In Defense of Intelligent Responses to Film

via IMDb.com

When I watch a movie for the first time, I try to experience it. I allow the colors and sounds to guide my thoughts. I set my brain to autopilot and repress the part of my mind that prides itself on analysis and critical thought. I forget about financial woes, annoying friends, and other daily stresses and immerse myself in whatever world is on the screen. My goal is to create memories, not brain wrinkles.

But that is the first time. If I watch the movie again, the gloves are off. My brain cracks its knuckles and prepares to pick apart the film. No scene, motif, or character escapes my analysis. My mind becomes a warrior of intellect, attacking ignorance and feeding on subtlety and nuance.

Some friends have told me that they don’t appreciate casual film analysis. Chicago is not a social commentary.” “I don’t like to think of Aslan as Jesus.” “I don’t care if WALL-E wants me to save the planet.” But these friends are missing a crucial element of movie-watching. There is nothing wrong with intelligent responses to film.

via IMDb.com

Many films offer viewers guided tours through various philosophical musings and sociopolitical statements, and those messages demand critical thought. Like literature, music, and other forms of art, the burden of interpretation falls to the viewer. Films cannot easily be divided into groups based on the existence of a moral or social statement—those with messages and those without—and moviegoers who are only willing to analyze films that advertise as social commentaries (like FernGully: The Last Rainforest and Sicko) hide themselves from deeper understandings of their favorite movies. Analyzing film does not somehow ruin the simple pleasures of movie-watching, and thinking about the more profound aspects of a specific movie does not lessen the movie’s initial impact. Instead, injecting critical thought into the movie-watching experience enhances the adventure. The Lord of the Rings is better when considering Tolkien’s background. 30 Rock is funnier with an understanding of the show’s social commentary. And appreciating Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical as social satire brings the music to life.

So, the next time a friends tells you to stop analyzing movies, just remember that critical thought is film’s best friend. Feel free to tell your friend something like, “I’ll stop analyzing movies when you start paying for my movie tickets. Until then, I pay for these experiences, and I’m going to make the most of them.”

Review: Flashbacks of a Fool (2008)

via imdb.com

Flashbacks of a Fool is a coming-of-age tale about forbidden romance, teenage innocence, and the dangers of old sea mines. More importantly, it is evidence that brilliance can exist without coherence or flow.

The movie is about a struggling Hollywood star and his bizarre past. The star, played by Daniel Craig, is a promiscuous, emotionally immature has-been who discovers that a childhood friend has passed away. Instead of casually reminiscing about his childhood while relaxing on his couch or listening to Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” over and over (which is a great way to relax, by the way), Joe Scot (Craig) decides to go for a semi-drunk swim. This, of course, brings about a rather long flashback, a flashback that lasts for nearly half of the movie and includes impromptu dancing, intergenerational intercourse, and unexploded mines.

Baillie Walsh, the writer/director, guides the audience through a beautiful cacophony of settings, camera angles, and storylines without regard for context or flow. This is Walsh’s first and only feature film, but that fact didn’t seem to stop the novice director from peppering the occasionally cliché film with some beautifully absurd scenes. The film is a constant war between art and kitsch, and Walsh doesn’t seem to care which side wins. Using the flashback gimmick as a weak invisibility cloak for randomness, Walsh embraces the kitsch of his protagonist’s childhood, and that willingness to flaunt cinematic spontaneity allows Walsh to blur the lines between gaudiness and beauty. The movie’s flashback scenes, as a whole, are like the contents of a particularly unique party mix—both delicious and unnerving—and their weirdness helps explain the protagonist’s reluctance to relive his past.

Flashbacks of a Fool encourages paradoxical descriptors. It is both fascinating and dull, gaudy and beautiful, kitschy and artsy, ignorant and self-aware, easy and confusing, complicated and simple. The video below (featuring the lovely Felicity Jones) is beauty without context. When the scene first appears in the film, it seems random and spontaneous, yet it is crucial to the film’s ending. Enjoy its beauty. Embrace its absurdity.

Baillie Walsh: Director

Baille Walsh: Writer

Daniel Craig, Harry Eden, and Felicity Jones: Stars

We’re Back! Back with Falcon Fan Fiction

Big B and Mo’ Money

After a long sabbatical, Big B and Mo’ Money are back, and we are pumped to talk about movies. And we will talk about movies. Eventually. But instead of talking about specific movies right now, we’d like to discuss something else.

Fan Fiction

Ladies and gentleman, fan fiction is powerful. It allows devout followers to keep their favorite shows and movies alive. It encourages unpaid writers to continue their trade. And it creates communities of like-minded individuals, lost souls who cannot quench their thirst for scenes simply by watching television. The world of fan fiction is an ever-changing world, a malleable universe that sits atop layers and layers of fabricated content.

Big B has written some fan fiction.

That’s right. Big B has created his own unique fan fiction. You have seen fan fiction for everything from RENT to Charlie Brown, from Ace Ventura to Happy Feet, from Scrubs to Green Lantern.  But you have perhaps never seen fan fiction for this State Farm commercial:

The Vengeful and Well-Insured Falcon

Gregory, the man with the falcon, and his wife, Liz, return home. Liz is obviously displeased with her husband’s purchase, but Gregory doesn’t seem to notice. As Liz washes the dishes, Gregory attempts to teach his falcon how to play foosball. Gregory’s loud attempts to high-five his falcon irritate Liz. After a few minutes, she walks to the living room to confront Gregory.

LIZ

Are you going to help me with these dishes?

GREGORY

Let me just finish this game. I can’t believe he’s beating me!

LIZ

(Lauging) It sounds like you love that falcon more than me.

GREGORY

LIZ

That’s it. We’re getting rid of the falcon. We’re going to take him to an animal shelter tomorrow. I don’t care if we get our money back.

GREGORY

(Turning quickly to Liz) Maybe I should get my money back from marrying you!

LIZ

Wha–

Gregory picks up his falcon and runs to the door. Liz, shocked, places one hand over her mouth and lets the other fall to her side. Gregory grabs his coat from the coat rack. Liz mumbles something as Gregory, maneuvering the bird from hand to hand, quickly puts on his coat.

GREGORY

You know what really kills me, Liz? We could have been happy together. The three of us. We could have been happy.

LIZ

I…

GREGORY

(Standing in the doorway) That’s fine. You don’t need to say anything. You just haven’t found your falcon yet.

Gregory stands in the doorway holding his falcon and looking at Liz for nearly a minute. Just before Gregory turns to leave, Liz’s expression changes. As the door closes, Liz speaks.

LIZ

…it looked at me. It looked right at me.

END

~Big B

Welcome Back: A Tribute to Will Smith

via IMDB.com

Though I eventually decided that “Welcome Back: A Tribute to Will Smith” most effectively described the intent of this blog post, any number of titles would have appropriately reflected my feelings. Other titles I considered:

  • Will Smith: The Man of My Heart
  • Huzzah! – The Story of Will Smith and Big B
  • Why I Haven’t Loved Since 2008
  • Men in Black III will be Off the Chain
  • I Am Going to Have Three Kids and Name Them Bagger Vance, Fresh Prince, and Agent J

Will Smith, star of movies like Independence Day (1996) and The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), has been absent from the screen since 2008, the year he made Seven Pounds. Given the dismal quality of Seven Pounds, true Will Smith fans were not surprised when Smith took some time away from acting. After all, artists need time to reflect on their work. But, as the years rolled on, Smithians (fans of Will Smith) began to wonder if their idol would ever return. Some coped with Smith’s absence by hosting The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air marathons while others reenacted the plot of Hitch with strangers. But, for all, the lack of Will Smith movies made those few years nearly unbearable.

via IMDB.com

But, finally, Smithians can put down their copies of Bad Boys II and breathe a sigh of relief. Will is back. No longer do they have to listen to hours of “Whip My Hair,” praying that Willow’s voice will somehow connect them to Mr. Smith. Men in Black III, starring Will Smith, should be in theaters in May of 2012.

Some faux-Smithians wonder if Smith will be rusty after such a long sabbatical. But, true Smithians simply reply, “He is legend,” and allow the anticipation for another Will Smith blockbuster to overshadow less important thoughts. To prepare for Smith’s return, some Smithians may rehearse the theme song of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Some may grow a mustache in honor of The Pursuit of Happyness (2006). Some may burn copies of Seven Pounds. And some may write fan fiction for Shark Tale (2004).

Me? I’m going to listen to this song. Again and again.

Big B’s Oscar Picks and Predictions (with some offal artwork)

Best Actress

Natalie Portman, “Black Swan”

Best Supporting Actress

Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”

Honorable Mention: Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”

Best Actor

Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”

Honorable Mention: James Franco, “127 Hours”

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale, “The Fighter”

Honorable Mention: John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone”

Best Picture

“The King’s Speech”

Best Director

Should win: Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”

Will win: David Fincher, “The Social Network”

Best Animated Film

“Toy Story 3”

Best Art Direction

Should win: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”

Will win: “Alice in Wonderland”

Best Cinematography

Should win: “Black Swan”

Will win: “True Grit” Continue reading

Romantic Movie Moments You Shouldn’t Attempt at Home

Say Anything… via IMDB.com

For hopelessly romantic introverts such as myself, the dating world can be unkind and troublesome. Words don’t come out right, and romantic gestures are misinterpreted. Luckily, we have movies to give us scripted romantic scenarios. From John Cusack and his stereo to Tom Hank’s online connection with Meg Ryan, movies have offered us wonderful pick-up lines and possible dating situations.

Unfortunately, some movies are more practical than others. And some romantic movie moments should never be attempted by nonfictional individuals. So, in the spirit of camaraderie amongst hopeless romantics, I’ve created a list of some movie moments you shouldn’t attempt at home.

(Romantic scenes often double as final scenes. So, by nature, this post is full of spoiler alerts. Consider yourself warned.)

via IMDB.com

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a wonderful movie with many clever lines to try on your date. The film’s romantic finale, though, probably shouldn’t be reproduced in real life. By the end of the scene, Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard are kissing in the rain and snuggling with a newly found cat. But, the cat has to be lost before it can be found. To orchestrate this admittedly romantic moment, Audrey Hepburn tosses her adorable feline from a taxi in the middle of a city during a rainstorm. While kissing in the rain should be on every romantic’s bucket list, animal cruelty should never be a by-product of infatuation. If Audrey Hepburn’s cat had run away (as perhaps it should have) then Audrey and her man-friend would have spent their romantic moment searching through crates and trashcans in a dark, wet alley. So, don’t try this moment at home unless your cat is a stuffed animal. Or imaginary.

via IMDB.com

Grease (1978)

Grease is full of semi-romantic scenes that are only possible in the leather-filled, fictional world of Rydell High. Amidst awkward drive-in flirting and dances on carnival rides, Grease doesn’t offer much practical dating advice. But there is one scene that should be particularly avoided in real life, and it’s not the film’s absurd flying-car ending. Ladies and gentlemen, don’t date drag racers. Even if they’re competing against age-old rivals or defending the honor of a bro, drag racing is a sport that is better left to Kenickie and the wonderfully dense characters of The Fast and the Furious (2001). Though I have never participated, I imagine drag racing in concrete ditches is less romantic than it may initially seem. Sure, drag racing offers whiplash and the intoxicating smell of fuel, but a true racer learns to turn. If Danny Zuko had stopped cheating on Sandy with Greased Lightning, Danny and Sandy could have ridden away in their flying car much earlier.

via IMDB.com

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Secret flirtations can be delightful. Filled with passionate whispers and subtle glances, such relationships can jump-start the heart of even the most cynical bachelor or bachelorette. Couples enticed by secrecy, however, must be willing to commit to the role. The whole appeal of clandestine relationships is the thrill of confidentiality (and perhaps love of one’s partner), and PDA is an easy way to unveil a once-classified hook-up. And, as seen in the secret relationship between Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman, these situations are further complicated when authority figures forbid such relationships. So, if you are going to yield to the temptations of secret love, remember that PDA is, indeed, public. If you can see others while you’re snogging near the red satin curtains of an old stage, the confused and oddly entertained audience in the theater can probably see you.

via IMDB.com

Serendipity (2001)

If you manage to find someone who makes your heart flutter and who can match wits with you in a game of flirtatious small talk, get his or her contact information. Serendipity is perhaps one of the most emotionally frustrating romantic comedies of the past couple decades. John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale meet, spend an adorable few moments together, and then, for some awful reason, decide to leave their future in the hands of fate. After the movie’s initial scenes, viewer have to sit through an irritating hour of wrong decisions and missed opportunities. Though the ending is happy, no last-minute romantic embrace can fully justify the emotional angst of handing possible love over to fate like giving a baby to a hooded figure sporting some hate tattoos at a low-budget daycare. Again, if you’ve managed to find someone worth seeing again, get some contact information. Phone number. E-mail address. Or enough random information to enable successful Facebook stalking. Get something.

Review: Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)

via IMDB.com

Yes, I know. Kelly Asbury, director of Shrek 2, is bold for suggesting that moviegoers pay money for yet another version of Shakespeare’s famous play. For many, the majesty of the classic faded after numerous high school projects and reading quizzes. And, even if Asbury can create a respectable version of Romeo and Juliet, perhaps lawn gnomes aren’t the best vehicle, especially when compared to gritty movies like Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Andrzej Bartkowiak’s Romeo Must Die (2000).

But, the crew of Gnomeo & Juliet (2011) knew all this. The film’s opening scene features a single gnome who explains that, yes, this story has been told many times before and that, yes, they are going to tell it again. But, this time, it will be different. And it is different. Never before has an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play featured the voices of Ozzy Osbourne and Hulk Hogan (for some reason). Not to mention the whole lawn gnome element.

Gnomeo & Juliet offers a pleasant and simple version of the classic play. The movie follows Shakepeare’s storyline relatively well, which is impressive given the animated cast of gnomes, clay bunnies, and plastic flamingos. Any large diversion from the original script is explained during the movie. In fact, the only questionable use of Shakespeare’s fame is the film’s portrayal of Shakespeare himself. The playwright appears as an oddly unlikable Shakepeare statue (voiced by Patrick Stewart) who, for some reason, doesn’t seem to care much about the lives of lawn gnomes.

If nothing else, the movie sounds fantastic. The smooth and upbeat music of Elton John (one of the film’s executive producers) is sprinkled with the vocal talents of James McAvoy (Gnomeo), Emily Blunt (Juliet), Michael Caine, Jim Cummings, Stephen Merchant, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Patrick Stewart, and Julie Walters. And, of course, Hulk Hogan, Ozzy Osbourne, and Dolly Parton lend their voices as well.

I recommend Gnomeo & Juliet. It sounds great and it looks great. The first ten minutes or so are a bit awkward and unfunny, but it’s easy enough to pass that time by counting the not-so-subtle allusions to Romeo and Juliet or counting the changes made to Elton John’s songs to better accommodate the lives of lawn ornaments. Make it a drinking game. Just don’t play in the theater.

Indie/Alternative Music in Blockbuster Films

The “Yes Man” soundtrack heavily featured Eels (via IMDB.com)

Recently, theaters (and not just the artsy theaters) have offered experiences similar to those gained from chilling in a store’s alternative music section for two hours. This phenomenon is not new, but the status of independent and alternative artists in big-name films has shifted. Now, songs from such artists are highlighted as climactic-moment songs or as songs in movie trailers instead of being relegated to background music for on-screen moments of contemplation.

Before I continue, I offer a disclaimer: I have no education or background that makes me particularly qualified to discuss independent or alternative music. Read this post as one would read the comments section of a YouTube video (approach it with vague interest and hints of cynicism). To eliminate semantically driven debate over “indie” and “alternative,” I will use the labels given to these artists by third parties such as iTunes and Last.fm.

The growing phenomenon of alternative music in blockbuster films first gained my attention when I rented Yes Man (2008) on pay-per-view. The film’s soundtrack heavily features the brilliant music of the Eels. (The only other group on the soundtrack is Munchausen By Proxy, a fictional band featuring Zooey Deschanel and Von Iva.) Eels contributed a total of nine songs to the movie, including “Sound of Fear” and “Flyswatter.” And Yes Man isn’t the only movie to use the Eels’ music: the group also has soundtrack credits on movies such as Shrek the Third (2007) and Shrek 2 (2004). Other artists such as Eddie Vedder and Belle and Sebastian have benefited from the popularity of blockbusters as well. Eddie Vedder provided the music for Into the Wild (2007), and Belle and Sebastian’s music appeared in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008). The O.C. has used or featured music from Sufjan Stevens, Imogen Heap, Beck, and Modest Mouse. And Bon Iver, Death Cab for Cutie, Grizzly Bear, Muse, OK Go, and St. Vincent, among others, all have tracks on the New Moon (2009) soundtrack. And, recently, Florence and the Machine was featured on Glee (a wonderful episode).

New Moon via IMDB.com

So what does this mean? Nothing, really, except that indie-loving movies such as Juno (2007), Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008), and (500) Days of Summer (2009) no longer have a monopoly on the use of independent and alternative music. Now, moviegoers are just as likely to hear their favorite independent artist in a film featuring Robin Williams as they would in a film starring Michael Cera. And, given how much Cera’s particular brand of teen angst is starting to annoy me, I consider this a welcome change.

Now, for those of you who are still skeptical about your favorite independent or alternative artist ending up in a blockbuster, consider this trailer of It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010) featuring “Oh My God” by Ida Maria. Regardless of how you feel about the movie, you must admit that Ida Maria’s song fits this preview beautifully.

Review: The King’s Speech (2010)

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter (movie photo via Oscar.go.com)

Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech (2010) is a delightfully inspirational and intriguing movie about stuttering, family issues, and the endearing relationship between King George VI of England and Lionel Logue. But the quality of the film is obvious. The King’s Speech received twelve Oscar nominations, seven Golden Globe nominations, four Screen Actors Guild Award nominations, and thirteen nominations from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. The King’s Speech speaks for itself.

To add more praises for The King’s Speech to the Internet would be a waste of virtual space. So, instead, I’d like to talk about Timothy Spall. Timothy Spall‘s performance in The King’s Speech as Winston Churchill has received some criticism. Some call it Tom Hooper’s only mistake. Others consider Spall to be a poor representation of Churchill. The Guardian calls Spall a “woefully thin pastiche,” and USA Today writes, “The only weak link is Timothy Spall, miscast as Winston Churchill. It’s not clear who Spall is playing, but it doesn’t appear to be Churchill.” For those who haven’t seen The King’s Speech, here is a clip featuring Timothy Spall as Churchill.

Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill (photo via news.uk.msn.com)

I disagree with the criticism of Timothy Spall’s performance. So, to counter such criticism, I offer three arguments:

1) Churchill was an intriguing character. His cigar poses are awesome. His drunken episodes are legendary. And some of his first words as Prime Minister to the British House of Commons were “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Also, Churchill’s interests were as broad as his chin. He enjoyed painting and writing, and he even received the 1952 Nobel Prize in Literature. So, when critics say that Timothy Spall’s version of Churchill didn’t match the rest of the picture, they didn’t consider that perhaps that’s because Timothy Spall believes that Winston Churchill’s awesome qualities didn’t match the rest of twentieth-century Europe.

via IMDB.com

2) Who else? Some critics believe strongly that Timothy Spall was a poor choice, but I have yet to hear any feasible alternatives. Winston Churchill, though awesome, provides a unique challenge to directors who like to create semi-accurate physical portrayals of historical figures. To understand my point, consider, for a moment, some possible alternatives. Frank Langella: This lanky Churchill would be too similar to Langella’s portrayal of Nixon, and, while it may be interesting, a Nixon-infused Churchill is not what The King’s Speech needs. Alec Baldwin: Intriguing but ultimately wrong; this emotionless Churchill lacks the raw manliness of the real man. Martin Sheen: This Churchill doesn’t sound like Churchill. Bill Nighy: This Churchill has the sound and the attitude but not the look. Geoffrey Rush: Already in The King’s Speech. My conclusion is this: Timothy Spall may not be the right Churchill, but he is certainly the best.

3) Love for Peter Pettigrew. Timothy Spall has devoutly played Wormtail in every Harry Potter movie from Prisoner of Azkaban to Deathly Hallows: Part 1. That alone should earn him our love and respect.

So, The King’s Speech is a wonderful movie with well-written dialogue, excellent directing, and one stunning Winston Churchill.

Review: Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

Film picture via Oscar.go.com

Prior to seeing Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010), I knew very little about the world of graffiti and street art. After seeing Banky’s film, I still know little about this world, but I now have a growing appreciation for those who can climb about rooftops late at night with large sheets of personalized paper and buckets of paste. And I have an even bigger appreciation for those who can do so with grace and style.

The film outlines the evolution of Thierry Guetta (later known as Mr. Brainwash), a hopelessly enthusiastic videographer and aspiring street artist. The film’s juxtaposition of Guetta with the suave, laid-back Banksy offers viewers a comedic introduction to a number of street art subtleties, not the least of which is the existence of street art imitators. Guetta, though endearing, is (spray-)painted as a somewhat annoying copycat of established street artists such as Shepard Fairey and Banksy. After discovering the world of street art, Guetta follows Fairey, Space Invader, and others as they make and share street art. Guetta documents the entire process, occasionally offering odd commentaries to otherwise stunning scenes. Guetta later tries his hand at beautifying cities with his own street art and eventually hosts his own high-profile art show as Mr. Brainwash. The transformation of Thierry Guetta into Mr. Brainwash challenges many assumptions about art and graffiti. Even Banksy himself wonders aloud (with perfect comedic timing) if art is truly accessible: “I used to encourage everyone I knew to make art; I don’t do that anymore.”

Exit Through the Gift Shop via IMDB.com

Some speculate that Exit Through the Gift Shop is another elaborate Banksy hoax. Perhaps Banksy hired Thierry Guetta. Or, maybe, Guetta and Banksy are one and the same. As a recent convert to the wonders of street art, including the works and character of Bansky, I have no guess as to how the film came to be. Hoax or not, Banksy’s film is wickedly entertaining and offers a commentary on some genuine issues within the world of street art. The film, despite its aggressive satire, is surprisingly inspirational. Were my drawings anything more than oddly high-brow stick figures, I’d be tempted to share them with the world. For those, like me, who don’t have great artistic abilities, Exit Through the Gift Shop is an entertaining reminder that beauty can be found (and put) anywhere. Amidst this often misunderstood counter-cultural movement, true art can emerge.

Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy’s directorial debut, received a Oscar nomination in the Documentary Feature category, and Banksy was nominated for an award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer. In the Oscar race, I’m rooting for Exit Through the Gift Shop. I have nothing against the other Documentary Feature nominees (Gasland, Inside Job, Restrepo, and Waste Land), but I’m curious if Banksy would show up to accept his award.