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. 

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.

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.

 

 

 

L13FC: The Extended Shot

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On the 13th of each month, the L13FC analyzes an aspect of the film industry. Please welcome co-host, Jordan at epilepticmoondancer, who wanted to suggest the topic of the EXTENDED SHOT with all of you.  

Jordan’s thoughts:

Each time there was an extended take, I find myself leaning forward, as the style seems to be near-extinct within the confines of popular American cinema. How effective is the decision to the narrative? For example, Luzbeki dazzled most with his flamboyant style in Birdman, using a little trickery to make the entire film feel like it was done in one long shot. While this enhanced the experience, it compromised the story it was telling, and upon the third viewing, the camerawork was nothing more than a distraction. (If anyone cares to see a film shot in a single take, one that takes us through the streets of Berlin while also adding to the story and plot, please check out 2015’s Victoria.)

Unlike Birdman, during the early scenes of The Revenant, this swinging, stylistic style of shooting enhances the experience and the story, as not only do we feel right in the middle of the action, with arrows flying in everything direction, we consequently feel the fear and the sense of feeling trapped. In this sense then, the camera almost functions as an unseen, unnamed character.

Moving away from Luzbeki, Orson Welles’s famous crane shot from Touch of Evil (1958) immediately establishes tension within the busy streets as we wait for the car bomb to explode. 

It seems then that these extended takes with a lot of movement work better outdoors than they do within. An exception is Son of Saul (2015). A simple hand-held camera follows Saul’s every move in the Auschwitz crematorium and the defocused, claustrophobic horror is captured effectively.  Son of Saul was praised for its unique visual presentation. We rarely see anything other than his face or the back of his head, and consequently, we see his reactions to other stimuli. Does this visual approach affect the way the story is perceived by the audience? It is the camerawork itself that tells us the story, that puts us in the shoes of Saul. It is a Holocaust film like no other, where we again feel right in the action.

I could obviously go on with endless examples, such as action films like The Raid or Tony Jaa films where the lack of cut after cut after cut means we can actually see the fighting, blow for blow. We can see that these guys know how to fight, and most importantly, we can see who is hitting who! Compare this to Hollywood, which has long been fond of using innumerable cuts to hide the fact that their actors have not been properly trained.

While such extended, moving cuts will consistently capture my attention, how much do you think it adds to a film? Does it distract you from the story in any way? Or, like me, can it draw you further in, adding another layer of immersion?
Cindy’s Impressions: 

One film that stands out recently for me is Hou Hsiao-Hsien’sThe Assassin (2015). The use of the long shot is used throughout the narrative, and it’s one of the more visually striking films I’ve seen.

I agree with Jordan that the choice of the extended cut adds an authentic element to the story-telling. Certain directors are heralded in part because they make good use of the long shot:

Stanley Kubrick, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Alfred Hitchcock, and Alfonso Cuarón. Whether to move the action like Children of Men (2006) or to maximize the dialogue like director Steve McQueen’s Hunger (2008), their decision creates a film where the audience is trapped; it is voyeurism heightened and felt.  The film becomes an experience rather than a passive attempt at engagement. 

Would you like more examples? I thought this article by Jessica Kiang in 2014, which ranked 20 of the best long shots, was interesting. You can read it here on INDIEWIRE.

Thank you, Jordan, for suggesting this interesting topic. You all have an opinion, so please feel free to join the discussion.

Lucky 13 Film Club: The Duality of Meryl Streep

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The L13FC involves analyzing an aspect of the film industry. A co-host joins me on the thirteenth of the month to lead the discussion. Attract new readership as I will link your blog. Don’t be shy; email me at cbruchman@yahoo.com, and let’s shape an idea together. Too busy next month? That’s okay. Co-host in the spring or the summer. There is no pressure and it’s a lot of fun. 

Today is my birthday, and I thank you for stopping by to share it with me.

Cindy’s thoughts: 

Have you ever noticed Meryl Streep‘s characters are either feminine or masculine? Do you sigh with incredulity because Streep was nominated again for a role? I have. Not everything she does is Oscar-worthy, but she has been consistently fantastic for decades. No one can replicate her accents, her subtleties, or her range. She is our modern-day Katharine Hepburn or Bette Davis. What do we know about Streep’s choices? She is a feminist via her characters. They show us that women are capable of anything and are strong enough to survive in the harshest of circumstances. Since high school, I have followed her career, growing up and old with her. I’ve seen the majority of her films, and I have noticed Meryl is binary. Her feminine choices are fragile, manipulative, vulnerable, sexy, soft and confused. Her masculine roles are durable, forthright, strong, unsexy, hard and determined. She is yin or yang. She is female or male depending on the role.

MERYL AS WOMAN

MERYL AS MAN

Check out this clip, and you’ll see what I mean. When Meryl plays the man, the character not only defeats but devours those around her. A few of her male roles show the worst attributes (greed and egomania) a man can have. It makes me wonder what kind of feminism is this? Women who break glass ceilings are just as corrupt as the worst of men? What of the other extreme, that is, the woman who manipulates by her sexuality? I find myself scratching my head.

I prefer Meryl Streep best when she’s chosen characters with both the yin and yang. The female who is strong yet sensitive. The female who adapts to her hardships and survives without resorting to greed or power. I am a fan of Meryl Streep’s acting but have grown weary of her as the symbol of womanhood and Hollywood.

I find her earlier roles more satisfying; the mix is apparent and her characters are subtle and graceful. Streep’s melodramatic, manic roles are off-putting. Which are her best? Sophie’s Choice, Out of Africa, Silkwood, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman.   

What I WISH would happen is that a great script would fall in the laps of Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep simultaneously. I would love to see those two greats in a film together. 

L13FC: Allied

cindylucky13banner-1It is the thirteenth of the month and time for the Lucky 13 Film Club discussion; thank you for stopping by to share your opinion of December’s topic, the recent release of Allied. Please welcome my blogging buddy, Ruth from Flixchatter, whose interesting movie site is a steadfast choice to follow. Check out her full review linked below.

Ruth’s perspective: 

FlixChatter Review: ALLIED (2016)

Allied is a gorgeous film. Unfortunately, it’s more style over substance… an elegant, sleek but utterly superficial affair. The 1940s set pieces look authentic, the streets, the cars, planes, etc. I especially love the Morocco setting, which instantly conjures up memories of Casablanca. The retro clothes are beautiful, especially Marion Cotillard’s sateen dress in a pivotal scene in Morocco, her slinky nightgown when she’s all seductive up on the roof, etc. Costume designer Joanna Johnston apparently studied Old Hollywood films from that era, and she is a master of creating retro styles, as evident in her work in Forrest Gump and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The stunning cinematography is courtesy of Robert Zemeckis’ regular collaborator Don Burgess. The opening shot is striking, with an aerial shot of the desert and a wide shot of Brad Pitt walking under the hot Sahara sun. The dust storm effects set during the film’s love scene inside the car is particularly memorable as well. Clearly, they have a big enough budget to create such painstakingly detailed sets (filmed in Spain and the UK). Needless to say, Zemeckis & co. achieved an authentic look of a wartime period drama, if only the actors’ performances were as convincing.

Cindy’s thoughts: 

So how about that acting? Marion Cotillard lit up the screen. Her complicated character switched from coquette to teacher, to lover, to wife, to mother, to mysterious spy with all the mannerisms, facial expressions and passion that you would expect from an accomplished actress. In fact, since this film seems to create associations for many of Casablanca(1942), I’ll claim Marion gave a performance that Ingrid Bergman would have been proud, which is the highest compliment I could give Ms. Cotillard since Ingrid Bergman is my favorite actress of all time.

Brad Pitt. Criticisms of the film include a hefty dose of the blame falling on the square shoulders of Pitt. Was he too wooden, too stoic, to give a heartfelt performance? Especially since Marion was lively and interesting to watch? That was my initial impression, too. But, if we are going to link similarities of Allied to Casablanca, then I’d say Brad acted just like Humphrey Bogart. Perhaps that was how Brad Pitt approached the role. Sly and stoic, a gentleman, letting the lady shine while he watched, internalizing the situation rather than impulsively reacting. As the movie progresses and the plot switches to London locales and domesticity, Brad Pitt’s stiff start warms up with more smiles. The worried pangs of doubt threaten his character’s introversion, and when he attempts to discover whether his wife is a German spy, the movie finally blossoms and becomes intriguing. By the climax at the movie’s end, I am engaged, and Max’s trust and love for Marianne felt believable. If you aren’t in a hurry, it’s not a disappointment.

What went wrong with this beautiful film? There were two grievous errors that kept it from being a top rated film. First, side characters did not help the plot or support the motivations of the principal pair. There was no Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) for which to show another side of Rick’s personality. There were no sidekicks that brought humor and charm to soften the stoicism of Rick’s personality like Sam (Dooley Wilson), Yvonne (Madeleine LeBeau), or Ugarte (Peter Lorre). Second, where’s the score? They missed a golden opportunity to include beautiful music to represent their feelings and the ambiguity of their situations. I would bet anyone a fiver if Zemeckis had included a decent score, more people would have appreciated the film. 3.5/5. 

What did you like or not about Allied? Did you get a chance to see it?  If not, what are some of your favorite Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard performances? 

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