The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence is brilliant. The movie is not. Oh, it’s fine if you need a big screen and comfy seats to rest in for 2.5 hours(!), but it will likely disappoint many hard-core fans.The fact that my seats were 10 feet from the screen and the assholes behind me who insisted on laughing during scenes that were meant to be poignant might have had something to do with why I didn’t enjoy it as much as you might; but considering that I had to work from memories of the book to evoke said poignancy myself, I don’t think I need to reserve judgement.

It’s not the cast, who generally acquit themselves quite well. It might be the direction- too many close-ups, too many quick pans and cross-cuts, too many of various other problems that I could feel but do not know enough film theory to explain. It might be the marketing: “Team Peeta” and “Team Gale” did sound a bit foreboding. But most of all I think it’s the “flattening out,” the appeal to a queasy mainstream: as Andrew O’Hehir hints at in this Salon piece ,

The problem really isn’t the lack of explicit violence; far more important, we get no sense of the hunger, thirst, cold, disease and harrowing physical torment undergone by Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the shy, blond District 12 baker’s son who has long loved her from afar. OK, they get a few superficial nicks and scratches, but they look as well-fed and runway-ready in the second half of the movie as they did at the beginning.

(I should note that the rest of his issues with the franchise don’t bug me as much, though.) Because while “The Hunger Games” is, in many ways, rather typical (good) YA speculative fiction, the books managed to retain a sense of calculated brutality that was quite jarring, considering the intended audience.

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[MINOR SPOILERS] The one-line hook of the series, for those few who still haven’t been exposed to it, is: “Teenage girl is forced to fight in a televised free-for-all fight to the death between children by a tyrannical state and eventually leads a revolution against it” but the structure is not quite that simple: Katniss has no intention of being a rebel leader, she just wants to save herself and her family, and the nature of war (the “glorious revolution” that most of us were rooting for as soon as we were introduced to the world) and its resolution depicted in the third book is… not pretty. The ending tries for a certain hopefulness but the philosophy espoused is deliberately inward-looking, as the author simply can’t think of a positive spin on the way the world is going, both within the book and by the barest of analogies the world today. But for all that it is an incredibly gripping series, not nearly as much “work” as I might have made it sound like, and I finished all 3 of the books in a week. Overall, well worth a read, but only worth a watch if you don’t expect too much.

PS: I did have a problem with the book initially: namely, an  instinctive rejection of the idea that anything quite so brutal as the premise could become so thoroughly legitimized within the context of the story. But as soon as the aptness of the dominant allegory- Panem is the Roman Empire, of course- stuck I realized that that was my problem, not the book’s. Of course brutal things can happen on a wide scale, and of course they can be normalised: it happens every day! Every war-zone, every “Killing Fields”, produces societies with  hierarchies of repression far less veiled than the ones our more extreme liberal brethren are inclined to see (not without reason) everywhere. In retrospect, I’m rather surprised at my initial naiveté, even though that was barely a month back.

UPDATE: Check out Yglesias’s post on the viability of Panem’s economy and some other interesting ideas.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The book is excellent and so is the movie, which glosses over the very small parts where John le Carre bemoans (through his characters, principally his villain, thereby never actually betraying the thought incontrovertibly as his own) the passing of Empire into history, at least for the Brits. George Smiley is an excellent character, I can’t say as much for the rest in the movie but they all rather shine in the book. Principally both are brilliant at evoking the atmosphere of the age, the “Great Game” and these quite human gentleman-spies. There were descriptions of the movie as principally being “long lingering shots of manila folders being passed from hand to hand” and while it is rather slow, you might prefer to use the word sedate. In any case it is hardly devoid of action and I found the plot quite thrilling, even if a lot of the really interesting parts happen inside the character’s heads. Avoid too much context or moralising “outside the box” while reading (not much chance of it during the movie), even though moralizing within it is apparently the chief draw for many of its fans.

I watched the movie first and then read the book (and then was inspired to start on a list of le Carre’s other major spy novels; so far my expectations have been fulfilled) but for any readers of mine who wish to go about it the proper way here is a suggestion: first, read the book at whatever pace you normally employ. Then either alone or with a quiet friend or significant other- someone you are comfortable with and do not need to be careful around or impress- watch the movie with either a steaming cup of tea or a warm alcoholic beverage (I recommend ginger tea with dark rum, as a matter of fact) in a slightly-too-cold room under a blanket. Expect a slow but steady pace, watch out for the scenery, and you will be pleasantly surprised. Go in expecting early James Bond and, well, you’ll still be surprised.

I should probably provide more of an introduction for the work itself but I will outsource that to Wikipedia:

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a 1974 spy novel by British author John le Carré, featuring George Smiley. Smiley is a middle-aged, taciturn, perspicaciousintelligence expert who has been forced to retire. He is recalled to hunt down a Soviet mole in the “Circus”, the highest echelon of the British Secret Intelligence Service. In keeping with le Carré’s work, the narrative begins in medias res with the repatriation of a captured British spy. The background is supplied during the book through a series of flashbacks.

Film:

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a 2011 Anglo-French espionage film directed by Tomas Alfredson, from a screenplay written by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan based on the 1974 novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré. The film stars Gary Oldman as George Smiley, and co-stars Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ciarán Hinds. Set in London in the early 1970s, the story follows the hunt for a Soviet double agent at the top of the British secret service.

The film was produced through the British company Working Title Films and financed by France’s StudioCanal. It premiered in competition at the 68th Venice International Film Festival. The film was a critical and commercial success and was the highest-grossing film at the British box office for three consecutive weeks. It received three Academy Award nominations including a Best Actornomination for Oldman.

Flash Reviews

Limitless:

Never watch this film sober. Not because it’s a bad film, but because a certain level of disorientation greatly enhances your ability to appreciate the basic premise of this movie (Bradley Cooper gets hold of a “super-intelligence” drug that lets him do a series of implausible things that he couldn’t do before, but with a catch: it only lasts a day and you die if you stop taking it.) Otherwise, a perfectly serviceable if not all that realistic (which is?) thriller.

Midnight in Paris:

I don’t know why people like Woody Allen‘s characters, because none of them have the faintest bit of subtlety (at least in this movie). It is, however, an absolutely wonderful film despite that, and I’m not sure if it even counts as a flaw when you consider that the extraordinary characters that inhabited 1920s Paris are the major draw of the film. Although the ones I found irritatingly stereotyped were all from the present day- even “anybody want to FIGHT?” Hemingway is handled with a certain respect. And now I really want to finally read something by Scott Fitzgerald.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner:

I cried! Which is possibly because I was a teeny bit drunk and because I’m just that sort of person, because this is actually very much a feel-good film. Given the premise- white girl wants to marry a black guy- the movie is set up in such a way as to ensure that going ahead with it is the most obvious decision ever (wiki tells me that this was very much intentional: “the young Sidney Poitier, was purposely created idealistically perfect, so that the only possible objection to his marrying Joanna would be his race, or the fact she had only known him for ten days: the character has thus graduated from a top school, begun innovative medical initiatives in Africa, refused to have premarital sex with his fiancée despite her willingness, and leaves money on his future father-in-law’s desk in payment for a long distance phone call he has made.”) In any case, it’s a very enjoyable film and is heartily recommended.

Shit My Dad Says (pilot episode):

It’s not like it’s any worse-definitely no better- than a lot of sitcoms, but I can certainly understand why it didn’t gain a major audience. There’s a certain shock at finding, well, shocking things in your twitter feed that makes the original medium far more conducive to this sort of humour than a sitcom, where it’s actually a very conventional sort of premise- Shatner might as well be Frasier‘s dad!

I’m pretty sure there was at least one other movie that I watched recently, but I can’t seem to remember it, so I’ll just assume that it can’t have been very good.

Black Swan, abridged.

Black Swan: The Abridged Script

VINCENT CASSEL

Natalie, you are perfect as the White Swan, but terrible as the Black Swan!  Meanwhile, Mila Kunis is the ideal Black Swan, but she’s no White Swan!  If only there were any way at all to remedy this predicament, but there is no solution at all!

MILA KUNIS

Actually, it’s not really that uncommon for Swan Lake to have two different dancers for–

VINCENT CASSEL

No solution at all!  Woe is me!  Natalie, the Black Swan is supposed to be seductive!  Benjamin, would you f*ck this girl?

BENJAMIN MILLEPIED

Natalie Portman?  No, I’d kick Natalie F*cking Portman out of bed because she can’t dance perfectly.  For the record, I’d also tell a naked Mila Kunis to go pound sand if she couldn’t name all fifty states.  Jackass.

PS: Should I just get a tumblr or is this not that weird?

Hollywood and “Creative Professionals”

I want to think aloud for a bit, and maybe by the time I’m done I will have said something coherent and even something illuminating. Blogs are meant for experiments like this, after all.

So. Fact 1: people who make movies are pretty much by definition creative professionals*. This implies but does not necessitate that a good number of characters in movies are the sort of people who wish to pursue some sort of creative career. In any case, their proportion is considerably exaggerated.

Fact 2: one almost universal lesson/moral in many of these movies is that one should always ” follow your dreams”, even if they seem impractical.

Fact 3: most creative professions are, if anything, over-served (I think there’s a more precise term for this). From a basic econ101 point of view, this should depress wages automatically. Adding to this the fact that many of these professions are just intrinsically less valued by society, at least in terms of how much it is willing to support the average professional, leads to people being paid much less than they would get for a similar amount of work in an alternate, more “conventional” profession.

Fact 4: also consider that many of these professions have very unequal payouts. Charlie Stross had a great post where he showed that the median salary of a writer was a ridiculously low figure by western standards, even though the average is a fair bit (still not that much, though) higher, because a very, very small minority of writers make oodles of money. The same applies to actors, artists, etc. Naturally, the media in general tends to greatly play up the successes and play down the vast hordes who never make it- and no, the starving artist trope is hardly proof against this.

Fact 5: while fact 3 should ordinarily deter those without an “unstoppable” drive from making a career out of these fields, facts 1,2 and 4 considerably alter the situation, mostly by distorting reality- 1 by subtly implying that to be a real character in your own life, you must be some sort of creative person, 2 by suggesting that your life is incomplete if you do not go on to “make the most of your talent”, and 3 by strongly misrepresenting your chances of ever being successful in a material sense by making a career out of what should really stay a hobby. This leads to what is basically mis-informed consent and manufactured preferences, and you know how the rest of this goes.

Proffered conclusion: Hollywood may be ruining your emo teenager’s life.

*As you may have noted, I’m using this phrase in a slightly skewed sense here, not just the literal meaning of the two words strung together. It is not an original usage, so I think I’m safe with it. I think programming is a creative profession, for instance, like much of engineering, but this analysis is far more relevant to the miniature furniture builder or paper sculptor who quits his accounting job than to an engineer.

Crowdsourcing my Film Studies paper:Film Editing in The Matrix

Well, not really- I’ve already written it, and expect to not make all that many major (content) changes, except perhaps to add a more proper introduction/conclusion. But I am actively soliciting comments here. The length is a little more than it really needs to be, so be brutal in telling me what to cut. Also need to know if I’m being too flippant- some parts really seem to read like a blog post- in some areas, since this is supposed to be something I’m graded on for 25% of the marks of a 3 credit course.

Principles of Editing with reference to “The Matrix”

Principles of Editing

Editing is a crucial part of the filmmaking process; the editor exerts almost as much influence on the final look and feel of the film as the director. He has the responsibility of putting the film together. The director gives the editor the raw material to use and the editor uses it to piece together the scenes into a film. The director and the editor must work hand in hand and have the same vision in order for the editing process to work. The editing of a film consists, among other things, of managing the transitions, control of time (pacing), and putting together the shots or rushes.

There are several different styles/methods of editing such as continuity, synthetic, associative, intellectual etc. Continuity editing is the predominant style of editing in narrative cinema and television, where the priority is on making the viewer unaware of the inherent discontinuities in the production of the film and in establishing a logical coherence between shots. However, it is hardly the only style that is used. Cross-cutting (cutting back and forth between shots of spatially unrelated places) conveys a sense of spatial discontinuity to show the viewer events that are happening in separate, parallel locations, perhaps to juxtapose something in an interesting way. Usually this is done in such a way as to minimize viewer disorientation. The jump cut (a cut between two shots that are so similar that a noticeable jump in the image occurs), however, is a deliberate device of disorientation. Other types of cuts are Axial cut, Cross-cutting, Fast cutting, Jump cut, Long take, Match out and Slow cutting. Some of the types of Film transitions are Dissolve, L- cut and Wipe.

A transition is anything that moves the film from one scene to another. There are a number of types of transitions that are used, wipe, flip frame, fade-out/fade-in, and dissolve. A wipe uses a vertical or horizontal line to wipe away the old scene and bring in the new one, the flip frame simply flips the screen from one scene to the next, the fade occurs when a scene fades to black before the new scene begins, and the dissolve is when a scene gradually dissolves into another scene­. These transitions provide smooth ways to move from one scene to another and are used to make a film appear fluid.  Editing is also used to modify or shape the timing and rhythm of the film. An editor can edit a scene or shot in a way that can alter our sense of how much time is passing. For instance, when shooting a man walking an editor can show each step, cutting to a close up of the man’s face and hands, thus slowing down the pacing and making us pay attention to the man: it serves as a cue to the audience that he is an important character. By using short quick shots sandwiched together the editor can compress time. Another way a film uses time is with the use of slow motion, which we will be covering in grater detail below, since The Matrix makes extensive use of a variant of this technique. Slow motion can be used to intensify emotional quality, to exaggerate fatigue, suggest superhuman strength, or emphasize grace of physical action. This ensures that the film keeps the rhythm of the scene and the film.

I know this is a little dry, the good(or at least, better) parts are after the jump Continue reading

Up in the Air

Up in the Air by Jason Reitman (based on the book by Walter Kirn) is a wonderful, sad and yet oddly comforting movie. The basic plot line is simple: Ryan Bingham (played by George Clooney, but a surprisingly relatable character despite that and the description that follows) is an executive who goes around firing people whose bosses are too wimpy to do it themselves. He is on the air 320 days a year, and he likes it that way- he finds the artificial uniformity of airports everywhere better than the familiarity of home. All of this is at risk when a new employee (played by Anna Kendrick) comes up with the very efficient idea of conducting these terminations via video conference, and the spectre of a forced lifestyle change hangs over his head through most of the movie. His job is not something that we can really empathize with, but they’ve handled that very nicely: there are a LOT of scenes that describe the trauma of losing your job, and some that play on it as well*.

Ryan Bingham is an interesting man in other ways, too. He sees all property and relationships as “things that weigh you down”; in the seminars that he takes at “leadership conferences”, he asks participants to feel the straps cutting in from the weight of all the things they’re tied to. His only goal in life is to get 10 million frequent flier miles, which would make him only the seventh person ever to achieve it*. In any case, narrative necessity demands that he be taught a lesson in the value of relationships by a beautiful and [SPOILER ALERT] married [/SPOILER ALERT] woman, played by Vera Farmiga. She shares his passion for hoarding “frequent flier miles” and “loyalty points” and they start a completely open relationship, until Bingham gets the inevitable epiphany-“I want more from life! I want a relationship!”- at the most inopportune moment possible, which is when he delivers his keynote speech at the very prestigious conference that he has always been dying to go to. He doesn’t get his Hollywood Ending, though, and that really lends the movie some depth.

To summarize: watch if you can. I wouldn’t necessarily say there are any lessons to learn from it, but even if you don’t find any, it’s good entertainment.

*At least, I think this is meant to be a play on it: “They told me that losing your job is as traumatic as a death in your family, but…it’s like…the office is my family and…I’m the one that’s dead“.

** As he points out, “more men have been to the moon than that”, so I didn’t find this a particularly ridiculous goal, although clearly we are meant to. How is it any different, really, from hoarding money, which is considered to be a perfectly normal goal? Except for the fact that miles/points can only be exchanged for a more limited number of goods, of course, but I don’t think that was anyone’s problem.

500 Days of Summer

I watched 500 Days of Summer in the middle of the night* yesterday and…well, I have no idea what to say about it. Oh, the movie’s very well shot and the soundtrack is awesome and everything’s very tastefully done and both the lead actors are great(Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel; the others are good, too, but these guys are awesome), so you should definitely watch it if you can. But I don’t honestly know what to say about the central premise.

On the one hand, it says very clearly right at the start that this is not a love story, and it certainly isn’t. A great portion of the film is spent “debunking” the very idea of love, and elaborating on what happens when people have irrational expectations of each other, and of how much one can leave to “Fate”. Tom Hansen is presented as the epitome of naivete, and there isn’t much ambiguity on this.

Narrator: This is a story of boy meets girl. The boy, Tom Hansen of Margate, New Jersey, grew up believing that he’d never truly be happy until the day he met the one. This belief stemmed from early exposure to sad British pop music and a total mis-reading of the movie ‘The Graduate’. The girl, Summer Finn of Shinnecock, Michigan, did not share this belief. Since the disintegration of her parent’s marriage she’d only love two things. The first was her long dark hair. The second was how easily she could cut it off and not feel a thing. Tom meets Summer on January 8th. He knows almost immediately she is who he has been searching for. This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know upfront, this is not a love story.

On the other hand, the very clear message at the end is that it does play an inescapable role, that there is someone for everyone (and strongly implies that there are, at the very least, very few people for any given person, and that any two people who get along well with each other and feel strongly about each other won’t necessarily make it, and often for completely mystical reasons) and that “love” isn’t something to debunk, that it’s real and that you will find it eventually, just not necessarily when you expect to find it.

Summer: I woke up one morning and I just knew.
Tom: Knew what?
Summer: What I was never sure of with you.

The intended composite message is, I presume, something along the lines of “don’t rely on fate all the time, but do grasp an opportunity when it seems like the right thing to do, take people at their word when they say they don’t want to be in a relationship, love is real but it’s not necessarily easy to find” , etc.

Summer: You weren’t wrong, Tom. You were just wrong about me.

All of which is quite reasonable. I don’t know what I’m complaining about, but I am. I find this film entirely too cozy and cynical at the same time. The synthesis seems imperfect. I’m in the minority here, I think: it has an 8.1 on imdb and an 87% on rotten tomatoes, and any scattered reviews I saw all seem to praise it.

Hmm. That’s not really saying much. I’d give it that much, too, because it really is a great movie, despite the…discord. It’s well-shot, the little bits of animation in between don’t distract from the plot, and as I said above, all the performances and settings are wonderful.  Maybe older or more sophisticated critics understand that  the discord and the confusion is the point. I should be able to accept that. I just don’t.

*is 3AM to 5AM the middle of the night or more like just before dawn? My sleep cycles have adjusted so that 2AM feels like midnight, so to me personally it feels like the former, but I’m guessing it’s technically just before dawn. Irrelevant, anyway.

Quote of the Week: Because Some People Need Reminding

“When you read the book,it’s like, ‘Edward Cullen was so beautiful I creamed myself.’ I mean, every line is like that. He’s the most ridiculous person who’s so amazing at everything. I think a lot of actors tried to play that aspect. I just couldn’t do that. And the more I read the script, the more I hated this guy, so that’s how I played him, as a manic-depressive who hates himself. Plus, he’s a 108-year-old virgin so he’s obviously got some issues there.”

–Robert Pattinson

via kalafudra.

“And mee with thee hath ruind, for with thee…”

Pixar’s Up: Paradise Lost at Paradise Falls | Overthinking It

carl-and-ellie

“And mee with thee hath ruind, for with thee
Certain my resolution is to Die;
How can I live without thee, how forgoe
Thy sweet Converse and Love so dearly joyn’d,
To live again in these wilde Woods forlorn?
Should God create another Eve, and I
Another Rib afford, yet loss of thee
Would never from my heart; no no, I feel
The Link of Nature draw me: Flesh of Flesh,
Bone of my Bone thou art, and from thy State
Mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe.”

 

– John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book VI

Go read.