Showing posts with label Filmic Cultural Selectivity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Filmic Cultural Selectivity. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Generic Movie: Hollywood as of 1980 or as of Its Origins?

Sean Mattie and I have been discussing, via email, the current fiscal/narrative conservatism that Hollywood seems to be exhibiting of late. His argument, and it is a common argument among critics, is that Hollywood is "no longer" in the business of making original productions and now busies themselves with adaptations of other works and long strings of sequels/remakes.

Having read The Day of the Locust (and seen the movie) and The Loved One (and seen that movie too), I am less critical of modern Hollywood than he is. I think that Hollywood has always been in the business of being risk averse and that the question to consider is whether the overall quality of entertainment offered today is less than that of any other given point in history. I am also of the opinion that quality is up compared to most eras of cinema, but that classic movies of the past are...well...Classic.

Speaking of The Day of the Locust, the thing I have always liked most about the Simpsons television show is how Homer Simpson continually visually references his namesake and his "big hands" in the majority of episodes. Every time Homer is choking Bart, you are getting a glimpse of the end of The Day of the Locust.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hulu Recommendation Friday: Angel and the Badman

John Wayne didn't receive formal accolades for his acting ability until his 1970 performance as Marshall Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn. It is often argued that the reason the Oscar, and Golden Globe, was awarded is due to the fact that in playing "against type" John Wayne finally proved that he was a capable actor. Those who make this argument often point to the John Wayne film, The Shootist, as another example of how the "usually cardboard" Wayne was able to bring another powerful performance to screen.

Those who believe that John Wayne only came into "deep" acting later in his career are wearing some fairly narrow blinders and have to ignore a long list of worthy performances.

Wayne's performance in The Quiet Man is simultaneously vulnerable and powerful, passionate and reserved, melancholy and puckish. The film is a joy to watch for a wide variety of reason, but John Wayne's wonderful performance is one of those reasons.

In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a movie where Wayne simultaneously plays the stereotype and breaks it wide open, Wayne's performance uses the audience's knowledge of his past films to good effect. Audiences were used to seeing the tough Wayne who met challenges head on, kills the bad guy, is fawned upon by the community, and who often ended up with the girl -- a perfect example of this character is Wayne's performance in Rio Bravo or Stagecoach. But Tom Donophon, Wayne's character in Valance, only accomplishes two of these line items. Donophon does that most remarkable of things. He gives credit, and all the rewards due to the individual to whom credit is given, to another man -- a man he believes to be better than himself. The film is a perfect argument against Machiavellian style politics, and a presentation of true heroic virtue. Donophon refuses to take any credit for a heroic deed, even though it means he must live without the woman he loves. He does this because the community needs him to do it. Wayne's performance is powerful in this film, and his heartbreak is palpable.

There are several other examples in Wayne's career of great performances, The Searchers and Red River also immediately jump to mind, but one of those performances that is often overlooked is Angel and the Badman a film in which we see glimpses of the actor's potential to break free from the cardboard hero in a screenplay were the audience, like in the later Valance, can see that there is more to the Western than good guy kills bad guy.

In Angel and the Badman, we see Wayne without the scaffolding of Howard Hawks or John Ford. This time, Wayne is directed by James Edward Grant who is better known for his screenplays than his directing, and who no one would argue was an auteur. The film is a vehicle for Wayne as "John Wayne," but it ends up being much more than that.

The film's story is a simple one. Quirt Evans is a man of the West. He largely lives outside the law, taking what he wants, and living life to its hedonistic fullest. Quirt isn't a purely evil man, but he is an amoral one and his flexible morality has come into conflict with another outlaw named Laredo Stevens.

So far, the names and character types are almost caricatures from a bad dime novel. Quirt? Laredo? These aren't names of characters one expects in a film of substance. That's typically true, but Grant -- who also wrote the screenplay -- is about to take our expectations of a cardboard tale and throw it for a loop.

As might be expected, Quirt gets injured in a rundown with Laredo. Quirt's injuries are not small and he ends up demanding to be cared for by a family of Quakers named Worth. Penelope Worth (Gail Russell) -- again with those obvious names -- takes a high interest in Quirt and the two eventually develop an emotional attachment. In the end, Quirt must choose between love and violence, between living a moral life or defending those he has come to love by murdering the villain Laredo.

This would all be typical stuff, and the audience can see which way the wind is taking Wayne by the color of his hat in a given scene as it alternates between black and white, except that Grant is making a more sophisticated argument than one might initially expect -- and Wayne is able to portray the moral complexity of the character required to advance that argument. Grant doesn't merely give us a tale where pacifism equals moral virtue and violent action equals moral vice. The film is as complex as High Noon in the way it balances legitimate authority and pacifism.

The Worth family, while happy, is suffering due to their religious practices and it is only Quirt who can convince their neighbor to give them the water they need to thrive. It is the threat of implied violence that accompanies Quirt that initially changes the mind of their Scrooge like neighbor to share water with the Worth family. The neighbor shares because he is scared that Quirt will kill him if he doesn't comply. What makes the scene powerful is that Quirt went to the neighbor unarmed, and with good intentions, and that the bond of neighborly friendship is cemented by the kindness of the Worth family. There is another scene where the threat of Quirt using violence saves the lives of the family.

Grant's argument in the film seems to be that violence, and the threat of violence, isn't in itself evil, but that the application of violence is only moral when done through proper authority. There are some great parallels between this film and the earlier mentioned High Noon, of particular interest is a comparison of the endings of the two films, and both films require subtle performances from underrated actors. Wayne's portrayal of Quirt begins as you might expect a Wayne performance to play out, but as it continues and Quirt transforms from Badman to Man it is Wayne's performance that makes it work. One can see glimpses of the performances Wayne would later bring to the screen, and one also gets to see how a writer can use the clich├ęd tropes of a genre and manipulate them into a more complex tale than one usually expects.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Movies Christian Loves, But Shouldn't #2: Trancers

In the mid-90s, my roommate Rich Berman introduced me to a number of wonderful geek entertainments I might otherwise have overlooked. It is because of him that I am such a big Wing Commander (the video games) fan and it is because of him that I am buying the reprint editions of the Lone Wolf Books that Mongoose Publishing is slowly but surely getting out the door. These products have provided me with untold hours of entertainment and continue to do so years after they were initially released.

For the most part, if Rich recommended it then it was worth the time and effort. As much as I trusted Rich's recommendations, there was one recommendation I had ignored for almost fifteen years. There was a series of movies that Rich enjoyed that I just couldn't quite talk myself into watching. That series was the Trancers series of films by Full Moon Video. I don't know if it was anti-D2Video snobbishness or Full Moon's association with the Puppet Master series that prevented me from listening to my friend's advice and plopping the film in the VCR to enjoy the ride. More than likely it was the Puppet Master, since any anti-D2Video bias I might have didn't prevent me from watching, and enjoying, classics like Full Eclipse starring Mario Van Peebles. It wasn't until last week that I finally got around to watching Trancers and found yet another one of Rich's recommendation's to be enjoyable.

The film's plot is simple enough. Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) is an Angel City (Los Angeles) police officer -- they are called Troopers in the future -- in the year 2247 who is obsessively hunting down and "singe-ing" Trancers. As Jack's opening film noir-esque monologue put's it:

"Last January, I finally singed Martin Whistler out on one of the rim planets. Since then, I've been hunting down the last of his murdering cult. We call them 'Trancers:' slaves to Whistler's psychic power. Not really alive, not dead enough. It's July now, and I'm tired. Real tired."

Just when Jack thinks he's defeated the last of the Trancers, he discovers that Martin Whistler -- the psionic head of the Trancer cult -- is still alive. Whistler has traveled back in time to 1985 where he is murdering the ancestors of those who opposed his rise to power in the 23rd century. By eliminating the ancestors Whistler is eliminating all of his enemies as well. It is up to Jack Deth to travel back in time, eliminate Whistler, and prevent all of Angel City from becoming members of the Trancer cult.

The film has noir elements, a psionic powered mastermind, psionically influenced "zombies" who spontaneously combust after they die, time travel, a future Los Angeles completely submerged under water, and a young Helen Hunt. The film is an enjoyable romp that spawned a number of sequels, but it is a film that oughtn't have its narrative scrutinized to closely. It really falls apart under the microscope.

Here are some examples of the "ragged edges" of the film:

  • When told he has to go back in time to stop Whistler by the Council. The Council openly talks about the one Council member Whistler has already eliminated. Given that that Council member has now -- at this point in the plot -- never existed, that is quite a feat of metatemporal memory.
  • Your physical body cannot travel back through time -- your consciousness must possess that of an ancestor -- but physical objects can be sent back for your use.
  • Jack Deth killed Whistler on one of the "rim planets," but there is no other mention of planetary travel.
  • Time travel is a "condition" that can be given an antidote vaccine which brings the person back to the future.

One could probably write an entire book about the flaws of the film, or write a snarky "better than thou" review of it. Such efforts would be misguided though. Trancers is one of those movies that if you watched it on Mystery Science Theater, you would want the guys to shut up because you were having a fun enough time without the snark.

Trancers doesn't pretend to be something it isn't. It doesn't put on airs or quote philosophy. The movie is a straight forward action romp where a future cop hunts down psionically controlled zombies in "modern day" Los Angeles -- a city he only knows about because of his frequent scuba diving excursions.

Can you really ask for more than psionically controlled zombies? I can't -- especially when one of those zombies is a "mall Santa."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Anne Thompson, Toy Movies, District 9, and the Indie/Popular Divide

I am a great admirer of Anne Thompson and find the majority of her coverage of Hollywood to be insightful, and to be honest "must reading." But there are times when I just have to cross her name off of the Holiday card list, and her recent post discussing the merits of District 9 while excoriating Hollywood for making films like GI Joe is one of those times.

Certainly, Thompson is right to praise a film like District 9 which manages to bring to the big screen quality science fiction at a budget price. Geekerati plans to do a show this weekend begging the question, "is there an inverse relationship between budget and the quality of an SF film?" Where Anne wanders off into the hinterlands of privilege, snobbery, killjoydom, and filmic cultural selectivity is when she writes, "That’s why I want G.I. Joe to take a dive this weekend (sorry Lorenzo Di Bonaventura), not because I want Paramount to lose money but because I want the Transformers-blinded studios to see that derivative toy movies are not the only way to go." Even worse, she goes on to claim that Hollywood executives, "In their search for franchises and tentpoles... ignore the obvious: most of them were once originals, from Star Wars and Lethal Weapon to The Matrix and Raiders of the Lost Ark."

One find's it hard to believe that a journalist covering Hollywood could write such passages, that is unless the same journalist happens to be wearing her Blinders of Public Disdain +5. Apparently, Anne owns a pair of those not so rare magic items -- or maybe she has the powerful artifact Schiller's Monocle of Aesthetic Disdain. Whatever the case may be, her statements are not only disrespectful of a particular audience demographic (Gen X and younger males), but are just plain incorrect at one level -- she is correct in stating "studios often forget what their customers really want: something new that they’ve never seen before". She just forgets that they equally want something that they are nostalgic for.

It's one thing to assert Anne's wrongheadedness, but one must address the individual statements and analyze them as well.

First, why should Anne want GI JOE to fail because she "want[s] the Transformers-blinded studios to see that derivative toy movies are not the only way to go?" Is it necessary for studios to fail for them to see that movies inspired by nostalgia for a particular intellectual property aren't the only way to go?

Not a chance.

If the films should be required to fail, it should be because they fail to inspire the same level of awe that was created by the intellectual property audiences feel nostalgia for in the first place. Hollywood should make hundreds of "derivative toy movies" if they manage to capture the mystique of the original IP -- especially if they are profitable. Transformers has failed to do this twice, largely because they have erred to much on the side of making adolescents laugh and not enough on telling a good story. This is the opposite error that many childrens movies make today, the modern kid flick spends to much time making sure to wink at the adults in the audience and not enough time telling a compelling story. If Transformers 2 had fewer "ball" jokes, and a more coherent narrative, the film would have been amazing. Sadly, that was not the case. It's hard to say that Transformers had a derivative narrative, since it's hard to say what the narrative of the film even was -- other than giant robots blowing stuff up.

This isn't true of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. The Joe film managed to have an underlying narrative that was fairly original.

[Spoiler Alert that contains information that even those who saw the movie may not have understood] Cobra's plan was to replace the President of the United States with a Cobra agent so that when a major terrorist attack took place the world would turn to the US for leadership, only to end up under the direct control of the terrorist group behind the attack.[End Spoiler Alert]

That's a pretty cool underlying premise. The execution of the film is flawed, as the film tries to do to much in some areas and not enough in others, but that's not a particularly derivative story. In fact, in structure and execution one could argue that the GI JOE film is the true heir to the 007 films of Connery and Moore -- as the Craig movies are more a return to the tone and feel of the novels. One can argue that Joe wasted money on cast, money it didn't need to spend, since it is the IP and not the cast that brings one to a nostalgia fest, but one shouldn't argue that it was derivative. "Original?" No. "Awe Inspiring?" No. But if one imagines what the collective mind of 12 year old boys in 1984 want out of a Joe film, one gets a film pretty close to what ended up on the screen. That was the point, to fuel and feed off of nostalgia.

Even more to the point of it not being "necessary for studios to fail for them to see that movies inspired by nostalgia for a particular intellectual property aren't the only way to go?" Let's look at some very successful films from the past decade that break from the "tent pole" assumptions. My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Mama Mia! by themselves provide ample proof that lower budget movies aimed at a "non-tent pole" audience (read: not 18-35 males) can make an amazing amount of profit. It is necessary that non-extravaganzas be made and be successful for studios to see these films have value. The more that are made, the more that will be the studios. Studios will go where the money is. It is easy to do a Net Present Value analysis of an existing IP, with an established fan base. It is much more difficult to do one on an unknown idea. You have to be willing to take a risk and lose money, and that's something that business people don't like to do. They don't like to spend good money after bad.

Want to watch your investment money disappear faster than an addiction to crystal meth? Invest in an independent movie that you believe in. Risky films are risky. That's why Hollywood, which is risk averse because it likes profits, doesn't make a lot of these films. Show them that the risk isn't as big as they believe, and you can and will see more films like Juno.

Never mind the logical fallacy that "toy movies" need to fail for studios to learn there are other options, even more egregious is Thompson's assertion that "most of them [tentpoles] were once originals, from Star Wars and Lethal Weapon to The Matrix and Raiders of the Lost Ark." Originals? Really? Are you serious? I'll give you The Matrix (just), but the others?

Can Thompson actually believe that Star Wars, a masterful combination of the narratives of Hidden Fortress and the Flash Gordon serials -- which includes frames lifted straight out of Flash Gordon, is original? Shoot me now. Star Wars is amazing, but it is highly derivative. It is homage.

The same is true for the Allan Quartermain inspired Raiders of the Lost Ark. Could this movie exist without King Solomon's Mines? Not a chance. Raiders is phenomenal because it captures the essence of the old serials and combines it with the raw fun of H. Rider Haggard's tales. As an aside, King Kong is a combination of Haggard's tales with Conan Doyle's The Lost World. Raiders appealed to a nostalgia in a particular generation and did it so well it created nostalgia in a new one.

If Thompson is even trying to hint at the fact that Hollywood's great movies were "original," I can already feel the milk bubbling through my nose from the laughter.

Gone with the Wind? Based on a novel.
Wizard of Oz? Based on a novel.
West Side Story? Based on a Broadway musical, based on Romeo and Juliet.
The Maltese Falcon (1941)? Based on a Dashiell Hammett novel and had three theatrical versions between 1931 and 1941. Three in a decade before they made a great version?!
Yojimbo? Based on Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest with a touch of The Glass Key thrown in for good measure.
Rashomon? Based on a short story.

I could go on and on and on. Hollywood isn't in the business of making "original" stories. Heck, film makers aren't in the business of making "original" stories. Hollywood is in the business of making money. Film makers are in the business of entertaining. Sometimes they entertain us with original ideas, and some times they entertain us with familiar ones. I put no preference on either category. I just want to be entertained...and sometimes educated when I'm feeling Aristotelian.

As for District 9? I'm excited about this combination of Alien Nation, V, and Cry Freedom. Though I do share some of Science Fiction author Steven Barnes' concerns.

Truth is, there is a lot of truth in Anne's article. Hollywood should remember that there is a relationship between risk and reward. The higher the risk, the greater the potential reward. Films like GI JOE may have a predictable NPV, but they aren't going to provide the high levels of profitability that something like My Big Fat Greek Wedding are going to bring.

Hollywood should take some risks.

But need to stop hating the male Gen X and younger audience. We just want to be reminded of those afternoons when we and our friends made up stories while playing with our GI JOE and TRANSFORMERS action figures.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Are Movies Worse Today? 1967 vs. 1987

As mentioned in a prior post, Anne Thompson commented recently, in a post about changes in the number of films the Academy will review for Best Picture, that "bottom line though, the Academy had more quality films to choose from then than they do now." We're putting this claim to the test.

A respected commenter added a clarifying note regarding the "Are Classic Movies Better" post. Professor Nokes reminded Cinerati of the importance of specificity when using language, by pointing out that by definition Classic movies are better. Classic movies, by definition, being old movies that have withstood the test of time -- the canon of film if you will. Since our contention is not that Classic movies are no better than Modern films, rather that films made in prior decades are not on average better than Modern films, this is a useful correction.

I would have been better served to use the post-structuralist "Classic," rather than the literal Classic, as that use has the implied irony I was attempting to bring to the front. That a film was made in some bygone era doesn't automatically mean the film is a genuine Classic, at least that is the assertion of this series. Though I would love to use the ironic post-structural word in the future, I won't use it. In order to remain clear, I will now call films made during prior decades Older films rather than Classic films. Certainly, some of the films are Classics (but so are some Modern films), but all of them are Older.

Now that I have clarified the purpose of this series, let's move on to the first comparison.

Below is the list of the 1967 nominees for best picture with the addition of Anne Thompson's film historian friend's +5. This list will be followed by some Cinerati commentary, the list of the 1987 nominees plus my +5, and some closing commentary.

1967 original nominees

  • In the Heat of the Night [winner]
  • Bonnie and Clyde
  • Doctor Dolittle
  • The Graduate
  • Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?


  • Camelot
  • Cool Hand Luke
  • In Cold Blood
  • The Dirty Dozen
  • Two for the Road

There are two things that become clear from looking at the list of films above. First, 1967 was a pretty good year for movies. Quite a few of my favorite films are in that nominees+5 list. I am particularly enamored of Doctor Dolittle due to memories from my childhood of watching the film on VHS with my grandfather. Second, one can quickly see just from the films that 1967 was a year where the USA was undergoing some cultural shifts. The massive violence of Bonnie and Clyde was shocking to some audiences, two of the films deal heavily with race issues, the role of sexual liberation in Camelot's portrayal of Guenevere, are all indicative of the changes the society was facing at the time.

I would argue though that two of these films would be laughed at by modern critics, if viewed without the rose colored glasses of nostalgia. I love Doctor Dolittle and think it is a great film. But if it had come out in 2009 rather than 1967 (as exactly the same picture), the film would be derided as frivolous childhood fare not worthy of artistic consideration. If this weren't true, we would see films like Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone nominated for Best Picture. Potter received three Oscar nominations, had a stellar cast of brilliant British actors, but was not nominated for Best Picture. My guess is because as children's fare it is taken less seriously, this is further evinced by the fact that the BAFTAs nominated it for Best Children's Feature. Surely, one can argue that I am overstating things, but based on my discussions with current film critics I don't believe it to be the case. The older critics seem too "sophisticated" and the younger critics are often too "gothtentious" to consider a film like Dolittle for an Oscar nod -- particularly over a film like Cool Hand Luke.

I could make a similar argument for why modern critics would overlook Camelot, not for its childishness. In this case, Camelot would be overlooked for being "over done." It's a very good film. I find its representation of Guenevere to be extremely unsympathetic, and think it flawed in that regard, but the acting, singing, and narrative are extremely compelling.

I can take or leave The Graduate. For me it is a film too deeply rooted in its era to inspire or challenge me. It's well shot, well acted, entertaining, but in the end uninspiring. I'll watch Cool Hand Luke over The Graduate any day of the week.

All in all, 1967 was a still a very good year for movies. How does 1987 compare?

1987 original nominees

  • The Last Emperor [winner]
  • Broadcast News
  • Fatal Attraction
  • Hope and Glory
  • Moonstruck


  • Empire of the Sun
  • Raising Arizona
  • Full Metal Jacket
  • Good Morning, Vietnam
  • Cry Freedom

Looking at the list above, one might believe that I stacked the deck against Anne by choosing 1987. I should also note that the +5 part of the list comes not from my own opinions, but from Tim Dirks of Filmsite. When I saw his discussion of overlooked films, I found I agreed with him and thus used those rather than create my own +5 which would have looked pretty much the same. With the exception of the over-rated at the time Fatal Attraction, 1987 is a very good year for films receiving Academy consideration -- and would be with the +5 rule as well.

Like 1967, one can see the social issues of the day reflected in the important films of the year. Broadcast News was an entertaining look at news media that demonstrated how society was beginning to see that what was presented to us as "news" was in many ways mere show business. One thinks that James L. Brooks wouldn't find something like TMZ suprising, upsetting maybe but not surprising. The Last Emperor is a touching tale brought to the big screen in the final years of the Cold War. It is a touching film that looks at humanity and the transition of a culture from Empire to Revolution to Stability -- a culture that is still undergoing the process depicted in the film.

Hope and Glory is ostensibly about a child living in England throughout WWII, but one can easily see reflections of Cold War sentiments underlying the tensions of the film. While most Gen X-ers hadn't undergone drills showing them what to do in case of a nuclear attack, as Boomers had experienced, but they still lived with an underlying dread rooted in the potential of nuclear war. Hope and Glory in depicting life in a London suburb during WWII, demonstrated that while war is a time of constant upheaval it is also a time that can be endured.

Two of the films in the +5 are narratives that take place during the Vietnam War, a conflict from which America was very much in need of healing in the 1980s (and still today). The movies come at the conflict from different narrative perspectives -- one is a drama and one is a dramedy -- but they each have power.

Cry Freedom is as politically important a film as one can imagine. Denzel Washington's performance as Steven Biko makes one wish this was more a film about Biko and less a film about a heroic journalist (played by Kevin Kline) who will tell his tale.

If you don't recognize Raising Arizona as one of the all-time great comedies, you lack a sense of humor. In the film, the Coen brothers put their ability to tell epic stories about mundane characters on high display.

Looking at the Academy films (and +5s) from 1967 and 1987, I don't think the Academy had remarkably better films to judge in the earlier year. Both years are very strong. One can make an argument that 1967 is stronger, but I think one could equally make an argument that 1987 is stronger.

I'd also like to go a little deeper into the respective years. The quality of the film industry shouldn't merely be measured by the "Academy worthy" films of a given year. Many genuine Classics are films I would never argue should win an Oscar. One doesn't immediately think "Best Picture" when one is watching Bringing Up Baby, but one does certainly think it is a Classic. It is simply one of the most entertaining films ever made. How do 1967 and 1987 stack up when it comes to the entertaining films offered?

Cinerati's 10 Best Non-Oscar "Entertainment" Films of 1967 in No Particular Order
  • A Fistful of Dollars
  • Valley of the Dolls
  • Bedazzled
  • The Jungle Book
  • Point Blank
  • To Sir With Love
  • You Only Live Twice
  • In Like Flint
  • The Good the Bad and the Ugly

That's a pretty good list of entertaining films. I am particularly fond of the Moore/Cook comedy Bedazzled. Most of these films are films that people still watch and most are considered classics. It should be noted that Barefoot in the Park and For a Few Dollars More were also released in 1967. You Only Live Twice is arguably the first use of Ninja in a "Western" film. Point Blank has a darkness that the more recent Mel Gibson version of the story Payback lacks. Unarguably, 1967 was a good year for movies in general and not just Award worthy films. But it is also the year one of my least favorite films was made. The lame and contrived Casino Royale comedy was released that year, a film to metacognitive for its own good.

What about 1987?

Cinerati's 10 Best Non-Oscar "Entertainment" Films of 1987 in No Particular Order
  • Lethal Weapon
  • Evil Dead II
  • Predator
  • The Untouchables
  • The Princess Bride
  • 3 Men and a Baby
  • Overboard
  • Near Dark
  • Dirty Dancing

1987 also saw the release of La Bamba, Robocop, The Secret of My Succe$s, River's Edge, Inner Space, Baby Boom, No Way Out, and The Monster Squad. It's hard to compete with the Spaghetti Western trilogy of Clint Eastwood, so 1967 wins for being bad ass. But it should be noted that much of the entertaining fare of 1987 is very entertaining. The Princess Bride is a wonderfully enchanting tale that people will be watching for generations to come. Overboard is a romantic comedy that ranks up in my enjoyment factor with Bringing Up Baby -- as are Baby Boom and 3 Men and a Baby for that matter.

Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark is one of my favorite vampire films and is must see for any fans of the HBO True Blood series. The vampires in Bigelow's film are a refreshing alternative from the sexy and alluring vampires typically presented, these are stone cold killers on a rampage. It's also an important film because Bigelow demonstrated, as she continues to demonstrate, that women directors can very ably direct things other than "women's films."

1967 wins because of the Spaghetti Western trilogy, but 1987 is one heck of a fun year for movie fans.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Are Modern Films Really Worse than Classic Films? A Blog Series Introduction

On the 24th of June, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that Academy members would vote for Best Picture from a selection of 10 films rather than the 5 that had become standard. They assert that this is a return to an older Academy tradition and are pitching the change by doing a bi-coastal screening of the 10 films nominated in 1939 -- an amazing year for movies.

In response to the announcement, Anne Thompson shared the contents of an email a film historian sent her which listed an "imaginary" additional five nominees for the years 1967 through 1979 as a demonstration of films that had been overlooked by the Academy in years past. It's a fun read, filled with some pretty keen analysis.

In her introduction to the email, Thompson asserts, "Bottom line though, the Academy had more quality films to choose from then than they do now."

Such a statement immediately begs the question, "Really?! The Academy had more quality films to choose from then than they do now?" I find the statement to be on the face incredible -- traditional definition -- and a bit knee-jerk in the certitude of the statement. Certainly, my own reaction to the statement is knee-jerk as well. My assumption is that Thompson is wrong, but is she? The only way to find out is to do a year to year comparison continuing from a date after 1979 and comparing it to past years. One could easily write a book on the subject if one wanted to do an in depth analysis, one could probably write a book merely on what the best methodology to use for comparison.

I have neither the will, nor the luxury of time to do that. So I offer the following. I will create my own "nominee+5" lists for each year starting in 1987 and compare that year to the year twenty years prior. Thus 1987 will be compared to 1967. Each list will be done in a single blog post. After I have completed the first set, I will begin again in 1997 and compare to a year 30 years prior. The +5 "best of year x" list will be one of my own choosing, and thus will hopefully spark conversation as you may believe that some other films deserve to be in the +5. The merit of a given year won't merely rest on my own +5, but include those anyone else can think of as well. After all, we are measuring whether the "now" holds a candle to the "then." That, and not whether my specific choices are the best, is the question that should be discussed.

Stay tuned to this blog for 1987 vs. 1967, the first in a series of posts.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Friday, August 08, 2008

Cinerati Lexicon #1: Filmic Cultural Selectivity

In yesterday's discussion of the origin of the Cinerati blog, it was mentioned that the first post contained "an attack on filmic cultural selectivity" without describing what was meant by filmic cultural selectivity. One imagines that most readers can decipher the meaning of the phrase, it isn't to arcane, but one should never assume understanding. Additionally, one of my goals in rebooting the website was to share not merely my thoughts about modern films and the state of modern criticism, but to share my ideas and my personal terminology with the world in the hopes of creating meaningful dialog.

What do I mean by filmic cultural selectivity?

Filmic Cultural Selectivity

Filmic cultural selectivity, is a logical error which frequently occurs in the discussion of film where the reviewer selectively chooses high quality films from a particular culture and compares them to another culture to express the superiority of the chosen culture. Such selectivity only actually falls into the category of logical error when the critic, in mentioning the quality of one culture, intentionally and knowingly excludes the existence of any lower quality (or fun exploitation) films within the given culture.

Below are some examples, one specific and one imagined, of this error in criticism:

Example #1 (the specific example):

Thomas Hibbs piece discussed yesterday (Kurosawa Kills Bill. In the piece, Hibbs damns American films as "vulgar distortions of Japanese film culture." He then follows this assertion with a list of Akira Kurosawa films which he presents as possibly representative of Japanese film culture. Nowhere in the piece does he mention lesser works of Japanese cinema. Nor does he mention the influence of Western genre films on the work of Kurosawa. Certainly he mentions a Western influence, Shakespeare, but he leaves out Dashiell Hammett and the influence of Film Noir on Kurosawa. He elevates Kurosawa (deservedly), and Japanese cinema in general (less deservedly), to a "high art" status while attacking American cinema as vulgar. As my response points out, Japanese cinema runs the gamut of quality by the standard set forth by Hibbs.

Example #2 (a proposed example):

You and a friend, who happens to be a respected film critic, are discussing your favorite films. You make the "mistake" of mentioning a mainstream blockbuster film among your list of great films. Your friend responds and a dialog begins:


That's such a typical American answer which demonstrates your lack of familiarity with Italian cinema, which are in every way superior to American films. Have you never seen LA STRADA or 8 1/2? The Italian directors have a much greater understanding of the human experience than American directors who have been corrupted by commercialism and who seek only to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Being ready for your friend's tendency to engage in filmic cultural selectivity, you are able to respond in a mocking tone.


That's so true. Sergio Corbucci's SUPER FUZZ truly captured the underlying conflict between the personal and professional of the modern law enforcement officer. And Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCUAST is a "well respected" representation of indigenous cultures.

You didn't even mention DIABOLIK or get into how anyone who defends the social commentary merits of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, while simultaneously excoriating HOSTEL, is not only practicing filmic cultural selectivity, they are also being highly inconsistent...unless they also defend Wes Craven's THE HILLS HAVE EYES then their opinions are a little more complicated.

My point in saying that filmic cultural selectivity is a problem isn't to assert that American film is the best film making in the world. I am willing to listen to well-informed experts on other cultures films who advance the merits of that culture's films. The understanding of film only benefits from such a dialogue. I am merely asserting that one must acknowledge the bad with the good, it can only make your argument stronger if you are correct in your comparison. Had Hibbs mentioned BATTLE ROYALE, or any Chambara films, in his essay -- or had he mentioned RED HARVEST and THE GLASS KEY as inspirational to Kurosawa's YOJIMBO -- it might have actually made his argument stronger.

As for our imaginary film critic friend (and the one above is completely imaginary), I actually do like SUPER FUZZ...mostly for childhood nostalgia reasons. And while CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is not at all culturally sensitive to indigenous peoples, it has strong proponents both inside and outside the horror field. As for DIABOLIK, don't just watch the MSTK 3000 version. John Philip Law, my second favorite Sindbad, is quite entertaining in this film. Don't even get me started on how much I love cheesy Hercules movies.