Why “Which Movie Director Would Direct My Life?” Is a Very Important Question

Community AndreWhen 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?

Quentin TarantinoObservant 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.

Kathryn BigelowSome 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 BeautyRevolutionary 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

Brilliant Short Films You Can Watch Right Now

Don HertzfeldDon 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.

Hertzfeldt’s latest short film, World of Tomorrow, is now on Netflix. Of World of Tomorrow, culture commentator David Sims writes:

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.)

Continue reading

88th Academy Awards: Big B’s Predictions

Best PictureThe Big Short
The Revenant
Should Win: The Big Short
Disappointment: Bridge of Spies
Should Have Been Nominated: Straight Outta Compton
Should Have Been Nominated: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Best Director
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant
Honorable Mention: Adam McKay, The Big ShortStraight Outta Compton
Best Actor
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Best Actress
Brie Larson, Room
Honorable Mention: Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Should Have Been Nominated: Alicia VikanderEx Machina
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Honorable Mention: Tom Hardy, The RevenantThe Revenant
Honorable Mention: Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Should Not Have Been Nominated: Christian Bale, The Big Short
Should Have Been Nominated: Oscar IsaacEx Machina
Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Continue reading

The 87th Academy Awards: Big B’s Oscar Predictions


Best ActressEmma Stone

Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”

Honorable Mention: Emma Stone, “Birdman”

Should not have been nominated: Keira Knightly, “The Imitation Game”

Should have been nominated: Tilda Swinton, “Snowpiercer”

Best ActorBirdman

Michael Keaton, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Should have been nominated: Ralph Fiennes, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Best Supporting Actor

J. K. Simmons, “Whiplash” Continue reading

On the Censorship of Film

George Bernard ShawAuthors 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 John Watersfew 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 Bullyfilm 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 DepartedThe DepartedRentPineapple 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.

The Favorite Movie Phenomenon: How Much Should Movies Impact Real Life?

How much should movies impact real life? To explain my answer, I have to share my thought process. Bear with me.

About six months ago, I entered the world of online dating. I was lonely and convinced myself that online dating was a step in the right direction. My logic was this: Most people my age meet their boos at bars, but bars are my social kryptonite. Something about the volume sucks the confidence out of me, killing all suaveness. Besides, my ideal meet-cute doesn’t involve vague vomit smells. Coffee shops and bookstores would be perfect for my brand of small talk, but woman aren’t expecting to be hit on while they’re sipping a vanilla latte and thumbing through the latest James Patterson. At least I don’t think so. Either way, I don’t know how to approach someone whose eyes are pinned to a book. It requires interrupting, and it’s awkward.

So I gave online dating a try. Aside from the weirdos, the creeps, and the Photoshopped fabricators, it’s a pleasant environment, like window shopping for companionship. What startled me, however, was the value I placed on my matches’ favorite movies. I found myself naturally drawn to those who listed Wes Anderson, Christopher Nolan, or John Hughes, and I quickly blocked anyone who wrote “all Nicholas Sparks movies.” But was I being too judgmental? How much do movie preferences tell us about a person? How much should movies impact real life?

I’ve bounced back and forth like a pong ball between the idea that movies mirror real life—think Brian Cox’s “Nothing happens in the world?” speech from Adaptation—and the idea that film and TV are more like Huxley’s soma or the escapism noted in Scrubssitcom episode. On one hand, society should hope that movies impact real life; otherwise, documentaries and films like FernGully: The Last Rainforest would serve no purpose. On the other hand, I’d hate to live in a town that used Michael Cera as its moral compass.

Some enjoy framing this conversation as a chicken-and-egg scenario—do movies mirror life, or does life mirror movies?—but that’s ridiculous. It’s both. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, and any nut with a brain and a remote should be able to give examples of each. The question is about the extent to which movies (should) impact our daily lives.

My perspectives are as clouded as any, clouded by my love of Aaron Sorkin and the fact that, perhaps unfairly, I am irked by social conservatives who love Glee and Rent, but I believe that the entertainment industry can do more than entertain. As Good Night, and Good Luck teaches us, televisions and movie screens can and should do more than reinforce escapism.

But if we fully embrace the messages of all films, comedies would be less funny, and horror would be more terrifying—no one would babysit alone ever again.

So there is a middle ground. But the existence of a middle ground shouldn’t be an excuse for moviegoing mediocrity. We should allow ourselves to take lessons from movies, relying on our discretion to guide us. In the same way, it does matter which movies are listed on an OkCupid profile—ideas matter. But people are multifaceted, and a love of The Blind Side doesn’t diminish your time in the Peace Corps.

~Big B

Review: Prom (2011)

When modern pop cinema replaced heart-of-gold rebel archetypes with more multifaceted characters, where did the archetypes go? When Disney seemed to shift their focus from High School Musical-style films to more elaborate plots, where did the teen soap opera storylines go? When tween, teen, and young adult films began to offer more ethnically and economically diverse characters, where did the old racially stereotypical ensembles go?

They went to Prom.

Prom is a collection of all the outdated elements of popular teen film. Star-crossed lovers without depth. Random bursts of hormonal emotion. Smug, out-of-context attempts at wit. A disheartening lack of interracial couples. This repository of outcast archetypes boldly attempts to unravel years of social and cinematic progress.

In fact, the only somewhat unique character in Prom is Rolo, a curly-haired stoner who may or may not have a career in adult film. After spending the majority of the film casually responding to accusations that Athena, his Greek girlfriend from Canada, is not real, Rolo steals the show when he enters the prom-filled auditorium with a supermodel at his side. This spectacular entrance fascinates the other Prom characters and adds fuel to the idea that the Prom Committee may not be Rolo’s only extracurricular activity.

Sydney White, 17 Again, and even Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam (yes, the sequel) have more inherent entertainment value than the visually pleasing, regurgitated drama-slush of Prom.

Thank goodness for Rolo.

Joe Nussbaum: Director

Katie Wech: Writer

Aimee Teegarden, Thomas McDonell, DeVaughn Nixon: Stars

V vs. The Joker vs. Rorschach

Movies that sport simplified moralities have some charm. Good is good, and bad is bad. There are no ethical dilemmas to process. Captain Hook has few friends; Sharptooth is Littlefoot‘s enemy; and no one cheers for the Huns in Mulan. But, sometimes, our multifaceted minds overcome our oversimplified childhoods, and we fall to the temptations of a good moral dilemma.

The modern world of superheroes and masked villains is full of such ethical quandaries. In the early 1970s, Green Lantern and Green Arrow debated various sociopolitical issues, and Spider-Man became an anti-drug icon (long before Spider-Man 3, of course). These moral questions blurred the rigid lines of right and wrong that plagued early versions of some superhero universes.

As many masked individuals have taught us, disrupting the status quo can be good or bad, depending on the situation. If crime, oppression, or apathy is the status quo, then perhaps disruption is a good idea. If the status quo is relatively pleasant and harmless, then maybe disruption is bad.

In the spirit of absurdity, I have chosen three characters that represent various approaches to existing conditions and will offer some ideas about what a possible three-way brawl might look like.


The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous.

Watching V for Vendetta is a morally challenging experience. Or at least it should be. After the initial awe I experienced from watching a cleverly masked, cape-wearing, alliteration-abusing, knife-wielding, egg-cooking freedom fighter blow up buildings and dance around a secret hideout that could be featured on MTV Cribs, I realized that V is, in fact, a terrorist. In The Matrix, the Wachowski siblings dulled the moral backlash against violence by allowing the would-be terrorists to run around in a fake world. V for Vendetta, however, takes place in London. A future, dystopian version of London, but still London. V did not explode fabricated buildings inside a virtual reality with the power of his mind—he blew up real buildings in London. Aside from the possible sociopolitical arguments for anti-oppression coup d’états, V for Vendetta, the film, provides a platform for unrestricted violence against authority. At best, it is violence without adequate context. At worst, it is glorified Western terrorism.

And that is what makes V such a contender in the fight against the Joker and Rorschach. V is deliberate, confident, and he can do some crazy things with knives. He’s like a masked hibachi chef who has a problem with authority (which is, by the way, a wonderful idea for a new superhero).

The Joker

You see, madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push!

There have been many versions of the Joker. Heath Ledger played the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. And, before that, Jack Nicholson offered us an older, more bizarre Joker, a Joker that was a notch creepier than a birthday clown and a notch more acceptable than a birthday clown for a postpubescent birthday party.

There have been many animated versions of the Joker. Mark Hamill provided the Joker’s voice for a number of television shows and video games, and John DiMaggio, the guy who gives Futurama‘s Bender his voice, was the Joker in Batman: Under the Red Hood.

Think about that. The Joker has Luke Skywalker and Bender running through his voice box. If there were any character who could do justice to the juxtaposition of saber-wielding Skywalker and bolt-filled Bender, it’d be the Joker. As a villain, the Joker is a character that can make an audience laugh; question the appropriateness of laughing at dark, unprovoked violence; and then drown their moral apprehensions in cheers for more wit. As much as we love Batman, we don’t want to see the Joker die. Save Arkham Asylum for the unappealing villains like Killer Moth and Catman.

The Joker’s unpredictability is his greatest advantage. The Joker wouldn’t follow any of Brad Pitt‘s rules if he joined Fight Club. He’d wear a shirt and shoes AND tell all of friends about the group. And, if it were his first time at Fight Club, he wouldn’t fight. He’d just stand in the corner until the rest of the group forgot about him. Then he’d start multiple fights with multiple people. And then he’d leave because the Joker doesn’t join clubs.


Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon.

Rorschach has the punch of wasabi and the cleansing power of sorbet. Rorschach is the Chuck Norris of grim superheroes. His Bauer-like no-nonsense attitude complements his Anton Chigurh brutality. He has the voice of Batman, the wit of Mr. Blonde, and the wardrobe of Dick Tracy. He employs a Corleone-style morality and a Dignam-ish sense of duty. He is, in a word, badass.

Rorschach fights criminal aggression with patient brutality. To say he fights fire with fire is to misrepresent Rorschach’s intensity. Rorschach fights fire with hotter, bigger, more awesome fire. His ironclad integrity allows him to take his struggles against criminality personally without losing motivation or willpower. And we love him for it. In Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan’s blue manhood may be enjoying a lot of fresh air, but it is Rorschach who steals the show.

Morally, Rorschach is problematic. Because he subscribes to an end-justifies-means philosophy, Rorschach’s actions often score high on immorality scales, but we don’t question his status as a good guy. His response to villains is villainy, but Rorschach himself is still a hero. This paradox is unraveled somewhat by Rorschach’s self-sacrificial actions at the end of Watchmen. Rorschach must step aside for peace to survive.

This is why I believe that, if they were ever to fight, Rorschach would beat V and the Joker. Rorschach’s intensity and personal conviction ultimately trump V’s intentionality and the Joker’s unpredictability. Before you disagree, watch this trailer one more time:

Review: Melancholia (2011)

via IMDb.com

I saw Melancholia twice in theaters. The first time I saw the movie was at an artsy theater in Indianapolis. The audience was quiet, focused, and alert, absorbing all of the subtle and profound emotions portrayed by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

The second time was at a theater in a college town. The audience was loud, talkative, and arrogant. And they were definitely more intoxicated than the Indianapolis audience, which is weird because the artsy theater offered alcohol (and the university had a supposedly dry campus). Though, to be fair, I don’t blame the college students. If I was sporting a 1.5 GPA because of a moderate Call of Duty addiction and was going to see a movie about the slow demise of our planet, I’d probably drink too.

What intrigued me, however, was how the different audiences impacted my perception of the movie.

via IMDb.com

Before diving into that ocean of gaudy introspective self-praise, though, I need to explain a little about Melancholia. Lars von Trier‘s 2011 film is a beautiful juxtaposition of the emotional and mental struggles of two sisters and a newly discovered planet that likes to invade Earth’s personal space. Kirsten Dunst plays Justine, a personification of depression and doom. For the first half of the film, the audience watches Justine destroy her wedding bit by excruciating bit. The second half of the film follows Claire, Justine’s sister, as she tries to juggle Justine’s emotional state, a creepily quiet child, Jack Bauer, and a new planet that may end all life.

So when the booze-filled audience burped their laughs, I was surprised. Depression and interplanetary tango is not exactly comedic gold. But, in some ways, it worked. Melancholia offers a dark look at life on the edge (in more than one way), and sometimes mild laughter is a good way to deal with impending doom. Also, if good movies aren’t your preference and you get bored while watching this wonderful film, it’s sort of fun to imagine Spider-Man swooping in to save Kirsten. Or Kiefer Sutherland yelling at someone.

“Life is only on Earth. And not for long,” says Justine with tired eyes.

“Like Hell it is!” growls Jack Bauer, cocking his gun and running toward the sunset.

Lars von Trier: Director

Lars von Trier: Writer

Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Kiefer Sutherland: Stars

Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Steve Buscemi

via IMDb.com

If you’re looking for a movie about well-dressed, foul-mouthed gangsters who tell tasteless jokes and spend great amounts of time debating the finer sociological aspect of tipping at restaurants, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs is the movie for you. It is a simple, mobster-style movie peppered with flashbacks and gunfire. Though the plot is coated with mystery, the film plays more like a character-drama, chronicling some important moments in the lives of a few complicated individuals.

Oh, and congratulations, Steve Buscemi.


Congratulations, Steve BuscemiReservoir Dogs highlights the crazy antics of one of Buscemi’s most successful characters. In this case, “successful” refers not to the critics’ responses to Buscemi’s character but to the character’s relative success in the actual events that occur during the course of the movie. This relative success is celebration-worthy because Buscemi’s characters don’t often succeed. A Buscemi-played character is likely to become mentally unstable, mangled, or dead. Let’s look at some of Steve Buscemi’s characters:

  • Carl Showalter, Fargo (1996). A hot-tempered crook whose deranged mind has trouble processing changes to well-made plans. Deceased.
  • Rockhound, Armageddon (1998). A bizarre genius who shows no respect for the seriousness of working on an asteroid. Mentally unstable.
  • Donny KerabatsosThe Big Lebowski (1998). A curious pushover who suffers through verbal abuse and unprovoked hostility without complaint. Deceased.
  • James McCord, The Island (2005). A helpful techie whose philanthropic spirit doesn’t get to see the second half of the movie. Deceased.
  • Wiley, Grown Ups (2010). An overgrown child whose friends have little respect for his physical well-being. Mangled.

And that is just a sample. Sure, there are exceptions to this trend, but the already small list of anomalies is saturated with relatively unlikable characters like Randall Boggs from Monsters, Inc., Garland Greene from Con Air, and Clint Fitzer from I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.

Of course, given the release dates of these movies, it is possible that Buscemi perfected his oddball character type after playing Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs. But, still, it’s comforting to know that at least a couple of Steve Buscemi’s characters had relative success in their respective universes. And it is relative success: Mr. Pink probably died.

But, of course, all of this is a testament to Buscemi’s artistic skill. His ability to consistently provide moviegoers with compelling and often comedic weirdos/sociopaths is unparalleled. Thank you, Steve Buscemi, and congratulations.