Monthly Archives: August 2012
You guys better brace yourselves. Find something solid to hold onto because this is gonna rock your world. Be sure to tell your family how much you love them cause once you hear this there aint no coming back. Make your piece with Jesus as soon as you can because your head might explode into confetti when you hear this news. All ready? Are you sure? Alright, you asked for it.
A new set photo from the Jack Ryan reboot was released and it shows………. (pauses to catch breath and wipe brow) it shows Chris Pine riding a motorcycle.
Have the final trumpets sounded? Have the seven horses of the Apocalypse been spotted? Has Atlantis reemerged from the sea?
Wait, how are we still here? I can’t believe it. I thought that information would have been a lot more earth shattering than that. At least it was to cinemablend, collider, comingsoon, indiewire, firstshowing, and heyuguys.co.uk. Well I guess information like that is earth shattering when you live on a hollow excuse for a planet that delights itself in substandard sensationalist cultural commentary.
Perhaps the more cinematically astute find themselves on firmer ground because they see news like this as completely insignificant. They tend to view film more as an art-form than a trade show (i.e., oh, oh, look at my shiny new set photo!). So what if Chris Pine rides a motorcycle in character as Jack Ryan? Why should we care about a character in a reboot of a franchise that was at best a series of substandard action b-movies, now helmed by a guy whose last couple of films show an almost shocking decline in directorial ability and artistic judgement?
This paltry bit of film news is noteworthy only because of the obscene amount of press its getting by the typically clueless film blog-o-sphere. Its sad how unambitious and artistically bankrupt film bloggers have become; content to sit back and offer lazy witticisms and vapid conjecture at the sight of single meaningless set photo.
Bloggers please grow up and start trying to write more seriously and deeply about film. Until then, i’m sure the world can get by not knowing how Chris Pine looks riding a motorcycle.
A lot of people mark the end of Robert Zemeckis’ fruitful phase of his career when he abandoned live action in favor of CGI. That would mean that the last worthwhile film Bob Zemeckis was involved in was Cast Away in 2000. From there, it would be another 4 years before we’d see Zemeckis wave a long goodbye to the conventional methods of filmmaking and hello to directing on a purely CGI plane with The Polar Express. A lot of people, myself included, saw this as a very bad decision. Viewers complain that CGI characters don’t allow a director to convey qualities of narrative feeling and connectivity. Narrative connectivity was, and is the force that helps viewers connect to flesh and blood characters like Marty Mcfly, Joan Wilder, and Forrest Gump–no matter how outlandish or technically ambitious their adventures became.
Zemecki’s devotees began to look for patterns; context clues throughout his work that signaled the transition to the dark side of the uncanny valley. Did Zemeckis just wake up one day and say to himself, “I want to abandon live action in favor of unconvincing CGI characters.” Perhaps it was a more subtle transition. Were the signs there all along as his work progressed through the years? Maybe now we can look with the benefit of hindsight; Zemeckis had slowly been using fanciful special effects and CGI trickery more and more in his work. This distanced him not only from his audience, but from the “responsibilities of feeling and human emotion”. Certainly, cracks are beginning to show in his pre-CGI work more and more. We sit now and laugh at the CGI in Forrest Gump, not merely because it is outdated (I ask, how can artistic technique really ever out date itself?), but because we can see that all the effects and spectacle served to hide a fairly maudilin and simplistic story (i.e., mentally handicapped people are lucky). The same can be said of the Back to the Future Sequels. The awe and wonder that the first film inspired, its daring concepts and interesting ideas (the ability to change your future by your past and encountering you parents as teens), was replaced in the sequel with over-elaborate plotting and spectacle for its own sake. The thoughts and ideas in the first film were more humanistic and fulfilling than the mindless bickering over time paradoxes that the later sequels inspired.
Looking back and tracking the steps in his work, you can see very clearly how Zemeckis was laying the groundwork to jump ship from the human side to CGI. Movie by movie, plot by plot, he took away more and more humanity from his actors and his narratives, leaving the viewer with films containing overly sentimental caricatures and generally flaccid human beings in the midst of over-complicated plots with overblown special effects (Death Becomes Her, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Cast Away, Contact).
What we’re seeing from Zemeckis is a (lazy) distortion of his former self. Believe it or not, there was once a Robert Zemeckis who valued story and character, albeit in his own hyperbolic slapstick sort of way, over CGI. Take away all the bells and whistles, the green screens and visual effects and you’re left with a young man who had a mania for energetic comic invention, and broad, yet oddly sincere, satire. You were left with a film like I Wanna Hold Your Hand.
The time is 1964, and the Beatles, already a hugely popular group, are about to go on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time, an appearance that launched them into a worldwide phenomenon. Already, girls are fainting during their concerts from sheer excitement at being in the same theater with them. Pam Mitchell (Nancy Allen) is happy enough to be getting married but wants to bed one of the “Fab Four” before she does. Grace Corrigan (Theresa Saldana), a dedicated fan, is certain that if she can get some exclusive photos of the Beatles, her career as a photographer will be secured. And then there are two people who feel that the future of civilization as we know it depends on their efforts to ruin the Beatles’ appearance on Ed Sullivan’s show. In this madcap comedy, when these people (and others besides) descend on the New York hotel the Beatles are staying in, things begin hopping.
synopsis courtesy of allmovie.com
We’ve all seen the screaming, tear-streaked faces. Young women tearing their hair out and having conniption fits at the sight of four lanky Brits in bowl cuts descending the stairs of a plane. We’ve watched the grainy black and white footage and marveled at the sheer pandemonium of the proceedings, and wondered what it was about these young men that inspired such a response. Wisely, Robert Zemeckis (and co-writer Bob Gale) figured that a film focusing solely on The Beatles as main characters would have been a self-defeating (and very expensive) endeavor. No documentary could ever (or has ever) encapsulated the scope of the fervor that accompanied their rise to dominance as cultural icons in America. So Zemeckis did the next best, and more interesting thing. It has always been that said if you want to know about a leader then examine his or her followers. Zemeckis takes heed; he puts a few fans (4 women, 3 men) front and center in his story and lets the spirit of Beatlemania wash over and inspire the young people to achieve new heights of madness, love, and debauchery, in their lives. We follow these young men and women over the course of one day in New York, as they descend upon a hotel where The Beatles are staying and attempt to see their now legendary performance on the Ed Sullivan show.
Zemeckis assembled a cast of very talented young comedic actors and actresses. Cherubic firecracker, Wendie Jo Sperber plays Rosie Petrofsky, a big Beatles fanatic, even by the already high Beatlemania standards. She is friends with Grace Corrigan, played by Theresa Saldana, who balances her love for The Beatles with her journalism pursuits. Pam Mitchell, played by Nancy Allen, is the Charlie Brown of the group, managing to turn a wonderful thing like Beatlemania into a problem. A pre-feminist heretic named Janis Goldman, played by Susan Kendall Newman, completes the foursome. Newman’s character is acting as a dark horse who looks to protest The Beatles and everything they stand for. You would think that with a dynamic group of girls such as this, and with Beatlemania mainly portrayed as purely a female disease, that Zemeckis would have slacked off in his casting of the male leads, but this is simply not the case. He chose three young men as unique comic and romantic foils for the young women. Marc McClure plays the wimpy Larry Dubois, enticed into coming along by the alluring Theresa (as a chauffeur, of course). Juvenile delinquent Tony Smerko, played by Bobby Di Cicco, tags along solely to cause trouble. However, Zemeckis saved the best male role for his friend Eddie Deezen, who plays Richard “Ringo” Klaus, the biggest Beatle fan on earth without a Y chromosome. He provides (as he did throughout the 80’s) a madcap sort of geek charm that elevates the film to its greatest heights of lunacy.
The way these seven young people interact with one another, how they are able to share and disagree about their fandom is the meat of the film. “The film also has a flow of visual slapstick and off-kilter nuances that aren’t ever punched up or commented on; they just keep flashing by at a near fever pitch rate”. “The action is sometimes so fast that its like an adolescent stunt carried out convulsively”. However the viewer is never overwhelmed as Zemeckis has made sure to keep all the action grounded in a completely believable and true source; Beatlemania. “Its a zany American tale tall movie in Pop Art form.”
Check out the trailer for Robert Zemeckis’ newest film (and grand return to live action) Flight
The film fan who goes searching the internet to enrich his passion, is bombarded almost daily with a sad barrage of nonsensical and superfluous film news. They encounter a never ending cycle of sequel news, superhero movie news, reboot reports, set photos, box office tallies, top ten lists, and juvenile podcasts supplying unlearned and unpolished film reviews and discourse. It not exactly a great environment to improve ones cinematic mind.
We at film-cycle would like to shine a light on film news that we believe is more worthy of your time. A new series will be starting that will showcase articles and websites from the net that provide only the most articulate and mature film journalism (with some levity thrown in as well). Instead of going to slashfilm or aintitcool, and seeing the same old boring and sensationalist topics, come here encounter film news that will leave you stimulated, provoked, challenged, enlightened and ultimately hopeful about film and the interesting pathways it’s going down.
So join Film-Cycle as we begin our inaugural edition of “Film News Worth Your Time”
In the early 90’s, when black culture was starting to seep into the mainstream, certain artistic milestones could be pointed to as both harbingers of the spirit of adoption and intermingling that was taking place. Thomas Golianopoulos of espn.com presents a brilliantly in depth oral history (in the style of “I Want My MTV“) paying tribute to such a cinematic milestone; White Men Can’t Jump. Enjoy as Director Ron Shelton, stars Woody Harrelson, producer Joe Roth, and other stars from the film, come together and talk its creation and reflect on its impact.
Gene Kelly would have been a hundred today. I’d be willing to bet if he were still alive he could give even the best dancers today a run for their money. NPR pays a fitting tribute to Mr. Kelly on their morning edition today as modern professionals in the field of dance chime in to expound on their love for the talent and style of the “Marlon Brando of Dance”. Everyone together now; “Gotta Dance!”
Its sad that with all the news of superhero films and reboots there is no room to celebrate a new creation from one of the masters of cinema. Here is an interview De Palma did in La Repubblica ( if you don’t like using Google translate, an English version is available at the fan blog De Palma A La Mod) where he talks about new film Passion, his status in Hollywood, his influences and who he believes his modern heir is.
I for one had grown tired of seeing the film on the BFI list discussed in terms of a race horse; jockeying for position with other films on a meaningless list. No one seemed willing or able to discuss themes, imagery, mood or atmosphere. It’s a sad trait not uncommon in most cultural commentary today. Thankfully the young professionals at the Museum of the Moving Image are still able to talk deeply, in a learned manner about film. They composed a three part video essay/deconstruction of the film Vertigo that is well worth a look and listen.
Ever had the sneaking suspicion that Martin Scorsese is really a film historian posing as a film director. In every interview, editorial, awards speech, or commercial he seems almost busting at the seems with cinema history and know how. A short time ago he begin writing a monthly piece for TCM called Scorsese Screens. Here, he gives excellent recommendations for films coming on Turner Classic that month, talking in depth about the stars and directors of each film. It an invaluable resource for the modern fan of classic movies.
Seriously, this is film news: Disturbing Details On The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Reboot Screenplay
Hollywood satire is typically reserved for more adult fare. Filmmakers must believe that the inner, more sordid machinations of the Hollywood system are of little interest to the younger generation. While I can’t blame them for thinking this, I feel they may be selling kids short. They’re a pretty understanding and perceptive bunch, and posses a keener more purer insight into matters of human nature than adults. You’d be surprised at what kids can handle
Its all about balance. How do you find movies for kids that will keep them entertained while stimulating their minds? Rest assured, quality films for kids are out there if you look hard enough. There are wonderful adventure movies (like The Thief of Baghdad, 1941) enriching fantasy films (like The Phantom Tollbooth, 1970) and even joyous musicals kids can get into (like Singing In the Rain. Hey, great movies are never cliche). Believe it or not, there is even a great Hollywood satire made especially for kids that is just as insightful and astute as those made for adults. Don’t believe me? Well, you’ve obviously never seen Big Fat Liar.
Dir. Shawn Levy
Produced by Brian Tollins and Dan Schneider
Written by Dan Schneider
When junior high-school student Jason Shepherd (Frankie Muniz) realizes that his class paper has been ripped off and turned into a hit motion picture called “Big Fat Liar,” he takes matters into his own hands. Along with his best friend, Kaylee (Amanda Bynes), Jason travels to Los Angeles, where he intends to confront Hollywood big shot Marty Wolf (Paul Giamantti), the sleazy producer responsible for ripping him off. When he’s unable to get Wolf to do the right thing, Jason subjects the showbiz power broker to a series of humiliating pranks and stunts designed to make an honest man out of him. Big Fat Liar co-stars Lee Majors and Amanda Demeter.
synopsis courtesy of allmovie.com
Today, Shawn Levy is known primary as the director of the two Night at the Museum movies; scatterbrained crapshoots of overblown fantasy and comedy. Long ago however he was at the helm of many shows in great 90’s renaissance of children’s entertainment including: The Secret World of Alex Mack, So Weird, and The Famous Jett Jackson. Likewise, Dan Schneider, known now for awful shows like iCarly, Victorious, and Zoey 101, was, in the 90’s, the Norman Lear of kids comedy. He created and wrote for shows like All That, Kenan and Kel, and The Amanda Show.
By 2001, Shawn Levy and Dan Schneider had three films between them (one television movie directed by Levy, two features co-written by Schneider). From there to the production and release of Big Fat Liar it’s easy to surmise the steps taken towards the creation of the film.
The Making of Big Fat Liar
A play in one act by Film-Cycle
Ext. A high class restaruant in Hollywood.
Shawn: “Hey Dan, What if your next project was a harsh, biting satire of Hollywood politics.”
Dan: “You’re crazy.”
Shawn: “We can pull if off. Our satire will be unique. Its revolves around a kid; a kid who is a natural storyteller and a gifted liar. Through a series of random events his school paper is stolen by a Hollywood producer. This guy is awful; a slimy, narcissistic, evil, piece of garbage, but not too dark so kids get scared.
Dan: “Who you got in mind to play this guy?”
Shawn: “Who in Hollywood could make John Gacy a likable character?”
Dan: “Paul Giamatti.”
Shawn: What about the kid?”
Dan: “He’d have to be likable with a unique goofy look; a Frankie Muniz type. We’ll also give him a best friend.
Shawn: “So this jerk producer steals this kids story. He does it to save his career. He’s had a string of flops and sees the story as his salvation. The kid gets in trouble because the producer took his school paper, but no one will believes him, so he decides to sneak off, with his friend, to Hollywood and confront the producer in person and clear his name.”
Shawn: “Now we need a name for this producer guy that encapsulates, how idiotic and untrustworthy most producers can be. How about Marty. Marty Wolf of Marty Wolf Pictures
Dan: Okay, so the kids confront Marty Wolf and he denies the whole thing, so the kids decide to get even with him.
Shawn: Our main hero boy (we’ll call him Jason) and his friend decide to give Marty the Home Alone treatment. They cause trouble for his company and all his projects. They mess up every aspect of Marty’s life including his personal hygiene.
Shawn: “We should also show how badly Wolf treats the people working under him, showcasing the nastier tendencies a Hollywood producer’s typically displays. Suffice to say, this Marty guy would have a lot of enemies.”
Dan: “We’ll have Jason encounter dozens of people who’ve been wronged by Wolf: chauffeurs, writers, stuntmen and stunt-women, assistants, directors, actors and actresses (great opportunity for cameo’s here). They join with Jason and together they work to bring Wolf down.”
Shawn “So its a satire of the Hollywood system wrapped up in a kiddie comedy/slash morality tale.”
Dan: Will our bosses go for it.”
Shawn: “Of course. They’re so narcissistic they’ll probably get off on it..”
Dan: “I got the perfect guy to direct it.”
Shawn: “Who? Me!”
Dan: “Brian Robbins.”
Shawn: “I hate you.”
Thus was the story of how “Big Fat Liar” came to be (or at least a reasonable facsimile of it). Like most kiddie fare, it made a reasonable sum of money at the box office and the reviews were mixed. It soon disappeared from public view only to be found later in the 5 dollar dvd bin at Walmart. An unfit end for a film that contains intelligence and satire well beyond its recommended age for viewing.
Have you seen those Elle or Vanity Fair issues where they do tributes to past movies and their iconic scenes using today’s stars? For Instance:
Lea Michelle In “The Creature from The Black Lagoon”
Jayma Mays as Tippi Hedren in “The Birds”
It’s a cute, yet superficial way for a young star or starlet to both pay tribute and pander to the history of cinema. Young stars assume they are paying respect by making a simple pose. Yet it’s a pose that is done without any of the skill, technique or talent that accompanied the original performers in the roles. It’s only good for a nostalgic laugh if not for anything else. Sadly nobody seems to have let Kimberly Pierce in on the joke.
These are the first official set images from Kimberly Pierce’s remake of Brian De Palma’s………..I mean Stephen King’s Carrie that were released today. They feature Chloe “Hit Girl” Moretz and Julianne “Body of Evidence” Moore respectively sporting the now iconic outfits of a prom dress with a dash of red food coloring and a white gown and cross ideal for the chic Christian woman on the go.
Its laughable because, in looking at the pictures, you can almost hear the studio heads behind the film deliberating on how to make it more “modern” and distinguish it from its predecessor.
Studio Guy 1: “I got it, Piper Laurie played it with frizzy hair so all we have to do is give Julianne Moore a blowout to get rid of the perm and people will say it’s totally different.”
Studio Guy 2: “Brilliant Boss, but what will we do about Chloe Moretz as Carrie? We can’t have her looking too much like Sissy Spacek or else people will say we’re being derivative.”
Studio Guy 1: “Don’t worry, I got it all thought out. In the original, De Palma played up the Gothic horror element. He had Sissy play it as if she was in a nightmarish trance; an enraptured portrayal of righteous anger, sexual revenge and supernatural intrigue. We can never match that, so just have Chloe looking very confused, like she doesn’t know why she is covered in blood.”
Studio Guy 2: “A masterstroke Boss; the audience will never catch on. They’ll think we’re doing something unique and different, when really we’re just recycling a name brand for a quick cash grab. Still, I’m concerned about the online film blogs like cinemablend, slashfilm, and aintitcool. What if they catch on to our game?”
Studio Guy 1: “I told you it can never happen. They’re on our side now. They tell their listeners not to judge until they see the movie for themselves. They’re so afraid to be negative, or have any sort of standards that they become shills who actually help us sell our mediocre product. Can you believe that?”
Studio Guy 2: “Yeah, especially after they bit the bait with the “Total Recall” remake. For months they told their readers not to judge until they saw it for themselves, even after that lame trailer was released. They didn’t want to seem judgmental so they didn’t caution their readers. They saw that awful film and, even though it stunk, the film ended up breaking even in the worldwide grosses.”
Studio Guy 1: Gotta love those film blogs: “don’t judge until you see it”, how stupid can you be? I’m glad no other aspect of our society tries to function like that. Imagine the army operating on that kind of thinking:
Cadet: “General they have their nukes pointing straight at us and their prepared to fire”
General: “Stand down solider it just looks like they’re firing. You can’t judge them until they actually do something.”
Cadet: “But sir they’ve fired on us in the past (“The Fog”, “The Crazies”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, “Last House on the Left”, “Straw Dogs”) but you keep on insisting we give them the benefit of the doubt. Yet our country (the cinema) is in shambles and continues to sustain damage. Isn’t it about time we stop giving them (the studios) the benefit of the doubt and start demanding peace (quality, original films)?”
General: “Solider you are so negative. I withhold my judgement on something until I see what actually happens. Maybe the bomb will hit and it won’t be so bad. Maybe it will explode candy.”
Cadet: “Sir, you’re an idiot.”
General: “I know.”
Studio Guy 2: “Hilarious sir, you’re funnier than Dane Cook.”
Studio Guy 1: “Thanks, but I can’t take all the credit. Our publicity department did us a big favor with floating the lie that we’re making the movie different by going back to the source material.”
Studio Guy 2: “Yeah sir, but I still don’t understand what going back to the source material means. It’s not like you can adapt a whole movie to the screen page by page. You have to leave some stuff out in favor of others. So no matter how back into the book you retreat, you always end up doing an adaptation anyway”
Studio Guy 1: “Don’t think too hard about it, cause its obvious the film bloggers don’t. It’s just a lame excuse we thought up to justify remaking something that didn’t need to be remade in the first place. Besides if the public were really paying attention they would know that in the book, Carrie is supposed to be overweight and have acne and thinning hair, so we obviously don’t give a crap about the book.”
Studio Guy 2: “Like De Palma?”
Studio Guy 1: “No De Palma was different. He’s an artist. The specific nit picky elements of the book were inconsequential in lieu of his overriding vision of subversive sexual horror and religious paranoia. We, on the other hand, are just lazy.”
Studio Guy 2: “So sir, when we say were going “closer to the book” we mean it the same way Tim Burton meant it when he kept repeating that very thing while promoting “Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.” (i.e. we’re deviating from the book as much as the first movie did, but we don’t want the audience to think we have nothing new to offer because we would very much like their money)
Studio Guy 1: “Exactly, we’re deviating from the book but still following a scaled down idiotic version of what De Palma did. As you know, we are deathly afraid to do anything new or different so we just use the source material argument as an excuse to mask our copycat tendencies. The bloggers buy it, and give us some credibility which extends to their followers, which translates to box office dollars for us.”
Studio Guy 2: “It’s amazing sir that nobody has caught on yet.”
Studio Guy 1: “Well some critics and journalists have been wise to us in the past, but they usually go away. The film community ridicules or ignores their dissenting opinions and they are labeled a nuisance or troll. Funny how today having high standards for film gets you labeled a nuisance by your contemporaries.”
Studio Guy 2: “It’s a crazy world sir, but as long as I’ve got money in my pockets, I say to the devil with good cinema.”
Studio Guy 1: “I’ve taught you well. I’m so proud of you. By the way, how are those script revisions going?”
Studio Guy 2: “Excellent sir. We have Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, a writer on the hit television series “Glee” doing it so it should be great.”
P.S. Here is a screen shot of starlet Kate Mara paying tribute to De Palma’s “Carrie” from Ryan Murphy’s Elle magazine layout.
Please remember Kimberly Pierce, its good for a laugh, not for a film.
Tony Scott is dead. What have we learned?
I don’t mean to come off as impersonal, and rest assured I send all my prayers and well wishes to the family of Mr. Scott, but I just find the way we react to deaths, from a Hollywood point of view, really bizarre.
If it were any other day, and Tony Scott didn’t die, you might of fired up your computer and thought that maybe Mr. Scott was finally going to be honored by the AFI or BFI or any other prestigious film institution. What other reason would there be for his name to be across the front page of so many websites and film blogs? Sadly, death seems to be the only way to open up discussion of an actors, writers, director, or producers body of work nowadays, at least in a serious way apart from box office tallies. Before the body is even cold, we are pouring over the titles in their film library. In a horribly backward way of procedure, death it seems has become the means solely for career retrospective. The where, when, who and how of the death are discarded and pushed aside save for cursory hollow lamentations offered up on the alter of “senseless” tragedy and fashionable grieving.
Post-mortem the focus shifts quickly from the unimportant (the loss of human life) to the important (the discussion of the work the life produced). This is a truly Hollywood way of grieving and is very remote from the way most people in the real world grieve (in death the work one does becomes immediately trivial or at the very least a detail or showcase through which their character was displayed; i.e. – “John was a good man and a devoted husband and father. He carried that same devotion to everything he did, both in work and life. He’ll be missed”). Of course when viewed from an artistic standpoint, taking stock of an artist work after death is a natural and valid tendency, as the work that an artist produces is usually of such a personal nature that it is a great tool in deciphering who they were as a human being. However, even when viewed in an artistic standpoint the work of an artist should only be remembered as an enrichment of an artists life and not the only defining trait, as if they were born with a paintbrush, instrument or camera in hand.
Yes Tony Scott was a director who had a very long and fiscally successful career, but he was also a man with the capacity for hope, hate, fear, love, joy and peace like any other. We of the film community will of course remember him in the scope of his work, but we should not be so willing to bury the man and way he lived or died under his accomplishments. Even if our information of him is not of an intensely personal nature we should still be able to say more of a mans life or death than what movies he directed. We risk taking the humanity out our ourselves and our art if we neglect the livelihood of a person in lieu of their personal/professional art. When I ask what did we learn from Tony Scott’s death, I hope the answer will not be that “Crimson Tide” was a really good movie, and “Domino” was totally underrated. I hope instead people will take note of how vital it is, to have a center and balance in your life. I hope we will realize how important it is to seek the priceless value of a peace of mind, and I pray we would learn to cherish contentment beyond the striving for material gain and worldly achievements. May it be said that we could delight in the precious splendor of life even in the face of tragedy, chaos, or even terminal brain cancer.
Mainly I hope that those of us who follow cinema and various art forms, can be said to have a personal nature that runs opposite to what many detractors of Tony Scott’s work used to proclaim; “Style and no substance”.
Another black people in the ghetto movie. No thanks.
I thought this very thing when I became aware of the 2006 film “ATL”. I didn’t want to subject myself to another 90 minutes of cursing, gun fights, loud obscene music, and narcotics. I figure this is what most of America thought because when “ATL” was first released it died a quick death at the box office and therefore was a total failure and deemed unworthy of being seen by human eyes.
but you know…..
You could almost frighten yourself if you stopped to consider how much negative preconceptions can rob you of new and wonderful experiences in life.
The truth is “ATL” is perhaps the greatest coming of age story to hit the screen in the past two decades. It almost makes up for the awful bleak 90’s where every black coming of age story was used as an excuse to perpetuate negative stereotypes and punish audiences with repugnant afro-centric content (stereotypes rightfully skewered in the great underrated Wayans Bros. comedy “Don’t Be a Menace In South Central While Drinking Your Juice In the Hood”). “ATL” is a great film. Not just a great “black” film mind you but a plain great film. The hallmarks may seem familiar for it does in fact does contain elements of guns, drugs and hip-hop music, but never used in an intrusive or exploitative way (as if that is all life is for these people). We are not asked to feel sorry for anybody on the screen or identify (worship) the criminals in society. We are asked to sit and experience through expressive immersion, a culture that on the surface may seem alien to our own but in fact contains individuals with dreams, hopes, and fears just as valid and worthy as yours and mine.
courtesy of allmovie.com
A tightly knit group of working-class Atlanta teens spend their time bonding over hip-hop and roller skating while pondering life after high school in a coming-of-age comedy drama that draws inspirations from the real-life childhoods of Dallas Austin and Tionne Watkins. For a kid growing up on the south side of Atlanta, the Cascade roller-skating rink is the place to be seen, and it’s the place where the orphaned high school senior Rashad (Tip Harris) and his little brother Ant (Evan Ross) go every weekend to forget their financial troubles, hang with their friends and get their groove on. But outside the rink, the brothers have problems they can’t avoid: Ant is being recruited into the posse of charismatic drug dealer Marcus. Meanwhile, Rashad’s three best friends — including the ambitious Esquire (Jackie Long) — are pulling him in different directions, and his new girlfriend New-New (Lauren London) may not be as “street” as she seems. As Rashad tries to hold on to his little brother, he also comes to the realization that if he’s ever going to make something of himself, he’s going to have to step out of his skates and into the real world.
Like Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” or Badham’s “Saturday Night Fever” the trappings of culture and genre (Italian crime movie, disco) are easily transcended. You come to see these people on the screen as more than stereotypes. The struggles and themes are stronger and more universal than what is found in the typical “ghetto” movie. Or at the very least they are presented with a different more enlightened perspective. The debate of class and culture, what selling out truly entails, the wonderful ambiance of youth, and the painful, yet not entirely hopeless, transition to adulthood are all touched upon in fresh and interesting ways. The direction of Chris Robinson is a revelation. He seems to have limitless amounts of cinematic style to spare but does not overload with an excess of visual tricks (as is typical of music video directors gone cinematic). The lighting, effects, and design are all out of the ordinary but not obtrusively so. Robinson’s goal was not to dazzle with flair but immerse the viewer in the sweaty, steamy world of the ATL and the lives of its inhabitants. Its a pleasure to watch and at times extremely enthralling. Finally, it seems the avant garde has come to the “ghetto”.
The performances are amazing. At first the casting of a rap musicians as the main leads would seem like a lazy choice: something purposefully done just to bring in the young kids. That maybe so but you would never know it by watching the picture. T.I. and Big Boi are both brilliant in their roles as the hero and villain of the piece. T.I. brings a grace and nobility to the part usually not found in most “ghetto” movies. A natural onscreen thinker. You enjoy watching him sit and pontificate for you know his thoughts are of a special more deeper caliber than the environment around him. Its a joy watching with him interact with his friends, girlfriend and little brother for you see how much he enjoys and cares for them. Most hero characters in ghetto movies are repugnant anti hero’s. We’re supposed to sympathize with their poor life choices and horrendous acts because we figure that this is the best they could do under the circumstances (see “Hustle and Flow”) and demanding anything better from them would be culturally insensitive. This isn’t he case with T.I.’s character Rashad for he possess dreams, talent, and a huge heart. However this is not an after school special. His dreams are grounded, his talent practical and his heart guarded. He is not an angel, he just never uses the environment around him or his culture as an excuse to be an bad person. When evaluating the genre of black coming of age films and how the performances have evolved (little) over time T.I.’s Rashad must be viewed as a game changer.
Similarly, Antwan “Big Boi” Patton of the progressive hip-hop group Outkast, gives a unique interpretation on the ghetto villain in his character Marcus, the drug dealer Rashad’s little brother Ant goes to work for. In most ghetto pictures the antagonist is an awful characterization no better than a rabid animal. Foul language, decrepit morals (even for a villain), and horrendous conduct are the usual hallmarks. These performances are routinely celebrated by an unwitting condescending public who confuse the ability to be a lowlife with the depth of an actors technique. Big Boi’s Marcus however is a great villain in the strictly cinematic sense. He is refined, charismatic and charming: a king among ants. You often wonder in most ghetto movies how a lot of these unruly people could ever be the head of a crime organization. With Marcus it is easy to see how. However his charm and refinement is not a theatrical embellishment but a truthful revelation of societal norms for in reality the individuals on the street who conduct crime and seduce people into their lifestyle posses a sort of ruthless charm and charisma themselves that is in its weird way attractive. The character of Marcus captures this brilliantly and truthfully. If its true that the great cinematic villains are not unruly monsters but snapshots of fractured humanity than Big Boi’s Marcus deserves consideration among the great modern villains in recent cinema.
With all that said “ATL” still may not seem like a movie you would be inclined to seek out, despite my endorsement, but I am sure you would be hard pressed to find a more satisfying coming of age film. For those of you are still convinced you are outside the target audience for the film, I would like to paraphrase Pauline Kael from her review of Ossie Davis’ “Black Girl”:
“I liked watching the people on the screen. They embody different backgrounds and different strategies for survival”
With this in mind I urge you to get out of your cold dry comfort zone, and immerse yourself in the hot sweaty world of the dirty dirty south.
Don’t be scarred by the trailer. The studio didn’t know how to market it any other way than a ghetto drama.
The film contains a brilliant tracking shot that is on par with the Copacabana scene in “Goodfellas”. Watch for it.
I never wanted to create a website just to highlight the problems in film journalism. I never wanted to be accused of only condemning the movie bloggers and journalist of today. On the contrary, I want to convict them. I want to challenge them to demand more of themselves concerning how they write and respond to the cinematic arts. This is why, along with my articles written in admonishment of modern film blogging, I also offer my trademark articles entitled “The Redeeming Film Journalism Piece For Today”. There I provide links to sources of more enlightened and intelligent film articles for analyzation and discussion. So far, I’ve been very happy with the results of this endeavor, and am glad if I am able to turn even one person away from the well worn path of juvenile film blogging to the less traveled road of mature cinematic thinking. In short, its has been a labor of love.
As we continue in our future efforts we seek new opportunities to reach out to people surfing the net for their film education. Well written informative articles about film have their place in this reeducation, as do video essays, and podcasts. However, none of these things, could ever take the place of the formative education, instruction, and enjoyment offered by simply watching a good movie. Its not a proven science, but you would be surprised how often poor watching habits lead to poor film journalism. Its really common sense; if you put junk in you will get junk out. With this in mind Film-Cycle will now be offering weekly recommendations for movies. We will recommend a wide, diverse, and multi-generational selection of films for you to seek and devour. By subscribing to the recommended Film-Cycle diet of films, you will find yourself a healthier, (more astute, intelligent and fulfilled) cinematic patron.
1# “Blues in the Night” 1941 Dir. Anatole Litvak
Litvak, like a lot of studio system directors, will never be recognized for his work. People will enjoy his films, when they rent them from the library or catch them on TCM, but he will never enjoy any popular recognition as the expressionist director and sneaky auteur that he was. No other filmmaker, besides Wells, was able to work at such an artistically unrestrained level during the era of studio dominance. He directed his films with great intensity and honesty of performance. He had a creative eye for camera and montage, and used extensive in-camera effects to express and enhance narrative and emotion. However, he had great instincts as a storyteller and never let the more ostentatious effects of his own creation overwhelm the already crackling drama unfolding onscreen.
In 1941’s “Blues in the Night” you find him at the apex of his stylistic prowess. This is before he learned to adapt his instincts in a slightly more studio friendly way (1941’s “The Snake Pit”, 1950’s “Sorry Wrong Number”). The story he tells is (when viewed though the span of cinematic history) a well told and simple story. A group of musically inclined friends seek to start their own down-home style jazz collective. The group, comprised of Pianist Jigger Pine (Richard Whorf), drummer Peppi (Billy Halop), clarinet player Nickie Haroyan (Elia Kazan) bass player Pete Bassett (Peter Whitney), trumpeter Leo Powell (Jack Carson), and group vocalist (and Leo’s wife) Character (Priscilla Lane), tour the states and endure many bad breaks. Eventually they run into prison escapee Del Davis (played with fearsome intensity by actor Lloyd Nolan). He is a shady character who runs a nightclub and offer them a temporary job as house band. The bands trials and tribulations may seem typical: inter-band fighting, selling out, drinking problems, affairs and lurid romances (courtesy of hard nose vamp singer Kay Grant, played with great aplomb by Betty Field), but Litvak directs in such a way as to wring every last bit of conviction from his actors. These aren’t stereotypes from the typical “get together a band” picture but living breathing people who just happen to live and breath music. The writing is also sharp as a tack thanks to the pen of Edwin Gilbert, Robert Rossen (of “Roaring Twenties” and “The Hustler”) and Mr. Kazan (who was uncredited). Every line and joke is written with great insight and honesty avoiding the trap of caricaturing . Even though the film does visit a lot of familiar (genre inherent) territories, the characters are so “real”, the writing is so good, and the directing so enthralling that it elevates the material above convention to become an honest cinematic portrayal of personal struggle. You find you are not watching a movie about musicians, but a story of people trying to find their way in the world by clinging onto the only happiness they can find: Music
Doth my eyes deceive me.
In my daily travels through the internet film blog-o-sphere, I of course saw the usual asinine news concerning superhero movies, reboots and sequels. However, I was taken by temporary surprise by a news item that was making its rounds through most of popular film blogs. At first I thought I was seeing the beginnings of something special. Great films were being discussed on these usually tasteless and juvenile blogs. Paragraphs were being devoted to discussing the works of Hitchcock, Renoir, Wells, Murnau, Fellini, and Ford. No mention of a reboot or superhero was anywhere to be found. At first glance it was a beautiful sight.
At second glance it was a travesty.
What was the reason for this sudden renaissance of taste and culture among the general consortium of online film journalists? We’re they finally growing up and starting to think deeply about film? We’re they looking for something more to contribute to cinematic culture than their sadly routine and repugnant commentary? Was this the birth of a new wonderful dawn in cultural criticism?
No. It was simply the mindless nitpicking over yet another top ten list.
Sight and Sound has recently unveiled their yearly list of the greatest films of all time. http://www.bfi.org.uk/news/50-greatest-films-all-time The reason why this list receives more notice than the millions of others out there is due to the regal pool it draws from. The most renowned cinematic thinkers, critics, teachers, programmers and distributors are asked to weigh in on this particular list. The results usually consist of a collection of prestigious and legendary films. This year is no different.
1. VERTIGO (d. Alfred Hitchcock)
2. CITIZEN KANE (d. Orson Welles)
3. TOKYO STORY (d. Yasujiro Ozu)
4. THE RULES OF THE GAME (d. Jean Renoir)
5. SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (d. F.W. Murnau)
6. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (d. Stanley Kubrick)
7. THE SEARCHERS (d. John Ford)
8. MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (d. Dziga Vertov)
9. THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (d. Carl Theodor Dreyer)
10. 8 1/2 (d. Federico Fellini)
I suppose a list of this caliber deserves some attention, at least to counteract the poor recommendations usually offered by the writers of the more popular film blogs in existence. However, there has always been, and still are, those who balk at the very idea of definitive lists. They feel it degrades the art of film-making turning the discussion of cinema away from more enlightened pathways and leading it down the avenue of sports statistics and silly games of one upping. To a great degree I must concur. I have seen more negatives as a result of top ten lists than I’ve seen positives. It seems people no longer want to discuss the great works of cinema in a intelligent or dignified sense (concerning what the film is saying, how it relates to us, ect). In light of these lists, people put art aside and argue senselessly about pole position, nitpicking the work of others to make their own personal selections look good. When did we turn the cinematic arts into a competition? Are people not capable of talking about great films unless we pit them against each other? I know that art is comparable, but shouldn’t the comparing come from examining the themes and motifs presented in the work of art; connecting and contrasting the different viewpoints and styles presented therein for a more informed central and personal viewpoint? Is that discussion not more worthy of interest than the place a films holds on a list? What does talk like that gain anyone?
Defenders of lists such as these say an excellent education is offered for those looking to verse themselves in great movies. Well…..okay. Sitting at the feet of the masters and learning is always a good thing. However I’d rather go to the master with at least some sort of open mind instead of looking to see how his stupid film could ever be ranked above mine on a cockamamie list. Am I looking at this film to see what it presents to me as a work of art, or am I watching to compare it to some entries on a list; jockeying it around to see how it comes out. I think attitudes like that rob cinema of its impact and beauty making it a pointless contest where subjectivity is the only argument that matters.
Oh, what a cheap argument subjectivity is. Its the hallmark of the current childish brand of internet film journalism. Why are people so afraid to make a stand on a particular subject in cinema (or is it that they lack the ability to do so)? The film blog-o-sphere had only subjectivity to offer as a response to the top ten list. Its the only way they know how to respond when presented with films such as these (which differ from their usual sub-par fare) Have they no critiques or commentary to offer besides “well everything is subjective”? Why not talk about the films at length (or have they not even seen them)? Why not discuss them on your podcasts and write feature stories about them for your websites. I’m sure we could all use a rest from the latest “Dark Knight Rises” News.
Sadly, the only “worthwhile” thing most of these journalist had to say about the list is that it is not very current.
“today the first poll since 2012 was finally announced, and once again, there’s not a movie on either list made after 1980.”
Katey Rich – Cinemablend
“All indisputably great films, and not a single one made before 1968.”
Beaks – Aintitcool
I am certainly not against any films from the very recent past appearing on the list, but I’d be willing to bet that the reason most film bloggers are making note of the vintage of the films listed, is that they have a lazy aversion to seeing films that are “old movies”. They feel they are able to digest more easily and connect with films from their own time. Please excuse me if I sound harsh but don’t use subjectivity as an argument to defer from your lack of depth in cinematic history. Its already evident in your writing reflected by the your threadbare and disposable opinions. I’m not saying you have to live and breath classic cinema (as if that’s a bad thing) but I generally find that those who aren’t well versed in the classics usually have very little of interest to say concerning movies for they lack the history and bearing to do so. Why should I reward your website with my viewership just because you find it easier to write about how cool batman villains are instead of taking your time to watch and reflect on great cinema?
I’m willing to go out on a limb and say movies are awful nowadays. The major critics in the world seem to realize that. The list they cobbled together reflects it.
Citizen Kane is number 2 now. So What?! What about the film itself? What do you think about it.?What are its themes? What about its craft? Citizen Kane is not number 1 or number 2. Its a brilliant work of art worthy of discussion better than its placement on a list. Arguing and reporting such as that are really what is number 2.