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Monday, June 30, 2003

Matrix Reloaded 

Just a real quick one - to keep Matt happy.

Matrix Reloaded, what the hell is this movie about? I dunno. Watching it I felt like I was back in calculus class, about three weeks behind, and facing exams. I usually have no problem with movies talking down to me, so long as it's reasonable; but the Matrix Reloaded (when was it unloaded?) really really really places itself as super-duper self-important.... except, of course, for the real stupid fight/chase scenes. Well, anyway, who cares? Not me so much, so now I'll blast away blogging the film in my mind which was probably a lot better than the real deal.

I'm a gonna guess that the theme was set up with the only good line early in the whole two hours, when Morpheus says something like "the reason why we're here is not because we always obey the rules" or something like that (it wasn't that good anyway.) In the climax, the television room scene shows that there are probably at least a thousand different outcomes for every decision we make. If five or six of these outcomes will be horrible, then we need to accept the odds and continue on. If we remain paralyzed waiting for the perfect alignment of everything; we'll never get anything done. So go ahead, and try, something, anything; for without the freedom to screw up, what do you got to loose that's so scary great anyway?

So that's the motivation behind the Matrix Reloaded, I'm guessing. Who knows, maybe I'm wrong - but at least I tried.

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Sunday, June 29, 2003

Charlie's Angles & 28 Days. 

I recently got an invitation to submit a movie review to one of the local weekly newspapers - Terminal City; so yesterday I went to see both Charlie’s Angles and 28 Days in hopes of having something interesting to say about one of them. Well, sorry, neither offers much except for an uncanny ability to be uncontroversial, slick, and shallow... so I'm going to just lump them together here.

Charlie’s Angles is kinda fun to watch, but the characters seem to find each other a lot cuter/funnier/more interesting than the action suggests. Also, the rules of their world don't hold true, and I was constantly dropping out of the story to try to figure out the changing virtual landscape. Sometimes a person can cheat gravity, or death; and other times not. All in all, I did what most are supposed to do - picked my favorite angel (Lucy), ignored everything but her posing sexy for the camera, and wasted money.

After the angles, I snuck into 28 Days, which I hoped would be more my style. It's directed by the same guy who made Trainspotting – yay - but involves his partner in crime from that horribly wrong "The Beach" disaster. Well, it seems that they've grown up a little, but not yet all the way. Again, the rules of the world shift, and the themes were vague. I think it has something to do with everything must pass, even evil; and the best course of action is to be patient. Perhaps. But overall what I felt after it ended was more like wanting to kill every single panhandler between the theater and my home.

These are the kinds of movies that don't really say anything, but instead scream: "Look at Me!" Well, okay, I did; so what? Why bother? Trying to take them seriously makes being a film critic seem quite idiotic.

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Thursday, June 26, 2003

Drama terms. 

Before we get too deep into scene and character analysis; let’s go over some terms. Characters have objectives and obstacles. What I really like is when they're ramped right up in competition with each other. Jim Carey is excellent in bringing them both out strong (had the same drama teacher as I did, see previous blog); example: Liar Liar. Jim wants to lie, Jim cannot lie. Eventually one side must win; but by then the battle itself has become the show. A more complex version of this effect: Memento. The main character cannot remember the past. The catch is; he doesn't want to remember it either. (By the way, how Buddhist a message is that in Memento in regards to clinging to the past. How much was his, and our, life made up of an endless series of minute deaths?)

Two more words for today: substitution and subtext. These are common terms for actors and good writers. Substitution is when something (or someone) is endowed with meaning by a character, and a relationship is formed. "Money loves me, it really does". "Blogging is my life". "I hid with uncomfortable hunk of metal up my ass for two years". In a good scene, the characters have attitude about everything - the bartender, the drunks, the ex-wife, the best buddy, the neighbors, the goddamn xyx's. Even apathy is an attitude, so long as it motivates the characters - just look around, yeah you! Or if you prefer, use that guy in Scorsese's After Hours. The other sub-, subtext, is similar but it works in speech. All characters practice subtext. All people practice subtext. I have conversations with people thousands of miles away, all day. Only the bus driver, and I, think it's about having the right change.

So there ya go: Objectives, obstacles, substitutions, and subtext. Look for these, and use them in storytelling and you're on your way to making movies that motivate. You'll see them come up in future blogs, why not send me some terms or examples of your own?

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Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Shyamalan  

I've been getting a little feedback about my ability to condense a film into just one or two words describing its motivation. This skill was taught to me by Ivana Chubbuck when she used to run a branch of her acting school here in Vancouver. Every scene, every story, every action has motivation. Discovering that motivation is the goal of the audience. Instilling motivation is the duty of the filmmakers, crew, and actors.

To quickly run through one or two: M. Night Shyamalan stunned me with The Sixth Sense. Why? Because it tapped so deeply into the roots of Tibetan Buddhism - to let go, to accept death and loss, to transcend fear. The young boy sees the world as populated with dead people. Real dead people? Yes. But also it suggests the living dead, and how all of us have died along the way. Everyone takes parts of us, with their selfishness; and there is no way around it. It's hard to watch, because we all want to do something to make it not true. The child suffers, the child grows, the child struggles to hold on to his innocence. The motivation is to look inwards, find the child, and console.

In a fantastic turn, Shyamalan went on to write/direct the exact opposite motivation in his next film UnBreakable (Great website, by the way!). Here we have a character who doesn't know he's alive, but believes that he's dead. The message here is of ability, strength, possibility. Even the evil villain seethes with affirmation. These two films (Signs really sucked) combine to make a remarkable series in understanding how movies that motivate work.

On the note of strength, I'd like to recommend The Perfect Storm. As with WindTalkers, it's one of the many movies I recommend over the critics, The Perfect Storm was completely about trying; and facing adversary. There's a line at the end, spoken by Mark Wahlberg, that completely *BAM* hits home and completes an otherwise floundering movie (I'm not going to spoil it for you.) Here is an example of a theme brought so strong to the forefront that even an otherwise sloppy movie can really shine.

It's also a good example how the same motivation can be expressed in quite different ways. In UnBreakable it's subtle, in The Perfect Storm over the top. Both films energize and inspire us to try, with all our might, to rise up - at least physically. Anyways, I've got to run, ya'll let me know if you want a blog on anything specific, k?

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Monday, June 23, 2003

WindTalkers 

Has anyone seen WindTalkers? I did, even though most of the critics warned against it. Well once again they were quite wrong. I'm not going to go into detail over the plot, the execution (puns intended), or the acting - only that I was completely stunned by the reverence that it showed to what I'm going to guess is the real issue facing soldiers in duty. I bought an actual copy from the video store and saw it for the second time a little while ago; and noticed that although it was obvious and upfront about the story and subplots, the first time through I was lost in the emotion and didn't notice all the subtle mirroring and character developement in such a small space as a battlefield. I really don't want to ruin it for you (actually, I'd like to I'm just too damn tired) so I'm just going to say that it is a very rare movie indeed - for who would expect that in such a dark, heavy, dreary environment (fatigued soldiers "watching" each others backs ominously) would you find a movie that actually motivates us to care?

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The HULK 

I was very excited to see The HULK. I heard them discuss it on the Howard Stern show a day before the release. They got to see an advance special screening. In my opinion, his crew lives in a state of heightened awareness; so their experience watching movies is usually more on an emotional level than intellectual. Of course, they are also highly opinionated and sometimes that gets in the way.

The Stern show that day was great - all of them wound up nicely; and the direction took a very dark and dangerous turn. Not before long, Howard had everyone voting on who should be fired (even if they were absent), voting on who was/n’t liked, and yelling at people who called in even though they were just pushing his buttons. Howard’s anger is often the most fascinating and creative kind, a cold and logical one.

During the screening, once the lights went off, a strange person snuck-in and managed to sit beside Howard. No one knew who he was, but due to the security and exclusivity of the event they all assumed that someone else invited him. Howard couldn’t stop thinking about him, and SARS; and began his old OCD by washing his hands with his little bottle of antibiotic fluid; wanting to break out of the theatre but not being able. Robin & Mister "X" sat behind Howard and fumed for much of the show – not liking the slow pace and restrained tangents – so much so that Howard was afraid to turn around.

This experience is a familiar feature for this film and I can tell you it was repeated and amplified again when I went with my friend. The motivation of The HULK is pretty clear, and people all over the theatre were angry and blurting out comments, while other's ssshhh'ing them, some laughing at it, and the remainder tensing up. There is no doubt that The HULK motivates towards frustration and wanting to smash. I was especially drawn to the story by the fact that The HULK’s father was directly responsible for making his son both hostile to the world and unable to express himself. This is the combination that produces rage, and intrigued me. Unfortunately, The HULK doesn’t follow this logic throughout the movie and ends up leaving the audience unsatisfied. Anger must resolve itself, both the hot and cold aspects of it united and smoothed out, and transcended; in order to be interesting. There are quite a few short-cuts taken by the movie, after opening up the topic for analysis - and as I’ve said before, the movie that I made up in my head to fill in the blanks was much better than the movie I saw.

All that said, it is a tremendous feeling to watch a green, raging, disfigured giant take on the world and feed on violence. I’m going back, this time with lowered expectations, and a big cynical smile on my face.

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Friday, June 20, 2003

Who am I? 

I'm a 38 year old Canadian struggling writer. If you want some links, you can also find my scriptwriting stuff here, my poetry here, and my political theory here. Here is my bio (spun) and here is what I'm really like.

Right now I'm in the Vancouver Film School's writing program, so I'm getting a shit's eye view of the birds. I'm dark, cynical, depressed; and probably should be doing anything but trying to break into the entertainment business (the worst people at giving advise are those who desperately want to). I guess that it's anger that propels me down this sick path. Much of the work I see appeals to the audience to like the writer; I'm not too sure that I give a damn anymore what most people think of me. As I've learnt from Ivana Chubbuck's class years ago; there are thousands of ways to "drop out of a scene". One of the most effective ways - and what annoys me more than anything else - is dishonesty: when people are afraid to express or understand themselves courageously. This whole media thing seems to attract that kind of energy nowadays in our artificial society. Spielberg (Minority Report), Shyamalan (Signs), Raimi (Spider-Man), Scorsese (Gangs of New York), Jonze (Adaptation) seem to be leading the charge in making movies that really have more to do with showing us all the reasons that *they* love them rather than showing us ourselves. It's an arrogance that seems to work well for the industry to make money and keep us coming back for more. Granted it's a fine line trying to divorce ourselves from our work, but in the end this mentality of "falling in love" with the artist over the art is short-term and unproductive.

I recently took a course from Stephen Simon about, what he calls, Spiritual Cinema. I thought that it would be something along the lines of Movies that Motivate, in that in order to appeal to the soul (spirit) it would need to penetrate the clinging and fetishizing that is so obvious and destructive. Stephen produced the movie "What Dreams May Come"; a long time favorite of mine, so I thought that the theme of letting go would surface in his workshop. It did, yes, but along with a ton of other new-age icons, idol worshipping, fear, and misplaced beliefs. I posted some of my comments to their discussion board. You can read them here.

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Thursday, June 19, 2003

Here goes... 

While it's true that over the years news programming has moved more and more towards entertainment, how much has the entertainment taken the initiative (and opportunity) do lean itself towards more "real" plotlines in their stories? The reason that the news has become so much faster, so much snazzier and energetic, is because that's what's effective in reaching their audience. Why? Because it's simply mirroring the way that we think - not so much live, as think we live. Ideas connect, and disconnect faster and faster in our times; what used to be cool is quickly obsolete. Conflicts rise and fall at an alarming rate. Heroes become villains, and villains heroes between the morning paper and the late edition. Decisions need to... well, you get the idea.

So where does that leave the film and television industry? It leaves them puzzling over special effects, hype, status, clichés, and shock value. All kinds of words apply here - self-indulgence, myopic, pornographic, shallow, dull, dreadful, idiotic, simple, formulaic - the list goes on and on. We all know it, have all accepted it, and all support it with our hard-earned dollars. Why? Because in our minds is a fantastic newsreel of interesting twists and turns, chivalry, altruism, epic battles, and subtle defiance in the face of overwhelming odds. This is our life, the way each of us sees it. And when we watch a movie we put all these themes into it. We feel for the characters, and essentially, we enjoy most the movies that make our own struggles resonate; so we don’t feel so alone as we trek our way through life. (This is an interesting rant on my idea of Buddhism - one that suffering is not so unbearable as the idea that we suffer alone – which I may pursue in future blogs if there is any request to do so.)

Yet what usually happens? How many of the time, after the movie is over and the lights come on, do we kinda shrug our shoulders and head back into the world without an ounce of motivation? How long can we spin the television dial without any signal at all trying to get us off our asses and do something energetic with our time?

That’s what this blog is not going to be about. I’ll try to avoid going on for too long about the misery that is most of the entertainment coming at us. Instead, I’ll be highlighting those movies that actually make a difference in our lives; those times when after the lights come on we actually feel different about ourselves, and some part of us screams to be let out. These movies come in all different flavors; from highly stylized (Memento, Koyaanisqatsi, Fight Club, Pleasantville, Matinee, Bound, Hair, 6th Sense, Manufacturing Consent, Breaking the Spell, You are a Target Market) to special effects (Crouching Tiger / Hidden Dragon, What Dreams May Come, Matrix, Forest Gump, Walking with Dinosaurs) to traditional (BackBeat, Swept From the Sea, The Velocity of Gary, Mississippi Masala, Jerry McGuire, Fluke, American Beauty, Fearless, A Long Nights Journey Into Day, Thin Red Line, Casualties of War, Indochine, Kippur, Liar Liar, My Fellow Americans, Ed Wood, Permanent Midnight, Max). Please let me know if you’d like me to blog any of these, or suggest your own.

What unites all these motivational movies is that they are able to stir something up in us and leave us with a desire to take a message into the world. I remember sitting in a run-down bar on Khao San Road in Bangkok, along with many other tourists, expats, staff, and local Thais; all watching a pirate copy of Fight Club on a busted cdrom player; all of us slowly inflating our balls and posing and sizing each other up as the film went along. It’s no wonder that actual Fight Clubs started because of the film. Who after didn’t feel the desire to smack our head into someone’s fist as hard as it’ll go? The message in that movie is that physical pain is nothing compared to mental pain; so why be so afraid? And The Matrix: In a world where the only difference between real humans and robots (or zombies) is that living beings can actually die; who doesn’t feel like seeing how a bullet “tastes” after watching that movie? After watching Liar Liar; I wanted to try just telling the truth. Forest Gump... running. All these different desires coming straight from the movies.

So good or bad, motivational movies leave us with something, the courage to be real; and a feeling like it’s okay to do something most people are terrible afraid to even consider – let alone ever try. In these difficult times when most of the information coming at us is to blame and disconnect, motivational movies serve a very important role in inspiring, suggesting, reinforcing, and encouraging us to look forward; and in keeping the industry alive.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Very first blog! 

Worked too hard today, too damn exhausted to blog; going to watch tv instead. What are the odds that I'll find anything on that motivates me, or even helps me feel like I've got a place in the world?

I'll hopefuly be catching the HULK this friday and will blog it.

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