CineFix

I’m a bit of a film nerd, and as much as I love YouTube channels like CinemaSins and WatchMojo, those are just fluff. However, I get a much deeper enjoyment out of the CineFix channel. I’ve really learned quite a bit about film from them. Here are a few of their more recent videos that I think are especially valuable for the critical film fan:

 

Stolen From The Library

I was just looking at my library district’s web page to see which branches have copies of some movies I’m looking to check out over the long weekend. One of them is The Expendables 3. Below is a screen shot of part of the results page for that one.

This is hilarious. Look how many copies were checked out and never returned! (Those are the ones marked “billed.”) Between this and the other branches shown on the rest of that page, there are dozens of copies borrowed and kept forever.

I’ve seen this note on other movies before, but never in quantities like this.

So, what is it about The Expendables 3 that makes so many people check it out and keep it?

library

How Rare a Possession: The Book of Mormon

Watched this oldie with the fam a little while back. I’ve always loved how it celebrates the Book of Mormon: how amazing its very nature is and how powerfully it touches lives. As a film, the intro is perfect, the 1st half of the main film is done a bit too earnestly, and the 2nd half is nearly perfect (while some of the cut-away scenes from the Book of Mormon are great, others haven’t aged well). Still, this is a treasure. I wish we had more films like it, and I wish more people would watch it. (Seriously, why does this only have 18,000 views? It should be 18 million!)

Teachers as Curators

An old dichotomy has it that teachers are “the sage on the stage” or “the guide on the side,” (though I think it’s really a bit of both), but especially in the digital age, we’re also curators. For an English teacher in particular, a lot of our job now entails being a gatekeeper of media materials.

We’ve always taught students how to evaluate such things (as credible sources in a research unit, for example), but more and more I find myself actively showing young people how to be critical consumers of mass media. From web sites to classic movies to whatever’s on Netflix, the little tangents in class are now frequently spent in comparing and contrasting things, noting on what criteria various things succeed or fail, or modeling some other process of sifting the timeless from the ephemeral in the electronic world.

It doesn’t hurt (or help?) that practically any given day in my classes will consist of bits of various media squeezed in to help illustrate things, make connections, and extend ideas.

Today, for instance, my speech & debate class watched this video about vocal fry. Classes that are starting Huckleberry Finn just got a posting on our class web page about free audio resources online to help them understand the dialects. This was after our last class, where they annotated this article about free speech controversies in American schools, and which I supplemented with another post on our web page with ancillary resources, including this NPR interview with President Obama’s recent thoughts about banning unpopular speech in colleges (he’s against it).

The illustration at the top of that free speech article, though? I pointed out that that little boy looks like Danny in The Shining. Only a few kids got the reference. I briefly summarized the movie and recommended it, for those who like horror. Other great but obscure-to-kids-these-days movies I’ve name-checked and given a thumbs up to in recent classes: Animal House, The Sound of Music, The Iron Giant, Seven, Galaxy Quest…and Dude, Where’s My Car? (They don’t all have to be masterpieces.)

I see myself doing more, not less, of this in the future. With an ever-greater abundance of choices, with an ever-greater past body of work behind them, and with increasing consolidation and dumbing-down of mainstream media, such cultural literacy and evaluative skills will be more important to them than ever.

What this also means, though, is that teachers need to be constantly updating their own reserve of media resources. That’s the professional development of the 21st century.

Steps Scene from The Hidden Fortress (1958)

 

This brilliant scene showcases the physical vitality of much classic film (especially in the work of director Akira Kurosawa), as opposed to the relatively unrealistic style of film today.

This scene is also an homage to the Odessa Steps scene in the even older Russian classic Battleship Potemkin (1925).

The film itself–particularly the two bumbling low-class men from whose vantage point the story is shown–heavily influenced George Lucas in the making of Star Wars (in which those characters become R2D2 and C-3PO).

Will the Ghostbusters Reboot Still Be Anti-Government?

04-ghostbusters.w529.h352The first trailer for the Ghostbusters reboot is worrisome: it has more than a few hints of sexism and racism, which suggests something even worse…lazy writing. And that might be a clue to something far worse still…it might not be funny.

The difference in tone between the 1984 original and the new reboot could manifest itself in another way, too.

Ghostbusters was gleefully and thoroughly anti-government. Remember, this was the plot: plucky entrepreneurial start-up faces opposition from a stagnant, invasive big-government regulator (in the form of an Environmental Protection Agency lawyer who screeches about licensing), who ultimately uses force to get his way and causes a giant catastrophe.

And beside that, we get this glorious classic line of dialogue: “Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities; we didn’t have to produce anything. You’ve never been out of college. I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results.”

Will the reboot continue this contrarian, anti-authoritarian streak? The new trailer doesn’t give much hope, but I’ll keep hoping anyway.

D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916): Complete Babylon

This video has the Babylon segments of D.W. Griffith’s 1916 silent film epic Intolerance. The entire 3-hour film rotates between four stories in different historical periods, and while each of the four has its charms, the Babylonian story is by far the best. As this classic of cinema celebrates its 100th anniversary, here is that story, complete and by itself.

 

Ode to Catch-22, from Stone Reader

My favorite scene from the 2002 documentary Stone Reader. The combination here of the elemental score, the slow and colorful visuals, and the simultaneously awakening and valedictory narration make this a truly beautiful bit of the filmmaking art.

I copied and posted this clip online because nobody has much from this great movie anywhere, and I want to spread awareness of it. I encourage anyone seeing this to appreciate this celebration of literacy and to purchase the complete documentary–it’s really a wonderful film.

 

The New Star Wars Trailer–A Cinematic Appreciation

The best thing about the new Star Wars teaser trailer is how thoroughly cinematic it is.  Most trailers, especially teaser trailers, are just a lazy mess of spotlighted clips.  This one, though, was clearly constructed with a specific narrative arc in mind.

It naturally falls into three acts:

Act I: Establishing character and setting

First we see Tatooine, then we see a hero.  The hero is tired, sweaty, and scared.  And alone.  That’s how we know he’s a hero, despite the Stormtrooper uniform–villains never appear so beleaguered in Act I.

The soccer ball droid reassures us that two big mainstays of the series are still present: innovation and whimsy.

The next shot reaffirms the first: a panicked, lone hero in a hurry.  No coincidence here: clearly, we’re meant to know that this film will show our new protagonists in a fractured, oppressed state, desperate to escape a threatening presence.  This, of course, is highlighted by the gravelly voiceover.

The fourth “scene” reaffirms the second: a reassurance here, not of innovation and whimsy, but of action and equipment.  Few series are so rooted in their weapons and vehicles as Star Wars, and this part of the trailer shows us J.J. Abrams doing what he did with Star Trek: preserving the bets of the old while updating its peripheral elements.

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Reviewed: Days of Heaven

I was interested in the work of Terrence Malick after seeing Tree of Life.  As I started watching his much earlier film Days of Heaven, I was at first reminded of Ron Howard’s Far and Away: young lovers brought together and separated by the the trials of pioneer life in an earlier American era, set against the gorgeous backdrops of that unsullied wilderness.

But where Howard’s movie was a fun bit of pop celluloid, Malick’s is art.

The style is wholly ambitious.  Not unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey in this sense, he uses dialogue sparsely, and constructs a deceptively simple plot.  Much of the film’s meaning is communicated symbolically through the physical environment on which the story is imposed.

Days of Heaven begins in fire: the furnaces of a factory and the violence that attends them.  After this prologue, we enter the paradise promised in the title; indeed, the story’s central act is truly a season of heaven on earth, one of those times in life where everything is perfect and you just lose yourself in the rapture of it all.

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2013: My Year in Film

I got out of the habit of keeping track of what I watched last year.  I’m back in it, but for now, here are the first 12 movies I can remember seeing for the first time last year, in alphabetical order:

 

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

So much swashbuckling fun!  Actually saw this as a little kid, but couldn’t remember much about it; watched this with the fam now, and everybody loved it.  Errol Flynn is the perfect Robin Hood (“You speak treason!” “…Fluently.”)

Strange to contrast this with 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, a movie so bad I hadn’t bothered to see it again since then, and when I did this year, I thought it was even worse.  From the constant hero shots of Costner’s mullet, to the weird ways they contort their own screenplay to find excuses to use Morgan Freeman’s character, this is a sad, obvious bunch of clichés.  What a joke.  At least Alan Rickman knew enough to ham it up.

10/10 (the 1938 version!)

 

Babette’s Feast (Danish, 1987)

My main train of thought watching this was how different–and how much worse–this would have been as an American production.  In a Hollywood version, Babette would have been a sexy cougar whose metaphorically erotic orgy of food would have “liberated” all the “narrow-minded prudes” around her, freeing them all to “be who they really are.”

As it is, Babette’s Feast is far more subtle, realistic, and, therefore, moving.

8/10

 

Ikiru (Japanese, 1952)

Honestly, I didn’t see what the big deal about this Kurosawa classic was for most of the film.  Sure, it was poignant and beautiful, but not earth-shatteringly so.  Until the final act.  That daring bit of directorial bravado–where tipsy mourners at the protagonist’s wake review his final days, intercut with scenes of the great living in question–profoundly impressed me.  Genuinely insightful and impressive.

Another contrast with a hypothetical American version: in Hollywood, Watanabe would have had a love affair with Toyo in the second act, finding his passion for life in the arms of a young woman.  How sad that we’re so predictable.

10/10

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Two Great Musical Scenes

My favorite part of The Music Man is at the very beginning.  I know it’s simple, but I still think the whole “song synchronized with the train” thing is catchy and clever.

But I was also charmed by the ending of Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You.  How did he make something so random still feel organic?  The weird magical realism of this scene somehow works–it’s sweet and charming.  The whole point of musicals is to express deep emotion by depicting life filled with song and dance, and this scene just does that even more boldly.

5 Things The Star Wars Prequels Got Right

Yes, they’re awful movies, but there are some great things about them that we should be able to acknowledge despite that.

1. The music.  John Williams’ “Duel of the Fates” is a terrific theme, as are its derivatives.  Totally worthy of the series.  The usage of the theme was even judicious, never becoming obnoxious.

2. The titles.  The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith are great names, in full harmony with the original three–nostalgic, evocative, melodramatic.  Too bad the content didn’t live up to the promise here.

3. The conspiracy. Continue reading

Winter Light and the Light of Christ

This week I finally saw Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light.  What a beautiful film, in many ways.  I absolutely loved it.

The most striking part, though, was a scene near the end where a supporting character gets his screen time to talk to our protagonist, a pastor plagued by doubt and melancholy.  The church sexton confesses to the pastor that our apparent understanding of Christ’s suffering is superficial, limited to the cross.

He wonders if the emotional suffering of Gethsemane, and the spiritual elements of the crucifixion might not have been worse.  He describes these scriptural details in a way that deeply intensifies the Lord’s suffering.

I sat up pretty straight during this scene.  His confused reaching for truth brings him so close to a Latter-day Saint knowledge of the Atonement.  I wanted to tap him on the shoulder and talk about the Book of Mormon.  I wanted to show him Jeffrey R. Holland’s Easter talk below.

Sadly, YouTube doesn’t have a clip of just this scene.  It starts around 7:00 in the 7th video in the linked playlist, and runs about 40 seconds into the 8th.

Winter Light YouTube playlist