AN EMPIRE OF ONE

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

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.)
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Written by David Kilmer

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.

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Written by David Kilmer

March 7, 2017 at 3:47 pm

Posted in Films, Rewrites

The Belko Experiment

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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.

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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.

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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:

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Written by David Kilmer

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 David Kilmer

March 3, 2017 at 1:02 pm

Posted in Films

Tagged with , ,

Review: The Last Word

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  • 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 David Kilmer

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 David Kilmer

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 David Kilmer

January 24, 2017 at 11:11 am

Posted in Films

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