movies

All posts tagged movies

This essay will discuss two of my favorite films about wilderness survival, Carnahan’s The Grey and Iñárritu’s The Revenant, using the lens of Absurdism. While they’re two very different films, they share complementary perspectives on the existential place of man. I’ll explain some the symbolism and conflicts of each, and discuss why they offer strong lessons on Absurdist philosophy. As with all my analyses, I’ll stick mostly with the source material, but will reference other evidence when needed. There is a huge range of themes these two films have to offer, but this analysis will focus on their unique existentialism.

For me, what makes these films great is their Absurdist tone. To start, let’s define Absurdism as the philosophical view that because it’s a human need to find meaning in life, and because the universe is inscrutably complex or chaotic, we’re bound to fail in that endeavor. Hence, the pursuit of meaning is ultimately “absurd”, in the sense of being ironically futile. This isn’t to say the universe is meaningless, rather its secret logic is inaccessible to our minds.

In these two films, nature is the proxy for the universe, indiscernible to the “rational” (read: civilized western) man. To attempt to apply the rational (i.e. domination) of the modern man to the irrational and ancient natural world is to invite failure. As I’ll discuss later, in The Revenant this is ultimately a criticism of man’s unempathetic relationship with our environment, and each other. For this analysis, nature allegorizes a challenge for both film’s protogonists John Ottway and Hugh Glass. In the arc of their relationship to nature, they suppress their human mores and attune themselves to its secret logic.

Each film centers around a specific human weakness that nature is unsympathetic to. In The Grey, it is Ottway’s depression. In The Revenant, is it Glass’ vengefulness. For each, taking that human weakness to its logical conclusion will not mend their spirits. They seek an answer, which comes as a new different perspective on purpose and justice. In that perspective is salvation. It will help them embrace the Absurd. Let’s discuss the symbolism and existential crisis of each film separately, and come back to this salvation.

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MadMax_2015-07-27_22-38-08Mad Max: Fury Road has been divisive of public opinion. One faction wants to see it as an emasculation of their iconic wasteland epic by feminist forces in Hollywood. The other wants to glorify in how it seizes themes that seem near and dear to the causes of female empowerment as if George Miller himself was taking a stance in the combative zeitgeist of the post-Gamergate era. Neither, I think, are grasping the core message of Mad Max and the audience it speaks to: all of us.

Is Mad Max a feminist film? Arguably. But that’s missing the greater point, where Miller makes an aggressive critique on the state of environmentalism, on the disastrous trajectory of humanity, and challenges us with the solution. Max may not be the “hero” of the story, but he is the most important agent in Furiosa’s character arc, which underscores the movie’s message, and that’s why the its title is a worthy namesake to his character. Max, despite his personal insanity, is a beacon of the true but trying path. Before I continue, consider this critical question:

What is the single most pivotal moment / decision of the film?

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song-of-the-sea-posterAfter just one stunning theater viewing, Cartoon Saloon’s Song of the Sea became one of my favorite animated films of all time. From an island nation with a daunting pound-for-pound cultural legacy, this fiercely Irish modern folktale embodies both the intellectualism born in their poet-king pubs, as well as the supernatural climes of their landscapes.

The comparisons to Miyazaki masterpiece Spirited Away have run a bit rampant; I’d like to expound on why this film, while indeed similar in tone, art style, and theme, is more than mere Celtic Miyazaki-esque.

In this article, I’ll discuss the visual and cultural themes of the movie, and explain its message for viewers today. Despite superficial similarities, it is these themes that make it quintessentially Irish. To quote the great Irish novelist John McGahern:

“Everything that we inherit, the rain, the skies, the speech, and anybody who works in the English language in Ireland knows that there’s the dead ghost of Gaelic in the language we use and listen to and that those things will reflect our Irish identity.”

I’ll show that SotS flavors well-known tropes with directed, intentional nuance that makes it more of a continuation of the worldview posited in The Secret of Kells (Moore’s first film). You could almost consider SotS to be a chronological sequel, diving deeper into the schism between spirit and human worlds that began in TSoK. Both reflect the Irish psyche that is the product of a transformation from the island’s Celtic paganism to its inevitable assimilation of Christianity. Where TSoK indulges in the intrigue of that transition, SotS grounds it in a modern story of loss, and offers folkloric lessons as an answer.

SPOILERS BELOW!

Before we begin, I want you to take a moment and consider the single most important question to answer about SotS: Why does Saoirse choose to stay in the end? Answering this will reveal the meaning of this movie, and is the goal of this analysis, so you should have your own ideas before reading this.

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It’s been another long stint since my last post, but after watching Christopher Nolan’s excellent Inception this week, I felt a review/analysis comin’, so here it is, with the ending of this movie fully explained!

As usual, I like to start my analysis with some notes on names, so let’s start with the name of the movie. “Inception” comes from the literal latin translation of “in” + “seize” (“-ception” is related to “carpe” in carpe diem). Figuratively, it means “seize in hand“. In English, the word means the start of a new idea or venture. Why is this important? Because in the film, seeded ideas come from “physical” things that must be held in hand. We’ll come back to this later.

While I’m not sure of all the name origins, I can take a guess at a couple. Cobb, the main character, shares his name with the protagonist from Nolan’s first film The Following, who was also a thief and interpreter. Eames the forger is named after the famous architects / designers Charles and Ray Eames. Yusuf the chemist is named for the Islamic version of the Biblical character Joseph (and his technicolor dreamcoat), a man taught by God to interpret dreams.

SPOILERS!!!
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James Cameron is a visionary director, which is not to say Avatar was a flawless movie as much as I loved it. We use the word “visionary” because it’s not “sight”- “vision” was defined in the old days to mean a “sense of sight”, or the ability to see into the supernatural. To see the supernatural, one must see and understand the meaning behind the sight; the word “vision” may come from the Sanskrit veda- meaning “I know.”

MINOR SPOILERS!!!
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Xstine and I finally went to watch the new Batman movie The Dark Knight, and Christopher Nolan's direction (and writing) continues to amaze me. It's not often that I experience a drama so intense that my chest is left seized in bathyspheric shock, even with a mostly trivial cast.

With one huge exception… Heath Ledger's dying silver screen gift of the most insane Joker yet. His character earns the spot for my third all-time favorite movie villain, the first being Bill the Butcher, and the second being Oldman's corrupt nothing-like-Gordon cop Stansfield. Ledger was chaos incarnate, and reached a place in himself he couldn't return from.

I absolutely loved the rhetorical sarcasm of his finest line "why – so – SERIOUS?" that he delivered with a maniacal slurp of his mutilated jowls. Today, catching up on old news, I found myself repeating and cackling that line over and over as I read this article on the Senate's "landmark" housing bill.

Here's an amateur's opinion, for what it's worth:

  • Establish a stronger regulator for the GSEs.
    And who will that be? Government? Private? Where's the fundamental change?
  • Permanently increase "conforming loan" limits.
    This is good news for me an Xstine, but honestly, I've never understood conforming loans. If the point of the conforming loan is to keep borrowing at a less risky level (less than jumbo), and the amount is determined by median house price across the country, why apply the same loan limit to everyone? Why isn't it by the local median price around the house that the borrower wants to buy?

    You get a conforming loan limit that was too small for us middle-income folks in overpriced California Bay Area, and way too much for low-income people in downtrodden areas. Is it any surprise that those low-income people who couldn't qualify for conforming-loans then went over to non-conforming sub-primes?

    Even worse, those just just failed to get conforming loans went over in droves to Alt-A loans. I'll let Mr. Mortgage explain what those are and why you should continue to fear the housing market.

  • The FHA maximum loan limits for high-cost areas would also increase to $625,500.
    Ok a blanket increase in limits for whatever "high-cost areas" means. I've got to ask how this is paid for, and if this isn't just a way to keep the masses of potential educated middle-class from just defaulting? It's like increasing the credit limit of someone who already can't pay the card off.
  • Create home-buyer credit.
    Up to $7,500 tax rebate for first time home-buyers? Good start, who's going to pay for this? Oh wait a minutes…
  • The refund, however, serves more as an interest-free loan, since it would have to be paid back over 15 years in equal installments.
    …ah we pay for it. Very very sneaky. I see what you did there.
  • Bar down-payment assistance for FHA loans.
    No comment, don't know the full ramifacations of this. I don't see the upside of stopping sellers from helping buyers, is this to stop speculation?
  • The bill would also increase to 3.5% from 3% the down payment requirement for borrowers getting FHA loans.
    Not great, but not that bad either. Not a monumental change.
  • Create an affordable housing trust fund.
    Hahaha… they want Freddie and Fannie's fees to pay for this? Freddie and Fannie who were using $83 billion in cash to juggle $1.15 trillion in debt at 60-to-1 leverage? It's like asking a broke junkie to put something into his IRAs before someone with a tire iron comes to get his due.
  • Give grants to states to buy foreclosed properties. The bill would grant $4 billion to states to buy up and rehabilitate foreclosed properties.
    More money we don't have going to ever more fiscally endangered states to buy properties that you really don't want to encourage people to sell.

So, I'll ask again… WHY – SO – SERIOUS?! :jester:

The Games Developer Conference (GDC) ended this week, and while I'm a bit unhappy about how it's slowly being turned into a place to announce big upcoming titles (don't make this E3, please), it was a good show. I got some great books from the GDC books store (Zimmerman and Salen's Rules of Play and a game business/legal stuff book), and Xstine was lucky enough to attend two full days of workshops on staging and normal mapping workflow.

The emphasis by both Microsoft and Nintendo on the importance of the rising wave of micro-developers, a mix of indies, individuals, and small-timers, is a glimpse of what I think will be a powerful trend in the future. I'm excited at what XNA and WiiWare will offer. It is inevitable that as the tools and the venue for games mature, game development will meet extreme democratization. The long tail will grow with the short head, Chris Anderson would say.

So it would behoove all gamers to anticipate that wave, and plays some of the Independent Game Festival's finalists and winners for best independent games. I especially recommend Fez, Crayon Physics Deluxe, and Goo!. While I think indie games are a little hung-up on physics based interactions at the moment, it's inarguably a parsimonious flavor of design to make, and it's just great to see these little games eating into the mindshare of triple-A titles with multi-million dollar budgets. It makes this gamer proud.

Speaking of proud gamers, I had the pleasure of watching one of the best documentaries since Murderball. It's a story of good and evil, the American spirit, the meaning of life… and nigh-unwatchable world of competitive Donkey Kong, where grown men's lives revolve around the high score board of an ancient arcade classic. There are priceless lines from characters I'm embarrassed to say reside a bit in all of our inner nerd. And yet the movie was crafted so very very well that even while we are incredulous at how socially retarded these people are, by the end of the movie we are swept up in the drama of it all, and that silly game becomes almost as epic for us as it is for them. You need to watch The King of Kong tonight!


After reading many reviews of P.T. Anderson’s seminal new film There Will Be Blood, I am disappointed to see how much misinterpretation there is. Where the themes of greed, godlessness, capitalism, hatred, and revenge are certainly present, they are peripheral, and recent oil politics have led critics to miss a central theme that ties all those issues together: the loneliness of godhood. I will explain the four different meanings of the film’s title to show that that loneliness is what drove anti-hero Daniel Plainview to his tragic end.

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Been a long time since I had time to post.

There is a funny thing about fanaticism on the internet, namely that it lacks temporal coherence. I find it so beyond rational to be criticized for criticizing the early Transformers designs now that the movie is out and the Transformers look badass. One fellow said I had not done my "research." Research of what at the time? The internet preserves your words in stone, forgetting the context of the time so that I can look "dumb" months after I make fair criticism. I think they're just forgotten that polemic can be something besides Whine Vs. Fact.

So anyways, the movie wasn't bad. You could keep the same movie and just swap out the director from Michael Bay to Ridley Scott and I would have declared it a victory, since I just can't support his selfish directing style and how he wraps his two arms around the military's cock, then jumps up and down to stroke out a caricature of patriotism. What, did you think it was an accident the military helped out so much on the film?

ILM's robots were phenomenal in motion, easily the best robot animation work ever done. I didn't like how overdesigned they were, and sometimes couldn't tell which way they were standing/flipping/facing, but it is not easy to make a 20ft robot move stealthily across suburbia. Just… what the fuck was that medic bot doing the whole time? They should have held him down and shoved the magic spark into HIS cowardly go-bot chest. And I still think Megatron could have been a gun… no… a fuck-all rail/satellite gun, that's right. He wasn't all that scary, dunno why any of the rest were hailing him in their Jar Jar garble.

Oh yeah and Megan Fox was damn hot.

If that were all my summer movie quota though, I would have been left blue-balled. I definitely didn't need Optimus Prime's idiotic state-of-the-union address, no matter how bad the liberal media has gotten. But c'mon, that speech would make Bill O'Reilly roll his eyes. Guess something needs to balance Michael Moore's "intellectual" crusade against healthcare in which he shows us that Cuba treats rich Americans when even America does not. Just don't ask about the real Cubans.

Fortunately, Ratatouille marked itself as the next American classic, a perfect animation told with perfect story and Pixar's trademarked ability to engage morals, entertain, and avoid cheap laugh fads. Their work is timeless. I no longer need to go to France now; the city shots were so amazing I fought to not lose my breath to a mere projected image as I sat in a stunned theater. And while the story was simple, Pixar told it the way the peasant dish of ratatouille was cooked in the movie- simply, but with aplomb and passion.

Having visited Pixar a couple times, I can tell you that the movie was that good for a reason. Stepping onto their campus was like stepping into Disneyland for the first time. Walking past their man-made tobaggan snowbank, into their airy art-filled mega-loft, onto their Segway highways connecting cubicles, past their gigantic theater, and around a workplace stuffed with relics and artifacts of childhood endearment from the Golden Age, you just knew. This was the Willy Wonka chocolate factory of 3D animation.

Xstine and I both looked at each other after the film, eyes tearing with some jealousy. I asked myself why I left a potential route into film fx and animation for the games industry. Then the endless credits came, and I remembered why. Nevertheless, to all the hardworking, brilliant artists and TDs who worked on this magnificent piece, congratulations! You've added something tangible to American culture. And you did it without giant killer robots (no pun intended, they do great work too).

Spiderman 3, like Return of the King, is a movie that tried to do far too much. Both were worth the price of the ticket, when worth is measured in entertainment value, but for a deeper satisfaction, they failed to scratch an itch I've had since my child's mind, impressionable and gullible, clung to these works as if the universes therein were my secret fuel. I don't need to defend Spiderman 3, the movie sine Venom, as I think critics were far too harsh on it. It's when we get to Venom that I feel dreadfully disappointed.

So we get it. There were too many themes. Responsibility to a wife, hubris in doing the right thing, revenge, friendship, anger, principles, the immorality of the otherwise impoverished, all are smooshed into this movie. Wasn't well-orchestrated, but it's mature for a comic-movie. That's good. It's thrown at us without plain badass action and funny jokes being forgotten, no easy task, and the Raimi/Stan camp was delightful, if sycophantic to the demographic.

And then they ruined Venom, the only reason I even care about the Marvel universe.

Venom's story is about humiliation, which they hamfistedly alluded to. In the comic, Eddie Brock sought to please his father, an uncompromisingly religious man. Neither his perfect grades, nor his physical prowess moved the patriarch. Finally losing his job by fabricating a story, Brock not only failed to impress his father, but the scandal destroyed their relationship permanently. Devastated, Eddie contemplated suicide.

One night, Eddie goes to the Our Lady of the Saints Church to please for forgiveness. Spiderman happens to dispose of the symbiote there, fearing that it would bond with him. The symbiote, which was essentially a neutral being (unlike the one in the movie) found a match in Brock's hatred for Spiderman, who's alter-ego had exposed the scandal, bonded with Brock. They formed Venom.

Any none of that Venom, other than the black suit and some teeth, made it onto the big-screen. There was none of the gleefully violent and morbidly funny Venom who, having found salvation in the union, hunts an innocent Spiderman while tormenting him by doing laundry for Aunt May by day. There was none of the Venom who refers to himself as "we" and "us" and hungers for Parker's liver with a little chianti. There was none of his desire to "save innocents" from Spiderman, whom he saw as the real evildoer through his twisted mind. The comic Venom was what Spiderman with the same genius and dedication would turn into without Peter Parker's nuturing family and friends.

Instead, we got a simplified alien monster inserted almost like a clip-art into the movie. We are not pleased.