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Monthly Archives: November 2016

Cult Violence Growing in Popular Movies

In my last year of high school, my American history professor decided he would show us Saving Private Ryan. The result was a litany of forms to be signed by parents for those not quite 18, and questioning by most students why this was necessary. Only the year before a film had been pulled from an English class in the same school, only rated PG-13 for its portrayal of 19th century sex, but here was our teacher showing us an extremely bloody, violent battle-ridden film. The argument―”it’s history”.

Violence has long-held a certain mystique, the ability to stand tall above the censors and display endlessly gratuitous imagery for all ages. But it’s always been sex that truly upset the stuffy conservative minds of this country. The MPAA arose not because of excessive violence in films, but because of worries over indecent imagery related to sex.

A video game was pulled from the shelves and slapped with an Adult Only rating (the only time ever given) because of a possible unlockable sex scene. The game is one of the most violent offerings around―Grand Theft Auto. It’s an epic assault on every law written, complete with random shootings, drug dealing, and cop killing. But, sex put it over the top.

Left to their own devices, the sex and violence in film has flourished, finding routes of their own, slowly but surely pushing the censors to the borders, and squeezing as much as they can out of an R rating. The result is a numbing of audience receptors to the true ferocity of some violence.

If one is to show a particularly disturbing scene, it’s necessary to take it to an entirely new level of grotesque. Realism is the next key, in which these scenes are made to look as wholly and truly realistic as possible. Gone are the hokey squirts and sprays of dismemberment. Film makeup has gone beyond that. That limb can really come off and it will look incredibly disturbing.

This cult of violence in our films has bred a new way of approaching it entirely. Instead of submitting to the desires of a so many blood thirsty film goers, directors are starting to experiment with how to turn violent imagery into an art form, not mere grotesquery to satiate the masses.

Exploitation films have been around since the ’70s, when the splatter genre arrived in films like ‘Dawn of the Dead’ and ‘Friday the 13th’. Those films took violence and made it so ridiculously over the top, especially in the case of Jason and his hockey mask, that they made it fun to watch. The idea was to be scary, but in truth it was a chance to watch horrific images so ridiculous that they toned down what you might see in everyday life.

Similar films came out of Asia in time, high-flying martial arts films with explosive bloodletting, almost comical at times in its lack of realism. A samurai sword to the shoulder blade might produce more blood than a typical adult male carries in his body. Anime took it to the next level, with gallons of blood spraying free of a severed limb.

Today’s experimental filmmakers are taking heed of the results and rewriting the violence code once again, crafting movies with all the sensibilities of a 70s splatter-fest or sword skewering anime in homage to a style that exploits. Comic books are proving a superb source for these films as well, the works of Frank Miller in particular finding a home on-screen when most assumed they never would. Sin City and more recently 300 are hyper-stylized affairs rimming with violence, the kind that you’d see on an ink drawn page, so carefully planned and executed as to be art rather than violence.

Quentin Tarantino started a trend all on his own when he filmed Reservoir Dogs, infusing what some would have seen as mindless violence with reams of witty dialog and well crafted plot, begging the question of whether the movie could be the same without those bloody scenes. Pulp Fiction’s gritty, humorous back and forths couldn’t exist without the explosive, disturbing images to offset them. It’s the perfect balance of that which both naturally disgusts and intrigues you and that which you find funny. The humor is only enhanced by all that blood.

Kill Bill, arguably Tarantino’s most exploitative homage, is a combination of all the stylistic elements he’d been developing, a campy plot with tons of splatter film derived frivolities, but more than enough serious, revenge driven action to drive the plot.

Dozens of filmmakers have followed suit, and not only have we seen a resurrection of the horror film industry as a result, the Tarantino-esque attempts of many directors to deftly combine slick gangster violence with humorous exchanges and a wickedly sadistic plot pop up annually.

Film’s cult of violent intrigue is one that some find disturbing, and still more find disgusting, but one thing remains true―human beings enjoy it. Whether it’s built into our genetic code, a throwback to caveman values and primal instincts, or an internal desire to find solace in all the violence that isn’t real to better absorb and digest the excessive destruction we wreak on each other in reality, violence has a particularly soft spot in our hearts. This is something that will always slide under the radar, as the staunch censor-happy few pick apart the latest revealing sex scene.

What is Entertainment

In a world where we find ourselves evermore overwhelmed by-and drawn to-bright images and flashing screens, it is worth asking a few questions about that most important of consumer goods: entertainment. What makes entertainment entertaining? Why do we need it, or do we? What is entertainment, anyway?

These are a few of the questions I set out to answer in a class I taught a year or so ago: Entertainment in America. And while we couldn’t quite come up with satisfactory answers, even after a semester of reading and discussion, I’d like to try to set down a few of the thoughts that came out of that course here. But I don’t want to shove the partial answers I’ve come to down your throat-that’s no fun for anybody. Rather, what I’ll do in the following is offer a list of questions that you might ask yourself, along with a few resources that might be worth looking at as you search for your own answers to these increasingly crucial questions. I’ll also note, from time to time, the conclusions I have tentatively reached regarding these questions.

Are you ready? Here goes…

What is entertainment? (Too obvious, but we’ll come back to it. If you keep this question in mind as you go down the list, you may find a definition beginning to come together. Try it out.) Even if you know it when you see it, does it bother you if you can’t come up with a good definition of what it actually is?

Is there such a thing as “only entertainment”?
Only Entertainment-Bad Religion
That’s Entertainment-The Jam
That’s Entertainment-Judy Garland
When you read the lyrics of The Jam’s and Bad Religion’s songs, and read about the history of the Judy Garland highlights film, what is your sense of the kind of material that makes for entertainment?

Who needs entertainment? What for? When you are entertained, what are you feeling? Read a Dilbert or Doonesbury comic strip, and try to record what happened inside of you while you were looking at the comic. Did you feel happier? A sense of release? The resolving of tension? Was that entertainment? Would you say that reading the comic strip was the same kind of experience as watching a television show? How? How not?

Are some kinds of entertainment better for you than others? Which kinds? Is it better to play internet poker or to watch a video? Try doing each for a little while and record your feelings. Was one more entertaining than the other? How? Why? Did one make you more aggressive? Less likely to do something productive in the world around you? Did either change the way you felt about yourself? How?

One of the things I was struck by while teaching this course was the way entertainment can work as a substitute for action. If I can identify with a character on TV-on a soap opera, for instance-then I get to feel all the feelings that character feels, without having to do the actions that result in those feelings. I get to feel jealous without having a cheating spouse, excited by the intrigue of adultery without being an adulterer, and intimate without ever actually talking to a living human being. In short, I get to feel. Some researchers believe that feelings are the way we human beings experience our world most fully, but is there a price to pay when we feel our emotions in a way that’s disconnected from the physical world around us?

That is, if we get to feel feelings without taking risks, do we start to lose our ability to risk emotion in the “real world”? I don’t have a definite answer to that for you, but I do have one for me. I’ve come to the conclusion that entertainment is-while maybe necessary for emotional and psychological health-definitely a dangerous substance. Like fire. So, for my part, I’ll still watch a film now and then. But I’ll also think afterwards about how watching that film, getting that emotional satisfaction, affects my ability to act in the real world. You might consider doing the same; it actually turns out to be pretty entertaining.

Impressive Movie Review of Shrek Forever After

Shrek, now a father of triplets with a house and a loving wife, is living the life of a responsible husband and father. However, he begins to get bored with the mundane life of a married ogre (if ever there was one). He misses the days when he could just stomp off scaring villagers with his infamous roar. Due to the mounting frustration, in a fit of anger he stomps out of his children’s first birthday party. Wandering alone in the forest, he meets Rumpelstiltskin, who makes a deal with him, saying that in exchange of one day from his childhood, Shrek can live one day as a free, destructive ogre. Shrek agrees, only to later realize that the day Rumpelstiltskin took from his childhood is the day he was born. He now has 24 hours to save Far Far Away from falling into Rumpelstiltskin’s hands forever. He also has to make Fiona fall in love with him all over again.

After a highly disappointing Shrek The Third, Shrek IV does come across as a significant improvement. However, this movie has been unnecessarily complicated by showing the entire plot taking place in an alternate time zone when Fiona doesn’t recognize Shrek, and when Donkey has to start wooing dragon all over again.

The performances by all the stars of the movie, as expected, is impressive; nevertheless, the character that stole the cake in this installment is Rumpelstiltskin. Walt Dohrn has done an amazing job as the conniving little villain who wants to take over Far Far Away.

The biggest criticism of this movie, however, is the fact that it barely manages to make one laugh in the way the previous installments did. Even donkey’s lines hardly manage to evoke a smile (partly because he has relatively lesser lines in this movie). Another huge disappointment is that the 3D has not been used to its full potential. There are only a handful of scenes that really make use of 3D, whereas it could have helped to bring many scenes to life, which would have made the movie a lot more enjoyable.

The film basically tries to fill you with a feel-good factor, trying to make you realize that you need to be happy with what you have because things could be a lot worse, and even succeeds in doing so to quite an extent. All said and done, this is a step forward after Shrek the Third, and does have some moments where you get the humor that captured the imagination of millions the world over. So, although this isn’t really the most creative thing that you’ll come across, it is worth a watch, because after all, it is the last time our lovable green ogre will be seen on the big screen.

The First Horror Film Made

Popular belief tells us that it was a well-known French filmmaker Georges Melies, who made the first horror film. The film was titled as Le Manoir Du Diable (French for: The House of the Devil). It was released in 1896, on Christmas Eve, in Paris. It was a three-minute film and contained many traditional pantomime elements. This film also depicts a haunted castle and manor of the devil.

The Plot in Brief

The film begins with a bat flying into a medieval castle. The bat circles slowly and transforms into Mephistopheles. Preparing a cauldron, the demon produces skeletons, ghosts, and witches from its bubbling contents. Then, the demon conjures a young girl and some other supernatural elements. When one of these supernatural agents hold up a crucifix, the devil vanishes immediately.

History of Horror Films

The element of horror was initiated during the classic age of English literary history. Some of them are Gothic novels like Dracula, Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

After the Second World War, the devastation caused by war gave rise to three genres: the horror-of-personality films, the horror-of-Armageddon sub-genre and the horror-of-the-demonic films.

However, during the age of modern and post-modernism, the element of sadistic horror and the supernatural ruled these films. Gore Verbinski’s “The Ring” released in 2002, can be named as one of the most effective horror movies of the modern era. Here, we can mention William Malone’s “FeardotCom” (2002), and James Wan’s “Saw” (2004), sequels of which were released in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Recently, the film directors have introduced a new trend ‘chick flicks’, which have the element of traditional horror-adventure. For instance, “The Descent” which was released in 2006. This film is regarded as the first chick flick which includes the element of brutal action.

Thus, portraying the gloomy and forbidden side of life and death, these horror films evoke a mixed feeling of terror and fear blended with a feeling of pity for the protagonist. Have you seen “The Wizard Of Gore” by Jeremy Kasten, “Dracula 2000” by Patrick Lussier, “Halloween Night” by Mark Atkins? If not, then try to watch some of these.

Best Movies of the Silent Era

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
Director – F. W. Murnau
This romantic movie starring Janet Gaynor and George O’Brien tells the story of a married small town man who embarks on a torrid affair with a girl from the city. Caught up in the affair, he reluctantly agrees to kill his wife, but realizes that he cannot go through with the plan, as he still loves her. He apologizes to the wife and they make up.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Director – Robert Wiene
This movie starring Friedrich Fehér, Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt is supposed to be the best horror film of the silent era. It tells the story of a doctor, who uses a somnambulist to kill people. The story is told as a flashback by one of the characters, and has a twist at the very end. It received critical acclaim, and was also adapted into a drama and an opera, besides serving as an inspiration for horror filmmakers for many decades after its release!

Sherlock, Jr. (1924)
Director – Buster Keaton
This silent comedy starring director Buster Keaton, is about two poor men vying with each other for the love of a beautiful girl, who they both want to marry. One of her suitors is the bad guy, and the other is good. When the bad guy steals from the girl’s father to give her a gift and blames it on the good guy, the good guy offers to solve the crime, but is banished. Eventually the girl finds out who the real thief is and makes up with the good guy. Although the film received a lukewarm response at the time, it has since gone on to be considered as a classic.

Seventh Heaven (1927)
Director – Frank Borzage
Starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell, this movie is based on a Broadway play which was very popular in the 1920s. It is a sweet romance about how love blooms in unusual ways. When a poor man claims that a pretty girl is his wife, to save her from her sister and the police, they are forced to keep up the charade. Which means they have to live as husband and wife although they barely know each other. The story is about how they slowly but surely fall in love with each other, and how the impending war affects their relationship.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)
Director – Rex Ingram
This family drama, which has traces of supernatural towards the end, tells the story of a family, revolving around the four men in it – the grandfather, his two sons-in-law, and his grandson. The grandfather is the one holding the family together and after his death the sons-in-law return to their respective homelands, one to France, the other Germany. The story follows the life of the grandson, with the Great War providing the backdrop for the story. Considered as one of the earliest anti-war film, it received critical acclaim as well as commercial success. The tango sequence in the movie is famous.

The Gold Rush (1925)
Director – Charles Chaplin
The Tramp is caught in a fight between a prospector and a fugitive, while on his way to the Klondike Gold Rush. In the fight, the prospector receives a blow to the head and develops amnesia, while the fugitive dies. After the Tramp reaches the town, decides to stop prospecting, and falls in love with a saloon girl, the previous prospector asks him to help him search for his claim. They are successful, and the movie ends with the Tramp becoming rich, and romancing the saloon girl. It is one of the highest grossing silent movies, and largely considered by critics as the best of Chaplin.

The Birth of a Nation (1915)
Director – D. W. Griffith
A drama set against the backdrop of the Civil War, it documents the relations between two families – the Camerons from the South, and the Stonemans from the North. The movie shows how the war tears friends and family apart. It follows their struggle through the Civil War, as well as the Reconstruction Era. But all’s well that ends well, and finally, friends and lovers are reunited for a happy ending. This is considered to be a technically sound and technologically advanced movie for its time, although there is a racist undertone to it. Upon release, it caused quite a furor in many places, with riots and murders taking place. But in spite of all this the film is one of the highest grossing of all time.

Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Director – Sergei Eisenstein
This movie starring Vladimir Barsky and Grigori Aleksandrov, tells the story of the 1905 Russian mutiny that occurred on the battleship called Potemkin. It is one of the earliest and best propaganda films in the history of cinema, and in 1958, at the Brussels World’s Fair, it was declared as the ‘greatest film of all time’. The story tells of the rebellion of the crew of the battleship against the Tsarist regime officers. The rebellion brought on a street demonstration. The Odessa steps sequence, where the civilians are massacred indiscriminately by the police, is famous.

Metropolis (1927)
Director – Fritz Lang
Starring Gustav Fröhlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Brigitte Helm and Alfred Abel, the movie is set in 2026 in a dystopian society, where there exists a wide chasm between the rich class and the worker class. The son of the Master of the City falls in love with a common girl, and the movie follows him as he tries to find out her identity and bridge the socioeconomic gap between the two classes. The film was hailed as a pioneer in technical and visual effects. Although the story failed to impress and generated a lukewarm response from the masses, it is still considered as one of the greatest silent films to be made.

The Mark of Zorro (1920)
Director – Fred Niblo, Theodore Reed
The movie stars Douglas Fairbanks as a rich man who poses as the masked Zorro, to stand up for the commoners in his town. He is their savior, and materializes whenever there seems to be wrong going on somewhere, and stamps his sign ‘Z’ on the face of the wrongdoer. There is, of course, romance involved, and when not posing as Zorro, he is Don Diego Vega, who is courting a beautiful girl. When his lady love’s family is being troubled, Don Diego reveals his identity and saves them. The movie has a dose of comedy as well, and it won the hearts of audiences when it was released.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Director – Carl Dreyer
Starring Maria Falconetti and Eugène Silvain, this movie is an account of the time when Joan of Arc was held as a captive by the English on the charges of heresy. Jeanne d’Arc was a young French woman who guided the French army in the Hundred Year’s War, and emerged victorious in many battles. The plot of this silent movie revolves around the trial of this brave woman, who refuses to stray from her claim that she was guided by God through dreams. She refuses to change her belief about it in the face of the many tortures and the deceptions that she is put through. The final test is when she is told that she will be burned at the stake if she doesn’t change her claims, and although initially she signs a confession out of fear, she later resiles and is given a public execution. It is listed in the top 100 and also as the most influential movie of all time.

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Director- Rupert Julian
Starring Mary Philbin, and Lon Chaney the movie is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Gaston Leroux. The movie had a pretty successful run, thanks in part to the climax which had been changed to cater to the taste of the audience. The scene when the lead actress unmasks the phantom, earned the movie the 52nd spot on Bravo’s ‘100 Scariest Movie Moments’.