Earlier, I posted my ten favorite movies from 2016. But a “best of” list provides only a snapshot of a yearlong collection of movie-going experiences. If movies can impact a moviegoer’s worldview (by stimulating creativity, encouraging empathy, and raising awareness), then moviegoers should thoughtfully consider which movies they choose to watch. With this in mind, I have posted a list below of every movie I watched for the first time in 2016. Continue reading
THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS.
Many reviews of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice seem to forget one fact: Zack Snyder has a distinct directorial style. As I’ve noted before, anyone who buys a ticket for any film by the director of 300 and Sucker Punch—which includes Batman v Superman—and is offended by the lack of subtlety and Loki-style humor has not considered Snyder’s reputation as a director.
A director’s signature style matters. I would not see a Tarantino movie if I wanted a kid-friendly romantic comedy; I would not expect a film by Sam Mendes to highlight the positive qualities of suburbia; and I would not look for Spaceballs-style comedy in an Iñárritu film. Zack Snyder was never going to allow Batman v Superman to look or feel like Joss Whedon’s lighthearted and arguably formulaic Avengers films.
Below are ten reasons why Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is an entertaining and impressive movie.
1. The Opening Scenes
Critics enjoy mocking the excessiveness of Superman’s Metropolis-based battle against Zod in Man of Steel. Shortly after the movie premiered, the hazard-assessment team at Watson Technical Consulting quantified the damage. According to the team, “in terms of the strictly physical damage done to the city, the initial estimate is $700 billion.” And the death count is equally striking: “129,000 known killed, over 250,000 missing (most of whom would have also died), and nearly a million injured.” Many moviegoers look at these numbers with disgust.
So does Batman. Continue reading
Netflix assumes that I want to skip opening credit sequences, which isn’t true. Yes, Netflix, I have been binge-watching Marvel’s Daredevil for the past six hours, but I still want to see the melting maroon wax (or blood?) statue of Lady Justice turn slowly as the eerie cadence of high notes fights with the low, booming bass sounds that slowly intensify beneath them. It gets me in the mood.
A title sequence is an emotional trigger, and I appreciate the opportunity to mentally prepare myself for the narrative that follows. This article contains an analysis of some of the more musically intriguing and visually engaging opening sequences. Obviously, some opening credit sequences, like those of The Simpsons and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, are well-established classics, so I will not discuss those below. Other title sequences feature brilliant theme music but do not offer much in terms of visuals, like those of Firefly and Battlestar Galactica. Even the simple melodies of shows like Scrubs and Gilmore Girls work well as triggers of nostalgia and empathy, but they will not appear below.
Other classic intro sequences that will not be discussed here: the concise opening of The Twilight Zone, the friendly notes of Cheers, the mission statement of Star Trek, the Big History explanations of The Big Bang Theory, and the catchy expositional songs of The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island.
Dexter Continue reading
When countless individuals sat down to read Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life with some chardonnay and oversized Snuggies, they likely did so with a sense of cautious enthusiasm and understandable desperation. Who, honestly, would not want to discover how to make his or her life as meaningful as possible? Secular or not, human beings search for meaning. Laurence Fishburne’s vague philosophizing in The Matrix taught me that, on some level, everyone searches for truth. And, from what I’ve learned from Community‘s Jeff Winger about the search for truth, personal introspection seems like a good place to start. If I can’t know the truth about life, I can at least know the truth about myself, right?
Equipped with that half-baked logic, I propose that the following question can effectively serve as a lens through which to peer deep into your soul:
Which film director would direct your life?
Observant readers will note that I used “would” instead of other possible auxiliary verbs. This diction suggests, among other things, that your life harmonizes with the style of a particular director so well that that director would have no choice but to direct your life. That director is your soul mate, your spirit animal, your emotional doppelganger. To pick your director, you must know yourself. This is where the introspection begins.
Some matches may be obvious. If you appreciate calculated violence, targeted monologues (mostly about violence), and looking in car trunks (or out of them), then Quentin Tarantino would direct your life. Wes Anderson would direct the lives of those who prefer quirky symmetry (meaning lives that feature chaotic naïveté over backdrops of security and comfort). And Ang Lee would direct your life if it is filled with frustrating beauty—an aesthetically pleasing pain, as if the beauty highlights the acuteness of your angst.
Some directors are difficult to categorize. The following paragraphs explain several brilliant directors and their ideal matches.
Kathryn Bigelow often showcases the struggles and consequences associated with fierce individuality. Her protagonists are alone against the world, whether that world is symbolized as a bomb, a looming nuclear war, or Osama bin Laden. Her emotional doppelgängers are strong-willed, almost hard-headed individuals who believe that, ultimately, one truly significant accomplishment can overshadow an entire life filled with loneliness and skepticism.
If Sam Mendes directs your life, you fall into one of two categories: you are either a somewhat weathered renegade who fights for the greater good, or you live in the suburbs. And, as odd as it sounds, those two categories are closely linked. Like extended narrative versions of “Rockin’ the Suburbs” by Ben Folds, movies like American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, and Away We Go highlight the hopelessness of suburbia. Oscar-winner American Beauty combines the bleak social commentary of Paul Thomas Anderson and the unfiltered angst of Blink-182. Reframed as an inner-city spy version of Lester Burnham, James Bond becomes a stark symbol of the middle-class’s struggle against oppressive systems. To pick Sam Mendes as your life’s director, you must bounce between extremes of against-the-odds hopefulness and utter despair. You get to decide which wins: your hope (James) or your despair (Lester). Continue reading
Don Hertzfeldt is an impressive artist. Hertzfeldt is a two-time Oscar nominee, and a 2012 Indiewire Best Director poll placed Hertzfeldt above filmmakers like Richard Linklater and Steven Spielberg. While the short film genre has always been an artistic platform for profound ideas, few short films have captured the public’s attention more than Hertzfeldt’s. Rejected, for example, has gained a cult following. Rejected was first screened at the San Diego Comic Con and has since been viewed by Cartoon Network audiences and Sundance Film Festival attendees. Rejected is a simple, absurd animated short film that tackles big concepts. In about nine minutes, Hertzfeldt introduces audiences to an assortment of supposedly rejected cartoon clips. Though the characters seem basic and the narrative seems fractured, the short film as a whole shines a somber light on the plights of the forgotten.
The idea of the copy-pasted brain, and the moral quandaries that could stem from it, has enjoyed a quiet revival in sci-fi recently, with World of Tomorrow as the must-see standard-bearer. Hertzfeldt, whose work always tends towards the absurd, had never experimented with the genre before making this short, which was his first digitally produced film. As Emily and her clone drift through the “outernet,” the virtual reality through which all people in the future apparently communicate, the environment pops and crackles around them. But for all of his fantastical imagery, Hertzfeldt triumphs by focusing tightly on his protagonist’s emotions, which are seemingly haywire thanks to their being a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox. “I am very proud of my sadness, because it means I am more alive,” the clone proclaims, while acknowledging that she has occasionally fallen in love with inanimate objects in the past.
As World of Tomorrow proves, short films can wrinkle your brain as much as feature films can. Below are some short films (some by Hertzfeldt) that you can watch right now. Enjoy!
Everything Will Be Ok (2006) dir. Don Hertzfeldt
Created after Rejected and before World of Tomorrow, this animated short film is the first portion of a three-part story about Bill, a passive, thoughtful stick-figure man. Everything Will Be Ok is seventeen minutes of social commentary that slowly transitions from amusing and relatable to unsettling and poignant.
Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody? (2005) dir. Miguel Arteta
Written by Miranda July (The Future) and starring John C. Reilly (Step Brothers), this short film features three different responses to a seemingly simple question. Bob Davidson calls it a “profoundly simple short.” (Warning: Film may be a trigger for those with depression.)
It has been described as “an inescapable nightmare” and “a new low in the current culture’s inability to leave behind the blankies, binkies and wubbies of one’s youth.” Writer Rich Juzwiak described the viewing experience as “what tripping on ayahuasca must be like.”
Critics do not like Fuller House.
Though, as of today, the new Fuller House has earned a paltry 38% on Rotten Tomatoes and seems to offer little more than aggressive nostalgia and thinly veiled jabs at the Olsen twins, the somewhat forced existence of this Netflix sequel has given the world an unexpected and well-needed gift: another glimpse into the life of Kimmy Gibbler, one of TV’s most underrated heroines.
Kimmy Gibbler is the socially awkward friend of D.J. and next-door neighbor of the Tanner family. Her role in the show is to permeate the often sickeningly wholesome Tanner family environment with hijinks and unsolicited opinions. Despite D.J.’s unclear motives for interacting with Kimmy—”whether it’s because she can live on the edge a little by hanging around her, or because she gets to practice her leadership skills and guide her, is uncertain”—many episodes of Full House include at least one scene with this eccentric teenager.
Taken as a whole, these scenes tell the courageous story of a unique, independent female who, which grace and wisdom, rejects the antagonistic behavior of those around her. Continue reading
Some films contain flawed logic, trains of thought that, at some point, hop off of the tracks and barrel through fields of plot. This occasional lapse of sound reasoning does not necessarily decrease the value of a film (in fact, some plots thrive on lapses of logic), but audiences should be aware of these deduction deficits so that similar logic pitfalls do not occur in their own lives. Enjoy the stupidity of movie characters, but don’t pretend that it’s not stupidity.
Flaw: Shia LaBeouf should lead you into battle. In this sci-fi action movie, Shia LaBeouf plays Farber, a teenage punk who cusses and objectifies women. He is also the protagonist’s friend. Though Farber really has no reason to exist in the film aside from providing some awkward and arguably unnecessary comic relief, director Alex Proyas includes a few scenes in which Farber and Detective Spooner discuss ladies and Farber’s poor use of profanity. During these conversations, nothing redeeming is revealed about LaBeouf’s character. Farber has no depth. He is a hormonal teenager who has managed, for some unknown reason, to befriend a renegade cop. Other than his friendship with Will Smith, Farber has absolutely no qualities that should inspire a mob to follow him into battle against a hoard of assertive robots. In fact, logic should dictate that when Farber starts to mock the robots, everyone else should back away, leaving Farber to deal with his own poor life decisions. In the movie, however, a large crowd of people, apparently unaware of Farber’s substandard leadership qualifications, stand behind the teenager, ready to charge. The result is pandemonium and pain for the humans as the robots toss people into the air like confetti. Farber, however, escapes unharmed, like a cockroach after a nuclear apocalypse. Continue reading
With the release of Iron Man 3 just months away, Marvel fans are watching and re-watching the handful of Iron Man 3 trailers available on YouTube. And, if you’re like me, you’ve noticed the slow cadence of Ben Kingsley’s voice as the Mandarin. “Some people call me a terrorist,” he says, slowly and deliberately, “I consider myself a teacher. Lesson No. 1: Heroes. There is no such thing.” Then explosions and all hell breaks loose.
Kingsley’s voice as the Mandarin reminded me of the voice Tom Hardy used for Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. It, too, is slow and calculated. His voice is something between a purr and a growl when he says, “When Gotham is ashes, you have my permission to die.” Then, again, explosions and chaos.
This made me think: How many movie villains are defined, in some way, by their voice? There are, of course, some classic villains with classic voices, like James Earl Jones as Darth Vader. Dracula is another. Gary Oldman in Coppola’s Dracula and Richard Roxburgh in Van Helsing, among others, have given Dracula his Transylvanian tongue. And there’s Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 The Wizard of Oz. Her voice was part of the reason that I was too afraid to watch The Wizard of Oz as a kid. And as a pre-teen. And teen.
Romantic movies are filled with inspirational moments, but some of these moments are better left on the screen. We must be careful what we try in real life. In 2011, I wrote an article about the possible downfalls of real-life adaptations of certain films, including Serendipity and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Now, in an attempt to further help fellow romantics, I’ve added three more films to that list. For your safety and emotional well-being, do not try these moments at home.
City of Angels (1998)
Safety first. If you are lucky enough to spend a weekend at Lake Tahoe with an angel who literally fell from the sky to be with you, take care of yourself. Don’t ruin it by biking through the hills with your eyes closed. Maggie Rice, a lovely nurse who enjoys rain and dangerous activities, captures the attention of Seth, an angel. After a long and bizarre courtship, Seth and Maggie end up together in a California paradise. They have everything they could ever want—except for pears. So Maggie heads out to get some pears and decides to play a game of peekaboo with traffic. Maggie dies, and Seth mourns. It’s all very sad, but it could have been avoided if Maggie had kept her eyes open. Or had worn a helmet.
Love Actually (2003)
This movie features a variety of romantic moments, including scenes of feel-good cuteness (Hugh Grant caroling), endearing awkwardness (Martin Freeman and Joanna Page), and intriguing emotion (Emma Thompson forgiving Snape). Few of the movie’s scenes are anchored in reality, but there is one scene that would be especially horrible to try in real life. Mark, played by The Walking Dead‘s Andrew Lincoln, is in love with his best friend’s wife. So, in an attempt to be honest at Christmastime, Mark knocks on his friend’s door, pretends to be a caroler, and secretly tells Keira Knightley about his feelings using cue cards. Friends: Do not try this. Not only does Mark break the bro code by hitting on his best friend’s wife, he tells her that he will love her forever. Romantically. Forever. This means that every future get-together will have an awkward, love-triangle cloud hanging over it. He’s doomed them to uncomfortable group vacations and unpleasant dinner parties for the rest of their lives. Maybe he can apologize to both of them with a PowerPoint slideshow.
Some may not consider WALL·E to be a love story, but the plot is filled with romance. A robot meets the robot of his dreams, falls in love, and then follows her across the universe. WALL·E and EVE literally dance among the stars. The romantic moment that shouldn’t be tried at home, however, occurs when WALL·E first sees EVE on Earth. WALL·E is a lone hoarder who has been stranded on Earth for years with only a cockroach for company. EVE is the first romantic possibility that has crossed his path in a long time. So, while their love proves true in the end, WALL·E really just started flirting with the first option that appeared. WALL·E was desperate. If there were an OkCupid for robots, WALL·E would have a profile. “Hobbies: Sorting trash on an abandoned planet.” “Interests: Fred Astaire.” In other words, WALL·E got lucky. EVE turned out to be the best choice, but WALL·E went for her because she was the only choice. When it comes to love, everyone has a right to be choosy, including WALL·E.
Authors have long condemned most (often all) forms of censorship. Susan Sontag wrote, “I am against censorship. In all forms.” Salman Rushdie stated that the “creative act requires not only freedom but also this assumption of freedom. If the creative artist worries if he will still be free tomorrow, then he will not be free today.” And playwright George Bernard Shaw discussed the relationship between censorship and stagnation:
“All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.”
But what of filmmakers? Since there have been movies, there has been censorship of film. John Waters’s 1972 Pink Flamingos was banned in several small towns in the US, and the 1932 film Scarface (presented by Howard Hughes, not Brian De Palma) was banned in a few areas in the United States for violence. And in some other countries, the battle against censorship rages more intensely. Chinese director Xie Fei said that China’s system of censorship “has only become a corrupt black spot for controlling the prosperity of the cultural and entertainment industry, killing artistic exploration and wasting administrative resources.”
While film-banning and overbearing governments are relatively easy to notice, though, there are more covert forms of film censorship. Consider the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) film rating system in the United States. The MPAA’s rating scheme has its benefits, such as identifying which films are appropriate for young children, but the rating system can be a form of censorship. When paired with corporations that will only finance films that can make a profit, an NC-17, R, or even a PG-13 rating can mean the death of an original cut of a feature film (or, at the very least, significantly narrower distribution of the movie). For example, the MPAA initially gave Bully, a socially relevant documentary about the bullying crisis in schools, an R rating. Because of this, younger audiences (to whom the film was most relevant) found it difficult to see the movie. The MPAA then released it as “unrated,” which was hardly a step up (though AMC agreed to show the movie to kids with permission from parents). Finally, after great pressure from celebrities and community leaders, the MPAA lessened the rating to P-13. Still, this shows the impact that ratings can have on distribution.
Even if films weren’t banned, and even if the MPAA (and corporations) lessened their grip on distribution potential, could a film still be censored? Yes. Airplanes and FX. I watched Limitless on an international flight, and the airline deleted a mild love scene. Years later, I attempted to watch Armageddon on FX. It was hard to concentrate amid the barrage of poorly dubbed censor-edits. Since then, I’ve tried to endure similar butchering of The Departed, Rent, Pineapple Express, Mr. Deeds, and Scarface on FX and other networks. Of course, you may be thinking, “Well, Big B, just watch Showtime, STARZ, or HBO if you hate censorship so much.” But my counter-proposal is this: FX and other networks shouldn’t show those movies if they’re going to ignore artistic integrity. There are plenty of PG and PG-13 films with less questionable content—show those. If, as a network, they believe that their audience is mature enough to handle the plot of Pineapple Express, they should assume that their audience is mature enough to handle some strong language.
If I watch a movie on an airplane and entire scenes have been edited out, can I really say that I have seen the movie? If, for whatever reason, I try to watch The Departed on FX in the afternoon, can I really say that I have seen the film that Martin Scorsese created? It’s probably best that we filter what we offer to children, but we needn’t censor so aggressively.