Category Archives: Discussion

Why I Think “Frozen” Is An Overrated Film

*this entry will contain SPOILERS

I already mentioned in my previous post that I thought Frozen falls quite short in practically every aspect that Tangled did better, that is except for the songs. I maintain this idea as I’ve seen Frozen for a second time. Now, before I get lynched once more by those loudmouthed idiots over the internet who believe shouting louder makes them more correct, I’m not saying that Frozen is bad; I’m simply saying that is it an overrated film. It’s not bad by any account; it’s just not as well-made as compared to Tangled, nor does it even stand on its own next to Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, or even the non-musical Wreck-It Ralph.

An Organic Unity of Story, Song, and Spectacle

The really good Disney movies have an organic unity of story, song, and spectacle. The story is simple, but not condescending. By condescending, I mean it doesn’t treat its audience like children. Beauty and the Beast is one; it may be the most fairytale of the Disney Renaissance as well as the most girly, but its simple but intelligently written storyline is appealing for the kids and not distracting for the adults. Its script respects the intelligence of the audience, unlike Frozen. Remember Anna’s resurrection scene when Olaf mentioned something about “self-sacrifice being able to thaw a frozen heart?” Thank you for pointing out the obvious, Olaf! Thank you for ruining that scene which I thought was clichéd as hell, and which was bordering on being a deus ex machina. So there, we have one of Frozen’s problems; a distractingly written script which looks down on its audience. Another recent Disney film had that problem; it was The Princess and the Frog. If any children’s film is guilty of being too condescending, it would be that.

“But surely, Evil Dr. Bok,” you ask, “Surely the songs make up for the script’s shortcomings?” Uh, yes, in a pretty lazy way, and no that isn’t a good thing. Disney songs are good, but they contribute to the narrative drive of the film. Again, I would give the example of Beauty and the Beast as that film is the gold standard for Disney musicals in the 90s. Every song, and I mean every song, is absolutely necessary as it contributes some character development as well as help in the film’s narrative. The opening song number establishes Belle and her status in the village, how she feels that she doesn’t fit quite in, and it also establishes one of the key characters, Gaston. See the economy in that song number? See how it merges into the film’s narrative?  That’s the organic unity I’m talking about. What does the Olaf song have to do with the story? Fine, it’s cute, and the novelty of seeing a snowman in summer is fun, but what does it contribute to the entire narrative? Maybe I need a copy of the lyrics to fully appreciate it, but for now, it would seem that there’s no other purpose for the song other than, “Hey we have a talking snowman here. Let him sing.”

And for those particularly close listeners, see how every single song in Beauty and the Beast, while particularly catchy, feels organic? “What do you mean by that, Evil Dr. Bok?” you ask, and I reply, “There is a consistency in the musicality of the song numbers and the score.” We know it was Alan Menken who scored the film, and we also know that it was Alan Menken who composed the song’s music. That’s the consistency I’m talking about. The problem with Frozen was that there is a disjoint between the film’s score and its songs.

Speaking of musical consistency , there isn’t even a good consistency within the songs themselves. We’ve got the opening chant, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman”, “For the First Time in Forever”, that duet with the Gaston wannabe, the inevitable “Let It Go”, and the Troll and Olaf songs. If you have a copy of the OST, try to listen to them to see what I mean. Now try to listen to Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Hercules, and to an extent, Tangled (except for the opening song number). Each song has a musical consistency with each other. While some songs maybe too comedic at times, it works within the film’s world itself. Some songs in Frozen are too poppy; definitely at odds with the opening chant in the film. While the chant does give an interesting sound, the succeeding pop tunes tend to diminish it, which is why when we finally hear that chant again when Elsa finally thaws Arendelle, one can’t help but feel that the motif was underdeveloped.

As for the spectacle, well, I guess I can’t complain much about Frozen’s look; the ice motifs are definitely fun to look at (the “Let it Go” sequence, I’ll admit, had me forming goosebumps. And if there’s something that Disney has perfected, it’s coming up with the appropriate “MTV” for its musical numbers (I don’t mean that as a derogatory remark, by the way). Which leads me to one minor (more of nitpicking) complaint…

Where’s the villain?

Beauty and the Beast had Gaston; Tangled, despite having way too many antagonists, both real and pseudo, had Mother Gothel; Sleeping Beauty had Malificent; Wreck-It Ralph had King Candy; and The Lion King had Scar. What did Frozen have? A snivelly old man from Weasel Town, and a Gaston wannabe who’s character reversal is not well established because we were paying too much attention to the songs. Yes, this film meant to examine the sisterhood relationship of Anna and Elsa, and I appreciate that, but I have to admit I missed seeing an actual villain in this film. Tangled, surprisingly, had one very interesting villain. Gothel wasn’t as established as Scar or Gaston, but she makes up for it for her slyness and sheer manipulation. She managed to keep that flower hidden for god knows how many years. She was able to sneak into the castle to kidnap Rapunzel as an old lady, AS AN OLD LADY! She climbed up the terrace AS AN OLD LADY! My goodness I just realized how cool that is! That and she managed to manipulate Rapunzel into singing to for the next 18 years, she manipulated the Stabbington Brothers into working for her, and she stabbed Eugene Fitzherbert at the back! And she was supposed to be one of the “weaker” villains in Disney lore! What did Frozen have? Not much.

Final Words

The really good Disney films have stand out musical numbers, and to that aspect, I will again say that Frozen’s musical numbers really stand out. They are hummable, catchy, and indeed well composed. That, however, is its “downfall”. I thought that Frozen’s musical numbers are distracting in the sense that it distracts you from the problematic script, and the (I hate using the word) cliché storyline. In the end, one remembers the songs, not the story. Is this a good thing? Not exactly. Always remember that  film is still primarily a narrative driven medium, and regardless of how good the songs and eye candy is, the story, songs, and spectacle must be unified.  In this aspect, Tangled beats Frozen in practically every other department except for the songs.

Blue is the Warmest Color vs. Shame (an R-rated/NSFW post)

*disclaimer: For my students who follow this blog, I would advice that you guys skip reading this. Most of the stuff I’m talking about here doesn’t concern you guys, and I also wouldn’t want to be directly responsible for your deformation of character, so please STAY AWAY FROM THIS ENTRY!!!

I don’t usually disagree with James Berardinelli as much as I disagree (albeit in a charming way) to Armond White, but my goodness a part Berardinelli’s review of Blue is the Warmest Color goes like this:

“Watching Blue is the Warmest Color provides viewers with that rarest of motion picture opportunities: the ability to lose oneself in the life of another for three hours and to emerge having felt something.” (Berardinelli, 2013)

Yeah, I sure felt something after browsing through that tripe: DIRTYAnd I seriously couldn’t figure out what warrants the 3 hour running time of Blue is the Warmest Color. Heck, Shame was roughly less than 2 hours, had the same amount of sex and nudity, but while I did feel dirty watching  it, it sure is nowhere near as shameful (no pun intended) as Blue‘sIs it because Blue‘s lesbian sequences are ultimately the only reason for watching it, unlike Shame? Is it because despite its shallowness, Shame actually features decent storytelling unlike Blue‘s preachy nature, where we are explicitly told that love chooses no genders, sexes, etc.?

What do I mean? Remember that scene is Shame where Michael Fassbender‘s character invites his girlfriend over at a motel room for some shagging? Nothing happened; Fassbender and the girl didn’t bone. Rather, the implication goes that Fassbender couldn’t get an erection, or he couldn’t bring it to himself to have sex with a girl that he seems to genuinely love. The girl leaves the room. You know the scene which follows, right? Fassbender banging a prostitute, finishes, and again feels sorry for himself. Absolutely no words explicitly saying that Fassbender’s character couldn’t make a decent relationship with another person because of his sexual addiction. This is good storytelling, we see the effects on the person, we are not told. This is probably why I felt less dirty watching Shame over Blue.

Of course, I’m not wholeheartedly in agreement with Shame. If anything, the explicit sexual content of the film makes it almost as bad as Blue is the Warmest Color. it just so happened that Steve McQueen is a far more superior director than  Abdellatif Kechiche. That, however, doesn’t entirely justify the existence of these two films. Both are basically sexploitation in nature that you’re pretty much better off watching porn instead of these two arthouse films pretending to be profound because of their use of shock. In Shame, it’s showing off Michael Fassbender’s flaccid willy. In Blue is the Warmest Color, it’s the lesbian sex scene between the two girls.

Besides, while I do acknowledge that sex is a completely natural and necessary human act, there are other things art can talk about, you know? What exactly? Here’s the top three things that come to mind: a boy meeting his first crush, a boy who wants a cookie but couldn’t get one because he already way too much earlier on, and two best friends, a guy and a girl, who need to break their friendship because the guy’s romantic relationship is already suffering.

On Artistic Gore and Gore-nography

I recently saw Nicolas Winding Refn‘s Drive and I’ve got to say that it is a truly disturbing film regarding its use of gore. I know that it seems to be a pretty strange thing to notice considering that it is a film that features superb performances from Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston and Christina Hendricks, as well as a gripping 10-minute openings to a film I’ve recently seen. However, this got me thinking about the effective ways gore can be used in order to elicit the proper audience reaction.

For the purposes of this article, allow me to use the following films to illustrate the various ways gore effects are used: From HellHostel, and Drive. These films are extremely gory, but their use of the effect is varied that one can sense a science or a logic behind it (well, maybe not Hostel, but I’m getting ahead of myself).

The Aesthetization of Gore

By “Aesthetization of Gore”, I mean the use of gore effects as an artistic element in film. It all depends on the lighting, the editing, how the blood trickles down from an open wound, etc. One does not simply show blood gushing from the victim’s wound, one has to “dress it up” a little. Properly done, gore effects could be “tasteful” and yet still retain it’s disturbing effect.

Personally, I think the Jack the Ripper film From Hell is a really good example of the “Aesthetization of Gore” in movies. The lighting, costume and production design, and editing are all vital pieces in the violent scenes of that movie. Except for one moment, you hardly see the knife of Jack the Ripper making contact on the skin of his victims. You see the glint of the Ripper’s knife. Then you see a shot of the knife coming down. You do not see it making contact on the victim, but you hear the sickening sound of torn flesh and flowing blood. Only then will the film cut to the image of the open wound with the blood flowing from it.

Another example of how From Hell did its gore “tastefully” was in the scene where Jack the Ripper makes his first kill. The scene starts with a shot of the victim walking down the alley. All of a sudden, she is grabbed by the Ripper to a shadowed area where he proceeds to stab her repeatedly. Note, however, that you do not see the Ripper or the victim as they are in the shadows; you only see the glint of the down as it penetrates the victim. Soon we see the silver blade gradually being covered by blood as the Ripper repeatedly stabs his victim to death. Couple this with, again, the sickening sound effects of torn flesh and flowing blood, and you achieve an effect that is beautiful and disturbing at the same time.

You see, this is an excellent way to use this type of effect as it is your imagination that’s doing the work for you. You know that the knife penetrates the body, but it is masked by jump cuts and dim lighting. Add the sound effects and you’ve got a winner in your hands. Thus we can see how powerful suggestion or implication is if you want a good gore effect. The impact is disturbing, but it is done in an artistic manner.

Gore-nography or Splatter-Porn

From artful gore, we proceed to porn. Well, “gore-nography” to be more exact. It is the explicit and indiscriminate use of gore in films used to achieve a certain reaction to the audience. In the same way that pornography’s aim to show as many sex, nudity, and other naughty bits on camera in order to elicit a titillating effect on the viewer , gore-nography, based on my observations, also achieves to show as many blood, mutilation, and decapitation on film in order to elicit a base response on the viewer, which could either be repulsion or disgust.

Hostel is the best example I could think of for gore-nography as it is a “benchmark” for most of the contemporary horror films released today, namely the remakes of The Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on the Left, and even the Michael Bay horror remakes.

Now, I understand that one of horror’s aim is to disgust its viewer, and that the use of gore is a way to achieve that effect. We are repulsed by blood. Seeing blood and gore effects on film is one way to disgust us. In Hostel, there is a scene where a man cuts his victim’s Achilles tendon. When the victim tries to run away, we see an extremely close-up of his heels being separated. His throat gets cut later on. Another scene shows a torturer blow-torching an Asian girl’s eyes that her eyeballs are dangling out of her eye-sockets. The hero kills the torturer and tries to help the girl by, get this, cutting her dangling eyeballs with a pair of scissors in full view of the camera. And as if that wasn’t enough, pus starts to flow from it.

I have to admit, seeing those images on the big screen greatly unsettled me. It disgusted me, it repulsed me, it made me sick. And I have to admit that for those points, Hostel seems to be an effective horror film. However, why is it still a weak gory film as compared to films like From Hell, The Evil Dead, Dawn of the Dead (Romero’s original, not the 2004 remake), and even Drive and Saving Private Ryan? It is a weak film in the same sense that a pornographic image of a porn star spread wide on your Hustler is nothing compared to a nude by the world’s greatest painters. Porn is porn: it is exploitative in nature. Artistic nudes, however, shows the beauty of the human figure. It isn’t meant to titillate it’s viewer, it’s supposed to give aesthetic pleasure to him. And aesthetic pleasure is achieved if one sees and understands the elements used by the artist for his work.

Hostel’s gory sequences are nothing but shock value. They are too “in your face”, too direct, too brutal. And while it is effective, it’s intended effect is only temporary. I’m sure that in a few years time, if one were to watch Hostel again, one wouldn’t be that affected by it’s gory scenes anymore due to the audience’s desensitization.

The Exception in Drive

I mentioned earlier that Drive is a disturbing film due to it’s violent content. Yes, it is indeed one of the best films of the year, and also one of the most violent I’ve seen recently. We have scenes in this film where a woman gets a full shotgun blast to the face, where a mobster gets stabbed in the eye with a fork, only to be stabbed repeatedly on the throat until he dies, and where another mobster’s face gets crushed by the protagonist’s boots. These scenes are brutal, no doubt. However, I would say that Drive belongs to the category of Artistic Gore, not Goreno-graphy.

The difference between Drive and Hostel lies in proper editing, and the force of suggestion. Hostel relishes in showing the violent scenes. There are sustained shots of blood, gore, and decapitated limbs. Drive almost goes down that same path, but as it crosses the boundary, it retreats. The shotgun blast to the face was only a second long, A SECOND. Hostel’s eyeball scene last roughly five seconds, and did I mention we continue seeing that eyeless Asian girl around 15 minutes or so with the goofy eyeless make-up? All that we see of that poor girl in Drive is…well, we do not see her. Instead, we see the bloodied bathroom, it’s walls sprayed with the poor girl’s blood. We do not see her body, her blasted head, nothing.

Additionally, for the scene where Ryan Gosling stomps on the mobster’s head until he crushes it into oblivion, all we see is, again, a second’s worth of footage of his boot making contact where the mobster’s head used to be. In fact, the only clue to the disturbing image we have here is the shocked expression of Carey Mulligan upon seeing what Ryan Gosling has done. We do not see the headless mobster again afterwards.

Now, what makes these two scenes way more powerful than any of Hostel’s violent scenes combined is, once more, suggestion. We only see the graphic violent for a second each, no more. The shock of seeing a snippet of something brutal is way more powerful than giving that brutal scene for more than five seconds. The impact is stronger the shorter you see it. It will replay more often in your mind than a full five seconds of it.

The Power of Suggestion

Gore is way more powerful if it is shown in snippets. Show too much gore and you may end up with something too exploitative, and also risk making it look funny instead of repulsive. Also, it pays to not be too direct in blood effects and to respect the audience’s intelligence and imagination as those two things will do more.

Oscar Profile: Martin Scorsese

It’s just been two days since Oscar Night, and again, I found myself researching on past “winners” of the coveted Oscar, to try to find a pattern regarding films which we consider “Oscar Bait”. But upon discovering a whole bunch of filmmakers who’ve been “robbed” of the Oscar, I decided to simply focus on one guy. A filmmaker who, next to John William’s who is one the biggest losers in Oscar history (I don’t care if he was nominated for 45 Oscars, he only won 5 of those).

Director Martin Scorsese’s first film to be nominated for Best Picture was Taxi Driver. He lost to Sylvester Stallone‘s Rocky. This was in 1976.

His next film to be nominated for Best Picture was Raging Bull, where he also received his first nomination for Best Director. He lost the Oscar to Robert Redford, who made the film Ordinary People (and which also happens to be Redford’s directorial debut).

His next nomination was for The Last Temptation of Christ. And,  well, let’s not go there…

Then one film came where the people thought that Scorsese was sure to bag that elusive Oscar. It was Goodfellas, a gangster film which some considered to be best ganster film since The Godfather, and which many also considered to be Scorsese’s best film in his career. Come Oscar night, he lost, again to another first-time director named Kevin Costner, for his film Dances with Wolves (which would later be imitated by The Last Samurai, to an extent Brother Bear, and James’ Cameron’s Avatar).

Just when will Scorsese ever bag that Oscar? Well, for a while there, he was again nominated for Gangs of New York in 2002, but then lost to Roman Polanski for his work in The Pianist. Then came 2004 where Scorsese was again nominated for The Aviator, which many again considered to be one of his best films. It was also considered the Oscar favorite of the year. Then Clint Eastwood pulled the rug under Scorsese’s feet when he won the Oscar for his work on Million Dollar Baby. My goodness, Scorsese will never win the Oscar now.

Then in 2006, Scorsese directed a remake of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, titled The Departed. It was practically Infernal Affairs transplanted to a Boston setting. Now, on the surface, it was a decent film and, at times, quite intense. People die left and right, and the tension was delivered properly. But it was still a remake of a Hong Kong film at it’s core, and Scorsese did nothing new with the story.

He wins that elusive “Best Directing” Oscar that year. His fellow nominees that year were the following: Clint Eastwood (Letters from Iwo Jima), Paul Greengrass (United 93), Stephen Frears (The Queen), and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel). The Departed is a weak film as compared to the films that year (Eastwood’s offering was certainly the best, next to the powerful United 93). Yet, Scorsese bagged that Oscar.

Fifteen years, losing to less than stellar films, only to win that coveted Oscar for a less than stellar film.

The 83rd Oscars (impressions and other rants)

Okay, so the verdict.

Best Picture: The King’s Speech

Best Director: Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech)

Best Original Screenplay: David Seidler (The King’s Speech)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network)

Best Actor: Colin Firth (The King’s Speech)

Best Actress: Natalie Portman (Black Swan)

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale (The Fighter)

Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo (The Fighter)

Best Musical Score: Nine Inch Nails and Atticus Ross (The Social Network)

Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 3

Who should’ve won?

David Fincher (Best Director for The Social Network): I kinda agree with what Dr. Paul Dumol said regarding The King’s Speech, that the director didn’t have to do much for it. It already had a simple enough story, really great actors, etc. It’s pretty much like what Ron Howard did for A Beautiful Mind; the script practically did the director’s job for him.

Now, what David Fincher did for The Social Network is nothing short of amazing. Aaron Sorkin’s script is a very dialogue-heavy script which would be boring in the hands of a mediocre director. Fincher was able to turn the script’s inherent weakness around, making a very talkie film into a visually interesting movie about the founding of Facebook.

 

Inception (Best Picture): This is probably Hollywood’s most original film in recent years. ‘Nuff said.

Oh, and I kinda find it funnny that Nine Inch Nails won the Oscar for Best Original Score together with Atticus Ross. Just saying. Though I was hoping that Hans Zimmer should have won the Oscar instead. But well, you can’t have everything in this world.

So, the figures…

Inception: winner of four Academy Awards for the following: Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, and Best Cinematography

The Social Network: winner of three Academy Awards for the following: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score

The King’s Speech: winner of four Academy Awards for the following: Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay

Oh, could somebody please fire the Academy member who’s responsible for Nolan being snubbed at the Oscars?

How The Deathly Hallows Part 1 Should Have Ended (and how Part 2 could begin)

The title of this entry should already come as a warning. So those who don’t want to be spoiled, STAY AWAY!!!

I was talking to my mentor yesterday about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. He liked it (alright already, I get the hint! I’m watching it again one of these days), but he thought the movie ended twenty to thirty minutes late. “When should it have ended?”, I asked him. He answered, “The film should have ended with Harry, Ron, and Hermione getting captured and brought to the Malfoy Mansion; and with Voldemort acquiring the Elder Wand.”

One can already how the second part would begin: the trio escaping from the Mansion and with Dobby getting killed.

I don’t know about you guys, but I suddenly remembered how The Empire Strikes Back ended when it was first released, and the anticipation the fans had for the third Star Wars film.

Penny for you thoughts?