Category Archives: Moving Pictures

Moving Picture Time

ABBA along with Tim Rice wrote a concept album for an ’80s musical called Chess. This is from that musical and it’s all kinds of good.

The music is catchy as hell and the lyrics are goofy genius. My favorite bit:

Get Thai’d! You’re talking to a tourist
Whose every move’s among the purest
I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine

 

Books vs Moving Pictures

At one point last Friday night, while at a bar downtown, a friend of mine turned to me and said, “Have you seen Game of Thrones?” His question had a lot of enthusiasm behind it, and I laughed inwardly because I was immediately reminded of something I had seen earlier that day, which was this:

Now, I of course didn’t yell at my friend like the bearded fellow in the video. I just explained to him that I had read the books long before the tv show came out and I didn’t want to ruin, by watching a filmed version, my self-imagined images of the characters and settings in the book.

A couple days later I found myself thinking about that idea again. Does watching a dramatized version of one of your favorite books really kill the images you’ve created in your head? When I tried to pull up images of the characters from the book series I discovered that I don’t really have any clear images of any of them. Instead, what I have, are vague notions and blank faces. I can picture the places quite well but the characters remain illusive and ghost-like; lacking detail and shadow. Take for example the character of Jon Snow. He is a major character in the books and yet all I could say of him appearance-wise is that he’s a fair-haired, somewhat handsome teenager who looks older than his actual age. Very generic. Even a character with a very distinct look like the dwarf Tyrion, who is described with a lot of detail by Mr Martin, does not hold a strong image for me. The best I can come up with is a very cartoonish-looking short man with straw for hair and a pot belly; and even that image is influenced by a childhood memory of some old cartoon movie the title of which has long since departed my mind. Unable to escape the promos for HBO’s Game of Thrones, I have seen the live-action Tyrion and although I think he is a little too good looking a dwarf to be playing the disgustingly ugly Tyrion I have to admit that he was probably very well cast.

What, then, is the problem? Why am I so reluctant to watch the tv series? I have no reason to think that watching the show will impact my life in a negative way. I mean, why would it?

Back when I was in university, the film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings came out. Previous to them coming out, I had read the three-book novel 3 times. It was and still is probably my favorite book. I remember at that time that I felt exactly how I feel now. I very much wanted to watch the films but was afraid they would disappoint me and ruin the images I had gleaned from Tolkien’s words. And then a friend of mine scored tickets to the midnight opening of the first film and gave me one. I thought to hell with it and gladly went to the theater. I liked the movie. I wasn’t impressed with the portrayal of the main characters and various casting choices but the masterfully done CGI and the amazing natural scenery of New Zealand, which matches the landscapes of the book so well, trumped the negatives. Those movies were obviously made by people who cared A LOT about the novel and didn’t want to mess things up. Turned out that watching the movies didn’t kill my perception of the books after all, nor did seeing the characters on the big screen replace my own mind-made images of the characters and the settings.

So, why this hesitation again? If the television series is good enough for the author of the books, then surely it should be good enough for me. He actually works on the show for chrissakes. I suppose I’m just being a book snob. But, I think that by writing this post, I have convinced myself to give the tv version a go.

Imagination, be damned.

The Problem with Argo

Argo

This isn’t one of those Argo-sucks-because-it-doesn’t-give-Canada-enough-credit arguments. Although, I will say that it was in incredibly poor taste to make horribly cliché Canadians-are-nice-but-useless jokes in a movie that literally would not exist if the Canadian embassy had not protected 6 Americans who ran away from their embassy in Tehran that day.

No, this is an argument about how the film Argo didn’t deserve any of the accolades it received in both Britain and Hollywood. Mind you, I’m basing this argument on the premise that awards given out for film (or any other art form for that matter) mean something, which of course, they don’t.

First, I’d like to make a distinction between two types of moving pictures: There exists those we can label ‘film’ and those we can label ‘movie’. A film is a work of art which is meant to dramatize some event or situation but not necessarily in an enjoyable-to-the-audience fashion. Films are usually serious affairs exploring some aspect of the human condition; in which the director tries to make every shot or scene carry artistic weight. A movie, conversely, is a story told in a way as to be enjoyed by the largest audience possible. Making the movie look appealing and for it to be enjoyable is far more important to the director than making art.

Both of these, the film or the movie, can be done well or done poorly. Some The Masterrecent examples: In the good column for ‘film’ would be The Master and for ‘movie’ would be Skyfall. In the bad column, I’m cautiously suggesting The Tree of Life for film (I mean seriously, what the fuck was with that movie and everybody gushing over it? It had NO point and Malick’s floating camera and wispy colors are just too much sentimentality for me to handle) and for movie, well, there’s a million I could put down, but I’ll throw The Avengers out there because I know so many people liked that movie.

[[The following paragraph contains spoilers]]
Argo
is a title which doesn’t fall neatly into either the ‘film’ category or the ‘movie’ category. Because it’s based on true events that weren’t that exciting to begin with (like another big name movie from last year *cough* zerodarkthirty *cough*) the director has a choice to make; either stay true to the story and ?????????????????make the drama about the characters and what they’re feeling using poignant dialogue or spice things up a little with comic relief and made-up action that wasn’t there in the real life story. Mr. Affleck chose to try to spice up the story and by doing so failed to make a good ‘film’. He also failed to make a good ‘movie’ because it wasn’t fun to watch; it was boring and other than looking good, had nothing to offer the audience. The sad attempts at comedy in this film were the aforementioned Canada jokes, everything that came out of John Goodman’s mouth and the line in the market scene, where the guy’s holding the viewfinder backwards and Affleck leans in and says something like, “If I was to tell you that you were looking into the wrong end of that viewfinder, would I be correct?” Groan. As for forced action sequences, the climax of the movie was a ridiculous airport scene, which culminates in the bad guys chasing the plane carrying the Americans down the runway. Really, Ben? Argo would have worked as a ‘film’ if they had stuck to the real story and not embellished things. Like I said, it was a good-looking period piece. What would have served it better would have been to write smarter, lengthier dialogue and to repress the urge to make a ‘movie’.

By trying to walk the line between film and movie, Argo fails as both. It was not 223902id1k_THE TOWN_27x40_1Sheet_0410.inddenjoyable, as a good ‘movie’ should be, nor was it an artistic achievement, as a good ‘film’ should be with great characters, dialogue, and meaning. There are certainly worse movies out there, but Argo provides a classic example of how a mediocre movie can be propelled to a status of greatness by riding a wave of Hollywood, in-circle, self admiration. Affleck should stick to making fun, entertaining, solid movies like The Town and forget about trying to make Oscar-bait films.

The D is Silent

django-unchained-poster

 

I was lucky enough to watch a film screening of Django Unchained today. The movie doesn’t come out here until March, so it was cool to see it early with a nice group of filmsters.

When I saw the trailer for Django Unchained I was not excited.  Some people believe Tarantino’s a genius, but I say until he departs from his winning formula of ultra-violence, bad language, oddball-morally-dubious characters and nerd-witty dialogue, he will not have proven himself a genius in my books. I’d love to see him make a movie that is a total departure for him, to test himself a little. Mind you, I’m not saying that Tarantino isn’t amazing at what he does,  I’m just a little tired of his movies all having the same atmosphere. That being said, I’d still rather watch any of his movies than sit through another Terence Malick flick. At least Tarantino movies are actually entertaining.

And Django is just that; entertaining. From moments of legitimate comedic delight to moments of over-the-top violence (both funny incidentally) this movie is a riot. In one gun-fight scene, he employs massive, syrupy squibs spewing huge volumes of blood timed with sound effects from incoming bombs; not bullets. The effect is striking. Tarantino does violence so well, because he’s not afraid to wink at you as he does it, letting you know that he knows how ridiculous it looks. There’s also a death scene at the end of the movie, where you can almost see Tarantino literally pulling the strings (or ropes in this case), and saying, “Look, how absurd this is.” Everyone watching laughed, so obviously it worked. As for the actors, Christoph Waltz is fantastic again, and DiCaprio is full of energy and proves that he can play a bad guy just as well as he can a good one. That’s one thing that Tarantino is good at–getting good performances out of actors–and in this film it was a true joy to watch those two on screen. Samuel Jackson is good in it, too, which is saying something considering he hasn’t had a good performance in years. The soundtrack, which is also one of Tarantino’s strengths, was as usual a good mix of good songs. And although I still can’t get comfortable with hip-hop in a period piece: it just doesn’t seem to fit, hearing Richie Havens’ Freedom in the film more than made up for that.

Conclusion: an entertaining, well executed movie with good acting from big names. I might even go see it again when it comes to theaters in March.