Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Broadcast News: The Fall of American Media

Decades Project: 6/8 of the 80's

Broadcast News charts a shift in American culture which continues to determine the types of media content consumed by the public today. The old guard of hard news was defeated by the new wave of infotainment and personal interest, which now finds itself manifested in the popularity of everything from lifestyle magazines to YouTube. Media shifted slowly from politics to pleasure.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Social Commentary in Fritz Lang's Masterpiece M (1931)

Decades Project: 3/3 of the 30's

"There are more police on the street tonight than whores."

Fritz Lang's M is about a child murderer, Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre), and by the end of the film he's the least evil part of it. Instead of a simple suspense thriller, Lang gives us a complex critique of society and its reaction to what it doesn't understand. Daring would be a massive understatement.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

22 Jump Street Satirizes Hollywood's Lack of Originality

"We have to stop treating this like it's exactly the same as last time."

22 Jump Street is an action/comedy sequel which satirizes action/comedy sequels, and it's written with just the right amount of intelligence and self-awareness to be satirical without losing its grip on reality. It's an attack on Hollywood's lack of creativity which understands it has to also do its own thing to be worth watching. It's easy enough to poke fun, but directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller manage to do it while maintaining and building on the magic of the previous installment.

How to Train Your Sequel: The Solution for Sequelitis

Sequels are tricky. They involve a careful balance of using material developed in previous installments to explore new areas rather than doing the same thing over again. This delicate situation is difficult enough from a writing standpoint as it is, and is further exacerbated by the fact that the producers financing the picture probably just wants more of the same. It's no mystery that Hollywood has had a hard time with this in recent years, with films like 22 Jump Street and Muppets Most Wanted satirizing studios' lack of creative energy this year alone. But despite being a big budget summer sequel, How to Train Your Dragon 2 succeeds both in picking up where the previous story left off and in taking it to new and uncharted territory.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Quantifying the 2014–2015 Golden Globe Nominations

The Golden Globes nominations were announced this morning, officially beginning American Movie Awards Season. Awards Season is an exciting time because it marks the two or three months of every year where it suddenly becomes normal—even expected—for everyone to be temporarily obsessed with cinema, which for once is something I'm very good at because I practice year round.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pushing the Limits of the Digital in Matt Reeves's Dawn

There's a popular shift occurring within the film community. Audiences are getting tired of CGI. Blockbusters are built around special effects, but nobody's doing anything new with the technology anymore. Nobody, that is, except for Matt Reeves. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes pushes the boundaries of what we think computer animation is capable of in live action films and opens a new realm of possibilities for modern cinema. Lord of the Rings had a sympathetic motion-capture performance in a supporting role? Forget that. Dawn puts the motion capture in the front seat. Main character. Begin and end on a tight close up of his face. And he's not only passable, he's the most emotionally resonant character in the whole movie.

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse: From Silent to Sound

"I am the state!"

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is Fritz Lang's sequel to his silent film Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, and it's an excellent example of some of the struggles filmmakers experienced during the switch to sound. Many directors had trouble with the transition, and while Fritz Lang is one of the few who succeeded in both arenas, his films on either side of the divide feel like they were made by different people. Gone is the deliciously manic set design characteristic of German expressionism, replaced instead by a more grounded realism. I can't say I'm a fan of this shift, but Lang certainly does justice to both styles.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Deconstructing Mythology in The Rock's Hercules

The cake is a lie.

"No myths. I want the truth."

Hercules is a retelling of the titular mythological hero divorced from its mythology, and is surprisingly tolerable for a mindless action vehicle. Do not believe what you see in the trailer; if anything, the film is actually a deconstruction of the Hercules myth. The central conceit is that Hercules is not just one man: he's helped along on his path by a group of followers with personalities pulled from other movies. Rufus Sewell plays the wisecracking mercenary Han Solo type, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal plays the dexterous archer Legolas type, and so on. But in spite of this derivative characterization, the actors all bring life and charisma to their roles (Rufus Sewell and Ian McShane are particularly enjoyable).

Friday, December 5, 2014

Subtle Social Satire in Mike Nichols's The Graduate

"It's like I was playing some kind of game, but the rules don't make any sense to me. They're being made up by all the wrong people. I mean no one makes them up. They seem to make themselves up."

The Graduate was so much weirder than I expected, and I don't mean because of all the sex stuff. It was weird in the best way possible. I (wrongly) assumed it would be a fairly traditional coming-of-age comedy. This is not the case at all—and not merely because it's exceptionally well built. The weirdest thing about The Graduate is the way it smuggles in satirical social commentary where you least expect it.

Sin City 2: Not a Dame Worth Killing For

"How did I get here? What have I done?"

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is structured as a sequence of five short stories with monotonous, droning voiceovers, none of which has anything to do with any of the others except that they all take place in the self-aware neo-noir underbelly of Sin City. The problem with the film is that it just doesn't work.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Staging and Composition in Rebel Without a Cause

Decades Project: 1/5 of the 50's

"It's just the age when nothing fits."

James Dean's unforgettable performance and Ernest Haller's gorgeous Technicolor photography have made Rebel Without a Cause a classic piece of historical Americana, but it's more than just pretty colors and a prettier face. It features a coming of age tale about how family, friendship, and interpersonal relationships define identity (in general) and masculinity (in particular).

Christopher Nolan's Parallel Editing in Interstellar

I went back to see Interstellar in Imax, and I have to say that the massive shot of the wormhole is worth the price of admission alone.

Overall I feel much the same as I did the first time. I have problems with the film, most of which stem from the limitations of the "high concept blockbuster" model; but whatever problems I have are basically mitigated by my admiration for Nolan's desire and ability to make big budget films which are artistically and thematically motivated. Hans Zimmer's score also blows me away. But where Nolan really excels is in his use of parallel editing. This is something he made obvious in Inception (cutting between different dream levels), but it's been present all the way back to Following and plays an integral part in his signature nonlinear narrative structure. Here he simply applies the method to travel through space and time.

***Minor Spoilers Below***