Film Thought: My Rating Scale is Optional

Rather than taking up room in a post I decided to write about this matter here.

Whenever I sit down and dissect a film down to all its component parts and how well I feel each facet affected the whole, of course, I can give it a score from one to 10. When I figured out how to write my rating scale, I worded it such that there can be varying degrees of film within each ordinal number but a definite stratification from one number to the next.

However, the nature of the internet is such that sometimes you will just want to scroll an article, or stop reading it after a certain point. That is fine. That is certainly the reader’s prerogative.

Hugo (2011, Paramount)

However, I saw a comment on Twitter that crystallized what I didn’t realize consciously:

If you’re not being forced to assign that grade, why do it? Why incentivize someone to skip your explanation? Why force a reader to fight against human nature to skip to the grade.

Most of the reviews I read that affect my viewing options do not have a number or stars but they stick in my mind based on how the reviewer discussed it.

The Critic

Memorably unfavorable reviews have made it clear to my mind why I would like something. I’d rather be intrigued by what is said about the film rather than a fairly arbitrary number that means different things to different people.

For example, many people would classify a film rated 5/10 as a middle of the road, mediocre film. However, when I rate something as a five I could tend to be quite angry at it because it’s usually a minor slip up that cost it being what I consider to be a good film (6-10).

Furthermore, there are many examples of times wherein I’ve dedicated many words or whole paragraphs of a review to explain “This movie does not work for me because but here are some reasons why you may enjoy it…”

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This is the only image I could think of that matched the keyword “Enjoy.”

Having a hyperlinked number down there tempting eyes to skip explanations that may underscore why they’ll like or dislike a film.

So if I feel a film should have that number at the bottom of the review, I’ll surely add it. However, sometimes it’s caused significant consternation on my part and delayed getting reviews up. No more.

Hope you enjoy the numberless reviews to follow.

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Film Thought: Classic vs. Classical

A while back I had an enlightening Twitter conversation wherein I realized that filmic terminology typically conflates the word classic with classical.

The first definition of classic as an adjective is what many of us think when we hear the term with regard to film:

of the first or highest quality, class, or rank:

When trying to classify something as a classic, inasmuch as it attains that highest I tend to want to give it some time. I use the automobile aficionado’s rule of thumb wherein a film needs to be 25 years old to be considered a classic in that regard.

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By the 25-year standard The Silence of the Lambs can now be considered a classic.

Thus it also adheres to definition seven of classic as an adjective:

of enduring interest, quality, or style:

Whereas classical film can and should—as opposed to pertaining to Greek and Roman origins of Western Civilization— pertain to filmmaking techniques of a bygone era. Thus, one does not assume all films of a certain vintage are outstanding but recognize they all were created with different societal mores, aesthetic and industrial realities than today.

Classical filmmaking can be defined broadly as starting with the dawn of film and ending in 1960 with the end of the studio system. Other subdivisions can be found therein. The business as well as the art changed from thereon as Hollywood sought a new way in which to function and the world, caused aesthetic revolutions, spearheaded by France, that would change the game anew.

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From 1960 on can be considered in cinematic terms as the Modern Era. Clearly the advances in this age are coming fast and furious in technological terms: widescreen became the norm, computer effects were created, home video was born, non-linear editing systems developed, the advent of digital photography, and so on, but for now that’s a good catch-all with inherent advances and stylistic markers attributed to each decade

So for my own personal edification, and also to inform readers of my site, I will try and refrain from calling anything made after 1991 as classic, and when talking about how things were done in 1960 and before I will try and always use to term classical to avoid confusion.

Film Thought: Patrons Avoid Noise

In responding to this advertisement and discussing its relevance 81 years later, I will not even go into lengthy asides about issues with brightness of digital and/or 3D projection, or masking issues, or sound issues that modern audiences face.
Let’s return to patrons and avoiding noise. Granted there are technological advancements and connectivity that was never before imagined. However, it should all still apply.

Movies cost more now so:

  • Why would you want to divide your attention with a device you have access to at all other hours in the day?
  • Why would you want to interrupt the experience, and lessen it, for yourself alone and not to mention others.
  • Why would you be inclined to see something you didn’t want to see or wanted to see ironically?

Moviegoers
There are fewer reasons to talk now so:

  • Many theaters are going the way of assigned seating, therefore, much less conversation about where your party is sitting is required. So that’s one of the catalysts right there.
  • It’s an unwritten rule that you kind of have a free pass during the interminable trailers. However, it would be best if you kept it down and better yet wait until in-between trailers to make comments.
  • Usually, the only reason one leaves in the middle of a movie is to go to the bathroom. Your party can usually figure that is your destination. No need to tell the world.

Yes, there’s more food now so:

  • come early if you have to and
  • open whatever needs opening before the feature begins.

I’m young, I can’t disconnect:

  • Yes, you can. Technically speaking I am a Millennial also. Granted the definitions of birth years vary but it’s the only generational label that ever seemed like it fit me, so I’m taking it. I can and so can you.
  • It is possible. All this constant information has a drawback to it and taking a break from it is healthy.
  • When lost in a movie or a book and being lost, I sometime refer to getting back to mundane mandatory activities as resurfacing or coming out from under a movie into reality.

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What of emergencies:

  • At the very least you can turn off all audio if you need to be able to respond to something. And believe me I do not speak of this in a hypothetical context. I’ve been coming back from dinners or movies wherein I did not touch my phone and learned of a loss in the family. I learned of one on social media, the most 21st century way possible.
  • A movie should be taken in as time off. Treat it as such.

Movie-watching is my job:

  • If you’re one of the few where watching film is work; even more reason. I’ve had phases of assiduous note-taking in my reviewing and have always done so the old fashioned way.

Let the film speak:

  • Granted too many modern films inundate you with dialogue, explosions, bass, score, images, and fast cuts but even the most pedestrian efforts are trying to speak to you. Listen!

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Please avoid noise at all costs. Movie lovers can long for a utopian society wherein more theaters implement zero-tolerance policies towards talking and cell phone usage. That will likely never happen but it needn’t be threatened with decency.

Device-friendly screenings or sections of auditoriums are not the answer! The world may be more understanding and sensitive and eager-to-please than ever before but life still has its demands and some situations demand you to modify behaviors to fit it rather than the environment change to suit you.

Yes, standard TVs are now like what home theaters used to be like. So if you insist on offering color commentary, flopping about, checking Facebook or whatever the hell else you feel like doing watch something at home. The movies are a ritual, a communal experience and as such certain luxuries or trespasses ought not be allowed for the good of the community.

Sit back, relax, shut your mouth, and enjoy the show.

Film Thought: Showing Kids Jaws

As time moves on we must learn that things need to be contextualized. It takes no insight to show kids Jaws and sit there bemused as they’re unimpressed. The first thing that must be noted is that, in my case for example, Jaws wasn’t that old a movie when I saw it as a kid. Now things from five years ago may have the faint whiff of being dated already. I’ve caught myself thinking “Wow, that came out a while ago” about a fairly recent film.

The art, all arts, are evolving at ever-dizzying speeds because they have to to survive. That’s just the way things are. It’s not better, not worse, no judgment; just a fact. Therefore, Jaws is now an old film. Even I, who was a self-motivated film watcher needed, and relished hearing, the framework my favorite college professors  would create to establish what our mindset should optimally be going in. I was motivated to watch Citizen Kane on my own and Hitchcock and a few others and I got an innate sense for them. As I learned more film history and discovered more varieties and approaches. I benefitted from the brief intro.

Tendaciousness still will apply. You will like what you’ll like. I don’t care for The Social Network.  I am able to appreciate all the technical refinement and skill in the making of it. My background makes it such that I can ignore its departmental prowess. It cannot move me in any way as much as it tried, but I had the framework.

Jaws (1975, Universal)

Bringing it full circle to Jaws you can’t just put it on and say “watch this, it’s great.” You can’t really do that for any old movie, which it now is. Context before, and not during or after, is the only real way to ensure it may be appreciated. And, as is true with any kind of film, like what you like and let the kids respond to what they will.

One of the biggest fallacies around is the whole “you have to like this or you don’t like film” school of thought. Venture forth wisely, bringing some of your knowledge with you but your baggage with a film (good or bad) is yours, so don’t pass it on just try to help them see it the way you did once upon a time, even if it can no longer be looked at the same way.

Film Thought: Train Wrecks of Nostalgia, or News Film Fans Aren’t Owed

On the Internet, I do not believe timing is everything. Quite frankly I found it emotionally exhausting to keep my ear pinned to the proverbial ground waiting to hear the next thing I “had” to have an opinion about when my postings needed to be more current event based on the Site That Shall Not Be Named.

Due to this, when I first heard of Jake Lloyd’s arrest following a high-speed chase in South Carolina I didn’t comment on it in any way, shape, or form.

That brings me around to the most recent time he made the news. Nearly a month ago (4/10), after almost 10 months in prison, he was transferred to a psychiatric ward to better treat his schizophrenia.

Episode 1 Teaser

The reason I’ve taken my time both in winding my way to the meat of this story, and also in terms of time elapsed since having heard it are as follows:

  • This is by no means intended to be yet another morbid “Where are they now?” piece.
  • Nor is this attempting to pin the ills of society or individuals on what some refer to as the necessary evil of child actors in film and television

Instead the three points I want to make citing this and a more recent story are:

  1. The need to make correctional institutes as rehabilitative as they were once intended to be rather than merely punitive money pits that either re-release criminals or breed career criminals.
  2. What should occur instead is: if there is a clear diagnosis that needs medicating, and in some extreme cases relocation, that must occur. It’s bad enough that stigma contributes to too many people with mental illnesses being unaware, undiagnosed or unmedicated in society.
  3. For prison officials to be dubious of, or callous to, inmates’ needs while they’re incarcerated can only result in their continued mental degradation and possibly those around them, both on the inside and on the outside.

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As for the ills of society or individuals:

There are a vast array of mental illnesses. Even with schizophrenia being one of the most difficult to diagnose, and even though some attribute environmental and substance abuse factors into its development or accelerated onset, there is still a genetic component in it as well, just as there is with things as common as depression or more severe like bipolar disorder.

It is far to simplistic to state things like: “This never would have happened if he wasn’t Anakin.” Episode I was released 17 years by now. If you were making a biopic it’d be jarring to cut from behind the scenes on a film set to that individual’s low-point in life. A narrative feature would also then work to fill in those gaps and then “explain” everything.

Sometimes there is no explaining something because as Forrest Gump famously insinuated “Shit happens.”

Stuff-Happens

That’s where cognitive dissonance comes in, and the recent news that Joey Cramer, of Flight of the Navigator fame, was arrested after a series of bank robberies. Basically, you can’t have seen this story reported without his mugshot being spliced next to a still from the 1986 film.

It’s understandable since that film has more of a cult following, and a few passionate fans who have been vocally anti-remake (at the moment that project remains in development), as opposed to Lloyd whose breakout role was in a film that was the first virtually guaranteed to gross one billion dollars. However, the cognitive dissonance that’s being implied is the same: that can’t be him. He’s still 12 years old not in in his forties, and much less in his forties with a rap sheet. That dissonance is further exacerbated by the fact that relative time travel plays a factor in the plot of that film.

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However, that shock one can feel is because their limited frame of reference in that story is an A to Z view and not the A to B straight line many people see. Which is how media reports many stories. Consider for example how simultaneous the media made Diablo Cody’s work as an exotic dancer and as a screenwriter.

Crime stories are bound to make the news anyway whether the perpetrator is mentally ill or not, had a three-year-acting-career or not. But the amount of attention it gets makes me wonder the following:

  • Is the schadenfreude that rewarding?

and

  • Is the aching nostalgia of childhood “dying” among the hottest commodities on the Internet?

In the end, in either scenario, all I end up feeling is empathy and sadness, and a wish not to see the stories going viral lest they can do some good. Reporting Lloyd’s transfer may give a slight push to criminal justice reform, may highlight mental illness just a little more during Mental Health Month. On the other hand photos of Macaulay Culkin while he’s just wandering down the streets of New York designed only to create “is he or isn’t he on drugs?” speculation is the kind of frivolous invasion of privacy that anti-paparazzi laws are for.

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The lines between celebrity and anonymity, reality and fiction, are constantly being blurred now, when they ought not be. These people are not their characters or personae, they’re only human. One should not take into consideration a person’s life in evaluating their art, and one’s art should never be an indicator that their life will or will not go according to plan. Fame or failure as a young person onscreen is not an oracle of future good fortune, unfortunate circumstances, mental illness or poor decision-making.

My advice on these child actor crime stories can be summed up in a callously succinct New York compound phrase: It is what it is, so fughettaboutit. By which I mean, just because you spent umpteen hours watching someone on the silver screen or TV when you were a kid doesn’t mean you are entitled to:

  • Excruciating minutia in regards to their low point.
  • An explanation of how they got there.
  • To incessantly assault them with your miniscule-in-the-grander-scheme vile opinion of what they “did” to a property you profess to love.

Just as mental illness is not something catching or to be scoffed at nor is excessive information on one’s downfall owed to anyone because they had the gall to audition for, and land, a role when they were merely a child, as you once were.

In Memoriam- Corey Haim

Granted train wrecks of nostalgia are jarring because images on film are eternal and crystallized whereas time goes on and we all age and things change. Sometimes in the glacial moments of life it can seem like things don’t change but then stories like this remind us time does move along, at times cruelly.

However, the sense of ownership we seem to feel over such stories is a fallacy. Jake Lloyd is hopefully getting his help now. Hopefully, Joey Cramer can too, whatever help that may be. Internet trolling doesn’t breed mental illness, but one has to wonder what it says about humanity that even in light of that news some still feel the need to pile on.

The Internet and social media can make things that once would have been mere footnotes bigger than they once would have been. One person thinking “This story matters,” sharing it, without comment, is, in terms of pixels and space on a feed, much larger than a small column in a traditional newspaper. If we feel the need to feel an excess of emotion for people we never met because they’ve died because they marked a significant moment in our childhood or life, then perhaps it’s time to show a bit of empathy for those who may have made a mark on us whom are still here but have fallen on hard times.

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Having been in some films a decade or more ago and then going on to try to live a normal existence after you move on for whatever reason does not mean you’re in the public eye anymore. Those in entertainment at current know that’s part of the deal. Those who have tried to move on to a new phase who may have not been entirely successful deserve a bit more consideration and a chance to rehabilitate without public scrutiny.

When Trump is Dumped on Film

 

Introduction

This is a film blog, it still is, and always will be. However, wherever there have been opportunities to discuss other topics where they intersect with film I have taken them, be it books, television, any of the other arts, and occasionally even other things.

I will try to avoid an all out rant. Instead consider this a slow burn.

Preamble: Politics Aside, When Persona Usurps Platform

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In the interest of full disclosure, when I’m honed in on politics I’m there a lot and fervently, 2016 more so than ever before, fear and hope (fope?) have me atwitter. Part of why I’ve turned off politically at times in off-years is how consumed I get around Presidential elections and midterms. This piece has been simmering for a while. I’ve had it, and films, as well as some other of his business dealings I know of, provide great parallels and insights I find.

And to be further straight forward, this isn’t fueled so much by Trump’s current politics, but rather Trump himself. For as the below video shows even his politics will change depending on which way the wind is blowing, and who he thinks can secure him favors.

 

If all these current views of his are his views he’s had quite a metamorphosis from these kinds of statements – it’s terrifying either way.

During the first debate he left the door open for a third-party campaign if needed.  A month later that tune changed, why? Because it suited him as did the situation.

When Trump is Dumped on Film

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Being a native of New York I couldn’t help but always have been familiar with Donald Trump whether I wanted to be or not. Either through fodder for the tabloids, papers, or SNL I’ve always known more about him than I ever cared to. I, who swore off giving a damn about celebrity marriages after Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas split, can still name most of his spouses, still recall how incongruous a persona Ivana seemed to be paired with him, at least in how she portrayed herself in the media. Maybe she just played it better than even he does.

My six degrees of separation story with him is that I couldn’t convincingly feign enthusiasm about working as an intern on The Apprentice. Therefore, I didn’t get an internship at NBC. So as self-deprecating as that is, it does go to show I’m not new on the anti-Trump bandwagon. This is well before he had any political aspirations real or otherwise. The political game is one where you need support, since he’s getting it he’s gonna run with it.

Nine years before he earned a swastika on his star on the Walk of Fame, Trump earned the star itself (though there is ample proof that money is involved), and he said this:

[when asked if he would run for President of the United States] People wanted me to very strongly and I decided I didn’t want to do it. I sort of enjoy what I’m doing and I continue to enjoy what I’m doing. I have never had more fun. And then to cap it off with a star on the walk of fame today was just a lot of fun. And, you know, it’s just — it’s just very sad to me what’s happening with this country in terms of world and in terms of world perception.

 

It felt to me after he announced his candidacy in the most asininely comedic fashion he could have that he had already run. That was because he nearly incessantly floated the idea even a gubernatorial run in New York.

Even liberal Manhattanites, as most are, will tolerate and admire a Republican leader (e.g. Giuliani and Bloomberg whom were both re-elected), but Trump? No. Not him. He doesn’t even really understand pizza.

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At the risk on a personal/political rant and not even getting to movies, however, my history and his factor in because here’s the truth about Donald Trump on film and television: he always plays himself, or better the version of himself he wants us to believe is true. Although, based on his first appearance in the New York Times in 1973 (life inspires fiction).

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New York Times, 1973

So, how has this image been cultivated through his cameos? He plays himself, or a version of himself he likes to project, an egocentric jerk who doesn’t care what people think about him.

This supercut has some insights:

What sort of acting can one expect from a man who cannot even play himself, and can’t see the artfulness in humanity but sees it in real estate:

It’s tangible, it’s solid, it’s beautiful. It’s artistic, from my standpoint, and I just love real estate.

The ones that hurt most are: Little Rascals and Home Alone 2, and Woody Allen’s Celebrity. Eight years after he made the front page of the Times he was in My Hero and The Jeffersons (one of two appearances), The Jeffersons in an of itself is key because sociopolitically it was a significant show as it spun-off characters from All in the Family and “moved them on up.”  Ghosts Can’t Do It, Across the Sea of Time, Eddie, The Paul Lassiter Story, 54, Good Will Hunting, Sabrina the Teenage Witch (both times playing an alter ego Daniel Ray McLeech); Marmalade, and Horrorween.

He’s clearly typecast himself as himself or people like him. Slight evidence:

Even the outtakes of The Little Rascals show the kind of immature, annoying personality he can have. Not to mention I can just imagine the crew not even wanting to respond to those questions, just thinking: No, Donald we go through a procedure before every take for everyone else except you. You will not hear ‘action’ or any other cues. You just have to guess.

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Regardless of how much he plays himself up, he does think a lot of himself. Just read him analyze the simplistic phrase that’s part of American English vernacular that he claims as his catch phrase:

“I mean, there’s no arguing. There is no anything. There is no beating around the bush. ‘You’re fired’ is a very strong term.”

It’s tantamount to Mary Poppins trying to claim responsibility for inventing the word sacked.

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If you won’t take my word on it, why not someone who actually is a real New Yorker and an entertainment figure Rosie O’Donnell:

The retort replete with trumpery:

Rosie O’Donnell called me a snake oil salesman. And, you know, coming from Rosie, that’s pretty low because when you look at her and when you see the mind, the mind is weak. I don’t see it. I don’t get it. I never understood — how does she even get on television?

Trump Dumps on Football

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Hershel Walker, New Jersey Generals (USFL), team owned by Donald Trump.

“It’s no trick to make a lot of money if all you’re trying to do is make a lot of money.” is one of my favorite lines in Citizen Kane. Furthermore, Kane’s impression that it would be “fun to run a newspaper” seems kind of like the whim Trump is trying to enter public office on. Except now he’s nearly 70 not a young man like Charles Foster Kane.

As someone who is a self-professed business genius, a man whose name name appears on seven books with seven different co-authors, and thus assumes himself to have the economic acumen to run the country simply because he came from money (and would’ve had even more by investing it conservatively), and despite his bankruptcy history. Donald Trump is largely cited as one of the main reasons the USFL (the last serious challenger to the NFL’s dominance) went under as cited here, mainly because he foolishly insisted the league should go head-to-head with the league and play in the fall.

This was also touched upon in ESPN’s 30 for 30 Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?, which chronicled that it had a powerful short stint that could’ve lasted.

Trumping Up Marriage

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“I wish I’d had a great marriage. See, my father was always very proud of me, but the one thing he got right was that he had a great marriage. He was married for 64 years. One of my ex-wives once said to me, ‘You have to work at a marriage’. And I said, ‘That’s the most ridiculous thing’, because my parents, they didn’t work at the marriage. If you have to work at a marriage, it’s not going to work. It has to be sort of a natural thing. But my ex-wife would say, ‘You have to work at this, you have to do this, you have to do that’. And I’m saying to myself, ‘Man, I work all day long, well into the evening. I don’t want to come home and work at a marriage. A marriage has to be very easy’. My father would come home, have dinner, and take it easy. It was the most natural marriage I’ve ever seen. And Melania (Melania Trump) makes my life easy; one of the things I so love about her is that she makes my life easier. I’ve never had anybody that made my life so easy. Now I hope that continues. Perhaps that will change. I intend to find out!

Trump on his marriages

Ivana Trump’s big screen debut was deliciously in The First Wives Club. Marla Maples landed roles without Trump being an actress in her own right. Melania has has thus far only had an appearance as his arm candy in Zoolander.

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However, this is unsurprising coming from the man who once said this:

You know, it really doesn’t matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.

Even the Zoolander gang have bagged on Trump lately.

 

Trump: The Human Soundbite

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Admittedly it’s easy to cherry pick quotes but if you believe that he throws the word “loser” around for lack of thought, think again. One of his credos is:

Show me someone without an ego, and I’ll show you a loser.

So here he freely admits not checking his ego, and yes, every one has an ego in the sense he’s referring to, but here he admits his axiom is if you’re not this you’re that, it’s binary. If you don’t have an ego (like me) you’re a loser (like you are).

He may have the papers that say he went and graduated from prestigious places, and speak about it “not hurting to get more education,” but he sure doesn’t act like it, despite his claims “to have the best words.”

Donald Trump is A WWE Hall of Famer. Yes, World Wrestling Entertainment, that WWE. That is the intangible accomplishment he’s most deserving of. He’s about self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, and appearances over substance. When he randomly shows up and body slams Vince McMahon that works for wrestling.

Mind you this video is dated after he announced his candidacy and is in New Hampshire. If you need more of that insanity go here.

If that doesn’t convince you he’s not presidential, even discarding partisan takes on his viability like Bill Clinton’s or Rand Paul’s, consider these gaffes in interviews on the constitution, appointing judges, and even if you can overlook that can you really overlook a man thinking he could “shoot up Manhattan and not lose support” or panders to supporters who shout obscenities and repeats them when the mikes don’t pick them up, or condones his supporters beating a protester.

Conclusion

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A man running for president you might not ever expect to be in a film, has been and its similarity and difference to Trump’s myriad appearances are telling.

In 1999, Bernie Sanders was in a film called My X-Girlfriend’s Wedding Reception. Bernie Sanders plays and actual character in the film and speaks for a while. It’s Bernie Sanders, sure but as a Rabbi complaining about free agency in baseball. A character suited to his diction, persona, and stump-speech approach to public speaking.

Trump’s best performance is one he didn’t fashion. It’s this. All hail editing, it can literally create a perfromance.

 

Trump is no showman in the controlled environment of a film set. He is one on reality TV and in his carnival barking rallies and in his debating technique which is tantamount to the middle school one-upmanship of trying to come up with the most debilitating dis.

However, this is more real than a lame, lifeless cameo; a mostly-staged reality competition or some other form or attention-getting, this is the presidency. The real one, the one venerated in fact, fiction, reality or hagiography; serious inquiries only, please. To underscore the ludicrousness, the incredulity of Trump’s foray I leave you with Scott Thompson’s version of the Queen of England. Imagine this lunacy happened, for real, and here in Murica of all places! It sounds outlandish but so did the idea of Trump 2016 in June.

 

Joke goes poof, indeed. Just ask Guatemala in a few years.

Postamble: “I Like the Mexican People They Are My Amigos,” or Dubya’s America over Trump’s

“I wanted to close with the above but realize some people will claim we’re not the UK, we’re not Canada or Guatemala. Fine. I give in. In closing, I will state that I actually wish the following was real and not just Will Ferrell being hilarious.

 

Hispanic Heritage Blogathon: The Films of Robert Rodriguez

I. History with Him

No matter how well-known a director is one always has to find them as an individual. In the case of Robert Rodriguez I actually started watching his films before Quentin Tarantino’s, who is Rodriguez’ friend and occasional collaborator.

I first saw the Spy Kids films that were out at the time in college. Then I began seeking out more of his work (consciously, but more on that later). As such I saw El Mariachi and read his book Rebel Without a Crew, and as such he became one of the rare directors I not only have read but much of what I learned from his books serves me well until this day.

Not only did his name become part of my personal nomenclature for a director who does it all but some of the philosophies espoused are still ones I can recite, and agree with. Among them being his theory about trying to work on several films immediately after his big success such that there was a bit of uncertainty as to what his second film actually was. The idea being if the public and critical masses didn’t know they couldn’t really chomp at the bit to tear apart number two.

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While video cinematography still hasn’t quite approached what cinema can accomplish, I do and did appreciate his being on the vanguard of the digital revolution, and his joke about going to fondle some film stock if you absolutely needed to is still one that tickles me greatly.

II. El Mariachi

El Mariachi

Starting at the very beginning, and picking up where the last section left off, El Mariachi is a sort of cinematic miracle. This is not just because of the budget, the size of the crew or lack thereof, or the fact that it was edited on a VCR and cuts were dictated by when the sound started to run out of sync; but also for the narrative and what Robert Rodriguez did not only while he was essentially an amateur but with a group of them.

There’s a tremendous amount of intuition at work. For example, before this film he had never written a feature-length screenplay, and had no idea how to go about it. He had, however, written shorts running about 30 minutes, he knew how to structure that. Therefore, he repeated that process three times, moving the story along and there was the feature. This is most noticeable in the film in examining the dream sequences, which follows the Rule of Three in a feature form.

El Mariachi proved not only a launchpad for his career but also was one of the franchises that Robert Rodriguez brought into being. Most impressive about this trilogy is that it may (I’ve not formalized this comparison) be the most aesthetically successful trilogy of films wherein the lead actor was recast after the first film.

III. What’s Your Second Film?

Desperado (1995)

In the interest of full disclosure the other films that Robert Rodriguez worked on that vied to be his second were one I’ve not seen (Roadracers), believe I’ve only seen partially (Four Rooms), and Desperado, his follow-up to El Mariachi with Antonio Banderas, which in some ways is like a bigger budget remake but does progress the narrative.

IV. Back to School with Bedhead

Bedhead (1991, Robert Rodriguez)

Later on in my schooling I discovered one of Robert Rodriguez’ student films. One thing I’ve always admired a lot about him is his willingness to share not only early works but also advice. This is one I’ve featured on Short Film Saturday and find quite funny and creative. Give it a look if you haven’t yet.

V. Horror and Sci-Fi: The Faculty From Dusk Till Dawn

The Faculty

Another thing a bit unique about my fandom of Robert Rodriguez is the current alpha and omega in terms of the films of his I’ve seen, they are the two titles discussed in this section. I saw The Faculty during its theatrical release, however, I didn’t know him at the time so it wasn’t an auteur-based decision. It was motivated by the trailer, Elijah Wood’s participation, and Kevin Williamson (at the time I was a high school student and Dawson’s Creek and all his works were a big deal).

VI. Family Films

Spy Kids (2001, Miramax)

In discussing Robert Rodriguez’ family films there are quite a few to discuss. First and foremost there is the Spy Kids franchise. It’s almost tiresome, but nor unnecessary to state that clearly the progenitor is the best of the series, and earned Best Screenplay and other nominations. Whimsy and imagination are not words I throw around lightly, and exceedingly rare when films fashioned by adults seem to truly capture a child’s imagination.

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002)

The sequel was also nominated, and while it doesn’t live up to the first, it doesn’t keep the characters in a state of cinematic cryogenesis maturing them as they go. This time Juni (Daryl Sabara) and Carmen (Alexa Vega) have counterparts of the opposite sex (Matthew O’Leary and Emily Osment). The homage to Ray Harryhausen is quite appreciated as well as the reified dreams.

Spy Kids 3: Game Over (2003)

Game Over provided a successful what-was-then-believed to be conclusion to the series, and a good, more modern take on the trope of entering the world of video games.

Spy Kids 4-D: All the Time in the World (2011)

Keeping in line with his vision of moving forward new leads (Mason Cook and Rowan Blanchard) Spy Kids: All The Time in the World in 4-D not only experiments further with Rodriguez’ own ahead-of-the-craze version of 3-D and scratch and sniff cards but tells a tale of families growing up together, as it features the original core in smaller roles, and the continuation and expansion of an institution.

The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lavagirl

Prior to that newest film in the series, which did not in any way feel superfluous after it was over there were two more sojourns into juvenalia. First, there were The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lavagirl in 3D, starring Cayden Boyd, Taylor Lautner (his screen debut) and Taylor Dooley, which was quite literally of childish imagination as Robert Rodriguez’ then eight-year-old son Racer Max Rodriguez received a story credit.

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Then there was Shorts, which I found to be a rather unique updating of the structural concept that drove El Mariachi, it played again with time and youthful notions rather successfully.

VII. Machete on Planet Grindhouse

Machete Kills

Firstly and most blatantly, I absolutely love that Robert Rodriguez was the first to turn his spoof trailer that was part of his Grindhouse double feature with Tarantino into an actuality. Eli Roth has tinkered with Thankskilling but it has yet to materialize, and I would love to see Edgar Wright’s Don’t but Machete lives in an eponymous film, Machete Kills and the forthcoming Machete Kills in Space. Now if that will complete a trilogy and rest there remains to be seen. However, even though Rodriguez seems to be bouncing from one notion to another that he’s made famous lately, the first in the Machete series is his most recent triumph.

Grind House

Not only did I land Machete in my Top 10 for 2010 but earned a rare BAM Awards feat (and other award shows also) as it was nominated for Best Picture and in no other categories, but that one is the best one to land in. Furthermore, in a very grindhouse or Italian genre cinema way Danny Trejo is back playing Machete but there is no indication he connects to the world of Spy Kids, but it in all other respects seems to be the same character examined further.

Planet-Terror-Movie-300MB-Free-Download

As for Planet Terror, the film he created that lead to Machete. It’s not my favorite part of that double-bill but it is good, holds up its end, and if anything over-commits to the notion of grindhouse in its faux-scratched film, excessive cigarette burns, and missing reels.

VIII. Painting Sin City with Light

Sin City (2005)
Perhaps most noteworthy thing about Sin City is the fact that in continuing his rebellious streak, with due cause, this was the film that caused Robert Rodriguez to part ways with the DGA. The reason was that the Guild would no allow Rodriguez to co-direct with both Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino. Under DGA rules only blood relations can co-direct a DGA film. So he dropped out of the Guild.

At it’s time I really liked Sin City quite a great deal and gave it a 9/10. It was in the state-of-the-art at the time, quite visually alluring, and one of the best approximation of the graphic novel in cinema. This proved to create an anachronistic fascination in the film when combined with the Film Noir styling.

I have yet to view the recent sequel because it took too long to follow-up, I admit to some comic book film fatigue, which was not a phrase that made sense in 2005, and until I sat down to write this all I recalled about the original was the excessive, in a perhaps too true to the style and source material, voice over narration.

IX. “He’s emotional. Latinos.”

Spy Kids (2001)

Watching the films of Robert Rodriguez, whether they be kids films or his action or other adult content ones, was also part of my personal maturation process. Prior to having seen his works I was not one for cultural transliteration. To be abundantly clear what I mean to say with this is that his films, though not about my background (being a dual citizen of the United States and Brazil), I could relate. Going just beyond being a necessary and representative voice for his own people Mr. Rodriguez was the catalyst of a sort of cultural awakening for me.

Surely, his films won’t undo the laments and wrongs I bemoan in the pre-amble of my review of Rio (Nothing can), but his films; epitomized by the line from Spy Kids quoted above – strike a universality that is not accessible only to Mexicans, not only to Latinos but to everyone who chooses to watch his films. Since then that specificity combined with universality has been something I’ve sought and found in many corners of world cinema. However, there was a realization I found here and for that alone he earned a special place in my pantheon separate from all his other accomplishments.
X. El Rey del Futuro

from-dusk-till-dawn-background

Unfortunately, due to my cable and streaming services at current, El Rey is not available to me all the time. However, I plan to check out the From Dusk Till Dawn series soon, and whatever other content is available online. Hopefully, The Director’s Chair, too. Not many directors have a whole network, much less one that represent their cinematic interests so well.

As if that wasn’t enough, besides the aforementioned Machete follow-up, Rodriguez has also been tapped to bring Johnny Quest to the big screen, which if it finally happens should be a big deal and it’s significant because it’s a rare occasion where he is working with characters not of his making.

Robert Rodiguez’ rise not only came at a time when independent cinema was getting noticed more but also during a new crest in the rise of Latino culture in America. Robert Rodriguez seeks always to entertain first and he has; he is his own voice and doesn’t deal with issue films except how they might make sense within his wheelhouse, like Machete (“This time they fucked with the wrong, Mexican” the voice-over states).

Wherever Robert Rodriguez goes I’d willingly follow to give a chance and a glance, as will others I presume, and along the way he’ll open hearts and minds and accelerate pulses with action, but also not be averse to provoking some thought while having fun in the process. He’s truly well-rounded in all regards. I could go on in this, as I hope he shall in cinema; quite nearly forever.

Review: Michael

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Michael (2011)

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

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

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

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

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

8/10

Film Thought: The Tableau Vivant in Halloween (1978)

Each year I will revisit the original, classic Halloween at least once. This year, owing to the new Blu-ray box set I will be revisiting the whole series anew. However, the one I will likely come back to more than once, and always find new things to say about, is the first.

With very good reason there has been much made about the use of Steadicam not only in the film as a whole, but also during the opening sequence (one of the last shots in the can during principal photography) where Michael’s POV is taken as he stalks around the house and kills his sister, Judith (Sandy Johnson). Now in technical, artistic and production terms this shot is quite a feat. In the narrative terms it, of course, begins the film with some mystery, a thrill when the POV is broken and a great reveal. However, over the course of time that has obfuscated something of almost equal intrigue (if not anywhere near as hard to achieve as the prior sequence).

The shot that immediately follows reveals Michael to be a young child of six years of age (Will Sandin). Here again narrative shock may distract you from absorbing what’s happening in its fullest implications. The cut occurs when his mask is removed. We see his face and pull back. As we do, we are introduced visually to Michael’s parents. They look shocked, try to get his attention and the camera continues to methodically crane away. As the camera makes its move there is an unnatural lack of movement in the mise-en-scène, it can be argued, by all parties. Even if you’ll give a pass to the fact that Michael doesn’t move; owing that to some semblance of shock he may be feeling (which would be the last time he really, totally felt any sort of human emotion), then you still have to consider the parents who having found their six-year-old with a bloody butcher knife merely stand there befuddled and scarcely move or comment after having merely called his name a few times, mom crosses her arms and dad takes a step back. That’s it.

Previously, I believe I had dismissed such concerns owing to the fact that the shot needed to happen, and being a director that sufficed. However, the shot can still go on with some more movement by the players as the camera drifts away. So, what was it that was compelling this blocking? It’s a choice so conscious it cannot be dismissed as an oversight and has to be viewed as intentional on the part of the director.

Halloween (1978, Compass International Films)

As I watched it this time it struck me. It was so obvious I can’t believe I hadn’t considered it before. What is being created is a cinematic equivalent of a tableau vivant. This is a technique that is rarely implemented on film, however, it’s one I always felt a powerful to implement on stage, and when one considered some instances in which they are used (such as in fairly tales or religious stories) it starts to make sense.

The tableau vivant is described as:

Tableau vivant (plural: tableaux vivants) means “living picture”. The term, borrowed from the French language, describes a group of suitably costumed actors or artist’s models, carefully posed and often theatrically lit. Throughout the duration of the display, the people shown do not speak or move. The approach thus marries the art forms of the stage with those of painting or photography, and as such it has been of interest to modern photographers.

Usually the only times this has been approximated on film or television that I can recall off the top of my head is is in very obvious circumstances where a character would say “Freeze” or some other directive like it and rather than freeze framing the actors stop moving. One notable example of this was the children’s sitcom Saved by the Bell. Now here you have a far more subtle form and the reason I believe it is: one, is that it is allowing the events to sink in; two, building a legend; three, ending a chapter in the story prior to moving to another one. In the world of this film, in this town, this is the local legend; this is the boogeyman. Now that we the audience know what happened, have ruminated on it for 29 seconds during the shot (Yes, 29 whole seconds this shot runs uninterrupted; quite nearly unconscionable now) here is a story set in the present (1978) about the same town, and what happens when he comes home.

It’s the kind of time-taking and camera move that you wish was easier to get away with in the modern language of cinema. However, it is the way that this shot works, the way it so perfectly caps off the opening salvo of this film that has allowed it to stand the test of time and multiple viewings without even being subject to tremendous amounts of scrutiny. Although, as with most things in Halloween, added scrutiny only enhances the mastery of the work, and doesn’t diminish it in any way, shape or form.

Moviegoing in Days of Future Past

The temptation to make this a tirade that meanders for far too long, waxes poetic finds any and all tangents and beats them to death several times over is great. However, with a few days I have been able to ponder the impetus for sitting down and writing this in the first place to the reasoned, cautionary bit of friendly advice was meant to be in the first place. In other words, please don’t take this as get-off-my-lawn but rather a necessary suggestion on course correction as we proceed through time as moviegoers.

The impetus was, as has been the case in the past, something overheard while leaving a theater. This time it was rather innocuously, and I must admit rather enthusiastically, a parent saying, mere moments after the end of the new X-Men film “Now we have to wait two years for the next one; X-Men: Apocalypse.”

This little moment struck me in so many ways as a microcosm of the current state of moviegoing, and entertainment in general. It was mere seconds after the film had ended, the experience not yet fully absorbed, but already the next one was anticipated and longed for. Clearly, there’s a positive to that. However, there’s a certain lack of even “stopping to smell the roses” indicated when one cannot walk out of an auditorium and wait five minutes before pondering the follow-up.

Hugo (2011, Paramount)

Perhaps the acuity of this particular observation was amplified because it was a parent and a kid (or kids). I distinctly recall not knowing what was coming out far in advance as a child and the surprise seemed to add to the magic. I’m not saying I don’t anticipate things for a long time now, but I still very diligently try to preserve mini-surprises like trying to only see trailers at the movies. I also don’t play the whole teaser to a trailer game.

The impact of this particular moment was further amplified by the fact that I anticipated there’d be another X-Men film but I honestly had not read up on it and didn’t even know a title. I fully understand that we live in a day and age wherein untitled projects from studios getting a slot three years down the line is news, and press releases including initial synopses get ubiquitous coverage, but I don’t want to look forward to all things at all times, so X-Men fell through the cracks. Not that I’ve had a big issue with any X-Men film. Perhaps it’s due to a subconscious desire to have Sony and Fox fall asleep at the wheel, or strike a deal, to unify the cinematic Marvel universe that I don’t diligently follow their plans.

Another reason this moment jumped out to me was that in my blogging I try and strike balance in what I cover. I try and keep current but also not forget cinematic achievements and glories of films past. It seems that the old struggle (for lack of a better word) was to not ignore the past as a film enthusiast. Now with the evolution of Internet coverage it seems at times a struggle to give adequate focus to the present.

Is it possible that all this short-sightedness has unexpected positive side-effects, such as more films being “rediscovered” after being too quickly summarily dismissed and/or ignored? Sure, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Look, I get that there’s a glut of information out there, and I don’t want to sit here and preach that we should be ignoramuses. I am perfectly aware of my bad habits. For example, I hate casting rumors and prefer confirmations, but I read both. I think my best advice to dealing with an excess of information is that there is a time for everything. So if you love a series you will read about what’s next regardless, but save your thoughts and longings for further installments for an adequate time after seeing the latest. Give it a moratorium.

X-Men: First Class (2011, Paramount)

Going back to the specific example that was the catalyst for this piece: I loved First Class a lot. So much so it ended up very high on my year-end list. My watching Days of Future Past was a lock based on how much I liked it. I saw news tidbits and they slipped in-and-out of my consciousness, as it was a film I wanted to see regardless. The trailer enticed me. I liked it quite a bit. Only today five days after seeing it did I start to read up on the stinger that closes it out. Granted it was a longer moratorium than is needed, and it connects to this last film, but it does foreshadow.

Everything is cyclical and going against the current, or trying to change is single-handedly, is foolhardy. A certain amount of information has always been available to film lover. It’s just that, like with everything, the Internet has democratized it and moved it out of the sole purview of the trades. I have more frequently lately had to check Fandango to see “What’s out this weekend?” It’s something a while ago I may have been embarrassed to admit, but I’d rather check it to see what’s out this weekend than know what’s out this weekend so I can see what I have to look forward to two or three years from now.