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Monday, June 10, 2013

Coffee And Cigarettes (And Tea And Rock and Roll and Tesla)

So here's the thing about a film that is just a series of vignettes, it's not particularly easy to analyze, especially when combined with the sheer obtuseness of the dialogue of this film. It is a black and white film made in the early part of the Noughties when something like this could be completely accepted. I feel like the best comparison is Clerks, though this does not have anywhere near the amount of dirty humor that Clerks had, and replaces it with a determined awkwardness. The best way to look at something like this, with somewhat interconnected themes and repeated dialogue but not characters is on a scene by scene basis. I'll do a summary of what the segment means, and any other things that come to mind based off what is seemingly a series of random conversations.

Strange to Meet You

This segment introduces a number of elements that will come up later: chance meetings, the awkwardness of strangers,  the drive behind our obsessions, and most importantly coffee and cigarettes in combination. This bit is one of the funnier segments, whereupon at the end one man agrees to go to the other's dentist appointment. In summary, the world's weird and that's okay, just shut up and drink your coffee.

Twins
  
Steve Buscemi believes that Elvis is still alive and it was his evil twin brother that took over and made him fat. Things that seem similar are often quite different and what we see is oh so rarely what we get. That and the fact that twins aren't the same person, bit of an important thing to remember should you ever meet any.

Somewhere in California

Awkward conversations where it is proved that no one is as famous as they want to believe they are. That and doing a tracheotomy with a ballpoint pen is just a normal day in the life of a musician. Of course anything interesting like that is shoved to the side for passive aggressiveness and general spite.

Those Things's Kill Ya

Cigarettes are actually bad for you, who'd thunk it. That and for some reason the silent treatment works on fathers, especially when it's for a good cause like pea snacks. There was no metaphor there, just another regular strange occurrence in the lives of these people who are similar to us but also quite different, but only as we all are.

Renné

Just wanting to talk to someone is a damn shame when they reject you. That and don't trust the lady with gun magazines, I'm sure she could be perfectly nice, but just don't fuck with her coffee. It's not a polite thing to do, even if you're a waiter or busboy as the case may be.

Cousins

Fame and non-fame at a collide, but all wrapped up in one package as two very different characters are played by the same actor. There are a lot of things to say about how differently society treats celebrities for good and for bad, and this little bit has some good stuff to say on both sides, though it ends up a bit for the negative. 

Jack Shows Meg His Tesla Coil

No metaphor here either. Just a guy who wants to show off his neat little electricity bringing death defying machine. They resurrected the monster I'm sure it's great for showing off to a girl who may or may not be your sister. Of course given the actual actors and all that there's other stuff going on, but just looking at the scene there are equal chances of girlfriend, girl he likes, and sister. Interesting how that is. 

Cousins?

An awkward guy tries to convince a famous actor they're related, and that should mean great things for the both of them. Unfortunately it turns out that fame isn't everything it was cracked up to be, and then everything starts to get recursive, with earlier dialogue playing out exactly again. This is past the halfway point and it is clear this is the real meat of human relationships the film wants to explore, but never quite does in a full way.

Delirium

Bill Murray meets the Wu-Tang Clan. Hilarity ensures.

Champagne

Death is inevitable, deal with it.

In summary, people talking about boring subjects in a drab way can be a fascinating insight into the human condition and what it really means to be any number of adjectives, but in the end it can also be really bloody boring. Luckily Coffee and Cigarettes maintains just the right amount of humor and that kind of stiff deflated tension that echoes throughout all British history and still manages to be entertaining. Good on them for a solid film that seeks to do one thing and never stray from the path. Good on them for Bill Murray too, that man is a genius.
 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Hero of Kill Bill

I enjoy the Hero's Journey story. It is extremely classical and looking at the base elements it seems kind of boring, but in practice there are innumerable different ways to tell that basic story, especially when certain elements are subverted or ignored. Looking back through Tarantino's filmography the one story which really stands out is the Kill Bill movies/movie. Technically they were released as two volumes, but they were intended to be one and were only split because of the non-profitable four hour run time. Kill Bill follows the basic Journey archetype with a few very interesting diversions.

One of the defining points of the Hero's Journey is the death and resurrection of the main character that happens near the end. Classic examples include Harry Potter 'dying' at the end of the Deathly Hallows or for something more Mythological something like Hercules departing to the underworld during his twelve labors. What is interesting about Kill Bill is there are two points which could be considered a death and rebirth, though one is more significant than the other. The first is when The Bride is shot at her wedding rehearsal and goes into a coma for four years. After this her determination for revenge overtakes everything else and she wants to commit the eponymous act, killing Bill.

The second resurrection occurs at a point more fitting in the Hero's Journey structure, about halfway through volume two, or at the end of the second act. Here The Bride is buried by Bill's brother and left to suffocate. She breaks out after remembering her training with the mentor. In a traditional journey of course the mentor assists at the beginning of the journey, introducing the character to the new world. In Kill Bill there could truthfully be two mentors, one more obvious and one more subtle. Pai-Me teaches the Bride how to fight with a sword, and trains her so hard she becomes a nearly unstoppable killing machine. He also shapes her outset majorly creating the cold demeanor that she puts on when fighting the people she blames for her child and groom's deaths.

The second mentor here is Bill, who serves a very different purpose narratively but also is core in shaping Te Bride's character. He is of course the antagonist and the titular character, but he is also a past lover of the Bride, and someone who she still has feelings for, even if they are confusing. With this said looking at the film from the perspective of beginning at The Bride re-awakening from her coma and ending with Bill's death it leaves us with no clear mentor, except for in flashbacks. However because the film is told non-linearly it could be considered that it still fits in the typical order of the journey because of the order the audience perceives it in, not necessarily the chronology of the film.

There are a few elements still missing from the traditional journey however, such as the refusal of the call. This again occurs before the events of the film starts, as The Bride has declined to be an assassin, refusing to go back to that world of murder and violence. Considering the world she finds herself embroiled in after waking up from her coma it is ironic that she refused, and then entered of her own will, but that is a crucial point of the journey. Here again because of the non-linear perspective of the film it molds itself better to the Journey than if it was told in order.

Even with all these sort of disparate and contrary elements there are still a number which fit perfectly. Though there is nothing necessarily supernatural about the aid the Bride receives in her new katana, it is said to be of such fine craftsmanship that it can cut god, and thus is effectively supernatural. With this new weapon and her training The Bride sets out to kill her first target. This is the crossing of the first threshold, and in her successful murder of this woman she has metaphorically entered the belly of the whale, and there is no turning back.

After this she undergoes a series of tests where she fights the three people leading up to Bill after crossing that first threshold. During the second test she actually fails and is buried, and has to dig her way out. This is a common feature of the Journey, and the failure only makes her grow stronger, even strong enough to defeat Bill. Of course when it gets to that point there is no elaborate fight scene, just a long talk, and then she kills him with one punch. He accepts his fate however and walks into death like he expected it. By doing this The Bride has also righted wrongs with an effective father figure, and by doing this has allowed herself to move on.

In the final scene The Bride is seen weeping as she is afraid to return to a normal world, and is full of grief for Bill and all the other people she killed. This could be seen as any number of end steps, but in the end there is no happy ending, The Bride has to accept what she has done and acknowledge that her life can never be the same. This is another point where Kill Bill differs from the Journey, there is no happy ending, and very little resolution, simply an ending that shows all the pain that such terrible violence causes.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Sacrifice

Self sacrifice is often considered one of the most selfless acts any person can commit. The death of one for the lives of many, it involves someone looking past themselves and considering the people they could save while giving up the one thing that they can never get back. Of course it means less in worlds with resurrection ie comics or Shonen but still, it is one of those things that is expected of any hero following the archetypal journey. Yet it is not always entirely selfless, and sometimes actually hurts those around the person more than they would have otherwise.

For this I will look at several case studies. The first is Django Unchained. There will be spoilers, and spoilers of plenty. During the end of the film the two protagonists have been pulling off a con on a plantation owner named Candy and it has been found out, so Django and the dentist whose name I actually forget have to pay a large sum of money to get his wife back instead of the little they wanted to play. As they are leaving Candy insists they shake his hand to add insult to injury, but it is the last straw for the dentist. He takes out his pistol and shoots Candy, even apologizing to Django as he does it. He knew he would die for it, and does almost immediately afterwards, so it is a self sacrifice of sorts.
Candy


Throughout the entire film this man had shown his hatred for slavery and in general anyone he considered evil and Candy fit in both categories. Eventually it just got to him and he couldn't resist killing this evil man even though he knew it would cost his life. He also knew that it would hurt Django, and almost resulted in his castration and loss of his wife, but because of his principles he couldn't resist, and so executed Candy. Because of the enormous shootout that resulted from this action it was clearly a selfish act, almost killing Django and his wife, all because of killing one man. Here the sacrifice actually loses more lives than it saves, but the morality of both parties comes into question, as well as how much any given life is worth.

The theme of sacrifice also pervades the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's not a film, but whatever, it's close enough. Buffy herself constantly fights to maintain a normal life despite being the Chosen One. For centuries this had prevented the Slayers from being normal in society, and they had lived at the fringes friendless with only a Watcher to give them some companionship. Buffy however functions differently, going to high-school and finding a small group of friends who endure with her for many years, because she declined to sacrifice so much of her life.

Living this life cost her however, as she lost friends and companions, as well as having to save them on a near weekly occasion. Eventually she ended up sacrificing love to her cause, as there was not enough time and it hurt her too much to lose boyfriends. In the end of season 5 her sister has been used as the key to begin an apocalypse and a massive vortex of energy is close to swallowing up the entire world. Buffy stands with her sister staring at the approaching doom and knowing that the sacrifice of her sister would end the coming Apocalypse. She refuses to do this however as she has lost nearly everything by that point, and no longer wants to live with all the pain and suffering that comes with the world, basically shouted to the heavens in the musical episode.


In the end she sacrifices herself in one of the few really selfish actions she does in the show. I'll explain here, it is selfish because she it the Chosen One. Normally when a Slayer dies another one arrives so there is no real change, but Buffy already died and changed the cycle so her new death does nothing except lose the world a huge bastion of good in the fight against evil. Demons constantly feared Buffy and she help to avert numerous plural of apocalypse over the series. She was one of the few reasons the world still worked as it did but she grew tired of it. The whole Slayer job doesn't have a great life expectancy and Buffy managed to die twice before her 21st birthday.

The other option for her was to let her sister die. Her sister was created to birth and destroy the vortex, killing her would have ended the cycle and let the world continue like normal but Buffy couldn't live with that, and so sacrificed herself leaving her friends to deal with the consequences. This involved them trying to fight off vampires and demons rather unsuccessfully, and trying to fool the world that Buffy was still around, because without her Sunnydale would sink into darkness, and the world would soon end. She loved her sister too much and so died for her, letting the world fall to hell if it liked to. Her sacrifice was the most selfish thing she could have done.

There are numerous instances of similar things to this happening, with self sacrifice leading to nothing but pain and suffering for those who survive. Some people just wish to go out in a blaze of glory because life is too tough, and they simply can't bear to live. It is interesting how a culture that frowns on suicide so much is so accepting of a 'noble sacrifice', even when it dooms so many people. Maybe it's the fetish for heroism that does it, but modern culture seems to love the sacrifice, especially when it saves a number of people, it is considered a fitting end to a story, and that is sad.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

It Happened One Night

It Happened One Night is a romantic comedy. Perhaps one of the quintessential examples of the genre and one of the best in terms of critical acclaim. In 1937 it one the "Big Five" Oscars, Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay, a feat which has only been duplicated twice since. In other words it is a very good film. The title however is a bit of a misnomer as the events of the film do not happen over one night, but several, a couple of weeks maybe. The title however is more metaphorical than anything else, meaning how easy it is to fall in love as demonstrated by the main character who was wooed by the male protagonist within a few days, and one night realized that she had already found what she had been questing for, love.

Now the film is about the journey, not the ending, and how such an event can change a person. The setting of the film is largely immaterial, serving only as a place for the two main characters to meet. It could have been on the west coast of the States and not the East or even in Europe and it would have made very little difference. The main element is that is is a road movie so things like cars would have to exist, though theoretically they could be substituted for horse and buggy, the plot would simply flow a little differently, and times would have to be changed significantly adding more believability to the protagonists falling in love, though changing the overall message.

The plot is simple, a girl has escaped from her father in Florida to go meet her soon to be husband in New York and encounters a charismatic gentleman on the road. Of course if everything went right there wouldn't be much of a story, so she loses her bag, and gets kicked off the bus, and has to hike and hitchhike her way with no money or place to stay. All of this with the help of the gentleman she met on the bus who is a reporter, and decides she will make a fine story. Of course the two fall for each other despite having great differences and in the end the girl decides that she doesn't want to marry the man she set out for and goes off to find the man from the bus and they live happily ever after. The scene where she decides to go off and abandon her fiance is almost the exact same from the future movie Spaceballs.

Ellie, the female protagonist, starts off as a spoiled brat, and ends the movie much the same, though aims to improve on that as she has been show the error of her ways and is at least seeking some atonement. Peter has not changed much, though after meeting someone he truly loved he realized that money is not that important without someone to be with. It is not indicated very clearly in the beginning of the film if money matters that much to him however, so the development is not very clear cut. Mr. Andrews always wanted his daughter to be happy, and by the end of the movie she is with someone she loves so he is happy. He doesn't change much over the film always wishing the best for his daughter, though his personal distaste for her fiance does prevent the marriage, something which in the end was for the best for both characters.

Early on in the film there is a man named Oscar Shapely who hits on Ellie to show that she is attractive and to provide a comparison for Peter, who is not brutish or sexist but kind and caring. Later on Oscar offers to split the reward money for Ellie but Peter declines him showing that he has really fallen for the girl and cares for her, demonstrating the romance very clearly even when he can not show it in front of Ellie. King Westley would be the antagonist as he is an obstacle in the way between the two protagonists' love but he does very little in the film making him more of a scenery element than a character, a flashy playboy who is in only one or two scenes and barely speaks a line. Finally there is Peter's editor who spits out venom for Peter and acts disgusted by him but when he realizes Peter is really down on his luck he offers a caring word and tells him not to worry. He fulfills the jerk with a heart of gold archetype.

Many of the scenes from the film seem strange, especially for the time, but within the structure of the story they work well together. Another film that follows the same basic patters is Spaceballs, though it is much more of a goofball comedy with absurdist elements than one grounded like It Happened One Night. In both films however the universe established makes the actions seem normal and to fit in with the rest of the events, so the audience's suspension of disbelief is not broken, no matter how many strange things happen.

The dialogue is a tad dated now but is largely comical with serious moments at the right times. This kind of thing is typical of comedies from the 80's. With Ellie as young as she was it seems like this film created the baseline for many of the teen comedies of that decade, though because of standards at the time they were able to be much more liberal with the sex and gross-out humor than this film. This was however before the Hayes code and the heavy restrictions placed on films so it still very racy compared to films ten years later, when the code had come into affect. Despite the dialogue being dated it still has a very realistic feel to it because of the colloquialisms and speaking habits of the characters.

The ending is fairly typical, very fairytalesque but by bringing back a running joke from earlier in the film it adds humor to the end creating something a little more dynamic than a typical fairy tale.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tarantino Films and violence in the media

All Tarantino films are violent, excluding stuff like My Best Friend's Birthday which doesn't really count as it was unfinished. This is not that surprising though as all movies are violent, it's just the way that modern cinema is. I mean there are exceptions but even discounting action and horror as genres there is still a shit ton of violent content out there, even in romantic comedies and the like with either verbal abuse or fights breaking out. This is also a problem in video games, but that is a whole different argument that needs to be approached in a different way. The main problem with all of this however is that one needs to look at more than just the violence in media to see why society has shaped itself the way it has.

Tarantino said it best in a recent interview. He just doesn't want to talk about violence in his films, it's not that he celebrates the violence or believes it's good, but he just believes he shouldn't have to explain away the offensive content in his art. He has been accused of adoring violence but showing it in such an aesthetically pleasing way like in the Kill Bill duology but that wasn't the point, not even of the first film which was much bloodier than the second. It was a tale of vengeance like an old-fashioned samurai movie and was about what revenge can do to people. It was also about continuing stories and how a newer generation can take an older as role models but that is a different examination.

The film that I most recently watched of Tarantino's, aside from Django Unchained, was Jackie Brown, one of his least violent films. Despite being much less violent than something like Pulp Fiction where a man's brains get blown across a car's back window and the protagonists have to pick it up it still has violence as a significant driving force of the film as the antagonist played by Samuel L. Motherfucking Jackson kills one of his gang members to start the plot and ends up dying in a blaze of glory. The violence here is not shown in a positive or negative light, but it simply treated as a very matter of fact fact of life. It is just something that happens, from Indians and Cowboys as kids to the torture porn that was popular in the late 00's violence has been so ingrained in the culture that ignoring it is ignoring an enormous percentage of media.

I'm a pacifist, but still see these films as interesting examinations of the violence that pervades media, new and old. Django was an incredibly violent film, possibly the most violent western, but by establishing itself as a parody of what had come before it gets away with it and shows the terrible things that humanity has done to itself while at the same time shows how the media sometime enjoyed it. Admittedly there were some images in the film that were difficult to watch because of how brutal they were but that was the point, and Tarantino is right, he doesn't have to justify himself, he doesn't want to explore why he uses violence in his movies, about the implications of his films.

In the recent interview he simply shut down the question of violence, and declined to flesh out his opinions on violence as they are so overdone and everyone talks about it and repeats the same things over and over. He believes there is no correlation between violence in media and violence in real life and given that there were school shootings and serial killers before any modern media it seems there is a point. I'm going to conclude this by saying I never want to talk about violence in video games, even if I don't want to personally make violent video games I think that I'm with Tarantino, I don't want to talk about it, and sometimes it is just time to say no, I don't want to talk about your terrible argument with no basis, there's  no point in arguing some of these things as it is a losing argument, and one that has been argued for so long that everything has been said, and there is nothing more to say.