Time has certainly taught us that when it comes to assessment of events, historical moments, artistic movements, etc, that we will never know the full extent of it’s reach and significance until years later. I’ve heard the idea proposed that, instead of handing out Academy Awards for the immediately preceding year, the Academy waits, perhaps, 5 years. It seems like a fair, if not completely implausible, solution to the knee-jerk reactions and Hollywood politicking that plagues the awards season. Heck, a simple wave of momentum can swing the Academy completely in an opposite direction in a matter of weeks. Crash, the most shameful of Academy winners in recent memory, would surely place no better than fifth in that year given the 5 year time frame. Therefore, we would have saved ourselves from the agonizing bewilderment of Paul Haggis actually winning an Oscar. We should have known better then. We definitely know better now.
Ok, rant aside, I’d like to discuss one particular winner from this previous year’s awards ceremony. Now that I’ve seen Dallas Buyers Club, I’m not so sure we got Jared Leto right. He turns in a fine performance, but surely there was better last year (Michael Fassbender, to name one). So that brings into question the factors that led to his win. Leto hasn’t been seen in a film in a few years, so it’s a comeback story. I get those, Ben Affleck rode the comeback wave to a Best Picture win for Argo just the previous year. Playing a transgender role and losing a bunch of weight are also factors, just look at Matthew McConaughey winning Best Actor for the same film (though his performance outshone Leto’s in my opinion). But what did Leto do, except from play up a stereotype? Enunciating his S’s and acting effeminate seemed to be enough for Academy voters to buy the transgender transformation. But how many time have we seen that kind of behavior and performance acted out for humor on shows like “Saturday Night Live” and such?
All that aside, there’s a larger issue with the character that I feel played a part in the voting. The film’s creators have noted that Leto’s character, “Rayon”, was an act of fiction and this character never existed in Ron Woodroof’s life. So, why fabricate a character out of thin air if he didn’t exist, especially since this film depicts a true account of real events? Simply put, the character was a necessity of script and served an important fictional function. The Ron Woodroof character is painted as severely homophobic at the outset. A chance meeting with Rayon leads Woodroof into his marketplace of AIDS victims, thus the relationship begins as strictly financial. They become business partners, friends, and after all is said and done Rayon becomes the focal point of emotion and (SPOILERS) his death becomes the catalyst that leads the film towards it’s end. The question, then, becomes, did voters over-value the performance based on the importance of the Rayon to the other characters and not the performance of the ACTOR? Rayon has little to no character arc except to serve as a reflection of Woodroof’s arc, which is far greater.
I don’t have a major problem with Jared Leto’s win, but I think it’s worth thinking about what we valued about that performance.
Same director. Two very different movies, two very similar posters. But why? When juxtaposed, does it actually mean anything? Nope. What is wrong with these marketing people?
I think we have seen enough of the major horror franchises, from the (generally) classic originals to the mostly abhorrent sequels, to understand the mythologies of each one. What constitutes the majors? For me it’s Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, Evil Dead, Romero’s “Dead” flicks ( Night, Dawn, Day, Land), Child’s Play and Hellraiser. I’m a child of the 80’s so naturally those are going to be my majors, no offense to the Saw or Scream franchises and their fans. If you watch them closely enough you’ll notice that each franchise has several kills, some more numerous and inventive than others, but the goal of each killer is very specific. So it can be deduced that, should you ever find yourself trapped inside one of these horror series, there is a simple way to survive.
How to Survive: Don’t be related to Michael Myers or hang out in his house
The Deal: Michael Myers hunts down his living relatives, and when he’s done with that he goes home to relax. Being his sister, his niece (or being friends with either), or having a Halloween party in the Myers’ house is the easiest way to get offed in this most original of slasher series.
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street
How To Survive: Don’t live on Elm Street. Or be the offspring of vigilante parents.
The Deal: The sequels get (very) loose with the mythology but originally you would only be dream-stalked if you were the child of a parent who helped murder everyone’s favorite blacksmith, Freddy Krueger. Where did most of them live? Elm Street. If you ever get stuck in NOES just ask your folks “Hey, have you guys ever burned a man alive?” If yes, I’d suggest you invest in Starbucks.
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
How to Survive: Stay away from the Hewitt house
The Deal: Family dinners at the Hewitt house make the Griswold’s look like a poster child for the highly functional. Even the physically handicapped don’t fare well in this series. The best part is this group generally stays to themselves, mostly because they’re not the most sociable bunch. So as long as you stay away from the house that smells like dead flesh and power tools and you should make it out alive. But, it is in Texas, so there might be more than one. Be on your toes.
4. Friday the 13th
How to Survive: Don’t go to Camp Blood…..ahem, Crystal Lake.
The Deal: Jason doesn’t like to travel away from home, so if you ever find yourself in a VW Micro Bus with a group of horny teenagers going to a camp with the nickname “Camp Blood”, BAIL! I know camp sounds like fun, but ditch the s’mores and head back to the city (except Manhattan). It probably wouldn’t hurt to abstain from sex and drugs, too. I know, I’m a real wet blanket.
5. Evil Dead
How to Survive: Don’t play the tape recorder in an abandoned cabin that’s only accessible by an obviously under-maintained forest dirt road
The Deal: Paved roads are usually a good sign of civility. Not too many city-dwelling ancient demons in the world these days. If you’re an outdoorsy person and want to do the cabin thing, make sure it isn’t a dilapidated hut that contains a book bound in human flesh filled with ancient scribblings and demonic images. That’s all I ask.
6. George Romero’s Dead Flicks
How to Survive: Get airborne
The Deal: Barricading you and some people you just met in a questionably secure location won’t work. Building an underground bunker and experimenting on zombies? Nope. Build a militia secured high-rise and stay on the top floor? Nah. These are zombies and lots of them, they’re going to find a way in. Know what they haven’t come up with yet? A flying zombie. Get your ass in the air and do what you can to stay there.
7. Child’s Play
How to Survive: Stop playing with dolls
The Deal: Seriously, if you have even the tiniest iota of a thought that the doll in your room just moved, talked, blinked or tried to kill you, get rid of the damn thing! Better yet, you’re an adult. No dolls. Period.
How to Survive: Stick to a Rubix Cube
The Deal: Maybe you’re into some freaky shit, but if chains and leather are your thing I’m sure you can find a seedy website these days to get your fix. Paying top dollar for an ancient box with the intent of importing pain demons from another dimension seems unnecessarily risque. Stay away from ancient puzzle boxes, they’re nothing but trouble.
It seems like every review of Django Unchained must begin with the writers’ opinion of Quentin Tarantino rather than the movie itself. There is talk of his maturation as a filmmaker, and whether or not he has matured. I’m going to begin by stating that I haven’t really enjoyed Tarantino in quite a while. The Kill Bill duo and Inglourious Basterds were part of a phase of his career where he fell in-love with violence, over-indulgence and with himself, and more specifically with his writing. There are endless scenes in Inglourious Basterds of shot-reverse-shot dialogues that chew up valuable screen time where Tarantino could be showing us something, but it seems he’d rather have us listen to his dialogue instead. Good dialogue, no doubt, but for me film is a visual medium and I’m on the record as being a disciple of the “show, don’t tell” principle. Tarantino likes to build tension through dialogue, like the opening sequence of Inglourious Basterds, instead of through action, like almost every scene in Argo. Of course there’s no right or wrong way, only preference.
That being said, Tarantino comes back to life in Django Unchained. The first hour of the film is some of the most entertaining cinema I’ve ever seen in a Tarantino film. The pacing is brisk, the dialogue is witty and funny, and the performances are outstanding. It’s a great set-up for the second-act. Fans of the spaghetti Westerns of the 60’s and 70’s will enjoy many of the conventions present in the beginning of the film (music, vengeance, bounty hunters). The kinship of a freed slave and a German bounty hunter really is handled beautifully, something that would have been tough with lesser directors and actors, and it’s that partnership that drives the majority of the story. Christoph Waltz is basically the star of the first act and his performance carries the film screaming into the second act. You could say the three acts of this film are all controlled and paced by different characters. Waltz’s German bounty hunter is a humorous, quick-tongued man who always has the upper-hand, and the first act directly resembles that.
Unfortunately, the second act applies a heavy dose of brakes and nearly brings the film to a grinding halt. The second act is primarily driven by the tense business relationship our two heroes must form with a seriously menacing plantation owner
played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who just so happens to be another part of this film that historically does not work for me. I’ve never really bought into Leo’s roles, most recently as a tough guy (The Departed). But here I thought he turned in a tremendous performance playing the villain. He’s cold, cruelly business-minded, sickly humorous, and prone to engaging in idle chatter, and the second act follows his lead. The business dealings here take the form of a first introduction, where we’re treated to a lengthy scene of slave fighting and early negotiations, which is then followed by a 5-hour horse ride to the villainous plantation house known as “Candieland”. This ride takes up plenty of screen time and slows down the pacing a bit too much for my taste, but still establishes the relationships (or lack-there-of) that will come to a boil in the 3rd act.
Act 3 begins much like the end of the act 2, establishing relationships, this time with DiCaprio’s Uncle Tom butler played
marvelously by Samuel L Jackson, and engaging in idle banter. Jackson’s performance must be noted for it’s necessity to the story as well as the dual threat he presents. At one moment he’s the funniest character and almost insensitively comedic, and the next moment he’s cunningly sneaky and menacing. This act is driven by the opposite persona’s portrayed in Jamie Foxx’s character and Jackson’s character. Much of the active force for the remainder of the film begins during the business dinner scene in Candieland, a scene that seems to go on forever. I realize a dining room is a finite space and there’s only so many ways to show the room without crossing the 180 degree line, but the length of the scene coupled with the constantly familiar staging made the scene drag for me. The dialogue is really fantastic, a great mixture of humor and tension, and sometime’s both at once. But ultimately it starts to feel a bit long with the amount of dialogue and aforementioned stagnancy of the visuals.
I knows it seems like I’m disliking much of the film, but I’d like to point out that these are only minor gripes. A visual problem here, a few trimmed lines there. That’s all. The rest of the film after the dinner sequence is pure Spaghetti western and I enjoyed every damn second of it. The audience I saw it with cheered multiple times, and deservedly so. If there’s any one auteuristic element in Tarantino it is that the villains will get theirs. Tarantino loves to punish people who do bad things and have subjected our heroes to a multitude of pains and anguishes, and I loved watching it.
I could write another post just on the amazing music and, most impressively, Taratino’s use of light in the flick, but I don’t have the screen caps to illustrate my point. So I’ll leave you all with a wonderfully re-used song from the flick that I can’t stop listening to.
Considering I haven’t been writing at all in several months, anyone who casually reads this site might look back to a couple late Summer posts to remember why I’ve been absent. I hate not writing, but my time has been fully consumed by my scholastic endeavors. But thankfully that has come to a temporary end, and I’ll be back watching some more diverse fare and writing a ton more i the coming weeks.
For the few concerned parties who were helpful in my selection of study topic, I’d like to let you know what I’ve been up to. I was given the wonderful opportunity to study any particular subject of film I’d like under the supervision of a professor I fully respect. After some consideration, a broad study of Japanese cinema was selected (which will come as no surprise to anyone who’s read my blog before), which was then narrowed down to a study of the Shochiku Co film studio (namely because it wasn’t as well known as Toho or Nikkatsu). Preliminary research of the studio was then narrowed down to a few Japanese film directors who were employed at one time or another by Shochiku, namely Ozu, Oshima, and Mizoguchi. After debating the possibilities, I settled on Kenji Mizoguchi. This was mostly due to the relative familiarity with Ozu within the film culture and my own lack of knowledge concerning the mystique of Mizoguchi, especially since I’m a huge fan of Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff. In all honesty I would have loved to study Oshima and his radical films, but my professor steered me closer to a more familiar choice. No regrets, especially since those two Mizoguchi’s films appear very near the top of my Top 101 films list.
So I set about to watch as many of his films as possible and read as many books as were available in English. Up until now I’ve watched Osaka Elegy, Sisters of the Gion, Utamaro and His Five Women, Story of the Last Chrysanthemum, Ugetsu, Sansho the Bailiff, Street of Shame, Women of the Night, The Crucified Lovers,and Life of Oharu. My refined study concerned the aesthetic style and thematic consistencies in Mizoguchi’s films. But in order to properly formulate a theory or place myself in a critical conversation I had to engulf any writings concerning Japanese film and Mizoguchi by some of the world’s finest critics and theorists. The writings I assimilated into my research were the work of some great minds: Andre Bazin, Keiko McDonald, Donald Richie, David Bordwell, Dudley Andrew and Tadao Sato. If you’re going to research Japanese cinema for school or personal interest, these are the people you have to read (others would include Noel Burch and Donald Kirihara).
I won’t bore you with the details of my research but it was an experience I’ll never forget. I’d recommend to any fan of a particular cinema or director to delve fully into their oeuvre and see where the depth of focus takes you. You never know where a close examination will take you. It could actually lead to a re-imagining of critical thought concerning your subject, which is exactly where mine led. Now I’m charged with fleshing out my work and submitting it as an academic work. It’s really a dream come true to study film in a way that fully involves all thought and senses available to a human being. That’s what film is capable of. I encourage anyone with a serious interest in intellectual film thought to engage themselves in some deep research of a chosen subject. I’m sure you won’t regret it.
My home is populated with a few large posters (Clerks, M, a still of Anita Ekberg from La Dolce Vita) and a revolving door of smaller posters that take up wall-space in various rooms. Generally I love finding posters that are not like the theatrical displays, which are the designs everyone has seen hundred of times in the cinema, on TV, and online. I go for artwork, something that looks like an artist drew and painted and is unique looking or an image from the film that encapsulates the mood of the movie perfectly, not an image of the two or three main leads standing back-to-back, or headshots of the main
cast. That’s boring to me. It’s all well and good for marketing, but I want something with a little more class.
In searching for new cool posters I’ve found that one thing stands out in truly unique artwork: they’re mostly foreign. Take a look at that Cuban version of Kurosawa’s Red Beard at the top of the page, it’s so different and cool looking, using the color red in a way that the film is unable to convey in black & white. It’s simple and I love it. Believe me, that one will adorn my wall very soon. I also love the idea that this poster was hung in whatever Cuban movie theater when this film was released there as opposed to the generic English-language version, or even the version in its native Japanese language which is also pretty mundane.
So, from now on I’d like to periodically point out a cool movie poster that has caught my eye and could possibly end up on my wall. Hopefully some of you will enjoy this and share some pics of cool posters you all have found.
I’ll end this with another pic of a cool poster that really spells out the feeling conveyed in the film with a simple image, and manages to do so without covering two-thirds of the poster with the star’s face.
Having recently finished Lars von Trier’s visually stunning directorial debut, The Element of Crime, a film that deals with crime, psychology, and crime solving in a crumbled, dystopian version of Europe, I got to thinking of other dystopian-set films I’ve seen and enjoyed. While this may be a fairly small sub-sect of films, the quality that pervades the genre is impressive when you think about it. The form itself is a very useful tool for film-makers in constructing allegorical versions of current and future society since they have at their disposal the freedom to create an entire society that can conform to any laws and rules they deem necessary in which to paint their allegorical tale. For the most part, they fall under the umbrella of science-fiction since they usually employ elements very common to the genre. These films paint a bleak futuristic portrait of a world torn apart by government, war, politics, and/or industry, and in most cases feature a grotesquely restructured version of our environment due to a common theme of impending environmental melt-down. These portraits generally serve to portray the director’s views of society as a whole or a particular country or region, as von Trier’s film does with its less-than-pleasant depiction of Europe.
Here is a selection of 10 favorites from my viewing history:
Dir. Orson Welles
V For Vendetta
Dir. James McTeigue
Dir. Ridley Scott
Dir. Chris Marker
Dir. The Wachowski’s
A Scanner Darkly
Dir. Richard Linklater
Dir. Jean-Luc Godard
Dir. Terry Gilliam
Children of Men
Dir. Alfonso Cuaron
Dir. Fritz Lang