Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tarantino is Cool

Quentin Tarantino was a high school dropout working at a movie rental store that became one of the most influential directors. Reservoir Dogs (1992) was Tarantino’s first film. His new take on the heist movie is totally cool. He was the first to use such an extreme amount of gore and obscene language that brought back the idea of an adult movie (R rated). This amount of gore paved the way for many horror films such as Hostel, the Saw series, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Tarantino also uses the non-linear fractured time line in Reservoir Dogs to add interest and mystery. The fractured time line is rare, but can now be seen in films like Seven Pounds and Following. Tarantino also focuses on long seemingly pointless conversations away from the action in order to further develop characters. All of these characteristics allowed Tarantino to successfully change the idea behind crime/action movies while creating an incredibly cool movie at the same time.

It’s hard to think of any directors that are a cool as Tarantino because no one has combined all of these elements to create such a revolutionary film. One film that was obviously influenced by this new idea of the crime/action movie is Burn After Reading (2008) written and directed by the Coen brothers. Although Burn After Reading focuses more blatantly on the comedic, it includes a lot of the pointless conversations that help to develop characters and almost every major character is dead by the end of the film. Many of the characters are killed as a result of misunderstanding and they do not know something that the audience does in the same way that Mr. White is killed because he doesn’t realize that Mr. Orange is the rat. It is also similar in the extreme amount of obscene language and includes a lot of lewd subject matter that is not necessarily related to the plot. Although Burn After Reading is pretty cool, the one element that this movie is lacking is the fractured plot line so it lacks some of the mystery.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"What's Hot" vs. "What's Not"

“Hot” / “Not”

Spirituality / Agnosticism
Facebook /My Space
Playing in a band / Playing in the band
Capitalism / Socialism
Target / Wal-Mart
Intelligence / Stupidity
Sex / Prostitution
Snowboarding / Snow skiing
High GPA / Studying
The Colbert Report / The Late Show
PC / Mac
Soldiers / War
Rock music / Rap
Nerds / Dorks
Drugs / Addiction
Nonchalance / Desperation
Trees / Tree huggers
Vintage clothes / Abercrombie and Fitch
Equality / Affirmative action
Being the best / Thinking you’re the best

This list is in no particular order and is only my opinion of what’s cool in today’s culture. I’m sure there are several items on the list that people are bound to disagree with me about, but I think it’s pretty accurate. The first item on the list happens to be one of the most controversial: Spirituality vs. agnosticism. Although it seems that agnosticism seems to be a growing trend in the United States, I would like to argue that it is not cool. Being an agnostic is basically refusing to take a stance one way or another. I’m not trying to argue that religion is cool, but that not standing up for your opinion or not using your brain for long enough to have your own opinion is not. To claim that agnosticism is cool would be the same as saying laziness or lack of original thought is cool. I believe that laziness and lack of original though would definitely make the “not” side, therefore agnosticism should do the same.

Some of the pop cultural items on the list such as rock music, nerds, snowboarding, and Facebook are temporary. They will change over the years and are more susceptible to personal opinion. I realize that some people think rap music is cool (even though they are wrong). If you had people from different areas and different generations compile a similar list, the pop culture items would vary quite a bit. On the other hand, I think there are certain things that will always be considered cool, such as equality, intelligence, and being the best. As well as things that will always be uncool, like war, desperation, and hopefully socialism.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Paris is Burning

Paris is Burning was filmed to introduce the transgender ball culture of the African American and Latino community. The film was released after homosexuality had become a popular subject in the news with the AIDS crisis and after Madonna had released a new song “Vogue” about the voguing dance movement. The notion of homosexuality was no longer unheard of, but it was widely rejected conservatives, religious groups, and others. AIDS was even used as an argument for God’s disfavor against homosexuality. Paris is Burning is one of the first films to portray members of the LGBTQ community in a role other than for comedic relief.

Since the release of Paris is Burning, there have been many films on that include homosexuality for purposes other than humor, and some films have a member of the LGBTQ community as the main protagonist. One such film is Philadelphia (1994), where a gay attorney, named Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks), with AIDS is discriminated against and fired for his condition. Other lawyers will not represent him in a discrimination case because of their own homophobia, and he is forced to begin working on the case in which he will represent himself. Eventually Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) realizes that Beckett is being treated unjustly by society and decides to help in with the case. Philadelphia puts out a similar point to Paris is Burning. Both films show that transgenders or gays are real people, not so different than you and me, and should be treated better. However, they accomplish this in very different ways.

Paris is Burning
is different than other films on this subject because it is a documentary of the lives of drag queens in New York. It is important that it’s documentary because it gives an accurate depiction of what was going on and not some filmmaker’s interpretation of the actual events. Although there is not a well defined plot line that draws the viewers in to story, the fact that they are real people makes the documentary very impactful. The film simply presents the lives of its subjects and lets the audience make their own opinions. The documentary tends to be a fairly rare form of film, especially among films that are released theatrically. Recent documentaries that have gained great fame include Super Size Me (2004) and March of the Penguins (2005). Documentaries do not do so well in the box office because some people have preconceptions that they are boring, but these movies all have one thing in common. They present a certain point through actual footage of real events.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Got to Be Real

Paris is Burning (1990) is a documentary about the homosexuals, drag queens, and transgenders of New York City in the 1980s. The film is a wonderful peek into the brightly colored world of balls, vogueing, and life in the streets. The people that are shown in the film are living in the most poverty stricken neighborhoods of New York and most were abandoned in some way by their parents. The members of this community should be admired for facing adversity, finding a new family, and striving for a better life. Although this culture is intriguing at first glance, I am not sure that it can be considered cool.

The underground houses and balls formed their own culture and their own idea of what they found cool. The styles and fashions that this group found cool were on obvious display through the balls. The winners of the competition were those that looked the best and had the coolest outfit. The main criterion that was used in judging these competitions is “realness.” Realness was a term used by this community to grade how well you’re able to blend or well you’re able to portray a certain role. The competitions had a huge array of categories that range from masculine roles such as military or college student to extremely feminine ones like school girl or beauty. This concept of realness is ironic because what is actually judging is how good you are at being fake (or at least being something you’re not). The coolest drag queens were the legends and up and coming legends, who were the most convincing or real.

Coolness, however, is not only determined by your own group of friends, but cool is dependent on the opinion of the public community as a whole. From footage in the documentary, it is obvious that transvestites and homosexuals were not well received by others in New York City at the time it was shot. Often people or groups that become cool are at first rejected by society. Think of the grunge music that also started in the 80s. The first grunge bands were looked down upon by society, before the genre gained popularity. In reference to how cool was defined at the beginning of the semester, the drag community would fall into the category of dissident cool. The members of the houses ignored the negative comments and continued to live their lives in whatever fashion they felt like. Now many members of this culture have become extremely successful in the fashion industry, therefore I find that this cultural has followed a common pattern of cool.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cool Satire

Robocop is not your average eighties action flick. The satire about political practices works perfectly with the action genre. The main targets of the film are over privatization, and the deterioration of humanity. Satire and action work great together because action movies are already completely over the top with explosions, chase scenes, and of course some blood and gore. Since satire uses exaggeration to make a point, it fits hand and hand with the action genre.

Other genres can also work with satire, and one of the most common is comedy. Donna used the example of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Satire is easily incorporated into comedies because satire is comedic itself. Even though Robocop is an action movie the satire causes many comedic moments in which I laughed out loud. One of my favorite comedic satires is Airplane (1980). Airplane takes the disaster film genre, and through extreme hyperbole turns it into a genius comedy. The situation of an airplane crew getting food poisoning and not being able to the land the plane is totally ridiculous. The satire is not as profound as it is in Robocop because it is simply commenting on another genre. Although Airplane does not provide any great political or economic revelations, it is equally as entertaining.

My favorite satire film of all time would have to be O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). O Brother, Where Art Thou? is an adventure film that uses satire to show the public the evils of the South. The film parallels Homer’s The Odyssey, and makes references to the classic satire Sullivan’s Travels. The dangers of the South are revealed through Big Dan a con man who pretends to be a Bible salesman in order to rob people of their money. It is later revealed that Big Dan is a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The film also comments on less than noble politicians with Pappy, the Governor of Mississippi, whose true colors are shown when he’s not standing behind the microphone on the campaign trail. I think that O Brother, Where Art Thou? should be considered a classic because it combines the adventure genre with the comic elements of satire, and manages to comment on Southern society at the same time.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Robo Satire

At first glance, Robocop seems like just another cheesy 80s action movie. The quality of the movies lies in the satire. The movie uses comedy and exaggeration to warn on the public about the evils of corporations, over-privatization, and Reaganomics. Although privatization is known to increase efficiency, innovations and etc, Robocop is making the point that privatizing things like prisons, hospitals, the police force, or even the military can lead to disaster because of the lack of checks and balances. It is the social commentary that is wrapped up in the action and the comedy that makes this movies genius. I think that there were probably many people that have seen the movie as nothing more than explosions, blood, and gore with a touch of sci-fi. For the majority of the movie the satirical elements are quite obvious, but it would not surprise me if people with little knowledge of politics and economics made it through the whole movie completely oblivious to the satire.

The other element of the movie that I think went beyond the useless blood and gore is the explorations of humanity. Many movies have shown how machines can go bad and attack the people who created them. The ED 209 is the perfect example of this view of robots. However, there is something different about Robocop (Murphy). Robocop still has a human element which prevents him from firing on innocent bystanders, like the ED 209. Some people may think that Robocop’s trip to his house, the pictures of his family, and his friendship with Officer Lewis is sort of hokey, but I think it is an important part of the film. Other characters in the film such as Dick Jones and Clarence Boddicker are so ruthless that they lack the ability to humane. It is ironic that in the end the Robocop is more human than his advisories. By having the robot as the humane character, Verhoeven is making a point about awful people have become.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Save the Last Disco

Saturday Night Fever (1977) is about young people in New York during the late 70s. They use sex, alcohol, and disco to keep their minds off of their less than promising futures. The main character Tony Manero (John Travolta) who works at a hardware store to make enough money to hang out with his friends at the local disco. Dance is the one bright spot in Tony’s life. When Tony is on the dance floor, he is dominates and is totally cool. Tony uses dance as a form of escapism, but escapism in itself is not cool. The rest of Tony’s life pretty much sucks (that’s why he feels the need to escape from it).

Save the Last Dance (2001) is a modern day Saturday Night Fever. Both films are set in poor neighborhoods in New York, where dance is the most important thing in the eyes of the youth. Save the Last Dance and Saturday Night Fever are not plot heavy, but they lead up to a dance finale like most dance films. The films focus on the everyday lives of their characters. Racism plays an important role in both films. It can be seen that in over twenty years the race situation has improved, but not dramatically. Save the Last Dance shows people overcoming racism through the relationship of Sara and Derek. Saturday Night Fever shows the same thing by Tony’s realization that the Puerto Rican couple deserved to win the dance contest. Although these films parallel in many ways they have vastly different endings. Sara finds success in the end when she gets accepted to Juilliard, and her future looks bright. Although Tony makes the decision to move to Manhattan with Stephanie, he has no education beyond high school and no skills that would be useful in finding a better job. His future is still questionable.

One of the most important aspects of a great dance movie is great music. The best dance movies use popular music from the current time period, and make these songs even more popular. I had never seen Saturday night Fever until last week, but I had heard most of the songs from the soundtrack hundreds of times. Who hasn’t heard “Disco Inferno, “Stayin’ Alive,” and “Boogie Shoes”? There is usually a dance movie every few years that gains great popularity because of the music. Some examples are Footloose, Dirty Dancing, and Step Up.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ohhhh, The Horror

One of the oldest genres of film has become one of the most hated by critics in recent years. Yes, I’m talking about horror movies. Georges Melies is credited by many with creating the first horror film in 1896, Le Manoir du diable, a silent two minute short. The genre has continued producing classics in every decade. Some of the most famous include Frankenstein (1931), Psycho (1960), The Exorcist (1973), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1980), and Urban Legend (1998). Some horror films have been more respected than others, but in general they are considered to be low-quality and lacking substance, especially in recent years with films like Hostel and the Saw series. Some of these are a little too gory, but overall I find horror to be one of the most entertaining genres.

My personal favorite horror film is original 1980 version of The Shining, although the remake is not bad. It is the perfect combination of ghosts haunting a young boy (Danny) and an alcoholic father that has lost his mind (Jack Torrance). Like most horror films it starts out slow, and then slowly builds the tension, fear, and anxiety until a dramatic ending. The film is based on the novel by Stephen King, one of the best horror writers of all time. Although there are several differences between the book and the film, they are both extremely frightening. No matter how many times I watch it, I always end up scared.

I will admit that there is not much to take away from a horror film, except a good time. Horror films are not made to be enlightening, inspirational, or anything else that might be considered as an aspect of good filmmaking. Horror films have one purpose: to scare the crap out of the viewers. It’s fun to be scared without actually being in danger. It seems kind of odd to think of being scared as fun, but fear gets your heart beating and adrenaline pumping. It’s like anything else that produces an adrenaline rush (such as a roller coaster) exciting, entertaining, and fun. The horror genre is quite large and consists of many different types including slashers, ghosts, zombies, demons, killer animals, etc. Regardless of the subject matter all horror movies accomplish the same goal. When it comes to horror films, the only thing that is important is the reaction of the audience. How scared are you?