Monday, August 31, 2009

My Battle With War As Entertainment

There's a constant war that rages within me. It's a vicious war and it goes something like this. Can a film about war be considered entertainment? Or better written, can I relax the sphincter enough to enjoy a war film and not feel bad about it? It's a good question - one that I seem to play both sides of. A movie is usually considered entertainment. It's true that a great film surpasses that, but mostly people escape to theaters or DVD Players to laugh, to cry, to be scared. I would never tell someone that Saving Private Ryan (minus the opening and closing scenes) "Fucking rocks and you must see it!" But I would say it's a very good war film. One that I have revisited several times. And so the question is, why have I revisited it several times? And I suppose the answer would be for it's entertainment value. What? There's entertainment in watching American Soldiers being blown to bits? To see a man holding his insides and calling for him Mommy? See my dilemma? I would be lying if I said that watching the soldiers approach Omaha Beach with the fear in their sunken eyes didn't cause my heart rate to rise. Or the ending standoff isn't some of the greatest action I've ever seen. But should I feel guilty for feeling that way?

And what of other war films? Like Three Kings, which I loved. Or more recently with The Hurt Locker, which I think is one of the standout films of the year. At no point did I feel dirty for enjoying those films, even though they were about war. And what about Platoon? Apocalypse Now? The Deer Hunter? Full Metal Jacket? I have enjoyed all of these and could revisit them again and again without a second thought. But I would describe each one of these as a great war film, which is almost like saying someone is a great black man. Or a great Asian man. Why do I have to label it? Can't I just let it be a great film? Must I categorize it? It's almost like I'm apologizing for it already. Or drumming up pre-conceived notions that may or may not have existed before. And of course, I'm not even including the other countless war films from the past.

This war within me came to a head recently with my viewing of Paul Verhoeven's Black Book. It played out as a very entertaining film but it dealt with heavy subject matter - that being World War II and the flight of Jews during that time. In commenting about it on Ed Howard's blog Only The Cinema for TOERIFC, I found it hard to outright say that I enjoyed the film. I felt guilty about doing so. Or at least describing it as an entertaining film. As a matter of fact, I felt it wrong for Verhoeven to take the approach he did with World War II as the background.

As far as I can tell, I seem to mostly have a problem with World War II, due to its subject matter. There have been many enemies in many wars, but I think the Nazi's are about as close to the devil incarnate as I have seen.

So of course, it makes no sense that I completely loved Inglourious Basterds. Or maybe it does. Honestly, I don't know anymore. Maybe I love it because it puts the Jews on the offensive. (the same reason why I can revisit Munich) Maybe I love it because it knowingly tips its hat to movie after movie. Maybe I love it because I'm in love with Melanie Laurent. Maybe I love it because it might just be Tarantino's most sophisticated writing to date. The opening scene between Colonel Hans and the French Farmer is filled with dialogue. But where in the past Tarantino's dialogue solely existed to prove how cool the character was, or Tarantino was, this dialogue defines motives. Creates tension. Dare I say, advances the story.

Maybe I love it because it's lovable. Because Tarantino made it that way. The moment that the opening credits began and type font after type font appeared on the screen, I was smiling. Not unlike when a great comedian takes the stage. Before that comedian has opened his mouth, I'm enjoying myself because I know I will enjoy myself. I think for all of Tarantino's trailblazing in the film industry, the truth is he wants you to enjoy his films. He needs you to enjoy his films. He is not a Steven Soderbergh who will go off and make a film that only a handful of people will like. Or see. No, Tarantino is a pleaser and you can tell that through every aspect of this movie and every movie he's made. The music, the freeze frames, the characters, the dialogue. He makes his movies like you're in on the joke.

Inglourious Basterds is not without its faults. I could have done without the chapters. To me, they were unneeded and frankly felt as if Tarantino had lost a little trust in his audience's ability to keep up. I hated the scene where Colonel Landa was being introduced to Aldo Raine, Donowitz and Ulmer as Italian filmmakers. It was too slapstick for me and felt out of place in the story. And while Tarantino has made strides in the dialogue department, there were still some places that felt a little too chatty. Specifically, the scene between Colonel Landa, Raine and Utivich. The scene should have been there to advance the story, and it felt like Tarantino was showing off a bit. But probably my biggest complaint, and it's not necessarily a complaint as a wish, I wished that we could have seen more of the Basterds. An entire movie could have played out introducing each one of these characters to us and showing us why this brotherhood was so important. I'm not usually one for insisting on a backstory, but this would have been good to speak to the motivations.

What I guess I like about Inglouious Basterds, and what I like about every single Tarantino movie for that matter, is that I left entertained. The fact that he can make an entertaining film against the backdrop of one of the worst wars in history is a testament to his talent. Either that or I'm finally ending my war against war movies. We will have to see.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Say You? To Love Or Hate Quentin Tarantino

The love him camp.

This is where I fall. I love the guy. Every time he makes a movie, I am first in line to see it. (Actually, Piper and I are first in line.) He is arguably the most interesting director working today. He always shoots for the moon, and even if he falls short, I love Tarantino for trying. I admire his rich pop culture dripping dialogue and his overriding mission to make entertaining movies.

I saw Inglourious Basterds and it worked for me. Siskel and Ebert once defined a great movie as one with three great scenes. Using those criteria, this was a great movie:

1) Opening interrogation scene with Colonel Hans Landa and the man at the farmhouse.
2) The shootout in the basement.
3) The Interrogation “shoe fits” scene with Colonel Landa and Bridget von Hammersmark.

The hate him camp.

I don’t fall into this camp, but I know there are many campers here. Detractors say Tarantino falls in love with his own dialogue, his movies are way too long and he doesn’t have an original idea. All he does is steal from better directors and then he calls it homage.

I’ve read some reviews of Inglourious Basterds that were pretty vicious. The LA Times describes the pace as “glacial.” Kenneth Turan goes on to say, “… also getting in the way is Tarantino’s inevitable self-indulgence, his willingness to please himself by choosing movie moments over genuine emotion.”

WHAT SAY YOU? Do you love Tarantino or hate him?

From Brian

Friday, August 21, 2009

It's Gotta Be The Eyes

I love Zooey Deschanel. Yes, I do. And as I'm writing this, I'm screaming it from the rooftops. Screaming and screaming. There seem to be some police gathering below and telling me to "shut the hell up." But I won't! I won't do it, because my love is greater than a badge. Greater than Mr. Lawman. What does Mr. Law know about deep, deep love? Okay, now the police are drawing their billy clubs and some pepper spray? Is that pepper spray? But that won't stop me! Fear of being beaten about the cranium and spayed in the face with pepper will not stop me from declaring my love. Okay, they're getting really close now. And upon further observation, that pepper spray is actually a tazer gun. Okay screw this, I'm running back inside and locking the door behind me. There, now I'm safe.

Okay, I will quietly declare my love for Zoey. Not as an actress, although I do like her as that. But mostly for her eyes. And her voice. If Zooey could sing me to sleep every night and let me get lost in her eyes without getting creeped out by a grown man falling asleep in front of her while staring into her eyes, I would be a happy man.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

If Loving Cinema Is Wrong, Then There's Something Seriously Fucked Up In The World

Let's go back a couple of days. Okay a week. Alright, let's go back several weeks. That's when Greg at the fantastically awesomely something or other tagged me for the meme Why Being A Cinephile Matters.

It was a meme created for the sole purpose of reminding Greg and others why they love blogging about film. I am finding myself more in the ebbs than the flows of film blogging lately, and when I'm in the ebbs, I am really in the ebbs. I don't write, I don't comment, I don't check traffic. It's like my blog is a needy lover that I can't just flirt with. I have to leave it completely. The fact that I'm a traffic whore doesn't help me at all, because while I'm completely unmotivated to write, I think that I must so that people don't forget about me all together. And on top of that, I decided to create a parenting blog for some reason or another, so I have been writing some on that and that has taken away from this and blah, blah, blah, blah. But I seem to be peeking out from the darkness a bit, work has slowed down some and I have more of a desire to begin writing about film again. And while the desire is great some days just to shut down Lazy Eye Theatre, I don't know that I ever could because part of loving film is talking/writing about it. And to me, if I gave up my movie blog, it's like saying that I don't love movies anymore. And I can't have that.

So to officially show why I love film, I will complete Greg's task and list why I think being a Cinephile matters. And I'm going to tweak it a bit and explain why being a film blogger matters. Here we go.


You weren't ready, were you?

Okay, I'll give you a second.

Okay. Ready?

Seriously, just get ready already.

Ready now?

Okay, here we go.

* I've discovered that it's much easier to hate a film than to love one. That being a true lover of cinema means to not walk into a movie with a loaded pistol ready to shoot holes.

* I've discovered that I'm not much of a reviewer. More of a color commentator. There are far too many great reviews out there. And people who can write them far better than me.

* I've discovered Sergio Leone and found a new love for Westerns. Not just the spaghetti kind.

* Like Greg, I too discovered the sub-genre Pinky Violence and what a wild and wonderful world that is.

* I've discovered that I am not the only one who loves the films of John Carpenter. And that's it's possible that there are some who love his films more than me.

* I've discovered that the Koreans know what they're doing when it comes to cinema.

* I've discovered that there's more to Paul Verhoeven than Robocop.

* I've discovered that even the worst films still have interesting subtext if you look hard enough.

* And conversely, I've discovered there's a lot of subtext that's just a bunch of hogwash.

* I've discovered that explaining why a movie is really good, or really sucks, takes a lot of talent.

* I've discovered that a great review can engage a conversation even if you've never seen the movie. It can also erase a lot of pre-conceived notions.

* And finally, I've discovered that I will never know enough about film. And that is a very humbling and exciting discovery.

Sorry this is late Greg, but thanks for having me do it.

I will now tag some people

Tommy at Pluck You Too

elgringo at He Shot Cyrus

Adam at A Shot In The Dark

Joseph at It's A Mad Mad Blog 2 (I'm still working on your meme, by the way)

J.D. at Radiator Heaven

Paul at Careful With That Blog, Eugene

and Fletch at Blog Cabins

Monday, August 17, 2009

I Speak Prawn Fluently

So I saw District 9 on Sunday and well...

I wouldn't say I was disappointed, I would say that I just wasn't amazed.

The documentary format was well done, but it was also one of the film's weaknesses. The problem with the Quaratines and Cloverfields of the film world is that you can only buy the documentary technique for so long. At some point there are just places that the story goes where it doesn't make sense for the camera to tag along. In Quarantine, there's NO WAY the camera guy walks into the rooms he does in real life. But the technique demands that he does, so the whole point of the realistic documentary style is lost. Perhaps Blomkamp was aware of this, because he attempts to mix and match docu-style with good old fashioned dramatic storytelling. But it's a tall order to switch like that. To one moment be seeing it as real life, and then dramatically the next. And I'm not sure it works. Especially when we start to delve into alien life a bit deeper. To me, the story works if we keep knowledge at a distance. Much like gathering footage from watching the news. There is a base of knowledge that we can gather, but it isn't the real scoop. And the fun is in wondering what the deeper story is. Once we begin to understand what the aliens are thinking and where their motivations lie, the technique and the story begins to fall apart.

The film is not without its strengths, however. The effects were fantastic and for a rookie directorial effort, I think Blomkamp shows great promise. And if I put it up against the other summer dreck thus far, its stock rises considerably.

But here's my bigger beef with the film. In every scene, the humans can communicate perfectly with the aliens. We see subtitles (note to Jason and Ed, I wonder if they will offer the DVD with dubs in English?), yet the humans understand everything. Every whizz, rattle and click. And I'm thinking to myself, how is that so? How can that happen? Yes it's true that the aliens have been established in Johannesburgh for 18 years, but the relationship is so strained between them and the humans, when did someone bother to understand what they were saying? And if they did, how did it happen? To me, that's an interesting story. One I would have liked to see.

TOERIFC Monday - The Merchant Of The Four Seasons

Join in on the discussion happening at Tractor Facts

Friday, August 7, 2009

John Hughes 1950-2009

I was going to title this post As Goes John Hughes, So Goes My Childhood. It's got a nice flow to it, but it's not very accurate and a tad dramatic. It might make more sense if Hughes was still making movies the likes of Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Breakfast Club. But he's not and hasn't for a long time.

What I probably liked best about Hughes is that he gave teenagers a voice. No doubt he probably made them smarter than they actually were, or prettier than they actually were, or deeper than they actually were. But for the first time in my cinema going history, I saw teenagers come out from the background and stand front and center.

To me a John Hughes film represents what a film experience should be. An escape. Pure and simple. No one looked at things with rosier colored glasses. In his world, the smartass outsmarts the principle. The geek ends up with the Prom Queen. And yes indeed, you can create Kelly LeBrock from your computer. And it doesn't matter how old I've gotten. Or jaded. Or cynical. When I'm in his world, I believe it all. Because it's a lot more fun to do so.

Early on in the history of this blog, I wrote my very first Blog-A-Thon post for Lucas McNelly's 100 Films. I wrote it about John Hughes and the love/hate relationship I've had with him while growing up. It seems a fitting homage to his career and what it meant to me.


Monday, August 3, 2009

The Trouble With Adam

I'm in my "I'm going to sum up a movie without really seeing it mode." It's not a good mode, but I'm in it regardless. I've already decided I'm not going to like Funny People even though I have been looking forward to it. Actually, my sum up a movie without really seeing it mode told me that Funny People would be Apatow's sweet spot. That this will be the film where he finally got it. But the reviews are in. Some are good and some say that it's disjointed. That it's too long. That Apatow doesn't fully grasp the dramatic part of the movie. These are all the things I was hoping that Apatow would fix. Because the truth is, his movies are too long. And a lot of the scenes feel like they're there just to be funny. I know, you're saying "but Piper, it's a comedy." And I'll say "but a good comedy is seamlessly funny. It doesn't feel like you've taken a break from the story to make something funny."

And because I'm in my "I'm going to sum up a movie without really seeing it mode" I'm going to also take aim at this trailer for the film titled Adam. It's about a guy with Aspergers. If you know about Aspergers, you know that their are varying degrees of Aspergers. If you live with someone who has Aspergers, you live with it. You understand it. There are sweet moments and not so sweet moments. I have some good friends with a child with Aspergers. He's a great kid. But here's the thing, because there's always a thing. This condition will be glorified for the sake of making a movie, I just know it. Things will get missed, or brushed over. Much like they did in The Martian Child when dealing with attachment disorder. No doubt there are highs and lows involved in children with disorders, but those highs and lows never play out to "Mr. Blue Sky" by E.L.O. or whatever indie song is popular at the time. So while the trailer looks nice and cute and whatever, I don't know that I can fully buy into it, because in the back of my head I will always be asking myself if something was compromised to make the story a bit sweeter. And if it was, shame on them because then they're just using a disorder to "mix up" a love story when they should have just told a good love story to begin with.

Of course, I could be completely wrong.