Thursday, 26 March 2015

So Fetch Friday: The Wrath of Jean-Luc Godard



It's almost the end of the year. I've literally got one week left of classes and then I'm done... well, except for exams, and these annoying papers. I've got one paper for horror that's been causing so much trouble. The TA strike caused it to keep getting pushed back, then my professor suggested it might get cancelled, and planned to have us vote on a revised syllabus in order to determine that for sure. That was supposed to happen on Monday, but instead he decided to push it ahead to next week, which is the last week of class making the "revised syllabus" a bit redundant, but he has also said that the essay is still on. Part of me is half-hoping it does get cancelled so I can focus more on the other paper (which is already making progress).

For one paper I'm writing about Under the Skin and how it challenges the anti-porn movements by offering a literally alien perspective. For the other, I'm apparently doing a comparison of The Thing and The Thing From Another World, and I've made a whole bunch of notes pointing out some really weird theories about how The Thing From Another World is secretly an allegory criticizing Cold War politics disguised to look like it fits the usual formula of 1950's alien invasion films. Unfortunately, this one has proven to be very stressful, just getting some sort of material has been frustrating enough and I couldn't even enjoy watching The Thing for this one.

This week, we had to watch Martyrs because we were leaning about the New French Extremity in horror. Even my horror professor admitted that he wasn't particularly fond of it and only chose to screen the film because it was a good example of what he was talking about. The first half actually was not too bad, with the two girls getting stuck in a family home trying to clean up the aftermath of a crime gone wrong while one is clearly not all there in the head. Then about half-way in, the mentally unstable girl commits suicide, and her friend encounters what is basically a torture cellar in the basement of said house and a kidnapped woman who obviously needs medical assistance... and she does absolutely nothing. Seriously, the film gives absolutely no reason why she can't just call an ambulance for the tortured woman, and if she had just notified the authorities as soon as she found all that, she could have saved herself a lot of pain and suffering. That second half ended up being appropriately disturbing, but when you get down to it, it was really just gore for the sake of gore.


It's also a very good demonstration of something we've discussed in my horror class that I feel like I should have a few very good reasons to be concerned about. Apparently horror films have a bizarre obsession with torturing women, usually in particularly nasty ways, and there are even big directors like Brian De Palma who have gone on the record explaining why they find it more interesting to torture women. Something about this doesn't seem entirely right. Yes, by its very nature most horror films are likely to torment their main characters in some capacity, but the fact that there is a recognized idea of "Torture the Women!" seems a bit disturbing, not to mention the tendency to create a spectacle of it.

It got me thinking a bit about my own writing, as I have some experience in writing horror stories, and I have a few concerns of my own on this matter. I've never gone quite to the extremes depicted in these New French Extremity films, but I have inflicted harm on quite a few women across my various short stories, novels, and screenplays. On the other hand, I've always found psychological pain to be a lot more interesting to look at, probably why the subject of mental illness has a tendency to keep popping up in some form or another. I'm not creating a spectacle of women being tortured I'm getting into their heads and exploring their feelings. I'm not completely above inflicting physical harm on my female characters if necessary but never with this much gore.

Of course, we also had the obligatory Godard film for this year. Being constantly reminded of that fact both in lecture and through the readings hasn't helped. One of the articles I had to read for this week wouldn't stop praising Godard and talking about his "creative imagination". If by "creative imagination" you mean laziness than yes, I'll agree with you. Considering he couldn't even be bothered to go through his own film to figure out what needed to be cut (and instead just cut out random segments) and didn't even bother to make a compelling vision of the future in Alphaville, this is a guy who wouldn't know imagination if it came up to him and punched him in the face.

I honestly had hoped going in this would be one of the first we'd watch just so we can get it out of the way. My hatred for Godard is the stuff of legend on the blogging community, even more so on campus. Even a few of my professors are very much aware of how much I dislike this guy's work, and yet I keep getting forced to watch him anyway. Why can't I escape his wrath? Okay, technically the reason my professor gave for picking this film was because it was one of the most iconic of the French New Wave, but there were tons of other people working in that movement who probably produced far better films so I kinda wish we were looking at some of them.

Fortunately, Breathless is arguably the least painful out of the movies in his filmography I've been forced to watch so far. In fact, it's not so much painful as it is just poorly written. It actually seemed slightly better this time though I think that's only because I've seen how much worse Godard's later films get. Compared to Alphaville or Tout Va Bien, Breathless looks like a masterpiece, but that's not really saying much. It's still a terrible movie and being forced to re-watch it again didn't do a whole lot more than give me even more reasons to dislike the main character (as I noted in my article on the film, I found further evidence that the main character is an idiot, plus a long list of other reasons why he had it coming at the end). I guess I should just be glad that it's over now, and I'm through with Godard for the year. I've been forced to watch the obligatory film and made it out with my sanity, so do I get a pie or something? Now I just have to endure one last art film, L'Avventura, and I'll be done with this class.


One thing I did find out, though, was that Breathless was originally written by Francois Truffaut (who you may remember for his supporting role as the French scientist in Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and from what I've been told his original vision was quite a bit different from what Godard came up with. Apparently the premise behind Truffaut's original script was that the main character is a criminal on the run who finds himself taking refuge in a young woman's house where she slowly begins to fall for him. That actually makes so much more sense than Godard's version, in that it sounds like he actually has to develop a relationship with her and has to spend a lot of time in hiding rather than hanging out in the middle of open streets despite being a car thief and and murderer who should be either turning himself in or getting out of town. Maybe there's something about Truffaut.

Finally, we watched a much better film by Steve McQueen, and by that I of course do not mean the 1960's action star who has been dead for 35 years. I'm talking about the British director who I only just realized was also responsible for 12 Years A Slave. The movie we watched this week was Shame, and it was... interesting. I'm still not entirely sure I understood the whole film, but there did seem to be something beautiful about it. I liked Sissy, she seemed to be an interesting character with all her peculiar mannerisms, or perhaps it has to do with my peculiar fascination with mental illness. Either way she was pretty good, and Michael Fassbender was alright as well.


On a slightly more optimistic note, it looks like a short screenplay I wrote (which is also a lot better than any of Godard's movies) is finally going to be made into a film, probably no more than 10-15 minutes at the most, but a film nonetheless. The story itself is pretty simple, drawing on a mix of my own failed college experience and watching a few too many David Lynch films, but those who have read it have told me its quite emotional. The subjective dream-like elements of the script have apparently proven to be quite effective, seeing as it has sparked quite a bit of discussion from readers interested in sharing their own personal interpretations of what it means.

We've been talking about doing this for a while, with me first pitching the script back in September, but pre-production can take a while sometimes. I've got a friend on hand to direct who, from what I've seen of his previous short films, is really good, and it's also a great exercise to be sure since it gives me a chance to experience what it's like to hand my script over to someone else. The editing process hasn't always been easy, but I've tried to be open to his ideas even if I'm not always 100% certain if he is making the right call. I've had a chance to attend a production meeting with him and two other guys and we started planning out how we were going to shoot the opening scene, or perhaps more accurately they did the technical work and I was on hand as a consultant. Casting auditions are already underway, though do to a scheduling conflict, I was unable to attend the first session. We're hoping to start shooting near the end of April, though I can't say when the final product will be released at this time.

You know who we haven't heard from in a while? Our good friend Dr. Hannibal Lecter, let's see what totally non-suspicious shenanigans he's up to now. We have finally confirmed one thing that up until now has only been implied, and I think is a touch that might make Mads Mikkelsen's Hannibal a thousand times scarier than Anthony Hopkins' version. In Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal's habit of eating human meat was for the most part only referred to. There was that one scene where he bites a couple of prison guards but that was something he deemed necessary to his plan, his passion for human meat is only alluded to through double entendres ("I'm having an old friend for dinner"). In the first few episodes of Hannibal, we see him showing his talents as a cook, with implications that the food he is serving to people is actually human meat. Those implications have finally been confirmed, as we see him harvesting organs and then serving them for a dinner party.

Glad I wasn't invited to this party. As a teetotaler I wouldn't have been able to handle all the wine.

Also, it seems that Hannibal may or may not have had a hand in the death of a trainee (we see him strangling her, but it wasn't entirely clear if she was dead or unconscious) employed by Crawford in tracking down a serial killer (or more specifically, Hannibal himself, though Crawford doesn't know that yet). It is strongly suggested that he did, but there have been a few indications of the vague possibility that this agent, Miriam Lass (whose introduction seemed to remind me a lot of Clarice Starling) might be alive, although without an arm. Part of me is half-expecting that she's going to turn up at some point having become a serial killer in her own right, which would certainly be an interesting twist. If Hannibal did kill her then and there it would seem a bit strange that she would be able to send a message to Jack sometime later, so obviously they're not telling us everything just yet.

Gillian Anderson has also started to appear, and I'm amazed it took looking her up on IMDB to find out she was playing Dr. Lecter's psychiatrist (hey, even psychiatrists need psychiatrists sometimes). I swear I never would have guessed that was her, the only reason I even knew she was on the show was because her name kept popping up when the credits were listing guest stars. If there's one thing Hannibal is definitely not short on, it's psychiatrists, which is good because I think Will Graham could use a few. He has always been a bit "unstable" but now he's experiencing hallucinations that are becoming dangerously hard to separate from reality. Based on my limited understanding of psychiatry I think it might be reasonable to guess that he is suffering from some form of Schizophrenia, and he really needs to get some help.

Meanwhile, in Banshee County things are getting pretty dark, even for a show as morally ambiguous as Banshee. Lucas finally got a chance to do something good when he encountered "his" estranged son Jason (or more accurately, the estranged son of the man whose identity Lucas has assumed). Jason was having a somewhat difficult time in Banshee but he seemed to be doing okay and was trying his best to co-operate. Then, literally the night before he was to start a new life in Canada, and after Lucas had saved him from a dangerous British hitman, Jason went to the bar and decided to have sex with Rebecca. Kai Proctor... didn't take it too well, and let's just say Jason would have been better off if he had just stayed in the motel room and watched TV.

It also turns out Proctor's butler is very good at covering up murders, but we have got also got a glimpse into his past. From what has been shown, it seems that this man has been through some rough experiences, which apparently includes physical abuse. I am curious as to where this is going to go, and if perhaps as we learn more we'll find out why he is so loyal to Proctor and why he is willing to do all the horrible things he does for him. However, what matters now is that Lucas is mad and is prepared to do everything in his power to take down Proctor's business empire. So far he's actually done a pretty good job and successfully incarcerated Proctor, but unfortunately keeping him in prison is proving to be easier said than done.

At the same time all this is going on, we also got introduced to some new villains, the "Skinheads", which are a bunch of angry racist guys (one of whom has a Swastika tattooed on the back of his neck, in case you haven't already figured out they're bad news). They don't like the fact that a black man like Emmett is able to be a respected cop. They were so angry at him, they attacked his (white) wife in the street and in the process murdered her unborn fetus. Naturally, even if it wasn't entirely clear if he was doing the right thing, there was some satisfaction to be found in watching Emmett get his revenge by beating the crap out of all the angry racists and showing them how tough he really is. Unfortunately, it was still sad to see him resigning from the police force. Now they're down to only three cops (and technically Lucas isn't even really a cop, which makes it only two) and that's going to make things tougher to handle. Hopefully Emmett will work up the nerve to get back into the police force eventually.


Unfortunately, I have not had the chance to keep up with The Walking Dead or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it's been hard enough just finding time to watch all the shows I have at this point. I've just got one more week and then I'm done, then I'll have to start worrying about exams. On the bright side, I have a blogathon starting next week and I've figured out that my Blindspot film for April is Gangs of New York, which I should be able to watch as I'll have slightly more free time than I currently do. Also, guess who has a birthday today. Come on, guess. I dare you!

That's right, Quentin Tarantino. On this day in 1963 the great director Quentin Tarantino, known for Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill was born. Oh, and it's also my birthday. I sometimes find it amusing to look up who people share their birthdays with, and it was for this very reason that I chose to watch Kill Bill in March. I think it might be fun to ask all of you reading this, who do you share your birthdays with? Is there a great actor or director who was born on the same day as you (though not necessarily the same year)? Let me know in the comments.

So it's been a tough week so far but I'm managing okay. I've still been producing content and watching films which is good, and hopefully I can get at least one of these papers out of the way by the end of next week.  That's one of the good things about doing this kind of feature, it provides a simple forum to express myself when I don't have a lot else to be doing. It's just something I can type up in between assignments and classes. I'd recommend getting involved, I know Katy Rochelle has been very open to inviting people to participate, so I think it's worth getting that banner on and trying it out.

I've been wondering recently about doing something on what makes a compelling anti-hero, I thought I could draw a bit of my writing experience for this one, since I've got quite a few anecdotes of attempts with varying degrees of success. I think it could be an interesting topic, but I might need to see how things play out. It might not be a bad idea to get some feedback in this regard as well. So to finish off, I'll leave you with a few questions to think about:

  1. Does anyone know any good French New Wave Filmmakers
  2. What are your thoughts on horror's obsession with torturing women? Are you guilty of it yourself or are you better than that as a writer?
  3. What celebrities do you share a birthday with?
  4. What do you think makes a good anti-hero?

Stuff From Other Bloggers

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Why Breathless is the Most Pointless Crime Film Ever Made


Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless is arguably the least awful piece of his filmography that I have been forced to watch. Compared to Alphaville or Tout Va Bien, it's practically a masterpiece, but that's not saying much coming from this guy. Breathless is only slightly better on the grounds that it actually has a coherent story and some idea of what it's trying to be. Still, the movie is riddled with problems that completely destroy the experience. The editing is rediculous. When he was told it was too long, Godard couldn't be bothered to watch his own film to find out what needed to be cut, and instead just took out random segments (that's not genius, that's just laziness). Also, the soundtrack sounds more like it belongs in one of Connery's James Bond films than a serious crime narrative influenced by film noir.

The original script for this film was originally written by François Truffaut, and from what I've been told of his original plan it makes far more sense. Truffaut's original script was about a criminal on the run who finds refuge in a young woman's house while she slowly begins to sympathize and presumably fall in love with him. This seems like a decent idea for a crime thriller, and could potentially have worked. Unfortunately, Truffaut decided it would be a good idea to hand the script over to my constant arch-nemesis, Jean-Luc Godard. Once he got hold of the film, it turned into a ridiculous story about a dim-witted and unlikable criminal who ends up getting "unjustly" killed under perfectly justified circumstances.

The famous ending of the film involves this character, Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) getting shot by the cops and telling his girlfriend Patricia (Jean Seberg) that "you make me want to puke" before dying. The fact that he was shot is treated as an injustice, despite the fact that there was no reason it wasn't justified and the only reason it happened was because Michel is an idiot. He was ready to turn himself into the authorities at this point in the story, only for one of his criminal partners to hand him a gun. Michel specifically said he didn't want the gun and there was no reason he had to take it. The gun was thrown onto the ground, Michel could have completely ignored it, especially as he explicitly said he didn't want it.

Instead, he picked up the gun, and by this point the cops already knew he was dangerous, so they shot him. That's not injustice. It's standard police procedure. If you pick up a loaded gun off the ground and you have no license to do so, especially if you've already murdered a cop, they have the right to fire on  you. If Michel had just ignored the gun and turned himself in he could have done his time in prison and everything would have been fine, but instead he did the stupid thing and got himself killed. In fact, the just nature of this supposedly "unjustified" shooting goes far beyond the final scenes of the movie.


The fact that Michel is a complete and total idiot is literally established in the very first scene when he starts playing with a revolver while driving a stolen car. There is no reason why he needs to have the gun out, but he just casually waves it around and starts pretending to fire it. I've never held a real gun in my life and even I can tell you that this is a very bad idea that could go wrong in so many ways. Furthermore, the moment a cop comes his way he shoots him, also a very stupid move. At the very least Michel could have tried to talk his way out. Generally when you've committed a crime and something has gone wrong, all that is accomplished by shooting a cop is that you make the situation a lot worse than it needs to be. Just ask the guys in Fargo.

Furthermore, Godard also forgets to actually give the viewer any real reason to sympathize with Michel. In the same early scenes in which he is established to be an idiot, he is also revealed to be a misogynist, making jokes about female drivers being "cowards" (and later commenting, while looting a girl's apartment, that "women have no money"). Writing sympathetic crooks is not always easy, but adding that he is both a misogynist and an idiot is really not helping Godard's case at all. There's also the fact that Michel doesn't seem to have much of a life outside of crime either, as he goes on to rob other people's homes and basically mug a few other people even when there's no real reason it is necessary. I'm totally siding with the cops here in wanting to see him put behind bars.

Then we get to the central conflict, where Michel (rather stupidly) shoots a cop, does absolutely nothing to dispose of the body or conceal any evidence against him, and (correctly) realizes he is in a large pile of trouble and needs to get out of town. A sensible criminal might try to get any remaining affairs in order as quickly as possible before getting out, but Michel does something different. Instead, he decides to invite Partricia (who has no knowledge of his criminal activity) with him to go to Rome. It's an unusual idea but there's no harm in asking, so he proposes it to her (while also buying a newspaper from her and then shoving it back in her face because it doesn't have a horoscope in it) and she doesn't agree to go with him. Now that should be the end of it, and after seeing her kissing another man that confirms with 100% certainty that she's not going to go to Rome with him, especially not when she has a stable job in Paris.


However, Michel doesn't take no for an answer, and instead decides to keep pressing the issue. He doesn't do this by bringing her flowers or perhaps talking to her on the street or calling her or otherwise trying to find a sensible channel for communication. He is so obsessed with sex that he literally breaks into her apartment, takes off his clothes, climbs into her bed, and just waits for her to show up. As if shooting a police officer and not-so-grand theft auto weren't bad enough he can now technically be charged with breaking and entering, yet another very smart move by a genius like him. Seriously, why is this guy so insanely stupid?

However, there is another side to this. Not only has he just given the police yet another crime to charge him with, but he also does so not to see Patricia, but just to have sex. He constantly tries to seduce her for a lengthy scene just depicting the two of them together in the apartment, in which all he really does is try to get her into bed with him (while occasionally stopping to try and call an acquaintance about the fact that, you know, he's on the run from the cops). Also, he completely lied to Patricia, and the only reason she found out that he is a crook was because a cop told her. So to put things into perspective, our lovable protagonist is a dangerous criminal, a murderer, a misogynist, a liar, and a pervert.


Yeah, if you ask me, I'd say she was very much in the right to turn him into the authorities. Putting it into perspective kinda removes the impact of Michel's "you make me want to puke" line at the end, doesn't it? He's a horrible person who pretty much deserved the comeuppance he got at the end. It wasn't a tragedy at all, it was justice, and it only happened the way it did because he was an idiot who could have easily gotten out of this mess if he had just gotten out of town when he had the chance (he could have just phoned Patricia when he got to Rome, this was the 60's, it's not like there was no way he would be able to reach her) or if he had just not fired on a cop before he even knew why he was being approached (for all we know, that cop could have just wanted to give him a ticket for speeding), or if he had not picked up the gun he specifically said he didn't want.

In any case, the whole movie completely goes against its own messages. Congratulations, Jean-Luc Godard, you have me totally rooting for the girlfriend you seem to want to depict as "traitorous" because she told the police about a dangerous criminal who literally broke into her home to have sex with her. There is absolutely nothing redeeming about this main character, nor is there anything "unjust" about his untimely demise. Breathless might actually have a coherent story compared to Alphaville or Tout Va Bien, but it is a poorly thought-out and absurd one, and whatever Godard intended to convey with this film, he presented precisely the opposite.

Friday, 20 March 2015

In Response to Cracked: Why Con Air Is NOT Conservative Propaganda

I was looking through my YouTube subscriptions this morning, and what should appear but a new video by Cracked. If you don't know these people, they do a lot of interesting posts, and a lot of their videos involve peculiar movie-related observations, but this time, they did something a bit more questionable. In this video, two of their regular contributors: Soren Bowie and Katy Stoll, make a peculiar case for the movie Con Air, in which they conclude that the whole movie is in fact "Conservative Propaganda" that promotes hateful and bigoted ideologies. At first it seems to achieve its intended purpose, making its viewers feel guilty about liking a film that actually promotes some horrifying ideas.


However, upon closer scrutiny, it turns out their reasoning is filled with flaws. Examples are taken out of context (and in some cases, distorted to better fit their argument), and crucial pieces of information are omitted. As a fan of the movie they are tearing apart, I have decided to go through each of their main arguments and expose why this whole idea is the biggest amount of nonsense since From Caligari to Hitler.


The Opening Scene 

The first major argument proposed by Soren is that the film is "pro-military" based on a single line of dialogue which is taken out of context: "It's because of pussies like you we lost Vietnam". This line was spoken at the very beginning by a minor character who does not even get a name, and also who dies in the very next scene. However, contrary to what Soren claims, the line was actually spoken before he attacks Cameron Poe. In the context of the scene in which this line does appear, Poe has just resisted being provoked into attacking this guy, and is also treated as being in the right for doing so. This character was also clearly intended to be a jerk whom the audience is not expected to sympathize with, and therefore they are also not supposed to agree with this remark. 

Diamond Dog 

In the video, Soren goes on to claim that each of the convicts represent certain aspects of society, beginning with Nathon "Diamon Dog" Jones as a representation of "Black America". He says, and I quote "He's a black militant who hates the NRA and spends his time in prison writing a New York Times bestseller about the woeful state of Civil Rights in America. He's one of the main bad guys! He's Black America". What Soren ignores is what is specifically stated about Diamond Dog's character, the key word being that he's a black militant, or perhaps more appropriately, a black supremacist.

In other words, while his motives might be understandable, Diamond Dog is an extremist and that is why he is the villain. Yes, he hates the NRA. A lot of people of many races do, and with very good reason. The part that is overlooked is that we're not just talking about a man advocating racial equality and speaking out against them. We're talking about a man who uses violence to promote the idea that his race is superior and he also blew up an NRA meeting. That is a bit extreme if you ask me. Also, he isn't even loyal to his partners-in-crime, as he specifically mentions at one point that his working with Cyrus "The Virus" is nothing more than "a means to an end" (it's implied that he is just using everyone else to get to safety, and he plans to betray and possibly kill them when they're done).


Sally-Can't-Dance

There is actually no indication at any point in the film that Sally-Can't-Dance is in fact gay. He is a bit odd, yes, but at no point does he ever show any sexual attraction towards any man. If anything, I would suspect he is either a transsexual, a transvestite, or a guy really messed up in the head who genuinely thinks he is a woman. After all, the only indication of his sexuality is his tendency to adopt a "feminine" attitude and his preference for wearing women's clothing, neither of which counts as a true sign of homosexuality. However, even assuming that he is supposed to be gay, this could actually be seen as quite progressive.

The thing is that while Sally-Can't-Dance may be invoking a few stereotypes, the fact that he is gay is never treated as something wrong. None of the convicts have a problem with it, and the only repercussions he receives are for being an escaped convict and helping a group of dangerous criminals. His homosexuality is never seen as wrong, as he is never "punished" for that or "cured" of being gay. He even gets off easy compared to the other crooks, considering he gets out of the plane crash relatively unharmed and is simply recaptured (keep in mind that the central villains are all killed in rather unpleasant ways).

Soren argues that Poe's attacking Sally-Can't-Dance during the climax is a sign of the film's propagandistic qualities, but it should be noted that he is not the only person to be attacked by Poe during this scene. Several straight man are also beaten into far worse condition beforehand, while Sally-Can't-Dance only receives a slap to the face, which might hurt a little but he is otherwise unharmed physically (the same cannot be said for some of the aforementioned straight men Cameron also beat up moments earlier). Poe also never actually displays any real objections to this character's sexuality, the only reason he attacks Sally-Can't Dance is because he, like several other convicts in the same scene, is trying to stop him from getting to the cockpit.

Now this is hardly perfect by modern standards, but this was also at a time when filmmakers were only just starting to make a conscious effort to improve depictions of homosexuals. Considering that, Sally-Can't-Dance isn't actually all that bad.



Sally Bishop

In the video, Katy attempts to defend the film by stating that there a "pros". Soren then mentions the female prison guard Sally Bishop, which he then describes as someone who "has the audacity to join the workforce in a traditionally male role and almost immediately fails so spectacularly that the worst convicts in the world get to hijack a plane". While it is true that Sally Bishop does fail to protect the plane, this is an extreme oversimplification of what happened. What isn't mentioned is the large number of male prison guards who are overpowered even more easily than she is. As soon as the convicts get out, the men tasked with guarding the prisoners are quickly taken down, and at least one unfortunate man is killed in a gruesome fashion by having a pair of handcuffs embedded in his neck. If anything, Sally Bishop is the only guard on the plane to actually put up a fight and make an effort to stop the takeover.

In addition to that, she is also the one guard on the plane who doesn't submit to the prisoners when they do take over. Her (male) boss, Guard Falzon, doesn't seem so tough once he's chained up and is easily forced into giving Cyrus information before being successfully passed off as a convict (he would have been detained for at least a few hours had Poe not planted the DEA agent's tape recorder on him). Sally Bishop never seems to truly give up, even when she is bound herself and all hope seems lost. She shows on multiple occasions that she can take care of herself.

Now one could make the argument that she does technically have to be rescued by Poe in one scene, when Johnny 23 attempts to rape her. However, Sally Bishop does have to buy him time, and does so by kicking the would-be rapist in the face. It might be Poe who ultimately pummels the living daylights out of the guy, but the only reason he arrives in time is because Sally Bishop caused a whole lot of trouble for the rapist and managed to delay his plans. She also goes on to help Poe during the climax... by knocking out Cyrus "The Virus" with the butt end of an assault rifle.


Baby-O

A crucial part of the film, as Cameron Poe's friend who also serves as a key motivation for his character, Soren describes Baby-O as "the one good African American who knows his place". For a man supposedly embodying conservative ideologies, Poe shows Baby-O a lot of respect, and goes through a lot of trouble to save his life for no reason other than out of a sense of honor, and literally ends up risking life and limb to get to him the insulin he needs. When Baby-O gets shot (which I feel I should point out happens because he tried to cover for Poe after Cyrus started to figure out there was a traitor in their midst), Poe does pretty much the same thing, going through a huge amount of trouble to save him. What exactly was racist about this character again?

Conclusion

As you can see, this whole notion of Con Air being nothing more than a "Conservative Propaganda" film is complete and utter nonsense with virtually nothing to back it up. All of the so-called "evidence" to support this theory is practically nothing more than confirmation bias stemming from examples taken out of their proper context with a general lack of understanding to how they actually appear in the film itself. If indeed Jerry Bruckheimer intended this film to promote racist, sexist, and homophobic ideas, he failed spectacularly, as that is precisely the opposite of what is actually in the movie.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

So Fetch Friday: Katy Perry Has Talent?



Well, I finally finished that difficult essay on film noir that was causing me so much trouble, and I managed to get it handed in on time. Finding sources for that one was hard considering the catch of having to find sources from the era I was discussing (for something that was retroactively named). I had to get around the restrictions by citing contemporary reviews and press releases. I also managed to find one psychological study of "American crime films". Then I got lucky when a classmate (in an unrelated class) gave me the name of French critic Nino Frank, purportedly the one who coined the term "film noir". I managed to find not only a paper of his but also another article by one of his colleagues: both touching on this basic material, translated to English, and published in 1946! Normally, I'd get started on the abridged version, but with the TA strike happening now I don't even know when it's going to get marked, let alone when I'll get it back. Long story short, I don't know when I'll be able to post the essay for you to see.

In the meantime, I now have two more essays to start thinking about. For one of them I'm writing about the movie Under the Skin. I've got my sources in order but now I have to figure out which movie from class I'm going to be comparing it to, though I'm leaning towards either I Am Curious (Yellow) or Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Either way, I've at least got something down for it. The other one will be discussing horror movies, and I have some ideas so hopefully I can get somewhere with it assuming it doesn't end up being cancelled (which seems a real possibility at the moment). I still have time for both, it's just that starting seems to be one of the hardest parts of writing a paper. I find that once I have a basic idea of where I'm going I do okay, at least until I get through all my main points and realize I don't know how to end it.


This week, we learned about "J-horror" and watched the Japanese horror film Ringu. I'm going to be honest here, and say that I did not find it to be particularly scary at all. I know a lot of people build it up as this amazing nightmarish tale but I just didn't feel much. I barely even felt unnerved, let alone frightened. I don't know what it is, but for some reason Japanese cinema just doesn't seem to work for me. It's probably the same reasons that I found a classic like Tokyo Story to be extremely tedious and I've never really been able to get into Akira Kurosawa. I can't pinpoint the exact reasons. Maybe it's just a cultural thing. After all, those films are made by a completely different society with different cultural standards and intended for entirely different audiences with different tastes. In that sense, perhaps its the same reasons some modern viewers have difficulty relating to Hollywood films from the Studio Era.

We also watched the movie Hangmen Also Die! and learned about the work of Fritz Lang (the guy behind Metropolis and who later had a hand in developing what would become known as film noir) and Berthold Brecht (a screenwriter who had an unsuccessful career in Hollywood). This one was actually not too bad, though not anything spectacular. It was obviously a piece of propaganda designed to instill hatred of the Nazis and to be fair it is reasonably effective in that regard, though that might be largely due to hindsight. The movie focuses largely on the pro-fascist side of their regime, but it was also made before some of the even worse activities of the Nazi party, namely the Holocaust, became public knowledge. Still, I don't know I'd call it anything special or something that I'd recommend to people outside of film scholars.

Unfortunately, there's even more trouble afoot, since it just so happens that next week is when we're getting this year's obligatory Jean-Luc Godard film. Maybe I should consider myself lucky that I've made it this far into the year without being forced to watch one of his awful movies, but now it's happening. I've had to watch a few atrocious films but now I'm going to be forced to see a film by one of my most despised directors. Why do they keep making me watch these films? Why do people even like Godard? What do they see in his work? All I see are a bunch of films that are overrated at best and an incoherent mess at worst.

NO! NOT THE GODARD MOVIE! PLEASE! I'M BEGGING YOU!

I guess I should just be glad this time we're just seeing Breathless, which is probably the most tolerable of Godard's films if only due to it actually having a coherent plot (the same definitely cannot be said for Alphaville or Tout Va Bien). The other two are legitimately bad (and extremely lazy, in the case of Alphaville) films that purport to make a statement but get so lost and confused among absurd choices that the message is nowhere to be found. I don't know what the message was in Tout Va Bien but I wasn't getting it, and I have actually seen some "radical films" since then like Orlando and Walker that actually do get their points across using the same approach. Breathless at least has some coherence and it's really just a poorly-written crime film in which the main character is an idiot and it also deosn't seem to understand that shooting someone who doesn't put a gun down when asked is standard police proceedure. Additionally, I guess I should also be glad that this is the only Godard film this year, last year I had to watch two and it wasn't pretty.

That's enough about my education. I know you're only here to read my thoughts on fandoms, but first, here's something rather curious that happened during the weekend. If you're following my blog, you probably know how knowledgeable I am about movies, but that same experience doesn't extend so much to music. I'm not really a fan of modern music, I've never been especially keen on most of it. The only reason I even know the names of any modern bands is pretty much because my sister is, and even then I often confuse different artists when I hear their music. Most of it I'm indifferent to at best, outright despising at worst beyond a few exceptions. For one thing I actually like Lady Gaga, and that's about it. I personally prefer older rock, particularly stuff from the 80's like Pat Benatar and Kate Bush. Also I enjoy Celtic music like Enya and Clannad.

I'm not very keen on modern music, and I can't say I've ever been a huge fan of Katy Perry. Then, by total chance, I stumbled across one of her videos on YouTube and actually found myself pleasantly surprised. I've heard this song before and never thought much of it, but when I saw the thumbnail depicting Perry in combat fatigues I was rather curious. It turned out to actually be a pretty well done video that even left a sense of appreciation for the song, and it does a few things that feature films haven't done much of yet: namely it presents a fairly positive image of women in the military. I might not have heard as much from those idiots on IMDB's Alien Outpost board lately, but simply doing a Google search for "Women in Infantry" reveals a wave of articles making absurd claims about how women are weaker than men and therefore shouldn't be allowed to enlist in the military. Incidentally, I also found an article explaining why this kind of thinking is ridiculous, though I do find it somewhat horrifying that it was written by a man in response to a female officer making an argument against women in the army. It's like a black man trying to justify segregation followed by a white man pointing out why that shouldn't have happened, it just seems wrong.

In this video, Katy Perry actually goes in full-on combat mode here to remarkable effect. Even disregarding that side, there is a prominent feminist message to be found in that encourages women to show that they can be strong and keep moving despite difficult situations (in this case, her boyfriend cheating on her, she shows that she doesn't need him). Seriously, even if you don't like listening to Katy Perry, watch this video. It's amazing. It's a bit like what Private Benjamin (a movie that had a first half of great army sequences before becoming a generic romantic comedy in the second half) should have been.


There's been something of a controversy going around in light of recent news on the upcoming revival of Twin Peaks. Everything was looking great until several stories started emerging about some vaguely defined "complications" that are apparently getting in the way of things. Lynch himself was expressing some doubts about whether the news season was going to happen, but from what little information has been revealed, it sounds like a simple contract dispute. Besides, it's not so unusual for artists to occasionally have doubts and uncertainties about their projects, so I don't think it's too far-fetched to suspect that Lynch may have gone through them once in a while.

Maybe that's all it is, and I'm hoping that's all. I know a lot of people are really hyped about seeing this revival and several members of the original cast have already signed on so it would be rather unfortunate if they abandoned it now. Also, it would be really infuriating for a lot of people, myself included, seeing as it would mean we were all given false hope for a resolution to the infamous cliffhanger that ended the series. That, and it would mean the hugely popular article I wrote in response to hearing about the revival was a waste of time. Fortunately, it looks so far as though the revival is still happening.

Meanwhile, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is back and we've got some rather peculiar developments going on. It seemed that Mac and Bobbi were up to something for a while and doing it behind Coulson's back. It looked at first like it might have had something to do with HYDRA but it's actually... S.H.I.E.L.D.? I'm curious where exactly this is going to go. I thought Nick Fury was very specific about entrusting Coulson to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D. so maybe this is some sort of coup? Is someone mad about not being chosen to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D.? Maybe Fury secretly had a few people entrusted to help rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D. separately but now there's tension among the ranks, or perhaps S.H.I.E.L.D. was never really destroyed and Coulson is now technically a rogue agent. Also, does this mean that Bobbi and Mac are villains now? There are so many questions and I have no idea what to expect from this.

Also, I feel so bad for Skye right now, all the anxiety she must be going through over having trouble becoming what she describes as a "walking natural disaster". Even Melinda May, who has dedicated herself to helping Skye, is becoming uncertain over what to do about her condition. She seems to be sort of getting the hang of it, seeing as she did after all manage to help out in stopping her psycho father from organizing a team of supervillains to get revenge on Coulson for killing the guy he wanted dead for the past two decades (a bit redundant, but a desire for revenge can blind people).


On Banshee, there was some huge tensions among different factions of the community after a Native American girl was found murdered and an Amish boy was kidnapped, but fortunately Kai Proctor was able to find the culprit though it didn't seem to make things all that much better. Also, it looks like Lucas Hood might have some competition as he's not the only vigilante in town. Nola seems to be ready to start taking the law into her own hands as well, considering the rather gruesome way she dispatched the guy who committed the murder. She might be even more violent in her methods than he is. Talk about moral ambiguity, which is usually a major requirement for vigilante narratives.

Now for The Walking Dead. Carol is starting to get a bit creepy, but on the other hand that kid is a bit annoying. He keeps sneaking into her house asking for cookies, which I can understand is irritating enough, but there is also something to be said about the fact that Carol tries to use that to make the kid do things, keep quiet about her stealing guns, and she threatens him with being eaten alive by zombies if he tells anyone what she has been doing. On the bright side, Abraham's proven to be very good as a construction foreman, and we have a new character in Francine, who seems promising. Eugene is also finally starting to toughen up and pull his own weight, so good for him! On the other hand, we lost Noah, who got devoured by zombies right in front of Glenn. I also don't think Aaron will be too happy to find out his lover has been eaten alive by zombies, and I hope Tara's okay.

So it's the typical end-of-the-year chaos, with extra pressure mounting due to the TA strike still happening. I've still been short on material for my blog, though I did manage to do a little piece on the Production Code so that's okay, I guess. I just have two more weeks and one Godard film until my classes are over and I start moving into exams. That's going to be rough as well but at least then I'll have a bit more free time for blogging and depending on how things go I might even be able to participate in blogathons again.I also have one currently scheduled to begin in a week and a half, an exciting summer-themed cast-a-thon that I think you'll enjoy. 


By the way, I've gotten a few complaints from people who have been uncertain about the implication that they would be rescuing Stephen Harper (I understand now that's not a very pleasant implication, but I'm really bad at following modern politics). I should probably just point out that I didn't actually have a specific Prime Minister in mind when I came up with this idea, so in this game he's really whoever you want him to be. I mainly chose to have it be the "Prime Minister" you were rescuing because rescuing the President would be too cliché and I thought it would be a nice change. Anyway, you'll see more details on that when it shows up on April 1. Right now, I got some papers to worry about.

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Sunday, 15 March 2015

A Reflection on the Motion Picture Production Code

The Motion Picture Production Code, now commonly known as the "Hays Code", was first created in response to a public outcry regarding the “controversial” material of films made during the Silent Era. During this time, when there were no rules in play, many filmmakers experimented with different ideas, sometimes touching on sexual or violent themes. In the late twenties the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association, led by William Hays, was hired to create a list of regulations. He started with a vague list suggesting what filmmakers should and should not do in their movies. When this list went ignored by filmmakers, the studios retaliated with the Production Code, enforced by an associate of Hayes, Joseph Breen, beginning in 1934 and continuing through the following two decades before finally a series of legal cases in the 1950's led to its dissolution and eventual lifting in the 1960's.


The Production Code was a strictly enforced series of rules that prohibited several topics and contained restrictions about others. For instance, the Code lists several regulations about how crime pictures were to be made. Movies dealing with illegal activity were required to minimize the use of firearms to those essential to the plot and crimes could not be shown in detail. It also says that criminals cannot be treated in a sympathetic light, that any depiction of drug trafficking is forbidden, and that alcohol cannot be shown unless it is important to story or characterization. While the Production Code is more lenient towards depictions of violence provided that the films avoid romanticizing crime, depicting certain types of criminal activity, and showing it in detail, it prohibits any sexual themes. Hays’ justification for this decision is his claim that “Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing”. In other words, sex could not in any way be depicted visually or verbally.

In addition to prohibiting any explicit depictions of sexual intercourse, Hays also prohibits showing adultery (unless it is essential to the plot, and even then cannot be explicit or justified), “scenes of passion”, “sexual perversion”, interracial relationships, children’s sexual organs, and childbirth. Filmmakers were generally barred from depicting any form of sexual activity. The few that did manage to get under the censors, such as James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein or Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita, were unable to address their sexual themes directly. The former incorporated homoerotic undertones through the interactions of the characters, particularly in the intimate relationship between the two scientists. The latter, centered on a pedophilic relationship, refrains from showing any sexual activity between Hubert Humbert and the titular Lolita.

Ironically, many of the “controversial” movies the Production Code was made in response to seem tame by today’s standards, especially with regards to sex and violence. A major component of the public outcry was the violence of crime films made before the Production Code. Gangster films like Howard Hawks' Scarface, depict criminal activity and in some ways glorify it (though they often came with a "crime doesn't pay" message, usually by ending with the gangster's death), but compared to the work of modern directors like Quentin Tarantino, these films seem surprisingly tame.

Really? This is what people were upset about?

Films like The Divorcee imply sexual activity to occur, but refrain from showing it. It is mostly suggested through innuendos in the conversations between the characters. The story concerns both a husband and wife committing adultery against each other, but all sex between them happens off-screen. While this was controversial for 1930, many more recent films, such as those of David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick, are far more explicit.

One restriction I find especially curious is the Production Code’s reference to “sexual perversion”. Precisely what Hays intended by this remark is unclear, as he fails to define or provide examples of what he considers to be “sexual perversion”. It appears that this particular category comprises anything other than a “traditional” heterosexual marriage, likely including homosexuality. While the Code does not specifically name homosexuality as something that should not be depicted, it was responsible for preventing any images of same-sex relationships from being shown on screen during the Studio Era.

Because of the Code, the production of A Streetcar Named Desire encountered difficulties when the filmmakers were pressured to change a scene in which Vivien Leigh reveals that her husband (who is never seen) was homosexual. The original play was already vague about his sexuality, but the film required what little references were present in the script to be taken out. Prior to the Code, there were very few films that did attempt to positively address the issues of homosexuality outside of a few exceptions such as Géza von Radványi’s Mädchen in Uniform (which featured a sympathetic lesbian protagonist). Though it is a very recent development, more filmmakers are making efforts to depict sympathetic gay couples.


Contemporary movies such as Mulholland Drive, Brokeback Mountain, and Blue is the Warmest Colour all attempt to present homosexual love stories with complex leading characters. Several of these films have also been made and released through mainstream Hollywood, and even Blue is the Warmest Colour (made in France) managed to gain international attention. Both Mulholland Drive and Brokeback Mountain were nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards (the latter actually winning), while Blue is the Warmest Colour was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes.

While the Production Code was at its height during the 1930’s, the 1940’s saw the beginning of its decline. With America’s entry into World War II, the code was relaxed to allow the production of movies addressing the conflict. The intended result was the introduction of the combat film, but the relaxing of the Code also had the unexpected side effect of allowing directors to explore areas they could not previously. In particular, this relaxation of the Production Code, combined with a need to conserve resources and influence from the German Expressionist movement, resulted in a technique that would later become known as film noir. Movies that fit the style of film noir would explore more controversial themes, including more violent narratives and sexual undertones. In the 1960’s, the American government began to conduct a series of inquiries about the Code, eventually forcing it to be officially lifted.

The introduction of the Production Code may have in fact had the reverse effect of its intended purpose. Before it was published, movies explored sexual themes but rarely did it in an explicit way. With restrictions preventing even the use of innuendos and implied sex, Hays forced directors into the position of trying to find ways around his rules. This led to films attempting to find creative ways to show sex or related subjects that would go under the censors, such as disguising a sexual relationship as the humorous bantering and eventual marriage between a man and a woman (which is how the screwball comedy was first developed) or incorporating homoerotic undertones that would not have been noticed at the time (as in The Bride of Frankenstein). By examining the output of films made since the production code, I can see that many of them are far more explicit in their images of sex than the “controversial” films of the 1920’s.

There is definitely no homoerotic subtext in this scene.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

So Fetch Friday: Essay Trouble



Rough week so far. I found out I have an essay due next week, one that I had only started to put together an outline for. I've been working on this essay about film noir, but there's a catch: the bulk of my sources have to be written within the era we covered in this semester (roughly 1927-1968). This has proven to be extremely difficult, seeing as it is very hard to find any material on the subject written prior to the 1970's that is not in French. Amusingly, though, I did find an article published in Film Quarterly somewhere between 1962 and 1963 that was actually titled Hitchcock's World.

In general I've just been feeling anxious and agitated as well. I haven't even been able to watch any of the film noirs I'm covering yet. I started watching The Maltese Falcon and for some reason it ended up feeling like too much. I had the same problem when I tried to watch The Other Woman, and felt overwhelmed after the first few minutes. Also, should I be concerned about how often I seem to be watching Con Air? This is at least the fourth or fifth time I've watched it since December. My parents expressed some concern and I'm not sure if this is a sign that something's wrong. Right now it's hard to say.


On the bright side, I did finally see Non-Stop (a modern update on the "Die Hard on a Plane" structure) and it actually turned out to be really good. There was a lot of tense action and I certainly didn't see the identities of the villains coming (they also did a pretty good job throwing suspicion on the wrong people). I really liked Julianne Moore in that film, she was great. Admittedly, when they revealed her heart condition I did half-expect something to happen with that, and it never did. That wasn't really a problem, though. I had planned on doing a review, but that ended up turning into an essay about how 9/11 affected airplane hijacking movies.

This week, we watched the original Cape Fear and learned a bit about Hollywood soundtracks. It's an interesting area of study but I can't say much about the film itself. Maybe this is just me but I never really could get into either version of Cape Fear, even with Gregory Peck in one and Robert De Niro in the other. We also watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and learned about the "final girl". However, I'm not sure Stretch is the best example of a final girl in slasher films considering I'm not entirely convinced that she's a strong female character. She starts off promising when we first see her on her radio show and she gets to slash one of the slashers at the end, but she spends most of the film screaming and being victimized by the villains. Dennis Hopper is also his usual crazy self. If you've seen him in Speed or Blue Velvet, it's the same kind of deal only now there is a sword fight with chainsaws (seriously).

What a strong female character!

I've actually been able to somewhat keep up with The Walking Dead, and this is getting... peculiar. It was definitely shocking to see Rick shaving off his beard and dressing like a cop again. The same goes for much of the rest of the cast, who were barely recognizable after being cleaned up and redressed. The one thing I haven't been able to shake is a sense of paranoia that comes with Alexandria. It seems to be a nice place but I keep half-expecting that either there is some sort of catch that hasn't been revealed yet (as was the case for Woodbury and Terminus) or that Rick is somehow going to ruin everything. These Alexandria residents seem like decent people but it just seems to hard to believe, which I guess is fitting given that those are likely the exact same feelings experienced by Rick and his party.

As for Banshee, there's been some exciting developments as I've just finished season 1. Carrie Hopewell has finally gotten a chance to show how tough she really is. She spent a large portion of an episode locked in a brawl with a mobster that makes the infamous fight scene from They Live seem tame by comparison. I wouldn't be surprised if they drew a bit of inspiration from that scene, considering its structured a bit similarly; with the whole thing being an extended sequence in which the two characters are constantly going at each other and neither one seems to get a lasting advantage. Of course, it is Carrie who gets to save herself (after getting stabbed, no less) so that's good. Also, Kai Proctor got to show his more sensitive side. I won't deny that guy has engaged in some shady dealings (up to and including murder) but it's a nice touch that they decided to give him a bit more depth instead of going the obvious route and depicting him as a monster.

That finale was quite exciting. The crooks and the cops had to team up in order to rescue Lucas from the dangerous gangsters that were holding him. Carrie got to continue to prove her abilities as an action heroine and the rest of the cast got to have a hand in the action. Sadly, Carrie's family has left her on account of all the lies she's been revealed to have told them, but there seems to be more to do as some bodies have mysteriously turned up. I

In Season 2, Lucas barely avoided being exposed as an identity thief after the body of the original Sheriff Hood was found (and subsequently reburied before it could be identified). We've also got an great new character in Nola, a tough girl who works as muscle for the Native American reserve (and who has certainly had a few moments to show herself). She seems to be yet another excellent addition to a show that's practically exploding with strong female characters (and some interesting male characters, too). She might also have come closest out of the entire cast to actually killing Lucas Hood, and the only reason she doesn't is because her boss doesn't let her (something she isn't exactly happy about either).


Also, I finally finished Strange Empire and its had quite the ending. The whole series has been building up the growth of the various women in this town, and now they've finally started to take power. Most of the extreme misogynists that have been causing so much trouble are gone now, including the villain John Slotter, who was killed by a bow and arrow. Now the women are starting to take control of things, and by the end of the episode there was not a single woman in town still wearing a dress. Prior to this episode, the only women in pants were Kat Loving and Morgan Finn, the latter of whom was disguised as a man (and maintained that look even after she was revealed). Now even the women who did wear dresses constantly have started wearing pants. Annoyingly, the show has apparently been cancelled by CBC, so I won't be able to see what happens next.

In other news, I have heard one story that has left me completely baffled. I know I'm somewhat in a minority as I'm one of the few critics to actually defend the planned all-female Ghostbusters reboot. The people involved seem promising enough and it looks like they have an okay cast so at the very least I think it could be entertaining. The weird part is that it turns out they are also making a "male-oriented" Ghostbusters reboot alongside the all-female version, which they also hope to expand into a whole universe similar to what has been done with Marvel.


Uh... wasn't the original Ghostbusters already a very male-dominated movie? It did after all center on an all-male team of paranormal exterminators and the only two women were a love interest and damsel in distress (who had to be rescued by the men) and a secretary who added pretty much nothing to the overall film (and I personally found to be a bit irritating). In fact, was it not the fact that the original film was so predominantly male one of the main reasons why the reboot is going the route of being all-female? Why is an "male-oriented" companion film necessary? It's like announcing that you're going to do an "all-female" remake of The Descent. It just seems a bit redundant.

Also, there's talk going around about a Toy Story 4... and it's a romantic comedy. This is yet another baffling choice and I'm not sure what to make of it. Either this is brilliant out-of-the-box thinking that will allow something new to be brought to the series and for it to go in some curious new directions, or it will be a terrible idea that will be the point at which the Toy Story series begins jumping the shark. I'm not sure which one it is yet. I'm not even sure how exactly one would go about turning Toy Story into a romantic comedy. The movie news these days is completely insane, and seems to often be about really bizarre choices made by studios.

Okay, so that's another week of craziness and confusion. Just three more weeks and I'll be done with my classes for now, though unfortunately that also means only two more weeks before I'm forced to watch Jean-Luc Godard again (someone whose wrath I've otherwise been spared this year). If I ever end up going through a year without being forced to watch a Jean-Luc Godard movie, I might just have to throw a celebration of some sort. Still, a rough week to be sure, but things seem to be looking up a bit.

What it's like to be forced to watch a Godard movie.


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Thursday Movie Picks Meme: Live-Action Fairy Tale Adaptations


This week, the theme for Wanderer's Thursday Movie Picks Meme is live action fairy tales. These days, when we hear the word "fairy tales", a lot of people tend to associate it with the Disney animated canon, with films ranging from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to Frozen. These are often seen as children's stories and family films, which is somewhat ironic considering a lot of fairy tales had some very dark origins. The original version of The Little Mermaid ended with the mermaid's death. In Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the prince was a necrophiliac who literally tried to carry Snow White's body to his castle (Snow White wakes up because the apple was only caught in her throat, and it's dislodged during the trip, which admittedly raises the question of how she hasn't already chocked to death).

In any case, there have been other adaptations of fairy tales outside of those made famous by Disney, some of them live action. For this exercise, I am required to pick three such films.Okay, technically they can be Disney but I can't do any of their animated films (not that it matters much, since Disney seems to have moved on from making 3D versions of 2D animated films to live action remakes of their old films, as seems to be the case for Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast).

This is a bit of a challenge for me, as I've never been the biggest fan of fairy tales (it comes with having a preference for realism), I have a tendency to spot flaws in the narrative. For instance, how exactly does the whole glass slipper thing in Cinderella work? They clearly established that the clothes disappear after midnight, so why doesn't the slipper? Also, are there really no other women in the kingdom who happen to have similar sized feet to Cinderella? Okay, you could argue that perhaps the slipper is "magic" and perhaps can change sizes when put on the wrong foot but that isn't usually established in most versions and the Prince doesn't know that, so why exactly did he think this test would work? Also, if this Fairy Godmother is so concerned for Cinderella's well-being, why is it only now, after something around 15-20 years of endless torture that she actually tries to do something about it? Why didn't she come sooner and perhaps try to get Cinderella away from her abusive stepmother? They never establish any limits to her magic, so why is she only able to provide Cinderella with clothes that vanish after midnight? Why not just give her clothes she can use to disguise herself and then the means to start a new life (they can't be sure that the Prince is going to want to marry her)? In any case, here are three that I have found to write about.

The Princess Bride (1987)


Could someone tell me how exactly this movie hasn't managed to make an appearance on my blog yet. Technically, this isn't exactly a "classic" fairy tale, strictly speaking. If anything, it's more a parody of fairy tale conventions, but it's a pretty darn good one. This one has a lot of the typical fairy tale themes, most prominently the idea that true love conquers all, but it has lots of other things. We have revenge, torture, miracles, and plenty of sword fights. That's not even getting into the long list of amusing characters the film has to offer, even those who aren't in it very long (i.e. Wallace Shawn as Vizzini) and classic quotes like the famous "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." It's a simple story, but a fun experience to be sure.

Ella Enchanted (2004)


Here's one I'll bet you never expected to see me discuss at length, but I actually watched this one a lot when I was younger, and amusingly it also has Cary Elwes (who you might remember as the Man in Black from The Princess Bride)... this time playing the villain. On the surface, it's basically a retelling of Cinderella presented in a very... roundabout sort of way. Underneath all that, it's an elaborate allegory for racism and segregation (the bad guy has laws restricting the opportunities available for archetypal fantasy creatures, and in the few areas each of them are permitted they're essentially slave labor). Of course, the one step up from Cinderella (from which the movie, and by extension the book it was based on clearly draw inspiration) is that they actually make Ella a strong character who has to think for herself and stand up for what she sees to be right. The prince actually has to earn her respect and she is ultimately the one who saves the day in the end.

The Brothers Grimm (2005)


Okay, technically, this isn't so much a direct adaptation as it is a massive crossover between several different fairy tales framed loosely around the lives of the two men known for some of the most iconic stories in the genre. Terry Gilliam certainly has a bizarre interpretation of these texts, and a few darker twists on some of them (Rapunzel is revealed to have locked herself in the tower to escape a plague, and ends up being something of a femme fatale). It's a bit like Into the Woods, only more of an action movie, but still pretty exciting. 

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Airplane Hijackings in the Wake of 9/11


Contrary to popular belief, terrorism is not a recent idea introduced by radicals in the Middle East. It has a long and complicated history that spans centuries and a variety of different cultures. Even Canada has produced terrorist groups like the Front de libération du Québec, who were responsible for the October Crisis of 1970 in which their kidnapping of two politicians led to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to invoke the War Measures act, placing Montreal under military jurisdiction. Most people who lived through it say that it was not a pleasant memory.

In any case, terrorism emerged as a popular subject matter for the modern action movie after the success of Die Hard, ironic considering the villains of that film were not so much terrorists as they were thieves disguising a heist as a terrorist operation to confuse and manipulate the authorities. The success of Die Hard led to a wave of imitators, some of which would introduce actual terrorists as the villains. This led to the introduction of the "Die Hard on an X" film, an unintended subgenre of the action film that came from many 90's action films imitating the basic premise of Die Hard (similar to what happened with Halloween and the slasher film).

It did not take long for filmmakers to realize that the claustrophobic and often crowded environment of an airplane lent itself to tense situations and a variety of dangers. Only four years after Die Hard, the movie Passenger 57 was released, which put Die Hard on a commercial airplane. This was followed by several more "Die Hard on a plane" movies, such as Executive Decision, Con Air, and Air Force One. All of these films centered on an airplane hijacking, something that seemed like a good setup for an action movie at the time. That was until September 11, 2001, when that very scenario led to the destruction of the World Trade Center. That was when people started to take terrorist actions a lot more seriously, and after that there weren't as many airplane hijacking films.

As a result of this event, now known as 9/11, the plots of many of these early airplane hijacking films, with the possible exception of Con Air, become a bit harsher with hindsight. This is especially noteworthy in Executive Decision, which in many ways unknowingly foreshadows the tragic events that would happen a years later. The villains are a group of Islamic extremists with a strong disliking towards the American government, already calling to mind the work of Osama Bin Laden and the image of terrorism that would come to dominate the media. However, as the protagonists (a group of special forces men accompanied by an engineer and CIA analyst) start to learn more about the villains' intentions, they begin to show a clearer and increasingly disturbing resemblance to 9/11.


As the heroes discover, the agenda involves using the plane to cause a massive amount of destruction on American soil that, if successful, would kill millions of innocent people. The only difference is that instead of crashing into a skyscraper, the tactic invoked by the villains of Executive Decision involves setting up a bomb on the plane that will detonate when it lands. However, that too becomes much harsher when one realizes that their entire scheme is basically a mass-suicide bombing, something that would also become very familiar to a public bearing a new found fear of terrorism.

As a result, airplane hijackings become a far less popular topic for action cinema, and indeed movies in general. Still, airplanes make a great environment for tense narratives for a variety of reasons. They are usually a claustrophobic by design, and are often very crowded. There is also a sense of being trapped that comes when a plane is in flight, as the massive height prevents any escape, and an added sense of danger comes with the possibility of something forcing the plane down. Filmmakers still wanted to explore just how dangerous air travel can be, but hijackings were now out of the question. Instead, action films had to find new ways of creating the same tensions without potentially offending their viewers.

Red Eye provides a perfect example of this out of the box thinking. While it clearly draws inspiration from the airplane hijacking films of the 90's, it takes a new approach to drawing tension out of the same environment. Instead of hijacking the airplane, the basic formula is inverted. The villain is on board the airplane with a political agenda, but unlike the antagonists of Passenger 57, Executive Decision, or Air Force One, his plan has nothing to do with the plane itself. He has no intention of disrupting the flight (and in fact on several occasions takes measures to keep the plane on its scheduled route) but rather one passenger, Lisa. The claustrophobic tension subsequently comes from Lisa being stuck sitting next to the villain and also being the only one aware of his true intentions. no attempt at a hijacking occurs, nor is any destruction inflicted on the plane itself, yet that same tension rises in a new way.


The one exception to the 90's cycle of airplane hijackings was arguably Con Air. Unlike Executive Decision and Air Force One, the villains were not actually terrorists but escaped convicts taking over a prison plane. Their motives fit more in line with the traditional Die Hard formula, in which the antagonists are seen as a home grown threat (both of 2013's "Die Hard in the White House" films being an exception). In Speed Dennis Hopper's character is essentially a psycho who uses money as an excuse to commit violent acts. Hans Gruber of Die Hard is a thief pretending to be a terrorist (in one scene, he tries to "negotiate" with the police, demanding random members of unrelated terrorist groups be released and after naming one pauses to remark "I read about them in Time magazine"). Similarly, in Con Air, the antagonists are a group of prisoners organizing an elaborate escape plan that involves taking over their plane. No political ties are brought up, just evading recapture.

This same approach can be seen in the more recent incarnations of the "Die Hard on a plane" structure, perhaps most notably in Non-Stop. In many ways it draws on the Die Hard formula, although updated with modern technology in mind (the radio/telephone conversations prominent in older "Die Hard on an X" films are replaced with text messages). It also reflects a major social change in how it approaches the subject of airplane hijackings. Much as in the traditional "Die Hard on an X" formula, the villains are treated as homegrown enemies, specifically soldiers upset with their government (similar to, though better handled than, the renegade soldiers led by Ed Harris in The Rock).  Similar to Dennis Hopper in Speed (and by extension, Scorpio in Dirty Harry, a likely inspiration) they perform violent acts but use money as an excuse). In that sense, it is essentially an inversion of Hans Gruber's plans in Die Hard. Whereas Hans disguised a heist as a terrorist operation, the villains of Non-Stop disguise a terrorist operation as blackmail.

However, much like Hans Gruber, the plan used by the villains of Non-Stop is made counting on the presence of Air Marshal Bill Marks and with an understanding of how the airline would respond to the situation in order to manipulate them appropriately. Charles Rane of Passenger 57, Nagi Hassan of Executive Decision, and Ivan Korunov of Air Force One are all able to take the passengers and flight crew by surprise because they were working in a very different time when terrorism and airplane hijackings, while not unknown, were not a widely recognized issue. That changed with the tragedy at the World Trade Center, and Non-Stop was made in an era where the public in general, and airlines even more so, take these issues far more seriously.


Instead of having the villains reveal themselves early on by pulling out guns, the plan instead falls upon exploiting the airline's (not unjustified) procedures in dealing with hijackings. This means that while there is a terrorist operation going on, the villains themselves remain hidden. Their plan depends on manipulating protagonist Bill Marks by making him look like the terrorist (when in fact, he is the one trying to save the plane), stirring up confusion and distrust among the passengers. They even manage to frame it so that everyone outside the plane also becomes convinced that he is the one responsible for the hijacking.

It is curious how one event, especially a tragic one that killed so many people, can mark such a drastic change in how film approaches a topic like this. In the 90's, airplane hijackings were seen as a great premise for an action film, usually ones that ended with the "terrorists" getting taken out by the hero in a spectacular fashion. After 2001, people began to realize how serious an issue it really was, and suddenly it didn't seem like such a great source of entertainment anymore. Executive Decision presumably never meant to predict a future tragedy, it was simply intended to be an exciting adventure. Wolfgang Petersen went on record to say he would probably not have made Air Force One after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

These early airplane hijacking films are products of another culture, another time. They are a glimpse into the different views of the past, made by people who failed to realize how serious an issue. The changes that follow in later films such as Red Eye and Non-Stop are visual demonstrations of society's changing views on a single issue. By looking at these patterns and studying them in the political context of the time in which they are made, we can see how one real-life tragedy changed the world's perspective on a single issue.