Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Animation (Part 7 of 17)

This is a recapitualtion of a paper I wrote in school. Part one can be read here. A search can retrieve subsequent parts. Since time does bring about changes and developments, I have included some notes in brackets after statements that may no longer hold true, or at least are in need of further enlightening.

In the 1980s Animation and Television are one. Even more so than in the 1970s animation was in the 80s a medium of television, while the animated feature was always a rarity we see in the 80s the complete discontinuation of cinematic shorts and the dominance of half hour animated programs before getting to that there are some important developments in the cinema that need examining.

Walt Disney Studios were my catechism in film. From 1937 to 1995 they were the Notre Dame of film in my eyes and could do no wrong. There is an asterisk, however, and that comes in the 1980s. The films they made were very eclectic in the 80s.

They made some very good films The Fox and the Hound (1981), The Great Mouse Detective (1986) and The Little Mermaid (1989) yet they produced films that I had no interest in seeing as a child and they were Oliver and Company (1988) and The Black Cauldron (1985). Disney went beyond the point of experimentation later on and just got bad on occasion. They’d lost the luster and were not something I looked forward to any longer. [I’ve since filled the 80s gaps in my viewing, and have found newer and older Disney titles I like. My fandom is complicated thing, as I will explore in March.]

If it takes about four years to produce an animated feature film then I estimate the death of Disney films as we knew them in 1991. Which is when they would’ve started working on Pocahontas and Mulan the first two Disney films I consciously avoided and then they released the terrible Hercules and it was over. The only quality they can come up with now is through collaboration with Pixar and through use of computer animation. [This too has changed since this writing and the introduction of Walt Disney Animation Studios, which focuses more on traditional techniques.]

Not that there was anything wrong with the Disney of the 1980s, oddly their best film of the period may have been The Brave Little Toaster in 1987 but one of the best things the 80s brought us was a legitimate alternative American feature length animation film for the first time since Max Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels.

One of the very best films ever made has got to be Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It took the technology from Bedknobs and Broomsticks to the nth degree. Not only that but it’s one of the most entertaining and delightful films I’ve eve been witness to and it’s nearly miraculous that Spielberg was able to pull it all together. What makes Who Framed Roger Rabbit truly a great film of the 80s cinema is how we see the cartoon characters. This probably has more resonance with people who saw this film as children because, in essence, what the film is doing is rounding out these characters, if not that adding dimension at least. Whereas in shorts we knew what Bugs Bunny was going to say and how Daffy would respond. Here we saw them in different situations and in a new light. It’s something kids do all the time: take characters that have existing attributes, stories, etc. and put them in new ones either just in their own imagination or with the aid of action figures. This makes it such a rich and pleasing cinematic experience. While as children get to bask in whimsical awe that all these characters we never saw interact are running around together (Donald and Daffy) we also get wrapped up in the mystery and it becomes very suspenseful. For adults the opposite effect must be true the suspense and plot keep you in it and the cartoon characters take you back in time, making this a unique experience for all who see it. It is truly a gem of the 80s which was hailed as a ‘landmark’ at the time but hasn’t had much said about it since. Spielberg attempted to make Roger a new star of shorts but the logistics probably got in the way and only a few were made, however, Spielberg has continued to work with animation making the all computer animation Shrek, yet another breakthrough and creating such television series as Tiny Toons Adventures, Anamaniacs, Freakazoid! and Histeria.

An American Tail (1986, Universal)

Aside from Spielberg’s efforts the 80s has produced another animation specialist named Don Bluth:

“Don Bluth was one of the chief animators at Disney to come to the mantle after the great one’s death. He eventually became the animation director for such films as The Rescuers (1977) and Pete’s Dragon (1977). Unfortunately, the quality of animation that Disney was producing at this point was not up to par with the great works of Disney, and there was rumor that the production unit at Disney might be shut down indefinitely. In retaliation, Bluth and several other animators led a walkout, and went off to form their own independent animation firm.”

Bluth’s story is one of those twenty-years-in-the-business-overnight-success-stories. In 1982 he released his first film The Secret of NIHM and it was a success. In fact, he didn’t have a bust in the 80s following that up with An American Tail, The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go to Heaven. While he’s never been on a Disney-like scale he has made quality films and continues to make his own works. As a businessman and a producer, he’s never said no to a sequel. God knows how many Land Before Time films there are now but he does have his standards as a director and his most recent animated sci-fi adventure Titan A.E. received sharply mixed reviews.

Animation is definitely now the domain of television. [Obviously this no longer holds as animated features now come from all studios and have spawned an Academy Award category all their own.] The short which used to be on before a feature film, is now paired with two other shorts and called a television show. The stage for this change was set in the 1980s as we will see in the television section.

Works Cited: http://us.imdb.com/Bio?Bluth,%20Don

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/TitanAE-1097051/

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: The International Scene (Part 6 of 17)

One can never really analyze all of international film during a given decade given the enormous scope and the amount of films released worldwide in any 10-year period. Certain decades have cinematic movements within given cultures; the 1960s are perhaps the most notable with the nouvelle vague influencing all of Europe. However, the 1980s is the time when foreign films started to have staying power. The art houses would soon be cropping back up and Americans started to be more willing to watch foreign films than ever before, even in the 60s watching Fellini and Truffaut was a sect of counterculturalism that was not universal.

The Academy Awards have always been a promotional event. The press has added a great deal of importance to them and the public have followed it making it consistently one of the highest viewed television programs every year. Thus, when the Academy, whoever they are, starts nominating foreign films in categories usually reserved for American films one needs to take notice.


In 1983 Fanny and Alexander, what was said at the time to be Ingmar Bergman’s last film, received six Oscar nominations and walked home with four of them. Ironically, the categories in which Bergman should’ve been given the awards (Director and Screenplay) were the ones they didn’t win.

Later on La Historia oficial an Argentine film was nominated for best screenplay in 1985. In 1988 Marcello Mastroianni was nominated for Best Actor in Dark Eyes and the screenplay for Au Revoir les enfants and the director of My Life as a Dog, Lasse Hallström, were nominated while Babette’s Feast won Best Foreign Language Film. Also, amongst the nominees was a great piece of Norwegian folklore that has been handed down over the generations called Ofelas.


Max von Sydow received an academy award nomination for his performance in Pelle the Conqueror which was in 1989, for a 1987 release. This was a film which won the Palm d’Or in Cannes, and it is truly one of the best films to come out of any country during the 1980s. It takes place at the turn of the century when Lasse (Von Sydow) and Pelle (Pelle Hvenegaard) arrive in Denmark from Sweden to try and find work for themselves. We follow their trials and tribulations that make us as the audience feel more and more sympathy for the characters as the film progresses. Part tragedy and part triumph, this is a beautiful film that rightly put Bille August on the map.


Of course, we also get Giuseppe Tornatore who’s one of the most talented directors in the world right now coming out with his first hit Cinema Paradiso. In France there was the cinema du look but the emerging nation of the 1980s was Brazil. 


Pixote, A Lei dos Mais Fraco (1982, HB Films)

While the film industry was beleaguered when the government cut off all funding for the arts during an economic crisis there were two big films that set the stage for the international success Brazil would enjoy in the 90s and 00s with films like O Quatrilho, Central Station and O Que e Isso Companheiro? (English title: Four Days in September), A Partilha and Bicho de Sete Cabeças. First, there was Pixote a powerful film about juvenile delinquents from the favelas of São Paulo, of which none were professional actors. It’s a gut-wrenching dramatic experience and an amazing piece of simulacrum; in a sense the Brazilian neo-realist film. The film is told in two parts: first, we see the minors and their struggles in the juvenile camp. Second, there’s a break and they escape and we see their life on the street. Hector Babenco, a naturalized Brazilian, struck home by portraying poverty and crime as well as bureaucratic corruption as it was never seen before in Brazil. It ever landed on many American top 10 lists.


Meanwhile, Arnaldo Jabor’s Eu Sei Que Eu Vou te Amar is a direct victim of the government’s cutting artistic funding and they had to work on practically no budget. This film demonstrates not only the power of editing but also of fine acting. There are only two actors in this film and they are great so much so that Fernanda Torres won Best Actress at Cannes in 1986. We meet the two main characters and they have a discussion and an argument about their relationship why they got divorced. There are flashbacks and a video monitor with the actors on them represents their inner-monologue. The dialogue in this film is fantastical. There’s a stream of poetry that come out through these inner-monologues that is just perfect and the arguments are intelligent and not just bickering. The film is absolutely riveting and is as the blurb describes “a psychological playground” that only suffers from the hallucinogenic end.


International cinema finally made its presence felt for good in the nation that influences the world. Whether negatively or positively most cinematic movements around the world are reactions to Hollywood, and the constant presence and acceptance of international cinema is a necessity to the vitality of American cinema.

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Box Office Boom (Part 5 of 17)

This is a recapitulation of a paper I wrote in film school, and had previously posted on another site. It’s being re-posted here in periodic installments. You can read parts one, two, three and four here.

A very likely reason for the love-affair of the studio with the sequel is that the Blockbuster Mentality was in full force. A hit was a smash and a bomb blew up in your face. Ticket prices were up and so were budgets, but even with all that taken into account there was an increase in the size of the Blockbuster Film.


1989 was a watershed year when the Blockbuster Mentality finally came to some kind of fruition. In that same year the top 10 all earned $100 million with Parenthood bringing home that exact amount. In 1989 viewership rose 16.4% percent from the year before with Batman, The Little Mermaid and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids being amongst notable original hits (i.e. non-sequels) and sequels also proved successful with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2 and Back to the Future part II. Having seen most of these films I do believe them for the most part to be very well done, unlike much of the trash that lines the top of the box office today. And through the 80s as a whole despite an increase in prices by 48% attendance also rose 24%.

With the youth of America being the power at the box office in the 80s, and the appeal of the cinema being eternal, attendance never really took a hit but every attempt was made by the studios to conquer this audience. There was also an attempt made to conquer the adults who were too busy watching The Cosby Show. Something went terribly right in 1989 because we never had seen so many sequels work in such a big way. The size and scale of major motion pictures also have never looked back. While the 80s were big on gigantic budgets they would really kick into high gear in the latter part of the decade. Just one example being Who Framed Roger Rabbit costing $70 million to produce and grossing $392 million worldwide. With these kind of success stories the studios were ever more tempted to throw money at their one guarantee and sit to wait for their investment to multiply.


This strategy has ultimately lead to the further deterioration of whatever is left of the studios but it has helped to create the true blockbuster because when a film’s a hit now it’s truly a hit; meaning it has to make loads and loads of money to go anywhere.
 It does seem, however, that trying to make a huge score on a more modest budget is less a part of the game now.

Work Cited: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/

Once Upon a Time In The 80s: Sequels (Part 4 of 17)

“Leaves the door wide open for a sequel,” is a phrase that was not part of the cinematic vernacular even in the 1950s. It really does sound like something you’d say after watching a slasher movie. These films, of course, were very popular in the 1980s, but just because you didn’t see a horror movie didn’t mean you were safe from someday hearing of a sequel.
 

In the 1970s the ‘pre-sold’ product became a big thing with studios there were many literary adaptations so logically sequels would soon follow. In 1981 there were 42 sequels produced worldwide; in 1989 there were 124. By the end of the 80s there were six Police Academys, five Halloweens, Howlings, Star Treks and Nightmare on Elm Streets; if you wanted to kill someone you could strap them to a chair and make them watch these in succession. There’s probably more but it would get redundant. As opposed to the positive legacy of special effect, the 80s left us with a trend that has only gotten worse. While there are no new series that are growing ridiculously, although Friday the 13th has reached 10 [now 11 with a 12th in development], it is much easier for a film to get a sequel now such as Legally Blond which didn’t even hit 100 million, but was made on no budget so the profitability was easier to hit. Another new trend is immediately announcing a sequel: when Spider-man opened with $115 million dollars in its first weekend the studio announced plans for a sequel. Opening weekend sequel plans have become commonplace and they can be directly blamed on the 80s who exacerbated sequel-mania in a need for guaranteed money.

While the contrived sequel can be called a spawn of the 80s on the good side there is also the series. The difference is that a series is a story that is not supposed to be in one film or book as the case may be. While there was only Indiana Jones and Star Wars these films helped develop the business concept of ‘the franchise,’ more so to me than the other films than those sequelized ad neauseum. The franchise by my estimation is a designed series of films that will also be a cash cow. To me these two series planned by Lucas and Spielberg are what set the stage for some of the better films of our times.

The studios relied on the sequel for easy money because the horror films that made them all their money were pick-ups. The Slasher Trinity of Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street were all independent productions which cost their respective distributors practically nothing. Thus, when they each took off like rockets they didn’t want to see the profits stop. And like at anytime in film history, you never know what’s going to be a hit and what isn’t, no matter how much test research you do. So they figure they’d just repeat what worked. And people went, and will go, if only out of curiosity.

While I can justify all these sequels that seemingly have no point I in no way excuse them. Because what started as just a rash has become a plague and now any film which shows and inkling of profit potential is a candidate to be butchered and repackaged in a sequel. For the most part I very much enjoy these films of the 80s, but a tendency towards needless repetition is something I can live without.
 

Work Cited:  http://us.imdb.com/List?year=1989&&tv=on&&keywords=sequel&&nav=/Sections/Years/1989/include-commongenres&&heading=8;sequel;1989

Note:  This is a recapitulation of a paper I wrote in film school. It will be published here in installments. This is part four you can read part one, two and three here.

Once Upon a Time in the 80s- Special Effects (Part 3 of 17)

Note: This is a recapitulation of a paper I wrote in film school. It will be published here in installments. This is part three you can read part one here and part two here.

The 1980s were marked by the emergence of the computer into mainstream American culture. The increasing accessibility and availability of this tool made its impact on the entertainment industry in a very powerful way. In 1984 one of the most famous commercials of the year was Apple Computer’s ‘Big Brother’ a play on Orwell’s 1984. While unlike the 90s where computers would soon come to reside in well over half of America’s households, and the science fiction aspect and the improbability of the device was demolished; they were becoming a much more practical tool.

The key in revolutionizing computerized effect lay with one man. In 1977 George Lucas formed Industrial Light and Magic to create the effects for Star Wars. Working out of Marina County California his company soon started to work on effects for many films. Their first heavy volume of releases was in 1985 with Back to the Future, Cocoon, Explorers, The Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes which with ‘The Stained Glass Man’ had the first fully computer generated character. The rest was history in 1986 comes Aliens which took the computer generated character to the next level and it’s been an ongoing game of “Can You Top This?” ever since.

The fact that the special effects craze came about in the late 70s and grew exponentially in the 80s is like kismet. This was a decade that was jam-packed with action films but also had an abundance of fantasy films still around. This new technology opened up possibilities for narrative never before seen and they were used, for example, a journey inside a human body in Innerspace. The kind of film that was in demand with the American public was also the kind of film that was well-suited to the new special effects technology.

Before the apathetic generation-x-ridden 90s when films of social dementia disguised as poetry like American Beauty would run amuck, the 80s was a decade riddled with myth and fantasy, here’s a sample: The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, The Neverending Story, Legend, Dark Crystal, Back to the Future, Flight of the Navigator and so on. Escapism being a large part of the cinematic formula coupled with the youthful audience allowed for these advances and this type of storytelling which is only recently beginning to creep back into being.

The shift away from fantastical storytelling that occurred in the mid-90s and lasted until about 1999 in a way has impeded the progress of CGI. While in some films it blends in perfectly and is breathtaking in others it sticks out like a sore thumb. Sure, there are films and studios that will be cheap, but had there been more constant works the floor of marginally acceptable CGI would’ve risen. The man who is always breaking the glass ceiling of CGI excellence is George Lucas, and he says he tries to push other directors with every film he does, hopefully people will follow suit.

The computer generated image is one of the few things from the 80s which was expanded upon in the 90s. The technology has some very practical uses such as digital stunts and extras. With this technology the director’s vision can more easily be realized where as if something doesn’t exist the way he sees it can be created. This is one of the 80s lasting legacies. When we’re looking back upon this decade we, of course, can’t forget some of the films that came out of the decade, but we must also remember that filmmaking was forever changed in this decade because ‘Special Effects’ became a term that we could apply to almost every film. A new cinematic tool was beginning to be fully realized and is still being perfected to this very day.

 Footnote and Work Cited:

1. The Empire Strikes Back won an Academy Award for Special Achievement in Special Effects. The following year it was a category at the awards, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Drangonslayer were nominated.


2. Star Wars: Episode II- Attack of the Clones Dir. George Lucas. Feat. Hayden Christiansen, Ewan Macgregor, Natalie Portman, Christopher Lee. 2002, 20th Century Fox. DVD extra features.

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Sociopolitical Overview (Part 2 of 17)

When we think of the 90s socio-politically you can almost draw a parallel to the kind of films that were produced. With Clinton in office the stock market more than doubled it was prosperity galore and yet there was a generation (Generation X followed by Y, how original) that could care less. There were hardly any films that reflected the times we were in because that would be bourgeois, no one really cared they had money in their pocket. Yet there was also nothing to escape unless you count the laughable Lewinsky affair, so film stagnated aside from the occasional blip here and there.

While the 80s were not like the 60s in that there was a constant issue constantly looming over everyone like the Vietnam War. There were several crucial events in America’s history. Films are the products of our society and the people writing those films for the most part came of age in the 60s and thus, had a higher social consciousness than those who grew up in the culturally devoid 70s.

Being children of the 60s coupled with the fact that escapist family oriented cinema was in demand for a great part of the decade lead to many of these films having a lot of pie-in-the-sky idealism in them.

The 80s socially and politically were a mess. There was always something. New York was a crime-ridden dirty hole, which is reflected to some extent Ghostbusters. At the beginning of the decade there was the hostage crisis and the decade ended with the beginning of the communist collapse. While there were many crises and negative events there was a national sentiment in the nation and a presentiment that gave people a feeling that we could change things, amid all the excesses of the ‘me generation’ there was Hands Across America, Farm Aid and Artists for Africa which were movements by musicians that we could change the world and films like Amazing Grace and Chuck reflect that sentiment.

It was undoubtedly a turbulent time but there was a wind of change in the air. Reagan’s short-sightedness in his term is paralleled by the studio heads. Reagan wanted to give the taxpayers a break immediately and it hurt in the long run while the studios wanted money immediately and slowly the quality of films they were producing would dwindle. Thankfully, the quality did keep coming out until the end of the decade. The political conditions were all aligned for good, even great films to be made. Great films never come out in abundance when the nation is affluent. Pre-packaged hit-me films do, the 80s were a great time to grow up in because you probably weren’t aware of all that was going on around you. Yet I do recall seeing the possibility for change and seeing that something good can occur in this world and I saw it plastered across a large silver screen every weekend.

 Note: This is a recapitulation of a paper I wrote in film school. It will be published here in installments. You can read part one here.

Once Upon a Time in the 80s- Introduction (Part 1 of 17)

In his Biographia Literaria Samuel Taylor Coleridge* postulates how a critic’s faculties and tastes are influenced by his life experiences and exposure to art. I open with this statement because in writing about the 1980s a decade in which I was a child, I realize there can be a certain amount of filtering due to nostalgia or longing for ‘the good old days,’ thus, with each film I discuss in the 1980s I think it important to note when I first saw the film. Some have stood the test of time. Others are recent discoveries. I’m also trying to examine all of these films in a new light to ensure subjectivity.

I also think it’s important to note the genesis of this concept in my own reasoning as it has most definitely shifted. A little more than a year ago [as of this writing] I saw a film called Amazing Grace and Chuck for the first time and I thought to myself “This film could’ve only been made in the 80s.” I thought this both because of its aesthetics, the grain and milieu common to the 1980s. I started postulating upon that on my cornerstone on defining the 1980s noting that the 50s, 60s, and 70s had each had their own unique looks. I noted there was overlap such that early 80s films still looked like they were shot in the 70s. Yet this would be too technical and pedantic an approach. What really struck me about Amazing Grace and Chuck was the subject matter. And while you can’t pin down a decade as sporadic and variegated as the 80s (As opposed to the heavy focus on Sci-Fi in the 50s) you can see there were ideas buried even in these heavily Hollywoodized films. Yet I come to realize as I’ve viewed nearly 30 films for analysis that saying this is what the 80s were all about is folly. However, within the context of each individual film I can display a reflection of cinematic or social thinking at the time.

This is an overview of a decade of innovation. A decade where the blockbuster was ever more predominant than in the 1970s yet there seemed to be a last gasp of artistry. There were great films released amongst the garbage. Also, we would see the trends that would lead to the decline in quality in the 1990s. It was a decade with artists who still had a spark of idealism and still had something to say albeit through indirect channels.

While many of the films make connections to my youthful sensitivities, it is important to note that these films for the most part do not condescend or talk down to its intended audience which is a problem that has become more and more apparent as time has moved on. These are also films that for me have stood the test of time. Some of what was good in the eighties was adopted in the 90s and turned sour and what’s worse some of what was terrible also stayed and became worse. In this paper I will look at the motion picture in all its forms film, television, animation and the newly-invented, at the time, music video. No matter how you look at it the 80s did matter and I want to examine the decade here. It was a decade I grew up in it is true but now I can look back subjectively and examine a decade I’ve come to love.

* While primarily a poet and philosopher Coleridge wrote an abundance of dramatic criticism, introduced the term ‘suspension of disbelief’ to the artistic world, and is one of the most important concepts in cinema.

 Note: This is a recapitulation of a paper I wrote in film school. It will be published here in installments.

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Sociopolitical Overview (Part 2 of 17)

Photo Credit: Peter Turnley/Corbis, The epitome of hope in the 80s: The fall of the Berlin Wall

When we think of the 90s sociopolitically you can almost draw a parallel to the kind of films that were produced. With Clinton in office the stock market more than doubled it was prosperity galore and yet there was a generation (Generation X followed by Y, how original) that could care less. There were hardly any films that reflected the times we were in because that would be bourgeois, no one really cared they had money in their pocket. Yet there was also nothing to escape unless you count the laughable Lewinsky affair, so film stagnated aside from the occasional blip here and there.

While the 80s were not like the 60s in that there was an issue constantly looming over everyone like the Vietnam War. There were several crucial events in America’s history. Films are the products of our society and the people writing those films for the most part came of age in the 60s and thus, had a higher social consciousness than those who grew up in the culturally devoid 70s.

Being children of the 60s coupled with the fact that escapist family-oriented cinema was in demand for a great part of the decade lead to many of these films having a lot of pie-in-the-sky idealism in them.
The 80s socially and politically were a mess. There was always something. New York was a crime-ridden dirty hole, which is reflected in Ghostbusters, and to some extent Trading Places. At the beginning of the decade there was the hostage crisis and the decade ended with the beginning of the communist collapse. While there were many crises and negative events there was a national sentiment in the nation and a presentiment that gave people a feeling that we could change things, amid all the excesses of the ‘me generation’ there was Hands Across America, Farm Aid and Artists for Africa which were movements by musicians that we could change the world and films like Amazing Grace and Chuck reflect that sentiment.

It was undoubtedly a turbulent time but there was a wind of change in the air. Reagan’s short-sightedness in his term is paralleled by the studio heads. Reagan wanted to give the taxpayers a break immediately and it hurt in the long run while the studios wanted money immediately and slowly the quality of films they were producing would dwindle. Thankfully, the quality did keep coming out until the end of the decade. The political conditions were all aligned for good, even great films to be made. Great films never come out in abundance when the nation is affluent. Pre-packaged hit-me films do, the 80s were a great time to grow up in because you probably weren’t aware of all that was going on around you. Yet I do recall seeing the possibility for change and seeing that something good can occur in this world and I saw it plastered across a large silver screen every weekend.

Note: This is a recapitulation of a paper I wrote in film school. It will be published here in installments. This is part two you can read part one here.

Rewind Review: Hot Tub Time Machine

Introduction

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

When you set out to see a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine you have to, absolutely no exceptions, expect to be in for a very stupid experience. Not that a film being stupid is inherently bad. The same holds true for an intelligent film. Quality and intellectual stimulation are not mutually exclusive. What remains to be seen when dealing with such a film is if it’s a funny kind of stupid or just stupid. More often than not, unfortunately it ends up being the latter.

One of the examples of this stupidity that just misses the mark is the character of the Repair Man played by Chevy Chase. Now I am not one of those people who disowned Chase after the 1980s, the problem in fact isn’t his performance but his character. Granted there are jokes made to the effect that his dialogue is vague and not very helpful but ultimately his repeated appearance becomes a hinderance to the story. Instead of watching to see if these characters can replicate the past they are now in we get distracted by his repeatedly reminding us of his existence. The more he appears without answering questions about how to get back to the present the more questions you ask yourself about his character and thinking about such things in a film like this is the death knell for said work.

The fact of the matter is with a plot like this the film has to be extraordinarily funny and it just isn’t. You will laugh out loud on occasion but there isn’t a constantly great peal of laughter throughout. Funny but not very funny just doesn’t cut it. When it comes to comedy that’s what it boils down to and when you’ve had time to consider all these other things clearly the film wasn’t always doing its job.

1316308-hot_tub_time_machine01

The era traveled to is also treated with a bit of ambivalence in the end product. Clearly the intention is to mock and spoof the 1980s, which has been done and it’s fine. More than most decades it’s an easy target, however, aside from the red scare that the time travelers incur none of it seems real or funny and even that is more like a parody than anything else. Aside from the age of the characters there was nothing that made it have to be set in the ’80s and costume aside you didn’t see the decade’s influence in the rest of the tale. There are just so much more jokes from the reality of that era that could have been mined as it did plenty of times to make jokes about things that happened after 1986.

What was refreshing was to see a new spin on time travel and the butterfly effect, including what I interpreted to be a sarcastic comment about the film of the same name, handling both concepts in a comedy allowed for a comedic and different approach to conceptions which are always looked upon with reverence and awe.

The quality of dialogue in this film is inconsistent. Even when things work they at times go too far. The “Great White Buffalo” line is clearly designed as an inside joke that one of the characters isn’t supposed to get and with repetition we realize we’ll know the gist but not the story behind how that started it just comes up too often. Similarly while the dialogue about the carving in a desk drawer that makes them realize they’ve gone back in time is funny Lou can see the drawer is clean and needn’t ask about each accusation he carved about Adam and whether it is present.

HotTubTimeMachineCraigRobinsonRobCorddryJohnCusackClarkDukeLSMGM_featured_photo_gallery

At the start of the film we get a very good start to differentiating these characters but their development from thereon in is stunted and this isn’t a funny enough film to survive with such superficial characterization.
 
Hot Tub Time Machine is a film with a title and concept that immediately makes one think that “It’s so crazy it just might work” but it doesn’t.

4/10

2015 Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Award: Max von Sydow

Introduction

This award is named after Bergman because when I was set to establish an award of its type his last film blew me away and was nominated for many awards. The idea then is that it’s not a parting shot but rather recognition of someone still very much at the top after many, many years.

2015 Max von Sydow

still-of-max-von-sydow-and-birgitta-valberg-in-jungfrukällan-(1960)

I like these awards to come around almost by osmosis. I considered another way for Bergman-connected people: like Liv Ullmann, unfortunately I did not see her most recent film (as director).

It seemed like a stretch to pick Max von Sydow, as someone active this year only in the very beginning of the new Star Wars, but as I thought about it it started making more and more sense. He’s been considered before and was part of a BAM-nominated cast this year.

In the future, he will be the human embodiment of Bran’s raven on Game of Thrones.

Winter Light (1963)

He has connections with other liftetime winners: He co-Starred with Werner Herzog in What Dreams May Come, was in Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, 14 feature films with Ingmar Bergman himself and Best Intentions based on Bergman’s novel, Sleepless with Dario Argento, and Minority Report with Steven Spielberg.

In a year with another sub-par Bond, it made me long for old Bond films and von Sydow was Blofeld in Never Say Never Again.

Considering that Robin Williams passed well before his time, and the seemingly-immortal Christopher Lee did as well, it’s not too late but about time to honor Max von Sydow. He clearly has well-earned longevity of his career on his side with credits in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, ‘00s, ‘10s; in other words consecutive decades. He’s 86 years old, and debuted at 22 in Miss Julie (1951).

max-von-sydow-extremely-loud-incredibly-close

He was Oscar nominated in 1989 and 2012 (most recently for Extremely loud and Incredibly Close), Golden Globes in 1967 and 1974, Emmy in 1990.

Yet more impressive are his list of credits I’ve not even mentioned yet.

  • Shutter Island
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
  • Snow Falling on Cedars
  • Leland Gaunt in Needful Things; perfection of casting imperfection of adaptation
  • The Diary of Anne Frank
  • Ghostbusters II
  • Pelle the Conqueror
  • Conan the Barbarian
  • Flash Gordon

He went from something like Winter Light to playing Christ in The Greatest Story Ever Told to being Father Merrin in The Exorcist.

His credits are multi-lingual.

Even the blind spots I have with him are well-regarded:

  • Tudors
  • Dune
  • Dreamscape
  • Ice Pirates
  • Three Days of the Condor
  • Steppenwolf
  • New Land
  • Emigrants

MV5BNjgxMDIwNjgzOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDczNTIwNA@@._V1_SY696_SX1024_AL_

 

His voice has even featured in games like Skyrim and Ghostbusters.

When I discovered he was going to be on Game of Thrones my reaction was simply “Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow,” which was frequently how I reacted to his performances.

Max von Sydow is a true living legend.