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I Luvz Me Some STARLET

10/01/2017

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When last we encountered writer / director Sean Baker on these pages (pixels?) it was in conjunction with Tangerine, an exceptionally well made low budget film about two street hustlers on Christmas Eve.

Starlet was his film prior to that, and like Tangerine it is a well written, flawlessly performed, ultimately upbeat and sweet-without-being-cloy film about an aspiring young actress (read: porn performer) who strikes up an unlikely relationship with an elderly woman.

As with Tangerine, there’s a marvelous multi-level look at morality and what is right and wrong, and also how conventional ideas of morality may not be what a specific situation calls for.

It ends with a “to know all is to forgive all” moment that works really well, an unexpected but wholly logical twist.

It reminds me of the very best of the golden age of live TV ala Playhouse 90 et al, stories about real people with real problems and situations.

I’m all for thunderous escapism, but we also need touchstones of reality, and frankly that’s been lacking in much of our popular entertainment, with stories focused too often on larger-than-life situations and outre’ characters.

Spending 103 minutes with Tess (Dee Hemingway[1]) and Sadie (Besedka Johnson[2]) is a refreshing and uplifting experience. I can almost recommend this movie without hesitation.

However…

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The NSFW Component

Starlet’s basic story, even though it involves porn performers, could be a Hallmark Channel movie. While the language gets salty in places, there’s some dope smoking, and references to off camera activities, by and large Starlet[3] doesn’t focus on that aspect of the characters but rather on Tess’ efforts to come to terms with her unexpected windfall and her attempt to do right by Sadie, who unknowingly is the source of said windfall.

You could honestly give this script a light edit and keep 95% of the story intact and suitable for PG-13 audiences.

But Baker includes a scene set at a porn shoot[4] that while out of focus and comprised of fast cuts sure looks like a full bore porn shoot.[5]

I’m no prude[6] and I would never tell another creator how they should tell their story, and while the point of the porn shoot scene is to make sure the audience doesn’t whitewash the character in their mind[7], I think the explicitness of the scene breaks the rhythm of the story.[8]

So I want to recommend Starlet (currently on Netflix) to you, but caution you what to expect.

And as for director Sean Baker, I want to see more of his work. He’s got my attention and I like the types of stories he tells.

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[1] Yes, related to Ernest; she’s his granddaughter through Margaux.

[2] Tragically in her first and only film role; she died less than a year after the film was completed.

[3] The name of Tess’ Chihuahua, BTW.

[4] There’s also a later scene in which some nude performers pass by the camera but there is no sexual activity seen, and a scene at an adult video convention that avoids straying into R-rated territory.

[5] Tess’ co-star is upstanding in his role if you know what I mean and I think you do.

[6] Take a look at my resume’.

[7] The way Giulietta Masina’s unabashed street walker in Le Notti Di Cabiria was cleaned up into Shirley MacLaine’s taxi dancer for Sweet Charity.

[8] Conversely, Tangerine’s equally explicit motel scene/s are part of that film’s rhythm and do not seem out of place with the rest of the story.

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I Luvz Me Some ARRIVAL

28/12/2016

It took a month and a half to catch up with Arrival, but better late than never, no?

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Best sci-fi film I’ve seen in ages (and we’re counting Zootopia as sci-fi). It has everything I’m looking for in a sci-fi movie:

  • Good Writing
  • Good Story
  • Good Characters & Performances
  • Good Special Effects
  • Good Theme

Add to that a nice big slathering dollop o’Sense Of Wonder plus some aliens that finally look like they come from another planet and not some remote corner of this one and you’ve got about as perfect example of the high end of the genre as one could hope for.

Based on the Nebula Award winning “Story Of Your Life” by Ted Chiang from a script by Eric Heisserer. More of this and ratchet back the Star Wars / Alien / Blade Runner / superhero derived movies, please.

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Meaning it’s actually about something, and not just a series of money shots strung together to sell popcorn. I like whiz bang sci-fi as much as the next fanboy, but there’s more to the genre than action-adventure and monster movies disguised as sci-fi films.

Too often sci-fi films have A Really Cool Idea then try to tack on a romance or some pseudo-Oedipian melodrama to make the characters’ “relatable”. Arrival’s personal drama is absolutely essential to the story, and the film could not exist without either the sci-fi or the personal element. Go thou and do likewise, young sci-fi scribe…

Far too often in movies of any genre a romantic sub-plot is introduced to enable the presumably stereotypical female members of the audience to vicariously enjoy the story by identifying with the girlfriend of the real hero, or conversely to reassure the presumably stereotypical male members of the audience that the plucky heroine succeeded only because she had A Good Guy watching her butt back and allowing her Do What Needed To Be Done. Arrival has none of that and is much the better for it since it permits real drama to shine through.

Thankfully kept in balance throughout the film as director Denis Villeneuve steered clear of spaceship porn and just focused on telling the story, not dazzling us with extraneous details.

Rational beings with honorable intent will find ways of cooperating to everyone’s benefit.

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Maui Wowie

7/12/2016

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Disney Animation has hit the temporarily envious position of finding their sweet spot and turning out one satisfying crowd pleasing hit after another.[1]

Moana is just such a crowd pleaser and while I still prefer Zootopia for its worldview, I had a great time with Moana as well.

I can understand why some people regard this as the best Disney animated film E.V.E.R.

The story is straight out of the Joseph Campbell playbook[2] but that’s what’s expected in this sort of a tale.

There are a few nods towards James Cameron’s
The Abyss in the form of the sentient ocean —

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— and a glowing manta —

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— and a call out to The Lion King which used
the exact same gag only with a Polynesian bent.

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The digital world building is practically flawless and looks realistic enough to fool the average eye.

Disney has found the perfect blend of design and texture for the human characters, giving them streamlined unwrinkled faces (even Granny) with what looks onscreen to be the soft plastic texture of a doll’s skin.

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It’s a smart choice insofar as it take the characters’ appearance right up to the edge of the infamous “uncanny valley” without actually falling in.

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Also of note — and if you haven’t been involved in animation this will probably escape you — was the film’s use of hair to help convey the characters’ mental state, with subtle changes in texture reflecting what’s going on emotionally with a character.[3]

Voice casting is pitch-perfect, with Auli’i Cravalho as Moana (age indeterminate; Maui refers to her as being eight but may have been sarcastic) and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (and — yowsa! — is he ever good and not only that, he can sing!).

Disney, to their credit, took the time and made the effort to get as much authentic Polynesian input into the making / casting / recording of this film and it shows — even in areas where is doesn’t “show”.

A major sub-text of the story (and harkening back to Campbell) is how a culture defines itself.

Culture is based on the stories a society tells about itself. The stories may be told / sung / written / drawn / danced but they are expressed and reinterpreted generation to generation. Our stories reflect who we are and who we aspire to be, and in the end they are the only thing we leave behind that lasts.

Moana’s use of storytelling within the context of the story is extremely well done without becoming metatextual.[4] There are some pretty profound spiritual and theological themes present, too, which are pretty surprising for a “pagan” movie.[5]

Thoroughly enjoyed this, and on the fan boy side:

  1. I can’t wait for the inevitable Genie / Maui team-up
  2. Disney is missing a bet if they don’t try to turn the Kakamoras into their Minions.

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[1] I say “temporarily” because as Caesar and Patton can attest, all fame is fleeting, and the formula that makes you gold today is too precious to meddle with and tomorrow is will produce dross but you’ll keep doing it because that’s what made you gold in the past. You’re only as good as your last miracle.

[2] Quite literally so in several places, with not one but two — count ‘em, two — visits to an underworld where the hero(ine) returns with a boon.

[3] That probably doesn’t sound like a big deal to most of you but holy shamolley, wotta tool for animators!

[4] Look it up. Whaddya think Google is for?

[5] In particular Moana’s moment of crisis and doubt when she feels she isn’t up to the task before her. Yeah, it’s an animated film set in ancient Polynesian myth, but it sure makes you feel what Jesus must have felt in the garden of Gethsemane.

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THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (1964)

28/11/2016

the-americanization-of-emily-1964One film that everyone should see — especially Americans — and especially Americans in positions of life and death authority such as peace officers and service personnel — is The Americanization Of Emily (1964), directed by Arthur Hiller and written by Paddy Chayefsky (going very far afield from William Bradford Huie’s novel). Set in England before and during the invasion of Normandy, this dark comedy stars James Garner in one of his patented cynical-roué-with-a-heart-of-gold roles and Julie Andrews as a military driver about as far as imaginable from her wholesome turns as Mary Poppins and in The Sound Of Music (respectively released before and after this film).

taoe-6e8Emily also features James Coburn as Garner’s somewhat treacherous pal, Melvyn Douglas as the admiral they work for, and Keenan Wynn as a drunken sailor with the best line in the picture (“We ain’t that stoned!”).

taoe-coburn-and-garnerIt’s a very literate and philosophical film (as was everything Chayefsky wrote) with a lot to think about in it, but there’s one crucial sub-plot that we all need to focus on.

Douglas’ admiral is responsible for the naval logistics behind the invasion of Normandy, and the mental strain weighs heavily on the man. As he starts to lose his grasp on reality, he develops an obsession that “the first dead man on Omaha Beach must be a sailor”.

taoe-admiralThis sends Garner and Coburn off on a fool’s errand to film a documentary of the Navy’s combat engineers blowing up mines and other obstacles in advance of the actual invasion force. Garner drags his feet for obvious common sense reasons of not wanting to get killed, but Coburn becomes gung-ho about the project.

Douglas then suffers a full a full blown nervous breakdown, a psychotic fugue that temporarily incapacitates him but his orders, once put in motion, can now no longer be amended, changed, rescinded, or sidetracked. Suffice it to say Garner finds himself in the unenviable position of being “the first dead man on Omaha Beach”.

taoe-emily-stillAs soon as the admiral’s mind clears, he is horrified to find his underlings acted on what should have been obviously ignored as the product of a stressed mind reaching its breaking point. Garner’s documentary served no real purpose, dozens of lives were needlessly risked, and in the end Douglas is wracked with guilt that his psychotic obsession sent a valued and trusted aide to his meaningless death. (There is, of course, a nice double-twist reverse to end the movie on a high note, so don’t worry about this one being a downer; it’s tons o’fun.)

I want to focus on Coburn’s insistence of following through with Douglas’ orders despite the fact he acknowledges such orders are nonsensical! He tells Garner:   “You…nearly got yourself court-martialed, stripped of your commission, sent to the Arctic Circle to do polar research. Man, you don’t tell two-star admirals you don’t approve of their orders. Now you’re on the Admiral’s brig list.”

Coburn’s method of handling things is to cut orders that let Garner delay the inevitable by a few days instead of bringing the real problem — “The service takes a dim view of lieutenant commanders who call the Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy a nut” — to anyone’s attention.

Sometimes, dammit, ya just gotta run that risk.

Though Emily doesn’t hang a lantern on this point, the facts are after WWII we executed Germans and Japanese who did exactly what Coburn’s character did: Just followed orders.

They surrendered their integrity and their humanity by never questioning or challenging the orders handed down from above. They followed through on them, even when they thought they were stupid and evil and self-destructive, because they thought they could escape moral and ethical responsibility by handing such decisions over to others.

No.

It doesn’t work that way.

The person on the other end of your club or your pepper spray or your gun or your drone targeting system will be hurt by your actions.

There is no escaping that.

It may well be that your actions can be justified — you stop a deranged spouse from killing their family by shooting the attacker — but it will nonetheless be your responsibility.

And you may find yourself in situations where you will agree wholeheartedly with those above you that a specific group needs to be attacked, and if so then you must own your moral and ethical choice: You share credit or blame, honor or guilt for something you did willfully.

There will come other times, however, when you will have your doubts, and perhaps even times beyond that when you will know what is being asked of you is wrong.

You must resist at those times.

You will not be held blameless for any harm that befalls someone unjustly on your watch.

You may escape legal responsibility for a time, but your actions will follow you, and whether the debt is paid directly or indirectly, it will be paid.

The Americanization Of Emily is a funny comedy, using dark humor to get its points across.

It can afford its cynicism:
At the end of the day its actors removed their make-up, returned their costumes to wardrobe, and went home.

People in the real world aren’t
afforded such luxuries.

 

 

 

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I Luvz Me Some ON THE SILVER GLOBE

5/08/2016

On The Silver Globe is one of those films in which the story behind the film is just as fascinating as the film itself.

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The basic story of the film is this: 
Three space farers land on an alien world and end up drastically changing the local culture; a generation later another spacefarer tracks them down and discovers their new world has degenerated into a brutal, oppressive mess.  Things go downhill from there.[1]

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The story behind the film is this:
In the mid-1970s, Polish director Andrzej Żuławski received permission from the then-Communist government of Poland to make a film based on his great-uncle Jerzy Żuławski’s novel of the same title, part of his magnum opus The Lunar Trilogy, a huge hit in pre-WWI Europe and translated into every language on the continent…except English.

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Żuławski the younger had a prickly relationship with the Communist censors and an on-again / off-again career that typically saw him being exiled, making a hit movie for another country, invited back, exiled again, etc., etc., and of course, etc.  On The Silver Globe was greenlit during one of the on-again periods.

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On The Silver Globe was to have been the biggest and most expensive Polish movie ever, and the Poles have made some pretty big, grandiose movies.[2]  What’s important to note is that Żuławski launched this project before Lucas’ Star Wars was released or Leiji Matsumoto’s Space Battleship Yamato or Captain Harlock changed the face of sci-fi manga — and subsequently world sci-fi — forever.

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And it sure as hell was waaaaay ahead of David Lynch’s Dune or George Miller’s Mad Max.

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So why have you never heard of this film before now?  Well, as par for the course, Żuławski went from on-again back to off-again; a Communist official, thinking the film was a criticism of Marxism, took umbrage at the production and shut it down when it was 80% complete, ordering the sets & costumes & negatives destroyed.

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Żuławski, fed up, left for France.  And there things remained until 1988 and the fall of Communism in Europe.

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Freed of censorship, Żuławski was delighted to learn cast and crew members had hidden away footage from his work print as well as some of the costumes.  Żuławski reassembled the film into as close to his original idea as possible; it’s missing several key scenes (and presumably the special effects, miniatures, and opticals that would have been added in post production) that are filled in with modern city scenes and narration.

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But as for what’s left — holy shamolley, wotta movie!  This is indeed a big film and filled with big ideas.  It develops a lot of ideas that later productions would build their entire film around[3] and had it been released as planned in 1977, almost every major sci-fi film after that would be accused of ripping On The Silver Globe off.

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As it is, it’s a perfect example of Mark Twain’s dictum, “When it’s steamboat time, you steamboat.”  Space opera was in the air in the mid-to-late 1970s and somebody had to be first with the game changer that would re-write the rules; George Lucas drew the lucky number from the hat.

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It is a must-see movie for all serious film buffs, sci-fi fans, and especially film makers who specialize in cinefantastique.  On The Silver Globe looks like it was filmed by aliens on an alien world, and while American audiences might feel parts of it are evocative of our own Native Americans’ cultures, Żuławski was also drawing upon the cultural traditions of the Lapps and the Mongols as well.  There is an unreal dream-like quality to the entire film (which, truth be told, may be due in no small part to the truncated production history) but like our most vivid dreams, an unsettling sense of reality as well.

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In an era when most films are CGI spfx ridden, On The Silver Globe is shot using mainly real locations, giving the production a sense of solidity found more in Mad Max movies than Star Wars.

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It was released in the States on DVD in 2007 with English subtitles but now a fully restored versions is making the rounds of the last few art houses.

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Or if you’re a cheap bastard like yrs trly, you can watch it on YouTube in Polish without subtitles.

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However you watch it — watch it!

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[1]  Oh, yeah, and like Star Wars movies are any cheerier when you boil them down to their key points.

[2]  Check out The Saragossa Manuscript or Pharaoh if you ever get the chance.

[3]  Looking at you, Prometheus.

 

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I Luvz Me Some GHOSTBUSTERS 2016

16/07/2016

This is how you do a remake![1]  Keep the core idea and story, keep the elements and tone people like, but feel free to go afield from that so long as you stay in the same ballpark.

Ghostbusters (2016; directed by Paul Feig, written by Katie Dippold & Feig, based on the 1984 film directed by Ivan Reitman, written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis) does that perfectly, adapting and expanding upon the original by reinterpreting it for the 21st century and reflecting a female cast.[2]

The new all-female Ghostbusters are not simply the original characters in drag: 
They are unique and interesting on their own account, their relationship is not that of three college chums + an employee but rather a series of overlapping relationships and histories that finally jells into a single compact team.  Kristin Wilg as Erin Gilbert is former BFF with Melissa McCarthy’s Abby Yates; the friendship broke up over Gilbert’s desire to pursue “serious” science instead of paranormal investigations.  Yates is now friends / co-researcher with Kate McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzmann, a hyperkinetic engineer whom my younger granddaughter describes as “the best because she’s funny, she builds things, and she’s flexible.”  And to this mix Leslie Jones as MTA employee Patty Tolan who first comes to the Ghostbusters as a client and pretty much invites herself into the club; her encyclopedic and photographic memory of New York history and geography make her a vital addition to the team and while her character may lack to formal education the others possess she is certainly their equal in the brains department.

Oh, yeah, these ladies are all smart.  Very smart.  That’s what makes this film so delightful:  The female characters are characters who are female, not stereotypes being forced into an old story.  They come across as fresh and original while still maintaining the flavor of the 1984 film.

In fact, the only real dummy in the film is their beefcake receptionist, Kevin (played by Chris Hemsworth) who is one of the stupidest yet most endearing characters ever in movies.   He, too, plays a vital part in the construction of the film, albeit not the one you might expect.

The basic plot is still the same: 
Ghostbusters, after being drummed out of academia, start a business that nobody takes seriously until they finally catch a ghost; then as business booms the government tries to regulate them out of existence only to find itself hopeless outgunned by a massive supernatural invasions and forced to rely on the team to save the day.

The script construction is great, you get everything you want in a Ghostbusters movie only not in the way you expect it, including cameos galore featuring the original cast.

Highly recommended.

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[1]  Not a reboot, a remake.  A reboot drastically alters something about the theme / tone/ intent of the original  Reboots done well are good, but too often they are just a new creative team pissing on material to mark it as their.

[2]  There’s been a lot of hate directed at this film by MRAs suffering terminal butthurt from the fact the four main characters are female as opposed to the four male protagonists of the first film.  Congratulations, guys; now you know how women feel when they see men starring in 88%.  Ghostbusters ’16 is aware of that animosity and comments on it directly more than once in the course of the film, and almost always to dismiss it as unimportant to Just Doing Their Jobs.  Brava, Ghostbusters ’16!

 

 

 

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Aren’t You Reading ASHES TO ASHEVILLE Yet?

2/06/2016

Mi amigo John Shore is hard at work on a new novel, Ashes To Asheville, which, in the time honored tradition of Charles Dickens and Armistead Maupin, is being serialized in a newspaper, in this case the Asheville Citizen-Times.

I’ll let John describe it:

“It’s the story of Tammy, a 45-year-old mother of two grown children whose husband of 22 years … well, let’s just say critically disappoints her.

“For 10 years she taught art and painting at a San Diego junior college. She thought her life was settled. And suddenly she discovers that it’s anything but. This launches her into what is, to say the least, an unsettling time for her.

“In her anguish, Tammy flees her comfortable life in San Diego for the home of her beloved half-brother, Charlie, who lives in Asheville.

“And if you’re going to be thrust into an intensely wrenching, soul-upheaving season of your life, in which so much of what you know, or thought you knew, about yourself is essentially up for grabs, then Asheville is certainly a spectacularly unique place to have that experience. It sure proves to be for her, anyway.”

Check it out. As a former resident of Asheville (and with family members still living there), I can say he’s capturing the flavor and spirit of the town in a really well crafted story.

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I Luvz Me Some Silent Danish Sci-Fi

26/04/2016

We live, as the eminent philosopher Louis CK has noted, in an age of wonders, and films long thought lost or available only in badly deteriorated form are now restored to almost pristine condition.

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One year after D.W. Griffith made Birth Of A Nation in the U.S. (and American audiences blithely bought into the ballyhoo that he had invented the language of cinema and creature the feature length film format), the Danes opted to end the world with a film called — surprise, surprise — The End of the World (Verdens Undergang).

Before we proceed, a bit of historical context: 
From 1914 to 1918, Europe was up to its neck in a little number called World War One.

It severely disrupted all the European nations involved in it, killing millions of people (mostly young men), and bringing much of those nations’ pop culture (read “movies”) to a screeching halt.

The United States, sitting safely on the other side of the Atlantic, was able to stay out of the first half of the war and kept cranking out big budget, high polished films that dominated the international market.

With virtually no home grown movies of their own (and the few that were made reflected the Spartan resources and budgets available), the European film markets eagerly lapped up the Hollywood product.

Even after the U.S. entered the war, our nation was never under direct threat, much less attack, and so was able to continue making highly polished big budget films.

Hollywood had no competitors in the world at that time…

…except for Denmark.

The Danes took a look at the gawdawful bloodbath going on just south of them and said thanks but no thanks, we’re sitting this one out.

As a result, they were able to make some truly astonishing movies, films that could — and did — compete head to head and nose to nose with the best American products.

While they made movies in a variety of genres and styles, I’m going to focus on two big budget (for the era) science fiction films they made (although the term “science fiction” wouldn’t be coined until almost a decade later).

The first was the above mentioned The End Of The World, a pretty straight forward tale that also clearly reflected Danish anxieties about the hell breaking loose just below their southern border.

Written by Otto Rung and directed by August Blom, it’s a story about a near collision with an asteroid causing worldwide havoc.

It pretty directly influenced the latter French film La Fin du Monde (1931) and both directly and indirectly (through adapted source material) the American productions Deluge (1933) as well as the opening chapter of Flash Gordon (1936).

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Those films in turn influenced When Worlds Collide (1951) which in turn influenced both Deep Impact and Armageddon in 1998, and those films influenced a shipload of crappy direct-to-video disaster-from-space movies.

Not too shabby for a 77 minute movie you never heard of before, eh?

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While The End Of The World has a compact cast, it makes an effort to provide as impressive a spectacle as possible.  An elaborate village miniature was built and destroyed in a hail of smoky comet debris, terrific storms (stock footage and tank work) flood the countryside, and in a poignant ending, the heroine wanders through a now desolate and decimated village that has been reduced to utter ruins.

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The movie clearly reflects the Danes’ then anxiety about what was happening south of them, as well as their fears they would get swept up in it (they didn’t…in that war; World War Two did see them overrun by the Nazis).

Two years after that, as World War One was finally winding down, the Danes tried an even more ambitious science fiction project, A Trip To Mars (a.k.a. Himmelskibet, Excelsior, and Das Himmelschiff in various markets).

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Adapted from Sophus Michaelis’ novel by screenwriter Ole Olsen and directed by Holger-Madsen, A Trip To Mars is the space opera genre delivered full blown, with all the trappings we’re familiar with.

While the spaceship, the Excelsior, is somewhat fanciful, it’s based on aviation technology of the time and compared to the tiny cabins of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers’ rockets, certainly looks like it could be a functioning spacecraft.

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It may be the first time spacesuits were depicted in a film, and the actual trip itself takes place over a several month-long flight.

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But the most impressive part comes when they finally reach Mars.

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Although the Martians are depicted as being identical the humans — specifically Danish humans – there are hundreds of them on screen in various scenes, all in full costume.  An elaborate set was built for the Martian city, and unlike most films an attempt is made to show how Martian civilization differs from humanity’s attempt at the same.

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What’s missing is the slam bang violence that’s the hallmark of American sci-fi films.  The Danes, clearly appalled by the carnage they’d seen unleashed beside them, stressed a pacifist message, and after an initial conflict between the human crew and the Martians, peace is made and the daughter of the Martian leader opts to come to earth with the returning crew to help spread the message of love.

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While Danish cinema continued on, it lost interest in science fiction themes and, coupled with the impact of World War Two, the country did not produce any more science fiction films until Reptilicus in 1961 and Journey To The Seventh Planet in 1962.

Despite being in color and sound, neither measures up to either The End Of The World and A Trip To Mars, both of which have been extensively restored by the Danish Film Institute and are available for viewing on YouTube.

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Seriously, 2016, Stop It. Just…Stop.

21/04/2016

FU2016 prince-side-view

FU2016 david bowie

FU2016 Haggard

FU2016 blowfly-studio-1970-billboard-650

FU2016 Dale-Griffin-Mott-the-Hoople

FU2016 dan hicks

FU2016 george martin

FU2016 glenn-frey-old-1453160905

FU2016 Jimmie Van Zant 2 BWs

FU2016 kantner-700x602

FU2016 keith-emerson-lake-palmer-portrait-bw-billboard-650

FU2016 maurice white

FU2016 vanity

This is only a small portion of the large number of talented people we have already lost this year — musicians, composers, songwriters, creators — but I thought 13 would be an appropriate sample.  

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I Luvz Me Some ZOOTOPIA

7/04/2016

I’m going to break my overview of Zootopia into five parts:
How it succeeds as a social critique, how it succeeds as science fiction, how it succeeds as an animated film, then — because this part will be spoilericious – after the jump how perfectly plotted it is, then finally for the most masochistic of you, the theological implications.

Shall we begin?

Zootopia_ticketsZootopia as social critique:

This would make a perfect double feature with Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful 8.

Like The Hateful 8, Zootopia is at its heart a sincere and surprisingly profound meditation on prejudice and ethnic stereotypes in contemporary society.

Unlike The Hateful 8, Zootopia is afforded the luxury of being an animal fable, and while certain parallels are evident between its characters and ethnic stereotypes in modern day America, there are no one-to-one analogies.

The Hateful 8, on the other hand, even though it is apparently set in the alternate Tarantino universe, can’t avoid very specific comparisons among and between various ethnicities in the US today.

The Hateful 8 is a hard film to digest. As noted, it is Tarantino’s most significant film to date, but it’s also his least successful one.

That’s because there is no cushion between the audience and the ugliness it portrays, there is no distancing that lets people identify-with-yet-pretend-they-aren’t exactly like the characters seen on the screen.

Zootopia, conversely, has the luxury of being an animated animal fable, so audiences can nod sagely in recognition yet at the same time not feel a condemning “thou art the man” finger pointed at them.

Zootopia also lets the viewer off the hook insofar as those few scenes in which the audience recognizes themselves are quickly offset by those same characters doing something virtuous or by non-ethnic comedy.[1]

What Zootopia does brilliantly is to admit there are friction points among us all, and that not every body gets along well with everybody else.

But it also points out that, while life is messy, it is also full of options, and just because one particular path is blocked does not mean there isn’t a way to the ultimate destination.

If The Hateful 8 tells us we must pay for our sins before the healing begins, Zootopia tells us we can forgive the sins of others and ask forgiveness for ourselves.

Zootopia as science fiction:

The basic premise is this:
Thousands of years ago animals — predators and prey — found a way of living peacefully with one another and, because there was no longer disruptive hunting preventing the advancement of societies and science, the world became a better / cleaner / happier place.

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The world realized from that premise is flawlessly executed. Every imaginable detail is either demonstrated or alluded to, and everything seems to fit.

In a perfect exampled of the old dictum, “He who handwaviums least, handwaviums best”[2], Zootopia doesn’t have to explain every single little detail of its world.

Something is presented to us and we simply roll with it. “Of course that’s the way they’d do it” even when five minutes of thought would make us realize what we’ve just seen actually opens can after can of worms.

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The trick to writing good sci-fi is not to explain each and every thing but to let the audience presume there is an explanation for each and everything.

The world building in Zootopia is great, a perfect combination of advanced CGI technology[3] and clever human ideas. It looks and feels real enough for us to accept it without thought, and that acceptance is what makes the powerful impact of Zootopia’s social comment possible.

Zootopia as an animated film:

This may be the best animated film ever.

I’m talking Ghost In The Shell quality.

Technically it is flawless. The character animation is great, the world building superb, the voice acting just about the best ever heard.

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Snow White and Pinocchio and Dumbo
are great, but they can’t hold a candle to this.

This is Wizard Of Oz perfection and timelessness, and like the quest for the ruby slippers, so much more complex and enriching than Disney films of the same era.

And more importantly, it’s a demonstration of what animated films do so much better than live action movies: Properly executed, they can engage audiences of all levels and all backgrounds better and more effortlessly that comparable live action films.

Zootopia is a parody of classic 1980s buddy-cop movies, but it is so much better than Lethal Weapon or 48 Hours or Die Hard or The Last Boy Scout.

zootopia-is-an-important-movie-disguised-as-a-comedy-869236 Indeed, crap stuff that would be ridiculously over the top in a live action film is accepted here without breaking the gossamer thin suspension of disbelief.

Zootopia is a funny talking animal cartoon that grown-ups can enjoy without apology, and if one studio can do it, any studio can do it.

This may be the death knell for big budget live action movies.

No, I am not kidding…

SPOILERICIOUS AFTER JUMP

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