Monday, March 20, 2017

Easy to Remember Harder to Move on

Disney movies and Steven Spielberg movies are the closest we have to the golden era of Hollywood studio filmmaking.

Beauty and the Beast (2017, Bill Condon) is a Technicolor Baroque musical romance fairy tale. Half of our instincts tell us that BELLE (Emma Watson) and the BEAST will obviously inevitably fall in love with each other while the other half wonders how on earth the movie will convincingly depict it.

The overarching plot device in the form of inciting incident is that Beast must fall in love with someone whom in return loves him back to break the curse, which would transform him back into a prince. Falling in love is the easy part, being loved back proves more difficult. So, Beauty and the Beast is essentially about one man's desperation to find a woman. I'm going to single myself out and say that for me that's basically all life is about so I have a special affinity for this romantic trash.

Beast isn't really a monster he's just sexually frustrated. His Swedish headache is depicted as the ice storm that perennially engulfs his castle. What a charmingly odd narrative. After Beast has imprisoned Belle to a life sentence in his castle, he invites her to dinner. And the "Be Our Guest" number in the age of CG visual effects takes on the decadent likeness of a Vegas nightclub act. Which brings me to a point about the plot.

The premise sets up Belle's acceptance of Beast as her lover as crucial. We also need to fall in love with Beast to buy all this. And while it may seem that the underlying message is to see the inner beauty of someone, looking beyond their outward physical appearance and loving them for who they really are, I noticed some potential discrepancies.

Maybe this is just me but I cannot look past the fact that in Belle's own words, she's seen all of the other men in the village and has decided that she's not attracted to any of them. And as GASTON points out, they are both peasants. Yet if we are to believe that Belle is destined to fall in love with Beast because he's a good person, which I had always believed, this ignores Beast's material wealth. Say Belle is the everygirl, does every girl need a prince with his own huge castle with full staff of servants, lavish furnishings, harpsichord, and Baroque gold filigree on everything?

Also we don't know shit about Belle except that she's a bookworm. And coincidentally Beast is an avid reader who soon picks up on Belle's hobby and carelessly donates his entire library to her as if it has no value whatsoever. I'm just trying to see this from the girl's perspective. Belle has to be sizing Beast up as a cruel monster initially. But what begins to change this impression other than his material wealth? Oh yeah he also gives her a magic mirror that can take her to any other world she wants; and Belle uses this Philip K. Dick invention to return to her childhood home where she discovers that her mom was dying of the plague and her dad's true motives for leaving her behind were so that Belle wouldn't catch the plague too.

Is the message here that giving a girl a huge mansion, furniture, the finest meals, clothes, and metaphysically impossible gadgets that explain the mysteries of her parents most deepest secret motives and how they really all loved her and each other the way to get a girl to fall in love with you? Maybe I missed something.

Emotions = Fantasy

Beauty and the Beast works for me because I fell in love with Emma Watson as Belle and bought into the fantasy that there is one girl for one guy that if they met would be the perfect romantic match and live happily ever after. And Beauty and the Beast in Disney's hands as a modern live action musical felt like a return to the pre-Depression golden Hollywood era of movies. There are funny scenes and there are genuinely scary scenes, like when Gaston binds Belle's dad to a tree to be eaten alive by wolves.

Intellect = History

Although after the dust has settled I see that there is a scene in The Elephant Man (1980, David Lynch) that does more to illuminate the gulf between male physical appearance as impediment to attracting the company of women romantically than the entirety of Beauty and the Beast. When JOHN MERRICK (John Hurt) adopts the posture, behavior, and mannerisms of a gentleman in his small hotel room, rehearsing how he will perform in an upcoming social setting, watching himself in the mirror. He's alone. He sees himself as dignified and befitting the company of any woman. His love of himself is authentic and it comes from within. It's about confidence, not showering a lady with material objects. And even alone without a woman, John Merrick remains one of the most beautiful depictions of masculine ego portrayed on celluloid. Beast is just a rich jerk who meets a golddigger at the right time and the right place.

Today in Romance Comics (#3)

Important questions are posed but not really answered...

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Wolverine 3

So I've only seen a few of the Marvel Cinematic Universe entries and only the first two X-Men entries. And even though I haven't seen the first two Wolverines, this latest installment arrives with reports of it being more dramatic than action oriented; being the first X-Men movie rated R; and set up with the premise that an aging WOLVERINE hides out with PROFESSOR X somewhere along the Mexican border.

The premise sounded cool to me. I never read comic books (I was a huge baseball card nerd) but I remember being a kid and seeing issues like "Death in the Family," which without bothering to look up, I remember as like Batman or Robin died and I recall an illustration of a bunch of people in black at a funeral. There were also Superman comics I remember with the S logo dripping blood. Maybe what caught my attention were the attempts to take these classic superheroes into darker dramatic territory.

Also lately I've avoided superhero movies but in Clouds of Sils Maria (2014, Olivier Assayas) when the Kristen Stewart, whom I've recently been smitten with as the coolest actress working, character sticks up for the virtues of the contemporary superhero genre movies she effectively convinced me in real life that I owe them more of my time.

Logan (2017, James Mangold) is a road movie and a movie about family and fits in the superhero genre. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is the timeless icon of animal aggression. And Logan heavily plays up the fish out of water aspects of his plight starting with the opening sequence where he must defend himself against some carjacker cholos. The scene is ultraviolent, but also sees Wolverine in less than formidable condition for battle physically.

Logan is about a once great warrior dying, on the run, hunted like an animal. Professor X is having seizures with him and they're both like dealing with mortality. And I feel like the dark tone delivers what I'd went in there searching for. Bleak.

But it is a superhero movie and the only drawbacks were like really I'm fucking watching Wolverine as an old man wearing glasses and mostly all he's doing is texting and messing around on his smartphone? And X-24 because I realized he's a newer version of Wolverine, developed through technology for evil with maximum effectiveness and unlike his predecessor is a sociopath, and his bounty is a child Wolverine is guarding so it hit me--he's T1000?! But I don't know my comics so maybe this was all written before the Schwarzenegger movie. Also, I love Shane (1953, George Stevens), hell it's the first Western I ever saw and has always been so important to my appreciation of the genre's classic Hollywood period but, while Shane's themes are wonderful as overlays with Logan, at the very end of the movie when LAURA quotes those long passages I was stunned with distaste. First of all she just saw it once, while Professor X and Wolverine were in a yelling argument right in the middle of it, and we're expected to believe she memorized a short paragraph of dialogue verbatim?

Laura is fun. She devours that dinner like a pig, she's fierce, cute, and Mexican! Laura is the vehicle that drives the pathos of the family drama. And like NEGASONIC TEENAGE WARHEAD, I am a sucker for the gag with the quiet cute little girl who is capable of mass destruction, gets me every time. The ending really works. Maybe because I'm also a huge fan of the X-Men kids, who are all also Mexican!

And in the best possible ways Logan feels like a comic book. So I can't really say that I was let down or anything.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

John Wick 2

B movies during Hollywood's classic studio years:

  1. major studio "programmers"
  2. major studio B's
  3. smaller company B's
  4. quickies of Poverty Row

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017, Chad Stahelski) is a great B movie. You go for death-defying cartoon action with vintage muscle car chases, guns, knifes, and fights. Its setting is a fictional modern world where everyone is a bounty hunter and everyone knows John Wick's name. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, especially exposition and backstory. Better than a plot, just remember the rules: gold coins are currency/if you take out a marker you should honor it or die/no killing in the hotel.

If anything I feel like John Wick: Chapter 2 is like a solid anime with the pulp crime subject matter involving trained assassins in visually striking urban compositions in a nonstop sense of heightened reality playing up the danger in a fun stylish hardboiled way.

But you know, it's all just a reason for as much action as they can cram in. I admire when a movie nails genre. And I admire a great B movie. 

Thursday, March 02, 2017

The Ring 3

I spoke in haste my last post when I said the only current franchise I'm invested in are the Underworld films because I very much enjoy the Ring film series. Even though I have a voracious movie watching habit I have eliminated TV from my tastes. The big difference between movies and TV is that most movies are stand-alone but TV series are serialized. Even the TV shows that aren't serials, the stand-alone or episodic ones, are of no appeal to me because I feel obligated to watch whole seasons. There're just too many and it takes up so much of my time I cut them out like video games. I have a TV but anytime it's on it's playing a movie.

There's a maybe in poor taste analogy I've always used likening movies to a one night stand that once it's over you don't owe anything. But TV shows start harassing you with hey aren't you going to watch the next one this isn't over. Don't leave me. And I'm obsessive. If I have a favorite movie I might watch it more than 5 times which is still maybe 9 hours over the course of years, but I don't even want to think about the math on how much time it takes to rewatch a season of a TV show I really liked.

I just want to commend the Ring movie series because the simple effective narrative device of a blank VHS tape of a few weird black and white images that kills whoever watches it 7 days later because SAMARA MORGAN is an evil child who wants others to watch how she died then she wants them to die and she never stops. Serial is her curse. She's made it okay.

Rings (2017, F. Javier Gutiérrez) is the third film in the series that started with The Ring (2002, Gore Verbinski) and is a reboot of the series. I saw The Ring when it first came out in theaters and it's easily been one of my favorite horror movies of the past twenty years.

Rings brings back the green art direction from the first one and commits to it well. It also returns with a sizzler pre-credit sequence that really jumpstarts the proceedings--the rings on a plane bit wasn't as cheesy as I'd worried it being from the glimpse in the trailer. But most effectively Rings is about Samara and Samara is evil. I once had a new way of seeing Ichi the Killer (2001, Takashi Miike) where I realized it caught the pulse of the crime genre brilliantly by populating Shinjuku with the most disturbed criminals imaginable and pitting them against each other with no heroes even visiting the narrative. And Ichi the Killer doesn't ever give any of its characters what they want/the goals they pursued. You don't need a white hat showing up to say crime doesn't pay, there are other ways to say so. So I see a coincidence that the Ring franchise is based on a Japanese series of novels and movies that began in the late 90s. Ring thrives in the horror genre because Samara was abused by evil parents so she's evil and even when the protagonist tries to help her we inevitably learn you shouldn't help Samara.

The grainy black and white VHS shot of the well in the forest never gets old.

Samara belongs to a lineage of the wet girl, a Japanese horror subgenre, and at the end of The Ring, when that spooky little kid has that close-up and looks in the lense all terrifyingly-cute saying: "And I'm sorry. It won't stop," that is the final touch of expert craftsmanship. That little girl will always be coming out of that well. And because this all feels earned, I don't object to the franchise's intentionally open ended nature. At least not yet.

Another quality built into this material is the plot device which drives the psychological supernatural horror, the tape itself. We know it's two minutes and we've seen the images several times, but they still remain captivating. Part of it is the high contrast black and white film grain transferred to VHS texture of surreal images that look like if Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel shot a late 80s MTV video (for me the standout is always the woman falling off the cliff seen from behind with the grass flowing in the wind and the tree in the background and the crane move, so dreamlike, so nightmare like).

I think ultimately Rings taps into the nuances of the role of spectator and the blend of emotions that go into wanting to see more into someone's disturbing psyche and the consequences; that go into wanting to see a horror movie; that go into knowing you won't understand what you'll see and maybe no one ever will but you still watch. And while that has all been established earlier in the franchise, Rings adds the moral aspect of the college bio professor GABRIEL (Johnny Galecki) who uses his students as a network of transmitting the curse to others (if you make a copy of the tape and give it to someone that watches it you don't die). Gabriel calls the person who is arranged to watch the copy a tail and now that he has converted the VHS tape to a digital file people can share it over the internet.

Matilda Lutz who plays JULIA is great. The scary scenes are exciting. The opening where Gabriel watches the ring while smoking a joint that the fly emerges from's cherry as the rain in his backyard falls upward awesome cracked me up. But the best scene in Rings is the kill scene when Samara comes out of the flatscreen TV holy shit. The new images in the nightmare are impressive: the snake eating its own tail, crucifix of ants, the church with the books floating up into the ceiling, and the human skeleton burning in flames. And I just thought this was really creepy disturbing and a whole lot of fun.