A Few Movies on DVD
Enlarged Oscar in Malaysia
The Academy Awards
It is hard not to like them. They are not nearly as boring as they once were with high octane MCs. But certainly I cannot be the only person not to have seen a single movie that either won or lost an Oscar. One year, having extra time at a hotel across the street from a couple multiplexes, I ventured inside. I watched a few contenders. Then, when the Academy Awards came on, I found out I'd seen mostly losers as well as a winner I did not like. I felt foolish. What am I still watching movies for? I suppose movie executives have it figured out -- they know their audiences. Once, long ago, I tried to get into the field while studying film. Moviemakers and academics did not normally mix, with a few but notable exceptions. To each his (or her) own. But the ultimate product need not reflect either commercial cynicism or scholastic over-enthusiasm. Some behind-the-scene filmmakers give the impression that films come from a manufacturing factory-line. There are intellectual theories of how individual movies matter much less than "the cinema", which is likened, once again, to a machine. Yeah, I can see it both ways, too. You can love 'em, leave 'em, or love 'em and leave 'em. Nonetheless, movies interest me and many others. I admire the combination of so many artistic and non-artistic elements. It is never all just one thing.
Between Georgetown and Santa Monica, do Americans retain any natural, inalienable rights? It seems as if the screens that control our minds are in turn controlled by Californians in cahoots with federal moonlighters. Just a touch of paranoia, to keep it interesting.... But if you find yourself involuntarily shouting "Big Brother!", well, now you know why. We are not men or women; we are devo -- de-evolutionary. I'll speak for myself. Personally, I get miffed when I buy the same dvd twice. I have done it with books, too, but not as much. What is happening upstairs? I wonder. Naturally, it is my own problem. But as to how the brain, any brain, absorbs and processes movies and television shows, that is another matter. I do not entirely lose track of them; all it takes is something, a line or two, a visual, and they come back. So they dwell inside somehow, and I lack the proper medical terminology to fully describe the relevant phenomena. Proponents of nuclear power think by mastering the medium they can "sell" nukes to the average Joe. That is to say, make him or her feel comfortable with not just power plants but warheads and toxic waste -- the whole shabang. For now, the academy award for best nuclear-based film will just have to bide its time.
Seldom Seen Director Photo
Crimson Peak Double Feature
This is sorta what I am talking about. How did I wind up watching the movie twice, without at first knowing it, until it became clear in, say, four or five minutes? Anyways, I wanted to see Crimson Peak, both because it was an alluring fantasy, as well as a Guillermo Del Toro pic. When I saw it in the discount box at a mall, I simply grabbed it. I had a feeling I had already seen it, but could not recall having done so. Actually, I might be mixing Del Toro up with another director (J.A. Bayona, possibly -- The Orphanage). I enjoy the combination of fantasy and horror, but not in the more strident styles, such as Tobe Hooper et. al. Crimson Peak makes for a nice story, I think, if you can handle a period drama with ghosts (many of whom I felt sorry for). I am also partial to films about writers. That was also the case at hand. It was not so tough to learn that Allerdale Hall was a set-piece. Fakery in movies is commonplace. But that there is no such thing as crimson colored clay was, to me, a let-down. There are still natural wonders, however, as well as genuinely creepy mansions.
Ex Machina (2014) is science fiction, not fantasy, but contains bits and pieces of the latter. I would recommend this one, if I wrote a column somewhere, for a few significant reasons. It is smart, looks great, and holds your interest. Outside of Hal in 2001, on-screen artificial intelligence only occasionally grabs your attention. Years ago I thought it was funny to see somebody speaking to a computer in a Star Trek movie. Now, people matter-of-factly talk to their cell phones all the time. In Ex Machina we learn that intelligence, either artificial or not, includes a host of suppositions, including personal motives, as well as emotional outbursts. Intelligence is not a hermetically sealed state of intellectual detachment. Artificial emotionality may or may not jell for the betterment of mankind. AI is a reality, but an unfinished project, still theoretical, but not at all irrational. A Bonus Feature panel stresses interaction in consciousness, which artificial mechanisms imitate. In the film, at least one robot is a quick study, who deceptively gains the upper hand.
Director of High-Rise
Literature and Hell
When I first began college, my social group (me and this other guy) regarded literature as the lowest rung on the ladder to success and the highest in terms of failure. It was the fastest route to scholastic hell. It was a hole in the ground. We were young. I was an avid reader, too, by the way. But I would not opt to be an English major. Later, I came to regard literature as an acquired taste, perhaps for the low life (since some of its best works deal with same), but linked to definite, incalculable returns from a rather exhorbitant investment of time. The only caveat, of course, is invisible mental stimuli is all you get. People who do not read seem healthier and happier. Nevertheless, I read. After I gave literature a more serious try, our assessment turned out to be right. It was impossible. Maybe not for everybody. I met successful writers, very often with pseudonyms, if, for instance, they were writing romance (how polite), but it meant nothing. I went to New York City with a portable typewriter; I left twenty years later with an agent's words in my ear: "Keep writing." This brings me to High-Rise, another book-into-movie situation. But consider this, the book, by J.G. Ballard, was published in 1975, and the movie did not come out until 2015. A story in itself....
Moreover, truly a directorial ordeal. Nothing wrong with the settings, the acting, the plot, but all mired in the horrible 1970s. A handheld documentary camera, arguments over better lighting on the top floors, paint (a high-pri item), quite a collection of human beings, who, as downwardly mobile as they become, still appear like sculpted Greek and Roman ideals, compared to today's real-life, death-obsessed generation of "deplorables". I liked this stuff -- a clunky tape recorder, food cans that have to be pried open with elbow grease, cement, wasted indoor space, wasted outdoor space, books with which to practice a foreign language, and an architect named Royal (Jeremy Irons), together with a doctor/surgeon, as well as a pregnant woman who never lets you forget it. Writing is such a dead art, words choked by more words, but it continues on, as do movies, in an age stuffed with visual screens and blogs. Catching up is worth the while, even more so since it is just you and the movie -- no reviewers, commentators, peer pressure, or word-of-mouth. I'm sure I'm getting it all wrong, but as I mentioned, it was the director's task, in this case, to spoon-feed the ever-resistant American mind. The location is, after all, another -- English speaking -- country.
Chicago 1973: Once the Tallest Building in the World
The Ratings Game
How do you feel about an R rating?
Keanu Reeves Kills Big in John Wick
John Wick was released in 2014. Guys with guns in movies is old hat. But add in foreign languages, especially lesser known European tongues, as well as unrealistic atmospheres, sporting dim colors, and dancers indifferent to bullets and blood, as long as repetitive, percussive music plays, and you have a new angle on an old theme: gratuitous killing. Heck, in black and white, actors and actresses were highly dramatic at dying. No blood, no nothing, just a grimace, and the conveyance of mortal pain too great with which to cope. What choice did the victim have but to keel over. Paranoia can run deep about action actors and actresses. I guess Keanu Reeves could not get hired if he were a recognizable mass murderer. Still, he might flip out, right? There's an old movie about that, too. Anyway, John Wick is a good flick for its kind. One is safe enough on the sofa, fattening up on pop-corn. I noticed on IMDB that there is going to be a sequel. Fair enough.
The Equalizer also comes from 2014. Not long ago, there were various names for organized crime. By now, almost all of them, including "mafia", have gone out of style. Otherwise, there would be no such thing as the Russian Mafia (the Mexican Mafia, Triads, Cartels, etc.), a single offshoot among many, though it is distinguished as ultra-violent. Yes, the vodka-soaked gang look like legitimate businessmen; they always do. But underneath their shirts are tattoos, the meanings of which are immediately understood by the protagonist, Robert McCall, as played by Denzel Washington, their personal terminator. He does not like how they beat up their working women and treat them like cheap merchandise. But, not to be judgmental, isn't that what Russians thought capitalism was all about before the USSR capitulated? Castro, too, when he sent boatloads of dissident Cubans to Florida, made sure they were convicts from prison cells. To him, too, it was also what America stood for, not freedom but crime, not hard work, but degrees of criminality. Hence, The Equalizer has a kind of undercurrent that makes the case for fiction containing truths that "true stories" never quite attain.
That is to say, maybe the transformation of the USSR into the Russian Federation has not alleviated all the former tensions. Actually, I wanted to put John Wick and The Equalizer together and work out a comparison-contrast. Both, as I already mentioned, are from 2014. Their main characters are bona fide killing machines. They have different motivations, but similarly charge with lightning speed and supernatural efficacity after men who need killing. They really do. The "one-man theory" ("one-woman", too) has faded from view. I have read recently of the modern ascendance of oligarchies. The latter is probably right. They are the latest winners. But there was a time, if only a faint memory, when individuals who rose above mattered so much it was as if they were giants. The two movies are also separate and distinct. The need for heroes, however, in real life, or on celluloid, will never perish.
William Blamire Young (1924-6)
A Post-Apocalyptic Movie for 2015
Into the Forest (2015) joins a long but unique, sometimes prized, list of post-apocalyptic films. The term itself makes me think automatically of Mad Max (beginning in 1979). It goes back a ways. It actually goes back a bit further on several Twilight Zone episodes. This version centers on the loss of electricity, perhaps inspired by California's nightmares of 1996 and 2011. I was in the Blackout of NYC in 1977. Not much to tell. But the movie is far worse, as in potentially permanent. Months go by without power. Rumors tell of Boston having powered up, but it is eight months away on foot. The good news is that not only do the two leading characters survive, but they seem to provide inspiration on a grander scale. Interestingly, The Forest (2016), perhaps related only verbally, had to do with a section of woodland in Japan that mysteriously tempts lost wanderers to want to commit suicide. The latter got mixed IMDB reviews. Likes and dislikes do not always matter so much inasmuch as a movie has quality, force, and substance. The greatest part to Into the Forest is not the restoration of electricity, but the fact that it does not occur. Instead, life goes on without it. Electricity is only a dependency formed over a period of time. Can't imagine life without broadband? Well, give it a try. Getting rid of so-called progress might make for more genuine progress -- that is, looking ahead. Into the future. If there is any.... To be honest, there is. Another movie about the Aokigahara, the above-mentioned place in Japan near Mount Fuji, is either already out or on the way.
The Road Warrior and the Gyro Captain
The Drug War
It would seem on the surface that a movie such as The Infiltrator (2016) would have all the glitter and glitz the modern moviegoer would be looking for. There is sex, drugs, cars, guns, private jets, indescribable weirdos, loads of inhaling, and very big money. But the viewer with a weaker stomach, or, as happens, firm convictions about what is right or wrong in the plastic arts, should be well-warned in advance. The film is a dip into the relatively tamer era of the 80s, but explains a lot without the dry, undramatic, diagrammatic feel of a documentary. Dialogue alone explains why not only is the drug war possibly already lost but that there might only be, after all is said and done, one side to it. Hence, no war at all. The opposition is like the secondary runner who challenges the main runner to get him or her to run faster. Thus, an infiltrator, or informant, is only a card in the deck, occasionally, by virtue of the shuffle, allowed to bring about a key win for the good guys. But are there capable good guys in the larger picture? Actually, yes, there certainly are. Yet the odds are well stacked against them. True stories are always a bit problematic in the movies. What are they leaving out? What are they putting in that never existed in the first place? Still, you get that happy feeling at the end seeing convictions for irremediable drug dealers, a happy marriage resumed for their nemesis, and, as was the case in the controversial 1980s, money diverted to the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. Of course, one cannot believe everything heard or seen, especially in a film, but the idea of a Federal Reserve accepting cash, no questions asked is, let's say, interesting.