Awesome film criticism

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Malice
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Awesome film criticism

Postby Malice » Mon Nov 30, 2009 7:58 am UTC

Okay, so this is probably one of the film-nerdiest threads possible in this forum, but maybe somebody else is interested. I came across two different essays tonight (by the same author) which redefined the way I viewed two different movies.

This one suggests an ingenious reading of Kill Bill as a Buddhist text in which the main character defeats 5 symbolic "poisons" (or negative aspects of her ego) in order to attain enlightenment. I find the theory not only fascinating but pretty scientifically viable, since like any good hypothesis it explains phenomena previously mysterious (for example, why Tarantino hides the Bride's name, and why he reveals it when he does).

This one is a reaction to the wide-spread critical consensus that Se7en is a nihilistic, pointless, hopeless movie; it argues very thoroughly that the film argues very thoroughly against its protagonist's professed philosophy of apathy. It's something of an inversion of the surface ideas most people leave the movie with, and although the author doesn't really get into it, his theory brings new meaning to a lot of small moments as well.

I thought we could discuss those articles, and leave this thread as a place to post interesting film criticism, perhaps pieces that changed the way you thought about a movie.
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Re: Awesome film criticism

Postby tzvibish » Mon Nov 30, 2009 10:14 pm UTC

Unrelated to the articles you posted, I've been trying to find a good source of criticism like the kind you mention that deal with kids/animated movies. I recently watched coraline and was mesmerized by its obvious messages and themes. Childrens' movies don't have to be very subtle in their messages, and I find the messages to be pretty satisfying for the most part. Partnered with great art direction and screenplay, and you've got a great pedagogical tool.
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Re: Awesome film criticism

Postby Malice » Mon Nov 30, 2009 10:57 pm UTC

Kids movies don't really see a lot of scrutiny, do they? Here's something, though: The House Next Door recently did a week of Pixar articles, examining the different films and the studio as a whole. You can find a list of them here.
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Re: Awesome film criticism

Postby folkhero » Tue Dec 01, 2009 4:40 am UTC

I'm really getting into film criticism, so I'm going to check out those links in a little bit.

I think my favorite work of film criticism is Roger Ebert on "The Birth of a Nation," to be found here.
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Re: Awesome film criticism

Postby tzvibish » Tue Dec 01, 2009 9:31 pm UTC

Malice wrote:Kids movies don't really see a lot of scrutiny, do they? Here's something, though: The House Next Door recently did a week of Pixar articles, examining the different films and the studio as a whole. You can find a list of them here.


That list of articles looks frikin' amazing. I plan on plowing through that momentarily. Thanks for the heads up!
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Re: Awesome film criticism

Postby Various Varieties » Wed Dec 02, 2009 3:47 am UTC

Ah, The House Next Door. I really enjoyed its Pixar week, too. I only discovered the blog recently when I was on a post-Wire web search binge (when I could finally search for stuff about it without fear of spoilers). This post on the programme's opening credit sequences is magnificent (one of the show's producers replies in the comments! And is quickly followed by David Simon!). Continuing the analysis of The Wire's opening credits, this site did a series of video essays on them.

As for film criticism, I can't decide whether Ted Goranson's (tedg on IMDB) reviews of films via his "folding" theory represent the most innovative revolution in movie studies ever, or are just utterly insane. Either way, there's always something fascinating about them... even if it's sometimes uncomfortably similar to the way Ulillillia is fascinating.

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Re: Awesome film criticism

Postby Malice » Wed Dec 02, 2009 6:50 am UTC

Various Varieties wrote:As for film criticism, I can't decide whether Ted Goranson's (tedg on IMDB) reviews of films via his "folding" theory represent the most innovative revolution in movie studies ever, or are just utterly insane. Either way, there's always something fascinating about them... even if it's sometimes uncomfortably similar to the way Ulillillia is fascinating.


A cursory examination indicates that he seems to have independently discovered post-modernism.
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Re: Awesome film criticism

Postby tzvibish » Thu Dec 03, 2009 7:32 pm UTC

I've been reading a lot of those articles from Pixar Week, and it's making me want to become a film critic!
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Re: Awesome film criticism

Postby tzvibish » Fri Dec 04, 2009 1:36 pm UTC

The more I think about the articles posted in the Pixar Week, and the more I think about how politically oriented the opinions tend to be, I've determined that instead of being consistent with one political viewpioint, it makes more sense to play both sides of the fence in a movie about morals.

Finding Nemo is a perfect example of this, having both community and individual aspects to the main plot. On the one hand, the father strikes out, with confidence that he will be able to persevere and overcome obstacles with his own persistence and intellect. On the other hand, we see that the entire ocean comes together to see that Nemo gets home safely. Everyone can find a path to the message the writers want to give you, and the movie becomes infinitely more accessible to more people.

This is something that is much easier to do in an animation medium because you can be realistically flexible with the story without coming off as obvious.
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Re: Awesome film criticism

Postby Malice » Fri Dec 04, 2009 8:12 pm UTC

tzvibish wrote:The more I think about the articles posted in the Pixar Week, and the more I think about how politically oriented the opinions tend to be, I've determined that instead of being consistent with one political viewpioint, it makes more sense to play both sides of the fence in a movie about morals.

Finding Nemo is a perfect example of this, having both community and individual aspects to the main plot. On the one hand, the father strikes out, with confidence that he will be able to persevere and overcome obstacles with his own persistence and intellect. On the other hand, we see that the entire ocean comes together to see that Nemo gets home safely. Everyone can find a path to the message the writers want to give you, and the movie becomes infinitely more accessible to more people.

This is something that is much easier to do in an animation medium because you can be realistically flexible with the story without coming off as obvious.


That's pretty cool, I hadn't thought of that before. But I think the synthesized idea is clear in the climactic scene (where Nemo, his dad, and Dory all save the giant net full of fish): a community can work together to achieve great things, but only when inspired by a leader. Nemo tells them all to swim down together; the fish in the tank are inspired by his bravery to find their own way out; and it's the love and courage of Nemo's father that inspires the ocean to work together to bring the two fish back together. I think that's very much in keeping with the idea of a movie as a collaborative process which is still led by one dominant artistic personality.
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Re: Awesome film criticism

Postby Pansori » Sun Dec 06, 2009 7:44 am UTC

Malice wrote:Okay, so this is probably one of the film-nerdiest threads possible in this forum, but maybe somebody else is interested. I came across two different essays tonight (by the same author) which redefined the way I viewed two different movies.

This one suggests an ingenious reading of Kill Bill as a Buddhist text in which the main character defeats 5 symbolic "poisons" (or negative aspects of her ego) in order to attain enlightenment. I find the theory not only fascinating but pretty scientifically viable, since like any good hypothesis it explains phenomena previously mysterious (for example, why Tarantino hides the Bride's name, and why he reveals it when he does).



That is a good article, but I just don't think Tarantino thought that deeply into it (nothing against him). That the author got that much out of it is great, though, and an interesting way of looking at the film. Still, I think something should be said about movies that the writers really did mean to tell a deeper story once you get beyond the surface: Bagger Vance being a modern day tale of the Bhagavad Gita and Jacob's Ladder and its parallels with the Tibetan Book of the Dead are good examples.

As to film criticism, I have to admit I've never gone beyond reading Ebert, Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum (on a regular basis).Ebert and Gleiberman I thoroughly enjoy, but I think Schwarzbaum is one of the worst critics out there.

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Re: Awesome film criticism

Postby Malice » Sun Dec 06, 2009 8:39 am UTC

Pansori wrote:
Malice wrote:Okay, so this is probably one of the film-nerdiest threads possible in this forum, but maybe somebody else is interested. I came across two different essays tonight (by the same author) which redefined the way I viewed two different movies.

This one suggests an ingenious reading of Kill Bill as a Buddhist text in which the main character defeats 5 symbolic "poisons" (or negative aspects of her ego) in order to attain enlightenment. I find the theory not only fascinating but pretty scientifically viable, since like any good hypothesis it explains phenomena previously mysterious (for example, why Tarantino hides the Bride's name, and why he reveals it when he does).



That is a good article, but I just don't think Tarantino thought that deeply into it (nothing against him).


It's entirely possible that he didn't; the article suggests that it was probably Uma Thurman's influence, since she helped create the story and is very familiar with Buddhist teachings.
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Re: Awesome film criticism

Postby Jorpho » Sun Dec 06, 2009 5:11 pm UTC

The only really insightful criticism that I can recall slogging through is Corporate Mofo on The Matrix Reloaded:
http://corporatemofo.com/media_and_medi ... orpor.html

But of course The Matrix films have been done thoroughly to death already.

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Re: Awesome film criticism

Postby tzvibish » Mon Dec 07, 2009 4:43 pm UTC

So, while we're on the Pixar thing, I saw the Incredibles (it was on TV Sat. night on NBC) for the third time. After reading up on all the subtle social commentary that Pixar builds its movies on, I couldn't help but notice little things in the movie now.

1) Once I read that the first half of this movie was a word-for-word knockoff of Watchmen, I noticed it this time. Not sure how they got away with that. It's pretty flagrant.

2) I'm still not sure how the writers wanted the audience to feel about Syndrome. On the one hand, he is to be pitied. He's socially inept, he lives by himself on an island, and he has stupidly grandiose visions of his own self worth that we can't help but laugh at. On the other hand, he has ruthlessly murdered countless "supers" and has no qualms about destroying the Parr family, and even taking their infant hostage to achieve that goal. This leads me to believe that this was simply a badly-written character. In the end, we're faced with dual images of Syndrome. One of him epically failing his plan with the robot and slamming into a building, and the other of him holding Jack-jack with a look not unlike Jack Nicholson in the Shining. It's confusing, and takes away from the movie.

2) This point has been brought up before in reviews, but it bears repeating. The lesson we seem to learn from Syndrome is that if aren't a "super", trying be a super will only lead to megalomania. The only people that are super are the ones that are born with it. everyone else kinda bumbles along and waits for the supers to do the real saving. If you aren't one, well, sorry. You're doomed to a life of mediocrity. And the writers made this a central theme, voiced by both Dash and Syndrome and the beginning and end of the movie, respectively. If everyone is special, nobody is. This is not a great family theme, and I'm surprised they went with it. It's teaching the audience to be satisfies with mediocrity, because if you were special, you'd know by now.

3) There's a very subtle commentary in the end-battle with the robot that slipped by me until this watching. The Parrs could not defeat the robot with their powers. They had to use Syndrome's remote to launch the claw into itself (Mr. Incredible couldn't even throw it himself. He needed the claw's rockets to propel it). I'm not sure what to make of this. Does this mean that syndrome ultimately wins the fight? There's a lot of paths that could go down, and I'm curious if anyone had the same thought.

4) My wife mentioned to me that it was kind of disturbing to see the plot of man-cheating-on good-family in a kids movie. Ok, it didn't actually happen, but the setting was there, the wife thought it was happening and accused Bob of doing it. And the truth is that it is pretty heavy for a kids movie. Then I realized something cool. It was never actually mentioned. The writers never actually come out and say that anyone is thinking about cheating with another woman. It is foreshadowed, hinted, and pointed at, but the subject is never broached. Even when husband and wife confront each other on the island, and bob is hugging the evil mistress lady, it is a platonic hug of gratitude, and the fact that Mrs. Incredible doesn't see it that way is never explicitly voiced. This was ingenious. Every adult and mature preteen understands the pretext exactly, but the children in the room won't ever see Bob as being unfaithful to his wife. Just lying and misbehaving in general.

To conclude back to the Watchmen issue, the graphic novel had some seriously deep commentary about inherent ability and human relationships. The Incredibles tried to tackle these issues in a much lighter story (Muuuuuch lighter). I think a lot of it came through, but I also think that they got in over their head by trying to make Watchmen into a family movie.
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Re: Awesome film criticism

Postby Jorpho » Mon Dec 07, 2009 5:41 pm UTC

I think you're overthinking it a little. (You could probably work in a lot of crazy subtext into a lot of children's movies and stories if you wanted to.)

tzvibish wrote:1) Once I read that the first half of this movie was a word-for-word knockoff of Watchmen, I noticed it this time. Not sure how they got away with that. It's pretty flagrant.
This in particular. It goes along similar lines, but it's more like the other side of the same coin rather than a "flagrant knockoff". The impetus for banning superheroes in Watchmen was that the police went on strike en-masse because superheroes made it too difficult for the police to do their job; in The Incredibles, it was more like superheroes could not be held accountable for collateral damage. The world of The Incredibles seemed to have a lot more superheroes with genuinely dangerous and potentially destructive powers than the more realistic world of Watchmen, after all.

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Re: Awesome film criticism

Postby podbaydoor » Mon Dec 07, 2009 6:16 pm UTC

Wow, thank you for the House Next Door link - I'm having a blast reading these columns! I love the Pixar movies (the column about implicit "trust" placed in Pixar rang very true for me) so this is all very interesting.

@tzvibish: I was also pretty uncomfortable with The Incredibles casting the one non-super who aspired to extraordinariness as the villain. That said, I think they might have been trying to show that it wasn't his superpower or lack thereof that drove his actions, it was what he decided to do with his abilities that made him the villain. Syndrome could have done a great deal of good with his technology but chose instead to go on a murdering spree and try to take over the world. I read the overall message as the classic Spiderman one: those with powers have the responsibility to serve.
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Re: Awesome film criticism

Postby tzvibish » Mon Dec 07, 2009 9:45 pm UTC

Jorpho wrote:I think you're overthinking it a little. (You could probably work in a lot of crazy subtext into a lot of children's movies and stories if you wanted to.)

tzvibish wrote:1) Once I read that the first half of this movie was a word-for-word knockoff of Watchmen, I noticed it this time. Not sure how they got away with that. It's pretty flagrant.
This in particular. It goes along similar lines, but it's more like the other side of the same coin rather than a "flagrant knockoff". The impetus for banning superheroes in Watchmen was that the police went on strike en-masse because superheroes made it too difficult for the police to do their job; in The Incredibles, it was more like superheroes could not be held accountable for collateral damage. The world of The Incredibles seemed to have a lot more superheroes with genuinely dangerous and potentially destructive powers than the more realistic world of Watchmen, after all.


Well, I meant more in tone and style than in straight up plot, but I see your point. The way they make everything very retro (Ayn Rand Atlas Shrugged-ish) with the imagery in those scenes, and the scenes of chaos and general anarchy. I felt I was reading Watchmen all over again.
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Re: Awesome film criticism

Postby folkhero » Sat Dec 12, 2009 5:36 am UTC

tzvibish wrote:
tzvibish wrote:1) Once I read that the first half of this movie was a word-for-word knockoff of Watchmen, I noticed it this time. Not sure how they got away with that. It's pretty flagrant.

Well, I meant more in tone and style than in straight up plot, but I see your point. The way they make everything very retro (Ayn Rand Atlas Shrugged-ish) with the imagery in those scenes, and the scenes of chaos and general anarchy. I felt I was reading Watchmen all over again.

If it was only the tone and style that were very similar, the expression "word-for-word knockoff," is a very poor choice of words. That expression has a much stronger meaning than just having the same feel.
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Re: Awesome film criticism

Postby Various Varieties » Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:00 pm UTC

tzvibish wrote:4) My wife mentioned to me that it was kind of disturbing to see the plot of man-cheating-on good-family in a kids movie. Ok, it didn't actually happen, but the setting was there, the wife thought it was happening and accused Bob of doing it. And the truth is that it is pretty heavy for a kids movie. Then I realized something cool. It was never actually mentioned. The writers never actually come out and say that anyone is thinking about cheating with another woman. It is foreshadowed, hinted, and pointed at, but the subject is never broached.

IIRC, in the commentaries and storyboarded deleted scenes they mention that that plot point was originally going to be made a bit more explicit, with Helen's fears expressed in a nightmare sequence.


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