Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Great (film) Debates vol. 13

With Obama's approval ratings approaching 0.0% like a Delta House GPA, we need a replacement. And there's nowhere better to look for said replacement than Hollywood!

Who is your favorite Hollywood (film/TV) President?

Panelist: AndrewPrice

I'm going with William Devane as Henry Hayes in Stargate SG-1. Not only does Devane look the part, but he carries himself like a president. Too often actors play presidents like they're noble geniuses or gosh-darnity, simple country boys, and it just seems fake. Devane plays a guy who is smart enough and political enough to be believable as a President, yet he always does what's best for the country, but he's also practical about doing it. In other words, he's not perfection/idealism personified, but he's a good guy. He'd make a great president.

Panelist: ScottDS

Oh man, is this a tough one! As much as I’d love to pick President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho (Terry Crews) from Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, I keep coming back to President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) from Independence Day: Gulf War veteran, family man, and ballsy enough to go into battle with aliens. I don’t know nearly enough about politics to provide a more detailed analysis but I’d probably vote for him! "I don’t understand, where does all this come from? How do you get funding for something like this?" (Honorable mention: President James Dale [Jack Nicholson] in Mars Attacks!.)

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

I think my favorite president on film was Charlton Heston who portrayed Andrew Jackson in The Buccaneer and The President’s Lady. He looked like him and had the gravitas. Raymond Massey as Abe Lincoln is just as good though in Abe Lincoln in Illinois.

Panelist: T-Rav

Morgan Freeman, hands down. Yes, he’s only been the President in one film that I know of (Deep Impact), but he’s just got such dignity and gravitas about him, such an aura of wisdom and calm, you can’t help but think he would make a good executive. Or at least you would have before we elected another guy to the presidency based on him looking cool and presidential and all (snark snark snark). Plus, he played God in Evan Almighty, so he’s obviously qualified.

Comments? Thoughts? Who would you choose and why?

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Friday, October 28, 2011

My Favorite Obscure Horror Films

In honor of Halloween being Monday night, I thought I’d put together a list of great horror movies you can use to creep yourselves out. Boo! But rather than list the usual suspects like The Exorcist, The Sixth Sense, Poltergeist, and Alien, I thought I'd give you some more obscure films that I truly love.

The Others (2001): A psychological drama as much as a horror film, this story of a borderline-abusive mother (Nichole Kidman) who lives in a darkened old house with her two photosensitive children delves deeply into questions of paranoia and supernatural hauntings as an unseen enemy seems determined to destroy Kidman. This film also has a genuinely amazing twist you'll never see coming.

Phantasm (1979): A true cult classic, this independent film is well known among horror aficionados for a reason: it’s great! The story of a young boy who discovers something mysterious going on at the local graveyard, Phantasm has a truly original concept, a surprisingly strong execution, and gave us a murderous flying ball, an army of dwarves, and an iconic villain: “the Tall Man.”

Pontypool (2009): More a psychological thriller than a zombie film, Pontypool provides a very strong and unique take on zombies. This one is really gripping. (Reviewed Here)

Prince of Darkness (1987): John Carpenter’s scariest film, POD is the story of a group of scientists trapped in a church as the Antichrist tries to break into our universe. This film combines a very original premise with some fantastically creepy suspense and some really horrific moments to give us one of the more troubling horror movies in the past forty years. (Reviewed Here)

Session 9 (2001): I expected nothing when I saw this David Caruso/Paul Guilfoyle-led independent film late one night and I was amazed to find it tense, compelling and spooky. The story of an asbestos cleaning crew who freak themselves out as they work to clean up an abandoned mental hospital with a horrific past, this film provides enough tension to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983): Not a scary movie by any means, this is more of a mood movie, with Jason Robards as a father who fears he’s lost the respect of his boy, giving an opening to an evil circus ring-mastered by Jonathan Pryce to come to town and lure the townsfolk to their doom. The library scene alone is worth the price of admission. (Reviewed Here)

The Fog (1980): Staring Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh and Hal Holbrook, John Carpenter’s The Fog is a film that is so much better than it deserves to be. The story of a California fishing town about to be overrun by a fog seeking revenge for sins committed by the town’s founders 100 year before, this film will creep you out without grossing you out. Interestingly, the creepiest moments were forced upon Carpenter by the studio. (Avoid the remake.)

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Great Scene: Poltergeist

Every once in awhile, a movie scene really stands out. Today I want to talk about such a scene. This is a truly brilliant speech from the film Poltergeist, where Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) the medium explains what has happened to Carol Anne. This speech is incredible. In fact, it makes THE film.

(I’ve reproduced the entire speech below, so you can read it.)

Up to this point, the film has set the viewer up perfectly for the climax to come. The film starts by introducing the family through a series of fun and insightful scenes. We are also told something supernatural is going on inside the house. At first, this involved comedic or mischievous moments, such as stacked chairs. But we also saw a more sinister side the family hadn’t, as a spectral arm reached out for Carol Anne one night. Then the force kidnapped Carol Anne.

At the time of this speech, we don't know yet what this force is or how malevolent it really is. We have hints. For example, kidnapping Carol Anne is not a good thing -- though it could just be she walked into another dimension and is lost as happened in a Twilight Zone. But we also saw the force put horrific images into the mind of one researcher. Yet, at the same time, the lead researcher explained to us that death is a beautiful experience and she gives a vision of tranquility, happiness and continuing life beyond. So is it evil? We don’t know yet, but we're about to find out.

As the speech begins, Tangina has just examined the house, telling us it has “many hearts,” meaning many centers of psychic activity. Now she gathers the family together.

She begins by telling us authoritatively the film’s philosophy of death. “There is no death, it is only a transition to a different sphere of consciousness.” This opening line is so layered and full of things to consider that it could actually form the basis of an entire movie. It also brilliantly puts the audience at ease and opens the part of our brains which do deep, philosophical thoughts. In other words, this line makes you receptive to profound thoughts, which will cause the horror to come from much deeper within your psyche than if she started with “there’s a monster,” which makes your brain defensive. It is also calming, which creates a greater contrast (i.e. more emotion) as we transition to horror.

She then explains how Carol Anne is alive and how she doesn’t belong where she is. In fact, she’s a bit of a road hazard because she’s distracting dead souls from a guiding light where happiness awaits. Tangina also subtly shifts the afterlife from happy to sad by telling us these souls “desperately desire but can’t have anymore” things like “love and home and earthly pleasures.” The writer has now triggered happiness, peace, reflectiveness and sadness within the audience. In effect, the writer is forcing the audience to become highly emotional. This shuts down the logic center of your brain and turns on the emotional part, which primes you to feel fear.

Then we get our first hint of horror, as Tangina tells us this state of death is actually “a nightmare from which [these souls] cannot awake.”

Now comes the key line: “Now hold onto yourselves.” This line changes the entire feel of the movie. Up to now, everything has been vague. It’s been more about curiosity than it has fear and it’s only offered suggestions of apprehension. This line screams: get tense! I honestly cannot think of a more effective line to cause the audience to stop breathing and brace themselves for the reveal.

With the audience set up, the reveal better be huge. It is. But it’s huge because the writer doesn’t actually do the reveal right away. He could have said, “It’s the beast!” And you would think that was cool, but you'd be disappointed. Instead, he teases the audience and builds the reveal up bit by bit. It is “a terrible presence,”, telling us to fear it. It is “so much rage, so much betrayal.” At this point, you still have no idea what it is, but you can already imagine it's horrible and evil. There is no doubt this is a scary thing.

Then Tangina tells us how strong it is by saying both that “I’ve never sensed anything like it,” meaning this is truly unique, and “it was strong enough to punch a hole into this world and take your daughter.” How strong must something be to “punch a hole” into our world? This is a freak out moment and you still don't know what it is. And she’s not done. She tells us we’re helpless against it by telling us “it hovers over the house,” i.e. it’s been here the whole time watching you and you can’t see it or stop it. Scary!

So it’s finally time for the reveal, right? Not quite. The writer now strikes even deeper. First, he tells us “it keeps Carol Anne very close to it,” which gives us images of some vile dead thing wrapping itself around this child. And then the writer plays on the fear of all parents, that someone will exploit their child’s greatest weakness -- their inability to reason like adults: “it lies to her. It says things only a child can understand.” This is a brilliant line because the writer never has to come up with any specific lies, which would inevitably disappoint. It also adds to the creature’s menace because how do you fight something that knows your child better than you?

Then Tangina ups the stakes by telling us that it is using Carol Anne to “restrain the others.” Think about this for a second. It has punched a hole into our reality and taken Carol Anne for the purpose of using her to keep souls from finding their way to God. That is an incredibly dark motive!

Then we get the reveal: “To her it simply is another child. To us it is the beast.” Wow! Now we know we're up against a chilling, unbeatable foe. But interestingly, we still don't really know what it is. This is fantastic writing because the biggest disappointment in horror films is the reveal of the nature of the horror. Here, the horror is never really revealed. We know its traits and what it wants, but we never really get told what it is -- all we get are suggestions of a monster and we are left to fill in all the details. This is brilliant.

Then the speech finishes with a fascinating fake-out. Tangina says: “Now let's go get your daughter.” This is a fake out because it implies the climax to the film has come. They will fight the beast, defeat it and all will end happily. . . as it appears to do. But the credits don’t start rolling. Instead, much worse is suddenly unleashed into our world and the end of the film provides a completely unexpected second climax. And the only reason it’s unexpected is because Tangina just built up the first fight into a climax with that one line.

This is incredible writing. This is the kind of scene writers should examine to see how to build suspense and change the tone of a film. The writer here does everything right and then some. Bravo!

There is no death. It is only a transition to a different sphere of consciousness.

Carol Anne is not like those she's with. She is a living presence in their spiritual, earthbound plane. They're attracted to the one thing about her that is different from themselves: her life force.

It is very strong. It gives off its own illumination. It is a light that implies life and memory of love and home and earthly pleasures something they desperately desire but can't have anymore.

Right now, she's the closest thing to that and that is a terrible distraction from the real light that has finally come for them. Do you understand me? These souls, who, for whatever reason are not at rest are also not aware that they have passed on. They're not part of consciousness as we know it. They linger in a perpetual dream state a nightmare from which they cannot awake.

Inside this spectral light is salvation. A window to the next plane. They must pass through this membrane where friends are waiting to guide them to new destinies. Carol Anne must help them cross over. And she will only hear her mother's voice.

Now hold onto yourselves.

There's one more thing. A terrible presence is in there with her. So much rage, so much betrayal. I've never sensed anything like it. I don't know what hovers over this house but it was strong enough to punch a hole into this world and take your daughter away from you.

It keeps Carol Anne very close to it and away from the spectral light. It lies to her. It says things only a child can understand. It has been using her to restrain the others.

To her it simply is another child. To us it is the beast.
Now let's go get your daughter.
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Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Great (film) Debates vol. 12

Now I'm told actresses are important to films too these days. Who knew?! Since we did actors last week, let's see what people think about these so-called "actresses" this week.

Who is your favorite modern actress and what is their best role?

Panelist: T-Rav

She's not very well known, but Jenna Fischer. Probably she's more famous for NBC's The Office than for any film roles, which include Blades of Glory, Slither, and Walk Hard: movies which, in truth, were not very good. However, she does a good job of being sweet, funny, and clever all at the same time. I can't see her doing anything very dark or dramatic, but then you can stay in light comedic roles and still be a good, endearing actor or actress.

Panelist: AndrewPrice

There are several modern actresses whose presence ruins films for me (e.g. Julia Roberts), but I regret to say there are no modern actresses who make me more likely to see a film. That said, a few do stand out. Anna Farris has great comedic timing. Katherine Heigl has whatever it is that works well in romantic roles. Sandra Bullock is hard not to like. But when it comes to a favorite, I have to go with Natascha McElhone. She was great as an Irish terrorist in Ronin and did a super job in a very hard role as the reincarnated wife of George Clooney, who was destined to be suicidal, in Solaris. A close second comes from the 1980s with Bonnie Bedelia, who was great in Presumed Innocent and Salem's Lot.

Panelist: ScottDS

Originally, my answer was similar to my answer for favorite modern actor (I don't have one), but thanks to some peer pressure on the part of one of the panelists, I ended up answering the question anyway. I won't name names but his alias is "Memphis Ted." So I would say that my favorite modern actress is Kate Winslet. She can play the range of the emotional spectrum, she can do demure and overpowering with equal aplomb, and she's pretty easy on the eyes (and unlike so many other actresses, she doesn't see a need for plastic surgery). I certainly haven't seen every film she's done but I don't believe she's gotten to the point where it looks like she's "acting." She might be best remembered for Titanic but, even if I had never seen that film, I would've ended up falling in love with her in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. "Meet me... in Montauk."

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

Naomi Watts - her "dual" role in Muholland Drive cemented her creds. with me for all time. However, I may have to add that for romantic roles or comedies, I’d go with Reese Witherspoon. As I’ve mentioned, I love what she does non-verbally with her facial features, much like Lucille Ball, but subtler. Despite what I’ve just said, her performance as June Carter Cash is her greatest.

Comments? Thoughts? Who would you choose and why?

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Film Friday: Screamers (1995)

I like Screamers. It’s a decent science fiction film about machines turning on man. The story is unique and inspired and the plot handles the story well. There really isn’t anything about this film I would change. Yet, I can’t call it a great film. In fact, if I were to rate it, I’d give it a solid B. I find that fascinating.

** spoiler alert**

Based on Philip K. Dick's short story “Second Variety,” Screamers involves a group of soldiers stuck in a genocidal war on a formerly rich mining colony. The year is 2078. A dispute over the profits from mining a rare mineral on Sirius 6B has caused Earth to split into two warring economic groups: the Alliance and the New Economic Block. War begins on Sirius. But the Alliance is outnumbered, so they invent a new weapon: the mobile autonomous sword (a screamer). These are power-saw- like robots that travel beneath the ground and kill anything living -- Alliance soldiers are protected by wrist bands which mask their heartbeats. The war devastated the planet and few soldiers remain on either side.

As the story opens, a N.E.B. soldier is killed outside the Alliance bunker. He’s carrying a proposal directed to Alliance commander Joe Hendricksson (Peter Weller) to negotiate a peace treaty. The mineral has been discovered on another planet and, thus, their war has become irrelevant. So Weller and a newly-arrived soldier (Private Jefferson) set out to negotiate with the N.E.B. commander, Marshall Richard Cooper. Only, they don’t find Cooper. When they get to the Alliance bunker, they find only three survivors. It turns out the screamers have been busy evolving and now there are several varieties. . . and some of them look human.

Here’s what fascinates me. I typically judge the quality of a film by asking how I would improve the film. The less I would do differently, the better the film. On the surface, Screamers is a film with little to change. The actors are good, the sets and effects are good, the plot works well and moves quickly. The characters are interesting and the twists are solid and unexpected. So I should rate this film very highly. But I can’t.

At first, this had me wondering if my test doesn’t really work. Could it be that some stories simply have a ceiling of how good they can be no matter how much you tinker with them? I’ve always worked on the assumption that you can take any story and keep adjusting it until you reach a point that it becomes a great story. But maybe that’s not true? Maybe a story like Screamers simply can’t ever become more than an average story no matter what you do differently or what you add to it?

What about another director? Could Steven Spielberg make this a better film? Based on his adventures in the world of Dick with Minority Report, I doubt it. Minority Report left me deeply underwhelmed. Christopher Nolan handled complex questions of who you can trust well in Inception and Memento, but I also doubt he could help Screamers. And the reason I doubt Nolan can help is because I know what’s wrong with Screamers and it’s the same thing that’s wrong with Inception and with Minority Report: they lack humanity.

The film we should be looking at is Blade Runner. What makes Blade Runner so special isn’t the film noir feel brought to science fiction or even the new take on dystopia, it’s the humanity of Blade Runner. Blade Runner hooks us by asking us to find out what lays behind Harrison Ford’s tough guy veneer, to find out how Rachel deals with discovering she’s not human, and to learn what causes Roy’s epiphany at the end of the film. Blade Runner asks us what makes us human and then lets us peer deeply into the souls of three people to find out.

This is where Screamers and Minority Report went wrong. Minority Report is a shallow Tom Cruise film at heart. Despite the attempt to cram Spielberg-style emotional ploys into the film, there is no moment where we can really look into Tom’s soul. Watch the film a thousand times and you still won’t know anything more about him than you did staring at the poster before the movie began. But go back and watch Roy’s split-second change of heart or the shock on Rachel’s face as Ford lays bare the lie of her childhood or the anguish in Ford as he realizes he’s been taking genuine lives, and you’ll peer right into their souls.

Screamers fails this test. I like Peter Weller and his character. Jefferson is a fun guy to watch. The N.E.B.s are interesting too. Becker is a twisted psycho on the edge and Ross is a man whose nerves are so shot he’s visibly falling apart. But there isn’t a single moment in this film where you ever look into their souls or where you are shown the difference between a human and a machine pretending to be human.

To fix Screamers, it must be refocused on what makes Hendricksson human in the first place. Don’t just give us two minutes of dialog telling us about some old girlfriend or telling us what he drinks or what kind of music he likes. Show us what makes him tick. Show us how he resolved some emotional struggle so we understand him. Show us he has a soul, so we can peer into it at the key moment of crisis.

In fact, I am thinking this may be the key to all science fiction. Too often science fiction feels flat. And when I think of the films that did work, I realize that what worked was not the plot, it was the moments the characters became real. It was watching Sean Connery admit on a racquetball court that he needed to prove his own worth to himself in Outland. It was the brief moments mentioned above in Blade Runner. It was learning who Jim Kirk really was week after week in Star Trek and seeing each week’s main character deal with their own humanity in very inhuman circumstances on The Twilight Zone. It was watching the crew come together after bickering and picking on each other in Alien or the moments of bravery rather than bravado in Aliens. It was the flirting moments in Empire Strikes Back. Etc. These are the moments we remember.

So the lesson here is if you want to write enduring, quality science fiction, don’t write a story about a thing or place or event, write a story about people who happen to encounter a thing or place or endure an event.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Villains?! We Don't Need No Stinking Villains!

We’ve spoken a couple times about the need to create conflict in stories. The easiest way to create conflict is to introduce a villain. A villain is a character who acts maliciously and spends the film either trying to destroy the hero or doing something evil which the hero must try to stop. Lately, all Hollywood films have villains. But you don’t actually need a villain.

In fact, if you look back at AFI’s Top 100 films, you will see something amazing. The list is dominated by films without anything that we think of as a true villain. For example, Citizen Kane has no villain, nor does The African Queen, Lawrence of Arabia, The Graduate, My Fair Lady, 12 Angry Men, The Jazz Singer, Gone With the Wind or dozens more. Sometimes there are jerks who happened along, like in Easy Rider or Grapes of Wrath, but these are hardly “villains.” Similarly, sometimes the “villain” is just something nebulous without true villainous motives -- like the government in E.T.. And honestly, who is the real villain in The Caine Mutiny?

Interestingly, these films are all older. As you come to the modern era, most films suddenly have villains. I’m not sure why. Maybe this is bad writing or maybe the public mood has changed. . . maybe they think we’re simpletons? In any event, few films today go without a villain.

So let’s look at some films which don’t have clear villains and see if you’re surprised:

Goodfellas: You would think Goodfellas would have a villain. After all, it’s crawling with killers who keep turning on each other. Plus, there is the constant threat the cops will come swooping in or that a rival mafia family will go to war with our heroes. But there is no true villain who is actively plotting throughout the film to do in the hero. . . there are just a lot of dangerous people in his life.

Apocalypse Now: I’m kidding right? Of course Apocalypse Now has a villain, we can even name him: Kurtz. But Kurtz is no villain. Kurtz is the object of Willard’s mission. Kurtz doesn’t even know Willard exists until the end of the film and then he really doesn’t care. Moreover, Willard doesn’t see him as a villain, only as something mystical. The closest you get to a villain here is the sense that the North Vietnamese Army is out there somewhere ready to kill Willard if they run across him, but they are irrelevant to the plot.

Pulp Fiction: This is a fascinating film because while almost every scene is crawling with very bad people and they are all opposed to each other, we actually like most of them and none of them fit the villain mold. The only character(s) who truly come to mind as villains are the hillbilly perverts, but again, they only appear in one scene near the end of the film and they only matter because the heroes stumble into their store. They did not spend the movie trying to bring down the heroes, nor was the hero's film-goal to stop them. What is more interesting though is that some of the characters, like Ving Rhames’s character Marsellus Wallace and Samuel L. and John Travolta, are villains in some scenes but heroes in other scenes.

Close Encounters: The closest this film comes to having a villain is the military, which tries to keep Dreyfuss from getting to Devil’s Tower. But they aren’t villains. Their motives are decent, they don’t want to hurt anyone, and all they want is a little privacy. If Richard Dreyfuss leaves them alone, then will leave him alone. That does not a villain make even though they are presented ominously throughout the film. Equally interestingly, once Dreyfuss makes it to the landing site, they actually don’t even try to punish him.

The Sixth Sense: This movie is incredible on so many levels and one of them is the absence of a villain. In fact, the closest we come here is just the boy’s fear of the ghosts he sees. They don’t want to hurt him. In fact, they need his help. So what starts out as a film seemingly about a supernatural villain turns into a non-villain film.

Finally, a twist. . .

Inception: This is the one most people point to as a film without a villain. Yet, it has one: Mal. She’s not a great villain because the plot doesn’t center around her, but her purpose throughout the film is to disrupt everything Cobb tries. . . that makes her a very modern villain. Frankly, I think the idea Inception doesn’t have a villain is PR, much like the claim that Seinfeld “was a show about nothing” -- it was actually like every other sitcom (indeed it was basically Friends) only with unlikable people.

It’s interesting that so many modern films rely on easy villains. Maybe this is why so many modern films aren’t very good, because they aren’t good at creating conflict and need to fake it by adding an evil nemesis. There is a lesson here: great stories don’t have villains. And I think the reason for that is that they have something real to say about human conflict.

What other films without villains can you think of?

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Great (film) Debates vol. 11

Some people claim that actors are important to modern films. I can see their point. . . a little. And I'm told they play "roles." So let's go with that.

Who is your favorite modern actor and what is their best role?

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

Dustin Hoffman has shown incredible versatility over the years: Midnight Cowboy (which is his best in my opinion) Papillon, Marathon Man, Lenny, Hook. Ratso Rizzo was one of the great characters of all time. Extremely close second is Gene Hackman who has too many excellent roles to choose just one. Possibly, The Conversation is his best.

Panelist: T-Rav

As much as he’s gone round the bend lately for everyone-knows-what, I’m going to have to go with Mel Gibson. While I vehemently disagree with some of his beliefs and drunken remarks, there is no denying that the man can turn in some truly powerful performances. And it doesn’t matter that these are generally war or action movies, like Mad Max, Patriot, or Braveheart; he can really bring you into the film and raise it above simple violence to an almost spiritual plane, something that doesn’t happen very often. Whatever kind of person he is off-camera, he’s darn good at what he does on camera. His best role for me would be in The Patriot, largely because he encapsulates so much of what our ancestors fought for.

Panelist: AndrewPrice

There are so many good choices, but I keep coming back to one name: Bruce Willis. He's not the greatest actor nor does he have the star power of many others, but he's the one guy whose films I will always see. . . even the bad ones. My favorite role for Willis is either Corbin Dallas in The Fifth Element, where he shows both action hero chops and subtle comic genius, or ultra-tough guy John Smith in Last Man Standing.

Panelist: ScottDS

Unfortunately, I must abstain from these. I like some modern actors (Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Liam Neeson, etc.) but I wouldn’t call any a "favorite" and the presence of any one actor, sadly, is not enough to get me into the theater.

Comments? Thoughts? Who would you choose and why?

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Film Friday: Twelve Monkeys (1995)

I want to like Terry Gilliam’s films. I want to respect Terry Gilliam’s films. But I can’t. They’re a mess. Twelve Monkeys is an exception. Twelve Monkeys is almost brilliant. What makes it brilliant is its twist on time travel paradoxes. What makes it “almost” is Gilliam’s usual problems.

** spoiler alert -- I will talk about the ending **

Based on the French short film La jetée, Twelve Monkeys is a complex time travel story about a dystopian future. James Cole (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time from the future to observe key players who will cause a viral apocalypse. Specifically, he’s sent to observe Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt) who will form a group called the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, who appear to take credit for destroying humanity. Goines’ father (Christopher Plummer) owns a biotechnology firm, and the future scientists who send Willis back think Pitt stole a deadly virus from his father and unleashed it on the world. But things don’t quite turn out that way.
“Almost” Brilliant
Terry Gilliam is his own worst enemy. He loves including nonsensical images, characters who are too conscious of being on film, and chaotic scenes that fall apart immediately if you look at the chaos rather than the main characters. Essentially, he hamstrings his talent with his penchant for ridiculousness which he thinks is a statement about humanity. It’s not. Twelve Monkeys worked because Gilliam didn’t write it. It contains many of his trademark problems, but those things were not enough to ruin this strong script.

One thing Gilliam does do right, however, is present a fascinatingly nuanced peek at insanity. Twelve Monkeys involves three purportedly insane characters, and each gives us a different take on the subject:
● Willis isn’t actually insane, though he thinks he is. His problem is he’s weak-minded and feels out of place when he gets sent back in time to a world he doesn’t understand. But he only truly loses touch with reality when he tries to conform to a world he knows to be wrong.

● Pitt is a spoiled rich kid. He isn’t insane, but he likes the idea of being insane because he thinks it makes him special and it affords him the freedom to lash out at those around him. Pitt’s insanity is most like the insanity Hollywood villains normally portray and ironically, our belief that he’s insane leads us on a wild goose chase.

● Finally, Dr. Goines’ assistant Dr. Peters (David Morse) is truly insane as he becomes fascinated with the idea of wiping out the human race. He is the ultimate example of power corrupting, only it corrupted his mind.
Brilliance: Time Travel Paradox
What makes Twelve Monkeys so brilliant is how it deals with time travel paradoxes. Hollywood generally uses two types of time travel paradoxes, but rarely combines them. This film combines them and then adds a fascinating twist.

The grandfather paradox is the idea that you can’t go back in time and kill your grandfather because then you would never exist to go back in time in the first place. Ergo, you can’t change the past. On its surface, Twelve Monkeys is about that paradox. Willis gets sent back in time to our present by future scientists. They want Willis to observe events and discover how the virus that destroys humanity gets released. This will allow them to go back to that exact moment and get a sample of the virus before it mutates, which they can use to stop the virus in the future. And indeed, pay attention and you'll see one of the scientists sitting next to Peters on the plane for that very purpose.

But why not stop the virus being released? Because of the grandfather paradox. If they stop Peters, the future will change BUT then they wouldn't exist to come back and stop Peters -- hence Peters still releases the virus. Ergo, time can’t be changed. To pound this home, we see all of Willis’ attempts to change the future fail. By trying to disavow his mission when he first arrives in the present, he actually gives Pitt the idea to destroy humanity, which sets everything into motion. By trying to tell Pitt’s father what will happen, Willis causes Pitt’s father to change his security protocols, which allows Peters to steal the virus. Finally, by trying to stop Peters at the airport, Willis’ gets himself killed right before a young boy who happens to be Willis and who will be scarred from this, which will cause him to become maladjusted, which is what gets him chosen by the scientists to go back in time. In effect, the more Willis tries to change the future, the more he causes it.

That’s what most reviewers got out of the film -- that Willis made his own destiny and couldn’t change the future. But something even more interesting is going on.
Brilliance: The Second Paradox
There is a second time travel paradox, which involves someone from the present bringing something back from the future which causes the future. For example, bringing back DNA from a killer monkey, which then gets used to create the monkey, which otherwise wouldn’t have existed. Logically there cannot be a killer monkey until it is created, yet in this scenario they skip ahead and steal its DNA before they actually create it. Is that possible? Logic can’t help us answer this because it is a paradox -- it exists outside logic.

From Willis’ perspective, Twelve Monkey involves the grandfather paradox. He wants to change events, but can’t. But from our perspective, Twelve Monkeys involves the second paradox, because Willis comes from the future and causes the very future he wants to stop. Including both paradoxes in the same film is already a fascinating twist. But there’s more.

Anyone trying to stop Willis will be subject to the grandfather paradox because he is now part of the past. It would be the same thing as if they tried to shoot Peters. They would cease to exist and thus events would continue as before. It is an inescapable loop. But there is one way out: Willis can change the past. Think about it. The reason the grandfather paradox is a problem is that once the time traveler changes the past, the future changes, which prevents the time traveler from coming back and changing the past, which resets the past to the way it was before the time traveler intervened. But that isn’t what would happen here because it was Willis’ actions which caused the timeline in the first place. If Willis doesn’t speak to Pitt or Pitt’s father, there will be no virus and no future from which Willis can travel to the past. But since the new virus-free timeline doesn't depend on Willis coming back and doing something, it won't revert to the virus timeline Willis wanted to change. The loop is broken. But only Willis can make this change because he’s in the unique position of being the cause. Anyone else would be subject to the grandfather paradox.

Now here’s a fascinating question. Can Willis change the future by shooting Pitt? Yes, he can. If he shoots Pitt, then the future is never created. That means Willis can’t come back to shoot Pitt, but it also means Willis can't start the events that release the virus. Hence, again, the timeline is set to its normal virus-free course and the loop is broken. But does the answer change if he shoots Peters? By the time he would shoot Peters, he’s already set events in motion in the past by talking to Pitt, so that part of the past is written, meaning the grandfather paradox should apply... but if he shoots Peters and the virus never gets released, then how can he talk to Pitt? There’s no true answer.

These are the kinds of fascinating ideas science fiction should always be striving to achieve, and that’s what makes this film so brilliant.

Bonus Question: Finally, I leave you with one last question. Throughout the film we work on the assumption the scientists realize they can’t change the past. But why does Willis “accidentally” get sent to World War I in such a coincidental way that he ends up in a photo for Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) to see? Is it possible the scientist are manipulating the past to intentionally cause their own present? And if so, why?

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How Not To Create Conflict

Drama derives from the decision-making process. More specifically drama derives from the conflict that must be resolved in the decision-making process. The greater the conflict, i.e. the more difficult the choice, the greater the drama. This isn't a difficult concept. Yet, so many films fail right at this point because they don’t grasp how to establish the legitimate competing interests that make the decision difficult. Let’s look at two recent SciFi films that failed in this regard.

The first film was on the SciFi Channel (yes, I refuse to acknowledge the lame name change) a couple weeks ago. In Morlocks (a rip off of the BBC show Primeval), Robert Picardo plays a Colonel who has been tasked with using a time travel machine to steal technology from the future to help American competitiveness. . . I guess Steve Job’s death was more serious than we thought.

Picardo sends a team a few years into the future, who learn both that humanity has been destroyed by evil creatures and that Picardo will create these evil creatures using DNA brought back from the future. Sounds like fixing this is a no-brainer, right? Just don’t breed the creatures and everything will go fine. Except, Picardo’s son is dying and that DNA could be used to treat his son. That’s the conflict. Oy.

We’re supposed to believe Picardo becomes so blinded by the possibility of saving his son that he’s willing to destroy the planet. But this isn’t a genuine conflict for two reasons. First, whether Picardo acts or not, his son will die. If Picardo does nothing, then his son dies of cancer. If Picardo breeds the creatures, then everyone including his son dies and gets eaten. That’s not a genuine conflict because both choices lead to the exact same result: a dead son. Will he have broccoli OR broccoli? Ooh, the suspense!

Secondly, the writers completely fail to grasp another critical aspect of creating a conflict: the choices need to be the only choices. Unless Picardo is entirely retarded, he will try to find some third alternative, e.g. destroying the DNA to change the future and then continuing with his mission. So the conflict here isn’t even between death by cancer or death by mauling, it’s between death v. death v. trying something else. That makes the whole set up false and robs this choice of any legitimacy.

The other film was called Doomsday (it’s since been renamed Annihilation Earth). This movie features Star Trek TNG’s Marina Sirtis doing one of the worst southern accents ever... it will make your ears bleed it's that bad. The basic premise was that some evil company built a series of reactors around the world using some new technology. The reactor in France blows up, goes all black holey and wipes out southern France. If the hero can’t solve what has caused this glitch, the other reactors will blow in a chain reaction and will destroy the planet.

To solve what happened, the hero must venture to southern France. As he goes, he comes across a dirty little French girl who has skinned her knee and lost her mommy. Here comes our conflict. He’s under a severe time limit, yet he and the other characters fight over whether they should stop and help the girl or continue with their mission. Baaaah!! This isn’t a legitimate choice because the two options are so ridiculously unbalanced that only an idiot would have any problem making this decision. His choices are either to comfort the girl until the planet explodes or to save the planet. How can there be any question? This is like debating if you should stop to buy a Band-Aid for a paper cut while you’re rushing to the hospital to get your massive heart attack treated.

This moment was meant to inject drama into what was otherwise nothing more than a travel scene. It was also supposed to give us the character’s bona fides as a caring hero. But what it really tells us is the filmmakers are clueless. They can’t distinguish true dilemmas from fake dilemmas and they have no idea how a hero would (or should) act at a key moment of crisis. The fact they chose this to create drama is pathetic.

I see these kinds of stupid choices strewn throughout films. Fake conflict is created by characters inexplicably being unwilling to speak the truth when asked despite there being no negative consequences to doing so, or inexplicably being unable to reschedule dates or meetings, or somehow thinking their only choices are fight or flee when they really have a plethora of options. If a decision doesn’t make sense, it’s not dramatic. And if there are better options out there, you need to explain why those can’t be chosen by the character. Moreover, you can’t simply set any two choices against each other, the choices you pick for your character to agonize over need to be the kinds of choices that would actually force some indecision.

So often we focus on how bad writers and bad directors use deus ex machina or happy coincidences as a way to solve their characters’ problems, but the real fault begins with the inability to construct legitimate conflicts in the first place. If your characters are facing legitimately difficult decisions, then you won’t need to rely on coincidence or divine intervention to solve your crises.

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Great (film) Debates vol. 10

Being a bad guy isn’t all squishin’ puppies. You’ve got to keep your lair maintained and licensed, your staff of power needs to be charged, and you gotta clean and wax the old suit. But cleaner’s aren’t always reliable. In fact, let’s assume Darth Vader’s suit got lost at the cleaners.

What actor should have played Darth Vader if he had to go without the mask?

Panelist: ScottDS

I'm going to steal my friend's answer and say Max von Sydow. If he could play Ming the Merciless in the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, he could play Darth Vader! Bonus answer: Speaking of Flash Gordon, assuming Jabba the Hutt was simply a large human and not an alien slug, he would have to be played by von Sydow's Flash Gordon co-star: Brian "Gordon's alive!" Blessed.

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

I'd probably cast Ted Cassidy as Lord Vader. He has the size and menace, especially if we overdub the original voice.

Panelist: T-Rav

This may be a little out of left field, but I could see Yul Brynner in the role. He commands everyone's attention when he's on the screen, and he can play a real jackass when necessary--which are the traits you really want when casting Vader. Doesn't bear much resemblance to Mark Hamill (Luke), but neither would you if you'd gotten burned in a river of lava.

Panelist: AndrewPrice

Laurence Fishburne. . . Morpheus. The dude is cool and menacing, and Mr. Fishburne finds your lack of faith disturbing!

Comments? Thoughts? Who would you choose and why?

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Film Friday: No Way Out (1987)

You wouldn’t think I would like No Way Out. It relies on some huge coincidences and the characters all act in some pretty outlandish ways. But I love this film. This is probably the top political thriller I’ve seen on film. Here’s why.

** Spoiler Alert -- If you don’t know the ending, see the movie before you read this review. **

No Way Out stars Kevin Costner as Navy Lieutenant Commander Tom Farrell, who seduces Susan Atwell (Sean Young), who turns out to be the mistress of his boss Secretary of Defense David Brice (Gene Hackman). Atwell is Brice’s kept-woman, but falls for Costner, until Brice kills her in a jealous rage. Enter Brice’s assistant, Scott Pritchard (Will Patton), who covers up Brice’s involvement with the death by blaming Pentagon boogeyman “Yuri,” a supposed deep-cover Russian sleeper agent. When Pritchard puts Costner in charge of the investigation, things spiral out of control. Oh and there's a twist.
Why I Buy The Coincidences
I hate to admit it, but if someone pitched me the above as a film, I would have turned them down. Why? Because it’s all based on massive coincidences. It’s a coincidence Costner gets called in to work for Brice. It’s a coincidence Brice and Costner fall for the same woman. Then Brice picks Costner to lead the investigation? Come on. Also, Costner just happens to have a friend who can protect him when they find a photo incriminating Costner? Not to mention the coincidence that Hackman, Pritchard and Atwell are all morally vacant to begin with. And then following the twist we learn that Costner just happens TO BE the Yuri they’re looking for? Give me a break.

But you know. . . none of this bothers me. Why? Because they explain it all.

The movie goes to great lengths to point out that Costner is a social climber. He went to the right schools, got to know the right people, and attends the right functions. He befriended Pritchard long before these events, and thus it’s no stretch to see Pritchard reach out to Costner when he and Brice need a new point man. That Costner has a friend at the Pentagon isn’t such a surprise either as he’s moved up through the Navy and likely has friends everywhere. With regard to Atwell, we learn at the end that Costner was ordered to seduce her. Suddenly the coincidental love triangle involving the Secretary of Defense isn’t so coincidental. That Atwell falls for him makes sense too, as Costner no doubt has been given inside information about her. And the fact Brice and Atwell are immoral isn’t hard to accept because that’s precisely why Costner came after them: because they’re susceptible.

The only real coincidences seem to be that he is Yuri and that Brice kills Atwell. But we accept those. The fact he’s Yuri makes sense because who but Yuri would take the risks Costner takes to inject himself into these events. Most people wouldn’t seduce their boss’s mistress and most would go to the police once the murder happens. Costner could have gone to the CIA for protection and ended the story there, but he doesn’t because he is Yuri and he’s playing a dangerous game to destroy Brice. It is somewhat coincidental that Pritchard tries to use Yuri for cover, but who else would he use except the Pentagon’s boogeyman? Nor does Costner getting appointed to run the investigation seem coincidental because that’s precisely why he was brought into the fold -- to protect Brice. Atwell’s murder doesn’t bother us either because we see it as an accident and it’s just how the story plays out. Had she not died, Yuri would have tried something else to disgrace Brice.

So even though the film is packed with incredible coincidences, you never really feel like they are coincidences because enough explanation is given to let you believe these events flowed logically from the intentional actions of the characters.
Why I Buy The Outlandish Characters
On its surface, this story also contains some pretty outlandish characters. A Washington, D.C. socialite with multiple lovers? The Secretary of Defense having a murderous affair? Brice’s assistant killing people to cover up Brice’s crime? Really? Yeah, really.

Atwell is a kept woman, which means her morality is already questionable. She clearly doesn’t love Brice and it’s easy to see why she would fall for Costner, especially if he had help from his Russian friends. As for the Secretary of Defense having an affair, we’re long past the point that should surprise us. Killing his mistress is pretty extreme, but he didn’t intend to kill her. He got upset and smacked her and she died in an accidental fall. This is believable because we’ve already seen that he’s an abusive man because of how he treats Pritchard. And cover ups are always in fashion in Washington.

Pritchard is the real question mark. Would he really kill to save his boss? Actually, he would. Pritchard is gay and is infatuated with Brice. He worships Brice. That doesn’t make him a killer, but there’s more. Brice is abusive. He screams at Pritchard, throws things at him, strikes him, and humiliates him. Yet Pritchard responds by blaming himself. This is classic battered spouse syndrome and battered spouses often become insanely devoted to their abusers. Add in some instability and a sense by Pritchard that he’s above the law, and it’s not a stretch to see Pritchard turn the Pentagon upside down, kill the people who can hurt Brice, and make the ultimate sacrifice to save Brice. What’s more, both Patton and Hackman sell this perfectly, with Hackman never once showing a hint of kindness to Pritchard and Patton giving an incredible performance as a man desperate to obtain Brice's approval.
Why This Twist Is So Great
Finally, we come to the twist. The twist is great because it is organic to the story, it completely changes the meaning of the story, and it’s foreshadowed constantly. Why are we shown his bag being stolen overseas? Who does he keep calling on the phone? Why is his neighbor a Russian? (As an interesting aside, the Russian safehouse is a block from a home I owned in Virginia.) Heck, the coincidences alone should have tipped us off something was wrong. This is excellent foreshadowing.

Moreover, the story works completely even without the twist. Indeed, the depth of this story is astounding. You get a solid glimpse into Washington politics, with the Secretary of Defense trying to kill a weapons program favored by a powerful Senator. On the Senator’s side you have the CIA snooping around. Against this, you have a solid love story between Atwell and Costner. The love story is made all the more interesting because the lovers are kept apart by the fact Atwell has another lover, upon whom she relies to maintain her lifestyle. Adding intrigue, it turns out that lover is Costner’s boss.

Then Brice kills Atwell. This injects all kinds of suspense as only Costner knows the truth, but he can’t tell anyone or he will be murdered. What’s worse, Brice has the power to pull this investigation into the Pentagon where he can control it. Then Costner gets put in charge of the investigation, which puts Costner in an impossible situation as he's leading an investigation which will cause his own destruction. To add even greater suspense, we are given the “ticking clock” of the Pentagon computer slowly deciphering a Polaroid which will incriminate Costner.

This is a powerful story. Costner’s emotional rollercoaster goes from happiness as he falls for Atwell, to jealousy as he learns he can’t have her, to anger as he learns his boss is the man standing in his way. Then she dies and we see Costner suffering with his grief while feeling his revulsion at having to work with the very people he wants to expose and his fear at learning they will kill him if they discover the truth. At the same time, we have an intensely emotional performance from Patton who goes from abused-spouse to insane dictator to reckless and desperate murderer. Hackman simultaneously shows us a man we think is trying to do his best for the nation, but who has brought himself down with his tragic flaw and who falls apart as the scandal overwhelms him. . . only to throw our sympathy back in our faces when he realizes he’s found a way to save himself.

What more can you ask for? Even without the twist, this is a heck of a story.

But adding the twist was a masterstroke because it changes the meaning of everything we just saw. We saw Costner as an innocent victim of circumstance. But now we know he’s the manipulator behind it all. He’s the instigator, playing a high stakes game of political intrigue. He never cared for Atwell, he even calls her “the Atwell woman” when speaking with the Russians just so we know she meant nothing to him. All that fear and disgust we thought we saw in Costner -- which made us so sympathetic -- wasn’t because of the death of Atwell or concern for her friend, it was fear he would be exposed as Yuri. And the whole time we were rooting for innocent Kevin against evil Brice, we now realize we were rooting for a traitor, whose real goal was the destruction of Brice, an apparently effective Secretary of Defense. That is an incredible transformation and a great twist.

I highly recommend this film.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Guest Review: The Duellists (1977)

Guest Review by Tennessee Jed

Historical dramas can be meandering, tedious affairs, more often than not drawn from overly long epic novels. Award nominations, if any, tend to be for costumes, set design, or cinematography. Even when done well, these films may take two and a half hours or more, a real drawback in a world where attention spans can wane after only two. The Duellists, nearly 35 years old, doesn’t fall into this trap and is worthy of your attention.

Set in France during the Napoleonic Wars, The Duellists is an examination of the ancient custom of duelling, which became especially prevalent in 18th and early 19th century Europe. To be sure, the film is highlighted by spectacular cinematography, set design, and wonderfully accurate costumes. But at only 100 minutes, it largely avoids the ponderous subplots so often found in this genre. The reason lies in its faithful adaption of a short story by Joseph Conrad which, in turn, was developed from an actual account of two soldiers in Napoleon’s army who fought a series of duels over 19 years.

Of particular interest to viewers today, The Duellists is the directorial feature film debut of Ridley Scott, with early starring roles for both Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel.

Background - Lieutenants Armand dʼHubert (Carradine) and Gabriel Feraud (Keitel) are both Hussar (light cavalry) officers in Napoleon’s Grand Army, each from separate regiments. The film opens in Strasbourg in 1800 during a lull in the military action. In the first scene, Feraud is engaged in a duel with a civilian whom he nearly kills. The injured man is a nephew of the local mayor, and since dueling is not only illegal, but expressly frowned upon by Napoleon himself, the mayor demands justice. The garrison commander dispatches dʼHubert, a staff officer who “vaguely knows of Feraud” to inform the duellist he is to place himself under house arrest until further notice.

dʼHubert finds Feraud at a soiree and relays the orders. Feraud is neither happy about being interrupted, nor does he understand why he is being punished since he was the “aggrieved” party. As they walk back towards quarters, Feraud continues to argue with dʼHubert, and quickly seizes upon an off hand comment to demand satisfaction. It is clear Feraud is an obsessive, looking for even the slightest provocation, yet circumstances force dʼHubert to engage him. He wounds Feraud, then leaves. The commanding General Treillard is, of course, furious and tells dʼHubert to place himself under arrest until a court of inquiry is convened. However, when war resumes, charges against both are dropped. The two then fight a series of duels across Europe over the next 15 years with neither able to finish off the other.

By the time Napoleon has suffered his final defeat at Waterloo, both have risen to the rank of general. Afterwards, dʼHubert becomes a royalist while Feraud remains loyal to the Emperor, setting up one final confrontation which resolves the storyline. That outcome is not revealed here as it would be an obvious plot spoiler.

The Art of the Duel - In this context, duelling can be defined as combat between two individuals according to pre-arranged codified rules, typically to settle a “point of honor.” Arrangements and officiating were usually completed by “seconds” chosen by the participants to insure fairness and adherence to the code of honor. The offended party usually cared less about killing his opponent than “obtaining satisfaction.” By risking his own life, the duellist proves the importance of retaining his honor. Duelling was practiced well back into medieval times or beyond, and long considered socially acceptable. Much of it evolved from a soldier’s sense of “death before dishonor,” similar to the code of Bushido among Samurai in Japan. Even in countries where it had become technically illegal, duelling was rarely prosecuted if it had been determined the fight was fair.

In this film, one of the two protagonists, Feraud, is obviously a skilled duellist, obsessive about winning, and something of a bully who enjoys humiliating his opponents. dʼHubert, on the other hand, has no obvious interest in duelling, but the soldier’s Code of Honor prevents him from walking away. The mentality driving their behaviors represents the theme of the story. Author Conrad, a native Pole living in England, was known for having a sense of tragic futility that is clearly in evidence.

What Works Particularly Well - The use of simple, straightforward plotting and reasonable pacing keeps The Duellists from bogging down, but to no surprise, it is ultimately the accuracy of the costumes, sets, and cinematography that most makes the film memorable. Scott is said to have been truly impressed with Stanley Kubrick’s classic, Barry Lyndon, which also featured a dramatic duel and authentic period sets. Indeed, I believe Scott’s primary motivation was to do his own interpretation of a similar type of film. For a first time feature director, he did a superb job, perhaps signaling things to come. The film was nominated for BAFTA awards for costume design and cinematography, and Scott won at Cannes for “best first work.” Harvey Keitel, in particular, is effective in bringing out the uncompromising obsession of Feraud and his genuine dislike of the “staffer” dʼHubert. It is clear both actors received excellent coaching in duelling technique. This is no Errol Flynn or Three Musketeers style sword fighting; rather a very real and violent portrayal.

What Turns Out To Be “Not so Much - Even though the film takes only 100 minutes, there are only so many ways to show the same two characters duelling each other (swords, horseback, pistols). Also, the two romantic relationships developed for dʼHubert, which I did not bother to describe, never really grab the viewer. They somehow feel like they are considered necessary “add ons” to the story.

In order for a story like this to truly work, the characters must ultimately make you care about them. Feraud is clearly the villain, but I think he could have been much more interesting if a little more effort had been made to develop his character. Most of what we know about him is either assumed or inferred from what Keitel brings to the role. Similarly, dʼHubert, though not exactly one dimensional, might also have been more interesting had he been more complex and less obviously “the good guy.” Given the relative brevity of the movie, the audience is not given enough chance to truly appreciate how thoroughly the practice of duelling was woven into the societal norms of the period. Thus, although we have all had to do things we did not like, it is hard to actually imagine ourselves in this situation because it is so foreign to our own experience.

Conclusions - This film was quite entertaining for me, particularly in its attention to authentic detail in costumes and sets. Upon subsequent viewing, I was able to concentrate specifically on the framing of each scene, which turned into an enjoyable exercise. While the ending is hardly a true plot “twist,” it is appropriately suspenseful and satisfying, and not overtly telegraphed. This is hardly a great or classic film, but if you like skillful cinematography, historical realism, and haven’t seen it, by all means give The Duellists a try.

Are there other historical dramas you have seen that either avoid or fall into the traps I have outlined?

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Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Great (film) Debates vol. 9

Last week we proved that villains are indeed popular, but what about heroes? Can they get some love too?

Who is your favorite film hero?

Panelist: AndrewPrice

There are so many good choices like Indiana Jones, Dirty Harry, James Bond, etc. etc., but I'm going the unexpected route and I'm picking Kurt Russell as Jack Burton in Big Trouble In Little China. Why? Because he's great. He's everything a hero should never be -- inept, arrogant, self-aggrandizing, a goofball, unappealing, and downright stupid -- yet he still manages to be an extremely likable hero. Who else, but Kurt Russell, could carry off the line: "Everybody relax, I'm here."?

Panelist: ScottDS

Indiana Jones. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were inspired by the films, comics, and adventure serials of their youth and created one of modern day cinema's coolest action heroes: Indiana Jones, professor of archeology and expert in rare antiquities. As smart and strong as he is, he's no superman. He's fallible, has a strained relationship with his father, and is a bit of a cynic. But he's also an undeniable force for good, a bit of a romantic, intensely loyal, patriotic, and always does the right thing. And like many classic heroes, he is never without his trademark accoutrements: leather jacket and fedora with bullwhip and pistol. Despite the quality of the last film, I was heartened to see a new generation of kids become fans. "I hate snakes, Jock! I hate 'em!" (Honorable mention: John McClane [Bruce Willis] in the Die Hard films.)

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

Dirty Harry, because Sherlock Holmes and James Bond are really not film heroes, but book heroes. Also, James T. Kirk is really a television character. All four probably are my favorites, but Harry Callahan is an authentic film hero. Sometimes a hero has got to know his own limitations.

Panelist: T-Rav

I'll have to go with Indiana Jones. There's just so much about him that's cool, although I think his image may owe more to the theme music than to any other element. Plus, he's fighting Nazis and evil Indian human-sacrificers, so you can't not root for him. (By the way, Temple of Doom was too a good Indy movie, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise.)

Comments? Thoughts? What would you choose and why?

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