Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Crazy Theory #1: Thor: The Dark World and Nymphomaniac (NSFW/NSFWish)

Welcome to Crazy Theories, where I discuss weird theories I have about films for no particular reason.

Image taken from Honest Trailers: Thor: The Dark World
In November, already having seen the short trailers and character posters for Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac, I went to see Thor: The Dark World in theaters. I am not really a Thor fan, but I figured I would give it a try. Stellan Skarsgard's Erik Selvig spends part of the film running around naked before being placed in a psychiatric facility and bailed out by Jane and Darcy. I want to believe that this is Marvel's way of helping promote Nymphomaniac, a smaller film, although one generated by controversy because it is a Lars von Trier movie. And Lars von Trier is going to Lars von Trier.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Grad School Residue: Franco Citti wearing hats

In the fall of 2011, a class I TA'ed for basically spent a week-and-a-half watching The Godfather, and in the winter of 2012, I took a class that basically involved watching Pier Paolo Pasolini's entire filmography. So I spent a lengthy amount of time my first year of grad school watching Franco Citti wearing hats of varying degrees of weirdness.

Accattone, he and Pasolini's first film.

Oedipus Rex

Oedipus Rex
The Canterbury Tales

Not a hat, but crazy hair for Arabian Nights. I'm pretty sure he was the inspiration for Snarf on Thundercats.

The Godfather, as one of Michael's bodyguards.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Conflicted Romantic Protagonists in (500) Days of Summer and +1 (Plus One)

Spoilers ahead for +1, the newer film. 

(500) Days of Summer (2009, Dir. Marc Webb) and +1 (2013, Dir. Dennis Iliadis) are both a part of a somewhat recent spate of films that involve romantic male protagonists that if you think about it enough, are completely unsympathetic characters who paint their girlfriends or ex-girlfriends as villains simply by the will of their own states of denial and imaginations. The other similarity between these two films is that they deal with time - (500) Days of Summer through memories and filmic time, and +1 by virtue of being a science fiction film that involves doubles/alternate universes and time. +1 is bizarrely the more linear film. Despite the trailer making it appear to be something along the lines of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it is more about what happens when and if doubles encounter each other at a gigantic college party where each person attending has a double. The "why" part does not factor in to +1, it is more of a tale about fear of being replaced and morality.

David, the protagonist of +1 has been recently dumped by his girlfriend of two years, Jill, after she finds him accidentally kissing her similar-featured fencing opponent after a match. She is also unhappy that David appears to be content with staying in the town they grew up in and stagnant. They both of course end up at the large party, with David intent on winning Jill back. David, his two friends, and another party guest are the first two notice the existence of doubles after the lights mysteriously flicker on and off due to a faulty transformer. Actions are being repeated. David manages to subdue his double. But with each electricity flicker, the repeated actions of the doubles start to get closer in time to the current actions of the original attendees. This eventually results in confrontation because both groups of people are confused and scared. David, in the melee, of course tries to repair his relationship with Jill. Failing to win her back with one conversation, he tries it again on Jill's double, this time saying the "right" things and the couple appears to get back together. But like a wacky romantic comedy with an extreme dark side, David has to keep second Jill away from "original" Jill. This ultimately does not go well for "original" Jill. The final shot of the film is the party's host and various attendees walking around shocked, devastated, and crying, while David and second Jill make out beside the estate's pool house. Granted, one might want to feel uneasy about the protagonist being played by Rhys Wakefield, the creepy blond preppy killer from last year's The Purge, but he does well with playing normal for most of the film.

(500) Days of Summer is the more complex film that has been subject to different interpretations. I have heard the sentence, "You can tell a lot about a person about who they think the villain is in (500) Days of Summer." I think sometimes interpretations are based on depending on who you find to be more attractive, Joseph Gordon Levitt or Zooey Deschanel, since some people have a near-rabid hatred towards Deschanel and her image. This film makes a weak attempt to have her play against this image, but the sheer Etsyness of some of the aesthetics of the film overpowers this attempt. Joseph Gordon Levitt has had to comment about people who think Tom is the ideal boyfriend, stating that Tom actually is not a good boyfriend at all. Whenever I watch this film (which has been two times now), I watch it with my brow furrowed. I do not think it is a very funny film. It is sad and a little scary more than anything. It is also a 90 minute indie music compilation that also doubles as an IKEA advertisement. Who goes on dates at IKEA? She's wearing a dress and he is wearing a shirt and tie (under a hoodie) to IKEA!

What is odd about the film is that while it wants to point out that Tom and his friends are maybe not that great, and that Tom's perception and memories of Summer were filtered through his own point of view and selfishness, (500) Days of Summer has an ambivalence about both Tom and Summer that constantly switches until the last half hour or so of the film. In the last third of the film, while it wants to show that both Tom and Summer changed from their quasi-relationship, the film propels itself to the requisite happy ending for Tom, and an inscrutable ending for Summer. There are multiple interpretations of whether or not she is actually happy being married. The film sets this up to an extent by showing the ending to The Graduate twice in the film, which also features an inscrutable ending. The first time the ending of The Graduate is displayed to show that Tom thought it was a happy ending, especially when he was younger. The second time, the ending is shown to display that Summer finds it to be a sad ending, to the point where she is crying in the theater. This is also what seems to spawn her decision to break up with Tom.

(500) Days of Summer also attempts to align itself with French New Wave films from the 1960s and briefly with Ingmar Bergman. This accounts for not only the shallow comedic parodies that Tom seems to mentally project onto a movie screen while at the theater after the breakup, but with the nonlinear time structure of the film. Alain Resnais' Last Year At Marienbad is also a film about the issues of memory and denial unfurled out in an even more nonlinear, repetitive fashion than Days of Summer. (500) Days of Summer at least flashes what day of obsession Tom is on throughout the course of the film. Typical American romcom structure, even filtered through an "Indiewood" production, still demands a happy ending and some clarity.

Despite the film being a commentary on modern relationships and how filtered they are through greeting cards/greeting card holidays, films of any sort (Star Wars and Ferris Bueller's Day Off are also referenced in the film) and even music, the commentary for the most part falls flat. The film tries to either take an ambivalent or neutral stake in the relationship and eventual break up of Tom and Summer, but it is unclear in its attempt to do so. This is the ultimate failure of the film. The film ends with the sentence of someone (the screenwriters? the director?) calling an ex-girlfriend a "bitch", thereby canceling any sort of neutral stance built up in the film. They are no different from Tom and his friends at their most unbearable in the film, with their preconceived, gossipy notions of Summer being a "stuck up bitch" or a "skank" before they even talk to her. (500) Days of Summer, despite being filtered through the maximum Etsy "cute and quirky" filter, is ultimately a film about awful people both in front of and behind the camera, but who only have an inkling about how insufferable they are. The cluelessness is not played up by anyone or for anyone except for Tom on occasion. I get it, these people have faults, but this film seems to think its more charming about it than it actually is.

In some ways The Break-Up is a more radical film than (500) Days of Summer because it at least puts forth the idea that Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn's characters are okay being single, apart, and moving on with their lives by the end of the film with little regrets. That film, if I remember correctly, also seemed to give equal share to the couple's individual point of view. (500) Days of Summer denies Summer a point of view, and that is why this movie fails to some degree in any vague attempt to take a neutral stance on Tom and Summer's relationship. Summer, wholly intentionally or no, is just built up as an object - from her initial physical descriptions (we are not given the height, weight, and shoe size of Tom) to her apparent influence (all with the implication it is because of her beauty)  - and remains so for the film. Despite the "edgy" attempt to break stereotypes and to have her be the more reluctant person in love and not wanting a relationship (and stating this quite a few times), it rings cheap and false because we are not given much reason insight to why she thinks this way other than her parents divorced. Even with the expense of making the film 30-45 minutes longer, would it have hurt to feature Summer's point of view more?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Riddle me this: What are Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers exactly?

Image by Szoki.

Since it was somewhat settled this week that my graduate thesis work is going to be on slasher films, PTSD, and whether or not the same people who are frequently attacked throughout a series can be considered empowered (that's a mouthful), I want to discuss one of the things that has been bothering me this summer as I read through the gamut of books on slasher and horror films. While there are series of films where the killer is human, what are Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers exactly?

Freddy appears to be the only one who does not shift in his existence, even if it takes almost the entire series of Nightmare on Elm Street films to settle on the fact that he is essentially a dead body possessed by demons. Jason, forever the product of a revolving door of writers, changes in his existence. Human, Frankenstein's monster-type, (a zombie, according to some people), and by Jason X, just plain unkillable to the point where he has to be cryogenically frozen. As of this posting, I am still waiting for Halloweens II-V to come in the mail so I can watch/re-watch and study them. But roughly based on parts I and II, Michael is pure evil that cannot be killed.

The second part of this question is, in one or two words, how can these three characters be defined as a group? Since the majority of books I have read this summer are from the 1990s, they all seem to be reluctant to define Jason, Freddy, and Michael as monsters in the sense of Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, The Mummy, and The Wolfman, i.e., the classical Hollywood monsters. "Supernatural killers" seems to be the most popular definition of the three characters, although I am now re-reading Adam Rockoff's book and he calls them "heroes" in the introduction, which does not really settle well with me.

I am interested in hearing opinions, because I think that fans of these series are more likely to have a better grip on this topic. At this time, I do not have access to the one or two books actually centered around the Friday the 13th series, so I would also be interested book recommendations past the 90s standards of Noel Carroll,  Vera Dika,  Carol Clover, and Isabel Pinedo, or newer books from this past decade by Adam Rockoff and Jason Zinoman.

Postscript, April 2014
I ended up not writing a thesis due to 2-3 months of grinding gears and various other issues, and opted to take the comprehensive exam that my program was offering for the first time. As for what Michael Myers is, I think I have forgotten, if I ever knew to begin with. The Halloween series, despite starting off the strongest, falls and fails rapidly before retconning itself to the point where it was just rebooted. It is definitely the worst series to watch in a marathon.