Short Film Saturday: The Kiss (1896)

In Cinema Paradiso there is a wonderful montage of all the kisses that were censored in the small town. Surely, it is one of the iconic images that can appear on film, this was the first one.

Short Film Saturday: Earth is a Miracle by GOOD

In this day and age there are any number of ways to record images and set them in motion. These time-lapsed, satellite composite images tell a story in and of themselves, but the text on screen puts them into even greater perspective.

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.

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

forrest-gump

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

forrest-gump-0620
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

hero-gump

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

pic

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

haleyjoelforrestgump-png

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

forrest-gump1

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

feather2

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.
140702154955-03-forrest-gump-restricted-horizontal-large-gallery

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.

Dual Roles Blogathon: The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)

Introduction

This is my contribution for the Dual Roles Blogathon.

Reception: Here and Elsewhere

Roger Ebert gave this film 3.5/4 stars. He provided great pull-quote material but not without a caveat:

“The Spiderwick Chronicles is a terrific entertainment for the whole family, except those below a certain age, who are likely to be scared out of their wits. What is that age? I dunno; they’re your kids.”

Clearly that sentiment was truncated for the DVD release. He is correct in that it is likely a more 1980s PG than a 2008 PG. However, it is quite good and has an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is rather high for a family fantasy.

hero_eb20080214reviews869514178ar

In 2008 this film was nominated for 10 BAM Awards (tied for the most) in large part due to its technical prowess of it, but it was also in my top 10 and thus a Best Picture nominee for that year. It won the award for Best Sound Editing.

The lead actor, Freddie Highmore of the dual roles, was nominated for Best Performance by a Child Actor as it was called then, and likely would have won were it not for Will Poulter’s stunning debut which did not require the affectation of dual roles. Highmore won the year before in a comparatively stronger performance in August Rush.

The Team

The film is an amalgamated adaptation of a number of books in the series. The team in front of and behind the camera is impressive. Director Mark Waters, just coming off his remake of Freaky Friday, which was a big hit in every sense; but the names behind the scenes of The Spiderwick Chronicles get bigger. James Horner provided the scoring, Michael Kahn, whom usually cuts Spielberg’s films was editor, and Caleb Deschanel, the noted multi-Oscar nominee, was the cinematographer. So the team was in place to deliver this story as well as possible.

Spiderwick Chronicles

Flanking Highmore was Sarah Bolger, Mary-Louise Parker as his mother, Joan Plowright as Aunt Lucinda, David Strathairn as Arthur Spiderwick, and Nick Nolte as Mulgarath.
Freddie Highmore

Highmore has become better known in his early adulthood as Norman Bates on Bates Motel, which will have upcoming its 5th and final season. However, his transition from young actor to adult actor has been, albeit not well-publicized, fairly smooth and persistent.

in 2010, at age 18, he appeared in Toast, which earned a bit of notice on my site and at the BAM Awards. In 2011 he was in the lackluster The Art of Getting By and in 2013 Bates started up. This year he featured in a BBC mini-series called Close to the Enemy an indie called The Journey, and his most outstanding work on Bates Motel to date.

the-spiderwick-chronicles-lb-1

Even becoming a working actor after being one of the biggest young stars of your day is quite a feat.

As for The Spiderwick Chronicles, dual roles is not something that young actors normally do for pragmatic reasons first and foremost. Young actors, due to union and legal regulations, work fewer hours on set. Minors also have schooling requirements if they’re not working a summer shoot. To put a young actor in two major roles is a logistical hardship more so than merely having a young lead or ensemble, which is the reason why you see so many “high school” shows populated by actors in their 20s and even 30s.

So there’s a tribute to Highmore in that they found him capable of playing these twins, rather than finding twins to play the roles, and also in making scheduling a bit more of a headache as a trade-off for a better end product.

1184_3_screenshot

If you then consider that this is was Highmore working with his non-regional American dialect for a 3rd film and this time while playing two characters, it’s even more impressive. Clearly, when playing two characters, even when one if far more involved in the plot than the other, it’s still twice as much work and the actor has to work two characters through their arc while also differentiating their mannerisms, physicality, and demeanor.

This is established almost right away. Jared, the character who carries most of the action in this film, gets into a spat with his older sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger). Highmore is intense and angry and seeking to engage her physically. Wanting help from his twin, Jared says:

“Simon, get her!”
“I’m a pacifist.”

Spiderwick Chronicles

The response is a throwaway wherein Highmore makes no eye contact with his alter ego. This instantly makes an impression about how to set the twins apart. They are not the dress alike, inseparable brand. Jared is more the everyman, who is angrier about the move, and in general; Simon is more studious and uptight.
Jared is the doubter at first of anything magical going on, but is also more adventurous and finds the book, uses the dumbwaiter. His character is not only introduced in a fit or anger but it is intimated he had anger management issues in the past.

Simon doubts Jared’s story´at first. When he’s taken by ogres Jared’s on a journey whether he wants to be or not having started the ball rolling by reading the book and taking it outside of the protective circle around their house.

Among the other challenges present to Highmore in this film is that he has to interact with a CG counterpart on more than a few occasions. There is also a scene wherein Jared and Simon are fighting each other which required Highmore to play both sides of the fight opposite stand-ins and doubles, it’s a demanding piece of physicality that cuts well.

After Jared brings Simon back to safety, literally dragging him, his leg injury (prosthetic make-up time added to logistics to consider – time in the make-up chair is time on the clock for a young actor) makes him most useful at the house. This allows for fewer scenes where Highmore would have to shoot two sides if he went with them to try and fight Aunt Lucinda.

While we’re far removed from the silent film days where there were Hollywood legends of directors literally willing to traumatize young actors to get them to produce real tears on film, crying scenes are still very demanding on an actor of any age. Highmore as a youth had these scenes as one of his calling cards and in this film there is a point where each of his characters is pushed to tears. For Jared it’s when he learns the truth his father won’t tell him about their parents separation that their dad has been too chicken to say to him himself.

the-spiderwick-chronicles

Toward the end there are scenes where the two characters collaborate such as when Jared summons the Griffin and Simon settles him down. Simon is teary in the cage when captured and also toward the end I believe. Here is the former scene for an example of Highmore as his own scene partner:

Below is another example of his work, this time in a climactic scene. Please do not watch it if you’ve not yet seen the movie. Scroll past.

 

There was less fanfare for this film than say The Parent Trap, as that was Lohan’s breakout and a remake, but this film is not too well remembered, and it should be in part because Highmore shines throughout.