Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

My 2012 Pre-Ramble; I Ain’t Jokin’, I Got to Ramble

Posted by CinemaPsycho on January 20, 2013

Greetings and salutations, everybody! This is not my annual Top 10 list; that will be coming in a couple of weeks. This is my annual pre-Top 10 pre-ramble, in which I explain the nature of how my Top 10 list works (as it differs from most people’s in some important ways) and basically sum up the year in movies generally. This year, the ramble is going to be a little different, but I’ll get to that later. I separate the pre-ramble from the Top 10 list because putting the two together equals one fucking long article that takes forever to read and write, and no one wants that. Let’s start with explaining how my Top 10 list differs from other critic/bloggers and go from there.

Longtime readers already know this, but for any new people (nice to have you on board, by the way), let me explain how this works. Because I don’t live in a major city, I don’t always get to see a lot of the best films as they’re released. Some films don’t open wide until January of the next year, after the Oscar nominations come out. As most film fans know, a lot of films open in limited release initially and only play in major cities, so one has to catch up with them later on DVD or streaming. So I give myself an extra month to catch up on the films I really want to see, films that I think might have a chance of making my list. Often my list changes quite a bit because I made that effort to see those films. I’m still watching films from 2012 and my list is still changing from day to day. If I made my list on December 31st, it would be a completely different list, and probably not a very good one. My only criteria is that a film must have had some kind of theatrical release to the general public in the year 2012. No film festival bullshit – an average person has to have been able to go to their local theater and buy a ticket. So if it played in one theater in Iowa for a week, that still counts as a theatrical release. As long as some company put it out there for regular moviegoers to see, and you didn’t have to be some kind of “special person” to see it, it counts. My list, my rules. I feel that’s a more accurate representation of what’s actually out there in theaters for people to see. You may disagree, and that’s your right. But when I see someone’s Top 10 list and there’s a film that hasn’t actually been released yet on it, it invalidates the list for me. That’s how I feel personally. I’m anal about shit like that. I don’t do a Worst List because I try not to see that many films that suck that badly. I can’t claim to have seen everything, and I don’t make that claim. But I make an effort to see as much as I can.

Now, why do I even make a Top 10 list? Am I getting paid for it? No. I do it because I love movies. I do it because I want to celebrate the movies that I loved the most in the past year, and I hope that you will see the movies on my list that you have not seen. Obviously I cannot make you do so, but I hope that my recommendation will inspire you to check out a film or two that you might not have. That’s why I do it – because I love these movies. Because they contributed something positive and worthwhile to my life, because they were time well spent, because they knocked me flat on my ass. I hope they will do they same for you. Let’s face it, there is so much mediocrity out there, not to mention so much utter garbage that people waste their time on, and I do not understand why. When there are 10 films of pure excellence out there, why settle for less? Not only that, but the internet is so full of negativity and hatefulness and pure bullshit, and I hate that. This is my attempt to contribute something positive and useful. I may not be able to make a great film, but I can point you in the direction of 10 of them. It’s not about my ego or the order of the films or what films get left off or any of that. It’s about celebrating the films that I loved this past year. It’s about saying, “this movie kicked my ass, and here’s why.” If you can’t get down with that, then you might as well not read it.

Does this mean that the list is a list of personal favorites? Absolutely. Every Top 10 list is a list of personal favorites. Don’t let any critic tell you otherwise. Any “Best of the Year” list is made up of their personal opinion. Nothing else. I just don’t hide that. They are telling you what they think were the best movies, albums, books, TV shows, whatever of the year. It’s all opinion. What the “best movies” were is all subjective. Each individual will give you a completely different list. I’m giving you mine and saying, “these are the films I loved the most” because I’m not egotistical enough to think that my opinion stands for anything more than what it is. OK? In fact, I encourage everyone to make up their own list. Everyone’s a critic these days anyway, so go ahead and have fun with it. Or, just make a list of the films you loved without numbers or rankings. Whatever you like. I just do 10 because to me, 10 is a good round number. If you make that list, you’ve achieved something. There were a lot of films that I liked and really liked this year, but to make the Top 10, you have to make me love that film. You see the difference? Making the Top 10 means you made a fucking great movie. Listing runners-up and all that, to me that dilutes the whole point of it. But you can do your list any way you want. That’s up to you.

OK, that’s enough of that. Let’s talk about 2012. This is normally where I would make broad generalizations about the year’s movies, because that’s what people like me do at this time of year. I’m not going to do that this year. Because when I think of 2012 right now, the two words that come to mind are tragedy and controversy. This was one of those years, when some truly horrible and awful things happened, and some people chose to blame it on the movies. Even intelligent people who really should know better by now. And look, part of me understands it on some level. When truly horrible, gut-wrenching things happen, it’s only human to look for someone or something to blame. I get that. I am the last person to diminish or make light of such tragedies, believe me. Things like Aurora and Sandy Hook are no joke to me. I am an adult (all evidence to the contrary) and these things sadden and enrage and sicken me just like they do everyone else. I am not immune to those feelings, and even now I am still feeling them. I’m as sad and pissed off as anyone about it.

However. I honestly believe that “violent movies” are not to blame. I believe that if Hollywood suddenly stopped making “violent movies” and “violent shows” tomorrow, absolutely nothing would change. Let me explain why. A friend of mine recently gave me some information that I was not aware of. He sent me a link to a list of school shootings in America, the entire recorded history of them. It turns out there have always been school shootings in America, going back to the early 1800s and every single decade since then. Don’t believe me? Look it up. It didn’t start with Columbine – as long as there have been schools and guns in this country, there have been shootings in schools. Long before movies were even invented, long before video games and TV and even radio, there were school shootings. The only difference is that the guns are more efficient now and they kill more people in these events. The truth is, violent people do violent things. Crazy people do crazy things. Period. Adam Lanza’s problem wasn’t that he saw too many fucking Tarantino movies. Can we agree on that, at least?

Look, I am not here to argue about guns. That’s not my job, and this is not the place for it. I consider it a waste of time. Go to a political site and argue about that all day if you want to waste your time. Let the politicians work that shit out. I’m here to talk about movies. I can tell you that I have seen a lot of movies with gun violence in them. Probably more than the average person. I grew up in the 80’s, when even the romantic comedies had guns in them. I’ve seen films ranging from 48 Hrs. to John Woo and practically everything in between. Some of them several times over. Guns in movies are just something I take for granted. But I have never picked up a gun in my entire life. Never even touched one. Never felt the need or inclination to be a gun person. Just not my thing. And I grew up in a redneck town, so I’m well aware of gun people. I grew up with kids sitting around the cafeteria talking about their favorite guns like they were hot chicks or something. Never rubbed off on me. Seeing guns in movies doesn’t bother me, nor does it make me want to go out and get one for myself. I wasn’t raised to be paranoid of the government. I didn’t watch Death Wish and go, “ooooh, THAT looks like fun!” I’d be more worried about shooting myself in the fucking foot if I had one, because that would be my luck.

So what does this mean? Does it mean that maybe there’s no connection between screen violence and real violence? I don’t know. Maybe it means that intelligent people watch movies differently than people who are stupid and impressionable? Could that be the case? Because if a person is stupid and impressionable, well, they’re going to see just about everything differently, aren’t they? You can’t blame a movie for that. That’s their problem. I’ve always understood that there’s a difference between what I see on the screen and what happens in real life. Even when I was a dumb kid. I’ve always understood that you can’t make a realistic movie about cops, criminals, soldiers, gangsters, cowboys (yes, old people, Westerns are violent), and so on without including guns at some point, because that’s what they use. What do you want the actors to do, point their fingers at each other and yell, “Bang Bang!”?? Give me a fucking break. Are there some movies that fetishise guns? Sure (looking at you, Expendables). And that could be toned down a bit, granted. But in general, guns are used in movies out of necessity, to tell a story realistically. Hollywood can’t pretend that they don’t exist, or they wouldn’t be able to tell any stories about anything.

This is the problem that we seem to have now, that people don’t seem to just accept movies as movies any more – as filmed (or digitized, I guess) stories about subjects with characters who do things we might not do in real life. Apparently movies are just supposed to be direct lines into the director’s brain now. Kathryn Bigelow shows torture in her movie, so she must love torture! She must be a crazy torture-loving asshole! Never mind that she herself says the movie doesn’t endorse torture – she shows it, so that’s enough to condemn her, right? IT’S A MOVIE. Quentin Tarantino shows violence in his movies, so he must be a violent person who loves violence in real life. IT’S A MOVIE ABOUT VIOLENT PEOPLE. Can we really not see the difference any more? Can we not separate the film from the filmmaker? Is it that difficult to separate movies from real life? Jesus Christ people, have we all gone fucking nuts? Just because someone shows something in a movie doesn’t mean that’s what they’re telling you to behave like in real life! That’s like saying Silence of the Lambs is an endorsement of cannibalism. “Jonathan Demme says cannibalism is cool!” What about Psycho? “Alfred Hitchcock tells the audience to kill their mothers!” How about Scarface? “Brian De Palma says cocaine is A-OK!” Yes, these are all absurd arguments. That’s my point.

OK, you want to know what I’ve learned from a lifetime of watching “violent movies”? Here goes: I’ve learned that shooting at the police is never a good idea. I’ve learned that violent people usually wind up dead or in jail (neither option sounds good to me). Unless you’re the Zodiac Killer. I’ve learned that guys get raped in prison. A lot. I’ve learned that if you commit murder or rape, even if by some small chance you get away with it, there’s usually someone who wants to get revenge on your ass. I’ve learned you don’t fuck with any woman in a James Cameron film. I’ve learned that joining the Mafia or any criminal organization usually ends in your death or imprisonment. I’ve learned that you do not try to outrun or outdrive the police (I knew someone who tried the latter once; it did not end well). I’ve learned that no matter how many guns you have, the authorities have more than you do. I’ve learned that bullets only bounce off Superman and robots (and sometimes Jason), but they will definitely kill you. I’ve learned that the good guys are much better shots than the bad guys. And most of all, I’ve learned that, whatever you do in life, do not piss off Mel Gibson. Seriously.

Even if half of that shit isn’t true, I still learned it from watching “violent movies”. What I did not learn was to pick up a gun and go shoot random people in public. Of all the hundreds, maybe thousands of movies I’ve seen in my life, I’ve never seen any movie like that. I don’t think that movie exists. If it does, I don’t want to see it. That doesn’t reflect the movies I have watched. We definitely have problems in society, but telling made-up stories is not one of them.

Let me leave you with this thought. It’s also about a made-up story. I recently read a Stephen King story called “Big Driver” (from the Full Dark, No Stars collection of novellas). It’s basically about a rape victim who eventually gets revenge on her attacker. With a gun. It’s more complicated than that, of course, but that is the gist of it. It’s a very dark, violent and vivid story, and not for all tastes. It’s also extremely well-written and powerful. I liked and admired this story quite a bit. What I admire most about it is that King doesn’t tell the reader how to feel about it. He simply tells the story from the victim-turned-avenger’s point of view, and lets the reader sort out the morality of the situation for themselves. In other words, he lets you decide for yourselves if what she is doing is right or wrong. He doesn’t stop in the middle of the story to remind us, “now children, shooting people is BAD, mmkay?” or even “two wrongs don’t make a right, you know.” The story simply is what it is, and it’s up to you to decide whether you agree with her actions or you disagree, or if you are neutral. Maybe you understand why she does what she does, maybe you don’t. Either way, I imagine that millions of people have read this story by now (King being a bestselling author and all) and I haven’t heard of anyone protesting “Big Driver” or anyone committing murder because of it. People seem to just accept the story for what it is, and feel however they feel about it without wanting to string up Mr. King by his ankles.

Wouldn’t it be nice if people responded to movies in the same way?

So that about covers it. My Top 10 list will be up in a couple of weeks. Thanks for reading, and if anything I’ve written here upsets you, please try to refrain from shooting me. I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

Posted in Psycho Therapy | Leave a Comment »

Explaining Movies to Morons: Django Unchained

Posted by CinemaPsycho on December 30, 2012

First off, I want to sincerely thank my readers for getting this blog over 40,000 hits. Much appreciated.

django-unchained-fan-poster-foxx-waltz.jpg

So I saw Django Unchained last night and really loved it. Yes, I am a Tarantino guy. But it’s not because of the hype, or because he’s “king of the film geeks” or any of that. It’s because of what he puts on the screen. It’s because he proves it – film after film, time and time again, he swings for the fences and knocks it out of the park. Those who dismiss him as a genre copycat simply don’t get it and never will, and that argument isn’t even worth addressing at this point. There’s so much more going on in his work than that, and for any intelligent person not to see that by now is laughable. His Django is massively entertaining and unexpectedly moving, a blazing fireball of righteous rage shot straight at the evil eye of racism itself. It’s a giant middle finger towards the history of hate, and if you have a problem with that, Tarantino doesn’t give a flying fuck. Nor should he.

But I find the reaction to this film from some corners bizarrely fascinating. I’m not even talking about the critics, I’m talking about people in general, who should still be smart enough to know better. I know, I shouldn’t even bother to read comments from the peanut gallery, because it just drives me nuts, but sometimes it’s hard to avoid. I’ve heard people (some of whom have seen the film, and some who haven’t) call Django “pure filth”, “racist”, “anti-white”, and of course (the snowball that morons always throw at things they don’t like), “anti-American”. The funny thing is, I never heard anyone say any of these things about Spielberg’s Lincoln, even though both films are basically about the same issues, are they not? Both films deal with the issue of slavery in America, and both films take strong stands against slavery. But one film is revered for taking that stand, and the other film is pilloried for it. Does that make sense to anyone else? Yes, they are very different films, no question about that. But they basically have the same message: that slavery was wrong, and needed to end by any means necessary. I actually had problems with Lincoln as a film, but I certainly did not disagree with its message. With Django, it seems that people are attacking the film for no other reason than its message.

Look, I am a white male and I am generally unashamed of that fact. It’s simply what I am. But it doesn’t stop me from having empathy for other people. I grew up around rednecks and generally racist white people, but I didn’t become one of them. I find them to be hands down the worst people on Earth. So I don’t feel that Django is attacking me personally. If you feel that way, perhaps you need to look at yourself. If you can’t accept the idea that maybe, I don’t know, slavery might have been a bad idea as we’re approaching the year 2013, then maybe you’re the problem. But the only reason any white person should find this movie to be “controversial”, “dangerous” or even “anti-white” is if you’re an ignorant, racist asshole. If that’s the case, then no one should give a shit what you think anyway. And you probably shouldn’t go see a movie about slavery in any event. Go see Cirque du Soleil 3D or something. Have a blast. Seriously though, I thought we were all at the point now where we all agreed that slavery was a bad thing. Are we really not there yet? Still? We’re not all against the buying and selling of human beings for slave labor? We’re not united on that point in the 21st century? Wow. I really didn’t realize that. Silly me.

So here’s what I’ve decided to do. I’m going to do something I’ve never done before, which is to speak directly to the morons out there who apparently “don’t get” Django Unchained. If you’re not a moron (which hopefully describes my entire readership), you might get a good laugh or two out of this. I’ll do the moron-speak in italics so you know when I’m talking to them. It might be a futile effort, but it seems there are a lot of them on the internet, so who knows. Maybe I’ll get through to one or two of them.

“Duh. Hey dude. Heard you saw Django. Thought it sucked, huh? I know it didn’t have any talking animals, rapping grannies, or half-words like “bro” or “tard”. I guess it confused you. No, seriously, you probably still think of QT as “that violence guy” and you were shocked there was actually a human story in the middle of all that revenge shit. Wait, listen, I’ll go down the list point by point and explain the movie to you. Then you’ll get it. Just don’t drink any more beer while I’m telling you this or you’ll pass out, OK? Cool.

Slavery. This is a thing that actually happened in America. No, really. You should have learned about this in grade school, but you probably weren’t paying attention. OK, “back in the day”, way before you and me were ever born, these rich white guys used to bring black people over from Africa (which is like a different continent from ours) to work for them. They worked in their fields and their houses and all that shit. They didn’t have no choice, like they couldn’t go home or nothing, all right? They were stuck there. It was a real bummer. You can look this up in the history books, or you can just Google it or whatever. Unless you don’t believe in history or facts or any of that shit like some people. I’m sure it’s up on Wikipedia though.

Racism. Yeah dude, I know it’s hard to imagine, but a lot of white people just don’t like black people. It was even way worse “back in the day” too. They used to beat them and then whip them and all kinds of crazy shit. It was pretty harsh. Like, they didn’t even have rap music or anything. They used to think black people were inferior to white people. Remember all that science stuff Titanic guy was talking about? Some people still believe that shit to this day! They never listened to Bob Marley, you know what I’m sayin’? Hendrix is not on their iTunes. These guys are like hardcore dickheads about it. It sucks, but this kind of shit went down back then and sometimes still goes down today. It’s fucked up.

Revenge. Wow, that black dude killed like a ton of white people, right? He even talked about how much he loved killing white people. He made a point of it! That’s gotta be a racial thing, right? Well, you gotta remember, this guy was a slave. He was a victim of white people all his life. White people beat him and branded him and took away his wife. He didn’t have any power then, but now he has power and he can do something about it. What would you do in that situation? See, that’s the way revenge movies work – the weak grow to get revenge against the strong. It doesn’t really work the other way around, now does it? Django’s been wronged and we root for him to get even. Besides, these guys are all fictional characters anyway, you know? It’s not you, it’s not your ancestors. No need to take it so fucking personally, man. It’s just a movie. Chill out.

America. Yeah, this movie is set in the America of the past. Back in the day. That doesn’t mean that the people who made it hate America. They hate certain people who did a certain thing. Not all Americans practiced slavery even then. Should we all just ignore the history of our country? That’s dumb. If exploring problems makes you “anti-American”, does that mean ignoring problems makes you “pro-American”? Does that mean we should just ignore all the problems we have now? Of course not. If you have a problem, the smart thing to do is deal with it head-on, right? Pretending it doesn’t exist just makes it worse. Sometimes we need to be reminded of the bad things that happened so they don’t happen again. That’s why people watch the news and documentaries and read books and shit. OK, I see I’m losing you. Next topic.

The date. The movie is set in 1858, two years before the Civil War began. I don’t know if you got that, but some people seem to be having problems with it. The movie HAD to be set before the Civil War. It couldn’t be set DURING the Civil War, because all the men would be off fighting the CIVIL WAR. It couldn’t be set AFTER the Civil War, because slavery was ABOLISHED. There would be no point. That’s where Spielberg’s Lincoln movie comes in. Django Unchained only works if it’s taking place while slavery is actually in effect. Like, duh.

The n-word. Yeah, there’s been a LOT of talk about the n-word. Seriously, this is a movie set in the South in 1858. Written by Quentin Tarantino. Helloooo, McFly?? What were you expecting? I know, to us that’s a dirty word. Back then, at that place and time, it was the same as saying “black”. That’s why it’s a dirty word NOW, because it’s associated with slavery. But that’s the way people talked at that time. Would it have been better to have whitewashed the language (for lack of a better term) to placate sensitive ears? (I know, I’ve broken character already… I’m assuming the moron has passed out) Besides, Tarantino uses that word in his films anyway, because black people use that word anyway. I watched Jackie Brown again last night, I think he actually uses it as much in that film as he does in Django. If you really walked into a Quentin Tarantino film about slavery and did NOT expect to hear that word, then I really have no sympathy for you. There’s a difference between naive and just plain stupid.

The violence. Sigh… IT’S A QUENTIN TARANTINO FILM. What’s it been, 20 years now? The film is rated R. Know what you are fucking walking into. There are lots of other movies playing at the cineplex. Were you forced at gunpoint to watch this one? If screen violence bothers you, DON’T WATCH VIOLENT MOVIES. Take some responsibility for your own choices.

OK, I’m back. So that about covers it. I will probably have my Top 10 of the year up in early February, and I’m about to spend the next month or so catching up on films that I missed in 2012 (mainly because they didn’t open near me). I think it’s going to be really interesting. If anyone has any suggestions for obscure films I really need to see, let me know in the comments section. Happy New Year to everyone. No morons were harmed in the writing of this blog post, unfortunately.

Posted in Film Reviews | Leave a Comment »

Watched at Random: Teens Sail the Seventies in The Dove (1974)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on December 2, 2012

deborah-raffin-the-dove-1974-poster2.jpgEvery now and then, I happen to watch an old movie that I know nothing about and the results fascinate me because they are so far out of my wheelhouse. Such is the case with 1974’s The Dove, a film released by Paramount, produced by none other than Gregory Peck (who sadly not does appear) and directed by Charles Jarrott, best known for British costume dramas like Mary, Queen of Scots. The Dove is a sailing movie, a subgenre I’ve always found interesting because I have no understanding of or interest in the activity itself whatsoever, and have always wondered why anyone would want to do that. I still haven’t seen a sailing movie that communicates the appeal of it to me, but then I have never understood why people risk their lives climbing really tall mountains either. “Because it’s there” doesn’t really do it when you’re suffering from frostbite.

Anyway, those of us who were children in the ’70’s remember a time that seems to have been forgotten by mainstream chroniclers of the decade like That 70’s Show. It wasn’t all punk rock, Star Wars and Zeppelin – there was a weird leftover hippie vibe typified by smiley faces, “Keep on Truckin'” stickers, Free to Be You and Me, The Electric Company and other strange effluvia. If you remember any of this, chances are you will enjoy The Dove, because it’s all about being a free spirit and love and doing your own thing, man. Groovy. We even get a warbly Joni Mitchell sound-alike on the soundtrack encouraging our hero to be a song on the wind or something like that (oh, if only Christopher Cross’ “Sailing” had been recorded by then).

The Dove is based on the true story on Robin Lee Graham, a 17-year-old American boy (played by Joseph Bottoms) who sails around the world. And that’s pretty much the plot, so if you expect much more than that, you’re out of luck. Wikipedia tells me this happened between 1965 and 1970, but the film version seems to take place very much in the loosey-goosey 70’s. Robin even has a Leif Garrett-style hairdo. I guess he avoided that whole Vietnam thing somehow, but let’s not get into that. I would’ve liked to have been a fly on the wall during that conversation with his parents – “Mom and Dad, instead of going to college or getting a job, I’d really like to spend the next five years sailing around the world by myself.” I know, different times. But the movie doesn’t even show us that conversation. The possible safety hazards involved don’t even seem to be an issue with Robin’s Dad whenever he pops up, so I guess young Robin must have been an excellent sailor already. Anyway, we don’t get much of a sense of the passage of time in the film itself, so for all we know it takes place within a few months. I know, that’s probably not possible, but most of the people watching the movie are not experienced sailors.

Along the way, Robin meets Patti Ratteree (Deborah Raffin, who sadly died recently at the age of 59), a lithe young beauty who is only two years older than him but fancies herself a sophisticate. Patti is also traveling around the world, and the explanation of how she talked her parents into giving her the money they would have spent on her last two years of college so that she can “educate herself” in this manner is quite hilarious in its youthful narcissism. At first Patti kind of annoys Robin (who is bummed about losing his cat – he has bizarrely bad luck with cats on this voyage), then Robin kind of becomes her stalker for awhile (but of course she finds it “charming”), then eventually, just when the audience can’t take much more of this, they somehow decide to fall in love. Never mind that they have nothing in common and don’t really know each other that well – they’re young and they’re in love, OK? It’s the 70’s, man!

The really strange thing about The Dove is that Robin himself seems to have serious doubts about his own journey, quitting several times along the way before deciding to pick it back up again. At one point he decides to quit sailing and become a construction worker in Australia. At another point he and Patti decide to get married, despite the fact that they have none of the documents they would need to get married in a foreign country. Oh, those wonderful naive youth! Never mind that Robin’s parents invested a ton of money in his boat, he has a contract with a magazine for a photo layout, and he’s a celebrity and an inspiration to people around the world. It’s all about him and what he wants to do at that moment, you see? The most hysterical scene in the movie comes about 3/4 of the way in, when Robin has decided once and for all not to finish the voyage. He’s found a buyer for the boat and he’s going to hang it up once and for all. Then suddenly he comes to a realization: “I NEED TO FINISH IT FOR ME!!!”

Wow. OK then.

deborah-raffin-plays-guitar-in-the-dove-1974.jpgI don’t want it to sound like I didn’t enjoy The Dove. I actually did like it quite a bit despite my sarcastic tone. It’s very much a movie of its time, and I accept it as that. That’s exactly why I find it so fascinating. I’m sure I would have viewed it a lot differently had I seen it at a younger age. It’s not a great film by any means, and I doubt anyone in 1974 saw it as such. But viewed nearly 40 years later, it’s kind of an amazing little curio. I’m sure any decent shrink would see it as a celebration of young narcissism, and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But I think The Dove is basically a movie about every kid who only saw their own tunnel-vision dream and wanted to live it, the rest of the world be damned. Who didn’t want that at 17? Who didn’t want to be a song on the wind, or whatever the hell that song said? I feel sorry for anyone who didn’t.

Note: I have no doubt that the real Robin Lee Graham learned quite a lot on his voyage. You just wouldn’t know it from watching this movie.

The Dove is available to watch on Netflix streaming. Groovy.

Posted in Psycho Therapy | 4 Comments »

Start Making Sense (Again); Why Cinema Narrative Still Matters (And Always Will)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on November 4, 2012

A few weeks ago, my 15-year-old nephew and I were watching Reefer Madness on Netflix streaming. He had heard of its reputation as a cult film and was curious about it, so naturally I encouraged him to watch it. I didn’t tell him much about it beforehand, only that it was an anti-marijuana propaganda film. Even though the film was made in 1936, it wasn’t difficult for him to follow the story and “get the joke” fairly quickly. While the narrative of Reefer Madness is a relatively clumsy one, relying mainly on coincidence and exaggeration to get its point across, the narrative is still there nonetheless, so that even a teenage boy can understand its inherent ridiculousness 75-plus years later. Almost a century after its release, Reefer Madness is still Reefer Madness.

Now let’s imagine that Reefer Madness was a series of random images chosen without rhyme or reason, with maybe some inappropriately chosen music playing on its soundtrack. Let’s throw in some flashing lights and clicking sounds at random intervals. No plot, no characters, no actors, no message, no point. Would it still be Reefer Madness? Of course not. Would people still be watching it 75 years later? I seriously doubt it. Yet that kind of thing is what some people insist is the future of cinema. Really.

There seems to be a serious anti-narrative movement going on in some circles, spurred on in part by the advent of digital and 3D cinema, and in part by certain lazy filmmakers who seemingly can no longer be bothered to actually write scripts that make logical sense. I don’t buy for a second that this is what audiences actually want movies to be like, but I’ll get to that later. What blows my mind is that some critics are actually supporting this anti-narrative, anti-logic, anti-sense movement as if it’s a good thing, as if cinema wasn’t founded on professionalism and the establishment of narrative language. Yes, cinema is a visual medium and always will be; but if you don’t make people care, they have no reason to buy a ticket. It’s gotten to the point where even well-known filmmakers like the Wachowskis declared in a recent interview that “narrative is not the future of cinema”. Yeah, I beg to differ with that. Strongly. I think we’ve all seen the audience response to Cloud Atlas, so if that’s the future, no one in the present seems to want it.

I think people still want a good story and always will. Whatever the current technology is, people still say, let’s go to a movie. No one says, let’s go see a 3D digital hologram. And what are they saying when they say, let’s go to a movie? They’re saying, tell me a story. Entertain me. Give me a satisfying experience. Make me feel something. What they’re not saying is, Confuse me. Baffle me. Make me wonder why I wasted my time and money. Give me a shitty ending that doesn’t make any fucking sense. Don’t bother to explain anything that’s going on. Make me never want to watch another movie you ever make. Unfortunately, too many films lately are provoking the latter reactions rather than the former. I can’t tell you how many movies I’ve watched lately (mainly indie and horror films, sadly) that just don’t make any damn sense. I’m not talking about the usual “plot holes”, I’m talking about plot gaps, like the filmmakers just couldn’t be bothered to fill in any details that would explain what the hell’s happening on screen. You shouldn’t have to read a goddamn dissertation to understand a fucking movie.

Sure, there will always be people who are attracted to the flashy and superficial in movies (just as they are in other things in life), but I think there are just as many people who want something that feels solid and substantial and real. Even more than actor, director and even genre, I think a lot of moviegoers are attracted by subject matter. What’s it about? That’s the first question that a lot of people ask. Why do people love Looper so much (myself included)? Is it any more technologically advanced than any other movie out there? No, they love it because it’s a great story that’s incredibly well told. All of your questions are answered by the time the end credits roll. “Oh, he did that because…” “Ohhh, that’s why…” It’s incredibly well-directed and well-written by Rian Johnson. Why is Argo doing so well at the boxoffice? Is it because people just love Ben Affleck that much? I don’t think so. It’s because, again, it’s a great story that people are interested in seeing. Great stories generate word-of-mouth. No matter how technology advances, no matter how things change, people always want a great story. A great story doesn’t have to be in 3D or digital or what the fuck ever to get people to see it. It just has to be a great story that satisfies the audience.

“But dude, wait a second”, I can hear people saying. “You like films by David Lynch and David Cronenberg and Terry Gilliam and people like that, and they make weird-ass films that mainstream audiences hate. Aren’t you being hypocritical?” That’s a fair question, actually. But here’s the thing:

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I never said that movies couldn’t be weird. Good god, no. I’m not Robert McKee. I just said they had to be satisfying and make sense. That’s a

different issue. Movies like Blue Velvet and Videodrome make perfect sense to me. No, really! By the time the end credits roll, we know what happened, we know who did what to whom, and we know why. What’s not to understand? I’m not even saying that events have to take place in chronological order – look at Tarantino’s work, for example. He certainly plays with narrative structure – but the narrative itself is still there. Sometimes he even gives us more details than we really need, but I’m all for that, because the more details we have, the more we buy into the worlds he creates. No one said you can’t play around with structure, as long as there is still a narrative. (And by the way, getting back on David Lynch, if you’re not David Lynch, you’re not David Lynch. Only David Lynch is David Lynch. If you’re not David Lynch, tell the fuckin’ story properly.)

So here are some tips for all you young filmmakers out there, coming from the perspective of an audience member. Hopefully you will get some idea as to why story and narrative are still important:

Details are important. Details are what help the audience “buy into” the world you’re creating. The more details we process, the more we believe what we’re seeing. If we are not given consistent details about the story, the characters or the world we are watching, we are pulled out of the film and we do not buy into it. We become too aware that we are “watching a movie” and cannot buy into the reality of what you are presenting. Plot details are especially important. We need to know what is going on and why. Don’t just pull stuff out of your collective asses either. Consistency is necessary.

Endings are crucial. Have you ever read a novel you were really enjoying, and then the ending just totally blew it? The same principle applies with movies. No matter what, you gotta stick the landing or the plane crashes. And again, don’t just pull something out of your asses. Know where you’re going before you get there. An abrupt cut to black is not an ending. It’s surrender. It’s saying to the audience, “we don’t know how to end this, so we’re just going to stop.” It’s horseshit, and you know it. If you don’t have an ending, you don’t have a movie.

Bad twists do not work. We’ve all come to expect the “twist ending” by now. It’s become a cliche, and it’s gotten to the point that filmmakers are just throwing it in there whether or not it makes sense. Stop it already. You can’t just say, “OK, so-and-so is the bad guy now, surprise, thanks for coming” or “guess what, the guy’s wife was in on it the whole time!” and expect us to just buy it without some consistent character development leading up to that point. It feels like you’re just making shit up as you go along, because, well, you are. Knock if off. If a twist doesn’t make any logical sense, don’t use it. Unless you actually want the audience reaction to be, “wait a minute, whaaaaat?” And that’s not the reaction you want. Trust me.

Are we really supposed to believe that at some point in the future, film lovers are just going to abandon cinema history and start watching mind-numbing, random bullshit? We’re all going to stop watching Hitchcock, Chaplin, Keaton, Hawks, Sturges, Ford, Wilder, Ray, Lumet, Frankenheimer, Scorsese, Coppola, DePalma, Spielberg, Tarantino, the endless list of great narrative directors, and we’re all going to start watching the equivalent of multimedia art projects?? I don’t think so. I don’t ever, ever, ever see that happening. Not now, not 100 years from now. That’s not cinema. That’s fucking YouTube. Yes, cinema narrative has evolved and changed over the years, as it should be. It is certainly different now than it was in the silent film era. But I don’t believe it will ever disappear. People will always want a great story. I believe that with all my heart and soul. You know what my nephew did last week? Raided my DVD collection. Never mind that DVDs are supposedly useless now. Here’s what he borrowed: The Godfather I & II, the LOTR trilogy, the Bourne trilogy, JFK, Slumdog Millionaire, RoboCop and Inglorious Bastards. That’s just what he could carry out of my apartment.

Are you going to tell that kid that storytelling is dead? I’m pretty sure he’d laugh in your face. And rightfully so. Long live narrative, you silly bastards.

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Fight For Your Right to… Do What You Were Going to Do Anyway

Posted by CinemaPsycho on September 30, 2012

By now, most of you have probably heard about the debate/boxing match between “mumblecore” filmmaker Joe Swanberg and Internet critic Devin Faraci at Fantastic Fest. For those who haven’t, the gist of it is that the two of them debated the merits of Swanberg’s films and the mumblecore movement in general, then they got in the ring and Swanberg quickly cleaned Faraci’s clock. The video is all over the internet, and is quite amusing to watch.

But the whole thing is pretty silly, don’t you think? Does it actually prove anything? Of course not. The merits of the actual debate are what they are, but the results of the fight only prove that Swanberg is a better fighter than Faraci. That doesn’t prove that Faraci is wrong about Swanberg’s films. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. But did it really need to come to blows? Is this the future of film criticism? Will every debate be reduced to the MMA mentality from here on in? “I don’t like your films, let’s fight!” “I don’t like that you don’t like my films, I accept your challenge!” Joel Schumacher better watch his back.

Seriously though. Admittedly, I have never seen any of Swanberg’s films myself and I have no opinion on them whatsoever. They don’t sound like my cup of tea, but the fact that he gave Faraci a beating makes me strangely more interested in giving them a chance. My problem with Faraci is that he says astoundingly ignorant things like “mentally ill people should just get over it” and just shrugs it off as if it shouldn’t piss anybody off. If I said something like that, I wouldn’t expect anybody to read another word I ever wrote. Having said that, I do agree with his argument that filmmakers have a responsibility to the audience to make films that are interesting and/or entertaining to the viewer and keeps them engaged. That’s my opinion, and I’ve said that many times. On the other hand, I would never say that a filmmaker has no right to pick up a camera and make any film that they choose to make. Of course not. I may not be interested in watching said film, but they absolutely have the right to make it. No question about that. I would never deny anyone the right to make any film, no matter how boring, lousy or wrongheaded it may be. If it doesn’t appeal to me, I just don’t watch it. Problem solved.

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On the other side of the coin, I don’t really get why today’s filmmakers care so much what people think about their films. I don’t like Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, and I’m damn sure that Bay isn’t exactly broken up about it. I don’t watch them, and I doubt he would care if he was even aware of that, which I’m sure he isn’t. So why does Swanberg care what some dude on the internet thinks? As he himself put it, he’s out there getting it done. He’s getting his films made and released regardless what guys like Faraci think about them. So what does it matter if internet critics take shots? That comes with the territory of being an artist, doesn’t it? No matter what you do, some people are going to like it, and others not so much.

I call this the Kevin Smith Syndrome. I actually like Kevin Smith (and most of his movies), but the guy takes the internet way too seriously for his own good. You know what I would do if I was Kevin Smith? Well, I’ll tell you what I wouldn’t be doing – I wouldn’t be spending my time scouring the internet for every single negative mention of my name. No, I’d be banging my hot wife, writing comics, laughing all the way to the bank, and oh yeah, making movies. I certainly wouldn’t be giving a shit what every douchebag on the internet thought of me. It’s not even just critics, it’s guys on comment sections and message boards that he’s constantly arguing with. Why? Why does he care? Why does Swanberg care? Do you think Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford or Billy Wilder spent every waking moment obsessing about bad reviews? Of course not. I’m sure they gave them a few minutes of thought, but then they went right back to work. They didn’t let the critics run their careers or lives. That’s not how it’s supposed to work.

Look, I think film criticism at its best provides a valuable service. For the audience. It tells the reader what they should see, where they should spend their money and their valuable time. That’s the point. It’s a place for discussion about a subject that people still care about, and that’s worth something. I think that’s important. But when it becomes about the critic’s ego, then it’s just pointless chest-beating, and no one wants or needs that. I just think that filmmakers are supposed to do what they do, regardless of what the critics think. They should follow their personal muse, do their thing. I know, that’s easier said than done at times. Bad reviews usually equal fewer asses in seats. It’s hard not to take that personally. But think of it this way: if all of these guys actually liked what you were doing, you’d probably be doing something wrong.

I just think it’s silly for filmmakers and critics to actually punch each other in the face over their differences. Indie films are still going to get made (thankfully) and film criticism is still going to be written. Same as it ever was. Watching them fight might be a great spectacle, but it doesn’t change anything. It just makes each camp seem like a joke, and I think that’s the last thing they need right now. As we rapidly approach the Death of Film, can we at least try to have a little dignity left? I think that’s the least we can do.

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