AN EMPIRE OF ONE

If you don't think the world's weird, you're not paying attention.

Murphy’s Law

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Yesterday, at the Zombieland: Double Tap premiere in Westwood, I notched my sixth attempt to get our La La Land one-sheet signed by Emma Stone. It’s already signed by Damian Chazelle, Justin Hurwitz, and Ryan Gosling and each of them signed it on our first attempt.

But getting Emma Stone’s signature on it has turned into an epic quest. I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a curse involved because of the seemingly infinite number of things that go wrong to prevent us from getting her signature on this poster.

Here’s the story so far:

FIRST ATTEMPT: Battle of the Sexes premiere, Westwood, September 2017. We arrived as early as we could, but Stone was already signing and it was impossible to get overcome the large crowd between her and our large poster. We also waited for her to exit the theater. At least she waved.

TIME SPENT: About 2 hours (not counting the commute, to and from).

SECOND ATTEMPT: Marie Claire Image Maker Award, West Hollywood, January 2018. Stone came out from the red carpet photo call area, and walked a line of paparazzi and a smaller number of autograph collectors on her way to the front door. She passed right by the poster, while signing a few items for others. We waited hoping she would sign on the way out only to learn she went out the back.

TIME SPENT: About 6 hours

THIRD ATTEMPT: The Favourite, Westwood premiere, November 2018. Due to state-wide (but not local) fires, the red carpet part of the premiere was canceled. We arrived around 6AM hoping for a good spot and did not find out about the cancellation until hours later. We still had hope and ended up waiting near the theater’s exit. She left via the front door. She apparently signed a few on the way in or the way out, but we were in the back. We never even saw her.

TIME SPENT: About 13 hours

FOURTH ATTEMPT: The Favourite screening at the Academy. Day after the Westwood premiere, November 2018. Compared to the premiere, there were next to no one waiting for her. However, one of them walked up the alley where the limos were waiting. This is a no-no. It’s impossible to know if this killed our chance, but when she came out she stepped right into the limo. Once again, we did not even see her.

TIME SPENT: About 2 hours

FIFTH ATTEMPT: AFI Awards Luncheon, January 5, 2019. Her limo stopped right in front of us exiting the hotel, before driving into the main road. There was no one else around. Ideal situation. But she ignored us.

TIME SPENT: About 4 hours

SIXTH ATTEMPT: Zombieland: Double Tap, Westwood premiere. October 10, 2019. I got there a bit later than I wanted, but still early: 930AM. Turns out, the position was fine because she started at the end of the line, not the front. However, what happened beyond a reasonable doubt proves once and for all that in our attempt to get Emma Stone to sign our La La Land poster, Murphy’s Law applies. If anything can go wrong to prevent her signing the poster, IT WILL GO WRONG.

Just as she was about to sign the poster, someone hit her in the head with a board. Her angry face appeared and she skipped our section, but continued signing up the line. Once again, we tried to get her going in and coming out of the theater, but this time she didn’t even go in. She went straight from the “brown” carpet to her limo, apparently flying out that night back to the London set of Cruella.

TIME SPENT: 10.5 hours

TOTAL TIME SPENT (SO FAR): 37.5 hours (I said it was an epic quest.)

Will Cruella’s Hollywood premiere (in 2021) be our seventh attempt? Stay tuned.

 

Written by pronountrouble2

October 11, 2019 at 11:24 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Shape of Water vs. “Let Me Hear You Whisper”

  1. When I first heard the Estate of Paul Zindel was claiming the makers of The Shape of Water plagiarized Zindel’s one act play, “Let Me Hear You Whisper,” I was annoyed. I was annoyed because I’ve already picked Shape to win the Best Picture Oscar in a pool. But I was also annoyed because I want it to win because it’s fucking great. But then I watched the PBS version of the play on Youtube and my annoyance changed to delight. Why? The Estate has set up a foil for Del Toro’s masterpiece, that is, something to compare it to, that highlights what makes it great. The opposite, or is it inverse, is also true: comparing Shape with Whisper shows what a minor work Zindel’s play is.
  2. Watch the 1969 PBS version of the Zindel play here.
  3. Ironically, the case filing accusing Shape of plagiarizing Whisper is itself plagiarized. Compare the section “Examining the details” here, with section 43 of the complaint, here.
  4. Here is an example of the lawyer taking wordings from the “examining the details section” of the Hollywood Nerd article and using substitution and rearranging to try to make it “original.” 
  5. This is the lawyer’s wording:
  6. Whisper, contrary to what the Estate claims, is not an original work. It’s almost certainly based on human-animal communication experiments in the 1960s with dolphins by John C. Lilly.
  7. The Estate’s filing says Whisper was written in or around 1969. Well, a 1967 French novel (Un animal doué de raison), translated into English in 1969 as The Day of the Dolphin, was also based on these events. Wikipedia: “The plot concerns dolphins that are trained to communicate with humans, and their use in warfare.” This is the plot of “Let Me Hear You Whisper.”
  8. There’s enough similarity between Whisper (1969) and Dolphin (1969) to hypothesize an influence. You might even say Zindel “derived” his work from the novel. Even if that is not the case, he could have derived it from the real events surrounding John C. Lilly. The point is that Whisper, one way or the other, is derived and not entirely original.
  9. Of course, the Estate’s filing cannot prove writers of The Shape of Water were aware Zindel’s work. The biggest similarity is story POV, that is, both stories are told from the POV of a cleaning lady. However, I do not think you can copyright the idea of telling a story from a  cleaning lady’s POV. It that were the case, Zindel’s story would violate the copyright of the TV show Hazel.
  10. The Estate’s filing is worded to make the two works sound as similar as possible. However, let’s suppose we ask people who are not lawyers to describe the two stories. I doubt their descriptions would end up as similar as the Estate’s. I’ve already offered one alternate description (“The plot concerns dolphins that are trained to communicate with humans, and their use in warfare”) which would set it up for its own plagiarism case because it’s so similar to The Day of the Dolphin.
  11. The Estate does not want to mention Creature from the Black Lagoon or its sequels. Those are the true inspirations for Shape. If anyone had cause to sue, it would be the creators of those films. However, Shape is obviously different enough that such a case would not prevail in court. The same is true for Whisper.
  12. Superficially, Shape and Whisper start of similarly, especially if you play tricks with the words describing their plots as does the lawyer in the filing. But ultimately, they are very different. Whisper is a critique of those who go along to get along. The main conflict in the play is between the cleaning lady and her immediate supervisor. The supervisor describes the cleaning lady several times as “nice.” This is less a description than a proscription. By nice she means someone who does what they are told and does not cause trouble. In other words, someone who does not put sand in the wheels of progress, which is what the experiments are said to be. The cleaning lady cannot remain silent. The title of the play, Let Me Hear You Whisper, alludes to the act of speaking up and the cleaning lady even yells at the dolphin, after she learns it’s been able to talk all along, for not speaking up. She tells off the scientists and threatens to inform the ASPCA. Experiments on dolphins are not the only ones conducted as this lab. Other animals are involved, too. The cleaning lady’s supervisor speaks of a cat she loved that was killed. She didn’t like it, but in order to keep her job she learned that she must not become attached to the animals, to care. She learned to go along to get along. The new cleaning lady, in contrast, does not. She may need the job, but quits because she thinks the work is immoral, even if she is not the one doing the experiments. In other words, the play is about a the birth of a whistleblower. Daniel Ellsberg would approve, and it’s probably useful to remember this play was written at the height of the Vietnam War.
  13. The Estate’s filing reads like a junior high student’s compare and contrast English assignment that forgot the contrast part. For example, the cleaning lady in Whisper may be less talkative than her co-workers, but she isn’t hesitant to talk or ask questions. Shape’s cleaning lady is mute, so she cannot literally talk, but she can still communicate with sign language but she doesn’t, at least at first. Whipser’s cleaning lady is not the brightest bulb on the tree. When the dolphin says, “Ham-per,” she has no idea what it’s saying and has to ask her co-worker: “What is a ham-per.” Her co-worker immediately knows. Shape’s cleaning lady only appears to be stupid. In fact, every one of the workers in the film are undervalued by their superiors. They are all prevented from fulfilling their true potential. Except Elisa, the cleaning lady. Having lived her entire life as a fish out of water, she fulfills her true potential and becomes a fish in water. I hope she meets up with Mr. Limpet.

 

Written by pronountrouble2

February 24, 2018 at 1:25 pm

Darren Aronofsky’s mother!

  1. This poster: Not this one:
  2. Allegory. Dictionary: “the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence.” Wikipedia: “a metaphor whose vehicle may be a character, place or event, representing real-world issues and occurrences.”
  3. Examples: Renaissance paintings; Pilgrim’s Progress; Animal Farm; The Seventh Seal. The Belko Experiment.
  4. Mother!‘s main metaphor is this: Mother is Mother Nature and Him is God. The house? Earth. Etc. It’s a symbolic representation of human history ending in disaster. Cyclical, not final. Not necessarily our history, our story, but it might be, could be our story. A cautionary tale.
  5. Mother! mines most of its material from the Bible, but reflected in the mirror darkly mind of Darren Aronofsky.
  6. Mother! is like a dream, a dream written by Carl Gustav Jung.
  7. Mother! is like a Greek myth, in the sense that myths about Gods and demi-gods represent views of human vices and virtues.
  8. Mother! cannot and should not be reduced to one, simple allegory and cautionary tale about human mistreatment of Mother Earth, even if that’s how Aronofsky wants us to read it.
  9. However, taken as just such a metaphor, Mother! moved me to tears (just as I was moved to laugh many times earlier in the film).
  10. Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) is as much an artist as Him (Javier Bardem). However, she’s introverted and private; he’s extroverted. An odd couple story about a couple living out archetypes.
  11. What’s the fluid Mother drinks? Birth control?
  12. Other precedents: Ulysses by James Joyce; Cocteau’s Orpheus; Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits.
  13. A great example of POV storytelling. Hitch would approve. The film is told almost entirely from Mother’s POV. We empathize with her and see everything happening through her. Is it too much to say we cling to Mother as if connected to her by an umbilical cord. And when the end comes and we lose that POV, it’s as if our umbilical cord has been cut and there’s a great sense of loss. There is a long history of melodramatic deathbed mother scenes in films. This is not one because along with the feeling of loss there is also a feeling of guilt. Guilt because we did not do enough to save Mother. We were right there with her, right up till the end, yet we could not save her. At least not this time. Maybe next time.
  14. You know those crazy fan theories about Kubrick’s The Shining? Was Aronofsky influenced by that phenomena (which, of course, isn’t confined to The Shining) and made a film for fans to theorize about. Not a shaggy-dog film, but a film where the fan theory is legit and fits because it’s the director’s theory.
  15. Sadly, most reactions to the film seem to want to prove true the film’s dark vision of humanity, but this dark vision of humanity is already there in the Bible. In fact, the Bible’s vision is darker.
  16. The reactions to this film would probably not have been much different had the film been marketed differently. The studio probably knew exactly what they were doing, and they knew how difficult it would be to market a film like this that cannot be placed in a simple genre category. Sadly, it proves, once again, that studios alone are not to blame for the films we get. Audiences (and even some critics) must share some, if not most, of the blame.
  17. I salute Paramount, specifically whoever it was that gave this project the green light. They made me happy, and now, they can die happy.
  18. Lastly, there’s this:

Written by pronountrouble2

September 18, 2017 at 11:57 am

Posted in Film Directors, Films

Tagged with ,

Protected: Film Books Red List

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Written by pronountrouble2

August 10, 2017 at 3:50 pm

Posted in Books

Paris Can Wait: This Is Not a Review

Paris Can Wait

Diane Lane and Eleanor Coppola during the Q&A for Paris Can Wait, May 13, 2017 at Arclight Hollywood.

This is not a review of Paris Can Wait. It’s a review of a review of Paris Can Wait. It’s a review of a review by Jeannette (almost wrote Meannette) Catsoulis: “‘Paris Can Wait,’ at Least Until After the Crème Brûlée.”

I have several problems with this review, but my main one is the disconnect between the reviewer’s opinion and the film she describes. The problem begins even before the review begins:

  1. The caption, “Diane Lane and Arnaud Viard on a gastronomic odyssey in ‘Paris Can Wait,'” doesn’t quite fit the image, does it? In other words, where’s the food? Yes, there’s a lot of food and eating thereof in the film, but it’s only part of the “odyssey,” as this image from the film proves.
  2. This “reviewer” gets paid by The New York Times to write snarky “reviews” accusing fictional characters of “gustatory privilege.” Who’s privileged?
  3. “What follows is a Michelin-starred commercial for French cuisine gussied up as Anne’s journey of self-discovery.” Is it too much to ask that a reviewer make some effort to understand a movie before dissing it? This is not a film difficult to understand. “Stop and smell the roses.” That’s it. Roses, lots and lots of fragrant roses, are all over this movie. Hard to miss, yet, somehow, this New York Times, newspaper of record reviewer did.
  4. “Anne… [no] more than a bland accessory who lets men tell her what to eat.” This is inaccurate for not just one, but several reasons. First, there’s only one man, Jacques, who acts as her guide to all things “gustatory.” Second, she doesn’t eat everything he orders. Third, she can’t read the menu because it’s in French. Fourth, she ends up with a lot of chocolate and it’s because of what she wants, not him. But what this reviewer says is mostly wrong because it ignores what happens in the end: the role reversal that happens when Anne becomes the guide because she knows more about the Cathedral she and Jacques visit than he does. A lot more.
  5. “When not inhaling jus d’agneau and crème brûlée… the two visit famous landmarks and exchange flirty glances. But when Anne finally peels off her pantyhose, it isn’t to indulge in a roadside quickie; it’s to repair the Peugeot’s broken fan belt.” Rather than snark, Eleanor Coppola deserves kudos for not making another conventional Harlequin-type romance movie. “Stop and smell the roses.” Trite? Perhaps. But true, profoundly true, nonetheless. It’s a lesson we can all take from this movie and apply it to our own lives, even if we cannot afford to make the same “gustatory odyssey.”

Written by pronountrouble2

May 15, 2017 at 12:13 pm

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Three years ago, James Gunn and Nicole Perlman were nominated for a WGA award in the best adapted screenplay category for Guardians of the Galaxy (not yet Vol. 1).

This year Gunn should be nominated AND win for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 if only for one line:

You killed my mom. And squished my Walkman.

In fact, this line encapsulates the greatness of Guardians:

Simultaneously, serious and silly.

Tragi-comic?

For example: Drax probably laughs more often and louder than anyone in this film (even Rocket), but when Mantis feels his deepest emotions, she breaks down in tears.

That’s goes for most of the characters, even the minor ones.

Behind every laugh, a tear.

But also: behind every tear, a laugh.

I’m still laughing through my tears.

Mucho thanks to James & the Gang for making this awesome movie.

 

Written by pronountrouble2

May 13, 2017 at 2:24 am

Is Starship Troopers a Satire of Star Trek?

Col. Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris) mind melds with Starship Troopers Brain Bug.

Star Trek (TOS)’s Spock (Leonard Nimoy) mind melds with rock creature (Horta) in “The Devil in the Dark.”

Is Starship Troopers a critique/satire of Star Trek’s world (and worldview) or a ripoff, in particular of “The Devil in the Dark” episode, with some Aliens, Top Gun, and An Officer and a Gentleman tossed into the mix?

In 1985, more than a decade before Starship Troopers, J. Hoberman published a piece, “The Fascist Guns in the West,” about the films of the Reagan era (Rambo, Dirty Harry, An Officer and a Gentleman) that might help answer the question. Read it here (starting on page 53) or here. I saw the film last night and the screening was preceded by a short discussion between Adam Curtis (who chose the film as part of a weekend of films he curated) and the film’s screenwriter, Ed Neumeier. Too bad we didn’t get a chance to ask the writer if he was familiar with Hoberman’s essay, but I’d bet money that both he and Verhoeven were on the same wavelength as Hoberman. A true melding of minds about the Eighties.

Written by pronountrouble2

March 18, 2017 at 11:52 am

Posted in Films

Kong: Skull Island: the Premiere (NOT THE FILM)

Bored media/PR (is there really a difference?) types await the big (A pun? Of course.) event.

Slightly less bored fans, also waiting.

Six plus hours later, long after the sun set on Hollywood Blvd., here’s what hours and hours of waiting got them:

Surrounded by security, Mr. Samuel L. Jackson helped his mother down the staircase after the premiere of Kong: Skull Island, walked down the blue carpet, never once looking up, got into his limo, and disappeared into the Hollywood night, disappointing hundreds of fans (plus the usual handful of professional autograph hounds).

Here’s what happened in between:

  1. We arrived around 3:30PM to find ourselves about a third of the way from the beginning of the “carpet run.” It wasn’t really a run, except for the ones who wanted to make it one, such as…
  2. Around 6PM, the stars started to arrive. John Goodman was the first to walk by the fans. And that’s just what he did. He made no eye contact and looked somewhat like a scared rabbit.
  3. On the other side of the “wall,” where some lucky fans sat in bleachers while a radio DJ blasted them with his barely intelligible voice, Jackson, Hiddleston, Larson and the director posed for pictures and talked to media types. We couldn’t see any of this.
  4. We waited and waited. No sign of any of the above.
  5. Finally, just before 8PM, a crowed of people passed by and climbed the stairs to the Dolby Theater. But still no sign of the stars.
  6. Then, suddenly, there was Jackson. There was Hiddleston. There was the director with the beard.
  7. And just as suddenly, they were gone. Not one of them stopped. Not even the director.
  8. I did not forget Brie Larson. Going in, she was the last person we expected to interact with the fans, that is, sign autographs and pose for pictures. But tonight, she was the only one who did. She went down the lane of fans, signing and posing, stopping just past us, then turned around, got in a limo, and drove away. She did not watch the film. (FWIW, we did not get an autograph.)
  9. We came back ninety minutes later. The film was supposed to last about two hours. A bit more, if there was an introduction. But we were surprised to see the exodus start nearly twenty minutes earlier than expected.
  10. John Goodman was one of the first to descend the stairs, just as he was one of the first to ascend the stairs. A group of professional autograph hounds yelled, “John!” He went straight to them and signed for two or three. For a moment, it looked like he was going to engage with fans. But then, suddenly, he yelled to his handler, pushing her, “Go! Go! Go!,” and hightailed it, disappointing many fans.
  11. One of the autograph “professionals” reported Jackson, upon seeing them lined up along the blue (not red) carpet, said: “I see all the professionals are out tonight. So, tell me, are you rich, yet?”
  12. Not tonight.
  13. That goes for the film, too. It finished first in this week’s boxoffice race, but with a meager $61 million.
  14. However, Brie Larson was not the only one who engaged with fans:

David Koechner (Anchorman, The Office, Twin Peaks)

 

Backside of Mathew Modine, star of Birdy, Full Metal Jacket, Stranger Things, engaged with many fans before he went into the theater.

Modine’s autograph.

15. No, we did not see the film. Apparently, no one did, really. Later, we learned from a fan that the film, with twenty minutes to go, suddenly stopped and that was it.

16. At least Mr. Jackson ran the gauntlet again on his way out. Director Jordan “The Beard” Voigt-Roberts? Tom Hiddleston? After they went into the theater, we never saw them again.

This happened March 8, 2017.

Written by pronountrouble2

March 12, 2017 at 7:02 pm

Posted in Films

Film, 2016: Quotes, Thoughts

  • Among the PC reproaches to Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, the one that stands out for its sheer stupidity was that there are no gay couples in the film which takes place in LA, a city with a strong gay population… How come those PC Leftists who complain about the sub-representation of sexual and ethnic minorities in Hollywood movies never complain about the gross misrepresentation of the lower class majority of workers? It’s OK if workers are invisible, just that we get here and there a gay or lesbian character. — Slavoj Žižek (Source)

  • To [La La Land director] Chazelle’s credit, for both of them [Mia and Sebastian] luck will play an important role in their successful careers. But this career-wise luck will be combined with the breakdown of their relationship and this is another departure from conventions associated with backstage musicals. The successful career is not combined with an idealised heterosexual romance. If one of the charges pressed repeatedly against Hollywood is that it blissfully disregards labour relations in its portrayal of characters, La La Land dexterously avoids this pitfall by showing how labour relations and aspirations may come at the expense of love and private life. There is significant emphasis on labour conditions throughout the narrative, showing the characters doing all sorts of crappy jobs hoping that one day they will make it. — Angelos Koutsourakis (Source)

  • In response to Tuesday’s [Academy Award] nominations announcement, Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday wrote, “It’s clear that, unlike recent years when the red carpet looked lily white, this year’s Oscars will resemble the outside world much more vibrantly.” But this is not true, or true only in a secondary or superficial sense (a greater range of skin tones). For filmmaking truly to “resemble the outside world much more vibrantly,” or simply accurately, is not a racial or ethnic question, but a social one. Films would first of all need to take on, through artistic means, the realities confronted by tens of millions of people: the sharp decline in conditions of life and growing social wretchedness, the bleak future facing young people, the growing and immense danger of war and dictatorship. They would have to reflect life in general “more vibrantly,” and not simply the concerns of self-centered layers of every ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. More than 40 million people in the US work in the 25 occupations with the largest employment. Those occupations range from clerks and nurses to truck drivers and teachers, sales representatives and carpenters to team assemblers and receptionists. Is the artistic representation of their lives, the exploration of their thoughts and feelings, a worthy undertaking? At present, they are almost totally excluded from filmmaking and art generally. (Source)

  • But to think of diversity purely in racial and gender terms is not sufficient. Yes, we need more candidates of diversity, but we also need candidates — no matter what race or gender — to be fighters for the working class and stand up to the corporate powers who have so much power over our economic lives. We need all of our candidates to have the courage to stand up to the Koch Brothers, Wall Street, drug companies, insurance companies, oil companies, and fight for working families — not just the top one percent. — Bernie Sanders (Source)

  • Isn’t the “light escapist romp” and “crowd-pleasing Hollywood confectionLa La Land, which shows characters whose choices are limited because their money is limited, more realistic than films such as Moonlight (where poor people seem to have money for everything but drugs) and Manchester By the Sea (where an apartment building factotum can afford to take off work for months without worrying about money)?
  • I wonder how many of the people who complain about “privileged” people in La La Land are in fact well-to-do, that is, privileged, in a way the financially challenged characters in the film are not. My guess: lots.
  • Why does talk about diversity begin and end with sex, gender, and race? Isn’t it possible to have a room full of people who represent every gender, sexual orientation, and race lack true diversity? George W. Bush’s cabinet included Latinos, women, and Blacks. Diverse, right? Or was it? Does a struggling plumber have more in common with Bill Gates because his skin is white like Gates’s, or with a plumber whose skin happens to be black?
  • This diversity we’ve been talking about is a diversity of experience. But what about a diversity of ideas? Ideas of all kinds. As the man said (sort of), “Let a thousand flowers bloom.” Or a hundred thousand, a million, a billion… Or 7,489,381,257 (as of Wednesday, March 8, 2017, 9:43AM Pacific Time.)

Written by pronountrouble2

March 8, 2017 at 5:59 am

Posted in Films

Rewrites: T2 Trainspotting

Moderator Mark Olsen (LA Times) and director Danny Boyle

So, T2 Trainspotting. I’m afraid I didn’t find much of interest. That doesn’t mean I found nothing of interest. The most interesting thing is the title. Director Danny Boyle said that the title is an intentional tip of the hat to The Terminator sequel because the characters in Trainspotting would appreciate being in a film called T2.

This is interesting. T2 Trainspotting ends with two of the characters in room stuffed with piles of DVDs. They’re film nuts. Robert Carlyle’s character and antics recalls the Terminators (especially T-800, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and T-1000, Robert Patrick) in both of Cameron’s Terminator films, as does several chase scenes.

But more could have been done with this parallel between the lives of the characters in T2 Trainspotting and those in the action films they shape their lives around. It would be tricky, but I think there was a untapped comic goldmine there in the contrast of the two T2’s, something along the lines of what James Joyce did in Ulysses, contrasting the life of ordinary man Leopold Bloom with the heroic adventures of the great hero Odysseus/Ulysses.

T2 Trainspotting does this a little, but if it had gone all the way, it may have been very interesting instead of just a wee bit interesting.

2T2

Written by pronountrouble2

March 7, 2017 at 3:47 pm

Posted in Films, Rewrites

The Belko Experiment

belko-2-large

Congratulations to those who survived BI Employee Appreciation Day!

What do Rollerball, Death Race 2000, The Stars Our Destination, and The Belko Experiment have in common?

Answer: They’re all metaphors for capitalism. Yes, metaphors. Movies, believe it or not, can be metaphors.

Seriously.

Usually, filmmakers don’t state their intentions and they definitely don’t say their film is a metaphor.

However, if you’ve seen any of his films, you’d know James Gunn is an unusual guy.  And in the Q & A for the screening at which I saw the film last night (3/3/17) he said his film is a metaphor for capitalism.

belko_1-large

L to R: moderator Geoff Boucher, actor Tony Goldwyn (Barry Norris), actor John C. McGinley (Wendell Dukes), writer-producer James Gunn, and director Greg McLean

He also said it here:

Growing up in a family of lawyers and having that, looking at that and looking at my own career life, and what that’s like. How competitive I can be at times. How competitive people around me are forced to be. I think that it is a difficult part of our lives, living in a capitalist country.

Gunn, at the screening, said he loves capitalism. Makes you wonder what the film would be like if he hated capitalism.

The film is well made, funny as hell (mostly in a sick sort of way which sometimes is the best way) so see it and judge for yourself how accurate this film is as a metaphor for the society you live in.

Gunn, raised by a Catholic family, appears to be saying capitalism brings out the worst in human nature. But is there an alternative? Not in this film.

Belko‘s just a bit predictable, mostly regarding two “obligatory scenes,” scenes the film makes us want and expect after being set up in Act I.

belko-experiment-poster-large

The film delivers these promised scenes, and when it does, the audience cheers.

But with their cheers the audience may be proving the film’s (and Gunn’s) dark view of human nature (albeit a human nature shaped by a cruel environment).

A dark view shared by the filmmaker who shot this:

2001_2017-03-04-094806

Written by pronountrouble2

March 4, 2017 at 11:42 am

Posted in Films

Tagged with ,

Poll: Toni Erdmann or Up in the Air?

Note: you have to go to Youtube to watch the following Up in the Air clip.

 

Just kidding. Not a poll.

Note: the Up in the Air clip  is a (very) shortened version.

Written by pronountrouble2

March 3, 2017 at 1:02 pm

Posted in Films

Tagged with , ,

Review: The Last Word

lastword1-large

  • First, a confession. I saw The Last Word before a Q&A with director Mark Pellington and Shirley MacLaine. If MacLaine had stayed a few minutes after the talk to interact with her fans, just a little, I might not be writing this review. That’s the way the world works. But she didn’t. “If I sign for them, I’ll have to sign for a lot.” This, despite her telling a woman she was with, “This was a good crowd.”
  • Second, another confession: I hate reviews.
  • So… Let’s begin with the story. In general, it’s a very familiar story. We’ve seen it a zillion times. It’s a cliche. Recently, a film telling this type of story was nominated for an Oscar: A Man Called Ove. A curmudgeon that no one likes turns their life around. In fact, both The Last Word and Ove begin with their main character’s attempted suicide.
  • For the most part, because we’ve seen this story a zillion times, it’s a predictable film. We know that the Scrooge-like character is going to turn out to be lovable. We know that she will die. We know that the obit will be read. There are a few surprises along the way. (Even fewer than there would be if you see the trailer first. I try to avoid trailers, but it’s hard. The theater showed it at an even we attended a week earlier, and the guy behind us played it on his phone before last night’s screening.) But there is one scene that stands out as something unexpected: MacLaine’s reaction after seeing her estranged daughter for the first time in many, many years. If there’s one good scene in the film, it’s this one.
  • My guess is the film’s writer is under the influence of Neil Simon. Too much under the influence. Either that or too many screenplay guides. Dialogue consists of would be zingers. Even the kid speaks as if she’s in a well rehearsed play. In other words, it doesn’t have the feel of life, of authenticity, but of play acting without much fun.
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Moderator Jim Hemphill, Shirley MacLaine, and director Mark Pellington

  • Two scenes stand out as especially poor. The first, in which MacLaine’s character attempts to kill herself takes forever to get to the point. She stares out windows, stares and stares and stares. If you want to know how to do this, watch A Man Called Ove. It gets to the point and does it will skill and humor. Before The Last Word had really begun, for me, it was pretty much over. But I stuck it out and endured it through MacLaine’s last scene, which was also less than good. We know she’s going to die because her heart is overworked. So, when we see her dancing and dancing and dancing, we expect that she will croak at any moment. She does croak, eventually, but first she sits, then she climbs the stares, gets a picture, comes back down the stairs, sits back down, then dies. It seems as if the filmmakers were dead set on MacLaine dying with that picture in her hand but couldn’t figure out how to get it in her hand without having her make an epic voyage to get it. Even MacLaine said she didn’t know what happened in this scene. “Did she kill herself? Did she die or just fall asleep?” Those were MacLaine’s questions for Mark Pellington, the director, who was sitting right next to her. Valid questions because the scene is poorly written, poorly staged, poorly edited, poorly thought out. In a word: bad. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be instructive.
  • Kubrick said he was inspired more by bad movies than good ones, and others have said they learned more from bad movies than good ones. The Last Word, as a whole, is more mediocre than bad, but it can be instructive just the same. For example, MacLaine’s character is also a bit like Huppert’s in Elle. Compare the two films. You cannot help but admire Elle (and Huppert) all the more. Even MacLaine, last time we saw her, said she admired Huppert’s “audacity.”
  • My last word on The Last Word: how much sense does it make for someone who doesn’t care what people think of her, to suddenly start caring what people think of her? I’m referring to the start of the movie, not the end. In other words, the movie’s premise is hooey.

Written by pronountrouble2

March 3, 2017 at 11:44 am

Posted in Films

Why Star Wars (ie “Episode IV”) sucks!

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Why does Star Wars suck? Let me count the reasons:

1. Star Wars is a story about a boy who wants to go to war and does. In fact, he becomes the greatest war hero ever. It’s a pro-war story. It’s pro-war because it shows war as fun, the equivalent of a theme park ride. War does not get more glamorous than this. Extremely violent, but bloodless and clean. The victims of the violence might as well be robots. In fact, a good percentage of the film is devoted to shots of bloodless robots, and these robots seem to have stolen the personality genes from the film’s official human characters. (Some will say this is also true of 2001, ie HAL is more “human” than the astronauts. But that’s the point of that film. Is Lucas really saying that his robots are more “human” than the humans everyone in the film is fighting to save? I’m more inclined to go with something like, “Blowing things up is cool!”)

2. The scene in which he learns his uncle and aunt were killed is a cheap plot device. How much does he really care about his relatives when they never appear again in the story? Compare this scene to the source, The Searchers, the film that Lucas pilfered for the “homage.” In that film, John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter really do care about the people who were killed. And they care about the children who were kidnapped because that’s what the film is about. In Star Wars, the attack on the farm is a cheap plot trick designed to get Luke off the farm without making him seem like an asshole.

3. Because no one ever questions the rightness of the rebels’ cause nor the wrongness of the empire’s cause. Because no one questions much of anything. It’s classic Manichaeism. The forces of the empire are faceless, robot-like. Nothing they do shows any indication of being motivated by anything other than evil. In other words, motivations are boring.

4. Star Wars vs Star Trek. The difference in the titles are telling. Star Wars is about going to war. While there’s plenty of fighting in Star Trek, at least there are those who question it. I can’t imagine an episode such as the one in Star Trek in which humans and Klingons are forced to stop fighting by an apparently helpless population of aliens. There’s no character like Spock in Star Wars. Certainly not Obi Wan Kinobi. Everyone wants to fight. Weapons of all kinds, whether fighting ships, swords, or bombs, are meant to impress. Where’s the wonder in life, the wonder in encountering new, mysterious things which happens all the time in Star Trek?

5. Star Wars is designed the way commercials are designed. While not explicitly a toy ad, it’s made like one. So it’s no surprise that Lucas made the most money from toys. Images, sounds, dialogue: it’s all presented to us like a fetish. A thing to be bought. Easily identified, understood, quickly.

Proof:

Star Wars was manufactured. When a competent corporation prepares a new product, it does market research. George Lucas did precisely that. When he says that the film was written for toys (“I love them, I’m really into that”), he also means he had merchandising in mind, all the sideshow goods that go with a really successful film. He thought of T-shirts and transfers, records, models, kits, and dolls. His enthusiasm for the comic strips was real and unforced; he had a gallery selling comic-book art in New York.

From the start, Lucas was determined to control the selling of the film, and of its by-products. “Normally you just sign a standard contract with a studio,” he says, “but we wanted merchandising, sequels, all those things. I didn’t ask for another $1 million-just the merchandising rights. And Fox thought that was a fair trade.” Lucasfilm Ltd.,. the production company George Lucas set up in July 1971, “already had a merchandising department as big as Twentieth Century-Fox has. And it was better. When I was doing the film deal, I had already hired the guy to handle that stuff.”

Lucas could argue, with reason, that he was protecting his own investment of two years’ research and writing as well as his share of the $300,000 from Graffiti which he and Kurtz used as seed money for developing Star Wars. “We found Fox were giving away merchandising rights, just for the publicity,” he says. “They gave away tie-in promotions with a big fast-food chain. They were actually paying these people to do this big campaign for them. We told them that was insane. We pushed and we pushed and we got a lot of good deals made.” When the film appeared, the numbers became otherworldly: $100,000 worth of Tshirts sold in a month; $260,000 worth of intergalactic bubble gum; a $3 million advertising budget for presweetened Star Wars breakfast cereals. That was before the sales of black digital watches and citizens’ band radio sets and personal jet sets. (Source.)

6. Star Wars vs The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The connection between these two films is the character of Han Solo who, of all the characters in Star Wars, would be most at ease alongside the good, bad and ugly characters of Leone’s film. He’s a mercenary with mercenary attitudes, just like Eastwood and the gang. That is, until he miraculously sees the light. There’s plenty of war to go around in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but those characters are under no illusions about its being a good war.

7. Star Wars feeds off of and reinforces the myth of the Good War. It doesn’t do so intelligently, that is, it doesn’t present arguments for such a view. It merely assumes it. Despite the Sixties and early Seventies being seen as a cynical age, the fact is that the main American myths were never in danger of being pushed aside. The majority never doubted that World War II was won by angels against devils. A simple case of black vs white. And Star Wars does nothing to question those beliefs. In fact, it plays on those beliefs as if they are a religion.

8. Darth Vader is nothing but a hired gun. If he’s such a badass, why does he have to work for someone else?

9. Star Wars is bathroom break-friendly. No matter what point of the film you leave to take a pee, when you return to the film the answer to your question, What’s going on now?, will be the same: They’re trying to blow up the Death Star? What are they up to now? Still trying to blow it up. Have they blown up that Death Star, yet? Not yet. So they finally blow it up, and that’s it, until the Empire builds another, and they have to blow that one up, too. Who’s the destructive ones here anyway? It’s funny how weak the sequence is in which the unfortunate planet that plays the role of demonstrating the awesomeness of the Death Star is blown up, compared with the destruction of the Death Star, that is, the awesomeness of blowing something up without any moral qualms at all.

10. Death triumphs, no matter which side “wins.” The film concludes with smiles all around. What great satisfaction it is to kill. As Chaplin says at the end of Monsieur Verdoux, kill one, and you’re a villain; but kill a million and you are a hero.

11. Much of it plays like a video game. But it’s actually worse than that. It plays like a video game that is being played by someone else and all you get to do is watch him play. Despite being released before the heydey of the video game, even before 1977 there had already been several video games with space themes. One of them was Spacewar!, which was written way back in 1961. It was a two player game in which spaceships battle each other while avoiding the gravity pull of a nearby star. It even had a hyperspace feature which could be used as a last ditch attempt to avoid enemy missiles. There were several arcade versions of Spacewar! released in the Seventies including one called Space Wars which was released the same year as Star Wars. How much do you want to bet that Lucas was an early fan of these games?

12. Today Star Wars is considered the ideal template for Hollywood movie scripts. If you write a script that’s even remotely similar to an adventure or science fiction or fantasy genre film, you will be judged against Star Wars by your script’s readers. This wasn’t always the case, as this passage by Michael Pye and Lynda Miles from 1999 demonstrates:

But he does not tell a story. This is the basic failing of the film. It lacks true narrative drive and force. It is a void, into which any mystic idea can be projected; entertainment, brilliantly confected, which is quite hollow. Its only idea is individualism-that a man must take responsibility for others, even at great personal cost and peril. Its idea is, in classic form, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”

The iconography is bizarre. Darth Vader, the dastardly villain, is black. That is commón in science fiction. In the supposedly liberal Planet of the Apes series, the wicked and stupid gorillas are the military, and they are black. The honey-colored chimpanzees are the wise, good scientists. The closer to the color of a California WASP, the better the character: it is a fair rule of thumb. But Darth Vader’s forces are storm troopers armored in white. The wicked Grand Moff Tarkin lives in a gray-green world, with gray-green uniforms; he is clearly a wicked Nazi. Yet when our heroes take their just reward at the very end, there are images which parallel the finest documentary of Nazism, Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. “I can see,” Kurtz says, “why people think that. I suppose it is like the moment when Hitler crosses the podium to lay the wreath.” Critical confusion is not surprising when there are allusions to Nazism as both good and bad. French leftist critics thought the film was fascist; Italian rightists thought it was clearly communistic.

Nor is the vague, pantheistic deism of the film coherent. Star Wars talks much of The Force, a field of energy that permeates the universe and can be used for both good and evil. It is passed on with a sword, just as the sword Excalibur is passed on in the Arthurian romance; the influence of chivalric stories is strong. But when The Force is used by Luke Skywalker to help him destroy the monstrous Death Star, he is urged only to relax, to obey his instincts, to close his eyes and fight by feeling. The Force amounts to building a theology out of staying cool.

Star Wars has been taken with ominous seriousness. It should not be. The single strongest impression it leaves is of another great American tradition which involves lights, bells, obstacles, menace, action, technology, and thrills. It is pinball-on a cosmic scale.

13. Even Lucas agreed Star Wars sucks:

Ned Tannen says, “The fact that Star Wars is the biggest hit ever made and that he doesn’t think it is very good—that’s what fascinates me about George.” (Source.)

Now I should do (and definitely could do) a list of reasons why Star Wars doesn’t suck, but I’m tired and I’m sure you can do that list better than me.

(This post was written in November 2012, but not published until February 2017.)

Written by pronountrouble2

February 10, 2017 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Elle: the Poster

 

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My wife won this Elle poster in November. Then we heard nothing. We almost gave up hope, but then it suddenly arrived via Fedex yesterday. As it turned out, it was very timely because Isabelle Huppert was nominated early this morning for Best Actress by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Even though the Academy was wrong to overlook Elle in the Best Foreign Film category (time, once again, will prove them wrong), the actors’ division got it right. As far as I’m concerned, it’s no contest. However, for me, this poster (which by the way is signed by both Isabelle Huppert and Paul Verhoeven, and adorned by an “I Love Huppert” button which my wife and I received at the AFI Festival Elle event last November) doesn’t just represent a prize won. Now proudly displayed on the only bare wall in our apartment, it’s a symbol of a personal year of lows and highs, a year that could easily have been my last, but, as far as moviegoing goes, thanks to filmmakers such as Huppert and Verhoeven, turned out to be a year that gave my wife and I some memories that we will always cherish.

By the way, Elle is not a revenge fantasy. If you want a revenge fantasy, try Moonlight.

Also: thank you Sony Pictures Classics and The Playlist.

Written by pronountrouble2

January 24, 2017 at 11:11 am

Posted in Films

Tagged with , ,