L13FC: The Criteria of the Film Critic

Welcome back to the Lucky 13 Film Club. I am happy to introduce this month’s co-host, Australian film critic, Richard. He writes high-quality reviews, so check out his blog at Cinemusefilms.  It’s great to hear from one and all, so add to the conversation. This month’s topic is the criteria we consider when we review a film. How do you rate a film?

Richard’s thoughts: 

Criticism here does not mean being critical. It means applying critical faculties in evaluating something. Most bloggers offer critical commentary of some sort and everyone is influenced by gender, age, ethnicity, class, politics and cultural taste. In other words, we all have biases.

There are millions of film critics chatting away in one endless conversation about what they like or don’t like about films. Most are describing film plots and their subjective responses. None are right or wrong, but if you want some degree of arms-length objectivity, having transparent and self-aware criteria is helpful. Mine are contestable but they are flexible and make sense to me. They are:

Narrative: the way story elements are connected

Cinematography: how/what the camera shows

Emotion: how we feel about what we see

Overall significance

The only film I’ve rated 5 out of 5 is Son of Saul, but I don’t want to see it again. Here’s my review:

Son of Saul (2015)

I gave La La Land (2016) four out of five stars and will happily see it again.

La La Land (2016)

One is a harrowing masterpiece, the other pure entertainment. Where criteria meets biases, you get opinions. How do you evaluate a film?

‘Nope…1443 bloggers have already panned it.’

Cindy’s ideas: 

Highly rated films for me are beautiful. I lean toward aesthetics and connect it to cinematography. If you hold the camera straight at a breathtaking location, are you really a good cinematographer? Or, take a cinematographer into the ghetto; can he or she flush out the beauty by using symmetry and sound and colors such as West Side Story?

Emotion is a fine qualifier, and what do I throw into that box? A great score, the chemistry between the characters, and the emotions felt by me.  The dialogue. If the dialogue is weak, the film never rises high in my estimation. And yet, there are fine films with little dialogue. (Castaway comes to mind.) Because I’m a writer, the narration is paramount to my subconscious criteria.  A great narrative has all the parts –a strong beginning, conflict, complex characters, a climax. I find films that have a slow beginning or middle or end will take a dip in my evaluation. Or, a film seems to have forgotten the story and included too many scenes or not enough. So balance is important to me. I believe a bad film should not be rated highly. Objective, unbiased eyes should watch a film. That’s tough. I agree with Richard that our biases and prejudices shape our responses to a film. Criteria become important. What are yours?

A 5/5 film for me? Here’s one:

Thank you, Richard! Would you like to lead a discussion you are passionate about? Let’s figure out a topic together and select a month that works for you. It’s easy and fun. Email me with your idea:  cbruchman@yahoo.com. 

Five Shots: Plateau Sunset

1. Campfire at the edge

The plateau at the edge of the Sycamore Canyon, Arizona is a ridge line with a 360 view. The Northeastern view is comprised of the outlying Red Rocks bordering Sedona. Looking Southwest, the sun sets over Mingus Mountain. It has become over recent years a favorite spot for us to relax and star gaze without light pollution or crowds. Last night our family went out on the plateau to catch the meteor shower. We weren’t disappointed. Before the light show, the clouds entertained us. Here are some shots from last night.

2. Sea Horses
3. Rainbow Fingers
4. Big Sky
5. Vista to the Red Rocks
6. Yellow Glow

Which one do you like best?

Best Performances In Film By A Leading Lady

Early this morning on a walk, I started thinking about the best performances by an actress of all time. My first choice was Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz because it is the singular performance seen more times by me than any other. But let’s face it, Dorothy had that whining, shrill voice that made it hard to listen to, so while it’s one of my favorite films, did she give one of the best performances by a leading lady?

There are hundreds of solid acting performances. But I’ve noticed the BEST performances incorporate that something extra. I am wowed by the performance of an actress who does more than say her lines. For example, in one performance, she might sing (Sorry, Judy, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is magnificent, isn’t it?) or dance, play an instrument or speak a foreign language. She might embody the innocence of youth and exude the wisdom of old age in one performance. She might portray multiple personalities or switch genders. Maybe she captured the essence of a historical figure superbly. It takes a great script to allow her to impress on multiple levels. Sometimes, her personality comes forward with few words. Always, you don’t see the actress, you see the character.  Inspired by blogger ALEX RAPHAEL and his game of guessing by image, do you recognize the film and actress?

This list is subjective and in no particular order. 

ONE
TWO
THREE
FOUR
FIVE
SIX
SEVEN
EIGHT
NINE
TEN
ELEVEN
TWELVE

ONE. Giulietta Masina in Nights of Cabiria (1957)    What a spitball of moods and vivacity.

TWO. Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine (2013)   The best of her best which is saying a lot.

THREE. Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose (2007)   Totally convincing.

FOUR. Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight (1944)    Her descent into madness was convincing.

FIVE. Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter (1968)  A queen with multiplicity.

SIX. Natalie Portman in The Black Swan (2010) Who else could have danced that?

SEVEN. Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby (2004) Who else could have fought/acted like that?

EIGHT. Holly Hunter in The Piano (1993) Without a word she was a fierce, complex character.

NINE. Liza Minnelli Cabaret (1972) Act, sing, dance. Exuberance defined.

TEN. Kate Winslet in The Reader (2008) beauty, ugly, cold. She did it.

ELEVEN. Meryl Streep in Sophies Choice (1982) The languages and sensitivity. A ghost.

TWELVE.  Salma Hayek in Frida Kahlo (2002) Passionate and complex. A total transformation.

 

Who is your BEST PERFORMANCE by a LEADING LADY? (not supporting. That’s coming….) 

 

Five Shots: Clouds on the Rim

Some of our visiting family have never been to Eastern Arizona. Most people assume Arizona looks like the Phoenix landscape.  90 miles north, the Mogollon Rim is one of my favorite spots in this diverse state. Arizona ranks 6th in size among the 50 states. The total area of Arizona is 114,000 sq mi (295,260 sq km), of which land takes up 113,508 sq mi (293,986 sq km) and inland water 492 sq mi (1,274 sq km).  Here are some shots I took kayaking and hiking around the rim. The clouds were colossal. Which photo do you like best?

Bright Blue Sky
Kayaking on Woods Canyon Lake
Soft Reflection
Shore Line
Creeping Clouds
Far Side of the Lake
At the Edge
The Mogollon Rim

L13FC: Clint Eastwood as the Isolated Hero

Welcome back to the Lucky 13 Film Club. Traditionally, a co-host joins me, and we approach a topic of the film industry and talk to visitors all day on the thirteenth of the month. It’s great to hear from one and all, so add to the conversation. Would you like to lead a discussion you are passionate about? Let’s figure out a topic together and select a month that works for you. It’s easy and fun. Email me with your idea:  cbruchman@yahoo.com. 

The isolated hero is a loner who prefers his own company preferably in nature or isolated position. They are pulled into society to attend to the conflict at hand and by the story’s conclusion, they return to isolation, or at its extreme state, the coffin.

How many movies has Clint starred or directed protagonists that fit this description?

It would be easier to extract the rare ones that did not feature the isolated hero.

Fellow film blogger JOHN RIEBER and I had a conversation a while ago about Eastwood, and I wanted to include his summary of Eastwood’s career:

Clint Eastwood was an Anti-hero. It began with his “Man With No Name” trilogy –  “A Fistful Of Dollars”, “For A Few Dollars More” and “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”.  The ultimate “Anti-Hero” character of all was his “Dirty Harry” Callahan – 1971.  Another no-name stranger metes out justice as well in 1973’s “High Plains Drifter”.
Flash forward twenty years to 1993’s “In The Line Of Fire” and Eastwood is now on the side of law and order, risking his life to save the President.  “Space Cowboys” in 2000, older, ex-test pilots are sent into space to repair an old Russian satellite.“Gran Torino” in 2008 saw him as a bitter old man who takes it upon himself to tackle crime in his neighborhood and dies a martyr. “American Sniper” in 2014 told the story of an American Hero, again dying a martyr’s death.  In 2016, “Sully” was a true story of heroic action.

As director, Eastwood continues his exploration of the hero with his NEXT FILM: THE 1517 to PARIS.

 

However you want to classify Clint Eastwood as an actor or director, one aspect in all his films are the ISOLATED SETTINGS. Most key scenes and many of his stories occur around isolated positions, whether the job demanded it such as: a radio booth, a police car, the side of a hill, the boxing ring, the sniper’s corner, the cockpit, the convertible, the back of a horse, the front porch, a Japanese cave, or the bathtub. I find whenever I watch an Eastwood film, I am drawn to the isolated setting and it adds in my mind of him as the isolated hero.

Eastwood films are persuasive. He is out to showcase males and females who are strong, individualistic, dedicated, and atypical. His love-affair with the everyday hero inspires us to be true to oneself and to live life with integrity. It’s an important quality he admires, and it’s a virtue in most all his characters. He matches up unlikely friendships in unlikely conflicts. Is there a more universal human condition than how the individual survives within the community? I think Eastwood is one of the more interesting icons to come out of Hollywood. He’s not an icon. He’s Super-Icon.

How do you see Clint Eastwood’s idea of the hero? What do you think about the isolated setting as a way of creating characters and establishing isolation? Do you prefer him in front or behind the camera?  If you had room to pack only one Clint Eastwood film, which one could you see over and over? Ahh, now which film is his BEST film? 

I encourage you to comment to all who have visited. That’s the fun of discussion.

The Beguiled ’71 vs The Beguiled ’17

I recommend reading Keith’s thoughts about the 2017 remake found here:

REVIEW: “The Beguiled”

The 1971 Version

Three years into the Civil War, handsome Union soldier John McBurney (Clint Eastwood) is discovered and brought to Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies. At first, he is delighted to be surrounded by the cloistered beauty of varying ages. An African American slave, Hallie,  (blues singer Mae Mercer) who remains on the estate and assists headmistress Martha (Geraldine Page, Hondo, Sweet Bird of Youth), try to keep order among the girls who are drawn to their new guest. The girls learn French, garden, knit and embroider, and take the post to look out for Union soldiers while getting updates from Southern soldiers as they pass by the imposing wrought-iron gate that keeps the girls in like a prison.

The 1971 version was produced and directed Don Siegel (Eastwood and he worked together in five films) was based on the novel A Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan. The 1971 version focused on sexual taboos and sexual repression created by isolation of the war. The male is the victim and Eastwood falls into the den of the black widow and her spiders. The theme of castration is outwardly expressed.

The 2017 Version 

In this version, headmistress Martha is played by the wispy, haunted, out-of-breath Nicole Kidman.  Colin Firth is Corporal John McBurney. Kirsten Dunst is the plump, aging spinster who wants to escape her confining post as the teacher at the school and hopes John will save her.

The weakness of one version was the strength of the other so that trying to decide which was better was difficult. Sofia Coppola‘s outstanding effort was her directorship. Applauds all around for capturing the humid, suffocating setting of trees and brush and cicadas and for creating an authentic historical climate of 1863 even though she filmed it at Lousiana’s Madewood Plantation while the location was said to be in Virginia.  Fine, I’ll give that to her because the location made for an ideal stage. Sofia does well with costumes in her films and uses them to accentuate the personalities of her characters. In this case, her female cast wears white and it is appropriate as boarding school garb and innocence even though they are all a bit too starched and brand new for a timeworn, ragged estate three years into the war. The ending shot was outstanding. It was a daguerreotype, the outcome frozen and ghostly. White seemed to be a motif Coppola played with throughout the 90 minutes.

The 2017 film felt like a lot of short stories I’ve read over the years and loved. The ghost stories of George Eliot, Daphne du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, and Virginia Woolf come to mind. Sin is insinuated rather than fleshed out and laid on the table. (sorry) You’d get more of that from the 1971 version. While I appreciated the camera angles from Eastwood’s perspective and the manual pull in and out of the lens from Dan Spiegel, the occasional harpsichord felt like you were in a Vincent Price film. Not that that’s bad, just dated. However, the acting was much better in the 1971 version especially the “hussy” Carol played by Jo Ann Harris.

The biggest contrast between both versions was the matchup between Miss Martha the headmistress and Corporal McBurney. The 1971 version is better because of Geraldine Page. The motivating events propelled her performance to a higher, memorable plateau while validating the decisions of the others. I felt Sofia’s screenplay softened and blurred the characters. Since this is a film about relationships, Coppola’s characters paled by comparison. If you took Sophia’s directing and inserted the 1971 cast into her Southern setting, you’d have an outstanding film. As it is, I’d rate the 2017 version as a 3.5 and the 1971 version a 4. 

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