DEFCON 4: A Midterm and “An Ode to Mr. Mainstream”

 PROLOGUE
“DEFCON 4: A Midterm”

64727_10201711593896861_1112799906_nIt’s been over two months since you last heard from me so I guess I have some explaining to do because the blog life, as I have discovered, is not for me. Now that the mid-point of the year is safely behind us I can update you with assured confidence that this entire project is tearing at the seams because we are in the 208th day of 2015 and I have only seen 149 movies I had never seen before. That is 59 movies behind the goal that I set for myself on January 1st, but I’m not back to complain or come up with excuses as to why things have turned out this way because that is just not for me.

This year has been an experiment to see how a 365-day dedication to an interest, hobby, and obsession of mine would affect how much I love it in the end and perhaps help me understand if the craft is something that I could pursue in my professional life. I am confident in saying that results have begun to reveal themselves, although they haven’t been exactly what I was expecting.

Of course, I still love movies. What has prevented me from trucking through this assignment are the delays I’ve had catching up with the likes of Star Wars and such films that I’ve seen so many times that estimation is pointless. But what I’ve come to understand from this has is how much I appreciate what is familiar to me. I’ve reminded myself where my influences as a hopeful writer come from and I’ll always know where to go when I find myself in an emotional or psychological slump because while I have been continuously watching movies that clam up my free time, I have also come to understand why it is I enjoy the activities that used to fill the same time slot. And instead of chambering these feelings and forcing myself to commit, I’ve accepted them and told myself everyday for the last 206 days, “I’ll just watch two movies tomorrow.”

And this is why I’m beginning to understand that although I still love movies and will continue to indulge this interest, there are other forms of art and writing that I enjoy just as much. Which is why instead of working on this blog I’ve finally gotten around to initiating ideas that have been stuck in my head for the past two or three years. I have found alternate forms of indulgence that I’ve taken part in and perhaps found forms of writing and possibilities that could create new futures for myself (and even produce future blogs that might interest me more).

But I’m not saying I’m giving up. I haven’t accepted failure yet, I have just now understood what it means to accept and nurture what makes me happy in life and roll with it instead of creating pressures and goals that will only harm what I accomplish. I believe there is still hope as I continue and perhaps one day I’ll have a 57-movie marathon to catch myself up with this ridiculous task.

“An Ode to Mr. Mainstream”

So as promised, I am back with the third installment to my devoted scribblings dedicated to blockbusters, franchises, and everything fun that can still be found in this scrambled business of movies.

Now I feel it is time to pay tribute to a man that has dedicated the last 14,600 days to movies and who practically invented the summer blockbuster. He has given us a collection of films that are not only pleasing to the eyes and ears but also to the mind and soul for all ages. He has shot movies from black-and-white to color, from PG to R, with protagonist’s young and old and with violence and love. This man is, of course, Steven Spielberg.

Before I begin, let me take a moment to address the criticisms he commonly receives and to talk to the film nerds who pass off Spielberg for his business in the mainstream, as a poster boy of Hollywood, and for a filmography that has grown so enormous that it inevitably holds a few meant to be forgotten. You may also subscribe to the belief that he is “overly sentimental” and forget works like Schindler’s List, The Color Purple, Amistad, and Munich. Or maybe you’ve forgotten what it was like to experience wonder and excitement in the movies, when action movies used to be fun, before they became dark, gritty, overexposed with violence, and contain roided up heroes. Or even what it was like to see something you’ve never seen before.

In this day and age, as distribution methods are advancing and independent movies are growing in numbers, big hitters like Spielberg have become almost unnecessary and newer, mostly younger and obscure directors are running with the baton. Sure it might not be as fun to discuss his design with your friends as say, Wes Anderson or Joe Swanberg, but for a director who is known more for his work in the cineplex than the art house it’s difficult to come across another filmmaker who explicitally proves through his work to share an enormous passion for his influences and contemporaries alike, and who incorporates an expansive knowledge of film and world history to give us the most sincere performances of mystifying and actual events that no other director has accomplished.

Jaws (1975) – Shot 1

Shot 2

What I’m here to prove is that Spielberg has
exceptionality in his craft to give you art that utilizes techniques passed down from directors of another age but blends them into a narrative that was designed to be experienced with a bucket of popcorn. In Jaws, the suspense it has become famous for may be attributed in some instances to an editing technique known as montage that calls back to Russian film pioneer Sergei Eisenstein. It involves cut placements that reduces the action physically seen on camera but still allows the audience to construct the movements or narrative themselves. An example of this can be seen during a scene as Robert Shaw’s Quinn must apply his hatchet to the rope that connects the shark to his boat. In two shots, Quinn is seen popping up into the frame with a raised hatchet and in the next shot the rope is snapped. The unnecessary fluid motion of the hatchet coming down both waists time in the heat of the moment and is, not to mention, much more simple to film.

IMG_0717_edited-1

Munich (2005)

Since this major debut as a serious filmmaker, he went on to pay homage to B-movie serials with Raiders of the Lost Ark to spawn the Indiana Jones trilogy he’s probably become most famous for. His quoted inspiration of the film was to make “something he grew up on”, listing Spy Smasher (1942) among an assortment of other hero flicks.

No citation needed

But getting further into his collection of period pieces like Empire of the Sun, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, Munich, and Lincoln, his historical accuracy has become something to be applauded and he received a Best Director nomination for all but Empire (but Christian Bale sure was cute). Since 1993 he has worked with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski who was brought onto Schindler’s List to tackle the haunting black and white imagery of the Holocaust. Here they used documentary style techniques to halt the narrative and capture the realism and pain of the event, which was so effective that they then echoed it most notably in the opening D-Day sequence of Saving Private Ryan, for which they both received Academy Awards once again. They’ve continued to make period pieces since, but in Munich their recreation of the massacre at the 1972 Olympics is something special to be noted, as it was played out in conjunction with archival news footage, such as, framing the famous shot of the Palestinian kidnapper overlooking the balcony on the TV within his own recreation of the moment. It lead to Spielberg being nominated once again, although he didn’t win.

It’s an eye like this that has allowed him to create some of the most iconic images in film history, such as E.T flying the silhouetted bicycle across the moon or the shadow of the man with the fedora hat. He has been the leading director in creating wondrous and unbelievable moments that are impossible to forget and have been engrained into our culture, and he emphasizes them with a recurring technique coined as the “Spielberg Face”, which includes a tracking close-up on a characters face and holding it as the scene unfolds off camera.

“The Spielberg Face” Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

the-man-with-the-keys-remains-a-mystery-for-most-of-the-film

E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982)

What allows these moments to be memorable is the absolute dedication he has for his protagonists, and delegating importance to the scenes unfolding for his characters. In his earlier work, this often resulted in his antagonists being undefined or unrevealed,
which actually became a beauty in his work. From this he added another method to create suspense as well as room for the protagonist and supporting cast to interact and grow with each other, free of repression. Most notable example of this is again in Jaws, as the shark makes a slow reveal throughout the picture from a shadow and a brush against a skinny dipper’s leg, to a finale that reveals it’s massive, empty dark eyes, and the blood and matter of it’s innards. The same slow reveal was used again with the T-Rex and raptors in Jurassic Park, and to add, this introduction gave us the first look at the pinnacle of CGI and animatronic achievement.  There is also room to point out  E.T: The Extra Terrestrial in which the antagonist appears only to be a “man with keys on his belt” for the majority of the film.

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

So the questions become, how does Spielberg maintain relevancy in a culture where the mainstream is no longer “cool”? Will he be still be able to live up to the work he did in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s? Will he be remembered as a skillful and influential director or the man who invented the summer blockbuster and knew how to sell a movie ticket? These answers are obviously unanswerable, but he’s 68 years old and  is set to direct two more movies in the coming years, attached to several others, and has a chance to follow up his Best Director nomination of Lincoln this year with Bridge of Spies, which is set to release in October. But I believe that he will be able to answer all those questions positively by not doing a damn thing differently, because now that he is no longer in the spotlight his work can be appreciated for what it truly is, and this is of course, art.

Like I said, of course there are a few Spielberg movies meant to be forgotten in his 55 director credited films, so without further ado …

TOP 5 Spielberg Moments We Should All Just Forget And Live Our Lives In Blissful Ignorance

  1. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skill – “Nuking the Fridge”
  2. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – All of Kate Capshaw’s scenes
  3. The Terminal – I don’t know, inventing the country of Krakozhia? It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it and all I remember of it is that it’s very forgettable.

To be honest, I’m having trouble with this one. I’m looking through his filmography and some might be better than others but there’s nothing really terrible on it. By the way, did you know that he wrote The Goonies and Poltergeist? Because I didn’t. So let’s us just forget those three things and be done with it.

Thanks for reading this week, I’ve hope you’ve stuck around to the end. Now it’s your turn to disagree with me. Post your Top 5 in a comment and engage in discussion here or on Facebook.

CUE: a John Williams score

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Sequels and Franchises or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

IMG_0718We’re living an age of hysteria. With an influx of sequels and franchises taking over theaters they say nuclear winter is coming in Hollywood. From comic books alone there are at least 30 new films to be expected in the next five years.

  • Marvel has 12 movies in the works, including Ant Man, two more Avengers, and finally it’s own Spiderman co-produced with Sony (but we can still expect Sony to have a Spiderman animated feature).
  • DC has Batman vs. Superman and 10 more follow ups such as Suicide Squad and Justice League as well as 7 films still rumored or in development.
  • And Fox has 6 more movies in the works including Deadpool, Fantastic Four and it’s sequel, and the last we’ll see of X-Men with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.

Did you get all that? And from other franchises we can expect at least five more Star Wars movies, more Star Trek, more Harry Potter, more Pirates of the Caribbean — It’s daunting to say the least. I was once worried about this as well, but I see now that as long as we’re able to admit that this is a new trend for the industry, or at least an embellishment of a trend that has always existed, for sake of our existence as movie lovers it is actually an omen of good things to come.

I will agree, that there are exceptions and movies do exist for the love of money but that has always been the case, and even so, now that American Pie is done making naked band camp spinoffs these are coming few and far between. There is so much to be appreciated from franchises today that are leading us into a new era of cinema, such as–

  1. The Production: What we are seeing 3227693047_5184aecbfc_bnow hearkens back to is the
    studio picture days of the 1940s, 50’s and 60’s, or the “Golden Age” that created epics like Gone with the Wind, Ben-Hur, and The Ten Commandments which blended flamboyant technicolor, special effects, high profile actors, and imposing casts with scores of extras. These may not have been part of a franchise, but they are still evidence of studios shelling out huge dollars to make a picture that looked like nothing we had seen before and pull in enormous amounts of cash.
  2. The Experience: In witnessing the spectacle of human accomplishment and ingenuity of the screen, there’s a real appreciation to be had for the people who spent weeks at a time and thousands of dollars to make sure the three seconds of special effects you just saw looked perfect. And in spite of the epic production that is unfolding before your eyes there is a tone set for the audience that is not so much to be taken seriously but something that that allows us to enjoy our time in the theater. The Friday night out to the movies still exists because of the summer blockbuster and is what keeps concession stands and drive-in theaters existing.
  3. The Turn Over: My favorite aspect of the movie business is its capability to withstand the years to fall into place for future generations and make “family time” all the more interesting. It’s why franchises like James Bond and Star Wars are still being made today and why they’re just as exciting as they were 30 or 50 years ago. You may argue that these burst with flaws because they lack an original idea, but really, from this time spent through out the generations they’ve been able to become something different from what they once were. James Bond has existed long enough to see Cold War tensions rise, fall, and rise again, and have an entirely new outlook at the world around him. He has also grown as a character and been reborn through six different reincarnations to add depth to himself and his history. You can’t argue that type of redefinition didn’t require outbursts of creativity.
  4. The Excitement: These new movies know how to draw a crowd. The Star Wars Episode VII teaser trailer has over 50 million views on YouTube alone and is expected to set records opening weekend.  Fans will form lines in front of the cinema days (or months for the dedicated) before its release on December 18th, which will fall as a holiday for many as well as a means of connection between people around the world
  5. And the Money: Of course the center of the issue and the reason why so many hate franchises. But what I love about the money they are pulling in is that it’s allowing studios to take more risks and expand an industry that we all love. The employment in the film and sound industry spiked last year by adding 40 thousand jobs and by 2018, the revenue of filmed entertainment is expected to increase by 19%. And this is thanks to the trend we all have looked down upon. Nine of the ten movies with records for the largest crews ever employed have been released in last ten years as part of a franchise, with Iron Man 3 holding the record with 3,310 members credited to the project (complete list from film blogger, Stephan Follows, here)
Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 5.49.43 PM

Data acquired from Statista.com

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Data acquired from Statista.com

Now, I’ve done my share of complaining about the Oscars but something has been happening to the recent winners in the last 8 years or so since the onslaught of superhero movies and sequels began. I have spoken briefly of this before, but the films I’m talking about are the likes of Birdman, The Artist, Slumdog Millionaire, No Country for Old Men, and The Hurtlocker specifically, which are major studio productions but seem to hold the sensibility of a independent work. Birdman appears to be filmed in one take and blasts a soundtrack full of Jazz, The Artist was a silent movie, Slumdog Millionaire was a Bollywood movie, No Country for Old Men was anticlimactic and swirling with existential crisis, and The Hurt Locker came from a somewhat unknown director and provided an unbiased look at a controversial war.

There are plenty of other examples of “risky” films throughout the history of Oscar winners, but by looking at the list of nominations in the past two years alone you can see the trend is growing, and will continue to grow as sequels and franchises expand even farther in the next few years. Although Paramount might be scolded for bringing us more and more Transformers, they’ve also been able to bring us Nebraska, Wolf of Wall Street, Interstellar, and Selma. Movies that spat in the space of conformity by creating stories that look different and are told in indescribable ways. The same can be said for Warner Bros which has brought us The Hobbit movies, Godzilla, 300: Rise of an Empire, and Horrible Bosses 2 as a means for Her, The Lego Movie, Interstellar, and Gravity. 

And what will we be seeing in the future?

My TOP 5 Upcoming, Anticipated Risks

  1. Inside Out (2015) – We’ll see soon if this was actually a risk or not, but Pixar’s latest film takes a drastically different turnInside-Out-Teaser-Poster after a largely successful return to the Princess fantasy. Synopsis: “The five emotions inside a girl’s head vie for control after a life-changing event.” What? Pixar is tackling the world of child psychology? The only element that could make this film stand out more was if it was hand drawn.
  2. The Great Wall (2016) – The largest film ever to shoot entirely in China for international release. It also brings in a Chinese director lesser known to Hollywood, Yimou Zhang, to direct Matt Damon and Willem Dafoe among a large cast of internationally lesser known Chinese actors.
  3. The Revenant­ (2015) – It’s a film about Hugh Glass (Who?). It’s Alejandro González Iñárritu’s next project and although he has found a huge amount of success in recent years and Leo DiCaprio is involved, it doesn’t give him immunity to a flop (see Ridley Scott). He’s doing things unlike any filmmaker today and being praised for risky innovations.
  4. The Jungle Book: Origins (2017) – Releasing a year after Disney makes it’s return to the story, Andy Serkis is directing this live-action adaptation which will focus closer to the original Rudyard Kipling stories.
  5. Steve Jobs (2015) –  From Aaron Sorkin and directed by Danny Boyle, the film ignores the landscape of Jobs’ life and instead zeros in on three very specific moments as he launches some of his icon products, but not even getting close to the iPod. The movie actually ends in 1988 with his unveiling of the iMac and after Ashton Kutchers letdown, Jobs, this does feel like waters to tread lightly.

WILD CARDS

  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant Man, Doctor Strange – Perhaps I’m pushing the definition of “risk”, but these much lesser known comics have been able to see the light of day now thanks to the huge success of their predecessors.

As these are all highly anticipated films with widening budgets as well as artistry yet to be practiced in the mainstream, I feel the future of Hollywood to be promising. There is something to be appreciated from it all and who’s to say that what many find entertaining is not an acceptable practice of the form. There will always be letdowns and frustrations in the business but as the art form continues to grow and gain wider audiences it will always find ways to impress as well. As I see it, there is an impressing horizon as long as we continue to create.

Thanks for reading this week. Now it’s your turn to disagree with me. Post your Top 5 in a comment and engage in discussion here or on Facebook. In the spirit of this post, prepare yourself for another upcoming sequel to complete the trilogy. Until next time, goodbye.

(365) Days of Film Will Return 

The 21st Century Critic

Hello there. It’s been awhile. A liIMG_0627ttle over two months actually but it’s been 113 days since I started and I’ve made it through 105 films that I’ve never seen before. Am I worried that I’m falling behind? Not at all. Why? Because now I finally have a sense of what all of this is about. My blog that is. The meaning of life still terrifies me but I’ll take my epiphanies one step at a time. I’ve done some thinking since the last time you’ve heard from me so I return to you finally with a fancy new header completed with a derived brand new title, (365) Days of Film.

In order to grow, I must admit to my mistakes. Something was really bothering me about my ramblings thus far and I now I understand what it was. You may have all been thinking it but I’ll be the first to call myself a hypocrite as I forced myself into a style of writing I wasn’t comfortable with nor truly believed in. This came into hindsight shortly after the publishing of my last post, “Short and Sweet”, which concluded with a review for a film I had seen recently called Ida. I won’t change my opinion and I’ll take the stand that it is truly spectacular and deserved the Oscar that it received, but because of this I came to contradict an idea I had written only weeks before. My opinion of film evaluation has been obvious since my rant on the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” series, but as you see, I still felt compelled to throw myself into the flames of highfalutin film criticism which I was previously attempting to dowse.

My opinion doesn’t matter, nor should it, nor should any opinion written by even the most professional of critics. When it comes down to a single writer influencing what an audience should and should not see, they’ve not only failed the audience but also the art form, since art is only functional in the presence of a viewer. What does matter is discussion, especially in an age where we must find a way to get along with each other on this shared network of communication.

Critics have now found a home in social media and it would appear that we are doomed. Now that we are comfortably set in the 21st century, the classic film critic who holds a job at the local newspaper and provides us with their opinions each week is becoming an antiquated practice that has found a way to hang on by its finger tips and manipulate technology to its benefit. They may be found within sites like Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, and Letterboxd with the capability of posting their work in the form of online articles, websites, podcasts, comment boards, or, *gasp*, blogs, which has culminated to form a hodgepodge of opinions and ideas that all together become muddled into a single statistic or “certified fresh” rating. In a sense, they’ve all been locked into a free-for-all of singular ideas with the intent of outdoing the next, but despite this chaos, I am here to offer up my opinion that there is still room for the film critic to succeed in the modern day, but that we now must let the traditional practice fall and embrace the power of community.

There is an infinite amount of room to let our opinions shine, but due to the sheer expanse of this medium, the real and truly bright ideas get bogged down by petty arguments and ignorance. The 21st century film critic a mediator. Whenever a conversation starts on the internet it’s only two comments away from developing into a discussion on religion or a berating of the publisher’s sexual orientation. A film critic is someone who navigates through the audience’s ideas, hatred, and applause,  and compiles them into something legible and understanding from both sides. They will still be able to maintain a unique voice through explanations of what may be expected from the art form and where it will take us as an audience and also be capable of giving an objective stance on the film and how it will play with the current trends in Hollywood.

This idea is not necessarily new. Film criticism like this can already be found in NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour or, to a lesser degree, the Filmspotting podcast which blends classic film criticism and discussion. What they both do, however, is look at films objectively and ignore the stigma that may be attached to them. Check out Filmspotting‘s recent episode solely dedicated to the Fast and Furious franchise which followed their discussion on Satyajit Ray. These two discussions bridge a gap of trends that polarizes Hollywood. Right now we are seeing a flux of sequels and franchises expanding in ways we’ve never seen before, and it’s because the internet swirls with excitement every time a new one is released. It becomes impossible for any production company to ignore the strength of this voice so they give the people what they seem to want. But in this new wave of criticism, what can be expected is a bridged gap between what is looked at as a “Blockbuster” and what is applauded as an “Oscar Pick.”

Movies thrive through viewership and no matter what anyone else tells you, they are subjective. Scoff all you want at the sequels and franchises but you can’t ignore the fact that they are expanding the industry and from this will come something you have never seen before. Production companies will have the ability to take chances and form something new and artistic, and with the help of a solid organization of film criticism that scouts the waters of expectation they will have the foresight to create something that holds the sensibility of an indie drama but disguises itself as a major Hollywood production. I believe we’ve already seen an example of this with Birdman. With a moderating voice in this day and age, work may be successfully derived by popular opinion as well educated knowledge of the form.

I may not be the certified example of the 21st Century critic, but I ask you to involve yourself in this experiment with me. I’ve asked you before to involve yourself in discussion for the sake of community but I now ask you to involve yourself in discussion here for the sake of the art. Within the next couple posts I will be discussing sequels and franchises and continuing my argument that they are beneficial for the industry, so I hope you all will join me in this discussion and inform me of your opinions so I may form a better idea of where the industry stands and where this style and practice will take us. For myself, I will continue my Top 5 section –

My Top 5 Film Franchises/Universes

  1. Star Wars
  2. James Bond
  3. Harry Potter
  4. Pixar
  5. Marvel

As usual, give me your own Top 5’s, post your opinions either here or on Facebook, and of course, discuss. Thanks for reading this week. I have high hopes for the remainder of this blog and wish we may continue down this path. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Nick Alderink

Short and Sweet

Strawberry Shortcakes

I like my movies how I like my cake

Given the spirt of the subject matter, this will be a shorter post than my previous. In taking the time to watch as many movies as I have been, working two jobs, maintaining a personal life, and keeping my free time as well as sanity, to be given the opportunity to watch a movie with a 90 minute runtime is a treat. It just so happens that a few weeks ago I felt I deserved a treat for all the “hard” work I’ve been doing and came across Ida, a Polish film clocking in at 92 minutes. I’ll get to my review of it in a bit, but first let me reflect on the experience.

I truly appreciate the grandiosity of film as a medium of art as well as entertainment. Cinema has proved itself many a time in its potential to outdo and transcend itself that I can name numerous titles to act as contradictions to the point I am trying to make. For instance, I have no problem sitting down to watch epics like Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, or Lord of the Rings because they’re able to endure with the hand of ambitious visuals and storytelling that still leave me in awe and wanting more. But even so, when a smaller film is able to grab and leave you with emotions in the time it takes you to hand-write and send five thank-you notes to people who support you, it may even become a greater achievement.

About four years ago, Collider posted an article with the statistics of how a Best Picture has been made over the years and found that “nearly 70% of all Best Picture winners at the Oscars are over 2 hours long”. Since then, this trend has succeeded to continue with an average runtime of 123.5 minutes for the current nominees (thanks, Boyhood) and 125.67 minutes for last years nominees (thanks, Wolf of Wall Street). At the time the article was written, only four Best Pictures had been won by films with an 90-100 minute runtime: The Broadway Melody (1929), Marty (1955), Annie Hall (1977), and Driving Miss Daisy (1989). Since then, The Artist (2011) was able to join the group 22 years later. But how can this be explained? Maybe because movies become intimidating when they have so much to say and it becomes hard not to like them. They tower over you like a the bully in the schoolyard that will punch you and make you eat dirt if you don’t. On top of that, it becomes even more intimidating when a movie is praised by critics for it’s spectacle and you’re left wondering what it’s all about.  When done right, a shorter movie may lead to a much more enjoying experience.

After watching Madonnas performance at the Grammy’s online as well as Katy Perry’s 13 minutes of psychedelia during that game of American Football two weeks ago, I realized how nice it is to sometimes just crank the Ramones and let the blitzkrieg bop, or hear how Jack White fell in love with a girl, or perhaps even allow the The Beatles to Eleanor their Rigby. They’re free of excess, they’re refreshing, exciting, and allow you reflect over them with a clear mind. After sitting in a theater for two hours or more, maintaining the average adult attention span of 8 seconds, your brain has been given so much to process that your opinion is left to fester and boil into a cultivating stew of emotion. So at the end of it you think, ” There was so much it had to say. I have so many thoughts. I have so much to say. I liked it.” It becomes a question of what you liked better, the film itself or the experience of it.

I may jump around with my opinions so I hate to criticize movies for merely their length because there is no problem with enjoying the experience of sitting down to be amazed by a moving picture. It’s how this whole business started, anyway. What it boils down to is my frustration with the act of giving out awards, because it’s the  long runtime spectacles that receive the attention. It is what has made the Oscars predictable.  However, and this is a big however, there is still a chance for myself to be proven wrong. Perhaps this will all be shoved in my face if Wes Anderson takes home a much deserved award for The Grand Budapest Hotel, which just makes the cut at 100 minutes. But, taking down Boyhood will be a mighty feat of strength.

So here it is,

My TOP 5 < 90 Minute Movies 

  1. Waltz With Bashir (90 min.) It’s incredible how much is packed into this film to create it’s level intensity, emotion, and trauma. It’s also an animated documentary, of sorts.
  2. This is Spinal Tap (82 min.) Christopher Guest and Rob Reiner had the self-control to create one of the funniest movies of all time and not overdo themselves.
  3. Searching for Sugar Man (86 min.) An incredible journey of discovery and history wrapped with a bow.
  4. Airplane (88 min.) A gatling gun of jokes.
  5. The Lion King (89 min) I was more surprised to realize this was only 89 minutes long.

Wild Cards: They just missed the cut.

  • Trainspotting (94 min.)
  • Kids (91 min.)
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail (91 min.)
  • Good Night, Good Luck (93 min.)

And now, my first review of this blog.

A Review: Ida (2013) ☆☆☆☆☆

MV5BMTU4MTQ3NTAyNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzIxNDI0MTE@._V1__SX1234_SY659_Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and streaming on Netflix.

“What sort of sacrifices are these vows of yours?” This is the question asked to Ida, a young Polish nun preparing to take her vows, by her sinful Aunt Wanda who she has just met for the first time. Before she devotes her life to the Church, Ida is sent to meet Wanda and comes to learn that her family was Jewish and killed in the invasion of Poland. From there, they make the trip to find the remains of Ida’s parents so she can learn more of her past.

But this is not your typical road-trip adventure film. Far from it. In fact, it is quite sad. Along the way Ida is faced with the temptations to contradict her values, which she silently refuses without hesitation. But her inner turmoil is displayed within director Pawel Pawlikowski’s shot composition which provides a massive amount of head room that hangs a weight over this film. Dealing with themes of family, loss, and sacrifice, the burden of Ida and her distressed aunt is projected in black and white and leaves no smiling faces.

In the end, the audience is also left with it’s own questions of value: Knowledge v. Ignorance. Is Ida better off knowing what she is giving up? Is she better off knowing the fate of her parents? Is Wanda better off knowing the circumstances of her son’s death? The burdens that these answers bring will hang their lives in the balance.

That is all.

Thanks for reading this week. Now it’s your turn to disagree with me. Post your Top 5 in a comment or even engage in discussion. As always, my Letterboxd link is here. I’m a little behind but leave me alone! (P.S. If you enjoy film as well as social media, I’d highly recommend this site. It’s a lot of fun) Until next time, goodbye and frankly Scarlett, I don’t give a damn.

1001 Thoughts

Questions: What must we do before we die? Should we spend more time with family? Should we engage ourselves in what we love? Should we watch movies? What is the meaning of life? If you find yourself staring out the window, watching the clouds while contemplating the matter of existence, perhaps it is because you’ve never seen George Kuchar’s Hold Me While I’m Naked,  or Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Gabbeh, or of course, Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!. But why should they matter? You’ve probably never1001 movies 2014 book cover seen or heard of them before, but yet, they are all included in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (2014 Edition). Literature dedicated to the movies all of us should experience before our number is called and we step up to life’s deli counter to receive that slice of heaven (or maybe ham).

Sarcasm aside, I won’t throw any of these films under the bus just yet since I’m sure they’re all notable in their own way (Gabbeh received the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1996 and holds a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes). I also understand that perhaps this book isn’t meant to be taken literally but is merely a list of films it finds significant for people attempting to broaden their cinematic resume. Nevertheless, I maintain my childhood instincts in not liking to be told what to do and I’m also frightened of a world in which everyone has seen Birth of a Nation. There’s some messed up sh*t in there.  

My animosity for this list extends beyond the book itself. The whole idea behind this project of mine, to watch 365 films I’ve never seen before, is to broaden my own views on film but to also take the time to experience and learn from something I would not have normally given the time of day. I’m guilty just as much as anyone of not straying from the pack or taking enough chances, which means last month I probably would not have taken the time to watch a documentary on Mitt Romney or given my attention to a silent film (I probably would instead have watched Star Wars for the millionth time), but in the past 3 weeks I’ve done both.

I’m using this book to open up a much larger can of worms. Now that Oscar nominations have been announced, everyone has to go see the nominations. When the new Transformers movie sells out on opening day, swarms of people will continue to flood into the theater regardless of it’s quality. Tomorrow, I will think about watching Game of Thrones. These behaviors all stem from the same fear: being left out. I’m all to aware of this feeling. Just a few weeks ago my Top 5 was movies I was embarrassed of not having seen. Until now, I didn’t understand conversations that revolved around Holy Hand Grenades or Knights that Say “Ni!”, but I now understand. I’ve watched these as well as other culturally loved movies like Animal House and Caddyshack, so is my life really better now that I understand the true context of toga parties? I don’t feel any different. I’ve begun to question why it is that we all need to share the same experiences in order to fit in. Netflix will even connect to my Facebook to let me know what my friends are watching so I can watch them as well.

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“Wherever there is beauty there is something that wants to kill you.”

A lack of exploration becomes the issue that trouble me the most. Who  leads the pack if we all look to someone else when it comes to what we submit ourselves to? Why did I have to watch Breaking Bad? Why did I see Boyhood? I don’t care how beautiful it is this time of year, why must I visit Florida? There are places across America I feel are just as beautiful. When does a lack of an original identity come into play when we all feel the urge to experience what everyone else is experiencing? If the average film is an hour and a half long, General Editor, Steven Jay Schneider, wants to make sure that we share 1,501.5 hours (62.56 days worth) of the same life.

Films have the power to hit everyone in ways beyond what the artistic style represents or how much money it made at the box office. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure could have just as big of an affect on Person A as Star Wars had on me, yet only one of these apparently seems to matter. But still, Person A obviously isn’t wrong, nor should be ashamed of the affect it had, and nobody else should feel the need to watch it now because there’s a good chance they won’t feel the same way. Films should be embraced by the viewer for the ways they make them feel, not for the ways they make other’s feel.

In the end, the way this list makes me feel is that the movies included just suck. For my generation, the Harry Potter series was a huge hit and defined the way our youthful selves not only looked at a the fantasy genre but literature as well. Yet, not one of the films have been deemed worthy enough to make the list since its first incarnation was published in 2003. How would our lives be different if these movies really weren’t worthy of our attention? I guess I wouldn’t have been disappointed when my Hogwarts letter didn’t come in the mail on my 11th birthday. Not only this, but the series is inconsistent in it’s taste and with each edition more are added and lost to make room for new releases. It grabs a variety of styles but gravitate heavily toward independent foreign films as well as big budget Hollywood cinema. In the wake of these decisions, some notable smaller independent American films are forgotten such as Blood Simple, Donnie Darko, Kids, and I my biased personal favorites: The Squid and the Whale and (500) Days of Summer (there, I said it). Among the last to be added were Blue is the Warmest Color, American Hustle, Gravity, Wolf of Wall Street, and 12 Years a Slave, which have nothing seriously wrong them, but I would mourn the loses of Little Miss Sunshine, The Departed, The King’s Speech, Les Miserables, and No Country for Old Men. Yet, they could be in same position as predecessors like The Passion of the Christ, Collateral, The Aviator, and Million Dollar Baby which were added in 2005 but betrayed and forgotten a year later.

Now I’ve been lead to my own list.Faster_pussycat_kill_kill_poster_(1)

My Top 5 I’ll Most Likely Die Before I See

  1. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
  2. Hold Me While I’m Naked (1966)
  3. Hostel (2005)
  4. The Human Centipede (2009)
  5. Babe (1995) There’s too much delicious food at stake.

Wild Card

  • The Seventh Seal (1957). I’ve tried watching it on three separate occasions and have fallen asleep each time. I worry it may never happen.

Wild Card

But wait, there’s more. As a companion to Schneider’s book on movies, there is also 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, 1001 Golf Holes You Must Play Before You Die, 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die, and 20 others! Where does it end? Perhaps in the end, this series is not looking for people looking to expand their horizons but for people who just have a lot of time and money on their hands.

How Am I Doing? Thank’s for Asking

On the day of this posting, January 30th, I’ve seen 27 movies I have never seen before. On account of my “Lost Weekend”, I am a few behind but see no worries in catching back up. Some honorable mentions are taken from my Top 5 from two weeks ago: Jaws, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Monty Python’s The Holy Grail, The Godfather: Part II and Life of Brian. But also I found time to catch up on Annie Hall, Punch-Drunk Love, and Some Like it Hot. Not because I felt left out for not having seen them, but really for my love of comedy.

Thanks for reading this week. Now it’s your turn to disagree with me. Post your Top 5 or a comment below if you’re feeling saucy enough to engage in a discussion.

Once again, if you care enough to track my progress you can follow me on Letterboxd here where I’ll be posting other reviews and comments on films that may not come up in this blog. Until next time, goodbye and I love you.

Confessions

IMG_0304I have confessions to make, but I’ll get back to that. Let me tell you a little bit about myself first. My name is Nick Alderink and I’m a recent Screen Arts and Cultures graduate from the University of Michigan trying to keep myself busy to avert a slow slip into madness. If there’s a less pretentious way to say that it would be, “Hi, I’m a former film student and this is my blog”. That’s right, I have a blog now. I’ve taken off my shades of self-judgement to publish something for all to see. I’ve decided to put myself at the mercy of possibly millions of internet users who wish to read the ramblings of a man with 23 years of life experience (Oh, God, what have I done). But I’m also a man with a passion, and that is, of course, movies. I can’t get enough of them, which is going to make this blog as well as the project I’m working on a hell of a lot easier.

I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. Let me tell you about this mysterious project of mine. Now that it’s that time of year for resolutions to come and go, I’ve created this blog to pressure myself into finishing my own or else face the wrath of judgement from all those that are reading. But my own resolution is probably a bit different from what you are expecting. It does not involve exercising or doing anything that may better my health in any way. In fact, it involves hours worth of stagnancy. Nevertheless, I will be indulging a passion of mine I’ve had since I was a child and writing (a second passion) about it every step of the way. Here it is: I’ve set this goal for myself to watch 365 films this year. That’s right, 365 friggin’ movies. The kicker: they must all be films that I have never seen before. Has your opinion of me changed yet?

Now it’s time for my confessions. I grew up around a Catholic family so confessions should come easy to me but as a lover of movies this is embarrassing to say.

Here it goes,

I’ve never seen E.T, I’ve never seen Caddyshack, I haven’t seen any of the Monty Python movies, I’ve only seen parts of Jaws and Animal House on T.V, and I fell asleep during Godfather Part II.

There it is all out on the table.

There’s a certain reaction people have when I tell them I’m color blind or allergic to peanuts, which is to question how I’ve lived my life up to this point. The reaction they have when I say I haven’t seen these incredibly popular movies is oddly similar. These may sound like silly confessions and I’m sorry if I had built up some sort of anticipation to this but it’s films like these that instantly ruin the small amount of validation I have when I explain I’ve studied film.  Nevertheless, I have found joy in discussing the obscure movies I have actually seen and throwing out recommendations to those who find it interesting how I’ve decided to dedicate my life up to this point.

Yet, this project of mine is not about validation. I’ve heard film professors constantly explain that I should be watching movies every day, for studying them will in the end make me a better filmmaker, but I’ve come to question if my aspirations of working in the film industry actually rely on the amount of movies that I’ve seen. I’ve also come to question what it really is about the act of viewing films that makes me the most satisfied.

This becomes the groundwork.

I look to question everything there is about the movie experience, find what makes it exciting, find what makes it boring, find what heightens the experience, and find what hinders it.  Does having something to eat or drink make watching a movie more fun or is it just a blissful distraction? What about watching a movie with friends and loved ones? Are there really 1001 movies we must all see before we die?

And finally, will having1001moviescover these titles under my belt really change the way I view the industry or shape my ideas of quality. Over time, in viewing this site what you’ll come to find is an earnest dedication to film and an examination of the common troupes found through the history of film that have had an effect on our lives whether we’ve realized it or not.

*Vomits*

That sounds way too serious. There will also be humor because being serious is something I’ve never quite learned to grasp. You’ll learn that pretty quickly from me and in time my humor may make sense to you whether I make you laugh or not.

What else you’ll find in these blog posts will be brief reviews of new films and how they compare to past films within similar or opposite genres. To conclude each post will be a Top Five list with further recommendations related to the theme. This first Top Five, however, will be recommendations for myself.

Five Films I’m Embarrassed To Say I’ve Never Seen

1. Jaws

2. Animal House

3. E.T

4. Caddy Shack

5. Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

And the Wild Cards for films that don’t quite fit into the Top 5 but are worth considering:

6. Godfather Part II

7. Monty Python’s Life of Brian

By next post I will have seen these films and perhaps my life will have more value. Until then, I hope to fill my time with as many other movies as humanly possible.

If you care enough to track my progress you can follow me (Nick Alderink) on Letterboxd (http://letterboxd.com) where I’ll be posting other reviews and comments on films that may not come up in this blog.

Until next time, goodbye and happy viewing.