Search This Blog

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Aquarela do Brasil

I'm honestly quite surprised I haven't talked about this before, given that it the greatest dystopian film of all time, as well as being one of the best comedy films of all time. It was made in 1984 by Terry Gilliam and its visuals were described as "1980s from the 1940s perspective". It is a movie that delights in bureaucracy and was somewhat ironically muddled in it during production. It is the best kind of comedy because it doesn't state its jokes, they're just there if you care to pay attention, and if you don't well, you were none the wiser anyway.

The film concentrates on surreal imagery, and some of that was definitely the David Bowie-esque dream sequences involving that lovely flying man shown on the poster. The main character is stuck at the bottom rung of the government, and perfectly happy to be there, though everyone except his boss insists he's better than that, and his mother attempts to get him promoted through her overbearing parenthood. But enough about that the plot, after the dream sequence and an advertisement for ducts we cut to what begins the film, a typo. A silly person swats a fly which lands in the typewriter that issues every request for arrest resulting in once innocent man dying, another being driven insane, and a family being broken apart. Typos kill kids, it's the main message of the movie.

So we find our dream sequence guy late for work in the real world, because of his constantly breaking electronics, a theme which echoes through the film, as nothing ever quite works right. He rushes off and attempts to sort out the typo, by sending documents this way and that but the bureaucracy refuses to let him. So the typo resulted in a swat team assaulting the misprinted name, Buttle's, house but unfortunately the family was overcharged for their endeavor, so someone has to make sure that there is no error and this, and that someone will get some of the money back. Buttle is killed despite the fact that he was the wrong guy, but can't have a little money just lying around can we?

But this just segues into the main plot, our protagonist searching for the girl of his dreams, literally. To accomplish this he needs to accept a promotion, and move up to the ever imposing Ministry of Information. It's just as busy and muddled with paperwork and forms upon forms to fill out other forms, but he does get the information he wants with little trouble, though he is forced to contend with a fellow stealing his desk through the wall, and a seemingly deserted imposing building that suddenly filled with people before they moved off again. Like a horde of sheep, but the sheep have more brains.

So with all the paperwork signed, he can go off and find his dream girl, which he does but not after being kicked out of her cab, twice. Though his home has become the dawn of the new ice age, a friendly heating engineer played  by Robert De Niro can help out, and successfully fills the two thugs who had been tormenting him with shit. So sometimes it's not the most subtle movie, but it gets the point across. Now with this dream girl he manages to have one night of true happiness, after declaring her head.

Unfortunately some people didn't get the message, so were still looking for her, and managed to find and kill her, again. At least that's what the paperwork says, and if there's an error its not my department. So after being found guilty of numerous crimes, including but not limited to:iving aid and comfort to the enemies of society, attempting to conceal a fugitive from justice, passing confidential documents to unauthorized personnel, destroying government property, viz. several personnel carriers, taking possession under false pretenses of said carriers, forging the signature of the Head of Records, misdirecting funds in the form of a check to A. Buttle through unauthorized channels, tampering with Central Services supply ducts, obstructing forces of law and order in the exercise of their duty, disregarding the good name of the government and the Department of Information Retrieval, attempting to disrupt the Ministry's internal communicating system and worst of all wasting Ministry time and paper.

With that all said and done he gets sent to something like an insane asylum, where he is accosted by a previous friend dressed as Santa Claus in what is actually one of the less weird parts of the end of the film. Then he is sent to be tortured by a man dressed in a baby mask, in a sequence that would haunt the dreams of many a little boy or girl who saw the film. But then they are saved by Robert De Niro, who incidentally didn't get payed for the film because he was on contract for another. They shoot, kill, and eventually escape, before De Niro is literally swallowed by paperwork, and  Sam and his love interest escape and live happily in a land of sunshine and rainbows.

That is how the American cut ended, as well as about half an hour of other stuff, including the dream sequences and more negative images as well. The real ending of course shows Sam back in the chair, fantasizing his happy ending as he had gone certifiably insane. It's not that bad or dreary of an ending, because at least he gets to live a happy life somewhere, something he never previously had. So that's Brazil, a masterpiece featuring some deeper themes, including the very nature of bureaucracy and some small comments on the over focus on consumerism of society, what with everyone giving Sam the gift of the same Executive toy, one which makes decisions for him, what a nice gift.

If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I'd say: Blade Runner meets Monty Python with a pinch of Alice in Wonderland as well. If that doesn't sound like a recommendation, then I may be insane, because that is what demented baby faces do to a person, any person, because they are terrifying beyond all sense. So with all that, see the film if you haven't, it's a classic for a reason, and if a Python directing and another one acting in it isn't enough, think of the demented babies screaming at you forever if you don't, because that is what happens.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

La Cité des enfants perdus

 English Title: The City of Lost Children

Normally I know exactly what to say about a film, I know whether it was good, know what and why the plot was, and know whether I liked it, often different from the actual quality of the film. But this is just strange. It's a french film with its own unique visual style and flair, and it just defies explanations in parts. Given a one sentence summary I guess I'd say Frankenstein (the novel) meets the Triplets of Belville (a french animated film which I highly recommend) and maybe some Terry Gilliam for good measure. I'm kind of weirded out by the style though, because it acts like a children's film at many parts, from just the cinematography to the prevalence of child actors, it seems like a kids flick, then a man gets stabbed in the eye and watches himself die. It's just beyond genres.

The film begins with a very familiar scene, Santa coming down the chimney to a little kid watching. Then another Santa comes down, and another and another, until the room is filled with them and the child begins crying. Children crying is a fairly common theme throughout the film, and I do have to wonder what they did to get the kids so miserable, did they rip up their toys? Did they tell them their parents were dead? I don't know, and I don't particularly want to. Anyway this is just a dream sequence, stolen from a kid because the main villain of the feature can not dream, being artificially created, and thus without a soul.

Some deep themes are kind of glossed over by the film, like the nature of clones, and the importance of being original, the whole dreamscape as a metaphor, and what family means, but like I said, they're mentioned in passing, with no real analysis or anything. Getting back to the plot their is a jump to a street in some kind of clockwork city, almost Steampunk but maybe a little more advanced, in that they seem to have a typical 9 mm pistol at one point, so I'm not sure just what they're going for. So throughout the story there are two parallel places, the main city with our protagonist searching for his lost little brother, and the island in the middle of the ocean, where kidnapped kids are used to give the antagonist dreams.

The protagonist is essentially a Frankenstein, whose name is One, who has lost his little brother to these dream-nappers. Throughout his journey to find him he finds a little girl named Crumb, and they go on a grand search. Eventually they arrive at the home of some cult, police thing, I'm not really sure and its never explained. All of them have one steam punk eye predator type thing, and have super sensitive hearing leaving them extremely vulnerable to anything that can scream, like the children they try to take. Then the duo is subjected to an extremely weird method of execution. Essentially it's a walk the plank thing, but with a huge basket of fish on one side so the gulls slowly make them walk the plank, with the executioners betting on who will die first.

The film has grim moments like this, but it also is quite idealistic, with all the bad guys being punished and no real good guys dieing, despite situations that would warrant it. So after this failed execution the duo are tracked down by a cruel orphan mistress (or mistresses, its two people connected at the hip) and their is some attempted homicide going down, especially cruel in that they try to make One strangle Crumb, and with all logic it should have worked, she should have been dead, but some Rude Goldbergesque antics trigger an enormous boat crashing through the dock to save them.

Another note about the film is all the women in the film are monsters, whores, or children. Not only are all the women portrayed negatively, aside from the little girl protagonist, but anyone with a speaking line is a villain, or at the very least an antagonist of some sort. In all likelihood it's just a coincidence, but nevertheless it's a weird one. So a guy from earlier comes by and pushes the evil women into a lake of oil they had been creating, and delivers some karmic justice? I don't know, it's not really ironic or anything, but it's made out to be that way.

So the duo is saved, and eventually reaches the island, where Grizzly Adams had been setting up explosives, and plans to blow the whole thing up, then he realizes that he had come there to save kids, not kill them. So Crumb heads up and goes into One's brothers dream, and saves him, as well as killing the antagonist somehow, or maybe he died from natural causes, again not really clear. Then they all row off in boats, leaving behind only Grizzly Adams, apparently the original scientist who created the whole island and what not to blow himself up. This is played for laughs, which is really weird as he begins begging them to let him go, and to come back for him before he blows up but then the film ends, so happy ending?

I don't know I just really don't. It was not really a happy film, or a sad one, it just kind of existed. There was some murder, some thievery, and occasional debauchery as well as a little bit of implied Pedophilia, but I think its meant to be a happy tale, with all the good guys alive and safe, and the bad guys dead or gone. Of course the orphans now have no means to get food or shelter because they killed the only one providing it, and there are a whole lot more now, as well as the evil "Cyclops" who are still around, so I guess it's kind of bittersweet. I like the visual design, that's what I know for sure. The characters are all exaggerated immensely, as are the environments, so it is a very artistically and aesthetically pleasing film, but the plot and the skirting of the big issues leave much to be desired.

See it if you prefer style over substance, but if you need a good, sensible plot and good character development, look elsewhere.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (The good one)

I'll start off by saying this is the 1974 one, no other silly remake or the like. Then I'll say that this is a good film, though it is not a well made film. The cinematography and dialogue are all kind of weird, and when compared to other films, even of the era and the time it just doesn't stand up as well, but the tone of the film, and the way it was made are what contributes to the horror, and what make it such a classic that it can still be watched today and considered good.

So the film starts off by saying it's a true story. The whole film is kind of an attempt to make a film like a documentary, like Blair Witch did so famously in 2001, and as the Coen Brothers said this is what makes the film more realistic, because if people believe it is based off of a true story, they allow for pretty much anything. The story is true in that people were killed, at some point in time, by someone, but all the details and just about everything were changed, so the notice is not one of fact, but one to enhance the fiction.

We have a nice narrator detailing the facts of this "true" account over vague shots of corpses, with flashing in and out to make it unclear. Then we cut to the protagonists of the film, five teenagers who seem fairly normal, if very 70's. After this introduction the crew meets the first psycho of the night, a lovely hitchhiker who upon arriving in their van cuts himself and sets things on fire, this is not appreciated, so they throw him out, though not before he cuts one of the characters, and swears a vague act of revenge in the form of blood on the van.

Then the group heads to the house they were planning to stay at, but the house next door is where the action really starts. Surprisingly one pair of characters is killed off very quickly, with little ceremony, the guy first being smashed in the head, then the girl wandering in to have about the same result. The suddenness of these events is what makes it so surprising, as all deaths in the film, with the notable exception of the leading lady last maybe 10 seconds. This creates the fear, because of the sheer viciousness of the acts which kill these characters, and the speed of them.

The entire film is very dirty, or gritty I guess if you want to go with a more positive word. It is dark, grimy, and has bones almost everyone once the characters reach the house, and doesn't seem to do things too deliberately. It is almost the opposite of a Kubrick or a Hitchcock, or even a Wes Craven horror because of how sudden, grim, and dirty all the actions are, it looks like none of it was planned as opposed to their films where it appears everything was.

The other note about the film is that it is very loud in general, from the sounds of a chainsaw from constant shreaking in the third act, but it's the moments of silence, where all you can hear is the chirping of the crickets or the  beginnings of the music that make it truly effective as a horror. There is nothing really comic here, just a pathetic bunch of crazies doing crazy things. On the whole it is effective in doing what it is trying to do, a new kind of horror which doesn't rely strictly on shocks or gore, but on the whole combination of grime and blood and terror to create this whole experience.

On the whole, it's a bloody good time, though it features surprisingly little blood.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Not a film but a fire

    Fire is a living thing, it is not stagnant, it is never the same. Roaring. Feasting. Never sated in its immense hunger. It is beautiful too, it warms, it provides food, it is the essence of love and hate and all the wonderful terrible emotions that fills up everyday and makes it all worth it.

    Sometimes fire is a cleansing thing, and as the great blaze burned I saw my old life fade away, as a new life wavered indistinctly in the distance. Some beginnings are sad, and all endings are, no matter what they bring. As the fire burned it all just disappeared, the hurt, the fear, the pain. All the good and the bad and it is all gone, only to start anew. But by embracing this new life, I know that in the end it will all be alright.

     That is not how it started though. It started with the biggest fire of all spreading through my apartment, glowing and providing just enough light to wake me up. Expecting a normal day I opened my eyes, and what did I see but my cat floating. Understandably this was not a usual occurrence. I wasn’t scared though, wasn’t frightened, wasn’t even aware really, having just woken thought I was still dreaming, and just kind of took it in stride. Then the realization hit, and it hit hard, that things just weren’t normal anymore, and may never be again.

    Roll right out of bed. Hit the floor with a resounding thump. Look up, and look down right away. There is always the denial, with everything bad that had happened I figured I could just make it go away through disbelief, it wouldn’t affect me until I allowed it to.

    The world doesn’t work that way though, the bad stuff always happens, and despite the refusal to accept the cat floating there 3 feet above the bed it was still there, still taunting. Well Mr. Snuffles wasn’t really taunting me; it was the damned demon floating there, invisible to my eye and unavailable to other senses, but I’m told he just drifted there tauntingly, laughing his evil little laugh.

    Demons are never content to just wait though, especially when they believe they have been spotted in their little proto brains. So he smashed the window. That was when everything donned on me, as those little bits of glass dribbled to the floor, tinking on the hard floors. One odd thing I noticed though was the scented candles I light before I go to sleep were still burning, through the night. The fire was the only nice thing in that place, but for a second I focused on it, oblivious to the rest.

    Then I did what any sensible person would do and ran. Not elegantly, no small steps away, just straight out sprinting with no thought to what else I would do. Luckily I grabbed my phone as I hit the door, and once in the hallway was able to think just a little bit more rationally. I needed help, someone who might know something about all of this. So I called Tim.

     Everyone has that friend who’s a little weird, a little bit out of the ordinary who likes to do his own thing. For me that was Tim, and he was the one who had the biggest chance of knowing anything about floating cats. Ring ring. Ring ring. Why won’t he just pick up the damn phone…
    “Good day, and why might a person like you be calling at this time, shouldn’t you be in bed?” Always the joker Tim can rarely get a straight hello out, though when times get serious like this he turns on a switch, and becomes super competent.

    “Well I would be but something came up, something really weird, look can you just meet me at my apartment or something, I don’t want to leave just right now.” I stuttered this out, and I’m sure it didn’t make much sense, but like a good friend I knew Tim would come.

    “Okay, yeah, I can come by though I don’t see what could be so urgent as to get you out of bed. See you soon.” And so I made my stupidest decision of the day, to bring someone else into something which should have been just mine. By the end of the day far too many people were hurt and all because I couldn’t deal with things by myself, one of my perpetual problems.

    After a time he arrived, it didn’t look like he was too worried though, as he casually strolled up cool as a polar bear in the arctic. With trembling fingers I unlocked the door, with an unknown fate on the other side. But then there was nothing. No cat, no floating, we searched for minutes but all we could find was the broken window.

    “Are you sure your cat didn’t just jump? It’s a distinct possibility after living with you for so many years.” Always the jokes, can’t he ever be serious?

    “No, it had to be something, I mean I know I was tired but I’m sure I would remember if it was something so normal, and how could a cat break the window anyway I’m not sure even I could break it.” Even as I said it I was less and less sure, I mean you don’t really want to believe in supernatural, or just plain weird stuff, so rational explanations always triumph over the others.

    “Sure, look I know you’re riled up but how bout I take you out, for coffee or something, something to wake you up and maybe get your head on just a little bit straighter.” So I got changed and we went out, heading to a nice little place just a block away from my apartment.

     Sleepy Joe’s it was called, or it used to be, now it’s not really called anything. But then it was a thriving place of business, mainly to the late risers like me, needing that extra jump to get out to a job they hated.

    All the people passing by, they had a normal day in their normal lives, but I had an experience that would fundamentally change me, even if I didn’t know it yet. There was Francis, I’d met him once before, he once bought a bunch of roses for a date, I guess it didn’t go so well. There’s Anna, she lives just down the level from me, I sometimes see her as she leaves the building, she has 3 kids with no father. Then there’s Tim, always a great friend, and in the end he’s dead.
    Dead just like everyone else there in the shop. Just as we were sitting down is when it decided to strike. The demon from before was back and all for no reason.

    The whole world exploded. Fire, the tool of evil and destruction, erasing knowledge, disposing of evidence, and ridding lives. He made sure that there was an escape path for me, though not for Tim, or anyone else. I tried damn it, I tried. I reached into the fire and pulled out nothing but burns, there was no saving the rest of them, not in that perpetual inferno. It wasn’t cowardly to run, it was the only option, but survivor’s guilt just gnaws at you, it burns you, and can almost destroy you.

    As the flames engulfed the building I stood there dumbfounded, confused, alone, and terrified of what might happen next. The fire looked beautiful then, ignoring the smells and the sounds that sought to disrupt it. It danced, and it weaved, and it lived. There was the screaming though, disrupting the perfect harmony of crackling. It was easier to just hear the crackling, and just ignore all the rest, all the burning and all the pain.
    I stood there for what seemed like hours, though it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes if that. I watched those effervescent flames flee and fly. Then I was saved, by one of the few true knights left in the world, saved from the hell that my life had become. Saved by blood and sword. One moment there was no one, and then suddenly there was a man, a knight.

    “Come now good lady, we must take you away from this place.” He said caringly. He was so gentle compared to most of his size, towering over me and not helped at all by the well worn suit of armor he wore. He also had an enormous blade which he wielded with outstanding grace, wiping some dark liquid off and stowing it with one clean swish. And then he carried me off my feat after defeating the evil monster, just as every little girl’s dream.

    I barely noticed the city we walked past, everything blurred and indistinct, unimportant. I don’t even know where we went, the only thing I noticed before I collapsed into such a nice sleep were the little fires, the candles. I dreamed a dream of a normal life, nothing special just life. That would be nice. But that’s just not for me, everything fades away into red and orange and yellow destruction. The nightmares are always hard, but it’ll get better, just like everything else.

    “You are awake, good. How did you sleep?” Themis sat by a fire, cooking something indistinct.

    “Um fine, where are we exactly, who are you? I don’t mean to sound rude but you just came out of nowhere and I mean I just don’t know anymore.” I mumbled off at this point and looked around; we were in a dank grey room, with the only light from the fire and a few candles by the door.

    “For your first question, you are in my home. A simple living, but suited to my needs. We are down in the industrial district, in an abandoned factory.” He had the slightest accent, probably European, but I couldn’t tell from where. “As for who I am, I am Themis Dios, Knight of the Cross, though I suppose I’m not really officially their knight anymore. I have some food if you would like it.” So many more questions arise, things can just never as simple as I’d like. But first things first, I accept the food and enjoy the first food I’d had for…

    “How long have I been sleeping for?” I asked.

    “You have been asleep for a few hours. Sometimes traumatic events can cause the mind to shut down.” He seemed concerned. “Now that you’ve woken up we can discuss what has happened.”

    “I… I just don’t understand why. He’s dead and they’re all dead and everyone is gone and the fire burned so bright but all the screaming and the pain and they all just… went away.” I trailed off at the end because it hit me, everything at once like a freight train. When most people cry it’s not like the movies, no single tear for a fallen friend or comrade, it’s a torrent, unstoppable and wild.

    He was so kind, this man, he waited, for how long I don’t know but he waited until I was done and only once I was done did he tell me everything. “What happened to you is simply one of the cruel machinations of life; there is nothing you could have done.” He spoke slow, and deliberate, placing a great deal of importance on every word. “What you see, what you taste, what you hear is all less than it could be. Beyond your perception lies all that which is the purest evil, and all that is the purest good. I speak of the Fae, the world of the faeries.”

    “Fairies, but that doesn’t make any sense, aren’t fairies little people with wings who help,” I asked “like in the movies?”

    “The movies tell an idyllic story of good and evil and the eventual triumph of man. In the end this may be true, but for you, for now, that is not the way the world works.” Again he spoke slowly, as if talking to a child. “What attacked you was a hell-beast from the Fae, essentially a demon.” It was all so unbelievable, but at the time I had nothing to do but accept it as truth. “I killed it, or as close as one can come in this world, but it will be back, though it will have forgotten you, and moved on to some new pursuit. They love tormenting, demons, and when they slip through the mortal cracks they destroy and will not let up like what has been done to you.”

    “So what you’re saying, all that has happened to me, it was all a joke?” It was impossible, it couldn’t be like this. “It was all just some demon fucking with me? Well that is just great, just amazing, he won’t even remember what he did to me, what he did to my friend, to those people?”

    “Becoming angry will not help, it will only make you upset. I understand that what happened is behind comprehension, almost unexplainable by what you know.” Themis said in a comforting voice, but it didn’t help. I tried to calm down, to rationalize everything that happened, but it didn’t help. I just broke down again. By the time I was back to reality the candles had burned almost a quarter of the way down.

“To help you understand, to make some sense of this unbelievable occurance I present the Libris Fae, a copy of the book that contains almost everything we know about their world.” It was an enormous leather bound book, larger than any I had seen before. The writing on the cover looked ancient, and I was almost afraid of touching it, for fear it might fall apart. “To start with you may be wondering why I can see the demons, the faeries. In my years as a knight we were trained to see more than others, to see through the lies cast upon us by Satan.”

“Um earlier you said you used to be a knight, what happened?” It might be a sensitive topic, but at that point I needed some concrete facts to cement me into this new world.

“We had… disagreements about the way things were run. When a new leader is chosen it is typically the knight with the most experience, not the most charismatic, new changes in the order caused me to leave, forcibly.” Themis stated rather bluntly. “But back to the issue at hand, we need to start with the basics. Parallel to this world is the Fae, the land of the faeries. In that world there are all the beings of imagination, from demons to your typical movie faeries to unknowable evils, even for the knights. All these elements form a place of chaos, unchartable and insane to all but the most deranged minds.”

“The important thing is that you know. You know what has happened, and you know why, in some respects. Now I must leave a choice up to you. With all of this information, what do you do. Do you live as you had, live with your friends and family knowing what is out there, what could happen at any moment, or do you seek to do something about it?” I’ve never done anything special, anything bigger than my own life. I lived a good life, I lived happily, is it possible that existence will never come back?

I left him then, I went back home, back to normality. I went to work. I talked to friends. They consoled me. In the end though I was just sleep walking through life, and everything had become so much less real than it should have been. Looking back on the events of that day I knew that in the end I would have to do something. I stared up at the ceiling, Mr. Snuffles had still not been found, probably eaten by the god forsaken demon. The ceiling hadn’t changed, the bed hadn’t changed, the room, the building, the street, the world hadn’t changed, but I had. And I had to do something about it.

It just wasn't fair. My life had changed completely, everything that I thought I knew was now different, all because of some stupid little demon that shouldn't even be real. It just wasn't fair. It suffered nothing, it died and came back, but Tim can't do that, no person can do that. Maybe I could make him pay, maybe we could find him, me and this new knight named Themis, find him and deliver final justice to him, justice for Tim, and for my cat, and for all the people that I never really knew.

I saw everything as it was for once, and that was something fundamentally different from the way things used to be. I used to accept all the normality of life, contrast it with the occasional incidental weirdness but with Tim gone, with what I had learned, there seemed to be little other option than to opt out, to exit life and pretend that I was never there. No one would really miss me, would they? I mean they might cry, but they'd get over it, they'd just believe me to be crazy, burned down my apartment for no reason, but I'd know, and that is what is important in the end.

I begin the ritual, slowly lighting the candles, one by one. There are dozens of them, I always liked the natural light they provided, different to the artificial light that people insist on now. My store too, always lit with natural light, no false light, only the real stuff. Once the final candle is lit I'm ready, looking over everything I have, and everything that I'll lose if I go through with this, and realize it is all really nothing, nothing to lose, but everything to gain in a new life.

Is it ironic to pull the fire alarm to save people from the fire you are about to start? It would all be an accident, just some stupid person leaving their candles out, knocked over, burning the whole place down. The firemen will put it out , only my apartment will be burned. Burning cleansing fire. When everything is gone then all that is left is me. I will have now way to go back, won’t be afraid of the future because it is all that I have, I will be forced to embrace a new life.

As I walk out of the old and into the new I know I'll be safe, that this is my story, and that once I figure out the new strange world I will be able to get my vengeance. I arrive at the factory, he knows I’ll be there. Walking in he is ready to greet me, to welcome me into my new life, a life so different from the past but also so similar. The world had not changed, but I had.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

No Country For Old Men

This is actually probably my favorite film of the decade, so pardon me if it's a bit biased After watching NCFOM for the umpteenth time I finally realized what it was about. It wasn't just about death, or the senseless violence that has become so prevalent in society, no the main issue explored in the film is the generation gap. Out with the old, in with the new, sometimes in the most violent way possible.

First a brief summary, a Vietnam vet but otherwise everyman finds some money, this money belongs to Mexican gangsters who pursue him throughout Texas. The main antagonist here is the kindly fellow on the right, Anton Chigurh. Following this chase is an old sheriff, just one day from retirement, who surprisingly doesn't get killed. With the conclusion the film is almost an anti-movie, with the main character murdered off screen, the villain getting away essentially scot free, and the narrator just getting tired of it all, and quitting.

This is all related to the initial theme, that of the difference between the generations. One scene near the end seems almost like a non-sequitur when taken out of context, where the sheriff goes to a retired lawman's house and hears a story about his uncle getting executed on a porch in the early 1900s. This scene actually clearly shows to the sheriff that violence has always been around, and that nostalgia for days past will not help with today. The old days were not as good as we have come to believe. But this is tangential to the main point; for society to function the new must replace the old.

Throughout the film the old are slowly killed off, or give up on contributing to society. The two youngish characters who are killed where Vietnam veterans, and had thus experienced much more hardship than a typical person of their age, so were mentally old/tired. When the sheriff discusses his problem, Anton Chigurh, and the protagonist's death with another sheriff they have what may be considered a cliche rant about kids these days, with people with "green hair walking down main street." They realize that their time has come, especially the narrator sheriff, who decides that is is time to retire, and though the title is not dropped, it is heavily implied. Once the old have gone it is time for the new generation to come and show what they can do.

During the film there are only two sequences with kids, both featuring them coming into a scene of immense violence, and their different reactions. The first is a group of teens coming back from drinking in Mexico, and encountering the protagonist injured from a shootout. One of them can not accept this, and keeps repeating "Were you in a car accident?" much to the annoyance of his friends, who demand money in exchange for helping the protagonist. The inherent greed shows that the generation to come, and since this was set in the 80s they would be in their 30s now, can be intensely greedy, leeching off the troubles of others and exploiting the disadvantaged. This could easily be a comment about the current political and economical situation, and was extremely topical in the time it was produced, 2007.

This stands at a contrast to the second group of kids. Anton Chigurh has just been in a car accident, and two kids come up on their bikes, offering help. When asked for a shirt one of them gives it freely, and even declines payment when it is offered. The Coen's seek to show that there is hope for for this next generation, and that not everyone is the same, some offer the selfless charity that is also necessary for society to function. The film is about the new replacing the old, as well as the assurance that though there are bad people in this new generation there should be no fear, as that is the way it has always been. There has always been violence, and there has always been selfish people exploiting others, just as there has always been human charity and those who will pursue what is right despite it not being easy.

In the end there will always be those selfish and evil people, just as there will always be selfless and good people, and the constant struggle between generations is on a whole unnecessary, because just as each generation has its changes it on a whole is always the same.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Double Feature of Horror

Two movies came out in the 80's, both great horror films, though they are only related tangentially. The first of these films was 1981's The Evil Dead, a relatively unknown film compared to its sequels, specifically 1992's Army of Darkness. Both feature the man who could kill with his chin, Bruce Campbell. But neither of these films really compared to the success that was 1984's Nightmare on Elm Street, a horror classic that actually built up tension as well as delivering plenty of gore. Now when I said these films were just a little bit related I mean in one of Nightmare's scenes The Evil Dead is playing on the TV, which was then referenced with a Freddy Kreuger glove in Evil Dead 2, quite a cool legacy.

First let's look at Evil Dead, the quintessential B horror film. The movie starts out creepy enough, a good location of an abandoned cabin the woods with dripping pipes and an evil history of the cabin. There's some decent camera work and all that to create a fairly good atmosphere, then shit gets really crazy.

First we have the tree rape scene. I will say nothing more, because anything else is extraneous, it is truly horrifying. Then when the girl is recovered from this traumatic experience she becomes a weird zombie thing and is trapped in the cellar, though not before biting one of the main cast. One of the things I really liked about the film is that Bruce Campbell is not the obvious protagonist, at least not a first, he seems more like the guy who dies in self sacrifice last or something.

The others die or get zombified relatively quickly after the event, and then it just becomes a matter of how much liquid they can spray on our hero, as well as just how much violence they can fit in, while still maintaining the eensiest bit of horror and tension. It's pretty much all gone though, especially once they get to the things just attacking from every direction, including a zombie stabbing a character with a pencil, it's just kind of silly.

That's the movie's strength though, and especially where it differs from Nightmare. It embraces the silliness, and the gore and all that and becomes a much better movie and series for it, unlike some of the later Nightmare sequels, which turn the former terrifying antagonist into a wisecracking joke of a villain.

Talking about Nightmare it is a genuinely good horror film which features Johnny Depp (In a first role) being completely obliterated in a geyser of blood. The way the film builds tension is like all the great ones, by not showing the villain, always cloaked in shadows and unknown until the climax of the film he was all the scarier for it.

I mean sure, nowadays everyone knows Freddy Kreuger, something the remake took for granted and was much the worse for it, but then it was such an effective scare with someone targeting us when we are at our weakest, asleep. Using nightmares as a tool added an extra depth to the scare, because by having nightmares about the film, an intended consequence, it added more impact to them because it was possible you would die in real life. Not actually, but you know.

Anyway I don't have an enormous amount to say about either of these films, other than to recommend them to all lovers of horror and thriller too, and especially the connoisseurs which prefer something a little dated, and with just that tad bit of humor, though not too exaggerated like Nightmare 4-8.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

May (2002)

Before I delve into the film, let me detail why it has been so long since I've updated. I suppose it's a combination of factors, as it so often is, primarily just how down I was feeling previous to a camp last week. Another thing is just how much work I had to procrastinate, which is always a strain. Then finally there is just the simple lack of enthusiasm, but honestly if anyone reads this and gets some enjoyment I will feel happy, so without further ado I present May, a film which was incorrectly advertised.

The film starts off fairly innocently, well that's not entirely true. The film begins with the protagonist stabbing herself with scissors, then quickly cuts to her and her mother finding a doll. Then the real plot begins, with the titular character, May, working at a veterinary hospital with a fairly weird co-worker and a boss who doesn't respect her.

We see May's obsession with a man as well as her unhealthy collection of dolls, but the movie is not really horror at this point, and isn't really until the last 20 minutes. That is why it was advertised wrong, with the poster and the trailer and everything clearly stating it was a horror, when it should have been advertised as a romantic comedy with a twist ending, which would have added much more impact.

I digress however, and complaining about it now won't exactly change anything. The actors are all fairly decent, with the suitably awkward main character really carrying the show (She also played Carrie in the ill fated remake). The film received moderate critical acclaim, though some critics really despised it, and audiences never watched it, so it remained largely unnoticed, though its developed a small cult following.

Overall I recommend seeing it, though don't go in expecting a masterpiece, it surely isn't. Compared to other horror films of the time however, it was some what of a breath of fresh air, adding an interesting subversion to the genre, and delivering scares without just bump frights.

Well I hope to write more movie stuff over the next couple weeks, mainly as a way of procrastinating and taking my mind off all those things in the world which are just a bit too big.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Grave of the fireflies

I'll be brief since I have so little to write about this masterpiece of a film. Directed by Studio Ghibli this 1988 film is the tale of two orphans attempting to live in World War II Germany. Lot's of laughs. But mainly tears, so many tears. It is one of the strongest anti-war films out there, but also a warning tale about pride and learning to accept your mistakes, a fact which is often missed by critics who just see the admittedly powerful imagery directed against the pointless war.

The key point about the film is the little moments that it shows, the happy relationship the two children share, even if it is in the brief interludes of incredible depression. One of the most telling and for me touching moments of the film is when the little girl asks for her favorite candy, and is crying when she thinks there are none left. Then the big brother looks deep inside the can and finds a few pieces and some scraps, the little girl looks very carefully at what is left, and eats the scraps putting away the rest. This incredibly poignant scene is one of many, and just seeks to show how masterful Ghibli can be when it is in its element.

This is not a happy film though, it is an incredibly depressing film where in the end there is no happy ending. They both die, this is stated in the first minute of the film. The buildup to it though, even though you know the end result is what makes it so sad. I personally felt so much anger at the characters because many of the events could have been prevented, but where not because of basic human flaws. The tale makes much more sense and becomes much sadder when you here that it was based off a real account from a man who grew up in the period and blames himself for his sister's death.

This is an amazing film though, and I think everyone should watch it at least once, even if you don't believe that cartoons can be made for adults, maybe this film will change your mind, and will almost certainly change your heart, if only for a little while.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Fanboys is an indie film wrought with troubles in its production. Originally it was going to be released in late 2006, then they wanted to reshoot some scenes so went with early 2007. Unfortunately cast members being busy delayed the release until late 2008. This also meant their were a lot of edits to the film, perhaps too many. Apparently some of the more sensitive moments were changed for some of the crude comedy which seems out of place with the rest of the film, and it shows.

There's one scene early on where all the guys are forced to strip at a gay bar, that could have been cut really easily, and  nothing would be lost, not even comedy considering how unfunny that sequence was. These random sequences do drag the film down a bit, but overall I really liked it. This is apparently a differing opinion to the critics given its 30% on Rotten Tomatoes, but it is a great Star Wars movie.

That is what the film is really about, fanboys, the rampant devotion of the titular characters is shown throughout the film, not necessarily in a positive light, but in an honest self evaluation. The creators of the film were obviously huge fans, from the use of original sounds to the constant references, and choice of actors it shows a nerds devotion to the art of Star Wars.

It also shies away from the obvious "the prequel's sucked lolololol" jokes, aside from one minor comment at the end, and this makes it a much better film. It embraces the cheesiness of Star Wars, but also shows just how much any given media can mean to fans, as the events that drive the film are because one devoted fan just wants to see Episode 1 before he dies of cancer. This is the serious plot point that could have used more time, though it does kind of undercurrent the film, and there is a lot of more subtle hints at it throughout, thought they could have been expanded upon.

Some of the fanboyness shines through , like when they stumble upon Lucas' private sanctuary, with all the original props, it is an amazing sight. The reverence they treat the films with is what sets this apparent from parodies like Scary Movie and the like, it embraces the subject matter lovingly, though not without good humor, instead of insulting it. Overall this is what makes it the better film, and definitely one I would watch again, as the loving reverence reminds of an age past, when the original trilogy was all there was, and we loved every last moment of it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Those That Service Us

They live life everyday, bored of their seemingly tepid existence. All this is compounded when one clerk, Dante, is bullied into coming in on his day off. This classic 1994 film by director Keven Smith is one of the defining movies of the indie movement, and it's development is amazingly entertaining. He maxed out 8 credit cards by pretending to be his boss, and work night and day to make sure the film got done. Overall he got about one hour of sleep for many night, nearly driving himself insane.

The film has its problems, and its limited budget shines through in numerous instances. The most obvious of this is the fact that it is in black and white, a trend that ended just more than 25 years before this film came out, but the incredibly limited budget made it the only option. The actors are also, not the highlight of the film, the limited budget meant friends and family of Smith's had to come in and 'act', but sometimes the silences are obviously the actors forgetting lines, and some of the reactions seem stilted.

This is also Smith's first real film, and the camera angles and the technical stuff are all obviously amateur. Despite all of this, I still love the film. This is a result of the dialogue, it is so well written that the rest of the movie is excused from its many faults. The movie is funny, it's full of pop culture references that are more than just quotes, and has a loving knowledge of comedy.

It is also a very human film, from the customers who come in just wanting a pack of smokes, to the main characters Dante and Randal who are characterized as normal people, they contrast each other extremely well with Randall openly spitting in the customer's faces, sometimes literally, and Dante bottling up his anger until it bursts at the climax of the film.

This is what makes the writing so impressive, it just seems like a group of friend's talking, because that is what it is. You don't need to make up dialogue when your typical conversations fit the characters, and it adds realism because they are the kind of conversations that go on. It also helps define the target audience and makes it so much more enjoyable by drawing you in. For example the Star Wars conversation in the middle sounds exactly like something we would say, in fact I'm sure I've had a similar discussion in real life.

Clerks is one of my favorite 90s films, I feel it really represents the decade. The Seinfeldian nature was right at its peak, and the conversations are so real, that the faults of the film just fade into the background as the witty dialogue takes the show. I suppose I love the film because if it comes to that I could see me in that position, it's not favorable but it is a distinct possibility, and that makes it real, and a real movie like this is strictly superior to all those with painstakingly written dialogue, that it stands as a gem in a shit.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Star Wars: A Tragic Tale of Shakespearean Tragedy

            Looking at the Star Wars series as a whole it paints a fairly sad picture. A man driven to madness by the death of his family, seeks out and systematically destroys everything he loved leading up to his death as he sacrifices himself to kill his cruel mentor. This is because the story is not Luke’s, but Anakin’s; it is about his eventual transformation into the monster Darth Vader, and his eventual redemption through death.

            One of the defining elements of a Shakespearean tragedy is that everyone dies at the end. This is almost true from Anakin’s perspective, as the only living remnants of his old society is his son, who he has recently tried to kill, and his daughter who he has never met. In some ways the end of the old Jedi order can be compared to the end of Chivalry in the middle ages, brought on by the advent of new technology like crossbows and guns. This is best evidenced in Return of the Jedi when it is not a knight’s sword (a lightsaber) that slays the dragon (the Rancor) but cunning and a rock.

            The loss of chivalry pervades the films. In the brief period between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope the Jedi have been entirely forgotten, and the Force is thought of as a misguided religion, alike to Greek mythology today. The lightsaber is thought of as an “elegant weapon for a simpler time” as the age of its use has passed, as evidenced by the three active users in the galaxy.  This loss of chivalry is also a notable element of Shakespearean tragedies as revenge leads to disaster and murder, an antithesis to chivalry.

            Anakin is a tragic hero as he displays both good and evil, though ultimately forfeits himself to the dark side. This is one of the critical elements of Star Wars that makes it such a perfect example of a tragedy, things appear black and white with the light and dark side but still have grey characters creating a realistic environment. There were many points when Anakin could have turned back, and the final tipping point is when Mace Windu threatens Palpatine and offers him the chance to help or betray him. Of course for the rest of the series to take place he needs to choose the evil option. That is when the true tragedy begins.

            His train wreck begins with one assisted murder, but leads to the death of billions. Darth Vader is portrayed as truly evil, but in reality he is regretting his actions, but unwilling to do anything about his current situation, being essentially powerless, watching all the destruction fly past him, obeying as he is told like Palpatine’s attack dog. He is not the villain in a retrospective look, even if his initial appearance sets him out to be, a reverse of the typical tragic hero, but it only seeks to reinforce the nature of his descent, and the difficulty his life has been.

            Vader is not traditionally thought of as a hero, and especially would not have been in 1983, but now with the whole story told he is a hero transformed into a villain through circumstance, but also his own choices. This is what makes him the traditional tragic Shakespearean hero, one whose villains make him one of their own, and whose choices define him.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Just for the Hell of it

The Navidson Record (1993): The peak of physical storytelling, shot with such purpose, and such expertise that it could only be shot by one man, Will Navidson. The film, or maybe documentary, mainly consists of Hi 8 cam shots, but the editing makes the story so engrossing. The depths of the house unexplored, truly amazing. What is even more interesting than the film though is the response to it, the amazing critical response and analysis which comes with the film. One has to only read one of the dozens of essays about it to realize just how much effort people put into it, and to realize just how important it is not only in the history of film, but in the history of human storytelling. A true masterpiece, and if I had to name my favourite film I think this may just have to be it.

It’s the postmodernism in it that truly makes it, the long still shots of darkness, of silence, of nothing. The music too, adds the little touches which draw the viewer in, and make it so much of an experience. The opening shot of one man and some lemonade sets up everything so perfectly, the pacing of the film, some would call it slow, I simply call it tension building. Everything about it is amazing, from the low quality of some of the cameras to add to the realism, to the dialogue which seems so unscripted it could very well be real, despite the fantastical events. Though there is nothing saying it isn’t real, all evidence points to the events being entirely possible, if extremely unlikely, and that is what puts it above the standard film, the level which people are willing to go to prove or disprove it, the sheer effort that is involved in the Navidson Record.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

X-men: Just About First Class

X-men: First Class recently came out, and is the fifth film in the franchise, and the third good one. Interestingly enough they decided to not go for the entire remake thing, but made something which almost fits in to the series, if you ignore a few parts of some of the films, like the prologue to X3 or the non blue Hank McCoy in X1. Accepting that this may upset some fans, and I have heard quite a few complaints about it, it's still a really good movie. Maybe not revolutionary, or the best quality film making, but as good as one can expect from a superhero movie.

The actors chosen fit their parts extremely well, with Kevin Bacon making for an excellent villain, who is assuredly not a Nazi, despite many claims to the contrary. Magneto's slow decent from hero to villain is done excellently, with the fact that there is no real 'turning to the dark side' moment, as opposed to some other trilogy I know of. And that is what they're trying to do with this film, set up for a new trilogy, which if I know my superhero movies, will have a good second film and then all go to crap.

The characters are portrayed well, if differently from their comic book interpretations, another thing which tends to piss off fans, but you can tell by the way they're making this film that they were trying to appeal to a wider audience, not just the small group of diehards. The soundtrack was good, and fit the film well, and the background to the film, the Cuban missile crisis, was extremely well done, and gave some scope to what would otherwise just have been a personal story.

That's not to say the film was perfect, some of the cinematography was below par, shots lingering far too long, and some jokes which kind of fell flat. The passage of time was also really not shown, and what should have been months appeared to be a couple of days, maybe a week. Also the mutants they chose, were in general kind of terrible, I mean Banshee? Darwin? Riptide, the guy who creates tornadoes whose name is never mentioned in the film. These guys are no namers, the only really entertaining mutant, Emma Frost, gets shoved away in a holding cell for about half the film.

But overall it was a good film, and a good revitalization of the series, much need after the near travesty of Origins: Wolverine and 3. The action scenes were one of the highlights, and Magneto's scene in Argentina at the bar was one of the best curb stomp battles I have seen in a while. So go see it if you haven't, and if you don't like it, well as Wolverine says "fuck off".

Monday, May 30, 2011

Symposium of the Decades Part 5: If this is good it'll be a miracle

9/11. Every American knows these words, and knows them well. That single day changed well, just about everything. It defined the decade one way or another, starting the war on terror leading to many thousands of deaths and trillions of dollars worth of military spending. The special effects have become so amazing that something like Avatar (2009) could be made, a film almost entirely CGI, yet still looking realistic compared to the people. By the end of the decade the uncanny value had almost been conquered, and it paved the way for new genres of film. Big budget franchises were the name of the game, as the industry became more and more profitable, and audiences got draw in further and further.

Donnie Darko (2001): The first film is a generic romantic comedy, a genre that was extremely prevalent during this decade. Some of the best reviewed films of the decade were deconstructions of this genre, and this, along with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, are some of the best of that type. A cult film which gained popularity through the roots of the internet; a surrealist film in an era which was just not quite ready. A masterful piece of film-making that inspired many, many indie films in the future, Donnie Darko is one of the defining films in its genre.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001, 2002, and 2003): I don’t think this one needs too much explanation. The battle scenes created a new definition for epic, and as a successful adaptation of a famous book series it lead the way for many, many imitators, the worst of which was probably 2006’s Eragon. There’s no doubt the amount of impact LoTR had, quite probably inspiring another powerful trilogy, Pirates of the Caribbean. The films themselves are not cinematic masterpieces, but the set pieces are suitably impressive, and suit the effects well, offering all the genre can really show, and demonstrating that an adaptation does not have to be bad.

Kill Bill (2003 & 2004): These films were one story released in two volumes, because of the initial 4 hour runtime. The two parts compliment as well as contrast themselves, with the first almost non-stop action, and the second having less than minute long fights, and an enormous amount of dialogue. The ending too is indicative of the decade as a whole, ending on a sombre note, as true victory is not really had, an interesting comment about Bush’s “Mission Accomplished”. It’s almost a case of ultra-violence, especially the first half, compared favourably to A Clockwork Orange. Kubrick and Tarantino can be compared, as both craft their films with such purpose, every scene necessary, and masterfully shot. Said to eventually be a trilogy, it will be a site to see when the bride rides again.

No Country for Old Men (2007): The Coen Brother’s only Best Picture, and it’s a doozy; the tale of a briefcase full of money, a recurring theme in the brother’s pictures. The film is shot very slowly, shots panning and deliberating, never rushing. Like the main antagonist, a personification of death, the film plods along, never ceasing, relentless in the pursuit of an obsolete goal. It is a film about predestination, and the avoidance of fate. The main character dies off screen. It shows that he is not important, that death waits for no man, and the protagonist and antagonist never actually meet. It is a very post-modern film, and that is the way that storytelling is going these days.

As for a defining film of the decade, I think the point to note is there was no one film. The decade changed so much, but nothing was consistent, every facet of life adapted to this new universe, and everything changed along with it. There are numerous documentary films that bare mention, An Inconvenient Truth bringing global warming to the masses on an unprecedented scale, Fahrenheit 9/11 dealing with the ever important issue of terrorism, and Thank You For Smoking further reinforcing the negative effects the industry has on everyone. But the defining film of the decade was in fact you, everyone. Youtube has made it so everyday videos get millions of views, everyone believes that everyone else wants to see what they have to say, or do, and sometimes they are right. So the defining film is home movies through Youtube, and everyone should feel very proud of themselves.

The days have passed where information was hidden from the public. With Wikileaks and twitter and blogs, all information is available to anyone with internet access. The world has changed, immensely, everything is different. People are connected more and more, and this has changed the way we look at life. Now a presidential candidate will be examined from every possible angle, anyone they ever met will be known and interviewed, and privacy is a thing of the past. Big brother is watching you, and he is very disappointed in you.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Falcon Punch

 Sucker Punch is a feminist film. The males are one dimensional caricatures, compared to the fully flesh out females. This is at an utter contrast to what everyone was expecting, and subverts the expectations of the audience, a goal that it set out to achieve, as evidenced by the title. I realize this is not exactly topical, but I couldn't really express what I felt until now.

The movie follows the Joss Whedon school of feminism, hot girls kicking ass. However by having the males in the film either incompetent, or straight villainous a different image than what the previews showed and what many fans went into expecting. The film subverts expectations and panders to the fan-boys, but also insults them. The scenes of action that appeared to be blatant pandering were all part of the intricate dance that is the film.

On the surface it appears to be the standard popcorn flick, with attractive women, explosive action, and a paper thin plot, but this is not at all the case. These preconceived notions could in part due to director Zack Snyder's previous extremely testosterone filled affair, 300 . On the third level of reality in the film this would be true, but looking at the film at a whole it is a feminine film, about the struggles of one girl, and here attempts to be a good big sister.

Now the action scenes are amazing, and the soundtrack fits it amazingly well, but that is not the point. The point is that it is just fantasy, an escape from the real world, and the hardships within. The movie actually has two levels of fantasy, and the 50's brothel is just the second layer. All the viewers of the brothel are the fan-boys, "the men in the dark are us", the film comments on the sexism that appears to be inherent in the culture, breaking it down piece by piece.

The film is not for everyone, the plot can be confusing, and some will compare it to Inception. This is wrong, the themes they deal with are completely different, and the purpose of the action is completely different, as well as the feelings of both films. Overall though I highly recommend seeing it, if only just once, because it is an incredibly polarizing film that needs to be seen for an opinion to be made, because honestly, no one can tell you whether you like a film or not, you have to decide it for yourself.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Symposium on the Decades Part 4: The Final Chapter

The 90s, a decade extremely relevant to me given that I was in fact alive during most of it. This was the Generation X type stuff, the era when the Simpsons started, though that was technically ’89, and a new era in filmmaking. It was a relatively peaceful decade, the Cold War had just ended and the War on Terror was yet to begin. This decade housed some of my favourite films, and with the dawn of the internet independent films were given more coverage, information began to be shared globally fairly quickly. The TV, games, and music were all easily recognizable, and the 90s was the beginning of my generation, an important personal touch needed to make it oh so special.

Jurrassic Park (1993): The first proper live action dinosaur film, one which amazed audiences with realistic robot monstrosities, and created a new standard for computer generated imagery, for bettor or for worse. The number of films it influenced is enormous, allowing for the future works of James Cameron, Lucas’ much reviled prequel trilogy, and Peter Jackson’s epic LoTR trilogy. The fear of ‘velociraptors’ is one that has been ingrained into the mind of many a kid of the 90s, particularly evidenced by xkcd creator Randall Munroe. Overall an extremely influential film that showed us what we had all been wanting for decades, through the innovative use of new technology, a statement to the path the 90s would take.

Pulp Fiction (1994): Pulp Fiction is Quentin Tarantino’s Magnum Opus, an innocuous film for the new generation. Its timeline is confused, the events are all insignificant in the grand scheme which doesn’t exist, and the characters are drug abusing sweraholics. This is what makes it such a great film. It was an enormously popular film, quite possibly popularizing the creation of indy films, regardless of whether or not this actually was. The dialogue is Seinfeldian in many parts, the film is self-referential as well as paying homage to dozens of past films, popular or not all based on Tarantino’s exhaustive knowledge of cinema, as well peculiar sense of direction. It got snubbed for Best Picture because of Forest Gump, but has been indoctrinated into the minds of teenagers of the 90s, and remains a timeless film.

Toy Story (1995): What can I say about Pixar’s first full length motion picture and the first fully CGI film too. The particular influence in this film can be easily felt in recent days with the glut of CGI films coming out recently, the peak one could say was Avatar, which while not fully animated, was almost entirely done so. The storyline is just that of a boy and his toys, nothing epic, just them wanting to get home, something easily relatable. Also Joss Whedon helped to write the film, giving it his unique touch. This film lead to both Pixar’s popularity, all with their exacting standards of excellence, as well as leading to two excellent sequels, something almost entirely unprecedented. It helped to represent the innocence of a generation, at an utter contrast to the rest of the films, but it is something that is necessary for a good society.

The Big Lebowski (1998): One of the Cowen Brother’s best films, featuring utterly surreal dream sequences and a plot about bowling and lies. The Dude, the protagonist, is the quintessential example of sloth. He does nothing to make his money, and he bowls, the only reason he gets involved in the events of the film is that some guys mistake him for someone else. The entire plot is lies and misinformation, and it starts because of a misunderstanding. It has become the basis for a philosophy on life and perfectly represents the slacker attitude of the 90s, and the greed inherent in society.

The Matrix (1999): An action film that dives into philosophical issues and looks at the issue of what is reality. By the Wachowskis, not that anyone else could do it. The first film especially was revolutionary in that it popularized the sort of action that has become the standard. The cinematic use of bullet time, the stylized wire frame for the kung fu scenes, and the ability to deal with complicated psychological issues through an action film have all become popular ideas because of this film. The numerous allusions are alike to many of Tarantino’s films, and the extended Alice in Wonderland metaphor provides a contrast to the violence in the film.

The 90s were an amazing decade in the film industry, having the third and most recent winner of the big 5, Silence of the Lambs, and introducing Tarantino to the world. Numerous other great films like Clerks, Fargo, Terminator 2, Beauty and the Beast, and all the films in the Disney Renaissance. The real defining film of the decade though was Pulp Fiction, an amazing film that shows the sex, violence, and drugs in the culture, with a simple perfect film.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

To Go Farther Than Any Man Has Gone Before

Fargo is a Coen Brother's film, a very black comedy, and good at what it does. It is set in the freezing wastes of Minnesota, and establishes a setting which seems homey and comforting, creating an enormous contrast to the events of the film. It follows one man and his attempt to kidnap his wife and claim an enormous bounty from her rich father. Interestingly the protagonist of the story is not introduced until about half an hour in. The main character, the villain of the story, seems like such a pathetic human being, and his accent makes it seem like hes a likeable guy. He has that classic Minnesota accent that makes him so... non threatening. It's the classic misunderstanding leading to catastrophe that pervades so many comedies.

Fargo is a comedy of errors, of murder, and of lies. The entire movie is a lie, but for a reason. The opening of the film states that it is based on a true story. This is false, the Coens' claim it came a little bit from everything, all the death and lies and sex in the world, but it is still a lie. These lies pervade the film as they pervade our lives. Everything about the film is planned, everything that looks thrown together, like the random deaths, the needlessness of the deaths, it is all part of the message.

This message is not a happy one, but it is not a sad one. Just that life is messed up, everything and everyone, but there are some people who, despite all that, still try, and these good people are what we need to get by. The central message, theme, whatever, is perfectly shown when at the end of all that, the protagonist police women just wonders why someone would do all that, kill that many people for just a little money. "There is more to life than money", she says, a traditional moral in an amoral world.

The entire film is about greed, about money, about those who live by it and die by it. At one point Steve Buscemi's character argues over the matter of a few hundred dollars, when he had over 900 thousand waiting for him a few miles away. Even though it doesn't actually matter, the principle is that he must have everything he wants, all the money, all the power. This film of greed continues through many of the Coens' films, with the false ransom in the Big Lebowski, and the briefcase full of money in No Country for Old Men.

Greed is one of the 7 deadly sins, and this movie shows just how much shit it can cause. Let's finish this up. The world is a fucked up place, people die for no god damn reason, and god is not going to do shit about it. People though, people can do things, they can make a difference, with all the pain, and death, and hardships that choice, to make a difference, to help and not hinder, is what makes all the difference.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Symposium of the Decades Part 3: In 3-D! Or not

The 80s, a decade like no other. Of course the same could be said of all the decades, though I got my suspicions about the 10s and 20s. The style, culture, and attitude was very different to what it is now. This was a happier era, despite perpetual troubles in the Middle East, the Soviet Union collapsed, and a new era in technology began with computers becoming more and more widespread. Teen comedies, B horror films, and cheesy action movies perpetuated the years. It introduced so many now universal actors like Schwarzenegger, Eddie Murphy, Nicholas Cage, and Sylvester Stallone. Without further ado, the films.

Alien (1979): Now technically this is not an 80s film, it was made in the late 70s and even released then too. But watching this film, this is not a 70s film, everything about it from the effects to the way its shot to the actors themselves screams 80s. So here we have one of the best good quality horror films, a contrast to many of the other horror films of the decade, focusing on buckets of blood as opposed to psychological horror. One of the most important parts of this film is, like Jaws, you rarely see the thing, nothing is scarier than the unknown. It created a standard that has been rarely lived up to let alone exceeded, and it has defined horror for all the years to come.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): I kind of hate to have two Lucas films on these lists, but his films were just so damn influential that it had to be included. A classic adventure story, featuring an opening sequence that has become so inured into the public consciousness that even those who haven’t seen the film know of it, it is truly a revolutionary film. Whoever thought an archaeologist could become such an icon. Similar to what the Half Life series has done for theoretical physicists, Raiders started many people on the path to the ‘exciting’ field of archaeology. Millions were disappointed.  Even still, the film has had an immense impact, refining a genre, and creating a character who has become a cultural icon for a generation, as well as furthering Harrison Ford’s career, a move which guarantees it can not be a bad film.

Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): Here we have another horror film, this one a bit less physiological, and more buckets of blood. In one scene the cops are carrying literal buckets of blood away from the untimely death of Johnny Depp. It also popularized the slasher genre created a few years earlier with Halloween. This resulted in numerous imitators and sequels, but none quite as successful as the original. It also blurred the line between dreams and reality, stabbing the fourth wall just a little bit. Some feel it is Freudian in a way, but then some also feel that Alien is, so most of that is really a crapshoot. What this movie will be remembered most for, and what it influenced the most though is its death scenes, truly terrific in all meanings of the word.

The Breakfast Club (1985): One of those cliché teen comedies that I was talking about earlier, but one of the first and the best. There were a lot of films which could have fit in here, 16 Candles, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s day off, but what really makes this film unique is the location. A good 90% of it is just in one library, as the group of teenagers with irreconcilable differences eventually learn to appreciate their individuality, and to love and respect one another. Like I said, cliché beyond belief, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t well made, with good actors and the script to back it up. It had an enormous impact on the pop culture of a decade, and all the teen movies that attempted to follow its success. A defining film, and the best of its genre, truly a film for the ages.

The rest of these movies I was fairly sure about, but the fifth film was a huge process. I could name about ten films which could fit in here, like Brazil, Scarface, E.T., Empire Strikes Back, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Terminator, Evil Dead II, The Shining, The Blues Brothers, First Blood, Rocky IV, but I ended up with only one choice.

Die Hard (1988): Now I will argue that this is actually a 90s movie, regardless of the date it was released, but I realize now it was in fact one of the final good 80s film, a fine transition to the 90s. The best Christmas movie, no questions asked, but also one of the best action films of the decades, accomplishing something that the many explosions of Commando, or First Blood could not. One human character was all they really needed, someone the audience could relate to, not a superman but an everyday guy. This decision changed so much in the genre, creating all the “Die hard on a ____” movies that sought to emulate a tiny fraction of its success. This was Bruce Willis’ role, and it is the only role he has been able to play for the last 22 years. Sad, but true, he wasn’t acting, that was simply the director putting him in a building with some terrorists (or not) and filming it.

And that’s it, the films that helped to define a decade. If any genre was to define the decade, it would be the teen comedies. Never before, or after, was there such a great slate of films that seem like they should be similar and terrible, but aren’t. The romantic comedies of today can’t hope to compare to the genius of the Breakfast Club, the film that defined a decade.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tales from the Toilet

Pulp Fiction was a film released by Quentin Tarantino in 1994, and has since been widely received as a cult classic, paradoxical as that may seem. What I'm talking about specifically here though, is how the world can change when we duck out of it for a second. This is evidenced by the use of bathrooms in Pulp Fiction, something ignored by just about every other film. Toilets are seen six times throughout the film, each preceding an important event, and directly or indirectly influencing it. All these show how the world is that of a changing environment, and that leaving only for a moment can have the biggest impact of all.

The first instance of the bathroom being used is by one Mrs. Mia Wallace, in Jack Rabbit Slim's. She goes to "powder her nose" and shows that she has an enormous drug problem, causing her to OD later in the film, starting a long chain of events. As she returns from the bathroom she comments on the phenomena of bathrooms, stating how it is "lucky to have food waiting for her", indirectly addressing the wider issue of how life can change as one examines it through an outside perspective, taking a moment, and that is all that is necessary, to observe one's situation from a decent distance, and to see what changes happen that are invisible to our naked eyes.

The next occurrence is soon after, as Vincent contemplates just what the hell he is going to do with Mia, given they are both high and drunk, and if anything major happens there is a good chance he will be thrown out a window, an occurrence quite explicitly detailed earlier on. Mia unfortunately tries to snort some heroine, resulting in a rather unfortunate situation, and a changing world after only a minute away. This speaks to the film as a whole, as the different disordered segments can be disorienting, when one story disappears only to reappear at a later time. The haphazard nature of all of this still seems very planned, possibly to simulate the eternal clockwork of life and its turns and twists.

The next two bathroom sequences occur in the golden watch tale, that of a boxer who killed  a man, and now seeks asylum from all the people out to get him. One instance simply helps to show intimacy between a  couple, providing contrast to the rape which happens later, quite an opposite indeed.  The other instance close to that one, is Vincent's final hurrah, as he steps out of the bathroom to find his death staring straight at him, as all his past deeds are catching up to him in this single instance of a man with a gun. He realizes this, and wonders just why everything had happened, as the disaster of his life is fully realized, the violence inherent in his profession is truly revealed in his own end, and Jules' interpretation of events may have been right. Wandering the earth doesn't sound so bad compared to the end.

Chronologically this event in the bathroom happened first, but in the film it is one of the last scenes. We have our Jerry Seinfeld look-alike waiting in the bathroom with a revolver "bigger than he is", listening to his friends die, himself dying on the inside. Soon thereafter he charges out firing rapidly, hitting nothing, and finding that his end was inevitable. This however does bring about Jules' reflections on God, miracles, and his profession, so some good did come of it. One life ends, another begins anew, as the world is changed completely, because one guy decided he need to take a piss. This is all best summarized by Jule's misquoting of a bible verse, Ezekiel 25:17, guiding the innocent through the valley of darkness as a Shepard.

The last, and perhaps least significant, is when Vincent retreats to the diner's safe haven, and comes out to find a hold up. Perhaps the most material of all these visits in its end result, it is still a very important moment for Jules, and the beginning of the end for Vincent. By finding these robbers, Honey Bunny and Ringo, we find the insatiable human need for material goods, and what lengths some people are willing to go to to get them. Jules here decides to give all the money away, including that of the other customers, in his attempt at charity, allowing them to live, and perhaps changing the way their lives will progress. Both him and Vincent then exit to the film's eponymous theme tune, and depart, one to his death, and one to a new life, all springing from a few moments which change everything.

So bathrooms seem insignificant in comparison to the larger themes of many works, including this one, but maybe something so necessary and yet glossed over or ignored in near every work is one of the most important. Often the things we forget are the ones which we truly need, evidenced by the Golden Watch, and sometimes the one thing we are searching for we can never truly find, like in Moby Dick. It all comes back to the little things, the unimportant details that mount up to an insurmountable pile of shit, reeking of forgetfulness, and the eternally lost miasmas of life.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Symposium on the Decades Part 2: The Return of the Rotten Tomatos

The 70s were another time of change, the Vietnam War was in full swing, and not everybody was happy about it. The civil rights movement was over, but so was the fervor of the space race, and many looked fondly back on the innocence of the 60s. Many crises of energy and oil foreboded grim times to come, and Richard Nixon was finally unseated. The films I chose I feel best represent the more serious elements of the decade, while still encompassing the lighter parts of life.

The Godfather Part 1 & Part 2(1972 & 1974): Ah the Godfather, truly a masterpiece of cinema, greatly outshining the book it was based on, and actually changing the way the mafia thought of themselves. Few items of media can claim that they actually changed their subject matter, though this is one of them. I have decided to lump in both the original and part 2 in this one section, because they are really two parts of one film, and they retain similar levels of acclaim, one of the few sequels to do so. The art of cinema may have not been revolutionized by these films, but the countless imitators show just how much of an impact it has had.

Young Frankenstein (1974):  Mel Brooks produced two films in 1974, this and Blazing Saddles, but I believe that this film was really his Magnus Opus, nothing in it is slapdash, or incidental, it is all ordained. As a film shot in black and white it is an oddity, especially in this period, but Brooks was adamant about it, and a better film is developed because of his adherence to the 30s tropes and style of filmmaking. More subdued than many comedies, using more of a British style of humor than an American, resulting in a very unique film compared to what was on at the time. This film was not a major influence, nor a milestone, but it was a nod to the past, something many films in the decade sought to emulate, descending back to what was archaic for exaggerated effect.

Jaws (1975): Jaws was the movie that created the summer blockbuster, a phenomenon that has exploded in the recent years, and like the Godfather, had a huge impact in real life. This was the film that made people terrified of the ocean, of lakes, of even their own baths; such was the brilliance of one of Spielberg’s first films. Much of this was actually due to technical limitations, in that the shark they had was not up to his standards, and so was hidden for much of the film, creating the tense situation which put audiences on the edge of their seats. If Jaws was made today it would use CGI for the shark; creating what would inevitably be a weaker film. This is a movie that could be made at no other time, and one which helped to define the further decades.

Star Wars (1977): Everyone knows Star Wars, what has become a household name was originally a one off that had little hopes of succeeding, much like the original Final Fantasy. The film that created a billion dollar franchise, brought sci-fi into the mainstream paving the way for numerous other films and one that brought the classic hero’s journey archetype to a mainstream audiences is truly something to be remembered. Even though its immediate sequel would embrace the most critical acclaim, the original is the one that is remembered by all and one film that managed to define a decade.

Out of all the films I have described only the Godfather duology have won the best picture academy award, which shows just how little the academy awards really mean. The movies that define a decade are a mix of genres, styles, and messages, because that is what life really is, a mix of drama and tragedy and horror and adventure. It all comes together to form one cohesive muck. So the quintessential movie of the decade, that would be Star Wars, a space epic that showed how science fiction could be a popular genre, or at the very least fantasy set in space, and led to a great renaissance in special effects, and the advent of merchandising on an entirely new level.

PS: Sorry for the links to TV Tropes