Monday, July 24, 2017

god, i'm so tired

Time for some Christ-Figuring.

(If you're new, check Days 93 and 94) regarding Phil Connors or the inaugural Kozlovic-Black Scale--when I Christ-Figured Rambo. You're welcome.)

Now, I can barely imagine Tommy Wiseau being clever enough to deliberately make Johnny a Christ-Figure, but so much of it is deliberate that it had to at least be a subconscious thing... Or rather, sacrificial characters, betrayed within their circle of friends is such a trope that it's the sheer amount of fitting details that separate our the wheat from the chaff, as it were. As I've said before, the scale is scored out of 25 but there are more than 25 items on the list. It's a thing.

1 tangible This is always the easy one. (1/1)

2 central Tommy Wiseau makes himself (or rather, his character) central to everything he makes, so yeah. (2/2) In fact , Johnny is so central here, and his and Lisa's apartment such the hub of activity for their circle of friends, he fails to get the point for 3 outsider (2/3)

Johnny is not 4 divinely sourced, nor is there reason to think he had a 4.5 miraculous birth. However, supposedly, there were plans in earlier versions of what would become The Room in which Johnny had a flying car and would turn out to be a vampire. Alas, we're scoring this version of the film, not that one. He also has no 5 alter ego nor is there a clear divide in his character about being special while seeming normal (6 special/normal). If only he were a vampire. (2/6)

For the record, the actual number for 7 twelve associates is not the point. Having a clear set of friends or followers, each with distinct personalities (or distinct lack of personalities here), is what matters. Denny, Peter, Steven, Mike, Mark, even Claudette, Michelle, and Lisa--I'm giving him this one. (3/7)

I am actually not going to look up how old Tommy Wiseau was in this movie, and will not give him the point for 8 holy age, because that man seems to be both young and old at the same time, both fit and haggard. (3/8)

(Note to self: this Kozlovic-Black Scale needs to be reordered a bit to make more sense. Having the age one in between the associates and the specific people who might be part of those associates is odd. Of course, that order came from Kozlovic, not from me.)

These should be easy:


9 judas figure - Mark. He even kisses Johnny's forehead after Johnny shoots himself. (4/9)
10 mary magdalene-figure - Lisa (5/10)
10.5 virgin mary-figure - Claudette, or maybe even Mike (6/10)
11 john the baptist-figure - Denny (7/11)

(But, Johnny is really the john the baptist figure here for everyone else, with his need to say hi, hey, or hello to everyone.)

12 death and resurrection Not quite. (7/12)

13 triumphalism Hard to get without at least a metaphorical resurrection. This is a tragedy, not a triumph. (7/13)

His urge to adopt Denny (and paying for Denny's tuition and apartment), and his and Lisa's apartment being Grand Central Station for all their friends makes the 14 service to lessers point easy. But, it's hard to argue for 15 willing sacrifice; unless we're feeling generous and the bank "using" him without giving him the promotion he deserves counts... Which it totally does. I mean, we're supposed to see Johnny as this put upon man, him against the world, and all he's got going for him is Lisa (and all his friends, but still). (9/15)

This next two items are on the scale so that deliberate metaphorical Christ-Figures like, say, Gibson Rickebacker in Cyborg, and obvious, rather literal Christ-Figures like Jericho Cane in End of Days, get a boost of points. More down-to-earth characters like Johnny don't do so well. No points for 15.25 torture, even if Lisa is tearing him apart, but the way Lisa’s red dress foreshadows the blood as Johnny lies on the floor at the end of the film... 15.5 stigmata. (10/15)

Here, the scale goes deep. Per Larsen (2013), 15.75 atonement is vital for the Christ-Figure. Larsen actually argues that a movie character cannot get this point (well, he would, if he knew about taking his piece and adding to the scale because of it, anyway). But, take the film as it is. Or, come back to Cyborg, for example. Gibson is traipsing around the post-apocalyptic landscape to get the cyborg with the cure to a plague to a bunch of scientists. This level of import matters. Taking The Room as the sexist and tragic male melodrama it is, Johnny is sacrificed because of the confusion that all women cause. It's a bullshit argument in reality, but the film seems to believe in it. Johnny, Mark, Peter, Steven, Claudette, even Michelle--they all question Lisa's actions and motives. The film comes down squarely against Lisa (even as one could position Lisa as a feminist role model of a sort). Johnny is paying the price for centuries of society-built norms that force women like Lisa into corners they don't want to be in, which in turn positions Mark and Johnny into their competing corners (and Denny into his creepy little corner as well). Johnny is sacrificed an atoning for the sins of all men and women, for everyone who has every been in a romantic, or just sexual, relationship. (11/15)

(Actually, I should come up with a value number for items on this scale, as well. Atonement should be worth more than just one point.)

16 innocence This is a major plot point. Lisa gets Johnny drunk some she can lie about him hitting her. His famous line--"I did not hit her. This is bullshit. I did not hit her. I did not"--is him protesting against her accusal. And we know he is innocent. (12/16)


17 cruciform pose (13/17)

18 cross associations Roses and spoons, or footballs, maybe. But, no, not crosses. (13/18)

19 miracles and signs While the film makes no point of celebrating the miraculous, Johnny's ability to manifest a tape recorder out of thin air, to magically have a cassette tape in his shirt pocket just when he needs one, and to rather impressively hook that recorder to the phone with the ease of a master spy, is miraculous. (14/19)

20 simplicity "Do you understand life? Do you?" Johnny is clearly very simple in the head. Yet, he has his profound moments, like when he talks to Denny about love. (15/20)

21 poverty Again, the bank won't give him that promotion. He never seems to buy anything for himself, only for Lisa. And Denny. And maybe Claudette’s friend. (16/21)

22 jesus garb While Johnny is defined by his clothes--his loose suits and unbuttoned top buttons--there is nothing of the plainness of Jesus in his garb... Actually, no, that isn't true either. If Jesus were alive today, and favored black over his usual beige and cream, Johnny's loose suits would be perfect. (17/22)

23 blue eyes Despite his greasy black hair, Tommy Wiseau seems to have blue eyes. And, the length of his hair, the simple hairstyle--imagine his hair a light brown and it's very Jesus-like. (18/23)

24 holy exclamations This one hinges on coincidence of timing and audience. Mark, speaking only to Johnny says, "God, I'm so tired of girls' games." (19/24) 25. j.c. initials His name is Johnny. (20/25)

So, Johnny is not the best of Christ-Figures based on the scale, but he is good. And, he hits so many of the most important items. The circle of associates, cruciform pose, innocence in the face of accusation, atonement... And he dies for Lisa's sins, for Mark's sins, for all of our sins. As long as men and women keep getting together and breaking up again, as long as there are midnight screenings of The Room, Johnny will keep dying for us all. We owe him a great debt.

SOURCES

Kozlovic, A. K. (2004). The Structural Characteristics of the Cinematic Christ-figure. Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, 8. Retrieved from https://dspace.flinders.edu.au/jspui/bitstream/2328/14295/1/2004054629.pdf

Kozlovic, A.K. (2009). How to create a Hollywood Christ-figure: Sacred storytelling as applied theology. Australian eJournal of Theology, 13:1, pp. 1-16. Retrieved from http://aejt.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/158538/Kozlovik_Film.pdf

Larsen, J. (2013, June 18). Man of Steel and the tiredness of Christ figures. think Christian: no such thing as secular. Retrieved from http://thinkchristian.reframemedia.com/man-of-steel-and-the-tiredness-of-christ-figures

Sunday, July 23, 2017

women change their minds all the time

Honestly, though, we need more people to just go ahead and make movies regardless of how good they are. I mean, sure, movies with scripts that are good are better, and movies with budgets for sets with doors that stayed closed when you close them. are better, and movies that can actually afford to film on real rooftops are better. But, The Room is entertaining, is amusing, and is strangely captivating.

Some bad movies are boring, or offensively bad. This one just works. It certainly doesn't work, you know, well. But, it's dealing with serious topics. Love, loyalty, the patriarchy, suicide. Plus, Johnny has the best take on life: "You can love someone deep inside your heart, and there is nothing wrong with it.. If a lot of people loved each other, the world would be a better place to live." I've been avoiding turning to politics this month, but if you want to solve the problems of partisan politics, you just gotta listen to Johnny...

(There's also Peter's sage advice about life, part 1: "Sometimes, life gets complicated. The unexpected can happen. When it does, you just gotta deal with it." And the more important, and far more universal part 2: "Sometimes, life can get complicated, and you've got to be responsible. So you don't see Lisa again, and you definitely don't sleep with her again." That's just good advice right there. No one should sleep with Lisa. Or Johnny. Or Mark. Or Mike. Or any of the characters in this movie, really. They're all just such awful people.)

Or have people over for a screening of The Room and have a good time ridiculing it. That could bring people closer together.


You could, for example, have a serious discussion about feminism and how men and women relate to one another. Like, for example, Mike's story about his underwear issues--if you're just watching the movie and not really putting in the effort to explore its themes in your mind, you might wonder what the point of that scene is? Why is Mike so embarrassed about his underwear that he calls it a tragedy that Claudette not only handled his underwear but showed it to everyone? Why, as the conversation progresses and Mark hears about the underwear does Mark suddenly erupt in violence, slamming the football into Mike's gut so hard that he falls over? Is it just supposed to be funny? No. This is about men and women. Mike has obvious self esteem problems. He overexaggerates his facial expressions in some pathetic attempt to amuse Michelle and keep her interested, but later he just has to announce that he has to go meet Michelle to make out with her--this after telling the underwear story to Johnny, because he needs that validation, he needs them to acknowledge his relationship because he's not a man if he doesn't have a woman. (The film's perspective, not mine.) And, his underwear being handled by an old woman like Claudette, not only old but dying from breast cancer--that challenges his masculinity and his place among these other men. Mark, of course has to act out and put Mike in his place because of this.

Then there's the conversation between Johnny and Peter and Mark about women just a few minutes later. Or another one with just Peter up on the roof a few minutes after that. And a few minutes after that, and so on. This isn't just a simple movie about infidelity, it is an exploration of why infidelity happens, and an indictment of women's role in that. Which, yeah, makes it sexist as fuck. But, hey, it's a film with a point of view, and that's important.

Or maybe it's just a film about a bunch of men with that perspective. I mean, in the end, Johnny dies, perhaps, not because Lisa and Mark betrayed him but because the norms about gender relations put upon Johnny (and us) by society set him up for ideals and expectations that are not always possible. Johnny buys Lisa dresses and flowers, but that doesn't grant him ownership of her. His expectation that their seven years together privileges him to her whenever he wants her is what backfires. Lisa's urges and Mark's urges--those are more natural, more primal. Meanwhile, Claudette keeps telling Lisa she needs to stick with Johnny for financial security, which adds a capitalist angle to the heteronormative gender relations angle. And, coming back to politics, of course the patriarchy and capitalism are going to get twisted up with each other. Both dictate that certain people are on top, others are on the bottom, certain people get to have expectations and others have to service those expectations. In the face of that, Lisa is an inspiration. And, unlike Wonder Woman she doesn't have to resort to violence to make her point. She instead turns to love... Yes, Diana also turns to love, but only after killing a bunch of people. Lisa kills no one. She spreads love, sometimes right in front of partygoers. She is not responsible for Johnny. She's through with that. She's changing. She has the right, doesn't she? People are changing all the time. She has to think about her future. What's it to you?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

i'm just doing what i want to do

I've written before about The Room--Days 609 610 611--but I wanted the movie version of comfort food tonight. I considered a bad horror film, but the one I picked just happens to be about the only movie unavailable on my various means of watching movies.

Anyway, The Room starts out nicely enough, establishing shots of San Francisco (bought on the cheap, I'm sure) and it feels like a good indie drama. But then Tommy Wiseau has to get the first line of dialogue--"Hi, babe"--and the bad acting gets going. Then, the various "actors" compete to see who can be the worst.

And, something I always liked when I was watching Groundhog Day day after day was when a new detail would jump out. Tonight, watching The Room, I got stuck on a line from the song during the first sex scene, you know the one that comes in the first five minutes of the film when we've barely had any way to get to know these characters and certainly have no reason to care about them or their lengthy sex scene. The line: "I will stand in the way of a bowler." Because that is the most dangerous thing you can do for love.


And, it's not like the movies doesn't deal in a few brilliant bits of symbolism. Tommy's obvious rose fetish in bed, but then Kitra Williams' song comes on during Lisa's sex scene with Mark, with the classic line, "You are my rose." Denny eating an apple--universal symbol of temptation--before he jumps into bed with Johnny and Lisa. And, then there's the pizza Lisa orders--two different sets of toppings because she and Johnny are drifting apart (well, she has already made it clear that she doesn't love him anymore, anyway); they eat separately. And, how about the football that the guys throw around? If that isn't a clear symbol of modern American masculinity--which here is being challenged by intermale conflict, by manipulative women... This movie is basically a really poorly done male melodrama.

As Peter tells Johnny: "Sometimes, life gets complicated. The unexpected can happen. When it does, you just gotta deal with it." And later: "People are people. Sometimes they just can't see their own faults." The movie tries so hard to be about something. Either the guy's side: women are manipulative and masculinity is under attack. Or Lisa's take: you have to do what makes you happy, live your life how you want to live it.

Friday, July 21, 2017

what makes me who i am

1. I saw Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets today, and while it had some awesome visuals, the overall plot was fairly standard fantasy fare. Entertaining, sure. But, nowhere as original or as memorable as, say, The Fifth Element.

2. While I have ended my obsessive, extended time with Sing Street, I don't plan to return to the dystopian films to finish out the month. Instead, I think I'm just going to go with whatever comes up. My summer classes are over and I've got time.


3. Despite that image. I'm not sure I want to write about Valerian, really. In fact, the links to Rogue One yesterday got me to thinking more generally about films. Like, what do I want from them> What do I expect from them? Why do I embrace them such that I could, in Fever Pitch-style, outline my life according to the movies I saw at certain times--Cliffhanger on our senior trip to Maui; Say Anything (not the first time I'd seen it) in a motel in Los Angeles with my then-future now-ex wife; walking home from seeing Cocktail and getting picked up in my family's new car, purchased while I was out; watching The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising with my D&D friends late at night after a game night; watching Born Yesterday after trying to sneak into Indecent Proposal as a teenager; going out with a high school group of friends that would exist just for that one night in a weird, almost teen-movie-ready fluke to see Sleepwalkers and only getting in because one of the girls in the group lied about her age and flirted with the ticket booth guy; leaving the Sunday Los Angeles Times movie page, open to the full-page ad for Project X on the floor in front of my dad while he watched tv to subtly hint that I wanted to see a movie that particular Sunday (and, we did go); seeing Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers in the afternoon, opening weekend, having some Chicken Littles at Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner, then seeing Halloween 4 again that night because my sister wasn't able to come earlier...

And the specifics here might not even be fully accurate, but what matters is that this is how I remember things. And I actually wish that I'd seen more movies with friends, growing up, now. Lately, I've seen a few with my D&D friend Jared. In high school, I saw a couple movies with my nerdy friend Alain (like Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country after a half day of school and a trip to the ice skating rink). But, mostly I have seen movies with various sisters of mine. The youngest two--Bobbie and Brooke--we've probably seen the most together, including a lot of bad horror films rented from Now Playing, a video store that was just a few blocks from the house we moved into when I was 17. As a teen, I also spent nights at my sister Stacey's house or my sister Susan's house, watching whatever looked interesting at the rental store. (It wasn't my rental store, so I don't remember the name.) And, I saw a lot with my mother as a kid, including a lot of movies at the local second-run theater The Academy and a lot of tapes rented from the Wherehouse. In my late 20s and 30s, i.e. when I was married, it would be a few movies here and there with my wife, more as she got more interested in movies, and a lot of rentals from Blockbuster, then Netflix, when it was all discs by mail. And, now, between Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime, not to mention HBO, Starz and Showtime, I can find pretty much any movie the day I want to watch it. Or, I'll go to the theater, at least once a week. Thousands of films, many more thousands of hours, spent in the dark, watching a screen, watching someone else's story...

Sometimes, I'll admit, it's because my own story is just not as interesting or exciting. But, it's not just that. I'm not one to list escapism as the primary reason I watch movies. I think it's not that other stories are more interesting or exciting, but that they are more clear, perhaps. Like, just by dint of being contained within their cinematic confines, a set runtime, with opening and closing credits, it's simpler, easier to follow, easier to invest energy into. In real life, I've always had a hard time planning too far ahead. (I've explained before how my religious upbringing at the end of the Cold War fucked with my impulse to plan.) In movies, I can see where it's going, I can see how the plot will be resolved, and then it is resolved, and that's so much...

Better isn't the right word. But, picture it: I watch a romantic comedy, girl meets guy, they get to know one another after some meet-cute, some arbitrary hinderance gets in the way, they overcome it, and end up happily together; meanwhile, in reality, I'm like a timid teenager still, most of the time, hesitant to act on an attraction, afraid of being rejected, afraid of not being rejected, girl meets another guy, or another girl, and they end up happily together.

Picture it: I watch a movie about some inspirational teacher--Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, perhaps, or my favorite, Dead Poets Society--that teacher has a hard time at first, some arbitrary hinderance gets in the way of connecting with the students, then suddenly the students get it, the teacher gets them, and they pass that big exam or make bold life decisions, the music rises, the action crescendos, and the credits roll; meanwhile, in reality, I teach a lot of college freshman, taking a course they are required to take and don't really want to take, and I want it to be something important, like I want to teach them public speaking skills because I want them to be able to express their identities and put their big ideas out into the world, and I want my Mr. Holland's Opus moment where all the old students come back for an emotional reunion, or I want my students to step onto their desks and call out, "Oh Captain, My Captain" but really they barely do the work, manage some basic speeches on some generic topics and most of them are forgotten by me almost as quickly as they forget me.

Picture it: I watch a nice family holiday movie like Home for the Holidays or Christmas Vacation and there are squabbles, maybe even serious fights, maybe some hilarious antics, but a lesson is learned and all (or most) is well in the end; in reality, though, my family's holiday gatherings tend to be boring, at least until an interesting board game comes out, except for maybe once when one drunk sister got into an argument with... Oddly enough, our mother who was already asleep at the time; it was a very one-sided sort of argument. Christmas gatherings (never a thing growing up with my family, but a thing in recent years) offer up opportunity for karaoke, but I can do that elsewhere, when friends are up for it. Or I can watch a crappy pseudo-karaoke film like last year's Sing!... Actually, that is an awful plan. Though a good musical film is a nice option.

 

 

 

 

 

Last year, one of the things I considered when ending this blog--if you're confused because this blog clearly still exists, get over it--was a podcast or YouTube thing with me and someone else discussing movies after watching them. Never found someone to do that with, so I did YouTube reviews myself for a few months. Then, just as I was actually getting better at editing those things quickly, I was getting frustrated with the lack of views. (And, now a couple friends of mine are doing a podcast talking about movies; go figure.) When I took a Media Theory class in grad school, the teacher, ostensibly a film and television teacher not a communication studies teacher, was shocked when I told him I wrote over a thousand words a day about movies. "Do you want to be a film critic?" he asked. Best I could say in response was that I wouldn't mind it, but I also wouldn't know how to get into that. If I could make a living watching movies, I would probably jump at the chance. Or, I'd hesitate just long enough to miss my chance, because that's what I do.

But seriously, I don't imagine giving up movies. When I hear people talk about the handful of movies they saw this year, I can barely fathom it. Like, why would you just exist in your own life all the time like that? Or is your life that exciting? (For the record, though, if all of my classes were as full of eager students like the Upward Bound classes I taught this summer, teaching might feel as exciting in practice as it does in my imagination.)

For now, I need my movies. I need my television. I need my boardgame and RPG time. And, more so lately than maybe ever before, I need my friend time. And, my kid time, of course. When any of these things overlap, that is just a magnificent bonus.

all we did is survive

My friend Shari mentioned that one of her problems with Rogue One was that lack of character arcs. And, then I went out to see Dunkirk. And, while I'm all for characters getting arcs and getting their own little stories--and I think I've made the point more than a few times in this blog that I can appreciate the arcs of characters beyond what the finite limits of a particular film allow--but sometimes, 1) I think that a certain kind of story doesn't necessarily need characters to really change as such and 2) you really shouldn't look to Star Wars movies for serious character arcs, anyway. (Sure, characters have their plot arcs, but their changes are shallow, more plot-driven than personality-driven.)


And, Dunkirk makes fantastic use of its actors, and offers up characters that are easy to follow, relatively easy to care about, and situations that are both simple enough to follow and surprisingly complicated at times, with sequences cut together out of order just as the story gets more complex, more difficult for the characters...

I should explain that.

Let me backtrack.

Nolan's latest starts with a bit of the stuff that I'm starting to get tired of in film--a bit of text to describe the setting, because the general audience is apparently made of idiots. Except, Nolan actually plays with the text a little, by intercutting four lines of text, one at a time, with the opening action, and the last couple lines are something like "waiting for deliverance" cut to action "waiting for a miracle" and it's clear before we've even really seen the horror of all of these soldiers stuck on the beach that this isn't going to go well. (My primary complaint with Dunkirk, actually, is that the film doesn't follow enough characters who don't survive... And I guess that's a minor SPOILER. Oops.)

So then, we get a few subtitles early on, setting up three interconnected and eventually overlapping stories: "1. The Mole | one week" "1. The Sea | one day" and "3. The Air | one hour." Essentially, each of these stories takes as long as it says, and they all end at about the same time... Well, the "sea" story extends past the others (and past its "hour") but the times all connect together just before the end of the film. Nolan's choice to overlay these differently paced stories on top of one another as if they are concurrent (when anyone paying attention will figure out fairly early that they are not) creates a strange sort of beast. A few times, we see scenes we've already seen, but from a different perspective. Other times, we see characters--notably Cillian Murphy's "Shivering Soldier" (so many of the characters go unnamed, which adds to the effect I'm about to describe)--already changed (but not in a character arc sort of way) by events we have not seen yet... Actually, another minor SPOILER, Murphy is tangentially connected earlier to the "one week" story, but we never actually see what happens to him to get him to the "one day" story; we just know it was bad, the ship he was on went down and he was the only survivor. We see well ahead of time (in the "one hour" story) what will happen with the young men fleeing the beach in an abandoned boat in the "one week" story, but it doesn't ruin the story, because this story is not built on the cohesiveness of its time, nor the specificity of its characters. It is built on something more like the idea of the chaos (including the chaos of time and the experience of it) surrounding these events, which are a series of repetitive attempts to leave Dunkirk and attacks stopping those attempts. Young men fleeing a war their losing make it onto ships, then those ships go down, and those young men have to find a new way to leave. It's simple. And so is its repetition, and the cycling of these three layers over each other adds to both the simplicity of understanding and complexity of presentation of the action.

And, I hope that made sense.

Nolan explained it to Premiere like this:

For the soldiers embarked in the conflict, the events took place on different temporalities. On land, some stayed one week stuck on the beach. On the water, the events lasted a maximum day; and if you were flying to Dunkirk, the British spitfires would carry an hour of fuel.

To mingle these different versions of history, one had to mix the temporal strata. Hence the complicated structure; even if the story, one again, is very simple.

Coming back to the top, though, Dunkirk doesn't need characters to change through the action. These are human beings afraid for their lives, or setting out to defend others (afraid or not). There is no act one setup to establish characters before the action gets going. Tom Hardy's Farrier, a fighter pilot in the "one hour" story, starts the story setting out to protect other soldiers and continues to do just that. There are plot arcs but his character doesn't change. Even--bigger SPOILER, but slightly vague--the very end of his part of the story doesn't really represent a change, because we had no reason not to expect that he might sacrifice himself in such a way. Mark Rylance's Mr. Dawson sets out to rescue men from Dunkirk and does that. We get to know him a little better as the action goes on, but that is not the same thing as a character arc. Fionn Whitehead's Tommy and Aneurin Barnard's Gibson start the film wanting to flee and spend the film trying, again and again, to do so. These are soldiers. Or good men (and women, though we barely see them) going to help soldiers. There doesn't need to be scripted depth. There doesn't need to be arbitrary arcs put upon them separate from the action. I had a thought, perhaps unfair, after the film. Pearl Harbor is what happens to a story like this when you put arbitrary character arcs onto it. You get cheap romance, shallow interpersonal conflict, and the historical action--arguably the point to making the movie in the first place--gets shunted to the side...

That being said, playing soldiers and the like too simply results in crap like the ending of Behind Enemy Lines where Owen Wilson randomly decides he really likes being in the Navy because reasons. Kenneth Branagh's Commander Bolton, for example, sticks around at Dunkirk in the end (not much of a SPOILER) to help the French troops leave, which is nice, but somewhat arbitrary as we've spent no time getting to know Bolton, and this action is not a surprise, or something out of character. It's just good soldier is good solider, too simple. And, could actually use a little more depth to the decision (or maybe Bolton is based on a real guy and that choice was a big deal in history; I don't know enough about the history here to be sure.)

As I said, I love a good character arc. I love a film that takes its time and let's characters grow and change. And, while I liked Rogue One, it was definitely a flawed film. I imagine a longer version, in which we really get to know Jyn and understand why she was a criminal, why it makes sense to turn from criminal to rebel (separate from the obviousness of the plot point of seeing her father killed), get to know Cassian and see how this guy who murders a guy in his first scene (and, like Han Solo, who kinda did the same so many years before, there is little reason for him to be a better man later; it just happens), get to know Chirrut and Baze and appreciate their relationship even more, see why their sacrifice makes sense... I'm reminded of Glory, a very different, historical film, but one that also ends with (SPOILER for a two decades' old movie, and for history) the characters all dying, but there has been more character-driven buildup, we've gotten to know Shaw and Trip and Forbes and Rawlins and we've come to care about them... Then again, that's a problem generally with newer films compared to older ones--storytelling has changed, simplified, because so many of the beats have been hit so many times in so many films that we don't need to linger on them anymore. But imagine a version of Rogue One that does linger on its beats, that spends time with the main characters on that ship, having just seen Jedha City destroyed, and they actually have to deal with that fact, deal with what it means, and let the gravity of it sink in. But even that is not a new problem. Alec Guinness had some gravitas to him, to be sure, but Alderaan is destroyed and all we get is one old man having to sit down? Old men sit down all the time. Where is the meditation on the horrific reality of an entire planet being destroyed, millions of lives being snuffed out? Similarly, in The Force Awakens, multiple planets (or moons or whatever; don't go to Star Wars for science that makes sense) are destroyed and they might as well just be a handful of deaths. Or one. The film has no time to really consider the impact of most, if not all, of its horrors.

Dunkirk, on the other hand, by keeping most of its characters nameless, or nearly nameless, universalizes the various attacks to create a very repetitive horror in vivid detail. Not much gore, but plenty of explosions and men drowning. And, the sound design--some of the scenes are hard to watch, and rightly so, because of the way gunshots and explosions and the creaking of metal tears through the silence. (And some sequences go virtually without dialogue, so there is a lot of silence as well.)

 

 

 

 

 

And now, I kinda want to watch The Lord of the Rings again, all half a day of it, or however long it takes to watch all those extended versions. Because, there's a fantasy film that (because it's a trilogy) takes its time, lets its characters live a little, and also pauses from time to time to linger on the horror of what's going on.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

i often wonder what she's thinking about

It's in one of those melancholic scenes I was talking about yesterday that Brendan says today's title. He and Conor are sitting on the stairs watching their mother out on the porch. Seems she rushes home from work every day to sit in the sun and read her papers, and she has a drink. Then the sun goes behind a nearby tall tree and she goes inside. Brendan says she wants to vacation in Spain but their father won't take her. And, he wonders what she thinks about.

Earlier in the film, Conor spelled out a similar notion, except it's not about the wondering, it's about imagining, deciding for the version of another person inside your head. He tells Eamon,

When you don't know someone, they're more interesting. They can be anything you want them to be. But, when you know them, there's limits to them.

Eamon says that doesn't make sense, and in some handwritten notes I scribbled sometime last week, I said of Eamon's response, "Clearly, he's never fallen for someone." He's got his rabbits and he seems to easily attach himself to Conor, but seriously, for someone capable of such creativity, he is lacking in imagination. I mean, that's just basic stuff about other people. You never know everything in their heads, especially if they're strangers or just acquaintances, or someone new that you wish was something more--you have to imagine what might fill in the gaps in what you can see. If you're lucky, or if you're particularly clever, you'll turn out to be right about what makes the person who they are...

Darren, for example, seems to know a lot about Raphina considering he tells Conor that she never talks to anyone. Has he imagined it? Has he talked to her before? Did she reject him? When Conor tells her that kid behind him is his producer, is that a look of recognition on her face because she's met him before?


The same works 1) for movies, for characters in movies, and 2) in real life.

A movie can't tell us everything about a character. It gives us what we need in order to understand the character's role in the story, and maybe it throws in a little extra--again, like Eamon and his rabbits, or Penny sitting in the sun with her papers--but so much of their internal lives is left for us to imagine... or, unfortunately, for a lot of us to not even seek because we just aren't that interested. But, I'm interested. I imagine what characters are doing when they're not on screen. I imagine what characters were doing before we meet them at the start of the film or what they're doing after the credits roll.

Maybe that's weird. But, who hasn't fallen in love with the love interest in a movie? Or wished for the same weird best friend as the protagonist?

Like in real life, too. You know that scene in so many movies, the new couple is together on the train or in the park or some place public, and it's like they don't want to get to know each other directly just yet--too nervous--so they imagine together what nearby people are doing, who these strangers around them are. I do that. And, I've described before how I play out whole conversations before they happen sometimes. I wonder what people are thinking, what they're doing, when they're not around me. Family members, friends, with lives of their own. Of course. I mean, of course they've got lives of their own. But, I guess I'm jealous sometimes. Inappropriately, maybe. But, I am.

Jealous of people in movies, too. Like Conor and his friends putting their band together, I would have loved to do something like that when I was that age.

People in movies, they have clearly defined goals most of the time. Clearly defined motives and obvious signs as to when they've made it. Guy gets the girl. Girls gets the guy. Guy gets his dream job. Girl gets a promotion. Or saves the world. So many levels to it, but so clear. Life is not nearly often enough so clear. Even if you know what you want, you don't always know how to get it. Or maybe it's just impossible. In a movie, there's some way around the impossible. A way to get the guy, get the job, win the fight, whatever. Anything is possible.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

you're not happy being sad

Sing Street--and, I think I'm about done with this film, I swear--begins with Conor playing guitar and making up lyrics on the spot, mostly basing them on the phrases he can hear his parents Robert and Penny yelling from downstairs. Then you get a news report about poor folks from Ireland migrating to England to look for something better. Then, Robert and Penny gather their three kids together to announce that they're having money troubles and Conor has to transfer schools. He was going to a Jesuit school but now he's headed to the Christian Brothers (Catholic) school, Synge Street. In passing, we also learn that Brendan has dropped out of college. In the first three minutes, we know so much about what's to come. It's a great example of how to set up the status quo quickly. Conor is a musician. His parents' marriage is coming apart. Brendan is a slacker. And, Conor is headed to a new school. The plot is in motion.

That opening bit with the singing and parents yelling, specifically, though--that one is brilliant because it sets up story beats and sets a mood. Sing Street is a decidedly optimistic film, but it is built on a melancholic foundation. I think this is why I like it so much; I can relate. I'm optimistic, or I try to be; but I am also so very often a cynic and a pessimist. And melancholy is certainly one of my settings.

(Like if you were all watching my version of Inside Out, there wouldn't just be Sadness but also Melancholy, and they would team up sometimes (like last night while I was writing this blog. But there's also Joy, or at least some version of Happiness. And, I think I've got a Dreamer in there. And, my Anger probably sits around in the control room thinking about current politics and the state of the dishes in the kitchen sink...

And, that was an odd tangent.)

Thirteen minutes in, we've met Brother Baxter, we've met Barry, we've met Darren, and now we meet Raphina. In the next few minutes, we'll meet everyone else that matters, Eamon and the rest of the band.

And more of that Irish melancholy. Eamon's father is at Saint John of God's, "a place alcoholics go to get off the drink, stop beating up their wives and kids... And neighbors." We already know Conor's parents aren't happy. Barry's parents are drug addicts and we see his father hit him. Raphina has no parents, and while she is never explicit about what happened with them, it seems that her father abused her sexually (and he was later hit by a car) and her mother was sent to a mental institution. Meanwhile, there's Brother Baxter, whose jobs it is to teach the boys at Synge Street to be good Catholic boys. And, he shoves Conor's face into a sink full of water, and rubs soap on his face as well, to get makeup off of him, and the scene is briefly quite violent and then quite sad.

Twenty minutes in, the band is together, the band is named--Sing Street. Ten minutes later, they shoot their first video--"The Riddle of the Model"--and everything is in place. Well, I suppose there's one more piece, but Raphina's boyfriend is less important to the plot than her dreams of being a model are (and he's introduced just a couple minutes later, anyway.)


But, what is really great here is not just that Sing Street puts all its pieces together so efficiently, but also that each piece connects to the plot. There are superfluous details, to be sure--like Eamon's rabbits, except even that bit of characterization fits with his friendliness and his eagerness to please. For comparison, I saw 47 Meters Down today, and like last year's shark movie, The Shallows (which I reviewed on YouTube, they throw in some big life moment that's going on right when all this shark business happens. It's unnecessary, it adds very little in The Shallows and adds nothing to 47 Meters Down. But here--here all of these little things add up to a surprisingly cohesive whole. All the abusive or damages parents produce a situation ripe for someone like Brother Baxter to be the asshole that he is. And, it sets Ireland, or at least Dublin, as a place where of course dreams are worth following because all that normal get-married-and-have-kids bullshit clearly isn't working. Why not run away when there's no reason to think staying will amount to anything?