Book Review- The Film Sense by Sergei Eisenstein

Eisenstein’s The Film Sense is a book I had never even seen in print anywhere before. I happened to find it when I was in Brazil searching through a rather large bookstore’s film section. You know a bookstore is good when you find many foreign language offerings, and I was able to pick up quite a few film texts in English there.

Sergei Eisenstein is likely the only filmmaker whose work as a theorist is of equal importance. Aside from spear-heading montage as the defining element of film, he wrote extensively about it and it’s all brilliant stuff. His angle in this book is tremendous. In it he seeks to create a “film sense” by drawing on elements of other art forms. Much of the writing actually does have to do with music as he is discussing how incorporating sound and music will co-exist with picture cutting.

There are many brilliant talking points. First, he touches on word and image, which is similar to a touched upon topic in Film Form, here he examines examples of montage in other artforms. Then he talks about synchronization of the senses, which is how film can, will and should play on all our senses, especially given this new development. In a perhaps revolutionary way he also discusses color in literature and in music and relates it to film, even though at this writing color was an abstract concept seen in shades of gray.

The writing flows beautifully and is just brilliant in terms of observation and the sources from which he draws. He illustrates how cinema must be the culmination of all other artforms and draw from them. I will admit it gets a bit dense with the both the in depth musical discussion, as I am more intuitive rather than well-versed there, and a bit with the montage flow diagrams and shots, having seen some of the films helps but the point does usually come across regardless.

Also, this is a rare book where the appendices are not only a must read but brilliant. They include: shot sheets, treatment sections of un-produced works, outlines and a very detailed bibliography for further reading.

All in all this is a fantastic book that is worth seeking out for serious aestheticians, filmmakers and film students. I found it endlessly fascinating such that I made many notes and underlined significantly and considered further analysis of the text but will leave it as this brief recommendation instead.

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Mini-Review Round-Up May 2012

I had quite a review drought to end 2011 so I think the remedy for this kind of post would be to have the post be cumulative monthly. Therefore, after each qualifying film a short write-up will be added to the monthly post. The mini-reviews will be used to discuss Netflix and other home video screenings. Theatrical releases will get full reviews.

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

From Time to Time

Kwayedza Kureya, Alex Etel and Eliza Bennett in From Time to Time (Freestyle Digital Media)

This is a film that I saw a little bit ago and I struggled with whether I’d qualify it for this year’s BAM Awards or just leave it in the Gray Area. Typically, I go by US release date (so long as I had a legitimate chance to see it), should a film have not had a US release date (namely only released overseas, or seen in a festival, etc.) it’s qualified in the year viewed. With regards to From Time to Time, I knew that its actual vintage was a few years old and it was released in the UK some time back, however, it only his US home video very recently. Technically, that is is its US release since it didn’t have a theatrical run, so there you have it.

This is a very interesting ghost drama, which has a few interesting things going in its favor: first, it cuts through time with great facility and creates a British gothic tale with the ease of Magical Realism. This stripping down of the typical pretensions of supernatural tales making the acceptance of these other-worldly facts commonplace allows the film to dwell in a more dramatic and intriguing milieu. Second, as clearly intimated above this film deals in two periods but makes them both intriguing and vital and blends them wonderfully. Lastly, this film features very strong performances most notably by the under-utilized Alex Etel, last seen by me in Sea Horse; Maggie Smith, whom at this point could benefit any and every film in creation and Carice Van Houten, whom viewers of Game of Thrones may recognize.

This is an intriguing film that is worth looking for on Netflix or other home video resources.

8/10

Chronicle

Dane DeHaan in Chronicle (20th Century Fox)

Since I viewed this film on a plane it was easy and not distracting to take notes on an iPhone, but I will try to keep these comments brief as the review is supposed to be “mini.” Having said that, this was a film I heard a lot about and I love the fact that it is divisive. I had a lot of stumbling blocks to overcome in this one, but seeing elements enacted as opposed to just hearing about them are two completely different things.

This being a found footage film there are “cheats,” inasmuch as it’s not always the same source camera providing the footage, but as events escalate you’ll see why it’s possible, you just get no hint as to who put it all together. That’s a minor concern regarding the handling of technique.

In fact, the only other quibble I have has to do with Casey (Ashley Hinshaw) who is a blogger, thus she too obsessively records things. It’s a bit convenient but mostly the film works in the found footage milieu because it remains tremendously reflexive, and it has to. Andrew (Dane DeHaan) feels compelled to record his life due to his abusive father (a wonderfully malignant villain with few parallels), it clearly continues after the mysterious inciting incident.

Perhaps what is most brilliant and moving about the film is that it creates a sense of identification immediately and it builds from there. It’s not a case of likability but rather understanding. It gives characters powers, and inherently responsibilities, they’re not necessarily equipped to cope with and shows you what they do.

Yes, there is a slightly Jackass, slight YouTube voyeuristic quality to certain scenes inherent in the found footage approach but things to do come back that seemed as if they didn’t fit, and the seemingly frivolous is sublimated quickly. Through it all it remains a character study. It’s a film that does not get overly-concerned with its technique to the detriment of its plot or personages.

Clearly, the performances need to be really strong for a film of this kind to work. That is the case with Michael B. Jordan as Steve, who convincingly plays the winning, popular, untouchable jock but also conveys some hidden depths when allowed to. However, the true standout is Dane DeHaan who is asked to deal with far more range in a film of this kind than you’d expect and is magnetic and captivating in all facets of his character. The scripting shows a certain amount of restraint in many of his scenes and intonation and expression have to convey a lot and he does.

There’s an air of mystery to the story even after the inciting incident as you learn with the characters but are still not overly-inundated with facts.

The sound mix is rather effective especially as it counterbalances with certain moments of dead silence paired with powerful images. The visual effects aren’t as flashy as some other films but very strong.

I tend to try and avoid things that can be construed as pull quotes but the film did get quick a few visceral, nearly unconscious reactions from me I laughed, I was was on the verge of tears a few times and my jaw literally dropped at least once.

I have the few small reservations mentioned above but many prejudices I had coming in vanished entirely and I came away resoundingly impressed with this film.

9/10

Corpo Celeste

Yle Vianello in Corpo Celeste (Film Movement)

I have previously discussed the benefits of programs like Film Movement. This film is their most recent offering.

What is most interesting about Corpo Celeste is that it comments through its narrative or visuals on any number of topics but always does so in an interesting, thoughtful and compelling way it is never didactic, pedagogic or heavy-handed. This is key with themes such as coming of age, religion, politics, family and nationalism (to name a few) being discussed. Most of the reason the film can do this is that all of these things are discussed personally and visually. They barely need to be elucidated. When dialogue is employed to convey the touched-upon themes it is used sparingly and tightly.

The personal approach keeps a film that might be overly aloof rather cool and connected. One of the more interesting things about it is the approach the film takes in bringing its protagonist to the fore. The first few images, scenes even you rarely see Marta alone, she is in crowd scenes and crowded dinner tables and gatherings. Our knowledge the story is to be about her allows us to get a glimpse of her world and her not really seeing a place in yet, hence she’s coming of age. She soon comes further and further into focus and in some way identification is already established.

The film features a tremendously natural performance by Yle Vianello, which enables you to connect to the film not only through her character but through any facet you see fit. The two major ways to connect to the film are either as a coming-of-age tale or a spiritual journey. Many of us have been through either, if not both, so closely examining these two major journeys in one protagonist makes it quite effective.

This is a really good film that is worth your while. The DVD also features the Academy Award nominated short Raju, which I saw earlier.

8/10

Hick

Chloe Grace Moretz in Hick (Phase 4 Films)

Hick is a resoundingly disappointing experience on a number of levels. One reason this is so is that Derick Martini, the director of this film, crafted a wonderful film a few years back entitled Lymelife. It was one of my favorite films of the year in question, while some of those same motifs and actors that made that film work are back in this film there’s little else that binds the two. Part of the issue with this film is it’s a case of novelist acting as screenwriter backfiring, it can be a wonderful thing, but here it’s a detriment. The film does not move well; the denouement is massive; the amount of coincidence; the lack of clear motivation on the part of certain characters; seemingly extraneous elements, and awkwardly staged situations are some of those reasons. The lead in the film is Chloe Grace Moretz, who as previous honors have indicated is very talented, yet even her excellent performance cannot salvage this film.

What it reminded me of was Leolo gone wrong. You have a very strange home life and an adolescent seeking to escape. The world isn’t very firmly established neither is the protagonist’s desire, not at first. She clearly is haunted by the loss of a sibling but that’s not clear imemdiately. She has a goal but it quickly becomes clear she’ll need a new one, and how she finds it and why is underdeveloped and is a tremendous example of deus ex machina. The pace of the film is also off and it feels a lot longer than it is. Hick is one worth avoiding.

4/10

First Position

Gaya Bommer Yemini and Aran Bell in First Position (Sundance Selects)

I can’t claim to be an aficionado but I am a fan of dance. Through my production company I sponsor a dance competition, so while not an insider I do know my fair share about the world this film describes. What I was somewhat fearful of was that this film would serve as a glorified infomercial for YAGP (Youth America Grand Prix), which is the world’s largest youth dance competition.

All those fears are soon allayed. The necessary information is divulged such that the layman understands the enormity and the gravity of the competition and the controversy regarding any competition is vaguely hinted at, but mostly the film is an introduction to just how competitive the world of dance is, and also a glimpse into how dedicated these artists must be from a very young age.

Yet any film can only get so far on the facts alone. Where First Position succeeds is that it profiles dancers from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds and also with varying aesthetic philosophies. The film is structured very dramatically such that the performances with the highest stakes appear latest in the cut and the flow from performer to performer is just right and well-ordered.

What starts as an informative, introductory doc soon turns quite the emotional experience that gets you very invested in the outcome. It’s a great film sure to please fans of film and dance alike.

10/10

Citizen Gangster

Scott Speedman in Citizen Gangster (IFC Films)

This an interesting story about a man, Eddie Boyd (Scott Speedman), in post-WW II Canada who frustrated with his job and trying to get by embarks on a career as a bank robber. The film interestingly has a quick and effective genesis. The pathology and inspiration is properly established in a short time such that through the course of the film you follow the protagonist further and further past the point of no return. It’s the case of an anti-hero plot in as much as it does at least create a sense of identification if not sympathy.

The film also has a tremendous amount of technical prowess that helps create the world of the story. The cinematography offers a tremendous balance between stark, pale sunlit exteriors and blown-out interiors. When you combine this with the production design which was very concerted on white interiors with one accent to break up the monotony.

When you consider some of the scoring and performances there is quite a lot working for this film. The only thing that really holds it back in anyway is that from about the mid-point on the pace does become very stilted, which is especially noticeable towards the climax and denouement. Having said all that, this is a film that should be getting more notice and I’m glad to have seen it. As indicated above, it’s especially strong in compartmental areas but is intriguing enough in its narrative, especially for those unfamiliar with the details of the story upon which it is based, to sustain interest.

7/10

Hospitalité

Kanji Furutachi, Bryerly Long, Kenji Yamauchi, Kiki Sugino, Kumi Hirodo and Eriko Ono in Hospitalité (Film Movement)

Comedy just may be the most culturally specific genre of them all. In my experience, each culture has their own precepts it brings to comedy. Granted there are some things that are universally embraced as funny, but cinematic aesthetics, narrative constructs and indigenous commonalities often color how these tropes are conveyed. Which is a very roundabout way of saying that certain films purported to be comedies have struck me with confusion, surprise, and consternation on occasion. American comedy being typically rather broad is rather accessible; British comedy being somewhat dry and witty I’ve always been drawn too and being Brazilian I have a grounding there in where the jokes are coming from.

Hospitalité is a Japanese film, which is quite funny at times simply because it relies almost wholly on situations, characters and the element of surprise to deliver its humor. Where it loses a bit of its steam is that it could use a bit of tightening up in length and towards the end. The power plays exhibited are necessary but perhaps a bit drawn out there too. In essence, the dramatic elements of the narrative are overplayed as there isn’t a lot of follow through.

You may find it more funny than I did, and to be fair there are effective dramatic elements and pieces of commentary being made, but as it is a situation that is seemingly simple and does follow the house-guest-from-hell mold rather there’s just a certain deliberateness and gravitas to it all that drains it a bit.

6/10

Michael

Michael Fuith in Michael (Films du Losange)

I generally remain vague about plot descriptions in my reviews. Philosophically I believe that if you happened upon my review you know enough about the film and you’re just looking for some further information. With a film such as Michael one does need to be forewarned: while not sensationalistic or exploitative this film does chronicle about five months in the life of a pedophile. You will be disturbed and affected by it: I guarantee it. What is most effective is that the film does so almost exclusively through implication.

The film edit of the film is tremendous and much of the dialogue on reflection implies so much more than is said. One example of how the film communicates horrible consequences while doing little is a simple visual: Michael and Wolfgang, the child he has captive, are setting up a bunk bed in his room. That scene has made its point and hits you in the gut.

What makes the film most harrowing is the humanistic portrait painted of Michael. With an act as awful as child abuse, whether of a physical or sexual nature, some films overplay their hands. Meaning they feel the need to make the antagonist over-the-top and borderline cartoony as if to re-emphasize the inherent villainy and cruelty of their actions. Yet more often than not that kind of writing takes a viewer out of the moment. This film takes things as mundane as decorating a Christmas tree, talking to a neighbor or a haircut and tinges them with malignancy and implications that belie the simplicity of the line spoken or the action taken.

You also have in this film two performances that make this film work and they are those of Michael Fuith, who used his awkwardness to endearing effect in Rammbock, but here is intimidating, frightening, awkward and charming as needed. Then there’s also David Rauchenberger, who while not in the film a tremendous lot, has the unenviable task of playing the victim who as times dour, at times detached, at times a child and also rebellious.

The craftsmanship of the film is what truly makes it work. There’s one scene that really doesn’t jibe with the restraint, and the ending is one I stewed on but decided it is earned, as a whole other film would start had it continued.

8/10

Review- Dark Shadows

With a film like Dark Shadows I have to spend a bit of time discussing where I’m coming from here and couching it. While I cannot claim to be an expert, I am a fan of the show and do have quite a fondness for it. Having said that, there will be no armchair direction or writing here make no mistake of that. I will gauge the film based on the direction and manner it was interpreted not how I would’ve preferred it, and I will be explicit in explaining why it still doesn’t work.

From the moment I saw the trailer I had a sense for what this film was going to try to be. It’s a rare case of a trailer being true to the tone of the finished product. What you get in this film is a very uneasy balance between horror elements and attempts at humor and self-parody. Essentially, it tries to be The Brady Bunch films, which are true to the tone and spirit of the show but poke fun at the show too.

What makes this different and not as successful is a disharmony in tone. It goes from a facsimile of a horror scene to forced humor. I should’ve counted attempted jokes for the percentage of success was very low. I literally laughed out loud thrice, once was a suggestive joke David (Gully McGrath) made about Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz). With the Brady films clearly it was always silly. How this would’ve worked better is either of two ways: One, be the kind of over-the-top horror the show was, which is humorous to some, or two, play it straight dramatically and tongue-in-cheek comedically. Instead, you could feel the gears shift and the sudden impetus “Must try and be funny now.” It’s one of the more forced comedies I’ve ever seen in that regard.

There are many Tim Burton movies I have loved. I am among the many who still have enough fondness for much of his work such that I will still come to see what he’s done. However, I’m not really angered by this turn so much as disappointed. Granted it’s not an original piece but I thought Dark Shadows and Tim Burton, what could possibly go wrong? The following did: The complete lack of tonal cohesion, the near glacial movement of the plot when there’s not an over-abundance of things going on, the thinness and simplification of characters.

Why is this one frustrating and not infuriating? I did like the performances for the the most part. Again, this is divorcing expectation and examining the actual content. However, it comes down to the milieu within which the players played. When the film is straight-up gothic-style horror it’s rather breathtaking. Those moments are few and far between but it shows the potential of the narrative had there been a sort of balance or reversal of tone.

Johnny Depp, who in his now long renaissance, is at times too big and too much the center of attention in certain films does well here. His Barnabas Collins is his own and I don’t begrudge him that, I just feel the performance would’ve been augmented further in a tale more worthy such an awesome vampire. For even in this rendition Barnabas deserves better.

Touching upon the Brady Bunch notion again there is the fish out of water aspect; the concept of the Brady films was that it was the 1990s and they were very much still stuck in the 1970s, while here Barnabas was in the 1970s after being interred in 1752. It plays the fish out of water but the film tries so hard with musical cues, other pop culture references and an Alice Cooper performance that is not up to his “Feed My Frankenstein” in Wayne’s World 20 years ago; that they just become tired, then trite and finally bothersome. We get it, it’s the 70s. Moving on.

Contrary to divorce where it’s only the children who suffer in a movie that’s bad it’s really only the kids who leave unscathed: Chloe Moretz doesn’t really have a lot to do here but shows a more mature side of her persona, which is easing and accelerating her transition from in-demand child actress to eventual A-List leading lady. Gully McGrath in sparing moments plays one of the more rounded characters in the film and shows a glimpse of his talent. Bella Heatcote, though not a child actress, is new talent who likely has much more to show in a more rounded role.

An example of a wasted, underdeveloped character in this film is that of Willie Loomis. Aside from being a weirdo his only other functions are being a stooge and a driver. Wonderful, really needed the new Freddy Kreuger for that part.

Partially to expiate the film its slowly moving, thin plot there’s some randomness thrown into the end of the film, which while are hat tips to the show are also slightly foreshadowed and only serve to prolong the cacophonous silliness that is the climax.

In the end, whether I agreed with it in principle or not, Dark Shadows made an attempt to do something different and it failed there also.


4/10

Short Film Saturday: Martin Scorsese

Previously I had heard from one of my professors that few student films he ever saw were good in and of themselves. Meaning that no student caveat was needed. I believe he cited Scorsese as one of the few exceptions.

Now, I’ve finally viewed some examples:

First, a New Wave-inspired tale…

Next, his first mob tale…

Review- Battleship

Considering that the pedigree of films based on board games goes back at least to the 1980s and Clue, I was not one who was inclined to dislike Battleship based on that fact alone. Of course, if you are there are many upcoming game-based films to avoid. However, this is one that could’ve worked but didn’t.

Some have lumped this film in with things like Battle: Los Angeles. While I did like that film (quite a bit) I did not like this one. I will avoid a comparative analysis but I believe the three biggest differences are that the former film had better performances; a simpler, swifter story-line; and is more proficient technically.

This film means well in a lot of regards, but it spends so much time at the beginning trying to establish Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), his relationship (Both with older brother and girlfriend) and even creates a set-piece in part to establish a rivalry between him and Nagata (Tadanobu Asano). What’s wrong with that? Inherently, nothing. However, it’s too much time and it forestalls the inevitable, especially when the inevitable too gets drawn out.

The need to do all this expository work might be a condemnation of the Armageddon-alien attack motif if you think about it. It’s so tired that by the implication alone the motif no longer compels an audience to feel. It’s helpful that less motivation is needed for the aliens so more time is spent on the humans, but that time is misspent. The other issue is that less time is spent building character once the attack starts. The film likely works better with just vital pieces of information disseminated beforehand then allowing details to unfold during the battle.

The developing of character is an issue, but combine that with the fact that some performances are just inept and things get harder to handle. A lot of the the ineptitude is in casting. Rihanna may be many things: beautiful, a talented singer, dancer, but an actress is not amongst those things she is. She’s never believable or compelling and perhaps most annoyingly the script, direction and/or editing insists upon her. Her character’s commentary is required in nearly all situations and she’s deployed in any and all situations, if only to create drama about whether or not she can get back to her actual post. It’s the kind of role Michelle Rodriguez could play in her sleep, alas she does not, sadly.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I try to go into a film as close to a blank slate as I can. Therefore, I did not realize beforehand there were actual veterans in the cast. It became very evident quickly.The usage of veterans in the film while commendable produces mixed results. Clearly, as an American I understand and appreciate the efforts and sacrifices of the armed forces. However, this is a film about aliens and it’s plausibility is dubious so actors are needed to make it somewhat believable. As a gesture it’s fantastic, and the older veterans are hilarious when given a line of comic relief, the key is the roles are small in those cases, and they’re doing what they did; helping on the ship. The involvement of Gregory D. Gadson in a larger capacity is an issue because his role is big. Granted he doesn’t get a lot of help from the story or dialogue, but all the more reason to have someone who can try and wring something out of it.

The dialogue features its share of ill-timed lines such as “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” when things are already rather cataclysmic even in their bubble, and clichéd lines that you’ve heard in too many action and sci-fi movies.

Much of the battle is frankly rather uninteresting and not very dramatically conveyed. As a matter of fact, it’s in cameo moments later on that few of the compelling moments. Aside from that most of the other intrigue, if you can really call it that, comes when the film actually most closely resembles the board game. There’s a sequence where the ship has lost radar capabilities and they use water displacement data from buoys to gauge where the enemy is and try to time their launches to hit coordinates designated by letters and numbers.

The aliens are also an issue. Almost any film needs to create aliens that are vastly superior and are on the brink of annihilating the planet, but then some flaw inherent in them makes itself known that we exploit or become the beneficiaries of by sheer luck, this likely dates back to War of the World in novel form. Here there’s a scan interface, which we are privy to in alien POV and when biological entities are found they are not assaulted directly, yet battleships and skyscrapers full of thousands of people get blown up. Combine that with the fact that all indications are this is an invasion and attempt at conquest then this really doesn’t make sense. The technology also stinks, and they’re aliens! Example: Any one with any foreign substance on their body to aid them in a physical task (eyeglasses, prosthetic legs) is unrecognizable as man or machine to these aliens.

Now, I went on and on about the aliens in part because of the pace. I mentioned the length and the pace works hand-in-hand with it. This film gives me the time to wonder about these silly aliens that I’m not all that scared by, and I’m not all that intrigued by. The alien invasion plot is by no means foolproof, but this film tries too hard in some aspects and doesn’t try hard enough in others and the end result is that it just doesn’t work at all.

4/10

Moviegoing Abroad

I actually watched Battleship a few days before it came out here in the US, as I was in Mexico in time. This wasn’t the first time I saw a movie there. I went last year also, and while it’s not something I’d recommend everyone, but if you’re a movie freak going to a foreign movie house is definitely something to do.

Part of the reason I decided to write about it this time was with more and more conversation about the filmgoing experience in the US it’s more valuable perspective now more than ever.

So here are some benefits to checking out a flick abroad.

1. Check The Listings, You Might Get Lucky

Part of the motivation to see Battleship was that I knew it came out abroad before it came out in the US. This is a the case more and more now, so if you time it right you could see something before all your friends. Maybe it’ll even be good.

2. The Price is Right

Granted this all depends on your exchange rate and how favorable it is. Going to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was not really any cheaper Brazil than it was here (However, art houses in Brazil may be cheaper I haven’t been to one recently). This is especially true when you factor in the fact that soft drinks and candies are sold in normal sizes but still up-charged. However, the USD equivalents in Mexico were akin to when I’d take the bus to a multiplex for matinees in the mid-90s, meaning: ticket $5 USD, $2.50 Soda and under $2 for Candy.

3. Concession Variety

Now, clearly when you’re abroad you’ll find things that are ubiquitous like Coca-Cola but also things that are rather indigenous like this year’s find Freskas, which are Nestle’s answer to Whoppers with ice cream-like flavors.

At this particular Cinemark there was also a coffee/liquor bar in the back with other snacks, which is usually only an arthouse thing here, dine-in locations being a rare exception.

4. Etiquette

OK, I can only gauge this based on my limited experience and will qualify that my experiences in Mexico have been during/towards the end of the work day and the theaters weren’t that full but they were quiet. Conversely, my Potter screening in Brazil was late and rather full but for the most part filled with quiet reverence that film deserved.

5. Experience

My two trips to this Cinemark in Mexico and another mall-attached multiplex in Brazil have been clean theaters, where seats could be chosen ahead of time (get this, no extra charge! Take that Cinema de Lux!), seats that are comfortable, lights that go down on time, good projection with no significant degradation of quality even in 3D and based on my interaction courteous professional staff (for the most part).

Not to generalize for clearly the more you frequent and inadequately run movie house the more warts you find but it’s a game of chance when you happen upon a house that doesn’t do things right, when they do odds are you’ll have a great time.

As I mentioned above, it takes a certain odd egg to see a movie on vacation abroad. However, if you think you’re one it’s definitely worth doing.

In-Flight Movies

I typically see myself as someone a bit caught between times. In certain ways I’ve always been drawn to older materials in terms of film and television, but also seeking out newer ways in which to consume these products as I’ve discussed previously. In an age when there’s any number of ways to access new or recently released films I was surprised that one (at least) had escaped my commentary until recently. This could have to do with the fact that I hadn’t seen one in a while, but what I’m referring to is the in-flight movie.

In my experience there are two different presentations here: the communal screens, where either monitors or projection screens spread throughout the cabin are viewed; or personal screens, which are affixed to the backside of the seat in front of you.

My viewing experiences have usually been better with the latter. Though I’ve experience films this way on fewer occasions, I recall having seen anew and at first analyzed The Sixth Sense and then most recently I saw Chronicle.

Now based on those two I saw better movies in this way but there’s more of an intimacy. You’re still getting sound in a headset but there’s less to distract you from the image on screen when it’s right in front of you as opposed to the lottery of monitors and screens. A big screen on a wall might seem more cinematic, but you have not chosen your seat or your distance from said screen so in that case I’d prefer something a bit more democratically equidistant, that and I’m a front row kind of viewer anyway.

The biggest downside to in-flight viewing is the PA tapping into your headset, which will occasionally cause you to rip your earbuds out in shock not unlike when Dr. Evil screamed into his space-mike in The Spy Who Shagged Me, but other than that it’s a pretty good way to pass the time, much better than most.

The 5 Most Invalid Star Wars Complaints

With the recent release of Star Wars: Episode 1- The Phantom Menace in one additional D that has never before been seen there were bound to be many new articles that wrote upon the first film (chronologically) all over again.

Now, it’s been well-documented that fans and critics alike didn’t have much regard for Jake Lloyd’s interpretation of Anakin Skywalker and this was reiterated in the new articles. However, what struck me as a I read a new piece on old news was that, even in Episode One, much less the entire series, there are far more bothersome things that those of us who are fans can nitpick about. So, since fandom breeds nit-pickery whether one likes it or not, I have decided that there needs to be some priority set to this nitpicking. Namely, the focus will be on things ought not be nitpicked when you think about it.

I have asked Joey Esposito and Tom Sanford V to contribute their own lists as they are bigger die-hards than I, I’ll link to those when they’re up. I provide a sort of detached-weirdo perspective as the first time I truly saw the trilogy was in order in 2005 after I had seen Episode 3.

So enjoy (or become enraged by) my opinions below.

5. The Alternate Versions

This one is the last on my list because I agree with the fans right to complain about the alternate edits with new effects and the like with a caveat: namely, and this is a theme with me, if it really enrages you that much don’t buy them. I know I’m sticking with my DVDs for the time being. While I agree with the director’s right to change his film if he so pleases, I would prefer it if Lucas treated Star Wars like Spielberg treated E.T., meaning the original, unaltered version was always available and the new stuff was optional. I went to see the new E.T. but that was the only time, every other time the original has been just fine by me. So, yes, you have a right to complain about this switch, however, if you keep buying every release it’s falling on deaf ears. Therefore your options are one of two: hold out or get over it. None are great I grant you, but it’s the sad truth.

4. Midi-Chlorians

Here’s where my watching the series knowingly in chronological, so far as the narrative goes, order starts to factor in. This is one of the most over-debated and over-analyzed aspects of the entire saga. You can like or dislike it as you please, but I really don’t see the point in getting all up in arms about this point, when you have so many you could possibly choose from. Granted you implement things in the prequel trilogy that don’t follow through to the original and it removes an element of mystery but how much does it really detract? Furthermore, to parlay the filmmaker point above, it was introduced when the prequels were very much Lucas’s design, as concessions may have been made later on, so clearly he had it in mind. So it may not fit your vision but it fit his. Essentially, if one if offended by the very notion of the prequels they ought not waste time on this factoid. Conversely, if this is your biggest issue with the series that’s not so bad or you’ve blown it way out of proportion.

3. The Prequels In General

I alluded to this above but there are some who never got over the prequels happening in the first place. That’s fine. The original films are still there and if you watch those on an endless loop for all of eternity and never watch the prequels, would you still feel dirty knowing they exist? I wouldn’t. Now, even having seen the prequels first and then racing home to finish the series that night I won’t say the prequels are better, however, the concept was new to me when I first heard of it so I figured: “Why not watch it in order?” Today I think my appreciation for the saga and for prequels in general are heightened for it. Yes, I saw the prequels first, and yes, The Empire Strikes back is my favorite, and yes, The Phantom Menace is my least favorite, but in a lot of ways it functions like A New Hope does as a prelude to what’s to come.

2. Writing

People started to pile on to Lucas’ screenwriting seemingly only from 1999 to 2005 when seeing the new ones and then retroactively casting aspersions on his prior works. I can’t defend him in some areas but he knows his style and he jokes about being the “master of wooden dialogue.” He’s not Woody Allen or Joseph Mankiewicz or any of the greats, he knows that but he also typically writes his script in milieus he knows and where his style can flourish: Sci-Fi and adventure tales structured like serials, at least 10 films he had a hand in creating are in this vain (Star Wars and Indiana Jones) they emulate the style down to visual transitions and what I prefer to refer to as functional dialogue. However, suddenly when there are movies of his forthcoming some are not excited to see he is to be mocked and ridiculed? It’s exactly the same as what he’s always done. It worked then and it worked when the films rolled around again, the difference was in the receptiveness of the audience more so than the prowess of the artist.

1. Acting

Star Wars ain’t Shakespeare. Some actors will flail about. I don’t usually excuse actors I know to be talented from struggling with flat roles they seem uninterested in but it does happen. The fact of the matter is, I can ignore sub-par acting if I like the story enough. It will detract from it sure but rarely does it single-handedly ruin a film. Furthermore, as implied above, the saga might not embolden every actor. Sure, Harrison Ford did great things as Han, however, it’s right in his wheelhouse and his range is not the most vast to be honest. When dialogue has always been functional (I think we all know the story of the argument Ford and Lucas had on the set of the original about writing and saying things) and some actors can’t find themselves as well in that world, suddenly in the fourth film you’re going to pile on to a kid? I’m not going to say Jake Lloyd was the greatest thing since sliced bread but he did become the whipping boy for all that ailed The Phantom Menace in the eyes of many. Even I, who marginally liked the film, can pick many issues with that one and Lloyd is nowhere to be found on my list.

Essentially, due to fan outrage about the concept of the prequels existing and their dissatisfaction with the end result a child’s life was ruined, and yes I will go so far as to say potential was thwarted. You can’t tell me that Portman and Christiansen were always on point or that it ranks amongst Sam Jackson’s best works. As much as I’d like him you’d rattle off a bunch of Ewen MacGregor films before getting to the prequels. And if nothing else convinces you to absolve Jake Lloyd maybe this will: Did you like The Sixth Sense? I am assuming that you are a human being reading this and the answer is yes. Well, Haley Joel Osment is just one of those who auditioned for the role of Anakin but was not selected. So you can thank Jake Lloyd for The Sixth Sense if nothing else. Then feel free to troll on elsewhere, if you so please.

Short Film Saturday: Robot

Here’s one by Jim Henson and I swear that even if I hadn’t told you that you’d likely have guessed. This is pre-Muppets and Sesame Street but his author’s voice is the same. This film was commissioned so there’s some background which needs to be given. I have quoted the information that accompanies the video on YouTube, which frames it very well:

Jim Henson made this film in 1963 for The Bell System. Specifically, it was made for an elite seminar given for business owners, on the then-brand-new topic — Data Communications. The seminar itself involved a lot of films and multimedia presentations, and took place in Chicago. A lengthy description of the planning of the Bell Data Communications Seminar — sans a mention of the Henson involvement — is on the blog of Inpro co-founder Jack Byrne. It later was renamed the Bell Business Communications Seminar.

The organizers of the seminar, Inpro, actually set the tone for the film in a three-page memo from one of Inpro’s principals, Ted Mills to Henson. Mills outlined the nascent, but growing relationship between man and machine: a relationship not without tension and resentment: “He [the robot] is sure that All Men Basically Want to Play Golf, and not run businesses — if he can do it better.” (Mills also later designed the ride for the Bell System at the 1964 World’s Fair.) Henson’s execution is not only true to Mills’ vision, but he also puts his own unique, irreverent spin on the material.

The robot narrator used in this film had previously starred in a skit for a food fair in Germany (video is silent), in 1961. It also may be the same robot that appeared on the Mike Douglas Show in 1966. Henson created a different — but similar — robot for the SKF Industries pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair.

This film was found in the AT&T Archives. Thanks go to Karen Falk of the Henson Archives for providing help and supporting documentation to prove that it was, indeed, a Henson production..

Footage courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ

For more from the AT&T Archives, visit http://techchannel.att.com/archives

DVD Review: Haxan

Häxan is a fascinating piece of cinematic history for a number of reasons – the first certainly being that it is one of the earliest films to straddle the line between fact and fiction; narrative and documentary. Second, because it is one of the earlier (#134) releases by the Criterion Collection.

The film tells its tale of witchcraft and satanism from the middle ages through the modern times. It cleverly uses vignettes (dramatizations if you prefer) and slides, illustrations etc. It goes from a title describing reasoning and custom behind an act or belief to a scene in which it is depicted or to an illustration where typically a pencil held by an unknown person indicates to us the area of interest.

The film goes along chapter by chapter revealing reason and the cause and effect of the hysteria concerning witches and the devil. Although, we at one point find out that several trials involve people from the same household there is little by way of a through-line, and that is by design. However, it does make it slightly troublesome to follow in part because you expect it to come back to one scenario or another but it doesn’t. Alas, one of the perils of blending fact and fiction, it moves and is structured like a doc but is portrayed as fiction much of the time so the audience member expects similar conventions.

Towards the end it does do a fascinating feat of simulacrum and tell the audience its reusing actors, does demonstrations and the titles take on a very analytical approach but it is some of the more enjoyable stuff in the film.

Criterion gets very high marks for this particular release for a number of reasons. First, there are two versions of the film on this DVD – one the 1922 silent, and then a 1968 re-score, voice-over included re-do by avant-gardists called Witchcraft Through the Ages.

In the former Criterion did a great job re-recording the score and returning the film to its original intended tinting. Tinting was a fabulous technique which was widely practiced in the silent era because it gave you the wonderful contrast and grain of black and white but it was bright and lively. It was also a tremendous tool for symbolism of time, place, emotion and so forth as colors hold many associations for people.

The original Häxan is very much worth watching. The sound version is worth comparing for students and serious films fans. The sound version is not only unnecessary but appalling; it’s akin to colorization in its futility in attempting to improve something that needn’t be fixed.

Not only is it conceptually a bad idea but the execution is also poor you get two conflicting sonorous signals sent to you and thus the confusion of the filmmakers is evident, even if subconscious. There is a clear dichotomy between the pomposity and seemingly unintentional Movie Tone newsreel style gravitas that Burroughs has in his voice and the ridiculous, cacophonous Jazz score by Jean-Luc Ponty, which makes me wonder if that music wasn’t the work of the devil.

Another thing lacking in the newer version was the tinting, so in fact, it is the opposite of colorization it’s actually a desaturated less visually appealing version of the film. The voice-over also cuts out a lot of text from the titles some including interesting anecdotal information and at times footage. There was one instance there the image was up well before the voice over started.

Ultimately, it pales in comparison to the silent film but it was still quite intriguing to watch both and compare them and the two cuts plus a plethora of bonus material like liner-notes, commentary by a Danish silent film scholar, director’s intro outtakes a look at Christiansen’s sources and stills make the DVD worth getting,

Häxan (1922) 7/10
Witchcraft Through the Ages (1968) 4/10

DVD presentation: 10