Tag: movie

5 Jawesome Things for the week of March 30, 2012

The five best things I came across in the past week.

1. Port of Morrow by The Shins

I know the scuttlebutt in all the reviews is to mention how this band shouldn’t really be called The Shins anymore since only James Mercer has stuck around. The other scuttlebutt is to mention how he was always the driving force and can call it whatever the heck he wants. Both are probably right but neither matters. What matters is that the album is pretty great. Catchy, fun, sad at times. The first single, Simple Song, is a really great hook for the album. I’ll link to it below. The songs seem a lot like classic Shins stuff with a little Danger Mouse from Mercer’s other project, Broken Bells, thrown in for good measure. There are bleeps and bloops but it’s still rock and roll to me.

2. 1957

Watching old movies is fun. I’ve already watched two from this year, and Witness for the Prosecution lined up for after I write this post. It’s a really interesting idea to focus on one year but have that be your only criteria. I’ve done a war film and Japanese adaptation of Shakespeare. A Kubrick and a Kurosawa. And there are two Bergmans, a Lean, a Wilder, a Tashlin, and countless other films to watch. The next few months are going to be fun.

3. Movies in theaters

Though I didn’t love either of the two movies I saw in the theater this week (The Hunger Games and Wrath of the Titans) they both did what they did pretty well. The Hunger Games could have used some of Wrath‘s action direction and Wrath could have used some of The Hunger Games‘ thematic and emotional weight. Or not. All I know is that I could understand what was happening in most of Wrath‘s fight scenes, which is more than I can say for much of The Hunger Games. Also, Wrath has Bill Nighy doing his Pirates role to even bigger extremes, which is awesome.

4. A new look at EDAP

Every Day A Photo is my photography website where I post one picture I’ve taken every day. Simple, yes, but effective. I’ve moved back to wordpress and the duotone theme, which does a neat little trick of changing the background color to complement the picture each day. So go check it out. Looks cool.

5. Adventure Time

I’m getting all caught up with the third season of this absurd, post-apocalyptic, awesome tv show. The show is, as always, hilarious. Mathematical! And this week we also got news that the entirety of season 1 will soon be released on DVD. Hooray! finally we can die!

 

Movie Review: Paths of Glory

Paths of Glory is not the movie I thought it would be. From the posters it seemed like it would be a straight up war film, albeit a straight up war film directed by Stanley Kubrick, which would likely be something special. And the first third is a standard war film. It’s all trenches and explosions, this being WWI. Kubrick gives us the set-up: Kirk Douglas is told that he must take a German stronghold. He tells his superior officer, played by George Macready as an evil and power hungry man looking for his next star, that his forces are not big enough nor will they have enough support to accomplish their goal. This, of course, doesn’t matter and although Douglas tries his damnedest to take the hill he barely makes it halfway through no-mans-land and a third of his forces won’t even dare to leave the trenches. This sequence is just as intense as the opening section of Saving Private Ryan, though it is shot completely differently. Where Spielberg’s movie is all shaky cam and tinnitus, Paths of Glory scrolls along, not shying away from the terror, but giving a continuous forward push. Is the camera following the soldiers or are they following it? It’s amazing, actually, in such an action packed frame that we can pick out Douglas as he blows his whistle and climbs over dead bodies and artillery holes. At one point the camera zooms in to spot him and his glorious chin only to zoom back out and show how crazy this attack is. It is grimy to the extreme, at the same time as it is emblematic of Kubrick’s complete control over his films.

After the failed maneuver, the evil General must cover his tracks. He sets up a court marshal in his ridiculously opulent base, a mansion with room sized paintings and marble floors. One soldier from each of the three sections of the troop will be tried for cowardice and shot if found guilty. Luckily, Douglas also happens to be the best lawyer in France, and he jumps to defend his men from the silly trial. To go any further into the film’s plot would do a disservice to it. It is a Kubrick film and as such isn’t exactly a rip-roaring good time. He films his characters with the standard detachment, though he allows them to be real people. You can sense the Douglas is pained and wants to do right by his men, not only from what he says but from how he acts. It’s him against the world, Germans and French alike. The film is as much about the failings of military thinking as it is about the French vs. the Germans. Douglas rages against the machine but to little avail. It is only the final scene that changes how he views the world. It’s a marvelous scene, at first terrifying, then strangely comforting.

As the second film in my 1957 marathon, Paths of Glory continues the year’s excellence. Along with Throne of Blood, it shows that filmmaking was just as vibrant then as it is now. There’re plenty of explosions and gunfire and later plenty of explosive dialogue and fiery speeches. It is at least as good as that other courtroom drama from the same year, 12 Angry Men. And you can imagine the entirety of War Horse happening alongside it! Both films rely on American and British actors playing foreign characters. Where are the cries of crass commercialism for Kubrick’s film? Lost in the fog of war, I guess.

Movie Review: Throne of Blood

Get ready for a few reviews of movies from 1957. I’m starting a fun project to watch a bunch of movies from that year. And what better way to begin it than with this classic Japanese film?

Admirable, my Lord. You, who would soon rule the world, allow a ghost to frighten you.

Throne of Blood is my first Akira Kurosawa film. I don’t know how I’ve gone this long in my movie fandom without seeing a film by him but it has happened and now it has been corrected. This was a perfect film to start with, too, since Macbeth is the best Shakespeare play. The best! One of the great traditions of cinema is to adapt Shakespeare plays and do whatever the heck you want with them. Some are straight adaptations, using the same words and depicting events exactly as they happen in the play. Others change around everything from genders to time periods. This film transposes the main events of Macbeth onto feudal Japan. There’s one evil spirit instead of three evil witches. The dialogue is entirely new, nothing wicked this way comes. But the themes are there. And the outsized acting suits the play’s melodramatic plot and characters. It’s Shakespeare and Kurosawa equally, and that’s great.

If you read a few Shakespeare plays you’ll soon recognize a few themes he likes to use over and over again. My favorite is the way nature and the physical world reflects the interior states of the powerful. Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark, and he’s not talking about the day old meat. Kurosawa uses this theme beautifully throughout the film. When we first see Washizu and Miki (our Macbeth and Banquo) riding through the Spider’s Web Forest on the way to the fortress that lies in the middle of it the rain pelts and the sun shines. The characters stop to recognize how strange the weather is, and then they see the evil spirit. Was she the cause of the weird weather? It would certainly suit the theme. Later, after Washizu has taken over as Lord of the Spider Web Fortress and on the night before his inevitable comeupance, there is a strange bird attack. It’s straight out of Hitchcock (even though this film came out 6 years before The Birds). Washizu decides to interpret the birds as an omen of success. People that know their literature or understand how stories work know that it’s probably an omen, but not of success. And then there’s the story’s biggest claim to fame: the army of moving trees. It’s a freaking great image and Kurosawa captures it beautifully and creepily. He shoots a fog filled frame from on high, so we see only the tops of these swaying trees, moving back and forth. It’s totally menacing. And amazing.

I’m told by the internet that Kurosawa shot this film in the style of Noh theater, a form that emphasizes the dramatic, using dance-like movements and grand, over the top acting. It’s on full display and it totally works for a film that hinges on big actions by big players. The film’s Lady Macbeth (Asaji) is the same murderous character, pushing her husband to kill his Lord and his friend. The two actors that play the couple, Toshirô Mifune and Isuzu Yamada go big, using their piercing eyes and expressive faces to convey the doubt which leads to extreme hubris. The scene where Asaji convinces Washizu to kill the Lord plays out like a dance. First he circles around her and then she circles around him. We know, of course, who wins this battle.

The movie looks amazing, as well. There’s one shot early on that sold me on the whole film. It comes at the end of the scene with the evil spirit, and the camera pushes into the small hut the spirit was in before it disappeared, following Washizu and Miki as they look for where the spirit might have gone. It doesn’t cut away as they search for the spirit, and when they turn around to look back at the hut they see that it has disappeared. All in one shot! It’s not super hard to do, I’m sure, but it sells the unquiet nature of that forest and its supernatural denizens. The camera likes to move in this film, too. It tracks behind creepy trees as the characters ride through the forest, glimpsing pale white spirits in the background (or is it just more fog?). It moves to reveal Miki’s ghost at the banquet scene, and then it moves again to show that the ghost was never there. If the characters are caught in a wheel of fate, maybe the camera is the axle, spinning and directing them on their paths.

I’m waxing philosophic now. That means it’s time to wrap up. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to this mini-marathon. I’ll be sure to check out more Kurosawa as well. And look for Throne of Blood to appear in my new top 100 list later this year. Its spot is almost guaranteed.

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

The movie is huge. When my brother and I were getting popcorn at our 1pm showing on Saturday the guy working the counter said that the night showings were already sold out. The theater was running the film on 4 different screens. That’s crazy talk. It’s a date movie, a movie for the Twilight crowd, a movie for fans of the book, a movie for people that want to see young kids kill other young kids in brutally violent ways, a movie for everyone. And it’s pretty good, too.

The story is gladiators for the reality TV crowd, with a little dystopian future vibe. The tributes from each of the 12 districts of Panem (all between the ages of 12 and 18) fight to the death in a rigged arena for the pleasure of the Capitol audience and the hope-crushing of the rest of the citizens. A double whammy! Our hero, played quite well by Jennifer Lawrence, volunteers to be a tribute to save her little sister. She fights, she falls in love (?) and she comes to the inevitable conclusion. And that’s the problem with the film. For all of its pomp and circumstance (the bits at the Capitol before the Games begin are the highlights, showing just how silly and disconnected the privileged are) a lot of the film is a rote retelling of the book. The director (Gary Ross) doesn’t do anything to make the movie into a movie other than film the story as it is written in the book. The script was written in part by Suzanne Collins, the author of the book. This is why authors shouldn’t be allowed to adapt their own work for the screen. They are too hesitant to change things. There was nothing new, nothing that I didn’t already picture in my head when I read the book. Contrast this with the superb later films in the Harry Potter series which are faithful enough for the fans but maintain a cinematic quality that doesn’t exist in this version of The Hunger Games. It’s unfortunate, because the movie could have been great. Instead, it is just good. Pretty darn good, but not what it could have been. Luckily for us, however, it has made enough money to justify the two sequels, the second of which is by far the messiest book but also contains the most potential for a great film.

When I wrote my top 100 list last summer I talked a bit about messterpieces when I wrote about Thirst. What this movie could have used is some messiness. Yeah, it tries to get there with the near constant use of the shaky-cam, but even that is calculated to show just enough of the brutality to get the idea but not enough to get an R rating. The sense of urgency and dread is there, but not capitalized on. Only one scene really stood out to me once the Games got rolling. It’s a death scene and it is beautiful. The action stops, the film shows you something you didn’t see in the book (at least, not in the first book), the camera work drifts and floats around, and it all adds up to something wonderful. Why isn’t there more of this in the film? Where’s the feeling? I’m constantly being told that the stakes are high and everybody is sad, but this is the only scene where I feel it.

As I write this Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 is playing in the background. That’s an adaptation done right. That get’s the excitement of the battles, the sadness of the situation, the cinematic-ness of a movie. There are invented scenes and animation breaks. Yates goes all out to bring this world to life. What The Hunger Games could have used is a scene like the one where Harry and Hermione dance to a Nick Cave song. We need more connection to the characters, and we need to see them be people. Let The Hunger Games be a lesson on how extremely faithful adaptations will end up being only pretty good at best. The screen needs something different than the page. They are different media, allow them to be told in different ways.

Placing the blame, a ramble

I’m very manipulative towards directors. My theory is that everyone on the set is directing the film, we’re all receiving art messages from the universe on how we should do the film. – Jeff Bridges

I recently started to read the Guillermo del Toro/Chuck Hogan book The Strain. It got me thinking, who gets the blame for things where more than one artist contributes to a work? I think singer/songwriters and authors are generally the only people in the media arts that get to claim sole authorship, but what happens when you have multiple writers on one book, or when a band writes a song together? And what about movies? There’s a saying that a film is made three times, the first in script form, then during shooting, and finally in the editing room, so who gets to claim credit for what?

The Strain isn’t the first book I’ve read where two authors wrote together. The collaboration between Stephen King and Peter Straub for both The Talisman and its sequel, Black House was a strong one. They always feel like just a Stephen King book. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t read any Straub before I read those books, but I don’t think that’s the sole culprit here. When two people come together to create one thing there is necessarily a give-and-take with one giving and the other taking. I’m not trying to invalidate one artist over the other but something’s got to give, right? So far, about 40 pages into The Strain, only the opening scene seems del Toro-y. It’s a fairy tale told to a young boy, a scene that occurs over and over again in del Toro’s films. The rest seems more thriller than horror or fantasy, focusing on an airplane that lands at an airport and then shuts down completely on the tarmac. There’s a more techno-thriller vibe than anything I’ve seen GDT do, including a paragraph that describes in detail the weapon selection of the SWAT team that approaches the airplane. I don’t know if del Toro even knows what a gun is, unless it’s a steampunk one. Maybe this is how you distinguish who to blame/credit for what. You get two very different people and only have knowledge of the artistic leanings of one of them. Then when something doesn’t fit you give it to the other guy. Problem solved.

Steven Spielberg directs Henry Thomas while making E.T.

Or not. What about a movie? I once had an afternoon-long argument between me and my roommates about the legitimacy of the auteur theory. I don’t even know if I fully buy into the theory, but here’s my understanding of it. The director gets credit for the final film, while everybody else gets credit for their element. The Director of Photography will get credit for how the movie looks, the actors for their roles, the writer for the story and words and so on and so forth. But the director gets to claim the final artistic vision, the big picture if you will. My roommates thought that this devalued all the work that everybody else did. I countered with the idea that directors are the decision makers, the people that get the final say on all aspects of the film. They’ll use the input from everybody and decide what goes into the film and what stays out. Even if they don’t directly make the artistic contribution of lighting, they direct the DP to do one thing over another, taking into account the expertise the DP brings to the job. It’s not a perfect accounting of the way a movie gets made, but it kinda works.

And how about The Beatles. They’re the most popular band ever. There are four of them, but the specters of Paul and John loom the largest in most people’s minds. They’re a very well documented band and we know almost every backstory to every song. We know who wrote them, who played what on them and who sang them. But take the example of Yellow Submarine. It is credited to Lennon/McCartney, but wikipedia tells us that it’s really mostly McCartney with a tiny bit of Lennon and even Donovan thrown in for good measure. Paul thought that the song sounded more Ringo-y than anybody else, so he gave it to Ringo to sing. So who gets the credit for the song? Is it Paul? Ringo? Donovan? I think the safe answer here is that The Beatles get the credit, no matter who did what. They formed a group for a reason, and you have to take that as it comes because anything else seems disingenuous. Maybe we should just take everything as it comes. Stop being so demanding of art and artists. Let them do their thing and then we’ll do our thing.