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Batman v. Superman: Everyone Loses

Much in the way that Batman v. Superman attempts to create pathos in thumbnail sketches and create drama through shorthand, I figured I’d share my disappointments in it in an equally sketchy way.

Secondly, the lack of timeliness of this posts owes itself to two things: One, I recently spoke of the film with my brother, whom had just seen it on Amazon, so some people may be discovering it in general and two, because it’s never too late to see a movie,per Edgar Wright, and as such never too late to discuss it.

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Yeah, Batman apparently uses guns in this one too. Because why not make a thing that was never a thing suddenly a thing. 

Here are my observations. First, in general terms:

Eisenberg is an annoyance rather than a legitimate threat. I attended this film with two kids. When those two kids (ages 10 and a 13) insist Lex Luthor is the Joker, and you can’t blame them, maybe the interpretation of the character is off. Regardless of what the actor.

The title is pumped up nonsense that is half-pointless. The battle between the two is wholly avoidable and like many sequences far too drawn out. It’s thin on character and humor but not the unmitigated disaster 2015’s “Fantastic Four” was in terms of superhero films.

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The latest run in the Batman series could learn a thing or two about how it’s OK to go away from a vocal decision mid-franchise. One of many issues with the second installation of the Narnia series is the decision to make Castilian accents double as otherworldly. I’m not for doubling down at all costs on creative decisions. It could’ve been changed.

Snyder’s equation if things go boom equals drama is in force so often that it dulls the senses. I can only 9/11 flinch so much before I can’t 9/11 flinch no more. While I appreciate that the film did build on Superman’s wanton destructiveness from the prior film the weariness of that and 9/11 exploitation is as real as superhero fatigue and this film plays into both things.

However, even if it got away with those things. It is far too drawn out. It’s an over-stuffed sausage of a film. It tries to do far too much lifting both to expand the DC cinematic universe too fast. One example is the fact that within the third act they decide to insert Doomsday, whose pursuit of and battle with Superman was a whole comic book arc, and here it’s a truncated add-on.

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Are these wonderful toys?

But that aspect alone is not enough to arrest forward momentum of a narrative. Take a simplistic understanding of characters and their conflict and conflate and a film can seem bloated anyway, then add a shortcut franchising when we are introduced randomly to other members of the Justice League to be and it just gets worse.

The inconsistency in vision in cinematic-universe building is not just implicit in the deficiencies that Snyder suffers from as a filmmaker but also from having an architect in the director’s chair rather than doing as Marvel does and building from the top down and finding director’s who inherently “gets” the character they’re working with.

You can’t create a plot wormhole in building a cinematic universe. Just because Warners seems jealous of Marvel’s head-start and the fact that they had the patience, guts, and foresight to build to a phase conclusion doesn’t mean we as an audience want one sub-par origin, one immobile versus film leading into what looked like may be the best team film they’ve made, Suicide Squad (and then that too was another massive disappointment), and then the Justice League.

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If I go crazy, then will you still call me Superman?

Batman is a flexible character, but this film decides to play him as similar to the recent incarnation as possible, while still regurgitating his origin story, which we know Moreover, we see it unfold slowly, and in a far more entertaining way on television.

Batman has never been so uninteresting, it’s hard to believe Goyer had anything to do with it.

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Forrest Gump: An Analysis

Introduction

Forrest Gump is a film that defies the conventions of filmmaking, and in that sense it is difficult to do a typical analysis of the film. It’s not so much that the film is overly complicated or that reality is always in question or any art house tricks of that kind; it’s just that Gump doesn’t really follow any rules.
We begin with the most obvious: the plot. This is a film that should have redefined the biopic. It is completely about the life and times of Forrest, the protagonist, in fact through it all that’s the only thing it’s consistently about. Other films that tell the story of a person’s life are usually focused on one section of a person’s life, even cradle-to-grave biopics usually hinge on some narrative fulcrum. This film, however, makes no pretensions of having a conventional plot, and in this regard it surpasses even Citizen Kane in the biopic subgenre. Whereas in Kane there is a pretense to find out about Charles Foster Kane, and the search for the meaning of Rosebud, in Gump all we get is Forrest telling us his life story. Story for story’s sake, it’s a beautiful thing. In this sense we also get filmmakers playing with time in an interesting way. For the first two hours of the film we are told what has happened in Forrest’s life up until this point. Then, suddenly, for the last part of the film (about 14 minutes) we see things as they happen from then. While the frame of the narrative is built on a flimsy premise it’s still a very interestingly constructed film.
In many ways Gump’s tale becomes that of America. We follow his adulthood from Vietnam to the Reagan years and the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and through this time he stumbles from one historical moment to another. This is one of the problematic things about the film to some: Forrest is always able to make it through these hardships with his head held high. It also practically condemns all political assassinations and the Vietnam War and it can be seen as a very liberal film, and if someone wants to dislike it for that it’s a better argument than not being able to connect with it because of Forrest’s intellectual incapacity. The latter statement is something that is virtually countermanded throughout.

Characters

Forrest

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When looking at the characters in Forrest Gump one must first look at the film’s name sake. In listening to the DVD’s commentary track Robert Zebecks stated that Forrest is a man of less than average intelligence who “Never made a wrong decision as a man.” They made a point of showing this explicitly when his principal showed him that his IQ was only slightly below the acceptable level.
The catch-phrase “Stupid is as stupid does,” has been misinterpreted by many. This phrase defines Forrest in that he’s not stupid because he’s never really done anything wrong. Whether Jenny was being harassed as a nude guitarist or abused by her counterculture boyfriend, Wesley, Forrest was always there to protect her. Forrest picked up a notebook dropped by the first black student at the University of Alabama. In Vietnam he ran back and saved as many members of his platoon as he could from certain death never considering his own safety for a minute. Yet while showing noble qualities as a man Forrest still shows himself to be childlike in many ways he has always listened to mother’s advice (e.g. endorsing a ping pong paddle), feels shy and embarrassed when Jenny makes a romantic advance toward him, and has the same physical mannerisms as his son while watching TV and fishing. Another place in which Forrest’s character is used for commentary is when he says he fits in like “a round peg” in the military. Why is that? It’s because he’s a man who has never really thought for himself and always obeys orders. When Forrest meets Lieutenant Dan we see that he takes all questions seriously and doesn’t have the intelligence to be mean, cruel or condescending and in that sense he is an endearing figure. This quality of taking everything at face value is what allows him to moon President Johnson without a bit of malice. This quality of his character also provides the film with some of its best dialogue. Here’s an example:

LT. DAN
Have you found Jesus yet, Gump?

FORREST
I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him, Sir.

Forrest is also honest and a man of his word. His honesty leads him to be the whistleblower on the Watergate scandal. He also kept his promise to Bubba and compensates his mother with a huge check. Forrest’s one moment of defiance is when Jenny has come back to live with him and he confronts her about why she won’t be with him, and he delivers another wise and knowledgeable line. This one being: “I may not be a smart man…but I know what love is.” Forrest then needed time to think and to himself. After all the hectic moments in his life that is the reason he decided to run.

Jenny

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Jenny is a character plagued by her past. Her life has always been turbulent and she has always been turbulent and has always turned to Forrest when things got too crazy for her to be able to deal with. She left home and went to an all girls college. She was expelled and then became a hippie, then she reunited with Forrest in Washington. At this point she was with Wesley who palled around with the Black Panthers. Later she got into the Disco/drug scene. Jenny is a much tougher character for a general audience to figure out because we see her in flashes and hear things about her in dialogue and her motivations get clouded but they’re real. In the end, Jenny comes back home because she is tired. She has gone all over the country looking for an identity and she is able to come home because the problems she was running from wasn’t the little town she grew up in but what had happened there. These were the events in her life that lead her to spiral downwards and almost pushed her over the edge. Jenny had wanted to be a folk singer to connect to people but Forrest was the only person she could ever talk to whom would never judge her.

Lieutenant Dan

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Lieutenant Dan carries us through most of the second half of the film alongside Forrest. There is a lot of turbulence in his life after Vietnam. We’re introduced to him in one of two brilliant “Generational Flashes” where we see his forefathers dying in major American wars. He feels this is his destiny and because Forrest took him away from that he dives into alcoholism and deep depression. Nonetheless he defends Forrest against the prostitutes who call him stupid and lives up to his promise to work with Forrest on a shrimp boat. Lieutenant Dan starts to feel about things after a violent storm where he is able to vent all his anger about what has been going on. After indirectly thanking Forrest he vanishes from the film until he returns with a Vietnamese wife and titanium-alloy legs.

Mama

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Mama is played by Sally Field. That says it all doesn’t it? She is given no proper name aside from being referred to as Missus Gump on occasion. If it wasn’t by design it should’ve been. That’s what she is: Forrest’s mother. No one has a perfect mother, but Forrest undoubtedly had the right one, like Forrest says “Mama, always had a way of explaining things so I can understand them.”

Little Forrest

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Little Forrest is worth mentioning because with Hollywood being the way it is, I can just see producers counting down to the day when they can start shooting a sequel. Now, this wouldn’t be a bad idea initiated by Hollywood, but would just be followed through by them. After Forrest Gump’s astounding success, as it was in development almost since it was originally published in 1983, novelist Winston Groom published a sequel, Gump & Co. Like the original it is “plotless” but the major concerns are about Forrest and his son as he wanders through adolescence. I don’t know if Robert Zemeckis was joking but on the DVD he repeats the same comment twice: “In case we ever do a sequel Haley’s a big star now, so that’s good.” The book is often amusing but the relationship borders on combative and they should follow the lesson that the makers of The Evening Star learned, which is even when the book has a sequel you’ve got a tough act to follow.

Special Effects

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Forrest Gump was also groundbreaking for its use of special effects. It’s appreciated that the effects are used when there are many effects for something that is not an action or Sci-Fi film. Through the effects the filmmakers were able to make many historical figures into characters: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Civil War Lieutenant General and KKK member, a distant relative of Forrest’s who illustrates we needn’t be prisoners of our past. We also see Elvis, John Lennon, JFK, George Wallace, Lyndon Johnson, RFK, and Nixon, all in a somewhat exaggerated fashion but still reflecting the way the public perceives them. Thus, turning them into participants in this story and lending them to Forrest’s own simple interpretation of things, which ends up being oh so truthful. For everyone who was either killed or had an assassination attempt on them Forrest comments in passing “And for no particular reason at all someone shot him.” He made these comments in reference to JFK, RFK, George Wallace, and John Lennon. Yet in other instances news of an assassination attempt was used to indicate to the audience what the present date was without using an annoying insert. We see flashes of attempts on Ford and news of what Carter was saying while Forrest eating a bowl of cereal, and while Jenny was living with him Reagan was shot. At this time only in The Tin Drum had i seen more subtle passage of time, and it does wonders for not slowing the film down.We always have a general idea that something is happening but needn’t be told the exact date, time, and place.

Dialogue

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The dialogue in Forrest Gump is often exemplary and I’ve already listed some examples. The first great line to come out of the movie is one that’s simple and really demonstrates what Forrest’s mother is all about “If God had intended us all to be the same, we’d all have braces on our legs.” Many of the great lines became great due to the editing of sound and film alike. An example of good film editing is when Forrest’s mother tells him that “You’re not different.” Then it cuts to the principal saying “The boy’s different, Mrs. Gump.” We get a lot of comedy out of Hanks’ voice-overs in which he often says something and then we see it happen in the scene. The best example came in Vietnam. It goes like this:

FORREST (V.O.)
…he’d always tell us to get down and shut up.

LT. DAN
Get down! Shut up!

FORREST (V.O.)
(whispering)
So we did.

The use of ironic voice over is a product of the editing because Zemeckis knew the amount of voice over work was risky. It was truly a hit-and-miss thing so it was one of the last things added to the film. It was basically placed where they knew the results would be favorable so it worked perfectly.
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A unique thing about this film is that it doesn’t seem to have much conflict in it at all. When there is conflict there isn’t a whole lot of focus put on it. Yet is still ends up working better than a lot of films that focus too much on their conflict and never give the audience a breather.
Forrest Gump isn’t a film that can be duplicated. It stands alone as a modern-day classic of American cinema.

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Versions of Vanya

Introduction

This was one of my favorite papers in college. In it I had to compare and contrast three stage productions of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, and then I discussed my adaptation ideas. Naturally, I wrote of attempting a cinematic portrayal. Enjoy!

Visions of Vanya

When a director takes on the job of reviving a play he or she has the unenviable task of breathing new life into the piece. It would be quite easy to go on staging the same play in an identical manner as it was first performed. This practice is not unheard of but it is both boring and lacking in artistic vision.
When dealing with a play like Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, which has many timeless and universal qualities, an adaptation of some kind is almost a necessity. This is so as Chekhov’s work has different meanings to various different cultures.
The first interpretation of Uncle Vanya that caught my attention was a 1997 version of the play performed at Stanford Summer Theatre. Jarek Truszcynski, who formerly worked at the Polish National Theatre, did any unusual thing in that he got both local and foreign actors with varying backgrounds in both theatre and film. This blending of styles and backgrounds, while no doubt unique, must’ve lead to some inconsistency from one performance to another. The most interesting thing about this adaptation is what was done with the stage.

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Jarek Truszcynski

Drawing on Chekhov’s poignant humor and tragicomic vision, director Truszcynski designed an intriguing set based on a series of doors and windows to highlight the failed connections that inform the life of Chekhov’s wonderful, if troubled characters. In a similar vein, live piano (Schubert’s Fantasia in F minor, 4 hands) was woven into the action, underscoring the erotic desires and mismatches that fuel the play.

While I have no photographs of this set, one who looks upon it will undoubtedly know that the set was designed that way to say something about the play itself. This would be further underlined if the actors used these doors and windows to their advantage. The use of music is something that I have considered when reading this play and it is an effective way to communicate to the audience something that may be, in fact, contrary to the words spoken or, as a last resort, to emphasize the emotional impact of the scene.
The next version of Chekov’s play that I found interesting was directed by Libby Appel at the 1998 Oregon Shakespeare Festival. What Shakespeare and Chekhov have in common I’ll never know. The way the set was constructed in this play reflects the most negative possible interpretation of the text.

“The stifling set has a black backdrop, with four bare walls on both side [sic] and a maze of doors. There are plain chairs, a table, and a piano which emanates original music reminiscent of some of the more gloomy music of Rachmaninoff.”

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Libby Appel

We see some similar elements between this and Truszcynski’s version of the play. Here have a dark backdrop and every possible place where color could be added it’s plain. We find a similarity in the amount of doors. The doors on the set may not mean as much in this version. This is a play with quite a few sets and instead of having the actors constantly exit the director may want to have the actors simply move to a different part of the stage. Yet the doors here do seem to imply that all these characters are connected in that they’re unhappy with the life they’ve had to lead. The amount of black coupled with that fact make this the darkest version of this play possible. Any comedic element the play may contain has been removed.
The last and probably most intriguing version is that of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. This is a company founded by Gary Sinise, best known for his portrayal of Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump, and some of his friends formed just after he got out of high school. It is now a big company and many other renowned actors have performed plays with them.
It’s Steppenwolf it seems that comes closest to striking the delicate balance between tragedy and comedy in this play.

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“Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya can be played with bitterness and despair, or it can be played with a reminder of hope. Steppenwolf’s production chooses the latter. In the end, a certain equilibrium is restored – moody, perhaps, but with the smallest promise of realization and real change. What we come away with is hope not so much for Vanya and company, but for ourselves.”

Staging and the way the actors interpret their roles has a lot to do with its tone. Music may be helpful but it is only a necessity if the actors are not doing their jobs properly.

“Austin Pendleton (Vanya) and Jeff Perry (Astrov) play well against one another as the dogged, summer-love-sick estate-manager and the active environmentally-minded doctor; they are fittingly matched as complementary forces, friends as well as rivals, different yet reciprocal natures. Pendleton brings to Vanya a contemporary, Woody Allen angst and some rather appealing lickerish looks, as well as the capacity for desperation that moves us as he comes face to face with the falseness of his idols and the sterility of his life, a long road of untaken opportunities. Jeff Perry as Astrov moves with facility between comic and compelling, presenting a magnetic , engaging, human portrayal of the doctor, equally vulnerable to the beauty of saplings and Yelena’s charms.”

If this is the kind of response actors are eliciting then they are most definitely doing an amazing job. In reading the text one can easily see how it can be taken to either extreme. It is better to try and achieve some sort of balance between comedy and tragedy and lean more towards one side.

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Anton Chekhov

Ultimately a play as well-written as Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya is one where the director has a lot of flexibility. Every decision that is made from lighting to set designate casting will influence the way the play is perceived and it is very interesting to see the ways in which, each of these directors have attempted to express their views of what this work is trying to say.

My Own Interpretation

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An 1899 production of Uncle Vanya in Moscow.

Uncle Vanya is a hard play to adapt regardless of the medium one plans on performing it in. The play is a chameleon because if you read it while you’re in a bad mood you’ll see it as another play that proclaims life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Yet in that same vein the ending packs a wallop and is an incredible surprise proclaiming that this play is one about hope. Someone who is content with their life may read this as sort of a screwball comedy with tragically flawed and depressed characters.
I admit I’ve had both views of this material. However, I think that to play these roles in an overly dramatic way would demean Chekhov’s intent and his dialogue. The director should seek to strike a balance. And here’s where I see there can be a compromise, when a character is discussing about what they believe about someone else such as the discussions of Professor Sereoryakov at the beginning, the actors should go for the most comedic impact he or she can find without turning the play into a farce. When they discuss their own problems, they should be serious and seek out honest and emotional interpretation without being hammy. Both things are asking a lot of the actors, but this is demanding material.
Before even considering adapting it into a screenplay, I believe the lighting scheme should be considered. When one is dealing with the medium of film they have an advantage over people in theatre because natural light can be used to light the scenes and would be considerably more effective than any means of artificial lighting. While the use of both candlelight and sunlight would be very difficult, it would lend a great amount of atmosphere that couldn’t be accomplished on stage. I believe candlelight would be most beneficial during the scene where Elena and Sonya make amends and discuss their desires.
If I were adapting this as a film, more sets would be required than are in the original play. Basically, what we have here, while well written, are characters who talk too much to make for interesting cinema. As a matter of fact, when Chekhov first premiered the play theater-goers of the day were surprised at how much the characters spoke. Talking heads syndrome is something that is avoided at all costs in film.

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Barry Lyndon where Kubrick created new lenses to shoot by candlelight.

While it would take many readings to decide where to actually cut dialogue, merely looking over the text after one reading we can see places where images from outside the Serebryakov estate would be helpful in making this play more cinematic.
First, I believe the use of flashbacks accompanied by voice over narration would assist many scenes in this piece. It would also be helpful in breaking up the long periods of dialogue. This tactic would be most effective in the following scenes:

  • When Dr. Astrov discusses the patient he lost.
  • Marina talking about the professor’s daily activities.
  • Sonya pontificating about people in foreign climates.
  • Vanya reminiscing about a girl he knew.
  • At the very end when Sonya is consoling Vanya some sort of imagery would be necessary.

While the closing speech is riveting it would be easy for an actor to go overboard with these lines.

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The lens that would be needed to shoot the candlelit scenes.

I also feel that the strategic insertion of cutaways during breaks in dialogue or just after something is said would be beneficial and break up a play with a lot of talking. I believe this technique can be most helpful following the following pieces of dialogue:

  • Astrov’s comment about his mustache.
  • When Vanya says he’s haunted at night.
  • Vanya’s comments on an autumn rose
  • What might be going through Astrov’s mind while he’s making a pass at Elena
  • Serebryakov’s comments about the house being a labyrinth.
  • Vanya waking after comments about a waking life.

All of the prior images would almost mirror what was said in dialogue previously but some images would also be needed to demonstrate meaning such as:

  • When Vanya discusses the work of the professor not living.
  • A single page burning.
  • When Astrov complains about provincial life we move outside the estate momentarily.
  • When Elena makes the cynical comments about her real behavior she may look out the window and see fictitious characters demonstrating the very qualities she finds unrealistic yet longs to see.
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Vanya on 42nd Street (1994)

In film the camera can also be used to heighten emotion and through the creative use of angles we may add some insight into the character’s emotions. On page 177 Vanya goes on a rant about the professor and I feel a gradual procession of tightening shots as his fury increases would definitely help drive home that the professor’s lifestyle is resented by these people. When Elena says there are demons in all of them I believe the best approach would be a medium shot in which Elena is in the center of the image with the back of the protagonists in the foreground. This is so the comment does not come off as judgmental or like preaching to the viewers. At the top of page 195 when Vanya speaks of illusions I feel it would best to see Vanya speaking from the lower right-hand corner of the screen. This show reflects the cinematic Russian tradition that states placing a character in the lower right-hand portion makes them appear weak. I also feel that alternating between single and wide angle shots during the shootout would be beneficial. It would be helpful to show both the entire room and how others are reacting to the situation and also to demonstrate Serebryakov’s fear and Vanya’s anger.
In the review of the Steppenwolf Theater Company production it states that their performance of the play was two-and-a-half hours long. This would be quite a long film and not many people would be willing to go for a film of this type that’s that long anymore. However, I feel that if one were to continue in this melange of styles and techniques both old and new it would become a more visually involving piece than many would expect.

Harry Potter and How It Changed My Life

In 2011 Rohan Gotobed was a small part of the cast of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. He played Young Sirius Black in a flashback. As such, he was listed among the nominees and winners of my annual BAM Awards.

Being a young person in this day and age in a film as massive as the Harry Potter series he developed a following, and was known to people for a brief film appearance. It’s the kind of notoriety that could turn bittersweet, or stop being sweet altogether. But with the below post on his experience being part of the Wizarding World, Rohan reveals a great wisdom, and  perspective on things. Whatever the future holds  it’s great to see he sees his brief involvement in the series as a blessing, as a bonus he provides and update on his now resurgent acting career.

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In a weird way, I often think about how much my time during high school mirrored Harry’s time at Hogwarts. When I turned up aged 12 in 2010, I immediately became known as “the Harry Potter kid”, mainly because I had already introduced myself as being in the next Harry Potter film. Had Snape been my chemistry teacher, I’m sure he’d have prefaced our first lesson with “Rohan Gotobed, our new… celebrity.” Like Harry, I was an object of weird fascination.Then, once the film came out and everyone realised I was only in it for six seconds (my friends counted), I felt a lot like Harry probably does about 99% of the time. However, there were always younger Colin Creevey-esque students who were fascinated with me, and I probably split opinion between teachers as to whether I was lovely or arrogant. Then, came sixth form, I began to book more…

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Mike Pence’s Mulan Problem

So, here I am again discussing another Disney reading – or rather a conspiracy theory. This one concerns Mulan and was proffered by newly-minted Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence when he was a conservative talk show host in Indiana. On his show’s site he penned an op-ed which postulated that Mulan was liberal propaganda, and, in his mind, proof that women should not serve in the armed forces.

The approach I will take to examining this claim is a mostly film theory based. He’s politicizing the apolitical and therefore I will keep most of my discussion focused on his assessments and whether they are truly contextualizing plot and themes correctly.

So let’s begin.

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It starts with the title of the piece (pictured at the bottom of this post): “Women in the Mulan Military.” It’s objectively nonsensical. In the film Mulan there is one woman in the military. She is not allowed to be in the military and poses as male. Or is the lack of proper italicizing to indicate that allowing women to serve “Mulans” our military? Which also makes no sense.

Lack of coherence in titling already paves the way for flawed reasoning.

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In a not-so-minor grammatical note he writes “Fathers Day.” Sorry. It’s Father’s Day. If you are a father it’s your day rather than the day of all fathers. Possessives are important. Already he’s not even made his point and I’m less likely to give any credence to his arguments.

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Then he claims the popularity of the film was all induced by McDonald’s. This gives you a sense of his understanding of the film industry. Disney animated films were on a hot-streak at the time, they always appeal to kids, and McDonald’s tie-in is the work of Disney Marketing not some insidious McDonald’s agenda. Furthermore, it shows his bias from the start. He’s not even synopsized the film yet.

In a film with an anthropomorphized dragon, a fictional creature to begin with, and a cricket in the same vein, he critiques the likelihood of Mulan’s military prowess:

Despite her delicate features and voice, Disney expects us to believe that Mulan’s ingenuity and courage were enough to carry her to military success on an equal basis with her cloddish cohorts.

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Mulan and the voice actress who played her Ming-Na Wen

It’s uncertain how one can read that sentence any thing other than sexist. Apparently, Pence can suspend disbelief on common Disney tropes but a pretty girl who can fight is crazy. Not to mention the fact that this film establishes her as accident prone, and then does a traditional training montage to show the improvement of her martial skills. To Pence’s mind she has to look like G.I. Jane or a butch lesbian to be able to fight.

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If anything in this piece almost holds water it’s this next passage, but even that misses the mark:

Obviously, this is Walt Disney’s attempt to add childhood expectation to the cultural debate over the role of women in the military. I suspect that some mischievous liberal at Disney assumes that Mulan’s story will cause a quiet change in the next generation’s attitude about women in combat and they just might be right. (Just think about how often we think of Bambi every time the subject of deer hunting comes into the mainstream media debate.)

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This is another case of vastly overrating the influence of media on reality. Apparently the integration of women in combat roles during the Gulf War or on combat ships in 1993 or flying combat missions during operation Desert Fox in 1998 doesn’t set-up a childhood expectation just movie about a Imperial Era Chinese girl, who goes only to protect her father and promptly quits when the war is over. That’ll get girls wanting to be in 21st Century wars they “shouldn’t be in.”

As for Bambi, I don’t know anything about deer hunting debates. I didn’t know they existed. I know there is a season for it and regulations around it. Maybe that’s an Indiana thing. Bambi, however, I do know. It was the first movie I remember seeing at the movies. Bambi’s mother’s death is scarring because it’s his mother not because it’s a deer taken down by a hunter. Hunters shoot deer. That’s a fact. In anthropomorphizing forest animals a logical assumption, divorced of political leanings, is that animals would fear hunters. If you think Walt Disney knowingly put liberal propaganda in his films, you don’t know enough about Walt Disney – which he probably doesn’t because even though this piece is from the late ’90s he refers to Walt Disney, the man who was dead more than 30 years, and not Disney, the company that bears his name. Lastly, people twist things up over time. Like the fact that the name Bambi is used almost exclusively for girls in real life even though Bambi in the film is a buck.

From there Pence goes on a tangent about scandals like Tailhook and the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. His assessment: men and women stuff will happen. It’s classic victim blaming. It’s like saying “Well, if they weren’t in the military they wouldn’t have been raped and molested.” Try weeding out the rapists and molesters instead.

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When he ties it back to Mulan he states, in closing:

It is instructive that even in the Disney film, young Ms. Mulan falls in love with her superior officer! Me thinks the politically correct Disney types completely missed the irony of this part of the story. They likely added it because it added realism with which the viewer could identify with the characters. You see, now stay with me on this, many young men find many young women to be attractive sexually. Many young women find many young men to be attractive sexually. Put them together, in close quarters, for long periods of time, and things will get interesting. Just like they eventually did for young Mulan. Moral of story: women in military, bad idea.

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Methinks methinks is a compound word.

As for the supposed irony, it’s irony that is informed by Pence’s sexist viewpoint. The subtext of that sentence is: a woman in the military either falls in love with her superior officer or is raped. Yes, there’s Disneyfication like the addition of animal sidekicks, and yes there is a romantic interest; however, that builds additional conflict (the key to drama) as to show one’s feelings could betray her gender, which she is hiding after all.

This is the same kind of knee-jerk reactionary propaganda decree that leads to people thinking Muppets want their children to be Communists or that Frozen will make their daughters lesbians.

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The film is actually one of the earliest feminist characters in the Disney pantheon. She takes matters into her own hands, is a non-conformist, and almost never allows herself to fall to the mercy of a patriarchal society. Pence’s oversimplified statement would make sense if we lived in a bygone era, but we don’t. Politics aside he misses the moral entirely. Mulan doesn’t join the military because she really wants to behead some Huns nor does it caution us about our daughters running off to fight wars incognito.

Mulan pleads for her father to be excused as he is aging and injured. This plea is rebuked. She runs off and takes her father’s place. She risks her freedom and life to protect him. It’s a story about courage, sacrifice, and the family value of honoring elders.

The story is set when it was first written in a poem in about the 5th century. It was a far more impressively progressive statement then than it is now. Apparently, some aren’t ready to come out of the 600s.

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Athletes in Film Blogathon: Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987)

Introduction

When first learning of the Athletes in Films Blogathon, there were some obvious choices I could make. However, having just written about Space Jam, and not holding in it in as high esteem as some in my generation and younger, the only clear choice left for me was to write about Amazing Grace and Chuck yet again. Though having written on it extensively as part of a larger piece, I didn’t focus too much on the professional athlete involved in a key role. Therefore, I will do so here.

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987)

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, TriStar Pictures)

This is a film in which:

A little league player named Chuck refuses to ever pitch again until nuclear weapons are disarmed. Basketball star “Amazing Grace” Smith follows the boy’s example, and starts a trend.

The athlete in question in this film is:

…played by Alex English who was a player for the Denver Nuggets at the time this film was produced. We see him playing, hit a three-point shot and give his famous three fingers in the air gesture, after the game his agent/best friend, Lynn (Jaime Lee Curtis) reads him an article about Chuck and the wheels start spinning.

With the memory of his wife and daughter gnawing at his mind, Amazing decides to quit basketball and do like Chuck did, an official protest has begun. At one point someone asks Amazing “Do you really think you’re going to bring an end to nuclear weapons?” Amazing turns to him and says “I don’t know but wouldn’t it be nice.” This soon starts a snowball effect and so many athletes join the cause that professional sports are crippled and the movement spreads worldwide.

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English (pictured) played a preseason game with the Boston Celtics that was used as his game footage for the film. Having an active player play an exhibition with a team he was not contracted by is an impressive feat that Columbia/Tri-Star and the production team pulled off with the NBA’s cooperation.

The notion of athletes as activists does have quite a few precedents in sports. Here are some examples:

  • Muhammad Ali refuses induction in Vietnam.
  • “Republicans buy sneakers too.” Michael Jordan on his sociopolitical neutrality as a public speaker.
  • 1980s a decade of sports as politics: consecutive Summer Olympic boycotts.
  • First Post-9/11 games in New York.
  • “I can’t breathe” shirts in NFL.
  • Athletes for Trump.

Alex English

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This film marked Alex English’s debut as an actor. Later he went on to play Mayor Wade on Midnight Caller, then the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Whoopi Goldberg vehicle Eddie. The following year (1997) he was in The Definite Maybe as “The Premiere.” It was his first big screen role as a non-athlete and his second time playing some sort of leader. Despite an intermittent, free of too-much fanfare acting career, he did develop a second type aside from the most obvious one based on his first career. His most recent role was in Lumera, which was the feature film debut of his son writer/director Alexander English, Jr. who sure enough got bit by the bug during dad’s forays into the entertainment industry.

Critical Reception

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, TriStar Pictures)

With regards the reaction to the movie, it was critically panned. Variety noted that “Amazing Grace and Chuck is destined to go down in history as the camp classic of the anti-nuke genre. As amazingly bad as it is audacious, film will live forever in the hearts of connoisseurs of Hollywood’s most memorably outrageous moments.”

Prescient words as one of my viewings of this film was an unexpected premiere on TCM not too long ago, and Warner Archive recently rescued this film and has made it available on DVD at long last I could move on from my recorded off TV version.

However, not all the reviews were as harsh as Variety‘s. Janet Maslin of The New York Times at least had gentle praise for the performers stating that “Mr. Zuehlke, who is so precocious and somber, and Mr. English, who is nothing if not sincere…” which he most certainly is. Director Mike Newell chose English well. Newell has had tremendous results from young actors in his charge. A professional athlete like a child has less craft than an experienced, trained actor — so much falls to the director to cast well, finding the right persona, and coaxing as much natural response as his trust engenders from his actor.

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, TriStar Pictures)

If limiting the casting options for Amazing Grace to contemporary basketball players of the late-‘80s English stands out as the obvious pick: as Michael Jordan would later show in Space Jam he was a bit stiff performance-wise and a bit too cool in persona to pull it off. Charles Barkley would be more suited in a comedy and would not bring the necessary gravitas to the film. Magic Johnson was too Hollywood to not be a distraction in this role. English fits.

Newell went on to imply that the audaciousness — and the Amazing Grace quote — are the very point of the film that must be taken into account when appraising its virtues and contrasting them to its deficits:

“I hope this film will leave audiences energized and with a great surge of hope. I hope it will be a reminder that the individual can make a difference and that humanity is capable of following its best instincts.”

Conclusion

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, TriStar Pictures)

In my initial piece I concluded by saying:

This is a film that is idealist and dares to dream. It takes the fears of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and combines them with the hope of Glasnost and presented us with a fantasy. The poster for this film should tell you it’s a fantasy. And it’s one that only could have come out of the 80s, this film literally drips 80s. In the 1990s, and especially in the present, disarmament was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. It’s a great film about one person can make a difference and a film with a message.

This paired with Newell’s notion of the certitude I have that English was likely the best possible choice from a shallow talent pool of professional basketball acting talent. A humility, Grace (to match the fictional nickname), believable idealism, and the ability to quietly inspire followers was a necessity for this concept to have a chance and its what Alex English could bring to the table naturally.

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Suggested NBA Stars for the New Space Jam

So, it would seem that the long-rumored Space Jam sequel starring LeBron James is finally happening. Of course, once this started making news sports talk radio, most notably Mike & Mike, started speculating on which NBA players would be joining King James’ team in this film.

Now, the approach the Mikes, who I have enjoy greatly, took is the obvious one of matching the player in the original to a modern-day equivalent as best they could.

Two things I realized made this approach ineffective: firstly, only the most notable players were mentioned in their debate.

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Here were the non-Jordan players in Space Jam; firstly, those credited:

Charles Barkley
Patrick Ewing
Muggsy Bogues
Larry Johnson

Some lesser caliber players were also credited:
Shawn Bradley
Vlade Divac
Cedric Ceballos
Danny Ainge
A.C. Green
Charles Oakley
Derek Harper
Jeff Malone
Anthony Miller
Sharone Wright

Then there are a few who were uncredited:

Bill Wennington
Brian Shaw
Scottie Pippen
Luc Longley
Steve Kerr
Horace Grant

If you have any familiarity with basketball you’ll most likely note that some of these names were more relevant in 1996 than they are now and have faded into obscurity. Now you can’t exactly cast hoping to be timeless only hoping to make it as relevant as possible to the audience you’re appealing to. However, it seems to me, even bearing in mind the league in 1996 that some bigger names could’ve been found.

Furthermore, the fact that LeBron is a player of a new age, and is more gregarious with opposing players than Jordan was could make casting easier. That and the proliferation of media and advertising could bring many more recognizable names into a film this time around. Here are my ideas:

Firstly, I think some of the funniest ads around now featuring athletes are the State Farm ones most notably the Hoopers. That’s a nucleus of actor/athletes right there, droppin’ dimes!

Damian Lillard
Kevin Love
Chris Paul
DeAndre Jordan
Kevin Garnett

Not only do they already work together in a popular campaign but DeAndre Jordan playing the sitcom mom of the bunch is a good link to Larry Johnson’s Grandmama persona, which is hard to fill.

That makes five players. The original included 20 players, but I will explain why I think half that number is suitable for this film.

Kobe Bryant’s recent ad with Michael B. Jordan make him a strong contender. The original film didn’t have retired or about to be retired players but in this day and age I feel players stay in the public eye a bit longer so it makes sense to do.

Some players whom LeBron has shown a bond with in his career could also join the cast so add Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony.

Not just trying to match one European-born player for another I suggest Kristaps Porzingis mostly due to his FIFA-loss reaction.

Maybe being the 21st century it’s an opportunity to give Crying Knicks Fan a cameo, and while we’re on Internet sensations, can we possibly include Crying Jordan memes?

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In fitting with the soon-to-explode NBA salary cap, clearly this sequel will have more big name talent and require Warner Brothers to shell out more for the basketball talent involved. However, one issue Warner Brothers needs to address from the first film is giving the Looney Tunes more to do, especially the characters introduced in Space Jam and not re-incorporated since.

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Therefore, cutting the number of basketball stars will allow that focus to be more on LeBron and his animated cohorts, especially the ones that existed prior to Space Jam who WB has done little if anything to keep relevant within the past 20 years. I was not, and am not, a big Space Jam fan. However, anything that can help Bugs and co. attempt a comeback would be most welcome at this point.

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The Tin Drum: A Critical Ode in Picaresque (Part Five)

Seeing Great Works Begets Seeing Great Works

What is true of many great works of art is that it makes you want to see other great works of art that inspired it or that came from some of the same minds. One link that The Tin Drum inextricably has is with Apocalypse Now, which it tied for Palme d’Or. These two films, in part about the absurdities of war would make quite a harrowing double feature of sizable length.

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This is, somehow, still the only Schlöndorff film I’ve seen to date. Both his other films and the books they are based on now intrigue me even more like The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, (The Confusions of Young Törless; as well as works that inspired it like Macunaíma, a Brazilian film starring Grande Otelo, which inspired Oskar’s birth scene; Fellini’s Amarcord, and Homo Faber.

Something discovered while watching the bonuses on this disc was that Schlöndorff cut his teeth working with Louis Malle, and that seems to make a perfect kind of sense and there sensibilities do have a sort of an overlap.

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The film is also referred to at one point as Brechtian, which is especially interesting consider the fact that a Schlöndorff adaptation of Brecht’s Baal was produced for West German television and starred Rainer Werner Fassbinder. This is a film I must see and something Criterion should seriously consider looking into.

And additional great work is included as a supplemental feature. It is a dramatized reading of a sequence from the novel by Grass accompanied by the scenes from the film the prose describes.

German films could confront the past through the glorious Hollywood image, as Corrigan states, and this is one of the finest examples but there are certainly others out there worth looking into.

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The Tin Drum: A Critical Ode in Picaresque (Part Four)

 

The Irrationality of German History

One of the most telling quotes from the bonus features is that this film sought to deal with the “irrationality of German history” much as the book did. That phrase is aptly stated whereas Germans as a people are known for order and efficiency their history is marred by actions and behaviors that seem to belie that. Thus, the history is irrational and Eddie Izzard’s joke about Hitler being unable to paint trees and deciding to “kill everyone in the world” is dangerously close to the truth.

The Tin Drum is a work of the German New Cinema, a name and approach that was created after a meeting that created the Oberhausen Manifesto.

Something had to be built out of the rubble, as Goebbles destroyed the film industry, and a Golden Age of German cinema in the Weimar Republic, before the war anyway, as cinema or a culture that saw no reason to look to its recent or distant past for influence and co-opted American mores as Wim Wenders put it “WWII created a hole in German culture and we tried to fill it with American culture as soon as possible.” This the influx of American distributors and the Marshall Plan created a love/hate relationship with the Hollywood cinema. And who doesn’t have one anyway?

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The cultural colonization came to German after so-called “Rubble Films, melodramas with similar backdrops to Germany Year Zero but little else in common.

A nation now “Excluded from its own history” as Timothy Corrigan puts it seemed to scream, like Oskar seeking the protection of its grandmother’s skirts, and that protection cinematically seemed to come from honestly addressing some ludicrous histories. Yet, some films continued to act as flashpoints. The Tin Drum being one, and Spielberg’s Schindler’s List twenty-four years later was another noticeable one as it dealt directly with the Holocaust.

 

 

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The Tin Drum: A Critical Ode in Picaresque (Part Three)

Teutonic Reflections and Francophonic Refractions

Though the nomenclature of Roman Picaresque escaped me I have seen and been influenced by a picaresque before. The Roman Picaresque tradition is visible in Léolo. It is something, at the time, I could not name, but it is the ragamuffin, rapscallion at the center of each tale that drew me in and the confounding unreliable narrator that makes it so fascinating and easy to revisit.

Léolo (1992, Fine Line Features)

 

This film was perhaps, with its plotless dalliances falling just short of vignettes, was one of the first I chose to theorize on. Simply state in my own mind “Oskar is Germany.” He stopped growth as the society did. It’s likely an over-reduction of the some of the complex representations of commentary in the film, but he is Germany of a certain time, of a certain generation. One that refused to grow and gave in to childish impulse and unbounded atrocity and aggression; one that told its sons “If you don’t want to grow, I’ll show you how it’s done.”

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There are broad yet cunning satires of many aspects of Nazi Germany within such as the ostracism and elimination of homosexuals as detailed by the infamous Paragraph 175 (illustrated by one of the film’s suicides), the carnival act that was Nazi propaganda is here made literal and quite buffoonish for it. Yet, also, ironic as one of the dwarfs wishes Oskar “Mazel Tov” before his first time on stage (an allusion to Nazis playing loose and easy with rules of Aryanism; most notably Fritz Lang was terrified when he was told “We decide who is Aryan, Mr. Lang.”); Oskar’s affinity for breaking glass with his high-pitched scream can be seen as a parallel to Kristallnacht. Oskar’s involvement in propaganda can be seen as a parallel to Grass’ own divulged-late-in-life involvement with the Nazi party as a young man.

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An involvement, by the way, that I don’t think makes Grass’ critics disingenuous. Surely, it’s not only those who never fell for the party line who can find fault with the fantasies and delusions they spread across Germany and the terror they inflicted across the globe.

The commentary on domestic activities are omnipresent and embodied in all characters both large or small. Oskar “die trommler,” borrowing one of Der Führer’s many monikers towards the end of the war is sought by the Gestapo for racial impurities – as his suspected father father (Cousin Jan) is Polish and not Kashubian – a self-professed borderland.

There is a frame created with the rise and fall of the Beethoven portrait. Hitler replaces him on the wall, when the war comes to an end so does Hitler’s exalted status. Beethoven returns to his rightful and immortal place “Beethoven there was a genius.”

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The very patriarch of the family who utters that line dies choking on a swastika – emblazoned pin that he is attempting to hide as the Allies descend on Berlin. Echoing film scholar Timothy Corrigan’s observation, Oskar and his younger brother Kurt end up fatherless reflecting the Fatherless Generation moniker post-war German wore whether they liked it or not.

Oskar knowing he is at a crossroads decides as a twenty-one-year-old orphan to bury his drum so that he may grow. As he buries that drum, Kurt (the younger generation) hits him with a rock. In essence Oskar has to face a sort of death before he is allowed to grown. It is commented upon by grandmother that he “Fell down stairs and stopped growing. Now he fell into a grave and wants to grow again.”

Perhaps the most poignant character as commentary is Fajngold. He’s a concentration camp survivor who comes to run the Matzerath grocery store. He still has delusions that his family surrounds him, in a way it’s a variation of a fatherless generation, but this time it’s a vanished generation that will never grace German soil in a significant way again.