Chris Marker 1921-2012

I have many filmmakers that I count among my favorites, but there are a select few that I count as my inspirations. Chris Marker was one my inspirations, even though I’ve only seen one film, which is only 26 minutes long, and consist of three elements: still photographs, sounds/musical score, and silence. The film, La Jetée, is everything that is amazing about experimental cinema and a textbook on the of the power of narrative simplicity.

La Jetée*
Even though it’s available online, seeing it on a big screen (or at least a big tv screen) with a good sound system is key to the film’s power. Fortunately Criterion has packaged a Blu-Ray and DVD version of La Jetée with Marker’s feature length Sans Soleil.

If you haven’t spent time in the world of Chris Marker, you are truly missing out.

*If you’re thinking that this feels familiar, you’ve probably watched 12 Monkeys, Terry Gilliam’s pseudo-remake of this same film.

Josh E.

When Characters Know More Than the Audience

SPOILERS AHEAD

I recently watched Safe House (starring Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington). While the movie was bad, watching a bad movie isn’t always a bad thing.

This movie helped me crystallize something that has bothered me about movies for quite a while but I could never quite put my finger on it.

The longer the characters in a movie know more than what the audience does, the less likely the audience will be invested in the story.

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Set Your DVR: TCM Remembers Ernest Borgnine 7/26

Ernest Borgnine has to be one of my favorite movie stars. I wanted to alert MD to the marathon of Ernest Borgnine films being shown on TCM on 7/26. For those with particularly full DVR’s (like myself) the can’t miss titles of the marathon are Marty, The Wild Bunch and Bad Day at Black Rock. Trailers are below. Happy DVRing!

Marty

The Wild Bunch

Bad Day at Black Rock

We Need to Talk About Kevin and the Dangers of Narrative Teasing

SPOILERS AHEAD

For how absolutely disturbing and creepy We Need to Talk About Kevin ended up being, I can’t help but think the choice of narrative structure really hindered the movie.

As it stands now the movie gets by on pure shock value and novelty. Novelty because of Tilda Swinton’s character — a mother who is disconnected from her maternal instincts — and shock value because the movie is about a school shooting.

The filmmakers chose to use what I call narrative teasing. The movie’s structure intertwines three different timelines throughout the two hour running time. The first timeline is an overview of Tilda Swinton’s Eve character and her son Kevin (played by Ezra Miller). The second timeline is just of the day of Kevin’s attack on the school. The third timeline takes place roughly two years after Kevin’s day of violence.

The movie starts with a tease of what happened during the second timeline. It’s that sort of insecure choice that audiences won’t want to stick with a the movie’s premise without getting a tease of the climax. Then throughout the movie we keep coming back to this second timeline. And each time, it feels like it’s there to remind the audience of where the movie is heading. As if watching a movie about a mother failing to connect emotionally with her son, or to see that son grow up with psychopathic tendencies isn’t enough to capture the audience’s attention.

The level of insecurity from the filmmakers significantly detracts from the experience of watching the movie.

The other way this narrative teasing does a disservice to the movie is because teasing the climax in the beginning should only be used if you are going to end with an (I hate to use this word) epic climax. In conjunction with the intertwining timelines, the film’s teasing of the climax feels unfulfilled when we finally see what went down the day Kevin committed his act of violence.

Of course, I feel dirty typing that last paragraph. My opinion is that in a movie about a school shooting, I feel that the filmmakers created an anti-climatic climax. It’s bordering on saying I wish I actually saw all the violence unabridged.

But it’s not quite like that. When you use intertwining timelines, when you tease later bits of the movie in the beginning, what the end result should be is that the audience gains this greater understanding of the characters and the situation in the film — without outright giving the audience the explanation you’d like them to have. It’s a way to jostle audiences out of the routine exposition, plot point 1, rising action, plot point 2, rising action, climax, conclusion. It’s kind of like a funhouse mirror. It shows a familiar subject, but twists it into a new perspective.

That wasn’t the case with We Need to Talk About Kevin. It almost feels like they chose an unusual storytelling mechanic because they were unsure of the audience’s willingness to participate. Or maybe, this would be bad, they just thought it was cool.

I don’t want to come across as elitist or arrogant, but because the filmmakers really hammered the storytelling mechanic into the audience’s head during the first half of the movie, I felt like I knew exactly what was going to happen for the rest of the movie. And I was right. I know there’s no way for me to prove this to anyone.

Ultimately, this movie came across as being more about the narrative structure than the subject matter contained within. Which is a shame because the subject matter is creepy and unsettling. The movie really could have been effective. Tilda Swinton’s performance was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Movies You Might Have Missed #1

This might end up being a new column for MovieDebaters. I’d like to talk about a few movies that I find to be truly great and engrossing, but for whatever reason, I don’t hear many people talk about them. In fact, I’d go as far to say that You Might Have Missed It.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

TAoJJbtCRF definitely has a strong critical background. It’s sitting pretty at 75% on Rotten Tomatoes. When the movie was released it ended up on many critic’s top ten lists for that year.

The movie is follows Jesse James and Robert Ford as they live as outlaws in the Wild West. Over the course of the movie their paths intertwine, forever altering each other’s lives. Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck (Jesse James and Robert Ford, respectively) give amazing performances that are both commanding and subtle.

The visuals in the movie are absolutely gorgeous. Every shot looks like a painting. The filmmakers did a great job of recreating the Old West and finding locations that transport the viewer back in time.

Without sounding too hyperbolic, the movie really is an instant classic in the Western genre. It stands tall with fellow peers No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. Not only that but TAoJJbtCRF is more inline with a traditional western story.

So why aren’t more people singing the praises of this movie? I think perhaps the running time scares viewers off. The movie clocks in around two and a half hours. And it’s a slow two and a half hours. However, I implore you to commit to the movie. It is such a rewarding experience and film.

The movie also, at times, comes across as a glorified history documentary. I can see how that would turn off some viewers, but it is a necessary addition to the movie, considering how many notable events the movie covers.

Even if you watch it and dislike the movie, you’ll still have seen a movie that is not like anything you’ve seen.

The Last Boy Scout

Released in 1991 during the height of the buddy cop action movie craze, The Last Boy Scout toes the line for being a parody of the genre.

The story is about a down and out, pathetic P.I. Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) hired to protect a stripper. The stripper is killed and Joe must find out how she was connected to a local gambling operation. Joining Joe is Jimmy Dix (Damon Waynes) a disgraced ex-football star and boyfriend to the aforementioned, dead, stripper.

The movie was written by action genre master Shane Black and directed by Tony Scott. The combination of Black’s extraordinarily sarcastic script and Scott’s visual flair makes for a great movie that is both a comment on 90s action movies and a genuinely good action movie.

Bruce Willis is at his absolute saltiest in this movie. His role is like someone describing a character as being “like Bruce Willis in concentrate form.” It beautifully adds to the almost parody layer of the movie.

Genres in of themselves go through fads, so I’m not surprised that this movie isn’t brought up more. It seems audiences and filmmakers have moved past the buddy cop genre with the two sarcastic, quipping leads.

But if you’ve never seen the movie, you owe it to yourself. Watching it is like traveling back in time. It’s a perfect time capsule of the early 90s.

Visioneers

Visioneers stars Zach Galifinakis as a low level bureaucrat in a future where one corporation runs just about every facet of life. Life is mundane, routine. Until. People start spontaneously exploding. Not combusting, but exploding.

The story tracks Galifinakis as he comes to grips with the fact that he’s begun to develop symptoms that are common in people who have exploded.

The movie plays like a more subtle version of Idiocracy and Brazil. The satire about our corporate culture is pitch perfect. The corporate overlords want to be your best friend, talk show hosts rave about the most mundane things, and people have begun to develop odd personality ticks from being forced to live under conglomerate law.

This movie is a dyed in wool indie picture so I can understand why it isn’t more well known. If you can seek it out, watch it. It’s the type of movie that reminds you that yes, interesting, creative, insane movies are still being made. It’s not just cookie cutter movies that seem to come out all the time in theaters.

Harrison