Friday, December 30, 2011

Episode 12: The Sitter

  • 0:00 - Ramones - Babysitter
  • 0:30 - Intro, "The Sitter" discussion
  • 10:06 - Trailers
  • 16:32 - What Kat Watched (Elf, Dr. Who, Parks & Recreation)
  • 20:36 - What Chris Watched (Pearl Jam Twenty, Our Idiot Brother, Super 8)
  • 29:50 - What Matt Watched (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, True Grit, Hot Fuzz, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Cowboys & Aliens)
  • 41:35 - Outro, Pearl Jam - Breath and a Scream (Demo)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Judging Movies Objectively

Here’s a little 1,000 word post for you since this holiday season has left you all without a podcast! Don’t worry, episode 12 will be up before the new year, and we’ll be back to a normal schedule once the holidays stop kicking my ass and taking up all of my time!

All movies should be judged on their own merits. Of course, this is a very difficult standard to live up to. Consider all possible baggage a movie may be carrying before one even gazes upon it, giving one either lofty expectations, or no expectations at all:

A terrible advertising campaign
A great advertising campaign
It’s a sequel to a phenomenal movie
It’s a sequel to an abortion of a movie
It’s an adaptation of a beloved book
Its director’s pedigree is mostly one genre, or it at least seems that way
Its legacy precedes it
There are no big stars in it
There are ONLY big names but no big actors
You expected a comedy/drama/thriller/horror movie and got something else

In order to judge a movie effectively, I try to divorce myself from all my feelings going in beforehand. For example, I went in to 2011’s Our Idiot Brother expecting a goofy comedy starring Paul Rudd. What I got was a funny drama starring Paul Rudd. If I were hung up on expectations, I would have been mad that Our Idiot Brother was a bad comedy. Instead, I judged what I got.

It could be that a movie like that was intended to be a riotous comedy and we, the audience, were swindled, but the drama was so potent and well done that I have to call it a successful drama. In my mind, intent isn’t what matters as much as execution.  I have an artist friend who vehemently disagrees with me in that regard, but as I am also an artist (music, not a blogger), I feel that we must agree to disagree. I do not feel that context of the times or what the filmmaker was trying to say matters. After all, the makers of the film version of Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho intended the ending to be interpreted one way, and many people I’ve spoken to see that the ending is either ambiguous, or the opposite of what was intended. In my mind, the ending I see better fits the satire of the movie, and the intended ending hinders the message of the satire.

On top of all this, there are movies that are adaptations or sequels. Most movies are adaptations of a previous work. This is not even something I need to cite; this is pure common knowledge here. The complaint nowadays that most movies are remakes or sequels is valid insofar as it’s a shame that there isn’t more original material out there. To decry remakes or sequels themselves is to forget fantastic remakes such as The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, The Fly, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Departed, The Magnificent Seven, A Fistful of Dollars, True Grit, and even Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (I am half kidding on the last one... half). It is to forget well regarded sequels (or entries in a franchise) such as The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part II, Aliens, From Russia With Love (and about ten more James Bond films), Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Dark Knight, For A Few Dollars More (a sequel to a remake), Toy Story 2 (I don’t personally like it, but everybody else does), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers & The Return of the King, and The Color of Money.

And the argument that most sequels are bad seems to forget that most movies are bad in general. You may dispute that, but watching Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer is all the solid evidence I need that most movies are just not worth watching, original or not.

As far as the context of the times when a movie was released goes, I’m afraid I can’t make excuses for films that people loved back in their day but that I can’t stomach today. Gone with the Wind isn’t continually beloved because it was merely great at the time; it is merely great. It has high drama (okay, melodrama), interesting and complicated characters, and astounding visuals. Casablanca is beloved because of its simple love story told well, and not because it suited the times well. One hundred years from now, even if the aesthetics and nature of film have changed immeasurably, There Will Be Blood will still be considered a masterpiece, and not just because the filmmaking was “good for its time.” The special effects of some old films may be dated, but they are remembered because our culture likes them, period. Innovative films that were just innovative but weren’t any good (The Birth of a Nation), are remembered as curiosities, but never watched for entertainment purposes.

Legacy can affect a film’s reception on first time views as well. John Rambo is a cultural force and his legacy is miles of body bags filled with mindless mooks, killed by Rambo’s bare fucking hands. This is his legacy, this is his legend. First Blood, John Rambo’s first outing on film, is a deliberately-paced, low-body-count, somber-at-times story about a shell-shocked Vietnam veteran who snaps. There is action, and it is glorious when it appears, but it happens much less than one would think given how the sequels have changed what we think of when we hear the name John Rambo. Would you be bored watching First Blood if you were expecting dozens of explosions and gallons of blood?

First Blood is good because of what it is, Gone with the Wind and Casablanca are good because of what they are, and all movies are what they are. They should not be a product of their advertising, their legacy, movies that came before it or their source material. They should all be judged on their own merits. That is what I try to do.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Review: The Sitter (2011), dir. David Gordon Green

The following review is spoiler free and is meant to be read BEFORE seeing the movie, as opposed to the upcoming podcast episode, which will contain spoilers and an in-depth discussion of this movie

I didn’t hate The Sitter, but I can count on one hand the things I liked about it. The fact that it isn’t funny isn’t the fault of the actors, but the horrendously bad writing and editing. The comedic timing is wrong throughout the movie and the only jokes that actually land do not involve the four leads. Sure, there is an emotionally satisfying moment here or there (a character’s freak-out by the river was something that was certainly well executed, and thankfully the scene doesn’t overstay its welcome), but overall the movie is a failed comedy.

This is a good illustration of why movies should strive to succeed in more than one area, because if a movie fails at the one thing it sets out to do, then it has nothing else going for it. With The Sitter, there are many attempts at seriousness and only a few of them are executed well; the rest of the moments are just bland and unsatisfying. So because it failed as a comedy and didn’t bother trying with the serious bits, we’re left with a movie that doesn’t work on any level. Nothing about it is horrendous or unwatchable, but it’s mostly unentertaining.

Overall, the only good things about The Sitter are Sam Rockwell, J.B. Smoove, and The Peña Colada Song.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Review: Hugo (2011), dir. Martin Scorsese

The following review has a minor spoiler

Hugo has many great touches to it. Scorsese and his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker are adept at giving his movie great touches. There is a moment where Isabella falls down amongst a sea of people and they walk over her is extraordinary. The moment where Hugo jumps down onto the train tracks to retrieve a key somehow breathes suspense into a scene where only cynics could believe anything bad could happen. Scorsese’s films are always a cut above the rest because of these little touches.

And yet, the writing isn’t the greatest. It isn’t that there is anything bad in the writing, but that the writing itself isn’t wholly inspiring. That is the great thing about Scorsese: even in a movie where some characters make turns that don’t feel genuine, or know things they can’t know (how does Papa Georges know that Hugo knows the book isn’t burned?), Scorsese’s visual flair and Schoonmaker’s editorial finesse make the flaws fall by the wayside.

The love of early cinema is everywhere in the visuals. In other 3D movies, the fake backgrounds look like fake backgrounds. In Hugo, the backgrounds still look fake, but somehow they look like old-fashioned matte paintings, albeit ones that are moving and in 3D. The train windows are tinted so as to make the trains themselves look sepia-toned. 3D movies were not invented by Mr. Scorsese, but they were clearly invented for him.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Review: The Departed (2006), dir. Martin Scorsese

In this review I share my thoughts on the ending. I don’t name any specifics but if you fear spoilers, read no further. Just know that this is one of my favorite films and I recommend it to everybody who isn’t offended by violence or foul language.

The Departed has so many great tricks up its sleeve: it has an interesting theme, it is crafted to perfection editorially and visually, and it is written for people who know how to watch movies without having to be beaten over the head with exposition.

Billy Costigan has two identities long before joining the special undercover unit of the Boston State Police. The son of divorced parents, he split his time between different parts of the city, with different behaviors and even different accents. In a way he has no real identity except for the one he wishes to project; as a respectable member of his family, and not a crook. What better way to be respected than to join the state police? Unfortunately, his motives are easily spotted by his superiors, and they use his less-than-savory family background to put Billy up as a mole with the Irish Mob, headed by the eccentric and unstable Frank Costello.

Colin Sullivan was drafted at a young age to work for Frank Costello. Sullivan has graduated the police academy at the start of our story, so he is now Costello’s mole inside the Boston State Police. Colin has his identity as a police officer, but he also has his identity as an associate in the Irish Mob.

The Departed is an amazing study in the nature of identity and how one's real self, projected self, and perceived self all become hard to disentangle. At all points in the movie, motives are up in the air, and we are left to wonder whose identity is at the forefront of every character decision. Is Billy a cop here, is he his father’s son, is he Costello’s new soldier? Is Colin in it for Costello or is he in it for the state police and personal glory?

On top of that, it is thankfully a suspenseful crime saga, well shot and well-acted. Having a great theme is one thing, but packing it on top of a movie that is so well crafted makes it a movie worth remembering. Thelma Schoonmaker won a well-deserved Academy Award for this picture, and the writing and directing won as well (a first for Martin Scorsese).

So we have a movie with a great theme, and crafted to perfection, so what else is there to say? I can say that The Departed is a rare movie that doesn’t treat the audience like simpletons. You’re either paying attention or you aren’t, and it’s your fault if you can’t keep up. Some people would say the film is too complicated; I say some people are too used to being fed exposition. I love not having to be told what I already know.

So what we have is a movie with three strengths, and these strengths make The Departed one of the best films of the Aughties. And when that final bit of symbolism scurries through the shot, I don’t feel like I’m being beaten over the head with obvious symbolism. Instead, I feel reminded of what all the departed main characters of the movie had in common. I’ve always thought that was brilliant.