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Month: May 2012

Les Miserables teaser trailer

A teaser trailer for the upcoming film version of the popular musical Les Miserables came out recently:

My comments:

This is only a teaser, so it’s hard to know how representational these little glances will be of the finished product. I see some things I like, and some things leave me scratching my head.

We don’t get much in the way of music, which is too bad, since this will be a musical after all, but it’s only a teaser. I don’t like how I Dreamed a Dream begins with no instrumental accompaniment at all; it sounds empty. And even when the instruments do come in, the voice and the instruments just don’t mix right; the voice is too “small” as if she’s singing to herself in a small room. It sounds like it was amplified in post so that it would not be drowned out by the orchestra. (“But the tigers come at niiiii….” Pronounce your T’s, woman!) I hope this sort of recording is not representational the style of sound we’ll hear in the movie, or it will be truly awful.

As for camera work, some shots look fantastic and amazing, others look very bizarre. Wobbly documentary-style wide-angle close-ups look very odd to me if I don’t understand the shot’s context. (Is it a character’s POV? Is it part of a long shot?) I’m also not a big fan of the tilted camera, but, again, it depends on the context; the tilted shots featured in this trailer make me fear the camera tilt will be overused. However, the wide-angle shots panning the barricade, tracking people walking the streets, or looking straight down on the factory workers look brilliant. Regardless of whether or not all these shots will work in the context of the film, I think we’re in for a visual feast.

On ghosts

To believe in an objective difference between right and wrong (God and not God) implies the existence of immortal souls, spirits that exist non-physically, and continue existing even after the mortal physical body dies (naturally becomes unable to continue living in the physical sense). So, in this sense, ghosts do exist. We are, in fact, part-ghost right now, in the way that “ghost” means a non-physical spirit.

But, as humans, it is often tempting to “humanize” our understanding of the nature of immortal souls so that they are understood to exist as humanly as we do now, just without physical bodies, as if they’d float around the physical world and communicate with and/or frighten us physically living people.

This makes no sense. Think about the nature of truth; when something is true, its truth exists outside or beyond the physical constructs of space and time. Its existence is not dependent on a specific location or time the way that physical phenomena is. So it is with the difference between right and wrong, and so it is with God, and so it is with our immortal souls. When our souls separate from our physical bodies, they also separate from the physical constructs of space and time. We can understand this to be true even while it is currently impossible to understand what that sort of existence is like. But it does allow us to understand how the common notion of “ghosts as spirits wandering around the physical world” is at best a silly notion of spiritual ignorance, at worst a temptation away from God (truth).

So a lot of “ghostly phenomenon” does not pass the true-faith-in-God test. Ghost Hunters and such shows may be entertaining, but to truly believe them is to reject the true nature of God, whether it be for the corrupted desire for unnatural powers (that is, the desire to communicate with the dead; not because it can be done but is just dangerous (it can’t be done, but we can easily spiritually deceive ourselves into believing it can, like a spiritual placebo effect, through which we can credit perfectly natural mental abilities (such as talking to oneself) to ghostly activity), but because the desire for that sort of experience is not in union with a desire for God (love and truth)), or simply out of a spiritual misunderstanding of the nature of God and immortal souls (as opposed to the incomplete understanding of the nature of God we all naturally experience as part of our temporary physical existence).

That said, we know that God can interact with us in our physical existence through our non-physical spirits; otherwise we would be incapable of understanding that there exists an objective difference between right and wrong, and would be incapable of believing in Him. (I am considering our “sense” of God as a form of “interaction” — I do not mean to imply that God often physically moves things around in front of us to prove His existence to us — He obviously doesn’t — I do not think He would desire for our faith in Him to be based on tricks of changing the laws of physics, which would probably do more harm to us than good.) God must also, then, be capable of allowing, in proper conditions, the spirits of the physically departed to spiritually appear to or communicate with physically living beings for the sake of the spirit of the physically living (not for a ghost’s “unfinished business”). It is also important to note that, when this happens, it happens through and with God; it is not some departed spirit acting of its own volition, and it is never done in response to a living being requesting or desiring such contact, which, as I stated before, is a spiritually disordered request.

Guillermo del Toro on children in horror stories

cronos2

I recently saw the 1993 film Cronos directed by Guillermo del Toro (director of one of my favorite films, Pan’s Labyrinth).  Re-watching the film with the director’s commentary, I thought what he said about children in his horror movies was particularly interesting.

I also like what he says about the “innocence” of childhood.  I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it on this blog yet or not, but I am not a fan of the phrase “the innocence of childhood” as if children can’t be guilty of something just because their worldview might be more inexperienced.  (Similarly, I don’t like the phrase “coming of age” – as if there exists a psychological transition from childhood to adulthood that’s as radical or as clearly defined as puberty, or some other cultural rite-of-passage.  But that’s a different subject.)

On an unrelated side note, I didn’t realize until re-watching Cronos that the child in the movie only has one word of dialog, and is completely silent throughout the rest of the film.  For some reason, I didn’t even notice this at all in my first viewing.  Weird.  I guess that’s a testament to how well her emotions and thought processes are captured without dialog, which I think is a sign of masterful filmmaking.  Or it might be a testament to how completely oblivious I can be.

Anyway, here are the words of Guillermo del Toro:

I love children in horror stories.  Why?  Because I think that the horror tale, or the horror genre, is a logical continuation of the fairy tale.  The fairy tale was, in its origin, a very moralistic tale that was usually done to teach children principles of behavior.  They would be told that if they wondered alone in the woods they would be punished by having a witch try to boil them and eat them, whatever… that if you were lazy and you didn’t build your house of bricks, in would come a wolf that would tear it down… and all these moralistic principles.

Out of which came a far more fantastic, for more anarchic type of fairy tale where, by product of these moralistic lessons, that children became main characters.  They were given their own subgenre.  And out of these fantastic creatures I believe came a branch where the witches and the ogres and the goblins became more and more central to the story and became actually horror tales.

And in these horror tales, if you are going to talk about the darkness, it is central that you talk about the purity.  I’m saying "purity" and not "innocence" because I don’t think children are innocent in the moralistic way they are viewed.  I think that children have a very complex emotional component.  I remember my incredibly troubled first seven or eight years as being an incredibly rich landscape of angst.  I jokingly say that I was seventy by the time I was seven, and now that I’m thirty-eight, I’m finally getting to be young because I suffered so much as I kid, my mind was an ever-boiling little inferno.  And I try to do kid characters that react and interact with the horror stuff in a different and more complex and more natural way than the adults.

I think that children have this powerful possibility in horror tales to be sort of a white center of purity in the middle of the tale.  They are not only the greatest witness, but also the greatest access for the human spirit.  They really root the tales in humanity.

Movies watched in April 2012

Continuing my explorations in cinema, here are the movies I watched in April 2012:

intime

In Time

Being a fan of Andrew Niccol’s previous work, The Truman Show and Gattaca, I was looking forward to seeing this movie from 2011.  In the future, humans have figured out how to stop aging.  But to prevent overpopulation, artificial limits are put on a person’s lifespan, and time left to live becomes a trading commodity, replacing money.  The poor die young while the rich can live forever.  Like Niccol’s previous work, the movie featured wonderful writing, good acting, and an engaging story.  Great film.

cinematographer

Cinematographer Style

Thought I might learn something about cinematography with this DVD from 2006, though it’s just a bunch of talking heads.  Absolutely no examples from actual films at all.  Still, some of the interviews were very interesting, especially the ones with Vittorio Storaro and Gordon Willis.

sundancekid

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

I had seen a bunch of bits and pieces of this film since it’s so iconic, but never saw the whole thing until this past Easter Sunday.  And it definitely lived up to its iconic status; I loved it.  Great mix of humor and tragedy.  And of course the “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” song is insanely catchy.  Though I was familiar with the song previous to watching the film, the spirit of the film and the song match so well, watching the film makes the song even more catchy.  The blu-ray also featured some great commentary tracks and a deleted scene (with lost audio) in which Butch and Sundance watch themselves get killed on a newsreel in a theater.  I don’t know why they deleted it; I think it would have fit wonderfully in the film.

kundun

Kundun

This 1997 film by Martin Scorsese tells the tale of the Dalai Llama.  I guess it was educational.

titanic

Titanic 3D

I was curious to see how James Cameron’s insanely successful film from 1997 would look in 3D (I love 3D), and it was an extremely impressive conversion.  I can’t imagine all the insane amount of work that must’ve went into it, but it was hard for me to tell it was a conversion.  The only scenes that looked a bit odd were the ones in which a night sky full of stars was the backdrop.  It just looked too close to the foreground, as if the actors were acting in front of a poster-board with stars painted on it.  It did not look like the stars were far in the distance.  As for the story, I had never actually seen the first half of the film, didn’t know anything about how Jack got on the ship or what the story with the jewel was all about.  Geez, that romance was corny corny corny.  Is that really the sort of guy women want?  Bleh!  Oh, and of course every time I saw the captain I thought: Theoden King!

realsteel

Real Steel

This film from 2011 tells the story of an alienated father and son trying to find a way to relate to each other through the training and fighting of giant boxing robots.  The story is based on an old sci-fi short story, not the boxing head-popping robot toys.  The special effects were amazing, and it was refreshing to see a heartfelt story behind the action.  Fun popcorn movie.  But they certainly didn’t explore all the possibilities the premise of fighting robots could provide; it will be interesting to see if they create a sequel or not.

startrek

Star Trek

I hate Spock.

godfather2

The Godfather: Part 2

I very much enjoyed this famous 1974 sequel.  Again, I had seen many bits and pieces of the film before, but never the whole thing all the way through.  It was a great film; one of the few sequels better than its predecessor.

burnnotice

Burn Notice: Season 3

OK, it’s not a movie, but I have been watching Burn Notice DVD’s lately, and recently finished Season 3 from 2009.  Great show.  I’m too behind to watch it on TV, but I’ll keep watching the DVD’s when I can.

totoro

My Neighbor Totoro

I’m continuing to catch up on Studio Ghibli’s famous films, essential viewing for animation fans.  This film tells the story of two sisters who discover magical creatures in the woods behind their house who help them, in a way, cope with their mother’s illness.  Great film, full of a believability and spirit you don’t see in many of today’s animated films that are instead full of pop-culture reference gags.  (Though I still enjoy a good pop-culture reference gag.)

warhorse

War Horse

This Spielberg film from 2011 tells the tale of a horse who is “recruited” for war while the boy who raised him wonders whether or not he’ll ever see him again.  A great movie for people who think horses can feel human emotions.  I myself must admit that I am a blatant equusist; I am prejudiced against horses.  I don’t think they can have human emotions.  So it was very hard for me to relate to the horse’s war struggles.  I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with a human loving an animal (I know I quite loved my dear dead dog Patches), but I don’t like the idea of love for an animal being romanticized on the level of intra-human love in the context of a film’s story.  Does that make sense?  It’s a similar problem I had with Spielberg’s A.I.; I just couldn’t feel a relatable emotion with a little robot kid who doesn’t have real emotions in the first place.  And in War Horse the Germans, of course, spoke English with accents during the war, don’t you know?  Because Heaven forbid an American should have to read subtitles!

kagemusha

Kagemusha

This Kurosawa film from 1980 tells the story of an impersonator who replaces a dead emperor during dangerous times as old Japanese kingdoms battle each other.  After watching Kurosawa’s Ikiru a couple months ago, it was nice to see a film of his that was more epic in scope, and Kagemusha did not disappoint.  Great film.

visionsOfLight

Visions of Light

This documentary from 1993 about cinematography actually had examples from movies!  Woohoo!  Great stuff, but it still wasn’t as educational as it could’ve been.  It would be nice to see a documentary in which a cinematographer actual goes through the steps he takes to make his creative decisions instead of just looking at a bunch of final products and saying how good they are.  Still, this DVD was educational and even inspirational.

becket

Becket

This 1964 film tells the story of Thomas Becket (played by Richard Burton) who is friends with King Henry II (played by Peter O’Toole).  The King appoints Becket to be Archbishop of Canterbury in hopes that, because they’re friends, he’ll have a bit more control over that position.  But Becket ultimately has different religious beliefs than the King, and their friendship begins to rip apart.  Though some of the film feels a little dated and fakey by today’s standards (nice cardboard crown there, Henry), the story was engaging.  I didn’t think the writing was so great; the characters seemed too blatant about their emotions, and too long-winded when it came to expressing them, like some classical play.  But I guess that’s because it was adapted from a play.  But with a film, I think you can show an emotion much more effectively just by a look in a character’s eye, the way the shot is framed and colored, and what sounds accompany the picture.  No need to say anything sometimes.  But Becket won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.  Heh.

towerheist

Tower Heist

This movie from 2011 tells the story of a guy who works in a tower.  A bit like in Fun With Dick and Jane, his boss is arrested for something scammy, and it seems the guy and his working pals who had all their savings in the boss’s company may now go bankrupt.  So they decide to break into the boss’s apartment, find where he’s hiding all his money, and steal it!  The humor was a bit hit or miss for me (some of it seemed too forced), but overall it was quite funny.

casablanca

Casablanca

I had never seen this classic film from 1942 before.  Still, I knew many of the famous lines.  And maybe that’s why they didn’t quite work for me.  I had heard the famous lines so many times before, it felt like they were just being recited.  Overall, it was a good well-written movie, but I don’t know why it became such a huge classic hit.  I didn’t think it was that incredible.

castle

Castle in the Sky

Another Miyazaki film from Studio Ghilbli, this one from 1986.  The movie tells the story of a boy and a girl with a strange magical necklace thing who set out in search of a legendary floating island called Laputa.  I think I would enjoy any adventure film with castles and airships; they really set off my imagination.  So far, of the ones I’ve seen, this is my favorite film from Studio Ghilbli.  Loved it.

moviesold

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

This documentary from 2011 was weird.  It was supposed to be about the product placement in movies.  But the filmmaker, Morgan Spurlock, decided it would be neat if the documentary itself was funded entirely by companies in exchange for product placement.  The result was a rather empty film.  It was like an ad that just advertises itself.  What’s the content?  The content is the ad itself!  Er, OK, what?  The pitch meetings were interesting to watch, but the documentary as a whole didn’t make much sense to me.

raymond

Exporting Raymond

This documentary from 2010 follows Phil Rosenthal, the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond (one of my favorite sitcoms), as he travels to Russia to help them adapt his sitcom for their country.  Hilarious film, and very interesting to see how the TV business works in Russia.

So that’s, what, 19 this month?  Movies rewatched this month include: 13 Assassins, The Truman Show, and The Prestige.  Explorations in cinema continue this May, I hope.