Besson and Bay: Why Lucy is much better Popcorn entertainment than Trans4mers: Age of Extinction
There is not much difference between the auteur sensibilities of Luc Besson and Michael Bay. Both are hyper-masculine filmmakers, whose images are always better than the story and fast paced action can garner awes and headaches at the same time. Both filmmakers have films out this summer; Besson with Lucy and Michael Bay with Trans4mers. The two filmmakers are the fuel for the growing market of people who say that a film is only a film; they do not need to be viewed through a critical lens because it does not matter. While I disagree with the sentiment that some films are necessary to have a total disregard the 15% mental capacity we are capable of, Besson and Bay are very interesting cases. In their two films, both have very similar styles in the sci-fi genre yet one (to save suspense that is Lucy) works so much better than the other one.
In constructing a pure escapist entertainment, what Lucy does well is fully embrace its stupidity. Besson through the years, with his simplistic plots, have seemed to realize that the smart move is to be stupid. The first 15 minutes of Lucy is almost grueling and cruel. With intercuts of obvious animal metaphors such as a mouse getting caught in a trap, Besson was seemingly trying to appeal to that type of arthouse audience that went to see Enemy earlier this year. However, looking back at that technique, I realized how self aware and funny it seems in context. The rest of the film is a total disregard for logic rationality. Limitless has already released the floodgates of people talking about the implausibility of the increased percentage of using brain scenario.
Trans4mers starts off with a similarly self aware attempt at comedy. The film starts in a majestic movie theater with an older man criticizing the slew of sequels that populates the theaters and laments of the days of films like Howard Hawks El Dorado. The joke is that El Dorado is a remake of Hawks own Rio Bravo. It is an open mocking of critics that make fun and scrutinized his whole career. Michael Bay is not a stupid person. He is aware of everything that he is doing. That is why when the film goes on with unintentional comedy and then comedy that is not funny, he is derided.
The most obvious difference between why the two films are radically different is the length of both films. In Lucy no time is wasted so there is never anytime to stop and question what is going on in the film. There are plot holes and ineffectual characters, but they do not ever become a distraction because the film treats them as such. The movie feels small for a film that takes place in three different countries and that’s because it doesn’t spend much time in either. Bay, however, has always struggled with the length of his films. The four Transformers movies are all well above two hours. After a while, the film begins to drag and that’s when the complaint of character development comes up. Both films by Besson and Bay lack character development. But, it only matters in Transformers because a substantial amount of time is required to interact with those characters.
In the end Lucy becomes an interesting film in hindsight. Underneath the layer of superficial action films, lies a film grasping at 2001, asking questions about what it means to gain knowledge, omnipotence and evolution. The film is Transcendence but without the self seriousness messages. Scarlett Johansson is a Nietzchean superhero. Even her casting gives fodder for fun film conversation, the most prevalent is the self-commenting nature of Johansson’s recent trilogy of film choices of Her, Under the Skin and this film. She is creating a persona that takes away from what hindered her acting career, her sexiness. Her allows her to become sexy without a body; a computer that becomes more human. Under the Skin is Johansson using her sexiness as pray, turning the tables on the predators who have always objectified her body. And Lucy is seemingly an answer to Her as Johannson becomes more of computer and less human as the film progresses. She is allowed to be the hero and openly objectifies her male co-lead the way the female is typically done in a typical film with a male protagonist.
The only questions that could be asked about Bay’s latest film is the same question we have always asked about his films; how regressive are they, should we take it seriously. Mark Wahlberg garners zero interest except for deciding whether or not this was the right career move in a career that has had rather interesting choices. It’s disappointing as Bay’s previous feature, Pain and Gain, seemed to be a self meditation on Bay’s own self about the excess of American populace. He openly mocks that while still glorifying it. That feature at least had to balls to start a film conversation going. Trans4mers only has robot dinosaurs.
10:32 pm • 29 July 2014
A Look at Mae West and “She Done Him Wrong”
From the moment Mae West makes an appearance as Lady Lou in She Done Him Wrong, she completely dominates the picture. And why shouldn’t she? This film was written by her and serves as Paramount’s attempt to make the already popular entertainer a box office star. But, while still as irreverent and charismatic 80-plus years later, West’s film is a film that is hard to watch for today’s time.
As my first cinematic experience of Mae West, after years of appreciating her quick witted, double entendres through various clips, I was expecting an experience similar to that of the Marx Brothers; a film in which the plot does not matter, but entirely like a musical run on cadence and timing. But, as a comedy, She Done Him Wrong struggles for a modern viewer in a very interesting, getting me to ponder why such an aversion to a style I normally enjoy occurred.
Comparing it to now, there is no such thing as a vehicle made entirely for a star anymore. I’m sure Tom Cruise develops movies for himself like Valkyrie, but that is difference from Mae West who was making the transition to film after years on Broadway and Vaudeville. Probably the last star vehicle made by the Studios was the ill-fated attempt to capture the American Idol phenomenon with From Justin to Kelly or maybe even as far back as Mariah Carey in Glitter. You don’t see anyone clamoring to try to get a Broadway Star like Idina Menzel to the big screen as the starring role the way they did for West, who at the time of She Done Him Wrong in her early forties, a notion that seems crazy for today’s standards.
With an already established persona as a raunchy, irreverent woman, Mae West adapted that same type of character for her first starring role. The movie plays out as a film made for Mae West. Every character other than her is a stereotype and one dimensional while she gets all the lines. There is a young Cary Grant in the picture, but he had not quite figure out his persona yet; or to use a sport analogy, he was Mariano Rivera before he developed a cutter. Yet, there is chemistry between West and Grant but not enough to develop a true storyline to foster their talents together.
But, story has never played an important part in these types of pictures. Look at the Marx Brothers. No one can honestly recite the plot to those films yet, they still often times work for today’s audiences. The Zucker-Abrahams and Monty Python are the same way. They feature very little plot but still work for today. I think the difference is that She Done Him Wrong is not a gag film. It part melodrama and part musical as well, yet centered on reality except for Mae West’s character. The other films by the Marx Brothers or Monty Python establish early on that it is in a surreal world.
Thus She Done Him Wrong can feel so grating. Mae West speaks in her signature cadence but everyone else around her does not do that. That anachronistic speak when the film is centered in 1890 feels off and the lack of wall to wall gag with a story that does not really matter really dates the film. But, in the end it achieves as a showcase of Mae West’s wit and talent. She answers with a double entendre so quickly you cannot help but to think that Cary Grant owes a lot of his screwball comedy timing to working with West. Even if the movie is not as strong as it was 80 years ago, the influence of Mae West and She Done Him Wrong is without a doubt.
1:51 pm • 27 July 2014
Top Five Worst Films so Far
Sometimes its fun to hate
The common theme to the films that I see with my worst films list are films that try really hard to be something and takes the worst approach to it. GBF tries to satirize high school stereotypes and the vapidness of today’s culture except the heightened stereotypes prove to be much more offensive than timely. Its obvious that the filmmakers want to be like Heathers or Mean Girls but instead of being a pertinent look at high school life, it becomes a mean film in which the characters are made fun of rather than allowing the comedy to come naturally. It actually reminded me a lot of Struck by Lightning with Chris Colfer from last year with how the film seemed to be derived from such a negative place and anger that it becomes really unpleasant to watch.
4. The Purge: Anarchy
As I write this I must say that this is the freshest film on any list I made. But, I detested this film. In trying to make an allegorical tale about the government’s totalitarism rule of people by using violence, the director, James DeManaco seems to revel in the violence and torture that he puts onscreen. The plea for humanity that he is advocating is openly contradicted by the amount of violence that is put onscreen. Maybe the worst part is how stupid the characters are. Frank Grillo does have charisma as generic stern cop looking guy #34 but everyone’s motivations and character choices are baffling. At one point in during the movie, I actually tried to will myself to sleep but the film was too loud so I kept watching even though I didn’t want to. Unfortunately I already paid.
3. Tran4mers: Age of Extinction
This film induced a full day headache for me. Michael Bay is indeed an auteur and he is indeed self aware. In fact it was clever to put a remake in Rio Bravo as the background poster during a diatribe on how Hollywood does not make original movies like they used to anymore. But, he just is not for me. The terrible jokes, the offensive jokes, the recessive nature of his action scenes, obvious product placement, dumb storylines, dumb character motivations and many more traits are all not for me. But, they are for as of right now, $800 million worth of people. I give up.
2. The Other Woman
I hate this movie because it tries so hard to be a feminist, female empowerment film only to prove to be one of the most reductive female film that I can ever remember watching. In trying to create strong powerful women, there are still jokes about Kate Upton being an idiot, Cameron Diaz caring about her looks, and I don’t even want to get into Leslie Mann’s character.
- I, Frankenstein
This movie sucks.
11:07 pm • 23 July 2014 • 1 note
Top Ten Films of the Year So Far
So, I have been falling behind on my diary which is the basis of this tumblr so I am going to shift to a more essay based which i guess doesn’t work well on a tumblr blog but who cares. Here is my Top Ten Films for 2014 so far and it does not include “Boyhood” which I assume will be on here since I haven’t seen it yet. Also if you want to know what I have been watching go to http://letterboxd.com/ and find haoster15
10. Nymphomaniac: Volume 1
I had trouble considering whether or not to consider Nymphomaniac as one film or split it up into the two parts like its theatrical release. But, if I were to judge the two film together as one, then Nymphomaniac would be out of the top ten. I found the second part to be muddled in vision and redundant. But, the first part, which almost played like a comedy, was incredibly engrossing anchored by a solid performance by Stacy Martin. I think the problem comes with the attitudes that both films bring. For the central character, in Volume One, the lead is still young thus is vibrant and full of life. The second part has her broken down by the sadist attitudes of the film bringing the film down making it a slug to watch. Anyways, because I wanted to talk about Lars Von Trier’s latest, Volume One is on the list.
9. Tim’s Vermeer
Directed by Teller and narrated by Penn, this is not a typical debunking of some social tradition, in a sense, which the two magicians are known for. More so, the film celebrates genius and problem solving by following Tim Jenison and his obsession over how Vermeer painted his photorealistic paintings. Penn and Jenison vamp making the film entertaining if there was no arc to follow. But, with the added effort of revealing the mystery of how a great painter mastered his craft, the film is one of the best and most entertaining documentaries of the year.
8. The Immigrant
James Gray latest has its major detractors but, I loved the combination of an old style type of operatic melodrama combined with neo-realistic imagery. For some, the melodrama proves to be too much in a time where action has replaced heightened emotions. Gray seemingly tries to change the perception that people have with the genre of melodrama. By using Marion Colltaird as our ever suffering heroine, Gray creates so much suffering and pathos without ever becoming Von Trier like that a nice sense of release and catharsis felt truly satisfying.
7. Blue Ruin
Jeremy Saulnier’s newest feature is also an introduction to a director who seemingly has a bright future ahead of him. Although not his first film, Blue Ruin will definitely open doors for him as he takes this stripped down approach to a revenge thriller. The violence, although gory, comes few and far between. In those moments in between however, the deliberate pacing, although never slow, is like a simmer on a warm broth that always borders on becoming a full tilt water overflowing boil. And by separating the gory moments from each other, it accentuates the horror of violence which is refreshing in this desensitized society. Great directors often times start in genre pictures and Saulnier seems to be poised for future success.
6. Finding Vivian Maier
I have an affinity for documentaries that focus on unknown artists or geniuses. These biographies are able to not only illuminate on a subject but an art form as well. Vivian Maier is an enigma; one of those artists that received fame after death whether she wanted it or not. But, the film never portrays her as a saint. The same eccentricities that made her a great photographer of quirky subject also made her hard to deal with and skewed way of taking care of children, her primary profession. The film unfolds like a mystery and the revelations are surprising and unique, making the film a great example of why documentaries as an art form has been one of the most radiant of styles in the past few years.
5. Only Lovers Left Alive
Jim Jarmusch making a vampire film with Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska, as well as Anton Yelchin. This is an indie film fan’s wet dream and happily it does not disappoint one single bit. As all vampire movies are, the vampire in this picture is an allegory. This time, the allegory is about artists living through immortality. The two central vampires, Hiddleston and Swinton, have relationship to the arts. Hiddleston is the creator, who becomes tortured by the possibility of fame. He is depressed and uses art as a way to unleash pent up feelings but that drives him deeper into depression. Swinton, on the other hand, is a consumer. Because of that, she is lively and energetic despite being the older of the vampires. This central relationship makes Only Lovers Left Alive, Jarmusch’s best film since his peak in the mid-90’s which is saying a lot as the quality of his output has not exactly diminished in recent years.
4. We are the Best
This Swedish coming of age tale about teenage girls with no music experience forming a punk rock group is, for the lack of a better term, punk rock. It has all the excitement and grunginess of punk rock, with actors, I assume having little to no experience, and that leads to the joy in this film. The children look like children and the subject matter is never pandering or safe but never becomes exploitation. It is a frank portrayal of growing up an outcast from the rest of the world and finding solace through creative output. I think this is mandatory viewing for all teenagers around the middle school and high school age especially when it comes to females as I cannot think of a smarter film with three strong children female protagonists.
3. Life Itself
Roger Ebert helped me fall in love with the movies. That is a sentence that has been written by many and that’s because it is true. His reviews spoke to the common man without ever pandering to them. He knew what he was talking about but also knew his audience. Steve James had extraordinary access to Ebert’s final months, and to be truthful it was hard to watch. But, Ebert was still himself, maybe even more youthful in his final months and the film had me crying throughout. James does an excellent job capturing all the key moments of Ebert’s life while also unrelenting allowing Roger to present himself in all his glory, post-surgery; a brave thing to do. But in the end, I cannot be objective about this film. I love Roger Ebert and I love his portrayal in this loving documentary.
In a time where franchises dominate the summer blockbuster season and anything else harps on the idea of nostalgia, Snowpiercer was a fresh injection of life into the blood. Bong Joon-ho creates a new perfect sci-fi film filled with allegories, a fresh blend of Korean style genre mashers and a set design that creates a whole world in train. And more importantly, this is not a pretentious film geek film. It is a summer blockbuster in every respect, having action set pieces, and even huge star in Chris Evans (also this is the second Tilda Swinton movie in the top five). I cannot harp on it enough but I haven’t felt this much excitement coming out of film in a long time and I wish that big budget filmmakers can take note at the possibilities and if this was part of a major studio, then I believed that this could have appealed to a mass market.
1. Like Father Like Son
My favorite film so far is a tiny Japanese film made by Hirokazu Koreeda, who made one of my favorite films of the last ten years called Still Walking. Here he takes a sitcom plot, and adds subtlety and truisms to it that makes yourself ask what you would do if you were in that situation. He explores the aspect of family and what makes it work and questions the different aspects of raising children. There is a constant battle between whether it is better to be fun loving but sparse in discipline with a more rigid type of landscape. But, he never makes it one sided because that conflict is not one sided. That is a mark of a good filmmaker who writes his own films. Koreeda is also a quiet filmmaker, not relying on style instead he takes an economical approach of simply letting the actions of the actors tell the story. I think anyone who watches this film will appreciate Koreeda’s unflinching and beautiful tale of the meaning of familial bond.
10:43 pm • 23 July 2014 • 3 notes