L13FC: The Purpose of Science Fiction, Blade Runner 2049

Welcome back, everyone. It’s the thirteenth of the month and the Lucky 13 Film Club topic today is the purpose of Sci-Fi films. As a case study, check out this conversation I had with my 29-year-old daughter in the car on the way home from watching Blade Runner 2049 the other day. 

Vanessa: Mom, when you asked me half-way through the film if I was bored, I said “no”. But then I thought about it, and yeah, I was bored. I wondered if never having seen the first Blade Runner would affect my understanding of the sequel.  This movie was so long and loud and I didn’t understand what was going on. It was just Ryan Gosling without expression either staring vacantly at females who wanted to have sex with him or kill him. What about that lackluster chemistry between him and Harrison Ford?”

Cindy: (laughing). Yeah, well, Harrison Ford has given the same performance for decades. I don’t think Deckard was ever a replicant, though. Oddly, he conveys too many emotions. He and K-Joe were father and son. I think.

V: Was the memory-maker his sister? The most intriguing scene for me was when K-Joe shared a memory into a gadget at her bubble cell, and she told him it was real, not fabricated. What the heck was the memory that brought out the only emotion in him in the whole movie? Something more important than sex and the fear of death?”

Cindy: I can only speculate. What did you think of Jared Leto‘s character Niander Wallace? I honestly thought they could have cut out his entire role. It was a ranting philosophical weak sub-plot which set up morality questions about Artificial Intelligence raised in Spielberg’s A.I. Leto was great at being weird, and his scenes added to the overall creepiness, but then, there was plenty of weirdness going on. I admit the futuristic technology was awesome in his scenes. Little black bugs that connect into your brain so the blind can see? Cool.

V: I didn’t understand Luv, the bad replicant, played by Sylvia Hoeks. Other than she was the top angel and terminator for Wallace, her job was to find the child or she’d be a fallen angel. For a while there, I thought Luv and K-Joe were brother and sister.

Cindy: I didn’t like the final showdown between Luv and K-Joe. It was flat and I was tired of the emotionless duel between the two replicants.

V: (wearily) I have never disliked a film more.

Cindy: Really? You hated it?

V: I was so uncomfortable in that film. I was trapped for almost three hours in a gray, treeless world that screeched wave after wave of engine noise and made me want to cry or kill myself if that had been my reality. I was disturbed at how women were portrayed. Either they were giant slutty naked body parts or robotic destroyers. Other than the memory-maker, the only female character who was soft and feminine wasn’t real in the first place. She was a hologram. With a remote click, she disappeared and reappeared at Officer K’s convenience.  It was twice as scary than the horror film It. 

Cindy: That’s why Denis Velleneuve‘s film was so good. Good Science Fiction puts you in a futuristic setting that is often horrifying to remind you in the present to take care that the artist’s prediction for the future doesn’t come true. It was an apocalyptic horror film. The power of technology is frightening. Remember, just because we can create new gadgets and programs doesn’t mean we should. It’s becoming the new religion. Blind faith in technology, to me, is horrifying.

That is, except for the Deckard scenes in Las Vegas. He was stranded with a million bottles of whiskey around him and the hologram shows. If the apocalypse comes, I can’t think of a better place to hang out with me, myself, and I than at The Mirage with Elvis Presley.

V: (rolls eyes) Oh, Mother. Did you like the film?

Cindy: Oh, I loved it. Well worth the 30-odd year wait. I highly recommend it. 4.5/5 

V: I would have rather watched Wonderwoman or Thor: Ragnorak or The Justice League.

Cindy: But that’s not Science Fiction.

V: You mean it’s not Science Fiction if I’m not depressed after watching it? Must it always be so serious and thought-provoking?

Cindy: The good ones usually are.

* * * * * * *

What’s the purpose behind Science Fiction? What are the elements of it?

In the Heart of the Sea

Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) Man vs. Nature

NATHANIEL PHILBRICK  specializes in U.S. maritime history and combines his engrossing story-telling sensibilities with fine research. In 2000, his nonfiction National Book Award Winner, In the Heart of the Sea, inspired the 2010 PBS documentary Into the Deep directed by Ric Burns and narrated by Willem Dafoe. Next came the recent 2015 Ron Howard film, In the Heart of the Sea, starring Chris Hemsworth, Brendan Gleeson, Tom Holland, and Cillian Murphy. Of course, Herman Melville wrote the classic Man vs. Nature classic, Moby Dick, in 1851 about Captain Ahab’s obsession for revenge against the mighty Sperm whale. All four versions of the sinking of the whaleship Essex combine the history of Nantucket and the Romanticism between the sailor and the sea and his ship. All versions are worthy ways of spending your time and will enhance your knowledge of Colonial America.

The History 

The 50 by 30 mile stretch of land off Cape Cod became the heart of the whaling industry from approximately 1620-1865. Until the advent of kerosene, the highest quality oil used to make wax candles and light lanterns were from the rendered oil of whales. Dug out from the bulbous head of the Sperm whale, the Spermaceti oil could fill 34 barrels and was most valuable. At first, the Wampanoag and Nantucketers stripped and boiled the blubber from the drift whales which had been stranded on shore. Over the years, sailors ventured further off the coast to deeper waters and discovered pools of Sperm whales. It evolved into a two hundred year industry and sailors became more than hunters. The ships became floating factories for processing and storing the oil. They became merchants and explorers, too. For one to five years, sailors set off on voyages in search of whales to fill the empty barrels lying on the belly of their ships. From Nantucket, the Westerlies pushed them toward South America. They rounded Cape Horn and floated up the coast of Chile to the Galapagos Islands and kicked out into the expansive Pacific Ocean in search of the migratory pools of Sperm whales. According to scholars on the PBS documentary, Into the Sea, “By 1775, 360 whaling boats went out to hunt the whale; 15 came from Nantucket. Fifty percent of the profit of exports in New England came from the whaling industry.” I don’t think it can be stressed enough how important the whaling industry solidified the economic success of the burgeoning northern colonies. Consider that the South had cash crops (tobacco, rice, indigo, cotton) while the North had whales. It is interesting to consider that both regional ends vanquished mammals for their economic success – whales in the north and slave labor in the south. 

New Bedford Whaling Museum, Harpooning the Whale

The Romance

The culture of a sailor and his life onboard a ship was a mixture of extremes. Boredom, while waiting to spot the whale. Then,  “Thar she blows!” followed by the rambunctious attack with harpoons aimed for the lungs, the pull and the stabbing, the gross “flurry” as the whale drowns in her own blood, the shout from the crew, “Chimney’s afire!” and then the three-day processing of peeling off the blubber, melting of blubber, the furnaces stoked and the smells and the slime of oil glistening the faces of the sailors as if they labored in the pits of Hell. Ghastly.

Remember to factor in the religious temperament of the 17th and 18th-century colonist whose explanation of the workings of the world were inextricable with the Bible and Divine Providence. That is, the sailor, the captain, and her ship were “vessels of exoticism, traveling around the globe in the pursuit of conquering the Leviathan, a sea monster from the Old Testament.” The whale was considered evil; man’s conquering was a noble feat. Surviving a voyage was an adventure for the crew and the officers; it defined manhood. The beauty and wildness of nature attracted the sailor. The horizon blended water and sky into a location of unearthliness. There was no time or place. Out in the Pacific Ocean–it must feel to what astronauts feel out in space–one is a speck, surrounded by infinity, overwhelmed with fear and awesomeness.

The Film 

After watching the film five times, I am in admiration of Ron Howard. He followed Nathanial Philbrick’s book with the attention to detail that mirrored the historical climate from the book. The true voyage of 1820 combined an unnatural pairing of the first mate, Owen Chase, (Chris Hemsworth) the “fishy” second-in-command whose natural instincts and assertiveness commanded the respect of the crew, while Captain Pollard (Benjamin Walker) was more a “social” leader, seeking suggestions, and thereby perceived too passive.

Where Ron Howard might have lost a few critics and fans for lulls in the action was the overarching narration of the telling of the story from the perspective of an older Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) who was a cabin boy during the sinking of the Essex and the 90 days lost out at sea. Fighting the shame and guilt of sins committed staying alive, Nickerson is paid by a young Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) to share the survival story and strange actions of the angry 85-foot Sperm whale, Moby Dick, who “stove” the Essex.

By including this line of narration, Howard blends the history of the story with the American Romantic classic, Moby Dick. Philbrick’s book centers on the recently discovered diary from the 1990s of the cabin-boy, Nickerson, to add a fresh twist to the long staple, Owen Chase’s account of the disaster, written months after the 1820 disaster. Howard respects this and gives life to the orphan boy who found himself at 13 on the voyage of a lifetime.

Ron Howard is criticized for his sappy interjections in an otherwise interesting plot. It’s his Achilles Heel. In this case, while devoting his film to a logical, realistic account, he incorporates the Man vs. Nature elements of the novel Moby Dick by bestowing anthropomorphic qualities to the whale. It’s the climax of the film, so I can’t specifically say, but it is the flaw of the film for me that brings my rating down a notch. I will hint at it: when man and beast come eye to eye, they come to an understanding.

In Nathaniel Philbrick‘s account, the whale struck the ship and was never seen again. The film version embellishes the history by embracing Melville’s book. Those that love Herman Melville and the personifications found in the literature would not have issues with the personification of the whale in the film. If you want a realistic account of events, the climax might feel far-fetched. Does it work? You tell me.  4/5.

American Experience: Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World DVD 

Parker, Hershel, and Harrison Hayford (eds). (2001). Herman Melville, Moby-Dick. A Norton

     Critical Edition. Second Edition, New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company.

     ISBN 9780393972832

Philbrick, Nathaniel. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex., 2001. Print. 

ISBN-10: 0141001828  ISBN-13: 9780141001821

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. 

L13FC: Religion and Violence in Irish Films

Welcome back to the Lucky 13 Film Club. Traditionally, a co-host joins me and we share an angle into the film industry and talk to people all day long. 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. 

It probably has occurred to you that if there’s a movie about the Irish whether it was filmed in Ireland or contains Irish characters, invariably, elements of Catholicism and violence follow. Is this a stereotype? Why are the Irish depicted as scrappers, alcoholics, boorish and profane? A sign of the cross in one breath, a hard right sent or received in the next? As an ethnic group, the Irish and Catholicism are intrinsic, and in films, the priests and nuns usually misbehave behind their cloisters and vestments?  Tis a gray line between their luck and their paddy-whacked explosive history.  If the violence isn’t with the Catholic church, a mob, a brawl or bout in the ring, the violence likely happens between the IRA and the feud between Northern Ireland Protestants and their Southern Catholic counterparts. Need a quick reminder of Northern Irish History? READ THIS Can you think of a film set in Ireland or containing Irish characters which don’t feature religion and violence? The only two exceptions I can think of are Brooklyn (2015) and Waking Ned Devine (1998). (Well, Eilis did emigrate and establish herself with the help of Father Glynn, didn’t she?)

Boston 

If it’s a film set in the Boston area, the Irish family is revered, Catholicism is followed, violence is worshipped, and the culture is packaged with an indiscernible vernacular and enough profanity to make a sailor blush.

 Would you consider Good Will Hunting a violent film?

Daniel Day-Lewis

He loved Ireland so much he became a citizen. Some of his best films include him playing an Irish character.

 

Favorite Irish Characters in Films 

Violence and Religion are the cornerstones of Irish history and those values are reflected in film. Have the stereotypes worn thin? What’s the fascination and glamorization of violence, alcohol, and the perversion of faith?  My favorite stereotype is that they’re funny.

 

 

 

Winter Project: The Final Five of Steve McQueen

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Thanks to everyone for joining me while I explored the filmography of actor Steve McQueen. The 60s and 70s movie icon had a slew of great films to his credit. Since both parents had died at age fifty, with a sardonic sense of humor, he was sure he wouldn’t pass the half-century mark. His prediction came true. He died at 50 from Mesothelioma on November 7, 1980. Breathing the asbestos filaments located in several workplaces and in his racing helmets and suits, the industrial disease raced throughout his body in the final months of his life. He never thought he’d live long. That helped explain his drive and insatiable hunger for life. He negotiated and made millions per film including a percentage of the gross proceeds. He had full control of the directors, actors, and say of his films. Most know he was stubborn and egotistical, but his generosity and kindness extended in equal measure to his two children who loved him unconditionally and to friends with whom he had established long relationships.

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The Cincinnati Kid (1965) After Papillon, this would be runner up as my favorite Steve McQueen film.  Edward G. Robinson is Laney “The Man” who teaches “The Kid”(McQueen) a few lessons about life. In the game of 5 Card Stud, what are the odds two men are dealt a Straight Flush vs. a Full House? Read about THE LAST HAND here. Add Ann Margaret as the sexy temptress and Tuesday Weld as the good girl and stir in Karl Malden as Shooter, the puppet and chump into the mix. The music, the tension, and Steve convincing as “The Kid”, made it a thoroughly enjoyable film.  4.5/5

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The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen are sizzling hot (It’s rated PG) in this billionaire bank caper. The split screen 60s technique, the dune buggy ride on the beach, the fashions, and that famous chess game scene full of sexual innuendos–it’s the stuff that made an Austin Powers parody possible.  It was the first time McQueen broke away from his poor anti-hero to represent the high-class anti-hero. Alone on his own plateau, this film helped cement McQueen as an icon of alpha male coolness. 4/5

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The Getaway (1972). This Sam Peckinpah film flows with interesting cinematography like close-ups, the loud machines grinding in the prison interior, the chase scenes, and the interior shot of a car with BBQ ribs, food fight. While Ali McGraw‘s performance left me cold, Sally Struthers and Slim Pickens were the best characters of the movie. 4/5

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The Towering Inferno (1974). It was the highest-grossing disaster movies of the seventies. They came to see the cast: Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Vaughn, O.J. Simpson, Rober Wagner, Jennifer Jones, and Susan Blakely. The star power, the escape plans, the collapse of the skyscraper was engaging enough, but it can’t compete with The Poseidon Adventure (1972), the winner of the best disaster film of the decade. It took Steve fourteen years to beat out his blonde eyed rival, Paul Newman, for top-bill, but McQueen solved the problem of leading man by having his name listed first while Paul’s would be set slightly higher.  3/5

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Papillon (1973). Franklin J. Schaffner was known as an innovative television director/producer in the early years of T.V. by employing film techniques within the new medium of television. He was known in the film industry for popular films like Planet of the Apes (1968), and for Patton (1970). Schaffner’s best contribution and my top prison film is the one and only classic, Papillon (1973). Listen to the Oscar-nominated score by Jerry Goldsmith. Lovely.  

Almost all great films begin with great novels. Papillon (1969) was written as an autobiographical account by Henri Charrière. In 1931, he was sentenced in Paris for a crime he did not commit and exiled to a penal colony in French Guiana. Over the course of many years, Papillon, named for the butterfly tattooed on his chest, attempted to escape. Eventually, he was sent to the inescapable Devil’s Island surrounded by hungry piranhas, sharks, and crocodiles.  Henri Charrière’s story is an audacious human account demonstrating what conviction and willpower can do. His book became an instant success.

Steve McQueen gives his best performance of his career as Henri. His relationship with the inmate, Dega, played by Dustin Hoffman, is dynamic and heartfelt. It’s the cinematography that wows me. The use of black and white or the lack of sound show the solitary confinement of Papillon’s situation perfectly. When Papillon hallucinates, his dreams are horrific and the camera angles portray a true nightmare.

I find it amazing this film was not nominated for anything at the Oscars in 1974 except for Best Score which did not win. What were the contenders that year? The StingSerpico, and The Exorcist.  Yes, all great films, but, I still think Papillon is just as good. Certainly, Hoffman and McQueen deserved recognition for their roles. What an underrated film.5.5

“Blame is for God and small children.” – Dega

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