Nominate Films for the 2012 National Film Registry

Recently, while scrolling through Twitter I noticed quite a few people posting that the National Film Preservation Board is allowing the general public to suggest titles to be entered to the National Film Registry for the first time. You can read the pertinent details here. The only thing I found a bit confusing was whether an individual can select 50 titles from a calendar year (e.g. 1933) or if and individual may only suggest 50 per year. I erred toward the latter option. My choices feature many Hitchcock, Disney, horror, Looney Tunes; a few silents, docs, and the occasional footnote. What’s great is that since 575 films have been picked in 23 years they provide a list of significant films not yet selected for you to peruse. Of course, you can submit whatever you like if it fits their criteria. I made all my selections 25 years or older, however, the official cut-off is 10 years.

The National Film Registry was instituted after a bill was passed “Congress first established the National Film Registry in the 1988 National Film Preservation Act, and most recently extended the Registry with passage of the Library of Congress Sound Recording and Film Preservation Programs Reauthorization Act of 2008 (PL110-336).” So, essentially these are your tax dollars at work, America, so make some suggestions. If you’re curious you can read mine below:

1. Suspense (1913)
2. The Perils of Pauline (1914)
3. Charlie the Champion (1915)
4. Mickey’s Orphan’s (1931)
5. Skippy (1931)
6. Island of Lost Souls (1931)
7. Wild Boys of the Road (1931)
8. Babes in Toyland (1934)
9. Manhattan Melodrama (1934)
10. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)
11. Son of Frankenstein (1939)
12. Rebecca (1940)
13. Dumbo (1941)
14. The Little Foxes (1941)
15. The Wolf Man (1941)
16. Gaslight (1944)
17. Mrs. Parkington (1944)
18. Three Caballeros (1945)
19. The Yearling (1946)
20. Panic in the Streets (1950)
21. Strangers on a Train (1951)
22. Limelight (1952)
23. House of Wax (1953)
24. It Came from Outer Space (1953)
25. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
26. Them! (1954)
27.Lady and the Tramp (1955)
28. The Trouble with Harry (1955)
29. Forbidden Planet (1956)
30. Ali Baba Bunny (1957)
31. Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
32. The Children’s Hour (1961)
33. The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
34. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
35. The Birds (1963)
36. Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964)
37. Wait Until Dark (1967)
38. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
39. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
40. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
41. Carrie (1976)
42. Burden of Dreams (1982)
43. The Big Chill (1983)
44. A Christmas Story (1983)
45. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
46. Terms of Endearment (1983)
47. Amadeus (1984)
48. The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
49. The Breakfast Club (1985)
50. Stand by Me (1986)

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Mini-Review Round-Up: July 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.

The Theatre Bizarre

Recently I’ve been seeing quite a few horror anthologies. Part of the reason behind that is just to familiarize myself with a few more of them and the voices involved in creating them. The second reason, to be perfectly honest, is that due to their episodic nature they are conducive to fractured viewing, which makes them easier to schedule. However, I did see The Theatre Bizarre all the way through in one sitting.

This one, like many horror anthologies, is a bit inconsistent in its quality, which is to be expected when different directors handle each segment. In my estimation, the highs are rather high and the lows are rather low. There are some interesting and at times daring attempts. It’s always hard to gauge them as a whole because this see-sawing in quality is not unusual at all. However, for fans of the genre I do think it’s one worth checking out, your feelings on the whole piece or a particular segment may be greatly different than my own. In the end, I really liked more of the installments than I disliked so it’s worth a watch.

6/10

Cold Sweat

One thing I thought was particularly interesting an effective about Cold Sweat was the implementation of antagonists who just could not let go of the past in a very villainous way. At the start of Cold Sweat there is archival footage that gives you a brief overview of the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary factions at play in Argentina in the 1970s, then you get a very specific incident chronicled. You know this will all come back into play, you just don’t know how. Now, using overt political symbols in horror has been done, most commonly with Nazis in all likelihood. However, the circumstances and players of each countries political past (and seedy underbelly) are all somewhat different, and the refracted ideologies, and reverberations thereof, can still be felt at current, in one way or another. So it is rather fascinating to find this angle in this film because it lends a specificity to the film and a voice; a stamp of a national cinema. Coincidentally, I saw another Argentinian (co-produced with Spain) horror film soon after this one that implemented many similar threads. The horror setpieces and manipulation of given tropes in this film is quite effective, but it its this backdrop of sociopolitical commentary, past and present, combined with the narrative that makes this such an intriguing film.

8/10

Hiding

Hiding in some ways reminded me of Beautiful Wave in as much as we see a teenage girl do a lot of brooding with minimal backstory given to the audience so it becomes tiresome. The good news is that this film is quite a bit better than Beautiful Wave. The bad news is that it still doesn’t end up being good. It concerns this brooding girl (Ana Villafañe) who is in witness protection and there’s a given that she’ll be found and there’ll be this dramatic showdown. What really matters is how do you get to that point and sadly much of it seems like they’re just trying to fill time. She is interested in two guys at her new school and has similar, nearly mirrored scenes with them, at times. There’s a psycho jealous cheerleader (Kelcie Stranahan) who does a lot of digging into her on a delusional whim, there are flashbacks some of consequence and some not; all with an an annoyingly unnecessary excess of jiggling. Many characters make really bad or dumb decisions and we don’t necessary have enough affection or interest to let that slide. The best part of the film is unquestionably Jeremy Sumpter‘s supporting turn. He remains a heinously under-utilized and under-valued talent.

4/10

Goon

For my thoughts on this film please go here.
10/10

Absentia

As per usual, and as I say quite frequently, I went into Absentia knowing very little and that’s the way I prefer it. I knew it was was a low-budget horror film and what the basic synopsis was from Netflix. That’s about it. Only later on did I learn more details like the budget was purportedly $70,000 and funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign.

All that stuff is great to know after the fact. Knowing it before you see something can be a double-edged sword. Essentially, either the movie works or it doesn’t. What the budget is, whether exorbitantly high or incredibly low, does not make it immune from, or more deserving of, criticism.

As for the film I really enjoyed it a great deal. It tells a tight-knit simple horror story that gives you just enough information to keep things going but never gets ahead of itself, and the idea is a low-concept production of a rather high-concept idea at the bottom of it. However, the curtain is only barely raised on the horrors being uncovered by these characters. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film was shot rather in continuity because it certainly was doable and the performances across the board got much stronger as the film progressed, and even rather impressive at times. The score is really good and there are good twists to it. This is definitely a Netflix gamble worth taking.

8/10

Exit Humanity

Exit Humanity is a horror film that has a rather interesting take on the zombie subgenre. With the proliferation of such a genre one must contend with both fatigue and differentiating one’s own story from the crowd. In these aspects is where the film is most successful, and that’s without including the fact that this is an alternate history tale of the postbellum south. The story is an introspective one that is more concerned about those left behind after a plague of zombieism, and isn’t so concerned with making the walking dead of this tale a metaphor. Yes, there is a somewhat different spin to the cause and the history, but that ends up being more a narrative necessity than a focus.

With a fairly original take the film is setup to succeed and does, but only barely. Where the film struggles most is in terms of balance. The score is really good but at times only in isolation, at times it’s too intrusive and too intense. There is some wonderfully florid voice-over, but at times it’s too much, and at other times the scene would’ve been better demonstrated visually than through monologue. The film does have its twists and turns that are rather surprising, but after some of those unusual decisions some quickening of pace is needed so that it doesn’t feel aimless.

The film never really lost me as a viewer, however, it had me reeled in at times and let go just a little bit due to some of these inconsistencies. I don’t want to over-accentuate them because I do still like the film, but feel it easily could’ve been something truly special had certain edits been made. It’s worth watching for fans of the genre for sure. I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if some professed greater admiration for it than I do, especially considering some of the touches it employs such as animation, colored shots and top notch make-up effects.

7/10

Summer Olympic Movie Picks- Part Three

I did a post like this for the Vancouver games a little more than two years ago and I shall unearth it again at some point at least on Letterboxd because that was certainly a lot more fun and in many cases weirder. However, the variety that is provided by the over-stuffed nature of the summer games is nothing to sneeze at. I think that these films that feature the sports of the warmer Olympiad will likely introduce you to something you want to check out. I know I found a few. These picks will be posted in three parts, this being the last. You can read part one here and part two here.


Table Tennis

If you like your sports inclusion to be tremendously silly there are a handful of recent comedies about table tennis, including Balls of Fury. If you’re OK with the sport taking a backseat but like your featured athlete to be prodigious, then Forrest Gump may be the way for you to go.

Tennis

I haven’t seen some of the more recent very head-on tennis-themed movies but it seems like overall the sport has been vastly overlooked. Clearly with this year’s games being in London and the the fact that tennis fans get an additional Wimbledon-based tournament, Wimbledon would be an obvious choice. Woody Allen’s recent Match Point would also be one to look into and one I’ve yet to see. Tennis has worked very well as a backdrop in many movies most notably Strangers on a Train, especially if you know a bit about the history of the game, it makes the tracking of Guy’s results a bit more creepy earlier.

Taekwondo

I can’t say I’ve seen many martial arts films. However, one interesting thing to consider is that with the martial arts disciplines is where you’re most likely to find the sport blending in to a story under a cloak. This Wikipedia page lists Taekwondo films based on the fact that it’s the fighting method used not necessarily because it’s a straight-up tournament-based story. However, there are a series of films that are a very direct treatment of the sport and that is Best of the Best. The original came out in 1989 and concerns a team from the US going to Korea for the world taekwondo championships. The film features Eric Robers, Philip Rhee, James Earl Jones, Sally Kirkland, Chris Penn and more. Based on some of the stills I found of this film it may be another I’ve seen but forgotten.

Trampoline

I found a movie called Trampoline but as for films about using the device in a gymnastic application they do not seem to exist yet. Rather than offer you nothing there was a documentary in 2008 called Slamball, which, of course, focuses not on the gymnastic discipline, but rather a form of basketball using trampolines for added elevation.

Triathlon

The triathlon doesn’t really have any movies dedicated to it. However, I did find a really good post about that with a very good inventory of synopses of cycling titles (one of the component sports) in it.

Volleyball

As mentioned earlier it was hard to ferret out traditional volleyball from the B-Movie friendly beach variety. However, there are a few indoor tales that have been told. One being a 2000 Thai comedy called Iron ladies, which is based on a true story of a men’s team made up of gays, transvestites and transsexuals who entered the national championship. For something a bit different you can substitute an Air Bud in more of these sports than you realize. Yes, that silly cinematic golden retriever has played many sports. He plays volleyball in 2003’s video release Air Bud: Spikes Back.

Water Polo

Out of all the sports in the summer games that you only really get to watch every four years, water polo may just be my favorite. Part of it could have to do with the underdog mentality that I have at times. Once I learned truly what it was and played impromptu pickup games with my dad, the horses-in-water jokes became tired and I like what it actually is. I also will invariably gravitate to sports wherein certain countries who scarcely win anything else are dominant. Hungary, historically speaking, are the titans of water polo. Whereas they had their one brilliant football team that came close but couldn’t win their consistency in the pool is staggering 15 medals (9 gold, 3 silver, 3 bronze) in 20 Olympic tournaments played.

That’s all a massive pre-amble to say I knew there had to be a water polo movie out there, there had to be a Hungarian one if from nowhere else. Surely enough, I found a dramatization of the 1956 Gold Medal Game versus the USSR on YouTube, the infamous “Blood in the Water” incident, but it was uncredited. Yet, as I searched another title surfaced Freedom’s Fury, a 2006 doc can be viewed on SnagFilms.

Weightlifting

Weightlifting is usually an affectation of a character or featured as cross-training for other sports. However, there are a few instances of films about weightlifting, generally about body building rather than olympic style curls and jerks. The most notable being the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron, which is about the Mr. Universe and Olympia competitions and features Arnold Schwarzenegger amongst others.

Wrestling

Legitimate forms of wrestling feature in movies far less than the entertainment brand but that doesn’t mean they don’t have some fanfare when they do. Win Win won virtually unanimous raves last year and was among my favorites of the year. Wrestling is only a piece of the puzzle but an important one and the fact that it cast Alex Shaffer, champion wrestler turned actor helps it greatly.

Summer Olympic Movie Picks- Part Two

I did a post like this for the Vancouver games a little more than two years ago and I shall unearth it again at some point at least on Letterboxd because that was certainly a lot more fun and in many cases weirder. However, the variety that is provided by the over-stuffed nature of the summer games is nothing to sneeze at. I think that these films that feature the sports of the warmer Olympiad will likely introduce you to something you want to check out. I know I found a few. These picks will be posted in three parts. You can read part one here.


Football

Since the Olympics is global I will use the international name and translate for America, this is soccer. All kidding aside, as I looked through some lists of soccer movies I was struck by the realization that the disparity between the greatness of the game and the quality of films generated by it is greatest here. Most of the ones I saw listed were sad. There are some I heard good things about but have yet to see, like The Damned United, Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos, and Pelada. Many of them in the US are usually about a ragtag bunch of kids on a team the best probably being The Ladybugs. As for the adult version of the game the best most recent one I saw was Rudo y Cursi which gave us this song too:

However, world cinema does provide a few more options which are suitable for all ages. If you like your soccer with genre-bending weirdness, I’d suggest the Die Wilden Kerle series from Germany. However, I’d stress you not watch any of them dubbed. I saw one dubbed the first time and it was some of the poorest collective work I’ve seen, aside from the fact that in the US we for some reason altered the chronology.

Then O Menino Maluquinho (The Nutty Boy) has a climatic game which features brilliant, practically superhuman goaltending by the protagonist, which is one of many great aspects of the film.


Gymnastics (Artistic & Rhytmic)

Unless I’m missing something major, gymnastics hasn’t had a lot of great representation on the big screen. Christopher Campbell’s list definitely makes me want to see Gymkata and it’s certainly more compelling in concept than anything I thought of or found; a rash of biopics, lame parodies and anorexia-themed MOWs and, of course, the most unfortunately executed death in Final Destination 5.

Now, Rhythmic Gymnastics seems to be absent from any real representation. Like synchronized swimming it has its notable parodies like that on Lizzie Maguire and by Will Ferrell in Old School, but I can’t seem to find anything straight. It could be great fodder for a doc in the vein of what I perceive Pina to be, as I still need to see it. There is a niche waiting to be had.

Handball

Yup, this is what thew world thinks of when you handball, just another example of our at times jingoistic naming practices, though to be fair Wall Ball is used to describe the one we know better too. Handball is another sport I’m glad to see roll around every four years and I agree wholeheartedly with this Awful Announcing post that it should be a featured on ESPN more often.

With regards to movies there wasn’t much to find. There’s Szansa a Polish film which seems to pit a nurturing, caring, intellectual, literary teacher against a hard-nosed, disciplinarian, gym teacher who crosses the line to win and winning said handball games is good for the school. Then there’s Forever the Moment a fictionalized account of the South Korean women’s handball team that competed in the 2004 games.

Hockey

Only during my occasional watching in the last games did I finally come to appreciate the version of the game which is played on grass and not ice. The only movie that seemed to jump out was Chak De! India, which is a kind of underdog story about a former player turned coach who takes over the long languishing national women’s team. This title is available to stream on Netflix (US).

Judo

Judo is a martial arts discipline I enjoy watching and pretty much always have since I’ve known of the games. The issue, as with many of these sports, has been finding a filmic representation of it.

Some quick searches brought some docs partial and short, but then as it turns out Kurosawa’s debut is a judo film, Sanshiro Sugata, wherein a young man struggles to learn the nuances and meaning of judo and life. This film is available from Criterion in one of their excellent Eclipse collections. This film is accompanied by a sequel and is referred to collectively as the Judo Saga.

Modern Pentathlon

Honestly, when I went to search out film ideas for each of these sports the one I pegged as being the hardest was the pentathlon. Truth be told, I only found one movie to pick from, but it’s called Pentathlon and Dolph Lundgren is in it. Essentially, Lundgren’s character and his sadistic trainer meet up eight years after their Olympic sojourn in an ever-escalating series of action nonsense, much of which you could have spoiled for you by the Wikipedia entry. It sounds like one of those movies that’s so brash it’s brilliant or painful – it does strike me as one of those movies I’ve seen on TV and all but forgotten.

Rowing

I mentioned in the canoe section that rowing could be found in The Social Network, however, there are a few more options to be had. You could pick either of two versions of the same tale, as comparing an original and a remake can be fun in A Yank at Oxford and Oxford Blues. For a more sports-oriented choice there’s True Blue (called Miracle at Oxford on US Home video) about a famous 1987 race. Lastly, if you want your sport as more of a setting for your drama than the premise, you have Summer Storm, which is about relationships and sexuality, and Queen of the Night, with a backdrop of politics, handicaps and romance.

Shooting

Now, I won’t be vague with shooting because the number of films that involve gunplay are countless. So I sought out films that at least feature competitive marksmen and there are two provided by Honk Kong cinema called Double Tap and Triple Tap, the former spins off from the first. Both involve rival shooters and getting involved inadvertently in crime and intrigue.

Swimming

Swimming is one of the most populated sports in terms of events, and one of the most popular at the games in general. Even on dedicated websites like Sports in Movies there isn’t a long list of swimming films. It’s hard to imagine that recreational swimming is something that needed to be created, much less that sport needed developing. However, there is a share of cinema in the pool.

Going back to 1931 you can watch Jean Vigo’s 2nd short film Taris, which is a rather artistic rendition and promotion of France’s swimming record-holder at the time. This film is available in the Complete Vigo through Criterion. If you prefer your star-power cinematic The Swimmer stars Burt Lancaster. If your inclinations are more stalker-crazy there’s the fairly recent Swimfan. In the more family-friendly realm there’s the fantastical DCOM The Thirteenth Year and swimming features somewhat in A Dolphin Tale.

Synchronized Swimming

With synchronized swimming there is actually rather a balanced choice. You can either enjoy it rendered comically in this classic bit:

On in a light, whimsical, biopic musical called Million Dollar Mermaid.

It is just by its very nature one of the easiest sports to poke fun at but it is really something when done well, and something else when it’s not which both those clips prove.

The list will conclude tomorrow!

Summer Olympic Movie Picks- Part One

I did a post like this for the Vancouver games a little more than two years ago and I shall unearth it again at some point at least on Letterboxd because that was certainly a lot more fun and in many cases weirder. However, the variety that is provided by the over-stuffed nature of the summer games is nothing to sneeze at. I think that these films that feature the sports of the warmer Olympiad will likely introduce you to something you want to check out. I know I found a few. These picks will be posted in three parts.

Archery

The very first sport alphabetically is one that will illustrate to you rather quickly that there are two ways you can see a sport portrayed in a film: direct (e.g. sports movies) or indirect (wherein the sport is a component of the film but not the focus). Archery is an ancient practical discipline, which is rather visually appealing. Thus, it makes cameos in myriad ways: whether the super-human precision of Hawkeye in The Avengers or the cold brutality of Kevin, as in the one who needs talking about.

Films about the sport itself are harder to come by but with all the Robin Hoods there should be something that tickles your fancy.

My official pick will by Walt Disney’s Robin Hood, though of course Disney/Pixar’s Brave also features a prominent competition, and Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games is quite skilled too.

Athletics

Another permutation of the sports movie you get is that of the biopic. This seems to be a particular purview of Athletics, specifically track and field events. Clearly, Chariots of Fire is the first title that comes to mind. Then there are the lesser known but still worth looking out for like Prefontaine and Saint Ralph.

Badminton

Here is the first of the challenging sports on this list. In looking into it I was reminded that badminton, like so many other things, has been included on The Simpsons. In film terms, I learned of two features that involve it, one I’d be interested in seeing and one not so much. The first is National Lampoon’s Golddigger, a newer and prior to this unknown to me installment of the series, and then an Indonesian biopic about Liem Swei King simply called King, which is clearly more appealing for the purist.

Basketball

Basketball is one of the sports that has most frequently made for popular or entertaining films. Now, the two that jump immediately to mind are Hoosiers and Blue Chips. Having said that, since there are so many basketball titles, such that you can specifically cite the Olympics in some; I’d choose HBO’s documentary :03 from Gold about the ’72 Gold Medal Game between the US and USSR.

Beach Volleyball

It was incredibly difficult to parse beach volleyball films from traditional volleyball ones. Beach ones are clearly more popular, but rather than being crass and to respect the differences between the two disciplines, they will each get their own films. The beach volleyball choice is Side Out, which I do believe I’ve actually seen Side Out (so help me God).

Boxing

Boxing is the sport where I’m sure you’ll find the most movies to choose from. Of course, a movie about Olympic boxing is disqualified since the scoring system instantly introduces plot holes and confusion, but you can pick among the classics here Rocky, Raging Bull or whatever your preference may be you’re spoiled for choice with this sport.

Canoeing


Any of the paddle sports will be rarely found on screen and usually as a background element. In the Social Network the Winklevoss twins were part of a crew legacy, which could qualify that as a rowing movie.

With regards to the canoeing/kayaking end of the spectrum that’s where you get to fudging it a little. The first thing that came to mind was White Water Summer, that was immediately followed by more Kevin Bacon in The River Wild, which is a rafting film but less all around odd and not at all ’80s. You could also turn to A River Runs Through It.

With regards to paddle sports it all depends on how ensconced you want to be. If you want just a hint of it you can certainly fudge a movie in in easily.

Cycling

With many of these films I’m discovering them and wanting to find them at some point, with some they are oddities that I have seen and want to recommend. When it came to cycling I’ve seen two of the bigger cycling movies Breaking Away and American Flyers thanks to a family member who is obsessed with the sport.

They have their moments but have also bred some inside jokes based on the fact that it’s a “shown movie,” as in a “You should see this” kind of thing. However, in fairness, they seem to be the go to choices for enthusiasts.

One of those sports that pops up at the Olympics that grabs my interest are the track cycling events, which are more intriguing to me that the other disciplines. The Flying Scotsman seems to be a popular choice for that particular modality.

Diving

Diving, whether it be platform or springboard, is usually an affectation wherein we witness the externalization of a protagonist’s fear and his overcoming it, and rarely the focus of a film.

Perhaps the most notable examples are Greg Louganis: Breaking the Surface, and now with the games in London, Tom Daley four years on from a debut at the age of 14, wherein he finished 7th and 8th in his two events; has a BBC documentary about him to his credit along with being a serious medal threat.

Equestrian

I’m not going to say I’m a horse whisperer or even any kind of an expert, but what invariably ends up bugging me in some horse movies is the whole nature of them participating in a sport. A notable example being The Black Stallion. The beginning, say the first 40 minutes is a gem, a perfect replica of a silent film. Then the horse becomes a racehorse and it’s kind of trite from there. I think that’s one of the greatest things about the handling of Secretariat, it makes it seem like the horse is more willful than his jockey.

When it comes to equestrian disciplines that’s less of a concern because I believe that typically it’s the rider facing more danger and if the horse doesn’t want to jump, he won’t jump; or whatever maneuver is intended. That and watching these maneuvers is rather hypnotic at times.

A recent film I saw that dealt well with equestrian if nothing else was Harley’s Hill. In reading a similar list I was enlightened towards International Velvet. If you can’t drop your reservations about equine sports, and are a member of the Disney Movie Club, you can look up The Littlest Outlaw wherein a boy frees a showhorse.

Fencing

Fencing is another sport wherein you can shoehorn many a film into your viewing to suit your taste. Any Zorro, Three Musketeers, Peter Pan will feature fencing-like swashbuckling. You can take your pick from those oft told tales or you can be a little more literal with something like By the Sword, a 1991 film featuring Mia Sara, Eric Roberts and F. Murray Abraham. Or perhaps The Fencing Master, there was one in 1915 and 1992, I suspect the latter would be easier to find.

However, if you want to get creative I suggest Theatre of Blood. Not only does Vincent Price play a crazed, thought-to-be-dead Shakespearean actor seeking vengeance on a critics circle but he recites the Bard as he kills and once such scene is a fencing duel!

That’s all for now. Suggestions are more than welcome, and tomorrow’s films start with those about or involving football (aka soccer).

Madagascar 3 & Brave: Audience Expectations and Narrative Goals

Shortly after writing about the drive-in experience I made my first trip of the season. The drive-in I frequent does double-features and usually the fit of the bill and whether or not I’ve seen the movies ends up being the deciding factor.

This time in the family-friendly block there were two animated films being shown Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted and Brave. The fact that I had seen neither, really wanted to see Brave and they were both in the same medium, made it an easy pick for me.

What I found to be most interesting is in comparing and contrasting the two films, which I did merely because I viewed them back-to-back and because they had any inherent narrative or thematic similarities aside from being in the same medium; is that it was a tremendous study in audience expectation and narrative goals.

With regards to audience expectation: I expected next to nothing from Madagascar 3 except to hear the circus song again and laugh like some human version of Pavolv’s dog and I did, and I got some other chuckles out of it too, more than anticipated. Yes, there were things that were silly and overwrought but for fluff it was OK.

Whereas with Brave, just in the trappings of the story that I knew going in, the implications of those trappings and the potential it had based on that alone; set the bar was set very high.

Now, with regard to narrative goals what I mean is what the stories primary desire is. I believe, first and foremost, in judging a film on its own merits and with regard to what it is trying to accomplish. I won’t knock Austin Powers because it doesn’t stack up to Citizen Kane because it’s not trying to be that, it’s just trying to be funny. Granted with any genre film, yes, they want to successfully execute a story in the given genre and then if you get more out of it that’s icing on the cake, but the extras are not the main objective.

It’s trite but it’s probably easiest to think of it as setting a bar in the high jump, as I alluded to before. Madagascar didn’t set it so high but they cleared it, Brave set it really high and stumbled around a bit, in my estimation.

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t registered a grade on either film anywhere simply because I remember I saw them and found them both middling. Yet, as I alluded to before, that middling for Madagascar 3 is somewhat triumphant and for Brave was really disappointing based on what my perception of them was going in. In essence, I probably felt more frustrated after the better film. While there are still things that bothered me about how it was handled, Brave is still probably would be the one I’d pick if forced, and the one I’d be most likely to revisit.

I haven’t read a lot of press on Brave but I have a feeling that there were many who were talking about what they would’ve preferred happen. Without giving it away that’s not what I mean to say when I say it bothered me. I mean even with all the same givens and without reworking the circumstances there were elements there that could’ve been fine-tuned and much of what was likely to be good about it still was: the message, the struggle and the conflict.

Perhaps what’s most interesting is that I likely wouldn’t have drawn these parallels had I not seen them back-to-back but I did, and Brave was supposed to be the jewel in the crown. Yes, I hyped it a bit but having not read much in detail I did wonder what the complaints were about then the elements that didn’t connect as crisply as they could have came into the mix.

In the end, I thoughtthis a perfect opportunity to address those nuances in narrative evaluation that scores, regardless of you scale, can belie.

Hero Whipped: Why This Spider-Man Amazed Me

In this series of posts I tend to discuss comic book characters and my unique relationship with them since my fairly recent return to reading them again and I usually find a way to connect them back to movies somehow. However, since I decided that my posts may be a little different from hereon in, these posts may have a slightly different vibe to them.

Sure enough after that post The Amazing Spider-Man was one of the first things I saw. Now, in spite of my recent tendency to like superhero movies either a lot as the case is with say The Avengers and X-Men: First Class or somewhat as is the case with Thor or Green Lantern, the new Spider-Man hearkens me back to the original trilogy which were all released during my hiatus. Thus, this will be a heavily filmic post but it’s perhaps the most unique perspective I’ve yet had on a character.

It may be possible that I knew less about Spider-Man going into that first movie than I’ve known about almost any superhero before seeing their film. It was released at a time where I was typically attending films in a group so the selection process was fairly democratic. Going alone or with at least one other person, I could take it or leave it. To give you a sense of my lack of knowledge, after having seen it I was informed that in the books Peter created a web-shooter and it wasn’t a biological side-effect of the bite. So that frames it a bit.

However, I was a fairly blank slate. I didn’t have expectations I was just reacting to what I saw on the screen and what I saw there was something I didn’t care for much at all. In the post-film powwow I was the only dissenting opinion who chimed in “Well, I thought it really sucked.” I’ve never really had the urge to revisit it and the bad taste in my mouth kept me from seeing the other two.

I could identify easily enough with the elements of the story. Few and far between are the heroes whose archetypes that have a major variable. It was really a letdown in my eyes aesthetically, technically and viscerally. With regards to the viscera a lot of that boiled down to the casting of the leads. There is a certain alchemy in all of filmmaking but perhaps where it’s most present is in acting. Yes, there is a lot of technique and things that are good acting and bad acting just like in any aspect of filmmaking, however, an effective performer who doesn’t excite you in anyway is likely to be less engaging than a less technically skilled actor who is gripping, who has a presence. Tobey Maguire is not a bad actor and neither is Kirsten Dunst. I don’t find them interesting in any way, shape or form though. They bore me more often than not. It’s really a casting issue. Maguire is going to be seen in The Great Gatsby next. That’s great casting. He belongs in that film, here I didn’t care for it.

The casting and the actors get no help in the story department I remembered feeling it tepid and trite, nothing out of the ordinary, and getting back to the alchemy thing you have actors I felt were miscast, not particularly dynamic and then no chemistry too? Brilliant.

I was also not in the camp that ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the CG. Good effects work, truly good effects work is timeless. I doesn’t just stand up against contemporary expectations but stands the test of time too. I felt they were lacking in 2002, much less now. Whereas there are shots in Jurassic Park that are still astounding almost 20 years later.

It really seems in superhero cinema that much of it boils down to character, in the better ones performance, and spectacle. Very few are those films that will also make you legitimately, consistently, and even spontaneously, feel strong pangs of genuine emotion (Teaser: I got a lot of that in the new Batman and that’s the next in this series!).

Perhaps one of the most vivid memories I have of watching any movie ever was the first time I saw Batman. You know the 1989 one, back when Tim Burton was Tim Burton.

“Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” And thus, the crap was scared out of me and I was in love with that movie.

With Spider-Man you do have a basis for many emotions in the construction of his origin. As superhero films proliferate there will be more and more merit to the arguments about the viability of origin stories, however, in rebooting a series I have no problem with retelling. Similarity by itself is not cause enough for ridicule. Take the Psycho remake for instance (please?), if Van Sant had merely done the story over again: same place, same time, same characters, names; that probably would’ve been fine. However, he took it a step further into cinematic photocopying, which just felt flat.

I can stand a retelling, as I think I’ve stated before: I am fine with multiple versions of stories existing (and when I like the story I seek them out). I clearly wanted to be re-told this story based on my reaction to the first film. So, what was it in this new Spider-Man that worked for me? In short, practically everything.

However, as you may have guessed, it starts with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Just by looking at Andrew Garfield you may not imagine he’s the dynamic performer, but if you watch him you soon find out. I first saw him in The Red Riding Trilogy and I was a fan. There are quite a few things that perturbed me about The Social Network, but he wasn’t one of them, at all. Robbed of an Oscar nomination, is what he was.

Then there’s Emma Stone. I think everybody loves Emma Stone at this point. If you don’t you probably aren’t watching that many movies.

There’s a certain quietness and introspection to this film that allows the emotion to be wrenched out of it. I spoke of spectacle above, spectacle is very external. In many of these films there is rarely introspection. This film manages to do that, build these characters but also steadily build the intrigue. The characters arc, you see what makes them tick, you see and understand their decisions and I felt for them.

Now, the dynamic was changed in this film by bringing Gwen Stacy into the mix rather than Mary Jane Watson. Now, in my return to comics I haven’t delved into Spider-Man really. I’ve only really gotten to know and like him from his teaming up with The Fantastic Four after The Human Torch’s temporary demise, so Gwen was new to me and I think involving her is a great story decision that just makes this film that much better and resonant.

On a technical level, not only do scenes tend to be intensified by occurring at night but the filmmakers figured out that the web-swinging looks better then. Another interesting aesthetic note to me was that the camera was very much controlled, not an over-abundance of motion. The shots look good and composed and it hearken back to earlier superhero films, but are made with newer toys.

All those proclivities aside here are the two true litmus tests for superhero movies as I see them: One, do I want to see the inevitable sequel? Two, does the film make me want to seek out the character in print? The answer to both those questions is a a resounding hell yes. And that is why this Spider-Man amazed me.

Why Goon Works

Not too long ago I was finally missing hockey enough that I decided I should watch Goon (For my rating, which will be omitted from this commentary, please go here). I had the conflicting emotions going in of having high hopes but also being somewhat guarded. As I have discussed with films set in Brazil, but made abroad, I have some trepidation when it comes to handling of subject matter is close to me. Hockey is one of those touchy subjects.

For example, when I was younger, I was obsessed with hockey (mostly with the New York Rangers) quite badly, such that I’ve had to temper that with conscious effort such that a win or loss doesn’t effect not only my day, but also the time that elapses in between. When I was younger I naturally would have had to rented Slapshot at some point. Now, the point of this piece is to discuss Goon, so suffice it to so say I was quite turned off, didn’t find it overly-amusing and didn’t think it got it. To paraphrase what Penelope Spheeris said about why she didn’t do This is Spinal Tap when offered “You’re making fun of these people,” and feeling a part of that scene she couldn’t see herself doing it. That’s how I feel Slapshot dealt with its subject matter, which is the polar opposite of how Goon does it.

I think Goon does understand, touch upon and convey so many nuances of the game that fans, and those involved in the game get that outsiders cannot and what it most amazing is that the film puts these notions in a great movie that’s accessible and enjoyable to the non-fan.

Clearly, Goon will deal mostly with fighting, as it chronicles the unlikely rise of a nobody into a minor celebrity at lower levels of the sport simply due to his prowess in fisticuffs.

While the film doesn’t get didactic about anything I feel it does thoroughly examine fighting as a part of the culture of a sport, the fabric of it really, and the mindset of said fighters. It shows the trade-offs you’re willing to make, what’s tolerated, what isn’t, momentum shifts a fight can cause; essentially the “necessity” of it.

While I, as a hockey fanatic, will grudgingly admit to the “necessity” of fighting I also cannot in good conscience leave it out of quotes and cannot just leave it at that. I think it also important to delineate that this is hockey we’re discussing and I compartmentalize. Just because I accept and understand a brutal, physical practice in a sport played by adults who agree to the risks they take on does not denote my feelings on nuclear proliferation, capital punishment or any other topic.

I think the film shows even while making spectacular out-of-this-world bouts that there are ramifications and consequences of many kinds in fighting. What bothers me most about the perception of fighting, which I hear all too frequently on debate shows when they deign to talk about hockey, is that it is allowed. It’s more accurate to say it’s an accepted practice, but it is not allowed. If it were allowed you’d have something akin to Blades of Steel, wherein only the loser was penalized, or what’s more no one was. If you fight you are assessed five minutes in the box. There can be a strategic purpose to it therefore it really is a more violent version of intentional fouls in basketball, or on rare occasions in soccer (aka football).

However, I can agree that hockey is likely the only sport wherein there are enforcers, whom you don’t expect goals or assists from, but whom you expect to protect said assets. The complaints are old, but some of the facts are new and Goon touches on the head injury issue.

With the growing animus in all sports to keep its participants safer never is the conversation more nebulous than around fighting in hockey. Many head injuries in hockey and football are typically the result of one player being either defenseless or unaware of the oncoming collision, in a hockey fight 99 times out 100, heck I’d wager 999 times out of 1000; you have both combatants know they’re about to deliver blows to one another’s head. It’s probably the clearest case of they know what they’re signing up for there is. Yet it’s the most vilified act in sports it seems, and I think what Goon does amazingly is humanizes these players, even ones that start out as caricatures. However, Doug Glatt, the lead played by Seann William Scott, is so well drawn. He’s a gentle giant, a consummate team player who will do whatever needs doing whether it be fighting or taking a puck to the face.

If the sport were to clamp down on fighting more would I still watch? Absolutely, and I think that those who argue attendance would drop don’t get it. It will only drop where there aren’t real fans of the game. With regard to player safety, I’m far more concerned about enforcement of blows to the head in the middle of a game at full speed than a fight, though I’m not going to act as if there are no cumulative ill effects health-wise there. It seems sports leagues are skewing towards legislating to avoid sudden cataclysmic injury rather than chronic ones.

Now, while I’ve been off on a tangent, what the film does is the polar opposite of what I have, which is what makes it so good. It avoids bombast and soapboxing of any kind. For example, Glatt’s rival Ross Rhea, played by Liev Schreiber, talks to him, seems like an OK guy and steals a comment he made in his speech when having his number retired, but that’s the end of that thread. They have something to settle on the ice and won’t be distracted by off the ice stuff.

The film has pretty effective action sequences and really good looking hockey plays, which go beyond your typical insert of a puck bulging the twine. The totality of the handling of the sport in the film is amazing aside from narrative, performances, aesthetic and other production choices. However, fighting, because it is called Goon after all, is at the center of it and within the sport and without it’s a hot button type of issue and perhaps what I’ve been driving at, aside from letting some things off my chest, is that it dealt with it without pretension, condescension, excuses or even glorification, it just is. It’s in the game and that’s it.

In film one of the terms you’ll hear all the time is “raise the stakes.” Put more at risk, go bigger, bolder or higher for more dramatic impact. So, yes, Glatt is a superhuman fighter, some of the impacts and injuries in the fights are extreme and he does stop a shot with his face, and several subsequent stuff-in attempts, but when the tone, details and spirit and scenarios are all right then the occasional extravagance needed in film is far easier to accept.

If you were to cull through all the video you could find to create a montage, as long or as short as you want, to illustrate why you think a sport is great it probably won’t connect. If you put it in the context of a story then you have a chance of even getting neophytes along. For example, I know very little about cricket but I’ve really enjoyed films about it because of the common themes I could relate to the passion, strategy, desire to play, hero worship and so one (aside from the fact that it’s aesthetically great on film). Now, if you take many elements that make a game great and combine it with a great story that anybody can sit and watch then you’ve got a real winner.

Goon‘s success is attributable to the fact that it cares deeply about its story, its protagonist and the game it’s portraying and that’s all. It’s not trying to make any other statement at all, yet, paradoxically that’s just how it makes one. Hockey is a beautiful game and if those who run the sport treat it as well as this film does then it’ll be in great shape.

Book Review- The Complete Greed

There isn’t too much I can personally say about The Complete Greed that hasn’t already been said by those cited on the back cover of the book, namely: The New Yorker, Fritz Lang, Take One, Sight & Sound, Maurice Bessy (at the time director of The Cannes Film Festival), Henri Langlois (at the time curator of the Cinémathèque Française), Peter Bogdanovich and Jean Renoir.

However, one unique perspective is that I, unlike all those cited on the back of the book, have yet to see the extant, eviscerated version of Greed. I remember my interest being piqued in film school but also accompanied by a built-in reticence to see something that was less than von Stroheim’s grandiose vision for it. That combined with the fact that it is currently only available via re-seller on VHS in the US has put it low on the priority list for me. However, when I was on Amazon one day and saw that a used, though in great shape, copy of this book was available for the staggeringly low price of $4 I had to jump on it.

After having read it I must say it is quite a feat indeed. Having never seen the film I now feel like I have and what’s more it conveyed both the wonder of the story as it exists and the agony of the seeing the version the world has been robbed of.

The more complete cuts of Greed are among the holiest of holy grails in the film world. I now have a sense as to why that is and add that to a growing list of cuts I wish to see unearthed.