Posts Tagged ‘Movies’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

The other day our illustrious Editor-in-Chief of RMU’s student newspaper, Kevin Morales, asked me if I would like to write a quick word regarding why I don’t particularly enjoy superhero movies.  I thought, ‘sure, I’ll play the contrarian’. And evidently, not liking superhero movies is a pretty rare stance these days.  Marvel and DC Comics have taken over Hollywood, and there seems to be no end in sight to our nation’s endless desire for new tales taken from comic books.

marvel

So, what is my problem?

Before I get into why I generally ignore most of these movies, I feel I must make one thing clear.  I am not necessarily a movie snob. I like a good number of movies that have been critically panned. Every movie I see doesn’t need to be an art-house flick. Also, I am not one who despises or mocks ‘nerd culture’. Sure, I really can do without Lord of the Rings, but I like Harry Potter.  I don’t go for Star Trek, but I love Star Wars.  Avatar? Oh goodness no! The Matrix?  Oh, heck yeah!  So, you see, I don’t reject sci-fi and fantasy out of hand. I like some, I loathe some.

Which brings us back to the spate of ‘superhero’ movies that just keep racking up box office records.  I think Kevin assumes I hate all within the genre, but that is not true.  In fact, I love some superhero stories.  Hey, I saw Tim Burton’s Batman on opening night in 1989! I even bought and proudly wore a Batman t-shirt after seeing that seminal film. But, that love doesn’t automatically extend to all Batman stories. I most definitely do not have any desire to see this new Batman v. Superman flick.  I’m avoiding that one like the plague.  There are a couple reasons why.

First, it just looks like a ridiculously asinine concept.  Why are Batman and Superman bat superfighting?  Scratch that; I really don’t care. Any explication of the plot will be absurd. Putting these two characters in the same film would be like plopping Indiana Jones down in a James Bond movie.  What is the point?  It reminds me of when Scooby Doo would inexplicably team up with Sonny & Cher or the Harlem Globetrotters. Come on!  Why are these people hanging out with meddling kids and helping solve mysteries?  I say again, ‘ridiculously asinine’.

But my real problem with most superhero movies, and this includes Zack Snyder’s new Man of Steel vehicles, is the fact that they center around boring, lifeless characters.  Action movies must be more than just action. Adventure movies must have interesting, complex protagonists that face and overcome challenges. In other words, human beings need to run the show.  Superman? The Hulk? Thor?  An all powerful alien, a freakish monster, and a god?  There is no complexity here. There are no challenges these beings can’t easily overcome.  They are superhuman, and hence, you get a snowball effect of absurdity. Since humans would be squashed like a bug by these characters, you are forced to provide them with superhuman enemies.  Evil geniuses, other aliens, or, yes, fellow deities. One Norse god fighting another; one alien fighting another.  Why should I care again?

Give me a ‘superhero’ movie in which the hero is more human than super!  No films have Batman-the-jokeraccomplished this better than Christopher Nolan’s adaption of Frank Miller’s ‘Dark Knight’ series.  The Batman/Bruce Wayne in Nolan’s films is emotionally and mentally fragile. He is complex.  Sure, you know Batman will win in the end. But Nolan creates realistically troubling adversity for his hero. He wants you, the viewer, to ask questions. Are you sure Batman’s vigilantism is a positive thing?  Is he obsessed with justice so much that it will destroy him and all he loves? And, what about Batman’s relationship with his arch-nemesis, The Joker?  Perhaps Batman should have killed The Joker?  The Joker, like Batman, is mortal. He is not some demigod or alien.  These films then illustrate the struggle of man v. man, not monster v. monster.  For goodness sakes, by the third installment of the series, Bruce Wayne needs to get a knee brace if he wants to keep fighting villains! Can’t get much more human than that.

In this same vein, Netflix’s Daredevil series is similarly successful.  Of course, Daredevil has some ‘superpowers’; a never quite defined sixth sense that allows him to predict landscape_xlargemovements and foresee actions.  But, the show illustrates the challenges of these ‘powers’. The character must train himself to use this power, and prepare himself physically to fight the evil all around him. He does not have super-strength, super-speed or the ability to shoot lasers out of any orifices. Since he is just a man with some unlikely mental abilities, Daredevil doesn’t automatically win all his fights. Out on the streets of NYC, he usually gives worse than he takes, but he takes quite a bit.   He comes home with scratches, bruises, sprains and breaks. Daredevil could lose. The tension is real.

See, I like some superhero movies/shows; I just don’t care much for most superheroes.

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By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Last night while channel surfing, I came across Galaxy Quest. What a fabulous and underrated film. One of its strengths is the cast: Tim Allen (during the height of his 90s fame), Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell, Tony Shalhoub, and a young Justin Long.

I especially love Alan Rickman. Many probably remember him as Hans Gruber in Die Hard, but I think first of his roles as Harry in Love Actually, Metatron in Dogma, and even Snape in the Harry Potter films. And I don’t even really like Harry Potter that much, which shows how much I love Alan Rickman.

While watching Galaxy Quest, I was brought back to an absurd train of thought that I’ve played with many times as a film-lover and writer: if I was casting a movie, who would be in my film?

The film I’m casting doesn’t have a script. Therefore, I can think of the process in reverse: rather than finding actors who fit characters, I can identify actors I would create roles for. (That’s what Seth Rogen and friends just did in This is the End. Other examples are Adam Sandler, Kevin Smith, and Wes Anderson who always have the same folks in their movies.) I’m not necessarily picking only the individuals whom I believe are the best actors/actresses, but rather the ones I enjoy the most.

In alphabetical order, after narrowing my list to 15, here is who I would cast in my untitled, unscripted, unmade movie:

Ben Affleck: He’s the lead in my favorite movie, Chasing Amy! He’s also recovered nicely from his Gigli days, especially after the success of Argo.

Don Cheadle: I first saw him during his one episode on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Oh, and he’s a great actor.

Johnny Depp: He’s perhaps a bit overexposed these days, and I think he’s on the verge of a historic flop with The Lone Ranger. Nonetheless, he is incredibly unique, and when on top of his game, he can work magic like crafting one of the most memorable characters in recent cinema history out of a movie based on a ride at Disney World.

Zooey Deschanel: If she’s on set, it increases my odds of meeting her. We’ll be married before the film hits theaters! Plus she brings quirky, cute, and charm to her roles.

Robert Downey Jr.: C’mon, he’s Iron Man!

Woody Harrelson: He’s in my movie based on Billy Hoyle and Tallahassee alone, but he has had so many great roles.

Neil Patrick Harris: Because he’s Legen-wait for it-DARY!

Anne Hathaway: She’s a wonderful actress. And I forgive her for marrying someone other than me.

Ian McKellen: How many people can successfully play a good wizard and a supervillain?

Edward Norton: I would watch him in anything and cast him in any role. He is a great actor. And I don’t care what anyone says: he was a way better Hulk than Mark Ruffalo.

Simon Pegg & Nick Frost: Loved them in Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hott Fuzz and can’t wait for their next movie The World’s End. One of the times I laughed hardest in my entire life was the first time I saw Nick Frost’s A-Team Dance on Spaced. (Out of context, it won’t be as funny – but watch it anyway.)

Alan Rickman: Like Norton, I’d watch him in anything.

Sam Rockwell: He has been great in a lot of movies, including Galaxy Quest. He brings such charm and humor to his roles. For a great example of why I enjoy his performances so much, check out the weapon demo scene in the much-maligned Iron Man 2. “If it were any smarter, it would write a book – a book that would make Ulysses look like it was written in crayon.”

Meryl Streep: Why? Because she’s Meryl F’n Streep.

Stanley Tucci: He’s always in supporting roles, and yet steals every scene he’s in.

That’s my cast. Who would you cast in your film? Let me know in the comments or on the Flaneur’s Turtle’s Facebook page.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

So much has changed in my life since I became the father of two girls.  Though it is definitely not the most radical, or life-changing transformation, one of the most notably obvious is my lack of control when it comes to entertainment. My television is no longer my own. Instead of Mad Men, I am forced to watch Wild Kratts.  Instead of The Sopranos, I must listen to Curious George.  Instead of Powerpuff Girls….well, okay, we both enjoy the Powerpuff Girls.

Like TV programs, the film choices for our family movie nights are always made by the two girls. Luckily, as the girls age, movie night is becoming more tolerable. Now we get to watch The Muppets, or Hugo, or the first three Harry Potter films.  I enjoy these flix, but even well-made children’s films are still children’s films.

During the last six years,  the world of film has passed me by, but I think I am finally ready, willing and able to do something about it. So, this summer, I have begun to watch some of the critically and commercially acclaimed films of the last couple years. But, to my surprise, I have found big blockbusters  such as The Avengers, or Skyfall, or Avatar generally disappointing.  Before children, I was able to lose myself in such films. It is not as easy now. I think the problem is that I get an overabundance of simplistic scripts, prat falls, and predictable plot twists from most of the movies my daughters watch.  Many Hollywood movies are similar to these children’s films, with the exception of the “ intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking” that marks serious cinema.

I’m looking for a little something more.

Thus, several weeks ago I began to explore those famous, sometimes infamous, always influential films that ‘everyone should see at least once.’  I am talking about the classics. The problem is, I am not sure what I should watch.  Maybe you, dear reader, can help.  Here is what I have viewed so far:

Canalblog_Livres_Mishima_Film

Scene from ‘Mishima’

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985) – an artistic, highly stylized biopic of the great Japanese writer who committed seppuku at the age of 45.  Incredible film.

Once Upon a Time in America (1984) – Sergio Leone’s epic tale of Jewish-American gangsters living, fighting, and dying in 20th century New York.  Honestly, I felt this film has not held up over the years. It seemed dated.

Seven Samarai (1954) – One of the most influential films by the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.  I found the plot strangely familiar, and then I realized it was because there have been roughly 200 movies since Kurasawa’s film that have copied it.

The Seventh Seal (1957) – Probably Ingmar Bergman’s most famous film, largely because of the scenes of a Medieval knight playing chess against a personified death. I was very pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable this seventh-seal-chessclassic was.  The film is interesting, funny, intelligent and full of life.

Gary Cooper in 'High Noon'

Gary Cooper in ‘High Noon’life. A must see!

High Noon (1952) – This American Western is not your average shoot-em up cowboy flick. The movie deals with a sheriff’s inevitable upcoming gun battle with a psychotic criminal, and the sheriff’s attempt to answer why he is not running away from likely death. I really wished the film ended before the gunfight began, since I felt the cerebral nature of the first 9/10th of the film was much better than the ‘climatic’ show-down.

This is what I have seen so far, but I have a couple films in my queue for the next week.  Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus, and Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita are on the docket.  But, what then? What are some other films that everyone should see at least once?  Let me know what you think.

By Blake Whitmore, RMU Student!

 Sitting in the movie theater with my jumbo popcorn and my Coca-Cola I prepare for my favorite part of going to the movies, the trailers. I absolutely love the trailers. Every time I Imagehear “No Church in the Wild” by Jay-Z and Kanye West I can picture that old 1920s car pulling up to a dramatic stop in The Great Gatsby trailer. Trailers get me excited and pumped up to see a much anticipated film, but lately I have been noticing something about movies coming out; they aren’t original. Even though I cannot wait to see a dapper Leonardo DiCaprio portray one of my all-time favorite characters, the story is not original to film. It is an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel of the same title.

With much anticipated flicks like Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hangover: Part III, Man of Steel, Monsters University, Lone Ranger, Kick- Ass 2 and countless other films scheduled to come out this summer, very few are original stories. Sequels, adaptations, and remakes litter the theaters. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely excited to see some of these films, but I miss the days of Toy Story, Indiana Jones, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, and The Iron Giant to name a few. Granted original films these days are still around: Django Unchained, Argo, and Beasts of the Southern Wild. They are just rare beauties.

At the 2011 US Box office, the top 9 grossing films were all sequels, the 10th film was Thor, which is an adaptation of a comic book. Not until number 14 on the list do we get to an original screenplay, Bridesmaids. This has been an ongoing trend though and now Hollywood has reached a new all-time low, rereleasing films in 3D. I was disgusted to see that now we are seeing films that were released years ago in 3D, when the films were never originally intended to be viewed in 3D.

The film business is just that though, a business, and like many businesses history suggests that cinema is cyclical and the industry is just waiting for someone to nudge it in the right direction and take a chance. Despite the summer of sequels I mentioned, 2013 could be a great year for big budget original cinema, the first in quite a few years. This year three sci-fi flicks our coming to theaters including Oblivion starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman, Elysium starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, and Gravity with George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Also the exciting new Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman thriller Now You See Me will be in theaters in May. Unfortunately that just means that in 2020 we will probably be sitting down to watch Oblivion 3 or the Now You See Me franchise, but don’t worry cinema will always come back around, so save me a seat.

by Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

I spent the weekend watching movies. I watched The Muppets (the new one), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Princess Bride, and Derrida (a documentary about the French deconstructionist). Let’s just say that I have eclectic tastes and the weather was dreary. Derrida suited my mood. Documentaries appear unbound, going seemingly in any direction. Derrida leaves the viewer with more questions and fewer answers, a reasonable result considering the subject.

The director’s agenda must be to unsettle the viewer, or Jacques Derrida himself does, and she follows his lead. Crucial interchanges persist in their uncertainty. The philosopher and his wife are seated on a high-backed loveseat. The director asks how and when they met. Derrida divulges the answers, but warns that he will only provide the facts, nothing more. “Why only the facts?” the director wants to know. He resists, and he and his wife stay silent for a moment. The exchange is uncomfortable; it exposes the artificiality of the conversation. He watches it later with some satisfaction. Derrida is particularly pleased that he and his wife both remained quiet, relating nothing more than the where and the when of their lives together. The director shows the clip of him watching the clip.

Still curious, the director poses a less personal, but still intimate, question to Derrida. She inquires, “Can you speak about love?” He demurs. This is not a good question, or a question at all. He cannot answer something so vague. Why does she ask such an ill-formed question?  From that moment on, I distrust her. She returns to the clip of him watching the clip of himself and his wife. This time it is removed a third time. He is watching himself, watching himself, watching himself. In her attempts to capture Derrida’s point of view, she offers the audience little insight.

Later in the film, a question is posed to Derrida from a man off-camera. The audience knows he must be part of the production team, but nothing else. His question is infinitely more interesting, both to Derrida and to me. Derrida finds the question so intriguing, he contemplates it for a full three minutes, saying every once in a while that it is “a good question”.  The man asks, “What philosopher would you wish to have been your mother?” Once the complexity of answers is understood, only keen questions can compel an answer. Derrida takes the opportunity to attack the patriarchal and phallocentric nature of philosophy while (inadvertently?) accomplishing some rather clever self-aggrandizement. He concludes that only a woman coming after him could be his mother, so his granddaughter could be the philosopher-mother he might choose. Instantly, the mind of a philosopher is revealed, and the world spirals out of control once more.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

I remember this moment distinctly. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this marked the end of an era for me, and was a sign of the changing landscape of pop culture where the overabundance of information would drastically alter our relationship with movies:

It was 1999 and my older brother and I were at the movies, glued to our seats watching the trailers. It was the year that the highly-anticipated Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was coming out. The trailer opened with a view of space, which zoomed into a space ship as the voiceover talked of an “Empire” while the camera moved toward a figure seated in a chair facing away from the camera. As the camera approached, the chair spun around to reveal Dr. Evil who says, “You were expecting someone else?”

It was the teaser trailer for the sequel to Austin Powers. I was extremely excited, because I loved the first Austin Powers, as almost everyone at the time did. But, more significantly, I had not even heard a rumor of a second Austin Powers film being in development, let alone about a trailer already out in theaters. It completely took me by surprise.

Now, thirteen years later, no trailer is ever a surprise. Between television, social media, and other advertising, we are exposed to films long before we ever see a trailer, and way before we see the movie itself. Rather than be surprised, we can usually guess what movie the trailer is for only seconds into it.

It’s not only trailers, though. I just forced myself to close out one of my favorite movie sites, because so many details are being revealed about one of my most anticipated films of the summer – the Marvel Comics superhero ensemble The Avengers – that I’m fearing if I read anymore, I will know the whole film before seeing it. Between scoops, spoilers, official and unofficial images, and a host of chatter, I’ll only be seeing the film so that I can finally witness all of the details in chronological order.

It’s not unreasonable that details are coming out about a film a month before its release, but film fans know it doesn’t stop there. Related to The Avengers, I’ve already read details about the proposed storyline for Iron Man 3, which will be released May 3, 2013. And I’ve read about potential directors and plotlines for Captain America 2, to be released April 4, 2014. The hype machine for movies no longer is measured in months, but in years.

In some respects, this overabundance of information has its advantages. I’m sure Marvel Studios is thrilled that fans like myself are already excited for properties of theirs that are years away from release. And as a fan, I like hearing all the info.

However, as a fan I wonder if the overabundance of information is stripping some of the joy from the movie-going experience. Not only am I never again going to experience the shock and joy of being surprised by a trailer as I was with Austin Powers 2, but I will likely never go into a major wide-release film again with anything resembling a “blank slate,” which I’d consider to be just a synopsis and a trailer.

Surprise is one of the joys of storytelling. We don’t want the end of a movie being spoiled for us; it robs the story of the excitement that comes from anticipating what will come next and how it will all end. Some people in the film industry understand this, like Christopher Nolan, the director of the latest Batman films, who is known for desperately trying to keep all the most important details of his films a secret until it’s released. Others, particularly in the marketing departments, do the opposite by trying to saturate the marketplace with details before the film ever comes out.

The fans are guilty of creating this problem, too – myself included. While it’s virtually impossible to avoid all exposure to a film like The Avengers (I’d have had to be living in the wilderness for the past two years to do that – even then, there may be some deer and raccoons tagged with marketing materials) it’s my fault for seeking out more information. And it’s the fault of fans for digging up and consuming that information rather than just waiting to see the film.

It is truly a fast food society’s approach to movie-going: we want it and we want it now! Never mind that, like fast food, the approach will ultimately reduce the quality of the final product. It’s the immediacy we crave. But like fast food, I’d be kidding if I said I’m not going to consume it anymore. I’ll still read movie news websites, I’ll still want to know about what’s going on with movies that are years away from release, and I’ll still struggle to keep myself away from spoilers about the films I’m anticipating the most. I know the movie won’t “taste” as good as it could, but my impatience will inevitably beat logic. But I wish it would, because sometimes less is more, particularly when it comes to being told a great story.