Observations on Cinema vs. the Capitalist Feeding Frenzy


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Filmmaker William Friedkin was recently interviewed for a piece in The Telegraph titled “Superhero movies are ruining cinema, says Exorcist director William Friedkin.”

I agree with Friedkin’s sentiment and I would take it one step further and say that it’s not “Superhero movies” that are ruining cinema, but that those films are a product of what has so dramatically changed since the 70’s.

The corporate greed and the paint-by-numbers mentality that has now driven cinema for many decades is, in itself, a product of a state of mind that has been vigorously taught, conditioned, indoctrinated and embraced in the U.S. Its impact is reflected in all aspects of our lives socially, culturally, politically and, yes, artistically…

Continue reading “Observations on Cinema vs. the Capitalist Feeding Frenzy”

Observations on Cinema vs. the Capitalist Feeding Frenzy

The Perfection That is “Sherlock” Returns


Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 11.42.31 AMShooting on Season 4 begins in January.

Such good news!

And it looks like there will be a SHERLOCK “special” in addition to the season’s 3 regular episodes. I’m not sure what qualifies as a “special,” but any more of these two together qualifies as special-enough for me.

I just finished turning my girlfriend, Emily, on to the series (seasons 1-3) and I have to say the second time around for me was as good if not better than the first! It’s also nice to now have my own Watson to share the show with. Or perhaps she’s my Sherlock. Either way, we’re in this together now and that makes me very happy indeed.

It’s a rare TV series that fires on all cylinders, but this is one of them. The chemistry between Cumberbatch and Freeman is already legendary. Truly. There are very few characters and relationships on TV whom I actually yearn to revisit regularly. This is one of the ones I believe will be a part of my life for a long time to come. I look forward to seeing them anywhere, anytime. And I miss them when they are absent. Not since the original STAR TREK have I felt so “at home” in a show.

Every moment in this world is glorious. Glad there’s more on the way.

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The Perfection That is “Sherlock” Returns

Favorite & Least Favorite Films of 2012


I don’t usually post my list of favorite and least favorite films until long after awards season has passed. This year, I waited even longer than usual. This is because I was having a hard time coming up with the motivation and enthusiasm to write breakdowns of why I liked or didn’t like a film, how it effected me, etc. Recently I came to accept that I simply have too little desire to commit that much time to such an endeavor, but I would still like to post my list so that it is available for anyone who may be interested.

I will, however, link titles to any posts I wrote about specific films in the past.

As with all lists, this simply reflects what were or were not my favorite films, what films had an impact on me one way or another, whether great or small. There are also titles from 2012 that I have yet to catch up with and, as I do, I will add them to this list where appropriate.

So here ’tis. All lists are alphabetical.

FAVORITE FILMS OF 2012:

Films2012posters

AMOUR (2012) 9/10

ANNA KARENINA (2012) 8/10

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012) 8/10

DEEP BLUE SEA (2011-2012 U.S. release) 8/10

HAYWIRE (2012) 9/10

HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, THE (2012) 8/10

KID WITH A BIKE, THE (2011 – 2012 U.S. release) 8.5/10

MAGIC MIKE (2012) 8/10

MARGARET (2011 – 3 HR CUT released to DVD-only in 2012) 10/10

MASTER, THE (2012) 8.5/10

PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, THE (2012) 8.5/10

SAMSARA (2012) 9/10

SPRING BREAKERS (2012) 8/10

TURIN HORSE, THE (2011 – 2012 U.S. release) 8.5/10

 

2012 FILMS ALSO WORTH SEEING:

ARGO (2012) 7.5/10

BERNIE (2012) 7/10

BRAVE (2012) 7.5/10

CHRONICLE (2012) 7/10

DARK KNIGHT RISES, THE (2012) 7.5/10

END OF WATCH (2012) 7/10

FRANKENWEENIE (2012) 7/10

GREY, THE (2012) 7.5/10

HATFIELDS & MCCOYS (2012 – TV Miniseries) 7/10

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (2012) 7/10

IMPOSSIBLE, THE (2012) 7.5/10

INTOUCHABLES, THE (2012) 7.5/10

KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012) 7/10

LIFE OF PI – in 3D (2012) 7.5/10

LINCOLN (2012) 7.5/10

LOOPER (2012) 7/10

MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012) 7/10

NOT FADE AWAY (2012) 7/10

PARANORMAN (2012) 7.5/10

PROMISED LAND (2012) 7/10

QUARTET (2012) 7/10

ROYAL AFFAIR, A (2012) 7.5/10

RUST AND BONE (2012) 7/10

SESSIONS, THE (2012) 7/10

SKYFALL (2012) 7.5/10

TALL MAN, THE (2012) 7/10

TO ROME, WITH LOVE (2012) 7.5/10

ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012) 7.5/10

 

FAVORITE TV OF 2012:

DOWNTON ABBEY SEASON 2 (2011 BBC Mini-series – 2012 U.S release) 9/10

SHADOW LINE, THE (2011 BBC Mini-series – 2012 U.S release) 10/10

SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE (2012– Starz Series) 8/10

 

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS OF 2012:

DJANGO UNCHAINED 4.5/10

HITCHCOCK (2012) 6.5/10

 

LEAST FAVORITE FILMS OF 2012:

CLOUD ATLAS (2012) 3.5/10 before I gave up 1 hr in.

JOHN CARTER (2012) 3/10

PROMETHEUS (2012) 2 /10

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012) 2.5/10 before I gave up 1 hr in.

 

BEST OLDER FILMS SEEN FOR FIRST TIME:

ENTER THE VOID (2009) 9/10

GRAND PRIX – in 70mm (1966) 8/10

SUMMER INTERLUDE (1951) 8.5/10

SUMMER WITH MONICA (1953) 9/10

Favorite & Least Favorite Films of 2012

DOWNTON ABBEY Season 3: When A Writer’s Hand Is Forced


HUGE SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED SEASON 3 YET!

downton_abbey_key_art_season_3_a_pI won’t go too in-depth about the third season of DOWNTON ABBEY as I actually found most of it to be very entertaining and satisfying. But this third season introduced a few moments that could be seen as the ever-feared missteps a series can take when it overstays its welcome or when popularity seeps in as a guiding force in how the story unfolds.

DOWNTON has quickly become a household name since I first watched what seemed to be just another BBC mini-series that the vast majority of Americans had not only never heard of, but were quite likely NEVER to hear of, like so many fantastic British shows to come before it and live in relative obscurity here in the States. But DOWNTON ABBEY hit a nerve and its popularity has since soared on this side of the pond. And while I’m happy for the show’s success, that kind of popularity always fills me with a little dread as well. I won’t lie. Sometimes I like good shows to remain a bit of a well-kept secret. Selfish, I know. But then I can also continue complaining about how the best shows never find an audience and how stupid American viewers are over all. But then a show like DOWNTON gains a measure of real success and either A) I have to stop complaining about the dullness of Americans or B) the show has to lower its standards to keep its new audience entertained.

When I read that Shirley MacLaine was gonna be on the show, I thought my fears had been realized. Now don’t misunderstand, I love Shirley MacLaine. But her presence suggested the possibility of this fine BBC drama placating its newfound American audience with a more “familiar” face (Elizabeth McGovern, though American, has not been a familiar face on these shores for a number of years, while Ms. MacLaine has managed to embed herself in our continued social consciousness). Thankfully and allaying my fears, MacLaine’s role on DOWNTON was short and sweet. She didn’t try and eat the scenery or overwhelm with her presence. No, in fact, she fit right in and was most welcome both in her arrival and departure. I thought it was all just right and I couldn’t have been more pleased.

Then there was the big mid-season surprise. The sudden death of Sybil. I admired this choice. Though she was my favorite of the sisters (and the one I had the biggest mini-series crush on), I always like when a main character is killed off. It often forces a show and its viewers to deal with a particular set of experiences that they have not had to deal with before. That gives it resonance. Something to talk about, something to remember, both emotionally and structurally. But there was a lazy bone to be found in the storyline surrounding Sybil’s death. The much-decorated doctor who insists that Sybil’s symptoms are nothing more than those naturally found in pregnancy is such a pompous, unlikeable fool of a man that I would guess 99% of the audience knew that our dear country doctor was indeed correct and that Sybil’s life was in danger. Why choose to paint these two in such black and white terms? Why not offer a bit more credibility to the doctor responsible for Sybil’s death? Why not allow us, the audience, to share in the difficulty of the life and death decisions being made? Perhaps Mr. Fellowes believed he was doing just that. Or, perhaps, he didn’t want to. I don’t have the answer. All I know is that I was thrilled Sybil died (from a story perspective, that is), but disappointed that the events surrounding it hadn’t been painted in grayer strokes so that her death may have been even more of a surprise and may have engaged me by allowing me to partake in some measure of responsibility. As it stands, the writing allowed me to get ahead of the characters in what was to unfold. But all in all, this was a mildly disappointing and fleeting moment surrounded by so many wonderful moments that I was able to push it aside with relative ease and not have it negatively impact my feelings about this extraordinarily engaging show.

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Julian Fellowes

Then the Season 3 finale arrived. Now let me just start by saying that I’m okay with Matthew’s death. Conceptually. Remember, I like when main characters die. Particularly beloved ones. But this particular death felt incredibly inorganic to me. And it’s not simply because actor Dan Stevens chose to leave the show and forced scribe and creator Julian Fellowes into a story corner. Certainly that plays a role (and I think will actually breed some ill-will toward Mr. Stevens though, for myself, I hope his personal choice leads him to a successful career), but it’s in the handling of Matthew’s death that I take issue with here.

Viewers across the globe have complained that there was simply too much similarity between Matthew’s death and Sybil’s. Both died following the birth of their child. Both were in loving relationships that were damn near perfect for those characters, making the loss that much greater. It worked wonderfully for Sybil’s death. But for Matthew’s… I could feel the writer struggling. For me, giving Matthew and Mary their final moment together to once again profess their love for one another and for Matthew to bask in the glow of his newborn son before driving off to his inevitable demise was just too much for me. It felt manufactured. Insincere.

Now I have a friend who believes I’m in the minority in feeling dissatisfaction with allowing Matthew’s relationship to end with such happy/tragic perfection. He feels that most people wanted to see/needed to see some measure of resolution before such a tragic event. But in reading comments online and talking with other friends, I’m thinking that my sense of dissatisfaction might be the overriding sensation being felt in living rooms across the globe. Death is a dirty business and Matthew wasn’t just another character in DOWNTON ABBEY. He was our guide through the world of DOWNTON ABBEY. The upstairs of Downton, that is, just as Bates is our guide downstairs.

Julian Fellowes had set up the near perfect end for himself, then chose not to take it: Matthew wants to leave with Mary. She tells him “No, I’ll be fine” and returns home without him. For me, that decision ending with them never seeing one another again and Matthew never seeing his son would have had the gravitas and tragedy earned by Matthew’s character. As it stands, I feel as if I were gently lead into Matthew’s death, as if Mr. Fellowes were afraid of the forced-decision to prematurely rid the show of Matthew and therefore second-guessed the audience’s reaction. Matthew’s endless profession of love for Mary seemed overwrought and inorganic; it was hinting too strongly at something else, setting up the scenes to come with an uncharacteristically heavy hand. Perhaps Mr. Fellowes was hyper-aware that this episode was going to air on Christmas Day and felt some measure of guilt in having to kill off Matthew (and possibly spoil Christmas a la Scrooge or the Grinch) and so chose to balance this fated tragedy with an extra helping of gaiety and joy.

For me, Matthew’s death should have been devastating, not just surprising. Unfortunately, I felt less devastation and more confusion. For a moment, it felt like I was watching a different show. Try as I might to feel better about it, I just couldn’t. Some other friends commented that they too had felt it a bit awkward and inorganic, but felt better about it once they’d learned that Mr. Fellowes had been forced into killing off Mathhew’s character. For me, sadly, that realization only highlighted just how inorganic Matthew’s death actually was.

There may have been no way to make Matthew’s death intrinsic to Season 3 as it clearly wasn’t Fellowes’ wish to end that character’s journey here. He had much more in store for Matthew. And perhaps that is why Fellowes exhibited what I consider an uncharacteristically unsteady hand in fashioning Matthew’s demise.

One thing is certain: writing is difficult. Incredibly so, as anyone who has attempted to do so knows. And Mr. Fellowes has certainly more than earned his right to stumble slightly, though he may not personally see it as such. But for me, Matthew’s death could have been a strong and defining moment in the DOWNTON ABBEY universe. Instead, for me, its a slight blemish on an otherwise incredibly engaging show.

DOWNTON ABBEY Season 3: When A Writer’s Hand Is Forced

The Oscar Coffin


OscarcoffinI’ll try and keep this short as I’ve gone on about this almost every year since I started this blog (and so many years before that in old-fashioned verbal exchanges).

This year’s Oscars was the nail in the coffin for me. I’ve been swearing to stop watching them for ages (I’ve never missed a one since I was a wee tyke). But each year the ceremony depresses me more and more. Seth MacFarlane and company was the final straw. And I actually like THE FAMILY GUY. I can do grossly inappropriate humor. In the proper context. The Oscars is not that context. MacFarlane brought a smug artificiality to the proceedings that, in an odd way, actually managed to highlight so much of what I do not like about the Oscars. There is a gross insincerity about the whole affair. It reeks of desperation, of panic, always on the edge of total collapse, like a star imploding in on itself. You can feel each and every producer vigorously second-guessing what the audience wants. Now granted, I may not be the typical Oscar audience despite my life-long commitment to them. I actually want it to be a celebration of cinema. I actually want it to be about the human beings, the creative individuals responsible for breathing life into these works. But that is not what the Oscars is and, each year, it is rarely more than a painful reminder for me of that heartbreaking reality.

Beyond MacFarlane’s nastiness (which also represents much of Hollywood for me) and that conceited grin I wanted to punch (did anybody else want to knock those teeth right out of his mouth?!), the Oscars simply do not represent what film and cinema is to me. In fact, it represents more of what I don’t like about contemporary Hollywood and exacerbates those elements that I feel keep film from being taken seriously as anything more than distracting entertainment. I’m sorry, when bloated openings and pointless dance numbers (for films not even from this year), or montages my nephew could have done better in iMovie (007) take the place of 30 more seconds so that a real human being can have his or her moment to say thank you… You know something’s wrong. It’s what Hollywood has become: character is not important, human beings, honest emotions, depth, insight, real experiences… None of these things matter. But big, pompous spectacles with flashing lights and loud sounds… Now THAT’S Hollywood. And for me, watching that train wreck each year is an incredibly painful experience.

In this new technological age, I can go to Youtube for future broadcasts and see the acceptance speeches that interest me (the parts that don’t get cut off by a self-mocking JAWS theme, as if that somehow made it humorous and not just plain insulting). I can watch Shirley Bassey and Adele, I can watch the In-Memorium and Barbra Streisand. I can see Daniel-Day Lewis’ and Ben Affleck’s humble speeches and the lessons they contains for those of us struggling to realize our dreams here in this very odd town. Yes, there are reminders at the Oscars of the good things –what isn’t rotten in the state of Hollywood– and those brief moments when daring and artistic films are recognized. I’ll watch those in chosen clips and consciously eliminate all the nastiness that surrounds it. I don’t need to invite any more negativity or insulting belittling of my favorite art form into my own home.

So next year I’ll do something nice for myself on that night. Like go see a really good film in a really nice movie theater.

Even if I’m the only one there.

 

 

The Oscar Coffin

THE WALKING DEAD Season 2.5: When Characters No Longer Matter


Warning! Spoiler Alert!

It seems I am NOT your average viewer. I readily confess to being baffled by the reactions I get from others regarding the TV series THE WALKING DEAD. I’ve blogged about this show before (THE WALKING DEAD: Dead On ArrivalTHE WALKING DEAD Season 2.0: Rising From The Ashes) and I feel the need to keep my thoughts updated as the series progresses. To summarize my feelings, I thought the first season suffered from lazy writing. Poor dialogue, a lack of inner logic, and lazy solutions and outcomes that seemed to serve the writers’ needs more than the characters’. Add to that, generic zombies that came across more like extras in makeup than people we once knew and engaged with in our day-to-day lives. All that said, writing is difficult and challenging and how the first season turned out may not be a reflection of the talent of the writers involved. Many more factors enter in to what finds its way to the screen.

Regardless, the result was that I initially had no plans to continue watching the show. Until I heard that an all-new team of writers had been brought on for Season 2. For me, the first half of the second season elevated itself far above the first season. Finally, characters were being developed over time and acting within the limits of what had been set up. I didn’t feel the writers rushing to the next zombie attack, but letting it happen organically while understanding that nothing mattered or had consequences if the characters themselves were not believable and offering some measure of dimensionality. Though the writing never managed to become great –and certainly not as good as the show had the potential to offer– it was, to my mind, leagues ahead of where it had been, even if it still showed signs of laziness from time to time (the zombie in the pharmacy). I finally felt myself being pulled in, sorry to see each episode end while excited to catch the next.

Sadly, as the second half of the second season aired and came to a close, I personally felt the show and its characters dropped back into the pit of unmotivated actions and behaviors, events of convenience (more for the writers again than the characters). In essence, I stopped believing in this world. I stopped caring. What had begun to excite me, now had me rolling my eyes and shaking my head. Again.

But it seems I might have been alone.

The few conversations I’ve had with others have shown me just how outside the mainstream I might be. It seems those I talk to felt the first half of the second season was boring; not enough zombie action and too much talking about feelings. Which I interpret as “I don’t care about character development, I just want to see some really cool shit.” I had a conversation last night with a nice gentleman who agreed that a lot of what was happening wasn’t really motivated or particularly well-written, but he was thrilled to see “something finally happening.” But what I saw were things happening that betrayed the characters, the world of the story, and any audience member with a desire for inner logic and organic character development. What the show returned to for me was a world in which characters show up in places they would never go and at times they could never realistically manage. Characters who would say things I don’t believe they’d say and come to conclusions that any believable person simply would not come to (without a writer breathing down their necks): Dale wandering alone in a field at night for no good reason and then having a zombie suddenly “appear” inches behind him out in the open and unnoticed. Carl wandering around stealing guns and poking at zombies deep in the woods. Carl showing up in an open field at night just after his father has killed Shane. Talk about place and timing! Especially since Shane went to all that trouble to set up an elaborate scheme to lure Rick through the woods and into this field (that is oddly right outside the house they started at!), only to have Carl find them there. And why would Shane want to kill Rick out in the open instead of in the woods? And why would Carl not tell his father that Shane has risen and is coming up behind him? Instead, he chooses to take the risk that he might accidentally shoot his father? Or that he might miss them both and his father will be eaten by Shane and become a zombie himself?

And then there’s the attack on the house at the end. Silly. Zombies reaching out and grabbing people from off frame as if the edge of the frame were also the edge of the characters’ sight lines. I’m sorry, running from a crowd of zombies, you know if you’re running alongside one. Again, it’s more act of convenience than anything else. Andrea falling down and the others assuming that the zombies “got her” instead of opening the door to find out and help her. Don’t buy it. And everyone turning on Rick at the end, wanting to go their separate ways. And Rick never fully explaining that Shane created this elaborate plan that included killing a man just so he could lure Rick out to the woods to murder him and take position again as Rick’s wife’s lover and the father to their boy (and unborn child). He never mentions that Shane held him at gunpoint. Kind of an important fact to leave out, especially when all your friends are judging you harshly for your actions. And despite any guilt Rick has (and some of that guilt is just), there’s not one character there I believe would blame Rick or question Shane’s intent. Not for a second. And I certainly don’t believe they would all turn on Rick. Particularly not his wife Lori who is the one who warned Rick about Shane, that he was dangerous and planning something and that Rick needed to take action. Add to all that Rick’s sudden decision to declare himself the group’s dictatorial leader… No, it’s all a matter of convenience; I can feel the writers’ wheels spinning in desperation. Very little of it feels organic or keeps within the logic of the series. But the comment I keep hearing is “at least something’s happening.” I guess as long as you have zombies attacking, it doesn’t matter if the writing’s awful or lazy. It doesn’t matter if the characters are devoid of dimension or behave in unbelievable ways.

It all falls under what I now call The RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES syndrome; when some of the laziest, most logic-defying, downright god-awful writing is lauded as intelligent and engaging. I suppose it’s my personal Twilight Zone.

The same gentleman I had been talking to also complained that the storyline surrounding Carol’s missing daughter, Sophia, was “dragged out” over six episodes when it should have been wrapped in two. Am I the only one who understands that this was the backbone of season two? That what happened here would forever effect these characters and how they view not only this new world, but themselves and one another? This was the human element that the show was finally dealing with. Hope versus hopelessness. Humanity versus inhumanity. Compassion versus savagery. THESE are the issues that will allow a show like THE WALKING DEAD to be more than a series of zombie attacks. This is the event that either separated people or brought them together. Without this storyline, Darrel would never have had the opportunity to grow beyond simply being “the hick.” No, that little girl became a symbol. And a complex one at that. And the power of the final reveal of Sophia’s untimely death and the manner in which it took place and what it meant for each character, would not have had near the impact or significance had it wrapped in two episodes. No, it seems people would rather have “stuff happening,” than an actual story about human beings struggling both internally and externally in a horrible, nightmarish setting.

Sigh…

Regardless of whether or not I stand alone in this, the beginning of the second season of THE WALKING DEAD had me on the edge of my seat. The show was finally giving me a reason to care. They were finally addressing some of the deeper issues, some of the thematic and moral and social issues that this new world would offer; emotional survival IN ADDITION to physical survival. But now, as with the first season, I simply don’t give a shit. Nor do I trust the makers of this show to find a way to offer quality over quantity. Now the show looks like it’s about to dive head-first into its graphic novel roots which will either make it a really fun, cool show, or simply even more ridiculous. Given what I’ve seen so far, I’m expecting the latter. And I can’t say that I’ll actually be sticking around to find out. Maybe if I hear people complaining about it, that “nothing’s happening,”  I’ll tune in because, as the first two seasons have shown me, what I like and dislike about this show is out of sync with those I engage with about it. But I’ll be sticking to my guns on this one. I’m a demanding audience member and have no intention of lowering my standards to find satisfaction within a show that cannot live up to its potential. I don’t know if that makes me too much of a geek or not enough of one.

What I do know, however, is that the spine of THE WALKING DEAD is slowly being severed from its brain and, if someone doesn’t step in and stop it soon, there will be nothing left but an inanimate corpse, not dangerous or interesting, just simply dead. And unfortunate.

At least so far as this viewer is concerned.

THE WALKING DEAD Season 2.5: When Characters No Longer Matter