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Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Building of a Cinematic Personality – Part 1

I’ve decided to make a list of influential movies, that is, influential to me. These are also films that I consider my favorites, so, I highly recommend each of them. Generally, the older I get, the better the films I’ve watched and appreciated; better as in my opinion and popular/critical opinion.  This is part 1 of an indefinite number, as I tended to watch more movies the older I became and I haven’t made the next parts yet. I’ve listed the films in the chronological order I watched them, along with how old I was, my rating, a short summary and what they changed about me. So, since cinema is a big part of all my media consumption, and since you are what you eat, this list is effectively my personality development seen through movies.

Back to the Future (1985) – Age 5 – 88/100

A high school student’s eccentric and elderly friend invents a device that allows time travel. The teenager accidentally travels to the past and gets stuck there, and his actions start to cause a “butterfly effect” wherein he could be changing his own future. He must both figure out how to get back to his future, and make sure his actions in the past preserve this future’s existence.

The soundtrack, and the lead character himself, are the seeds that sowed a love of rock and roll in me, before I even properly heard it. It established both the genre of sci-fi, and the loud electric guitar playing 80’s rhythms, as the epitome of cool in my head.

Commando (1985) – Age 7 – 85/100

An ex-military man’s daughter is kidnapped by an old acquaintance and used as leverage to convince the man to assassinate a rival political leader in South America. The man goes on a killing spree to free his daughter.

This classic revenge action flick starring Arnold Schwarzenegger programed me to love action movies, and inflated an alpha-male mindset in me. Pretty standard boy stuff really.

Gladiator (2000) – Age 10 – 89/100

A man in a high military position in the Roman Empire, betrayed by his boss’ son, escapes an attempt on his life but ends up as a slave who fights others to the death for the Colosseum’s entertainment. His ambition is to kill the man who did this to him, who is now Emperor.

This movie made me obsessed with the Ancient world. I made several gladiator outfits from construction paper and tin foil, models of ancient architecture out of clay, endless lego projects, wrote a screenplay for a sequel, and couldn’t stop drawing ancient military battle scenes. I was so in love with this movie, that I started to become creative and artistic just so I could recreate the excitement I felt from watching the film in everything else I did. To this day I haven’t seen any movie more times than I’ve seen this one, which is 8 times.

The Game (1997) – Age 10 – 88/100

A rich businessman enrolls in a recommended entertainment service that introduces surprising recreational events into his life. These events turn out to be thrilling but quite harrowing. They keep getting worse and he has no idea how to terminate his “entertainment service.”

This drama thriller film is very memorable to me because of the paranoia in it. The “there’s nobody you can trust” theme lingers in me on some level to this day.

The Truman Show (1998) – Age 11 – 90/100

There is a show on TV that documents a human life in a controlled environment, i.e. a giant town-sized studio visible from space. Truman is the center of this show, he has no idea that everyone he knows is a hired actor, and that his entire world is made for him. One day, he starts to suspect his world may not be real.

Before I saw this film, I thought the exact same thing as this movie shows. I had this imagined barrier between other people and myself, where I was the only one who had desires and made decisions, that everyone else just existed and played out a routine that they never questioned (like machines). I thought I was in a giant maze of people and places, navigating my way around them to “the top,” i.e. my idea of success. After seeing this movie, I started questioning this idea. It was weakened, but did not dissolve for a long time; my sense of alienation continued for a bit longer.

Road to Perdition (2002) – Age 12 – 86/100

To some Mike Sullivan is an honorable and loyal hit-man, to others he is an evil cold blooded murderer, but to his son, he is a father. This is the story of the two weeks the father and son spent together on the road in the wake of the depression while hunted by criminals and on a bank robbing spree.

My love of 1930’s style was solidified, and the lines between good and evil were blurred. This is really when I started to become obsessed with melancholy films with a heavy musical soundtrack.

About a Boy (2002) – Age 12 – 92/100

A boy in Britain is alienated at school and feels a disconnect with his single mother parent. He meets one of his mother’s acquaintances, a burned out selfish man living off his father’s wealth, and clings to him as he seems the only one free to hang out and able to teach the boy how to be cool.

Music, really the guitar, as an uplifting tool was highlighted in this film and furthered my desire to play the electric guitar (though it would still take me another 3 years until I got up the courage to ask my parents to be allowed to get a guitar). But most of all it challenged my idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up. The lead disconnected and chill Hugh Grant was the aspirational goal that I had in mind for my future. This kind of content loneliness didn’t seem as attractive on screen as in my mind, so I became unsure about my identity.

Brazil (1985) – Age 13 – 95/100

A man living and working in a highly departmentalized and organized bureaucracy that values machinelike efficiency over everything, catches a glimpse of a woman, and falls in love at first sight. He neglects his work, and bends some rules to find her identity and to be with her, all to the discontent of his Orwellian society.

At this age, anything Kafka-esque is appealing, and so I was enchanted by this film portraying a victim of society. It furthered my hate of rigid authority, and heightened my distrust of government. And, though it should have lured me away from being a hopeless romantic, as it is literally the story of a hopeless romance, it only attracted me, as the struggle seemed noble. Most importantly though, this movie gave rise to a significant problem that I would struggle with: the duality between living in my head and living in the real world. It became impossible to ignore the fact that I perceived the world in a certain way, which most likely is not how other people perceive it. So I started to question, how real is my perception? What have I gotten wrong, and is there really a wrong? At this point I became a mix of confusing questions lacking any answer. Thankfully, I would settle and answer these question in a satisfying way eventually. But for quite a while after this movie, my life was rife with uncertainty about practically everything.

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Hesher (2011) – 91/100

Hesher is a head thrashing joy with an all-star cast and a hypnotizing subtlety. First of all, Natalie Portman is in this film. Second of all, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is in this film. And third of all, the lead youngbull Devin Brochu throws the most justified and least annoying tantrums I have ever seen, and is superb at embodying childlike uninhibited emotions. Plus, The Office’s Rain Wilson is in it! Essentially, this film is perfectly cast and played.

The subject matter is also one of my dark favorites, Hesher is a film about overcoming loss, breaking off self-isolation and self-protection, and embracing the world despite all the pains this journey may be riddled with. The editing of this film was exceptional, and used to a deliberate artistic aim. The end may have been a bit emotionally manipulative, with its use of slo-mo and post-rock dramatics, but, since it was totally agreeable, I condone it.

What made this film so likable for me was its devil may care attitude, and general endorsement of fearlessness and acceptability. At times, title character Hesher’s insane antics were a bit over the top, but such unrestrained vulgarity is necessary to counterbalance his frequent moments of metaphoric wisdom. This is a film riddled with irony, short (90 minutes) and sweet, and strong in point. Some may say it is a crass movie, but only severe shortsightedness and a fixation of the superficial will lead you astray from enjoying this film. Despite its Metalica-esque stylization, an all-black attitude is not necessary to love this film. So please, see it, even if you only have a tiny punk side to you.

Bill Cunningham New York (2010) – 95/100

Bill Cunningham New York is a warmly pleasant biopic about a legendary fashion photographer for the New York Times. Its best to describe it as a film centering around Bill’s presence in the NYC fashion scene, as it doesn’t much talk about his artistic strategies or fashion taste nearly as much as it presents Bill’s passion for capturing the trend on the street.

Its an admirable film for the likeability of its main subject, who puts his work before everything. It was a shockingly heartwarming for me to see how Bill rejected being paid for several jobs, just to keep the message straight: that he was working for himself and no one else. Such passion is a rarity, and an inspiration. The selflessness that Bill exudes, working not to be admired, but simply for the joy of creation and organization, makes this film artistically motivating to watch.

For those with little interest in fashion, know that I am jaded; my mother made clothes for herself and a store before I was born, and after, I was the willing victim of fashion discussions and frequent shopping trips, always jealous of the greater diversity and flexibility in women’s fashion. Yet, the film is more a story of Bill Cunningham’s work ethic, and journalistic talk is just as frequent as clothes talk.

The film itself was laid out in a patient yet intriguing manner, and didn’t linger on anything for too much screen-time. I liked the duality of looking at Bill’s work outings and his home life, which amounted to a discussion of his controversial residence in Carnegie Hall. Though some things in the film seem to be superfluous, everything is entertaining and interesting. For someone to say anything bad about this film would be sacrilege. To say anything against the upbeat and joyful Bill Cunningham  would be a moral offense. So please, for guaranteed heartwarming, go see this movie.

Tabloid (2011) – 88/100

Tabloid is a telling of a single woman’s life story, an eclectic combination of everything ridiculous possible in a lifetime laid out in a wonderfully flowing framework. The greatest merit of this film is its skillful editing. The story progresses thematically rather than chronologically, thankfully so, as time lends no coherent pattern to lead Joyce McKinney’s life. The editing is not only used for organizational purposes, but also for some great comedic effects, where certain strange phrases become key for coaxing laughs from the audience.

I will admit, the trailer for the film turned me off. I thought that the seemingly insane lead woman would be unbearable. But, it is the editing that proved me wrong. Tabloid is constructed as a mystery, hooking the viewer early on, slowly revealing more and more, and building up to several ridiculous climaxes. For this reason, film style rather than content makes it a pleasure to watch. Instead, the content, which is so unreasonable that it is nearly non-sequitir, brings a plethora of laughs.

Though oversimulating, fast paced, and very widely spread, Tabloid is a great film because it is a smorgasbord of the weirdness organized into a painless-to-swallow documentary.

Such great editing makes it clear that director Errol Morris had a clearer picture of Joyce McKinney’s life, than frantic Joyce McKinney did. Tabloid therefore is a wonderfully constructed amalgamation of farcical behavior. See it if you want an example of a very entertaining documentary

Submarine (2011) – 94/100

Submarine is an enchanting film because of its relate-ability and happy realism. It’s a bildungsroman tale made all the more appealing by its characters’s uncanny similarities to my life, and I would believe to very many lives. What makes this film unique and irresistible is the truth that its narrator/lead emanates. That beneath every perception is a wealth of generated interpretation and meaning, and between two people is a invisible unspeakable closeness made evident only in subtle cues, which must be cherished and looked for. At least, this is exactly what you believe when you are a hopeless romantic, like the one lead actor Craig Roberts portrays.

Adolescence is a time for clinging to unjustified assumptions and emotions because of the pleasure they bring, and Submarine brings this onto the silver screen in perfect artistic form. Hopeless romantics may remember the relative debacle of a movie Youth in Revolt, which is a shoddy American equivalent to this film. The two films differ mostly in their portrayal of ridiculous youthful romanticism, which is exploited through the narrator’s perspective. Youth in Revolt was painful because it showed from an outside perspective how pathetic its lead was, how hopeless and futile and downright lost he was. It gave a bad name for young passion. Submarine centers in the head of its hopeless romantic. Everything is shown through the lens of his unreasonably optimistic eye, thus, the viewer falls for the lead, and feels that he is justified. The cinematography and storytelling of Submarine colors the viewer’s vision, for me a mark of beautifully successful film making.

In addition to me loving the romanticization of the film’s romantic character, I love the quirky side details and stupidly funny yet witty dialogue streamed throughout the film. The music, contributed by Arctic Monkey’s lead man Alex Turner reeks of pleasant nostalgia and adds to the genuine feel of the film. Overall, if you have feelings, see this film, as it will stimulate all of them.

Harry Potter 7 Part 2 (2011) – 58/100

The Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a nauseating extended TV show finale, not a film. The “reprise” theme was very strong in this movie. Characters were brought back for moments of interruptingly useless screen time, simply to harden the notion that this was a final film in a series. Time wasting references to Harry Potter history, as well as some consistent suspiciously long pauses between lines of dialogue really give me the idea that the script of this movie only accounted for 30 minutes. This must have been a problem for the director. I am confident that David Yates was faced with the dilemma of a 3 hour long HP7 movie, versus an extra 280 million in box office dollars for altering a single work into a dreadfully unbalanced diptych.

Thus, this film is lethargic in every sense. Empty dialogue, superfluous visuals, standard stuff really. What is the plot of this movie? A single battle. The battle should have been the climax of a film, but not an entire film.

This was a dreadful movie-going experience, the worst thing I’ve seen in theaters in a very long time. In addition to the disgusting TV finale framework, what bothered me about HP7 was that it was a good story, adapted into “an experience.” I do not go to a movie theater for an experience. When someone asks me to tell them about my life defining experiences, I can only hope that I don’t recount the stories I’ve seen on the silver screen as my defining moments. Therefore I do not go into a theater for an unnecessarily long roller coaster scene, in which the thrills of a fast moving cart on a rail are simulated to me in attempt to excite me. I do not go to a theater to cheer on a team, so the generic “we’re in this together,” childish good vs. evil stereotypes, and constantly simplified portrayals of “sides” meant to illicit instinctual cheers and jeers from me do no more than irritate me.

What I’m really getting at is the disappointment around this 2 hour 10 minute visualization of Harry Potter for me. It cannot function as a stand alone film, it assumes great emotional investment in its characters. Some may say this is fair, considering most viewers of film 8 of 8 have probably seen 1 through 7 of 8. All I say is that this film has no value outside of its series. There is nothing good about this film except that it happens to be the missing piece from the Harry Potter puzzle. It is a terrible piece, it adds nothing to the puzzle but completion. Someone else could have completed the Harry Potter series in a much better way, but this is all we have, so go, see it, I guess.