplay between the collaborators, the quality of the animation, screenplays, and the music (especially the music) are outstanding and complement each other so well, it's quite breathtaking. Only two randomly selected episodes are available on hulu.com, so if you want to see the other 24 episodes you will have to buy a box set or an Netflix account.

‘Trigun’ (26 episodes)
            Vash the Stampede, the worlds most feared gunslinger, is on the move, destroying everything in his path and shows no sign of stopping. Of course this is a real pain in the ass for the Bernardelli Insurance Society who decide to send two of their agents to find, and incarcerate Vash. What they find instead is an idiot wearing a red duster who could not possibly be the feared sharpshooter, or is he? Like 'Cowboy Bebop', 'Trigun' is drenched in Americana, but while the former favors a more hip trends (like jazz and gangsters) the latter is all about guns, rock, comics and oddly enough, Christianity.  Deep beneath this weird little sci-fi western is a fascinating character and moral study of turning the other cheek.  All the episodes are available Youtube and Hulu.

‘Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex’ (26 episodes)
            In the year 2030, it becomes common practice to replace limbs and organs with cybernetic reproductions.  It is even possibly to replace an entire body with a realistic shell.  The only side effect is that people can hack into minds; and that is where the formidable Public Security Section 9 comes into play.  Arguably the least cartoonish show of this entire set, but not to its detriment.  In theory it was possible to create the entire series in live action but it would have looked absurd, plastic and uncanny.  The stars of the show are the directors and writers who have created some amazing television that is filled with great action and espionage. The camaraderie between the officers of Section 9 is believable and dynamic. But not least is how the writers manages to dive into the philosophical implications of an increasingly blurred line between humanity and computers seamlessly into the plot.  In short it is a brilliantly written police drama that is animated through happenstance.  'Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex' is available through streaming on Netflix, while there are two films ('Ghost in the Shell' and 'G.I.T.S 2: Innocence') that were made prior to this series, they are treated like a separate series so don't worry about continuity.

‘Baccano!’ (16 episodes)
            What would happen if Quentin Tarantino made a cartoon inspired by 1930s gangsters flicks? He would probably make ‘Baccano!’, but it would not as awesome.  As the trailer reveals this a violent series and that probably should not be on this list. Yet I can not do that because of three reasons: 1)  The only thing Japanese about this series is the art style; it's quite obvious that Brain's Base (the animation studio) put a lot research into creating an accurate depiction of America in 1930-32. 2)  It's a textbook example of great nonlinear story telling. Told in a style meant to invoke a journalist scurrying through newspapers, the story defies every narrative convention without being a confusing mess. 3) It's a blast! This no holds barred action-horror-comedy-epic story will confuse, thrill, gross out, and charm the audience in its own macabre way.  If you like the works of Quentin Tarantino, Michael Mann and/or James Cagney then check it out on Youtube, Hulu or Netflix. Also, before anyone starts being a troll, the Hollywood sign was spelt as HOLLYWOODLAND until 1949.

‘Fooly Cooly’ (6 episodes)
            Not even the minds of Timothy Leary, Chuck Jones and the Marx Brothers can recreate the acid trip that is ‘Fooly Cooly’.  The plot... exists but its buried over dozens of sight gags and puns that are shot at the audience like a grenadier on meth.  The animators (Studio Gainax) prove that they are insane thanks to their character designs, their love of elasticity, and habit of changing styles for no reason.  'Fooly Cooly' is also a deceptively clever show that is loaded with enough references and symbolism to make a hipster weep, but who cares about @#$%ing hipsters, no seriously who? Anyway, fans of screwy sci-fi like Lost and Inception will get kick out of trying to analyzing 'Fooly Cooly' (good luck with that by the way) but this is funny and heartwarming enough as a slapstick comedy.  'Fooly Cooly' is available through Youtube and Hulu.

‘Princess Tutu’ (26 epi... on second thought, never mind.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Sample of The Master of Suspense (Minus Psycho)

            Alfred Hitchcock is a British film director who, while already great during his time in his homeland, had truly made a name for himself as a Hollywood director. What Hitchcock has contributed to the thriller genre can easily be compared to what Pixar has done for Western animation (minus Cars 2).  Thanks to his imposing eye for detail, near perfect control of the story and pace he had brought a simple genre into new majestic heights; and he made sure it stayed there until he died, because that’s how he rolled!


The lion wasn’t told to sit, he just knows better.

            That being said, it seems like many youth only remember him for his film ‘Psycho’, or at least the shrieking violins. While there is nothing wrong with ‘Psycho’, a director with a filmography that is as great as it is large, as Hitchcock’s should not be defined by one film. It is like walking past a city a gold to find a diamond.  Anyway here is:

 Hitchcock for Dummies: 5 Great Thrillers

Rope

            Alfred Hitchcock, in spite of his status as a mainstream filmmaker, had a penchant for experimenting with his equipment.  Each film he made is created with a distinctive approach with ‘Rope’ being among his boldest.  Hitchcock originally wanted ‘Rope’ to be filmed in one take, but since that is too awesome to be possible, he settled with recording at ten-minute lengths.  In short, during the entire 80 minutes of ‘Rope’, there are about 10 camera shots.
            The story of ‘Rope’, while not as elaborate as the cinematography, is no less unconventional.  Begins with two men strangling another man for no real reason except for the belief they were superior to their victim.  Adding insult to fatality, they put his body in a trunk and use it as buffet table for a party they scheduled before the story began.  Their guests suspect nothing, even when the hosts start acting edgy, with the exception of their former college professor (played by James Stewart).


Rear Window

            In a Greenwich Village apartment complex lives photographer named L.B Jeffries (Stewart) who, after breaking his leg, can’t find anything better to do than spy on his neighbors. Then one day he notices that Mr. Thorwald’s wife has suddenly disappeared, did she leave him, was she kidnapped, Jeffries must know the answer.  Now it is up to him, his girlfriend and nurse to discover truth behind the disappearance of Mrs. Thorwald.
             ‘Rear Window’ is a great thematic study about curiosity and voyeurism.  Not only does the audience become intrigued by this hazy murder mystery, but with the other neighbors daily dramas. For ‘Rear Window’, Hitchcock literally created this little neighborhood where all of these very minor, yet engaging characters work through their daily routine.  The fact that every outdoor shot is from the view of L.B Jeffries’ apartment only encourages the viewer to become as nosy as the main character, forgetting that curiosity killed the cat.


The Birds

            What happens when an A-list Hollywood director decides to create a cheap monster movie?  One thing the audience will notice is that ‘The Birds’ does not have a musical score. This actually improves the film as it relies on distinct sound effects and visual cues, rather than the traditional shrieking strings and brass, to emphasize its bleak atmosphere. The visual effects in ‘The Birds’ have aged like milk (even with the use of real birds) but the on going sense of dread is more than enough to cause even the heartiest viewers’ spines to shiver in terror.
            While Alfred Hitchcock is admittedly a sadist but in ‘The Birds’ he is downright merciless as men, women and even kids fall victim to the wrath of a thousand crows and seagulls. Eyes are gouged out, cars explode, and this is made all the more frightening in that these birds have no motive for their actions.  The victims of Bogeda Bay wonder in trembling fear as to why the birds are attacking and so will the audience.


Notorious
           
            ‘Notorious’ is the sexiest movie of all time. ‘Notorious’ plays like a thinking man’s idea of a James Bond film.  Alicia Huberman (played by Ingrid Bergman) is a playgirl and daughter of a Nazi spy who, after his conviction, is recruited by an agent named T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) because of her father’s connections. Before her assignment, both Devlin and she fall in love, which complicates her mission, as it requires her to seduce a Nazi leader.  This leads our lovely heroine into a romantic thrill ride dripping with innuendo, back stabbings and champagne.
            Compared to the majority of Alfred Hitchcock’s work the acting is impeccable. Bergman plays her character brilliantly as someone is both strong willed, vulnerable, and icy. Claude Raines manages to do the impossible by making a Nazi, of all people, to be sympathetic. But the man of the hour is Cary Grant, who not only plays the tall, dark and handsome man he has parodied throughout the majority of his career (like in ‘Gunga Din’ and ‘His Girl Friday’), straight, he plays it with greater nuance than anyone before Notorious and until Sean Connery played James Bond.


North by Northwest

            With Independence Day coming to an end, why not mention the film where Cary Grant climbs down George Washington’s face, it makes sense in context. Anyway, Cary Grant plays Roger O. Thornhill an advertising executive who is mistaken for a secret agent named Kaplan by some gangsters.  Curious as to whom Kaplan is, and not wanting to get killed, Thornhill travels across state lines to find this secret agent.  What he finds instead is a crop-duster, the radiant Eva Marie Saint and a @#$%load of twists.
            ‘North by Northwest‘ at first glance is a paint-by-numbers Hitchcock film. The film is about a man on the run the love interest is a platinum blonde, lots of innuendo, and cops; by all technical standards ‘North by Northwest’ should be called unoriginal. Yet it this excessive amount of tropes and how well they are written into the story that makes ‘North by Northwest’ so great. Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Lehman, the screenplay writer, clearly had a blast creating this highly stylized thriller.  The dialogue is sharp as a tack and the characters not afraid to snarky in the face of danger.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

I’m Back (I'm not dead yet)

Holy crap, its June already and I haven’t done anything for two months! Well since an excuse is not enough forgive the readers and myself (that sounded smug) here are multiple excuses:
  • After watching a marathon of ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’, I had to check myself into an asylum.
  • Aliens kidnapped me; they were nice guys (I guess, they look like roaches), except they dropped me of in Johannesburg.
  • Rebbeca Black gave me MRSA.
  • When I found out that the world was going end on May 21st, I had to build a bomb shelter.  Then I had to demolish the whole damn thing on the 22nd.
  • Cthulhu got out of his cage again.
  • I was locked up in a Libyan POW camp after trying to steal Muammar Gaddafi's sunglasses.
  • I was exiled by the "The Monsters" after I discovered Lady Gaga’s true identity: Madonna.
  • My birthday bash got so out of hand, I woke up in a coffin near Vienna.
  • My plan to destroy 'Two and a Half Men' was taking over my life.
  • The President of the United State of America, Barrack Obama, gave me the most important task of my generation’s history; find Osama Bin Laden’s porn stash.
  • My television and laptop became self-aware and would only let me watch shows on TLC.
  • The finals for my classes were coming up and I needed to do a marathon cram session.
  • All of the above.
At least two of these excuses are true.  Anyway I'm just here to say that I'm not dead and sorry for the hiatus.  To make up for it, here is a hint for my next post: It is a list of films made by a man who believes that actors should be treated like cattle.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Foreign Films (This is Not a Prank)



            Not to sound redundant but March was a depressing month.  With the tsunami in Japan, revolution in the Middle East, and the fifth season of ‘Mad Men’ being delayed until next year, it seems like not even puppies and kittens can keep the me sane.

I feel nothing...


            Anyway, for March I decided to take at foreign films. They may be depressing, showy, and have subtitles but that does not mean they are boring.

The Gloomy Art-House Double Feature

‘Eyes Without a Face’ (1959) (French)

            Horror films have taken a lot of flak these days because of their reliance on gore, vulgarity, tits, and franchises; so basically every movie produced by ‘Platinum Dunes’ is ruining the genre.  Obviously films are a business, but no matter what genre, it is always an art form first and ‘Eyes Without a Face’ is a great example. It’s about a doctor trying to replace his daughter’s face after a horrible car accident... by stealing other ladies’ faces. That’s right, before Hitchcock scared people with the shower scene in ‘Psycho’; the French were already ripping people’s faces off.  
            While the gore maybe the main draw, ‘Eyes Without a Face’ is more than just Grand Guignol. ‘Eyes Without a Face’ has a poetic, fairy tale mood that evokes Edgar Allen Poe and the Brothers Grimm. The surreal tone is kept to a minimum thanks to the characters.
            The characters of ‘Eyes Without a Face’, while they are very traditional for the horror genre, break the common stereotypes and reveal many tragic elements. The doctor is less a madman but a father trying to redeem himself for the accident he caused. The monster of ‘Eyes Without a Face’ is a girl, who wishes to escape from isolation, but her disfigurement causes people to scream, the audience on the other hand will realize how superficial it is to fear her.

Before reading the next entry watch this video:

 Done? Now continue.

‘The Virgin Spring’ (1960) (Swedish)

            Ingmar Bergman is a director who makes films that thrive on a unique conflict. First of all, his films are always beautiful, the camerawork and scenery always have an unmatched, dreamy quality.  Yet he always asks uneasy questions for topics like religion and then provides even darker answers. ‘The Virgin Spring’, while arguably his simplest film, is no exception as it looks into how people’s emotions can conflict with their religious code.
            The story takes place in the medieval times where the daughter of a Christian family is raped and murdered by three goat herders in the woods. The three herdsmen try to find shelter and wind up in the house of the Christian family. The story then becomes a cat and mouse game of whether the victim’s parents discover their secret. In spite of it being less violent than ‘Eye Without a Face’, ‘The Virgin Spring’ is much more disturbing, at least in a religious and moral level.
            In the end ‘The Virgin Spring’ is a great work of art, not a work of entertainment. ‘The Virgin Spring’ is gorgeous to look at yet it is very dark and unsettling. Bergman, like with the rest of his work, he does not want his audience to be entertained, but rather to reflect on how the characters react. Why do these events happen? How could these events have been prevented from happening? How much control does God really have on humanity?


Friday, February 25, 2011

Taking it Easy (shutting down brain in 3... 2...)

            This was a rough month.  With ‘The King’s Speech’ eating all of the Guild Ceremonies alive, it seems like I’m destined to lose a lot of money and my freedom  come Oscar time (never bet with a pimp). It also doesn’t help that ‘A Star is Born’ is getting remade again, millions of dollars are being wasted on movies based on board games and the Criterion Collection is moving its streaming library from Netflix to Hulu+. To say I was a little peeved was an understatement, so this month I have been watching mostly popcorn flicks to keep me happy.  Anyway, these are what I saw this week:

Three Awesome Films

‘Tombstone’ (1993)
           
            The Western is basically a genre in a coma; ever sense the mid 70s only a handful of Westerns were made and even less than that actually succeeded in the box office. What is even more depressing is that the majority of these Westerns were made in the Revisionist style; as if to remind America that it sucks to live in a pox infested wasteland without indoor plumbing. Then suddenly in 1993 the classic Hollywood Western made it’s last stand with a film about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday called ‘Tombstone’.
            The story of ‘Tombstone’ is a tale told many times before, too many times. Stories of Wyatt Earp’s exploits have been the basis of so many classics like ‘My Darling Clementine’ and ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral’ that it makes the classicist style of ‘Tombstone’ feel less nostalgic and more cliché.  It also doesn’t help that everything about it so ridiculous. If the scene where the main character is crying in the rain with blood on his hands is the subtlest scene in the movie, then it’s time to rewrite the fucking script.  But thankfully ‘Tombstone’ makes its case for why it should exist in that it was entertaining as hell.
            Is it even possible for a movie that has Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Powers Boothe, Sam Eliot and Terry O’Quinn (John Locke from Lost) to be boring? The entire cast seems less concerned about appearing human rather they just ham it up like comic book characters, it’s a marvelous sight behold.  The shootouts are numerous and downright awesome in their own ridiculous right, but they’re only the friggin second act to what can only be described as Bitchslap Fu. The only thing missing is someone getting beaten to death with their own skull and that’s saying a lot. Bottom line, ‘Tombstone’ is a popcorn flick that was made without a hint pretension, just some shameless love for a dying genre.

‘Duck Soup’ (1933)

            The Marx Brothers, and I mean this with highest respect for this legendary acting troupe, are fucking crazy. Every single film these guys have worked on is an anarchy filled vaudeville epics that has them rapidly throwing jokes and sight gags to the point where every law of physic and logic is broken. But surprisingly beneath the chaos the brothers have a formula, Groucho is the one-liner spewing narcissist with the ambiguously fake moustache, Harpo is the sex-crazed mime, Chico is the con-man/offensive Italian stereotype and Zeppo is Ringo.
            So what makes ‘Duck Soup’ so great, well to really appreciate is to remember that it was made when Mussolini was in power and Hitler was rising to it.  The film itself is about the leader of a country, played by Groucho, whose motto is “If you think this country's bad off now, just wait till I get through with it!” Need I say more? Yes. The Marx Brothers goal here is to rip fascism a new @$#hole and it’s fun to watch.
            The only problem I had with this movie is that there are these very lame musical numbers that are painful to listen to, they don’t even to advantage of Harpo and Chico’s instrumental talents (that’s a story for another time). But these are few and far between to actually ruin ‘Duck Soup’. The jokes can be a little dated since every cartoon and sketch show borrows quite from the Marx Bros. but at 70 minutes it hardly wastes anytime.  If you were, were not, or still are a fan of shows like ‘Looney Tunes’ or ‘Monty Python’ then ‘Duck Soup’ will be a great experience, even. Just know that there is no logic in the Marx Universe, my first laptop tried to find the logic within ‘Duck Soup’ and came up with poor results.



‘The Public Enemy’ (1931)

            A long distance friend of mine told me on Facebook that he saw a really good film called ‘The Public Enemy’ for his Crime Films Class and wondered if I ever saw it. My first response was “Wait, there’s such thing as a class where you just watch crime films? I want in!” Then I said something very embarrassing, “I’ve never seen ‘The Public Enemy’” Now I’m proud to say that I saw ‘The Public Enemy‘
            The plot of ‘The Public Enemy’ on the surface is classic as steak & eggs. Tom Powers (played James Cagney) is a good-fur-nuthin’ thug out to make a quick buck in the beginning of prohibition. He starts his life of crime at very young age and shoots his way to the top. Then it ends with him back at the bottom, riddled with bullets, because “Crime never pays!”  The plot is fairly predictable since it has been the template for many gangster films after 1935 but ‘The Public Enemy’ is far from boring.
         For one the acting ‘The Public Enemy’ is amazing. Donald Cooke is wonderful as Tom Powers’ brother Mike Powers, the weight he carries is felt as he tries be the voice of reason to Tom while suffering from shell-shock of WW1. Jean Harlow somehow manages to define and deconstruct every femme fatale. But the standout of ‘The Public Enemy’ is James Cagney. With a stare that can break bricks and enough energy to light up New York City, James Cagney is one of few actors who can mold himself into a character as bombastic and wild as Tom Powers and be convincing. Hell the only thing that he is not convincing at performing is dying, because you can’t kill James Cagney.


"Don't turn off the lights"


            Another thing to take note of about ‘The Public Enemy’ is that it was made before the Hays Code (imagine enforced censorship by McCarthy-like figures and the Catholic Church). While most of the “obscene” moments happen off-screen ‘The Public Enemy’ is anything but implicit.  There is blood, sex, and even a dead horse is thrown in just to make sure PETA was also offended. Oddly enough, when the Hays Code trimmed the film for a re-release in the 40’s there was one scene where they muted the “sex noises” coming from another room, but they kept the part where Tom Powers slams half a grapefruit into his girlfriend’s face, which was IN THE SAME SCENE!  Apparently sex is wrong but misogyny is good clean fun.
            While the messages of ‘The Public Enemy’ are admittedly dated and politically incorrect to say it is not daring is like saying Seinfeld is not funny.  The pacing and tone is as intense as the ensemble cast.  The pace is so fast and the violence and sexuality was so frank (for its time) that it is no surprise that it became the standard of the crime genre.

Small mentions:

‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’ (2010)

            So… basically ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’ is a documentary by the street artist Banksy that’s about a guy named Guetta who decides to become a street artist after failing to make a documentary about Banksy. It makes even less sense in context. Anyway, while I can see why people think that ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’ is fake, it is great to see a doc that is informative and entertaining instead of being a boring-ass piece of propaganda about whatever is pissing off the left or right.

‘Firefly’ (2002 TV Series)

            ‘Firefly’ is a sci-fi western show about the interplanetary (mis)adventures of a smuggling crew and their four passengers. The cast is fairly traditional, the lead is a salt of the earth badass, there is a hooker with a heart of gold, a dumb hired muscle and etc. but these characters are much deeper than the clichés they have. The star of the show is the setting as every planet heavily influenced by cowboys, cyberpunk and Asian style. Even the laser guns look like something made by Smith & Wesson.  My only complaint is that ‘Firefly’ is too short and lacks a conclusion, it never got second season.

‘Hardboiled’ (1992)

            Did you know that America almost lost its reign over the action genre to Hong Kong? Well with filmmakers like John Woo it is really no surprise. To understand why he is a compare and contrast between John Woo guns and real guns:

John Woo pistol > a real AK-47
J.W AK-47 > a shotgun
J.W shotgun > a grenade
J.W grenade > @#$%ing napalm
J.W napalm > the Fat Man.

I think I’ve said enough.

Crap of the Month

‘Couples Retreat’ (2010)

            With cast like Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell and Jon Favreau ‘Couple Retreat’ could have been a half decent comedy; instead it’s a slow and plot-less waste of time. It manages to do the impossible by being boring and vulgar at the same time. It literally seemed like nobody was even trying which is even more offensive when you realize that these scheming bastards were paid to film in various hotels in Bora Bora for three to six months.  ‘Couples Retreat’ is not a movie, it’s a %#$@ing con job.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Now for some more off topic stuff (Oscar Predictions)

            Since my Sci-Fi list has been stolen by wild goblins I’ve been in a fickle mood as of late. So I have decided to go ahead and show my Oscar predictions. If you have an office pool, which is not likely since you’re reading my blog, I have also provided some hints as in finding the leader of at least the important nominations (even Ebert doesn’t know what Sound Mixing is). For those who forgot who was nominated here’s a link: Oscar nominees

Film Editing
            Ah Best Film Editor, the one that always gets away. The only hint I can give you for this is to watch the nominees and after watching each film, contemplate on how many times you’ve noticed the film switch shots. If you notice a lot of shot switches, it’s not going to win. Editing is a complicated process that not only involves splicing the best camera shots together, but doing so as seamlessly as possible. If not edited properly then all immersion is lost and you’ll remind the audience that they are wasting their lives. To me the two nominees that succeed in this category are ‘The King’s Speech’ and ‘The Social Network’, but I’d go with ‘The King’s Speech’ because ‘The Social Network’ ends so abruptly that I thought the theater lost a reel.

Cinematography
            The opposite of editing. If a Best Cinematography nominee were a person, it would be Elton John. Cinematography is the French (therefore superior) way of saying photography and to be the best the cameraman must take advantage of any angle, lens, filter, cranes, dolly tracks etc to make the film look gorgeous. With that in mind then ‘True Grit’ got this in the bag.

Screenplay
            If you saw my short film ‘The Cook’ then you know I don’t know crap about what makes a good screenplay. But if I had to pick, I think Best Adapted will go to ‘The Social Network’ and Best Original will go to ‘Inception’.

Animated Feature
             Who gives a shit we are talking about real movies! Sarcasm aside I have a love/hate relationship with this category because while it allows animation to have some recognition it also further segregates them from the “mature” competition. Heck the category itself was created just because of all the hate mail the Academy got for snubbing ‘Chicken Run’ (it’s better than it sounds) over ‘Erin Brockovich’ and ‘Chocolat’, two films that people watch to cure their insomnia. In the end the category is just symbol of how the Academy is a crumbling ivory tower filled with mostly old, rickety actors who either fear that they’re being replaced by animators or think that animated films are just silly drawings meant to distract the kids. Where was I going this… fuck it ‘Toy Story 3’ is a lock.

Supporting Actress
             This one is a little weird due to the fact that Hailee Steinfeld, who is the lead actress of ‘True Grit’ is nominated in this category. This is a common trend with child actors because there is so many films that center on one actor during the awards season that there are hardly any good choices for the supporting cast. In other words, Steinfeld has a better chance now that her only competition is Helena Bohnam Carter and not Michelle Williams, Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman and Annette Bening, which would’ve been suicide. While it is neck and neck I hope that Helena Bohnam Carter wins for ‘The King Speech because for her to act with subtly is the equivalent of an actor gaining 60 lbs. for a movie then losing 70 lbs. for his next role, which segues to…

Supporting Actor
            Christian Bale for the ‘The Fighter’, just so he can chill the fuck out and eat some food. This crazy bastard has gained and lost so much weight for this and other roles that his heart can probably do cartwheels. He probably kept a briefcase filled with crack rocks just so he can stay in character.

Lead Actress
            Since Noomi Rapace was not nominated for ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’, I can’t even come up with a legitimate guess; all of the nominees are rather plain. But if history repeats itself then there will be an unexpected win from an obscure actor who after making 5 or 6 unsuccessful films; will fall back into obscurity until 20 years later when he/she makes a come back. By that logic Jennifer Lawrence will win because she is playing Mystique in the destined to fail ‘X-men: First Class’.

Lead Actor
            Aside from the fact that Ryan Gosling (how has he not won anything yet?) was not nominated for his work in ‘Blue Valentine’ this list of nominees is pretty good. Jeff Bridges makes his second consecutive nomination this year and if he wins this time he will be the third actor in history to win two years in a row, too bad that’s not going to happen because Colin Firth has been a lock for this award before ‘The King’s Speech’ was even released. Even if Colin Firth’s performance did not impress you (which is impossible) then think about this, A) Firth never won an Oscar, B) he’s an aging British man C) the character plays is a real person, D) who had a crippling disorder. Hell if Firth’s character was also gay, a rock singer and died onscreen he would have been nominated twice. So yeah, Colin Firth for the win; but I kinda want to see Jesse Eisenberg win just so I can hear him rip a new one for all the people who think he’s ripping off Michael Cera.

Director
             All right lets talk about the elephant in the room. Did Christopher Nolan get drunk and acted like a twat at every Guild party because that is only reason I can think of that explains why he has not been nominated for best director. Nolan, for those who are not members of your local nerd club, has shaped himself as a modern day Alfred Hitchcock in that he uses the auteur theory (the idea that the director has complete artistic control) to create very sophisticated blockbusters can be enjoyed by everyone, including critics.  While Nolan’s new film ‘Inception’ was confusing, it was the most original this and one of the most successful ideas that came out of anyone’s head this year and what does he get? Jack-shit.  Hooper and Russel on the other hand, do not even have a hint of panache; they practically say action and let the actors do all the work.  While Aronofsky, Fincher and the Coen brothers use their trademark visual styles; all three seemed to have toned it down. I don’t really care who wins this one since the shoe-in is out of the race, but for the sake of those who want my “sage advice” go with Fincher.


Picture:
            In the end I’m just glad that the Best Picture nominee because after that fiasco at the Golden Globes I really thought that ‘The Tourist’ or ‘The Expendables’ was going to be nominated. Personally, the best film of the year was ‘Toy Story 3’ but I know it’s not going to win; it probably wouldn’t even have been nominated if they discontinued the rule of 10 nominees. The one to beat right now is ‘The King’s Speech’ because it has Helena B. Carter and Colin Firth doing the best performances of their career, it is also a beautifully crafted and inspiring tale that will hit close to home for many people. But that being said, the one film will that be written in the history books is ‘The Social Network’.
            ‘The Social Network’ is the movie definition of hip; instead of relying on old styles it creates new ones. David Fincher (the director of Seven and Fight Club) is at his best as he churns out film noir- style grit with a lightning quick pace. Trent Reznor’s electronic/noise musical score is unbelievably daring. Aaron Sorkin’s script throws linear narrative out the window. Then there are these young actors with raw talent who never pull any of their punches, yes even Justin Timberlake. Even if people don’t believe that ‘The Social Network’ defines a generation, they can’t deny that it is a factor for creating a new generation of filmmakers and that’s what the Oscars should be awarding.

As for the rest…

Documentary Feature: Exit Through the Gift Shop because I’ve heard about it... yeah I fail.

Foreign Film: Biutiful will win because the title makes my spell check software cry.

Orginal Song: Who cares? I don’t even know why this category exists.
Costume Design: True Grit

Makeup: Barney’s Version

Sound Mixing: Inception

Sound Editing: Inception

Art Direction: Inception

Visual Effects: Inception

Short film: Inception

Orignal Score: How to Train Your Dragon (sorry Inception, but if I hear WROMP… WROMP… WROMP again I may have to shoot a hooker or two)

The Oscars are on February 27 at 8/5p on ABC or you can skip it and look up the winners, online the next day.