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?

L13FC: Movement in Film

Welcome back to the Lucky 13 Film Club. On this lucky day, a co-host joins me and we spend the day discussing a topic of the film industry. The more the merrier, so please share your thoughts. I am happy to introduce this month’s co-host, Sharon Wilharm from Nashville, a seasoned Indie filmmaker. Please check out her blog at faithflixfilms. 

This month’s topic is how motion elevates a film to a visual art form.  

Every frame a painting” edited and narrated by Tony Zhou explains how to recognize and understand movement in film. Which director does it best? Arguably, Akira Kurosawa. 

Sharon’s thoughts: 

I love the movement in films, especially when it’s done unexpectedly. I like how Akira used weather to create movement when there might not be any otherwise. I also appreciate the beginning, middle, and end of each of his movements. Each shot tells a story on its own.

The first film that comes to mind when I think of subtle movement is  Forrest Gump. For a full minute, all we see is a feather fluttering through the wind, contrasted with the lack of movement everywhere else. The clouds are still. The trees are seemingly frozen. The cars are parked. But then slowly the feather flutters towards the town and everything comes to life. Pedestrians walk to work. Cars drive past. And the feather comes to rest at the feet of Forrest Gump.

Albert Lamorisse 1956 short film, THE RED BALLOON

The Red Balloon follows a similar technique with a boy following (or being followed) by his red balloon. Both use basic movement to communicate the simplicity of the characters.

For more complex movement I love the choreography in Butterfly Circus (2009). I love all the circular movement of the carnival rides and the circus performers, the constant movement of the camera and the cars and the characters. The tightly planned choreography combined with the precise editing, makes this movie such a delight to watch.

Cindy’s perspective

 

Movies all have some type of movement. War movies, chase scenes, and musicals instantly come to mind when I think of the orchestration of a scene which requires intensity and precision. However, like Sharon, I like to consider the subtle ways filmmakers engage the audience with movement. For example, the 2002 film The Four Feathers has its issues, but the movement is exceptional by director Shekhar Kapur. I find myself liking his films (Elizabeth, Elizabeth: The Golden Age) simply because he understands how to use nature, costumes, and his environment to create stunning, moving scenes. When nature is stationary and the character walks across or through it, I find the simple movement engrossing and loud. A walk on the apex of a sand dune or mountain top shows the heroic fortitude and audacity of the character. The journey of life. I never tire of shots like those.

THE PRESTIGE (2006)

Christopher Nolan is another director who understands how to compose art by movement. He can be loud and jaw-dropping by employing the technology available to him and moving the entire setting in ways never seen before like Inception or Interstellar but he can also be subtle and graceful like the concentration he elicits in us as we follow the magic trick in The Prestige.

 

When you think of your favorite directors and favorite films, is it the movement that captures you? What scenes can you recall where movement is expertly done?  

Thank you, Sharon, for co-hosting today! 

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. 

George and the Opium Den

The month of February was a blur of moving and working. And writing. I’ve been concentrating on writing creatively rather than creating blog posts about films. Also, I haven’t gone anywhere to share any photo shots. For now, I just want to keep working on “Inside the Gold Plated Pistol”. George Hero is in Berlin,1922, working as an extra for Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse: Der Spieler. Here is what he does in his spare time: 

Sunken clouds spit a late April rain on the back of George’s neck. He entered a cracked lane overtaken by weeds toward an abandoned water tower of chocolate bricks and curved windows that looked like drowsy eyes. The architecture was nothing like the white, water tower in Chicago where as a boy he had watched his father work as a foreman. This one was a rectangle box eight stories tall, a fortress from a medieval dream. As George approached the back door, the bumpy clouds obscured the morning light and gave the building a sinister appearance. The dampness absorbed into the stump at his wrist, and it ached as he poked at his neck trying to stifle the itch under his skin. It had been three days since his last visit to Mr. Li’s opium den.  

        Within walking distance of the UFA studio complex, hidden from the main road behind vines that coiled around the Hemlock trees, he knocked on a door and waited for a Chinaman to open the center window and admit him. The small window-door snapped open and a man with puffy eyes squinted at him. He recognized George and let him in. George hunched down and followed him, watching his braid roll on the back of his tunic as he led him through the basement. Room dividers partitioned a corner, and as George whiffed the aroma of opium, he salivated. A pot-bellied stove heated pots of water and warmed the area while a young worker prepared opium tea. Kerosene lamps sat on tables and a davenport. George walked over to the old man who organized the den and gave him Deutschmarks.

        Guten Tag, Joe,” he greeted George with a thick accent. “Here.” He patted one of eight Army cots each covered with a military blanket, all positioned in a circle with a center island for the young worker on a stool. His work table contained candles, matches, bowls, opium pods, a pester and grinder, tubes, bamboo pipes, and a hookah.  He had a long, curved pinky nail which was filed and used as a spoon. When filled, the nail held exactly half a gram. George thought that was clever.

        “Hello, Mr. Li.”

        He kicked off his soggy loafers and placed them next to the stove to dry. He set his overcoat on a wooden chair by his cot and lay down feeling like a bug on an ashen petal connected to a dead daisy.  As he waited for the opium to foam and to inhale the vapor, he ignored the other bug two cots away and stared at the room divider. There was a red dragon coiled and twisted on a silk panel. He inhaled and closed his eyes. Soon the flush dulled his senses. That dullness turned into a stupor like a blanket that covered him with nothingness, and he floated to a place where Private Cox could not penetrate. In this dreamy blackness, his one impression was that he was in his mother’s womb, and his relief became an audible groan.

     He lay there for several hours before he had to report for filming.

 

The following is an old post about Fritz Lang and German Expressionism and Hans Poelzig, an inspirational architect for this story.

Hans Poelzig’s Sulphuric Acid Factory in Luboń, Poland (1911-1912)Hans Poelzig’s Chemical Factory in Luboń, Poland (1911-1912)

Expressionist German architect, Hans Poelzig, and Thea von Harbou, the screenwriter and wife of Fritz Lang, have a grip on my imagination while I create the climate of Weimar Germany in the manuscript, “Inside the Gold Plated Pistol”. George Hero, my American World War I veteran, arrives in Berlin, and stumbles into the world at UFA studios wherein 1922, Thea’s script is filmed by Fritz Lang: Dr. Mabuse: Der Spieler.

51lt05syaxl-_sx313_bo1204203200_

Who knows why she held her German Nationalist views while Fritz Lang emigrated to the United States or how she was implicated in a murder, but my fiction will dabble with the possibilities and recreate the evening involving George.

Fritz_Lang_und_Thea_von_Harbou,_1923_od._1924
Fritz Lang & Thea von Harbou, married, 1922-1933
Hans Poelzig Architecture 

Berlin_Grosses_Schauspielhaus_Poelzig_Foyer
light columns at the Grand Theater’s entrance hall

P941_235700
The Großes Schauspielhaus, Berlin, Germany circa 1920
What a pity Hans Poelzig’s grand theater exists only in pictures now. The honeycomb pillars resembled stalactites and the circular design without balcony seats, according to Ross Wolfe’s article “Scary Architecture: The Early Works of Hans Poelzig” found HERE, was an exquisite example of German expressionist architecture. Imagine the ceiling full of lights to imitate the stars. Before its demolition in the 1980s, the theater’s history included Nazi control in 1933 when its grandness was hidden behind dropped ceilings and eventually turned into a warehouse. I wish someone would recreate it for new audiences to enjoy.

Thank you for reading. 

 

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