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! 

Co-host invitation: Any takers?

Incorporating movement with purpose, Akira Kurosawa is one of the best.

Do you appreciate how directors and cinematographers capture movement? The decisions made by filmmakers are a fascinating topic. Thinking how movement creates a setting, the mood, and compliments an actor (or vice versa), helps me admire a film when it’s done well.

Cindy’s Lucky 13 Film Club’s topic for September 13 is “Movement in Film”.

I will feature Akira Kurosawa as a reference.

If this topic sounds intriguing to you, and you would like to be a co-host, please email to fine tune the details.  No experts necessary, just enthusiasts.

cbruchman@yahoo.com

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: 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. 

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….) 

 

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