Slaughter House 7: Heptapods and the PRISONERS Dilema

I went into Arrival mostly blind.  I knew it was about aliens, language, and circles.  What I did not know was that it was practically a love letter to Slaughterhouse-Five.  It has been a minute and change since I read the book, but Arrival wears its heart on its sleeve in that regard.  Additionally, I did not know that it was directed by one of my favorite auteurs, David Villeneuve.  To fit with the circular theme, it all makes sense in retrospect.

To anyone even remotely familiar with Vonnegut, the heptapods bear more than just a visual similarity to the Tralfamadorians.  Not only are they remarkably similar to human hands, they also seem to see in four dimensions.  Louise is treated very differently than Billy was, however.  Rather than keep her as some sort of zoo exhibit, the heptapods give Louise the “gift” of being unstuck in time in order to save themselves from some unnamed catastrophe in three thousand years.  Whether this gift is a positive or negative thing for Louise is up for interpretation.

As mentioned earlier, Villeneuve quickly became one of my favorite directors.  What I believe are his two strongest films, Enemy and Prisoners, share not only a quiet, melodramatic style that I am a total sucker for, but also a basic plot device with Arrival: re-contextualization.  Like in Snowpiercer, these films are not the same when seen again.  This is a tricky balance, however, and not even Villeneuve himself is free from pitfalls.  The “twist” in Enemy was jarringly sudden, to the point of almost becoming self-parody.  “Surprise your doppelganger’s wife is a giant spider!”  Prisoners, too, suffers from pulling the rug out too quickly.  It bears striking resemblance to an episode of Scooby-Doo.  However, in Arrival I posit that Villeneuve has hit the perfect balance of hindsight narrative, weaving re-contextualization into the story itself.

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And the Oscar Goes To…

Something that I couldn’t help but to notice as I researched each film we watched this semester was that many of them were nodded at and awarded by the Academy.  On the other side, many of them didn’t receive any attention at all.  Since most of the films are relatively similar and share the same inevitable result, my question is this: What makes an apocalyptic film successful?

Probably the most decorated film of our class lineup is Mad Max.  It was awarded over 5 Academy Awards and nominated for 10 in total.  Then you have Snowpiercer, which received no Oscar buzz or recognition.  I’m torn because I do realize that technically the former was a better made film, but to me, the latter was as equally as compelling and effective.  Both stories did an excellent job of isolating the worlds of their films and making them like no other, all the while still making these worlds interesting.  I can’t help but to feel that had Snowpiercer been stacked with as many big name actors as Mad Max, the situation would be different.

When it comes down to sheer substance of the scripts, I believe both films to be perfect examples of great material also executed well.  Perhaps the Academy prefers films with bigger budgets and more special effects like those used in Mad Max.  Snowpiercer was done exceptionally well too, but didn’t get as much as a single tech-based nomination.  I know that at the end of the day film critics have different opinions and that some films are better promoted, but I still feel as though sheer quality of a film should trump popularity when it comes to decorating these types of films.

I suppose I realize after typing this all out that nominations are more politically and biased-based.  In the meantime, I’ll still be clutching my copy of Snowpiercer and sobbing silently into the night…

If you could award Snowpiercer an Oscar nomination, which category would you choose to recognize?

Mad Max: Fury Road, Mother-tested and Bechdel approved!

Based on the title of this post, I can’t help but to preface with two words: GIRL POWER!

As sad as it is, a contemporary film patron doesn’t get many opportunities to see current films that not only properly represent females, but that also pass the Bechdel Test.  Mad Max: Fury Road not only passes these requirements, but slam dunks on them too.  The entire time watching, I felt energized as I saw how incredible the women within the film were.  They kicked ass, stood up for themselves and others, and most importantly didn’t rely on the assistance of men to achieve their goals.

A brilliant choice on the directing side of the film was to not make the former main and titular character “Max” the main focus.  Instead, we see him getting wrapped up in Furiosa’s rebellion as she gloriously kidnaps Immortan Joe’s 5 wives.  The character Furiosa quickly becomes a character that we cheer for and put our trust in, and Max falls by the wayside as he fumbles around just trying to keep up.

Seeing these bad-ass ladies kick serious butt throughout the film without assistance from the swarm of male antagonists made for quite the thrill ride.  Another achievement of this film is that it doesn’t blatantly call out that it’s trying to fight stereotypes, but rather lets the female characters speak for themselves.  We don’t sympathize for them or make any excuses for them because they don’t ask for our sympathy.  Each actress’ portrayals are spot on, ESPECIALLY Charlize Theron’s.  She easily steals the film from her first moment in frame, and rightfully so as her character is arguably the main protagonist.

There’s nothing quite like watching a film that not only excites, but also puts out a wildly important message.  The message in this film is that ladies can and do kick some serious ass!

Do you agree that Furiosa is arguably the main protagonist in the film?  Or is it still Max because of the title of the film?

What it Means to Be an Anti-Hero

Many films have approached the concept of an anti-hero and have failed.  Films like Bad Santa relied on crafting their protagonist in a way that makes you hate to love them and vice versa, but failed when it comes to fully developing the characters as a whole.  Though a Santa Claus costume-wearing Billy Bob Thornton is kind of charming, he still doesn’t achieve what Joon-ho did in his film.  The beauty and achievement of Snowpiercer is that it takes on this heavy burden and knocks it out of the park.

Curtis, played by Chris Evans, is a perfect example of a successful anti-hero.  Throughout the film, the audience empathizes, roots for, and inevitably judges him and more and more as aspects of his character are revealed.  We initially root for him as he leads the rebellion of the tail-end of the train, but as the group progresses and travels farther forward we learn things about our hero that doesn’t make him seem very heroic after all.  Especially when he reveals that he used to participate in and enforce cannibalism, we are instantly turned off from liking and trusting him.  However, through Evans’ raw delivery of this tragic monologue we can’t help but to still feel for this character.  Things that he did in the past almost seem less horrific due to his genuine delivery and now-changed lifestyle.

The real credit for this achievement goes to the director Joon-ho, as he wrote this character so carefully.  Because of how he layered the intensity and rise and falls of the film, the audience became putty in his hands as we tried to grasp on to someone to relate to and root for.  It takes a masterful director to control an audience so precisely, and because of this mastery Curtis has become a true model of what it means to be an anti-hero.

In which scenes do you find yourself most connected to or repulsed by the character of Curtis?

Melancholia: Art or an Endurance Fest?

Lars Von Trier’s film Melancholia challenged my endurance like no other film ever has.  What was billed as an artful masterpiece turned out to be a pretentious nightmare.  Before viewing the film I had done my research on Trier’s other films and read all about The Depression Trilogy.  Initially I was excited to see Melancholia to find out what all the fuss was about, but what I later found out while actually watching the film was that it was sadly all hype.

The entire begging of the film started my trial of patience as I had to endure the slow-motion, foreshadowing montage of events to come.  I understood that these scenes were important and connected to later events within the film, but as an opener it was jarring and confusing.  Another aspect of the film I thought to be unnecessary was the continuous shots of Kirsten Dunst completely naked.  I found myself distracted by the audacity of the staging rather than compelled by the character’s reasoning behind the nudity.  When the film shifted to the perspective of Dunst’s sister in the film Claire, it became even more difficult to endure (if you can believe it).

In this latter half, the events that led to the apocalypse were melodramatic, drawn-out, and frankly boring.  For example,  Claire’s slow, and I mean SLOW, decent into alarm as the end approached was, at times, impossible to watch.  The sad part of this was that I knew that the actress portraying Claire was good, but she was hindered by Trier’s compulsive need to make every breath and and motion something of a spectacle.

I appreciate films that are different and innovative but I believe Melancholia to be too different for its own good.  A more simplified story taken from this dreary version would be leaps and bounds more effective.

Do you feel this film’s story line to be too complex for its own good?  In what ways do you agree/disagree?

 

What’s special about World of Tomorrow?

After watching World of Tomorrow, I felt myself asking “Was this really worthy of an oscar nomination?” It was an enjoyable short, but not one that I would say is much better than countless other short videos I watch like it on Youtube. The animation just felt lacking in a way to me, and if someone had told me this was made by some random dude on Youtube I would have believed them. So what do people see in World of Tomorrow that sets it apart and makes it so special?

World of Tomorrow does bring up plenty of great ideas to ponder, such as morality and the path humanity is going down. It does this through showing us imagery such as the boy being kept in the museum for people to watch. Is it moral for David to be kept in a state such as this, just for people to observe him age? Questions such as these are brought up throughout, and it also makes us ponder whether putting our minds into computers would ever be a good idea. However, I think the animation left me wanting more, as it was very basic. The characters themselves were practically stick figures, although the environments did have a cool look to them. The short also features plenty of humor, which I guess just fell flat for me personally. I think the jokes fell flat because I have seen so many of them like it in other short videos I see online. If the short manages to connect with you on an emotional level it succeeds in providing some enjoyment, but I guess the lacking animation and flat humor didn’t connect with me that effectively.

With all of this being said, do you think World of Tomorrow deserved a nomination for best short film, or is this short overhyped?

Mad Max: How a sequel gained so much Oscar Buzz

I had never heard of the Mad Max: Fury Road until February 26th, 2016.  In fact, I had never heard of the Mad Max franchise, let alone Fury Road, until that night, when that very movie seemingly dominated the 88th Academy Awards in production nods.  I remember thinking to myself, “This does not look like an Oscar contender.”  Sure, it had Oscar favorites like Charlize Theron, but this film didn’t have what is considered to be typical Oscar fodder.

Mad Max: Fury Road, a sequel/reboot hybrid film, was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won six Awards that night: Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Production Design, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing.  They were the SECOND highest nominated film of the evening, and even more, this was the first Mad Max film to receive recognition from the Academy.

This film capitalized on creativity and efficiency in its narrative, taking advantage of new technology in film, letting the cinematography tell the story.  Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy, as well as many other accomplished actors, expertly handle the material (The New York Times writes, “Ms. Theron could be a silent-movie heroine, despite the noise that surrounds her”), and the film chooses the story over expensive (and unneeded) special effects. CGI was used sparingly; something that honestly surprised me when I found out after I watched the film.

But its highest achievement is the message that it sends: the film is very cleverly written, tying in its themes of survival and redemption.  It is a thought-provoking film disguised as an action-packed journey (or you could say, the two go hand-in-hand), and that is where Mad Max: Fury Road is its most ingenious.