Cinemanarrative Dissonance: The Ludonarrative of Video Games and How We Can Apply That To Talking About Movies.

SPOILER WARNING FOR; I, DANIEL BLAKE AND GREEN ROOM, MILD SPOILERS FOR BLADE RUNNER.

There’s a video by a YouTube channel Video Game Critic called Errant Signal, normally a channel which highlights individual games and does a more in-depth than most analysis of the said video game. The video is called Errant Signal – The Debate That Never Took Place, and it’s about how stupid the ludology/narratology debate as a thing is and how stupid it is that as a result, we need to use the term ‘ludo-narrative dissonance’.

Now, this isn’t an essay on video games but I still feel the need to quickly explain what ludo-narrative dissonance is. It’s very simple. Ludo is the latin for game, and narrative means story, so moving on logically from that, ludo-narrative dissonance is when the story of a game is not reflected by the gameplay. The example that coined this term is the 2007 video game BioShock. On its face, the narrative is a dystopian takedown of Ayn Rand’s objectivism as laid down in Atlas Shrugged. The tenants of this criticised ideology is basically to work only in your own self-interest however the gameplay itself is all about working for your own self-interest without the option to do otherwise, really.

At this point, I wish to point out that I can’t attest to the validity of this criticism. I have played maybe 15 minutes of BioShock and far more BioShock Infinite which y’know, has problems of its own but this is so not the place to get into that. But all the same, the originator of the term ludo-narrative dissonance used it to apply to a game which he perceived to have a message expressed by the mechanics of gameplay that was at odds with the message of the story.

Now you may be asking ‘James what the flying fuck does all this have to do with movies?’, and that’s a fair question. In order to highlight the ridiculousness of the state of affairs, Errant Signal talks about how no one talks about a movie as a demonstration of filmmaking skill and as a strong narrative but never at the same time and never in a way that would posit it ‘Cinemanarratively dissonant’.

Enter media and communication analytics channel Folding Ideas, of whom I am a fan.

In his video Ludonarrative Dissonance, he picks up on this somewhat throwaway comment about cinema narrative dissonance and suggests that it actually has some potential value as a critical tool and I’m inclined to agree. So what I intend to do in this essay is somewhat refine the term. Try to apply it to a few films and see what comes out of it. Most likely this essay will be ignored and the term written off as some obscure footnote, but hopefully not.

Cinemanarrative dissonance can now for the purposes of this essay be defined as when the use of cinematic language as a story telling tool is in conflict with the story it is being employed to bring to life. A misuse of otherwise sound cinematic tools.

Example One: Transformers.

I’m going to start off with the example bought up by Folding Ideas and see if I can add some to it. He talks about how in the 2007 movie Transformers the character Mikaela Banes played by Megan Fox is written in the script to be smart and capable but is treated by the camera as a “piece of meat”.

So I watched Transformers specifically to verify this and oh my god is Folding Ideas right, epitomised in this clip here.

This is clip epitomises what he means by cinema-narrative dissonance; whilst all the elements in the, albeit terrible script, suggest that Michaela is strong and competent and clearly knows about engines as demonstrated in this scene, both Witwiki and Micheal Bay himself are only interested in objectifying Michaela. This might just be why Megan Fox called Bay Hitler. Maybe.

The other example I want to bring up is bought up by Lindsay Ellis in this video here.

In the video essay entitled, Why is it So Hard to Remember What Happens in Transformers? | The Whole Plate: Episode 3, Ellis posits that the reason she and others find it hard to remember all the fucking weirdness and dumbness in its specificity is that Bay gives every action equal weight no matter whether they are of unignorable importance to the story or not. She cites a brilliant Every Frame A Painting video I suggest everyone watches, (Michael Bay – What is Bayhem?)

Now whilst I agree that Bay does this, does it count as cinema narrative dissonance? The argument for this being that the camera is deeming specific elements with an importance that they just don’t have in the story.

Now, there is an old adage in screenwriting that everything needs to be vital. If a scene or item isn’t needed it shouldn’t be there. This comes from the idea of Chekov’s Gun. Chekov being a playwright who believed fervently in narrative efficiency and whose ideas can be summed up in the example that if there is a loaded gun on stage then it must go off at some point in the drama.

The problem with Bay’s interpretation is that the scripts he uses have, frankly, lots of extraneous shit. If we were going to look at, for example, Mad Max: Fury Road. That story is incredibly simple, it’s an a to b and back again chase movie that just has a lot of moving parts. What that film does that is different is that using simple framing and a consistent centring of key elements through quick cutting, it holds your focus on all the important players in the game with inserts to set up all the things that become relevant later. This for me is epitomised in the scene where Max and Furiosa fight using Max’s chain when they first meet up with each other.

The gun and the car door and everything are set up well in advance of them being needed. Whilst things are not being set up the camera stays rock solid on the mechanics of the fight occasionally cutting to Nux or the wives. This is all kept track of by everything staying in the centre of the frame so your eyes never have to adjust. This is how to laser focus on a story with great set up and pay off where everything that’s bought up is important to the story. This is opposed to Bay who could never cut anything if he tried.

However, I don’t think this is necessarily cinema-narrative dissonance more than Bay just not being able to discern what’s important because all he’s interested in is holding the camera on his dick and pushing it right in your face. You may disagree, and that is entirely fine.

Example 2: Blade Runner

I just wanna get this out the way right up front. I love Blade Runner, and if it weren’t for the scene that we’re about to talk about it would be, in my opinion, a perfect movie. However, it isn’t, it’s far from perfect.

We will be referring unless explicitly stated otherwise to the final cut of Blade Runner.

For his second and third movies British director and producer Ridley Scott moved from the historic medieval fields of The Duellists to much more speculative fiction and in so doing crafted to towering behemoths of science fiction that sculpted both space fiction and dystopian fiction for the rest of time. Alien of 1979, and Blade Runner of 1982, they both approached the subject of sexual assault and rape in very different ways.

Alien, famously being about a parasitic invader that invades your body and gestates before bursting out of your chest. The writer spoke of wanting all the men in the audience to cross their legs, to really understand what rape is like. This was then beautifully captured in Geiger’s production design in a way that makes for one of the scariest movies ever. That being said, Scott’s approach to this seems more to be, ‘that’s a really neat idea that I can make look really cool’ than the morals of it. This suggestion of mine is only reinforced by the way he approaches one particular scene in Blade Runner.

The music is lilting, the cinematography, very noirish and chilly but also filled with toned back warm hues. Their faces singled out from the blackness by warm light highlighting the red of lipstick, the emotions of eyes, white reflecting off the shape of curls of black hair. It’s shot like a love scene, and if you try to find it on YouTube that’s what most of the videos will be titled. However, the actual text of the scene is one of deep emotional darkness. Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, bullying, breaking, emotionally manipulating Sean Young’s Racheal Tyrel. Taking advantage of her desperate emotional state, physically manipulating her and preventing her from leaving and forcing her to give some warped idea of consent whilst she’s crying and he’s looking furious. You could frame this as a noir homage but that would really be making excuses, and for a film with such emotionally resonant scenes as the ‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe’ monologue, that kind of post-modern detachment seems, perverse at best. No, this is a rape scene framed as a love scene. It is a particularly egregious example of cinema-narrative dissonance because of how disturbing the disparity is. This is in a way what I mean when I say cinema-narrative dissonance, it is a duplicity, a hypocrisy of intended message and presented text. This is a particularly shitty breed.

Maybe Scott matured as time went on, after all the man made Thelma & Louise, I don’t know, maybe not.

Example 3: I, Daniel Blake

A hypocrisy of intended message and presented text. Does this apply to my issues with I, Daniel Blake because I’m really not sure it does? Let’s dig in.

So the plot of I, Daniel Blake is that a carpenter suffers a heart condition so can’t work but yet his benefits officers tell him he must. It then descends into this darkly comic Kafkaesque nightmare, a loose retelling of The Trial.  That’s all great and I was with the movie until right near the end, because its message, that the benefits system here in the UK is completely fucked and designed to stop you trying to get benefits, I fundamentally agree with, but then at the end they’re about to go to court and fight for their rights, when Daniel dies. Then his friend blames the government at his funeral for him dying of a pre-existing heart condition, and it makes no sense. Or rather it could have made sense if it had been put together a bit better, as it is it just feels rushed. 

Honestly, you almost expect her to say ‘like a dog’, (Kafta references ftw).

More than it being rushed it feels like Loach is trying to push a moral onto an event that doesn’t inherently have that moral. There is ‘a hypocrisy of intended message and presented text’. However, I don’t think that it’s cinema-narrative dissonance. It is a dissonance of the message conveyed through dialogue against the story, instead of a dissonance with the message conveyed through the camera and cinematic language against the story. So no, I, Daniel Blake‘s dissonance is not of the type we are examining the possibilities of usage of here.

Fourth and Final Example: American History X

In her video essay, Mel Brooks, The Producers and the Ethics of Satire about N@zis Ellis refers to how in American History X, the text is explicitly anti-nazi but Nazis love the imagery that it presents of them. I think Ellis hits it on the head here when she says, “the text shows neo-nazism and white supremacy as bad, but isn’t it also kind of bad… ass..? Isn’t it kind of cool the way he’s framed?” Yeah, it is pretty cool the way he’s framed; if you’re a Nazi. The text shows Nazis as explicitly bad, however the framing of Edward Norton’s Derek Vinyard, especially in this shot; 

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isn’t as broad as just bad. It’s more threatening, imposing, dangerous, which, if you’re a neo-nazi is exactly how you want to come across. The culture surrounding neo-nazism is really incisively captured by Ellis when she called Vinyard, (in an ironic sense), “an uncucked, neo-nazi, alpha”. Ugh, I feel like I need to bleach my fingers after typing the words ‘uncucked’. The point is the community is all about posturing without any real change, and yes I know the same criticism could be levelled at the left, I’ve made it, shush. Terms like ‘uncucked’ and ‘alpha’ are generally used by people, when used seriously, who are neither of those things, or people who aspire to those things without any regard for any other positive attributes, or both. In the same video, Ellis talks about the fragile nature of Nazi theatrical posturing, terms like uncucked and alpha to me are the modern equivalent to forming a swastika out of marching stormtroopers. Inherently likely to break down when criticised. The point is that if you’re a Nazi you want to be considered dangerous without being considered inherently bad. In that respect, the framing of Norton in American History X is perfect for them, and it’s because of a cinema-narrative dissonance between the intended framing of Nazis to be pathetic, inherently bad, and ineffectual against the actual framing using cinematic language, which paints the Nazis to be threatening and dangerous. Director Tony Kaye famously denounced this film, and maybe this was why.

Maybe the better example of how to do this would be Green Room. In this story both the narrative of the script and of the camera goes from showing the neo-Nazis in that film as threatening and taking all hope from its characters to pathetic in their own right, which is maybe a journey that in our modern times, with the Alt-right descending, and with a back-catalogue of media showing Nazis as terrifying, that the audience needs to go on. We need to go from seeing the Nazis through the lens that shoots Edward Norton in American History X to the lens that frames the Nazi played by Patrick Steward running away at the end of Green Room and getting shot in the head.

That’s the end of the article. I hope that you enjoyed it and that together we might have helped give the world a new and helpful critical tool, and refined it’s usage to a point where we really know what it is and how to use it. 

J x

References

Alien. (1979). [film] Directed by R. Scott. UK, USA: Brandywine Productions, Twentieth Century-Fox Productions.

American History X. (1999). [film] Directed by T. Kaye. USA: New Line Cinema, Savoy Pictures, The Turman-Morrissey Company.

Blade Runner. (1982). [film] Directed by R. Scott. USA, Hong Kong, UK: The Ladd Company,  Shaw Brothers, Warner Bros.

Ellis, L. (2017). Mel Brooks, The Producers and the Ethics of Satire about N@zis. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62cPPSyoQkE [Accessed 1 Aug. 2017].

Ellis, L. (2017). Why is it So Hard to Remember What Happens in Transformers? | The Whole Plate: Episode 3. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aE-6M7IbNSI [Accessed 1 Aug. 2017].

Errant Signal (2015). Errant Signal – The Debate That Never Took Place. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBN3R0m31bA [Accessed 1 Aug. 2017].

Every Frame A Painting (2014). Michael Bay – What is Bayhem?. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2THVvshvq0Q [Accessed 1 Aug. 2017].

Folding Ideas (2017). Ludonarrative Dissonance. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04zaTjuV60A [Accessed 1 Aug. 2017].

Green Room. (2016). [film] Directed by J. Saulnier. USA: Broad Green Pictures, Film Science.

Hellquist, P. (2007), BioShock, Video Game, 2K Games, Irrational Games, Australia, USA

I, Daniel Blake. (2016). [film] Directed by K. Loach. UK, France, Belgium: Sixteen Films, Why Not Productions, Wild Bunch, BFI, Les Films du Fleuve, Canal+, Ciné+.

Kafka, F. (1925). The Trial. Berlin: Verlag Die Schmiede.

Levine, K. (2013), BioShock Infinite, Video Game, Irrational Games, USA

Mad Max: Fury Road. (2015). [film] Directed by G. Millar. Australia, USA: Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Kennedy Miller Productions, RatPac-Dune Entertainment.

Rand, A. (1957). Atlas Shrugged. New York City: Random House.

The Duellists. (1977). [film] Directed by R. Scott. UK: Paramount Pictures, Enigma Productions.

Thelma & Louise. (1991). [film] Directed by R. Scott. USA, France: Pathé Entertainment, MGM, Percy Main, Star Partners III Ltd.

Transformers. (2007). [film] Directed by M. Bay. USA: DreamWorks, Paramount Pictures, Hasbro, Di Bonaventura Pictures, SprocketHeads.

Movie Review: Dunkirk

DUNKIRK

Director: Christopher Nolan

Writer: Christopher Nolan

Stars: Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard

Verdict: One of the best of the year, mid-five-stars.

It was either this or Baby Driver for most late review of a contemporary movie I could release at the moment. So here it goes.

From the first shot. From the very first shot, I knew the film had me.

I feel like everyone knows about the events of Dunkirk but that might just be because I’m British. Dunkirk follows three stories of people trapped at the French beach as the Nazis closed in during World War II, the story of how a situation that can only end with surrender or annihilation ended with neither. One on the sea, one on land, one in the air.

Just, just thinking about the film, I am reminded of just the feeling of nerve shredding tension and despair and hopelessness normally reserved for the scariest of horror films that the film evoked in pretty much everyone I know who saw it. This is achieved through constantly cutting between the stories but patiently, relentlessly building tension through some of the best editing of the year. The score from Hanz Zimmer, (Pirates of the Caribbean, Inception), incorporates the sound of a ticking clock constantly which just keeps going, keeps pushing, keeps pushing you further to the edge without ever pushing you over it. Nolan in fact uses for the most part the cinematic language of horror films to evoke this dread in the viewer.

This is the conclusion of almost a cinematic thesis statement Nolan has been building on through works like The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Inception, of just constantly pushing, patiently but insistently towards a grand conclusion resulting in pretty unique cinematic experiences. This comes through in Dunkirk in the form of this everlasting tension eventually breaking out into instances of hope which might be at any time snatched away from you.

Like Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, by denying you a traditional protagonist, Nolan makes the film more about humanity in general than any one person, the fairly uncharacterised characters filling in for people in general standing in for every soldier on that beach. Just the sense of bleakness, of just whatever you do just will not work, is suffocating. Then at the end when, well, famous history happens I cried like a new born baby as much from sheer relief than anything else.

This is helped by a stunning set of ensemble performances. Not least from Tom Hardy, (Bronson, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant), who seems the go to performances for doing a lot of acting without a lot of words or mouth movement and that counts here as well because we can only see his eyes for a huge majority of the film and there is a pivotal turning point for the movie about half way through where he does the most he heavy lifting acting he has to do in the entire movie with one right eye. ONE, RIGHT, EYE. Tom Hardy please don’t turn out to be a sex offender like pretty much any other contemporary young male actor I ever had any respect for.

After the disappointments of Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises I am genuinely surprised that Nolan has put out what might be his best film yet. I havn’t made the final call yet, The Prestige is a high bar to beat but my god is it close. it’s probably the Nolan film with the most substance so far. In the current times of Alt Right and Trump, the type of patriotism shown in this film, one of coming together to do the right thing for those persecuted, is so important.

Nolan still stands by his use of practical effects, that combined with Hoyte Van Hoytema’s, (Her, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) astounding cinematography really emphises all the moods at all the right times. It is great that this is out at the same time as Baby Driver because critics have always been very against the cinema of experience and both Baby Driver and Dunkirk fully embrace the techniques of experientialist masterpieces like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Jaws, (in Baby Driver‘s case maybe Drive, La La Land, and Singin’ in the Rain are more tonally appropriate). Please, for the love of God, see this instread of The Emoji Movie, *shivers*.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 – “Fight Club” (Review)

Forgot to reblog this at the time, (I was working on a different platform), but this is a review I wrote of the seminal David Fincher film, Fight Club.

Sarah Saw A Movie

MHALOGO

Written by James
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One of the more interesting things about Fight Club, David Fincher’s apocalyptic adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s ground breaking and even more apocalyptic 90s novel is the first rule of the eponymous ‘Fight Club’ within the film, (‘you do not talk about Fight Club’). Reason being, if one were to merely go beneath the surface of Fight Club just a little bit it would involve massive spoilers, which to a degree encourages you not to talk about it. So I’m going to try my very hardest to avoid those.

Y’know, the spoilers, those are the things I’m trying to avoid…

Right.

The film is a meditation on masculinity, media, corporate culture, gender relations, fatherhood, and collectivism, and if there is a criticism to be made of Fight Club it could be that that’s a lot of themes to balance which has led to a…

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Why You Should Be Watching Halt and Catch Fire.

The Game Hack

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Okay, so I know my blog is called The Game Hack and the 12 people who actually read my stuff (I love you all) are expecting something about games but indulge me for a second, please. I’ll be back with a piece on the flaws of Uncharted 3 soon but for now, I need to talk about a show that I love. Halt and Catch Fire.

Halt and Catch Fire is a show that people don’t seem to talk about and I’ve actually never met anyone else in the flesh who has seen it (without me telling them to that is). Whenever I mention it people always look at me like ‘I’ve never heard of that it must be bad’ (it’s not). I understand, good shows generally get talked about and dissected and obsessed over. I’m a bit of a hipster when it comes to TV so I tend to…

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Movie Review: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

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Director: Matt Reeves

Writers: Mark BombackAmanda SilverRick JaffaPierre Boulle

Stars: Gary OldmanJason ClarkeKeri RussellAndy Serkis

Verdict: Pretty sweet, mid-low four stars

It really doesn’t help that with the main ape characters being called Koba I got a version of a Lady Gaga song going Koba Face stuck in my head and also reimagined a hit children’s film called Koba and the Two Strings. Hm. 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the sequel to the prequel to maybe the remake maybe not to the five film Charlton Heston franchise, book adaptation Planet of the Apes, the film which now has a sequel, but the two before that one have a really silly way of ordering their prefixes, Dawn and Rise, so that the Rise somehow comes before the Dawn, which is in common imagery known to be the start of things. Fuck me. It is absolutely astonishing that this all began with a relatively innocuous novel by a man called Pierre Boulle, (who incidentally won an Oscar for co-writing the screenplay for The Bridge on the River Kwai with two other blacklisted writers who didn’t get credit, because America is allergic to left wing politics, apparently). Anyway, you might be wondering why I’m reviewing this, and the answer is simple, I haven’t seen it and the sequel is coming out and I want to be relevant. Like me please. 

The film begins with a really kind of extraordinary sequence, (after a kind of naff and overplayed news reel montage catching you up on the history between films), of the apes living their day to day. I actually think it’s incredibly important that it starts with the apes because it is as much about them as it is the humans. They talk to each other almost universally in sign language, which they kind of forget about towards the end but oh well. A human then shoots an ape and political tensions rise.

There are good things and bad things about the movie, good things first. The performances for one, everyone puts in really good shifts, not least Jason Clarke who could be called ‘The Lead Human’ of the story because really Ceasar is the lead character. Mainstream audiences will probably know him best from Everest or Zero Dark Thirty and as much as I adore Zero Dark Thirty, I think this contains the best performance I’ve seen from him. It’s really low key, he doesn’t exactly have an Oscar moment but it’s played with a lot of empathy and realness, he just feels like a human trying his best, as much as Ceasar feels like an ape trying his best. On the subject of Ceasar; played by one of my favourite people ever in Andy Serkis, (24 Hour Party People, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), and thanks to the advances in motion capture Ceasar is so recognisably an Andy Serkis performance it is absolutely incredible. It’s like in Mark Kermode’s review of Avatar, talking about Sigourney Weaver (Alien), having such a distinctive smile her avatar is so clearly her it’s incredible. Whereas Andy Serkis has such a distinctive scowl Ceasar is unmistakably him, and his performance is really good. I think lamentations at him not being Oscar nominated were kind of unwarranted because the performance doesn’t actually require that much acting from him as opposed to his turns in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll or 24 Hour Party People, but it’s a perfectly fine performance with some great physical acting. 

The production design from James Chinlund, (Requiem for a Dream, Avengers Assemble), I want to draw special attention to. It really appropriately, and strikingly, evokes the two worlds of humans in apes in ways that make sense and looks really impressive. Also, the score by Michael Seresin, (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Midnight Express), is also a particular standout attribute to the film.

What is particularly impressive about the film though are the themes it brings up, there is an interesting underlying commentary on colonialism and appropriation, intentional or not that subtext is definitely going on. The apes are trying to build their own society but can only do so using the tools and language of their old oppressors, and the only way to make the apes seem human to its human audience is by making them seem as human as possible whereas they could easily be as complex, interesting, and exciting if they shared none of our facial characteristics or common manors of communicating emotion in tone and body language but we have to appropriate this fictional society and box it within our own culture in order to make it accessible. Before you call bullshit I’ve heard people bring this up in relation to War for the Planet of the Apes who are French therefore much more cultured than me so fuck you. This is on top of its already interesting debate on political theory, which takes the idea of ‘how long can you have a nine-year-old throwing shit around in a supermarket before you stop blaming the child and start blaming the parents to political revolution against originally noble intentions and philosophies. 

It is as much stylistically influenced by Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as it is thematically by Animal Farm. The kind of chill brought about by the Vagnerian wailing of the monolith on the Moon scene is replicated no end in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. This Kubrick influence somehow turns a scene of things exploding around apes riding on horseback carrying machine guns whilst Gary Oldman, (Léon: The Professional, The Dark Knight), shouts to get him the rocket launcher from something potentially incredibly dumb into something kinda profound and elegiac and beautiful. 

Now onto the problems, of which there are a few. Not least that there is A LOT of elements that clearly seem to exist purely for plot reasons. I mean A LOT

There is also an issue of representation. The roles for females are frankly appalling and play into a very dated idea of what women are capable of and what roles they should take and there really is no excuse. There’s also an issue over POC representation. The film takes heritage from films like Apocalypse Now for its war scenes, and that kind of Vietnam war aesthetic is represented in the diversity of the soldiers in the film but then when you look at a sea of civilians, it is just a sea of white faces and given the diversity of the people who exist in the film purely to fight that is significantly off-putting. Especially given the egalitarian message of the film. It just is the epitome of white-by-default. 

There is also a retconning of the original reason for human extinction being nuclear war now replaced by an imaginary virus which being in the universe that it is, is slightly incongruous but oh well. 

That being said, it is especially pertinent to the time we live in and delivers it’s ‘fake news’ criticism far more eloquently than It Comes at Night which I also like a lot. It’s also an engaging action, science-fiction film that does devolve into CGI nonsense at the end, slightly losing its way, but it does always keep its eye on character importantly, and I did tear up at the end. Well done Matt Reeves, (Cloverfield, Let Me In). 

Thoughts on Trailer for The Snowman

At first when I saw this on my feed I thought this would be some dumb horror movie given the title and thumbnail but what this seems to be is a horror inflected thriller/noir in the vein of Se7en from the director of spy thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and horror Let The Right One In, both of which were really dramas masquerading as genre films. This looks like Tomas Alfredson’s most straightforward genre film yet but if there’s one thing I know from him it’s that he will not do what you expect him to do.

Red Letter Media have coined a term with reviews of Gone Girl and Don’t Breathe, ‘classy sleaze’, more conventional, trashy elements which in the cases of these movies had been explored in films like Fatal Attraction and The Last House On The Left respectively but with a really professional and elevated stylistic sheen. That’s really what this trailer makes it out to be with really conventional exploitation/horror/noir elements in the plot foundation but I am expecting far more here.

RalphTheMovieMaker found Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy boring, I found it deliciously thrilling. When they remade Let The Right One In as Let Me In, the filmmaker, Matt Reeves, (Dawn Of The Planet Of The ApesCloverfield), clearly thought that was boring because he put way more stuff in there, but I also think that’s a really thrilling movie. So I guess we’ll just have to see where it takes us.

Movie Review: 20th Century Women

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Disclaimer: This is an adaptation of a review I wrote for The Gryphon 5 months ago which they ran as a four star review but I wrote as a five star review so take this as my five star review thanks bye.

Director: Mike Mills

Writer: Mike Mills

Stars: Annette BeningElle FanningGreta GerwigBilly CrudupLucas Jade Zumann

Verdict: Fucking fantastic, a strong, strong, five stars. 

20th Century Women is an absolute joy. It is a film with a genuine affection for its characters – it’s laugh out loud funny and heart-breaking. It’s pertinent to the time in which we live. I laughed, I cried, and I spent the whole film wearing a big, stupid smile because it’s full of genuine, infectious warmth.

The film follows Dorothea, played superbly by Annette Benning, (American Beauty, The Kids Are All Right), who co-opts the women in her son’s life, Abbie and Julie, (played by Greta Gerwig, (Frances Ha, Jackie), and Elle Fanning, (The Neon Demon, Super 8), respectively), in helping to raise her son, Jamie. The other major player in proceedings is lodger William played by Billy Crudup, (Watchmen, Almost Famous).

There is something indescribable about this film. I know that’s absolutely terrible for a critic to say but there is some intangible element to this film that’s like some kind of womb of emotion. It’s both full of joy and life and feel and colour but that’s also undercut by an extreme kind of existential melancholy, and the film is sometimes very precise in exactly the way which it undercuts it’s joi de vivre. 

The first time I saw it I was bowled over by it, then I watched it on DVD, and because I just absolutely love those characters like people I know, and it just made me so deeply sad to see them go through hard times that I actually had to stop watching it. Then I watched it with my Mum last night. There are elements to the film that very precisely attack the relationship with the mother but not in some post-modern, pervy, Freudian way but in a way that without really switching perspectives captures the lapses in communication, captures the way relationships can fracture and be complicated and intimate and grow apart a bit. It really attacks all kinds of relationships in a really beautifully nuanced way that takes the rough with the smooth when it comes to characters, their cons don’t make them inherently bad people, they’re just complicated, and real. 

Its foundation is essentially its wonderful, Oscar nominated screenplay, (which should have won), which really takes the time to flesh out it’s characters fully, it’s full of wit, charm, and insight and love for it’s characters to the extent it’s kind of painfully infectious. Bought to life with excellent direction from writer Mike Mills, (Beginners, Thumbsucker), full of colour and experimentation that’s surprising for such a low key drama. With films like this and Moonlight this year directors are taking films that could easily be filmed in a Mike Leigh, (Mr. Turner, Vera Drake), or Ken Loach, (I, Daniel Blake, Kes), socio-realism quietness because there aren’t exactly any grand set-pieces but they’re elevated by brilliant virtuosic direction. 

Mills has also gotten phenomenal performances out of a talented ensemble cast. Annette Benning plays Dorathea with this beautifully expressive face and posture that lends her and kind of rigidness but in the way that her character is, ready for anything, or at least under the impression of herself that she is. Bill Crudup plays William with this wonderful stoner fluidity that just seems entirely natural, he is not constricted by anything but his self, so contrary to his beautifully poised and detached performances in Jackie and Alien: Covenant this year. Greta Gerwig’s character always seems on the verge of crying except when she’s rocking out, (which I think a lot of my audience will probably get to be honest), and it’s so, delicate, and precise, and beautiful. 

It’s interesting that one of the principle characters is played by Elle Fanning, who was so great in The Neon Demon, because The Neon Demon was a film about artifice, about characters who were dead in the eyes with nothing beneath the surface. In contrast, the best thing about 20th Century Women is that each character feels real, and full. The conceit of the plot is that each character is asked to share their life with Jamie, so we learn all about each character’s quirks, interests and passions. It was Roger Ebert who said that films are meant to be empathy machines, and that’s exactly what this film is.

It really is a film for everyone. I know that were moments and lines that I found painfully relatable from all of the characters. It’s also interwoven with a brilliant progressive feminist message which is just that, “every man should know what it is to be a women”. It’s also brilliantly made, most films with as pertinent a jukebox soundtrack as this film would really lean on their needle drops for their sonic soundscape but Roger Neill, (Beginners), actually puts in a brilliant shift with some Oscar worthy original score. 

There aren’t many other ways I can say that I absolutely adore this movie and you need to see it. I think it’s my favourite of the year so far. 

Movie Review: A Ghost Story

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Director:  David Lowery

Writer:  David Lowery

Stars: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara

Verdict: Fucking fantastic; a strong, strong, five stars.

I have a theory about A24, once they’d gotten over their middling indie era at the beginning with Spring Breakers and The Spectacular Now they started releasing hard hitting intelligent masterpieces like The Lobster, Green Room, and Swiss Army Man before picking up some Oscars with Room and Moonlight. Now they have a following they’re like, how far can we push this..? So now we have A Ghost Story which can only be described as 2001: A Space Odyssey for millennials.

Ok that isn’t exactly right, but the production design will press all of your hipstery millennial buttons. It plays somewhat like the last act of 2001: A Space Odyssey where Bowman watches himself grow older as a metaphor for artificial evolution in some kind of alien experiment. The difference is that this makes a lot more coherent sense, visually it is very literal unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey whilst also being incredibly expressionistic. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot because it’s so much more than you think it is, or than I thought it was going in.

The cinematography is unique. It is presented in 4:3 which is a very televisual ratio with curved edges which makes you feel like you’re watching a moving polaroid like something out of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. You are watching memories through a moving photograph. The colour work itself is also incredibly evocative of this. You are detached, you are foreign in your own world, everything feels like something you’ve voyerisitically just stumbled across and happened to observe like you are yourself the titular spectre. This can at first seem irritating but slowly begins to make sense, and that’s part of why I need to see it again I need to digest this again knowing what I know now about the film. There are times when the film will just be going along how it does and something brilliant, and virtuosic and extraordinarily watchable will come out of no where and sideswipe you and leave you frankly, breathless.

The production design is incredible, it makes awfully mundane things seem awfully important and emotional. The score is exquisite and I’m getting it on vinyl. The sound design evokes works like that of Lynch, (Blue Velvet, Twin PeaksEraserhead), and Kubrick, (2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange ) and Mallick, (Badlands, The Tree of Life), and it looks and visually references all of these films makers as well in a way that I really didn’t expect from the maker of Pete’s Dragon.

The film will divide audiences, but I thought it was just beautiful. It has something interesting and relevant and often profound to say about art and legacy and death and the afterlife and it has something to say about how our personal ghosts are just the memories that we attach to places and it inspires us to move on and it’s almost like the film is from the perspective of one of those memories. The nature of that life is what inspires us to leave it behind in a way few films achieve. I thought it was transcendent. I loved it, when it comes out in two months I’m going to do whatever I can to see it again. It might end up being one of my favourite films ever if it works out on rewatches. I need, I need to see it again right fucking now!

E3 2017: Playstation-The definition of a mixed bag.

The Game Hack

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Well, that was disappointing. For the past few years, Sony’s E3 press conferences have been a gamers dream with amazing reveal after amazing reveal that blows everything else out of the water and kicks E3 proper off in style. This, however, was just kind of limp, I hate to say it.

Now first I feel the elephant in the room should be addressed, The Last of Us II. Personally, I didn’t expect to see anything from it. It was only announced back in December with a conceptual trailer that was likely not in game footage and its release date is probably going to be around late 2018 to early 2019. I seemed to be alone in this pessimism, however, everyone and their grandma was banking on it closing the show and were thus left thoroughly disgruntled (to put it mildly). I get where they are coming from it would have…

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Movie Review: The Mummy (2017)

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Director: Alex Kurtzman

Writers: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrieDylan KussmanJon SpaihtsJenny LumetAlex KurtzmanRobert Louis StevensonJohn L. BalderstonRichard SchayerNina Wilcox Putnam

Stars: Tom CruiseRussell CroweSofia Boutella

Verdict: Trash garbage, mid one star. 

Is this what other cultures feel like when they’re appropriated..?

I think what I was telling my self going into The Mummy was that it would probably be “apocalyptically bad”, but go in with an open mind, and I did, but it was. 

I can’t remember what the plot was (it’s that boring), after about a week so here’s the official synopsis, “Nick Morton is a soldier of fortune who plunders ancient sites for timeless artifacts and sells them to the highest bidder. When Nick and his partner come under attack in the Middle East, the ensuing battle accidentally unearths Ahmanet, a betrayed Egyptian princess who was entombed under the desert for thousands of years.” and before I’d seen the film that might actually seem vaguely entertaining in a kind of post-but-also-knock-off Raiders of the Lost Ark way, but after I’ve seen the film, just reading the synopsis is sending me into a fucking coma. It, in theory, stars Tom Cruise, (Top Gun, MagnoliaMission: Impossible), and Russel Crowe, (Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind)

It’s not just that The Mummy is boring, it’s badly put together, badly characterised, intellectually offensive, sexist, racist, militaristic, derivative and has effects that’s slightly better than the animation in Foodfight!. Or in the old The Road Runner Show cartoons when you’d always know what rock was going to explode because it was added on from a different palate and looked funny. It is just intergalactically stupid and I’m ashamed to have paid money to see it. 

Let me elaborate for a second. There are two female characters with speaking roles. Two only. One is the Mummy herself, played by Sofia Boutella, (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Star Trek Beyond), which the less said about that the better but fuck it. She initially is designed like, both in the art direction and her own physical performance, to be how I imagine director Alex Kurtzman, (People Like UsTransformers: Revenge of the FallenThe Amazing Spider-Man 2), pictures, in both he wet dreams and fever dreams his fantasy dominatrix. They then proceed to put her up in extreme bondage gear. The degrees of sexual repression contortionistics that it must take to pull this off is frankly mind-boggling. There is one other female character who – despite having a first scene that is frankly how a two year old would try to demonstrate that this character is quoteunquote ‘strong’ – only serves to be a piece of theoretically intelligent eye candy that Tom Cruise gets to drag around places. 

Then we get into racism. This one takes some explaining. There are different ways you can present the ‘Other’. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial chooses to make it cute and friendly and full of wonder, Alien chooses to make it fucking terrifying. Now, an Egyptian character really shouldn’t be ‘Other’ anyway, but she is presented just about as ‘Other’ as Cthulu. Considering it was written by a group of white men, the way that they present the ‘Other’ in the form of an Egyptian woman, seems to be; to fetishize it, then to box it, and beat it up. This by itself would probably be reading into it too much but then there’s how it approaches anyone who isn’t American, and considering it takes place in Iran and London, that’s just about everyone who’s not Tom Cruise or… a ghost… thing..? The film takes The Mummy from Egypt to the Middle East, it says, because she’s just that evil that they had to move her out of her country. The actual answer it seems is so that you can blow up terrorists and make a joke of it with no remorse, in a way that is depicted as jingoistic, militaristic, and superior. Exacerbated by the fact that Tom Cruise, tomb raider extraordinaire, is a soldier and calls in air bombings so he can uncover artifacts. America can just come in and steal your history and your culture by force of firearms and bombs and that’s fine and it’s the actual fucking military doing it. Then they move the action to London, where I live, and oh boy. Aside from the fact that the way they incorporate British history just makes absolutely no sense, any British person who is meant to appear at any point nice and is also important to the story sounds like they grew up in a private boarding school that a royal child also happened to be sent off to, and anyone else speaks like Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins. Fuck me.

Then there’s the case of Mr. Hyde.

Hm.  

When he shows up he is depicted as, essentially, Bob Hoskins, (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Long Good Friday), with the black death. It’s actually hilarious and maybe played for laughs..?

Now, Alex Kurtzman seems like a decent guy, he likes the same movies as me, he is a particular fan of early Cronenberg works like Scanners and Videodrome both of which I love, and he clearly understands why they’re interesting and tried to take inspiration from them for this film. He clearly, demonstrably, understands the point of the original Universal Monster Movies like Frankenstein and The Mummy when he’s off camera. the film itself clearly tries to cite works like The Evil Dead and An American Werewolf in London, both of those films I adore or respect hugely. So where did he go wrong? I think the key can be seen in his other work. With stuff like Mission: Impossible III, he demonstrated himself as a fine writer, and he’s run some good television, the problem I think is that he’s a hack who’ll write anything for a buck but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have something great in him if he ever just wrote something that took these inspirations in a more independent context. The Mummy, however, is quite clearly, painfully, and disappointingly, not that.  

Russel Crowe though, is absolutely fucking hilarious and the whole movie and franchise is worth it for more of him. He just knows he’s in a franchise’s worth of shit films and is trying to see what he can get away with and it is, fucking, glorious!