Monday, December 30, 2013

Yo Movies, what gives?!

This post, like my Twilight post from last year, will be different than my normal spiel and perhaps a little controversial. I have been just a bit behind this month and I apologize. Since my last post on November 1st I have moved to a new location and position with my job (which happens to be a movie theater company and now is our busiest season) and then there was holiday madness. Alas though, I return to post a December entry just in the St.-Nick-of-time before the month (and year) comes to a close.

I am still behind on a few films from this holiday season that I would like to see. There have been so many! But There are two that I was supremely looking  forward to that left a slight air of disappointment that I would like to discuss: Frozen and The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

Disclaimer: I still loved both of these movies , but I would have loved them more if they had done two very important things… Taken their time developing (Frozen), and not giving into cultural pressure (Smaug).

Maybe Frozen should have been called Rush instead of Ron Howard’s film from the late summer. Frozen was fantastic. As a Disney nerd, I loved it and it hit all the high points and definitely knocked the musical segments out of the park. But one area it failed in was pacing and development. It was WAY too rushed. When the resolution of the film was happening, it was like I blinked and everything got summarized. Frozen is a fairy tale, but it’s a lot more complicated that many other films of its type. It needed more time to unfold the character and plot arcs. 

Pretty much all the characters were well rounded and developed, except for the one whom the story’s origins spawned from, Elsa. I felt severely short-changed with her. She was definitely awesome and her “Let it Go” segment is a mesmerizing showstopper, but I felt her character was least developed and shallowest of them all. Frozen is based on "The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Andersen and I felt we didn’t get enough of "Snow Queen" in Frozen. Like the original tale, she isn’t the main protagonist but she is highly important and especially this version where she is the sister of the main protagonist. Being so closely knit they should have had equal screen time, but Elsa simply does a few really cool (yet flimsily explained) things and then at the end transforms and changes too quickly. I didn’t feel she really had time to grow and develop and realistically reach that point. She just kind of figures out, “Oh, love thaws frozen hearts, that’s all I gotta do” as if it’s that easy.

I wanted more of Elsa’s isolation, to see her more imprisoned in the castle she built herself. I wanted more of a struggle about her love for her sister versus her fear of hurting her. I personally liked that they didn’t make Elsa “get with” anyone because I feel like, even at the end of the film, Elsa was nowhere near ready to give her heart fully to someone. She had changed, but still had far to go in finding her own identity and her connections with other people. I loved that contrast between her and her sister- introvert and extrovert differences- and needing relationships desperately versus being afraid of them. Like the song the trolls sing “Fixer Upper,” it shows that we need the love of everyone around us to  round us out and help us grow, not just romantic love.

I know the goal of Disney was to tell a different fairy tale with this one, and in that they succeeded, but it just wasn’t quite enough. Everything felt abrupt at the end. What they should have done was acknowledged that yes, love does thaw frozen hearts and Elsa can do it, but she clearly can’t master that completely in one day and leave it on the hopeful note that someday she will.

I don’t know what it is about films these days, but I wish we would stop catering to the American ADHD epidemic. Stop rushing films! And saying it's a "kid's movie" is no excuse! I sat through long films when I was a kid, they can suck it up. The only reason they can't sit through them now is because we've spend the last 13 years training them to sit through a lot of short and shallow films. Many films  I have seen recently has felt rushed in some form or another and it really bothers me. What happened to just letting the film tell itself and not pandering to people’s attention spans? If they can’t sit through the movie, that’s their problem, but don’t short-change the rest of us who are hungry for a more. I want a substantial meal, not unsatisfying fast-food! And I think many people I know are starting to feel the same.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have The Hobbit films. A Trilogy that should only have been two films at the absolute most…

The beautiful Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel
I love Peter Jackon’s Middle Earth. The Lord of the Rings films (extended versions) are on my top favorite films of all time and  the story itself is my favorite story of all time.

Now, because of this, I still love The Hobbit films, but they too much reflect the modern culture and not enough reflection of Tolkien’s actual world. Let me explain…

Peter Jackson announced long ago he was inserting a female character into The Hobbit films. I actually liked her character and didn’t have a problem with her being in the films initially. The problem lies in the heart behind the decision. They added a female character because they felt that girls wouldn’t come to see the film if there wasn’t a strong female character.

This is stupid, and sorry to all you feminists out there, but to say that women need stories centered around women or that women can only relate to female characters is more sexist than anything I have ever heard. I like to think I am a pretty strong woman, and I loved The Hobbit throughout my whole life. I never needed it to be about women or have a female character in it to make me love it. I just loved the story and characters as they were. I have found personally that I usually relate to male characters more often anyway. Not because I am super masculine or anything, but simply a matter of interests and personality.

A lot of people say Tolkien was a sexist and his lack of women is proof. I just have to do a major *facepalm* because clearly people who say that know nothing about Tolkien. Ever heard of Arwen, Galadriel, Eowyn?? Yeah… you think many men could antagonize those three and live to tell about it? I doubt it! Eowyn killed the freaking Witch King! And Arwen and Galadriel are elven women, ‘nuff said.  

On a side note, are there truly any women who can take a look at the men of Middle Earth and complain? I mean come on ladies... ;-) 

But all this rubbish about girls needing to relate to a female character didn’t stop there… they went ahead and gave into to the pressures of our modern culture and forced a love triangle into the story. Now THIS is where I take huge issue. The movie would have been absolutely fine if they hadn’t given into this revolting fad that has infiltrated our young adult literature and just about every television show.

Now that being said, SOMETIMES love triangles do happen naturally, but most of the time they are just thrown in as a lame conflict builder or as a “Sex Sells” method where love triangles are done just for the sake of themselves, usually on television, to keep people watching. Now, I could take another blog entirely explaining my hatred for the love triangle culture, but for now I will just speak in the context of The Hobbit. It was absolutely unnecessary! This isn’t Twilight for goodness sake!

I feel degraded and sad that not only people think girls need this rubbish to be interested in a story, but that some girls DO fit this bill by perpetuating this crap and eating it up. I wish it would stop, but I fear it’s too late. I have to wonder how much of the whole forced love triangle bit in The Hobbit was actually Peter Jackson and how much of it was pressure put on from the producers and production companies wanting to make sure they cashed in big on this whole fad of young adult love triangles. Hmm…

So while I still loved Frozen and Desolation of Smaug, I am just frustrated that they had the problems they had, because it was stuff that could have been avoided and should have never been an issue. Want to add Tauriel to the story? Fine! She was pretty damn cool, but don’t make her into the next fodder for Twihards. Want to keep your animated film applicable to squirming youngsters as well as adults? Great! But don’t sell your story short. Something has gotta give!

Anyway, that's all for now. Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for Saving Mr. Banks and my top films of 2013! 

Rant ended.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Born Again ~ Gravity

Wow, Gravity... I could talk about this movie all day. It's a film that seems simple and quiet on the surface but there is so much going on underneath. This is MY kind of film because this one is 99% symbolism. What a cinematic feast!

First off, I am just happy to see another film by Alfonso Cuaron. He is so versatile and breathes so much life and meaning into everything he touches. He made a fantastic Harry Potter film (though it wasn't a great *adaptation* it was an exceptional *film* that stood on it's own two feet in the saga) and he also made Children of Men, which is an utter masterpiece and one of my favorite films of all time. I think Gravity and Children of Men are equally exceptional, just incredibly different so kind of like apples and oranges. Anyway, SO happy he came back with fire.

The main thing I want to discuss with Gravity is it's beautiful theme and symbolism. There are many small pieces all under the banner of one large theme: rebirth. The three acts in this film mirror the three stages of human life coming about: conception, growth, and finally the laborious delivery.

That was the point, for us, of the film. Adversities and the possibility of rebirth. And rebirth also metaphorical in the sense of gaining a new knowledge of ourselves.  
                                                        ~ Alfonso Cuaron

The early stages of the film involve Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) working with a team, more particularly Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). Matt is only in the film for a short time but when he is he's like a ray of sunshine. Literally, too, because often times when he is on screen you can see the sun's rays flare across the screen. His positive and encouraging nature is the perfect contrast to her distant, aloof persona. It's the coming together of the two opposite personalities, male and female, sun and moon, just as in conception. His encouragement and leadership as he shows her what to do and points out that she can do it, is the seed that impregnates her new outlook and decisions for the rest of the film.

My favorite moment and perhaps the deepest moment of symbolism is when Ryan is finally on her own. She barely makes it into the space station before running out of oxygen. She removes her space suit and in the simplicity of her form crawls into it's womb. Her entire body is relieved as oxygen fills her lungs and every pore. She closes her eyes and simply floats curling her body into a fetal position, soaking in this comfort and safety. The visuals in this moment are incontrovertibly obvious, and so beautiful. Tubes hang like an umbilical cord, light pours in through the circular airlock, all sound is muffled and hushed.

Ryan faces many hardships and struggles, after this, she is growing and transforming and though both of those are good things they are also painful. She not only lost her child, as we learn from a story about her past, but with her daughter's death she has killed much of herself....

We have a character that is drifting metaphorical and literally, drifting towards the void. A victim of their own inertia. Getting farther and farther away from Earth where life and human connections are. And probably she was like that when she was on planet Earth, before leaving for the mission. It's a character who lives in her own bubble. And she has to shred that skin to start learning at the end. This is a character who we stick in the ground, again, and learns how to walk.
                                                                        ~Alfonso Cuaron

I LOVED how space was used as such a layered setting and so specifically utilized. In the beginning they give facts about space and how life cannot survive in it. It's a place of, basically, death. Void of life. Void of anything. Ryan is a doctor, it doesn't make much sense that she would be with NASA unless having chosen to pursue it on her own. It's obvious why she chooses it, the solitude and the lack of connection. You can just close your eyes and drift away from all the chaos and hurt of life, but that's just it, you drift into the only place these things cannot be... a place void of life. Detached. Disconnected. 

I think this is also very obvious in the moment where she speaks to the Chinese operator over the radio. He is on Earth, you can hear his life happening in the background, the cries of his baby, the sounds of his world. You can see it in Ryan's face how hearing those sounds brings a pang to her, she remembers what life REALLY is. 

At her most hopeless moment, she turns off her oxygen, thinking there's no way of going back... of getting back, no point in going on. It is in this moment she is visited by an apparition of Matt. Though Matt is speaking, she is clearly talking to herself, reminding herself of things she already knows in her heart. This takes Matt's form because she also acknowledges who he was in his encouraging nature and how he put her life before his own. She sees now that she cannot waste what she was given by him, the chance that lay before her now to live again.

Labor begins when Ryan finally decides she wants to go home and wants to LIVE. The struggle of her descent burning through the atmosphere of the planet is so symbolic of birth. The fire, the pain, the hard push into life. She comes down to Earth and lands in water, a global symbol of life and being born again. Water is the one thing life needs to be fruitful and lush and she is baptized in it. Underwater she sheds her suit for a second time, this time to break free and surface back to life. As she crawls up from the shore, heavy from the weight of gravity, she glides through the mud and mire- the amniotic fluid of her rebirth. Shaky she stands to her feet and learns to walk again, her lungs filled with air that is from an organic source, she no longer bears the weight of her suit and gear. She is free and alive.

As I write, I am listening to the track "Shenzou" from the film's stunning soundtrack and remembering that ending while listening chokes me up and fills me with so much emotion. It reminds me of the feeling I get when I think about where I once was and the freedom and new life I too was given. Beautiful.

I am also reminded of another song, also bearing the name "Gravity" by one of my favorite artists, Vienna Teng. After I saw the film, her song immediately came to mind. I went home and listened to it and even the lyrics reminded me of Ryan and her journey, her relationship with Matt, and the place he had in her life. So in closing I will share the lyrics and the song right here. If you have not seen this film, please go see it and watch it with eyes open to so much more than just the enchanting visual display.

Vienna Teng

Hey love
Is that the name you're meant to have
For me to call

Look love
They've given up believing
They've turned aside our stories of the gentle fall

But don't you believe them
Don't you drink their poison too
These are the scars that words have carved
On me

Hey love
That's the name we've long held back
From the core of truth

So don't turn away now
I am turning in revolution
These are the scars that silence carved
On me

This the same place
No, not the same place
This is the same place, love
No, not the same place we've been before

Hey, love
I am a constant satellite
Of your blazing sun
My love
I obey your law of gravity
This is the fate you've carved on me
The law of gravity
This is the fate you've carved on me, on me...

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Small Screen, Big Picture: The Revolution

Hello dearies.

I am so sorry I have neglected my entry for August, but I can still get September’s in before the night on the month falls. My life has been kind of a chaotic mess, but on top of that there hasn’t been anything I’ve been  super passionate about writing about. There are a few films I’d like to see in theatres but, until November, it’s pretty dry.

What I’ve actually been preoccupied with is the small screen. The art of television.
I know because of the stupidity of what mostly inhabits television (reality shows, raunchy comedies and the like) it’s hard to remember that television is an art form, and a highly effective one at that. There seems to be a revolution going on in television these days and I love to see it happen! Shows are become greater in scale, imagination, and storytelling. Though there are still some hiccups (naturally) television has become a newly preferred method of storytelling. The scope and length in which a story can be told through television enables the utmost capability in character and plot development.

A lot of my most favorite shows have already ended. Alias, Lost, Chuck, Fringe, (a lot of one-word names now that I think about it), and some never got to fully blossom into amazingness due to premature cancellation like Pushing Daisies and of course, dear Firefly. For a while I wasn’t sure what I could get into next, then all of a sudden shows came flooding in out of nowhere and now I will actually have to schedule time to watch them over the next year. My husband and I enjoy it though, we like seeing a larger story unfold so we can get excited and talk about it while we cuddle on the couch. Bliss!

So now I am faced with a conundrum of too many small-screen tapestries being woven. Starting with number one….

#1 – ABC’s Once Upon a Time.

            Though I am behind on this show and only a third of the way through season two, I am amazed by how this show can, well, amaze me! I already did a blog post about Once, so I won’t go too much into the details again, but it might one day eclipse all and become my favorite show ever. The lovable and enchanting characters, the twists and turns, the moments you can't wait to see until they finally happen, it's all so wonderful. I love fairy tales, which creates and instant bias, but also there is nothing on right now that has this show’s poignant symbolism and hopeful message pulsing into the world. Most shows these days are existential and pessimistic about the trials we face in this world, but Once Upon a Time does exactly as G.K. Chesterton says: “Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

#2 – CBS’s Elementary

            Sherlock Holmes is always fun and I love the Robert Downey Jr. films to pieces. I know I am going to get very chastised for what I am about to say, but, oh well. 
            I was initially interested in watching BBC’s Sherlock because I love all the actors and it seemed really cool. However, I was highly disappointed when I found out how they treated the aesthetics of the characters. It’s all good to have some changes made, after all, Elementary made Watson a woman, but it did not change the aesthetic of the Watson character. In Sherlock, they turned Irene Adler into a dominatrix and a woman who controls people with sex. This is not at all like the Irene Adler in the original story. Irene does have a sultry nature and a seductive quality, but she would never turn her sensuality into a profession. In my opinion, she’s too intelligent for that. Elementary, however, keeps the aesthetics of the characters, though there are many changes made. It’s not a "re-telling" of Sherlock’s adventures, it’s putting the characters into modern day people and modern day settings and watching what they do. So to put it how my dear cousin (an expert on all things Sherlock Holmes) says, while BBC’s Sherlock is following the books, but it’s much further from the canon.

Elementary is a fabulous show. It’s incredibly smart and witty as you would expect, but it also delights in the equal, yet non-sexual, friendship/business relationship a man and woman are capable of having between Holmes and Watson. This show also does an incredible job of showing Holmes’ character in a more human light. He is exactly the man you would expect, but he has moments of vulnerability and his moral motivations are very much prominent as they ought to be. Johnny Lee Miller’s performance is phenomenal. We just finished season one and I can’t wait for what this sophomore season will bring!

#3 – CBS’s Person of Interest

            I already did a blog post about this show too, but I of course must mention it again. I am so refreshed by CBS’s show production quality. They keep things very adult, but they don’t feel like they have to go to the HBO/Showtime route of being explicitly gratuitous in every way. Their shows are very mature and sophisticated and far from the sell-out need to please the masses. I love this so much! Person of Interest is no exception. This thrilling show is akin to Elementary as far as a modern day duo being awesome and solving murders. They both take place in New York city too and feel as though they are in the same universe. Naturally, they are completely different stories, but they have the same heart.
            I have only seen season one of POI and we are going to start season two soon. Season three already started ahh!!! Gotta keep up!

#4 – ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

            As a Marvel lover, and Avengers banner waver I was so thrilled when the announced they were doing a show about S.H.I.E.L.D. and Joss Whedon was making it. Yes! But wait, Agent Coulson is alive?!? I wasn’t sure what to make of that. I mean he is one of my favorite characters and I was so sad when he died, but I didn’t want to see his death cheapened in any way. After watching the Pilot, I felt they did amazing job of justifying the fact that he was still alive and they worked it in perfectly. There is also a deal of mystery behind it too. I am happy to see Phil again and there's no way this show could have taken off without him. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is off to a pretty good and exciting start. I hope it stays that way because there is much potential.

#5 – Fox’s Sleepy Hollow

            This one is still up for debate. I watched the Pilot and the idea of the show is SO SO SO awesome. However, the execution of it was very sloppy. The plot was horribly rushed through. There’s so much going on here that this is something that cannot be rushed.
            The idea is that Ichabod Crane served in General Washington’s army and he died killing the man who would become the signature “headless horseman.” The Headless Horseman, we come to find, is actually one of four horseman representing the four horseman of the apocalypse. Ichabod is awakened by what seems to be magic (though we don’t know who from) in our present say 250 years later. With him, returns the horseman and then chaos resumes. He is found by a female police officer named Abigail Mills. By the end of the episode Ichabod suggests that the two of them were brought together for a reason and they are the two witnesses spoken of in the book of Revelation.

See what I mean? AWESOME idea! I am just annoyed that they blazed through that like the horseman riding toward his next kill. SLOW DOWN we will watch and listen if a good plot comes forth. I will still give this show a chance because it has so much potential, lets hope that like most shows it was just a rocky pilot.


And there you have it folks, the television menu for the next year. What I love seeing most is that the hunger of the people is being known. People want stories of epic hope in these troubled times we live in, times where the same, typical films and television are ceaselessly filling plates even when we do not wish to partake of them. Indeed there is nothing new under the sun, but there are things that are BETTER under the sun for us and from us. The people are hungry for righteousness and light conquering darkness, and hungry for hope and "dragon slaying." I see some “creatives” rising to the challenge and putting food on the table, and I so desperately want to be a part of that. I believe a cultural renaissance of the arts is coming and it will wash away the junk from these innovative tables. Until that day, I will continue to be inspired by the work of others such as these.

The spark is lit, the fire is spreading, it's only just begun.  

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Fear is in the Atmosphere ~ A Look at The Neverending Story

I haven't done a scene or theme analysis in a while, so I thought I would randomly throw a curve ball out there today.

As a young child my favorite movie was The Neverending Story. I even used to put necklaces over my head and wear white sheets to dress up like the childlike Empress. I have a hilarious memory of being in daycare (age 6) and bringing the film to share with everyone and watch. (Even then, I was passionate about films!) I presented my case, but the caretaker ignored me and said we were going to watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang instead. Now don't get me wrong, I liked that film too growing up, but I was so passionate about sharing my favorite movie that I ran off into a corner and sulked until my father came to pick me up after work.

While this is a film that definitely reeks of it's 1980s origin, with some points of bad acting (I personally could never stand Bastian or the Empress), some cheesy moments and terrible green-screen flying scenes, I still think it's a good film because it's got it where it counts... the heart. The themes and morals presented struck my heart even as such a young girl and I never forgot them.

I remember the huge pang I felt when Artax the horse dies. Not just because he dies, which is sad enough, but the manner in which he dies sinking into the Swamps of Sadness. The idea of losing hope and dying because you've given up is something that has always been unfathomable to a naturally hopeful person like me. Atreyu's character is bravery and hope personified, so watching him lose someone he loves to something so opposite his character- despair and sadness- was extra painful for me as a viewer. I think it was the first time a movie moved me to tears.

Atreyu's character is easily the best part of the movie. I didn't have a crush on him or anything, I simply admired him. He willingly laid aside his own life to journey for the good of all. He didn't know what that would entail or how high the cost would be, and he chose to lay down his weapons, leave everything behind, and go. Atreyu is such a strong symbol of hope... and often seems to be the only person who makes any logical sense in their whole silly world. Even after he lost his horse, and that stupid turtle Morla told him he shouldn't even bother trying to help Fantasia, he still trudged through the Swamps of Sadness and, even as he sank, he kept reaching upward, moving forward when all seemed hopeless. THAT is what I call a hero, pressing on toward the goal.

What I'd like to discuss in this post specifically though is the element of fear and how powerfully this film communicates that. My favorite scene, even though it terrifying as all hell, is the ending scene where Atreyu confronts Gmork, the creature who has been hunting him since the start of his quest. Gmork is a huge black wolf with some serious fangs and a desire to see "The Nothing" consume their world. He is the entity of darkness, despair, and defeat.

This scene is established with the element and atmosphere of fear to perfection. You already feel tension having known that Atreyu was being followed, but by this point you kind of forget because so many other events have taken place.

The final painting. I'd make that face too, kid!
Atreyu ends up alone, and wandering the last piece of his crumbling world. As he walks through the stony labyrinth he sees a series of paintings... paintings of himself. I remember being severely creeped out by those. They show every major event he encounters on his quest, including the death of his beloved Artax. He follows the paintings in a linear timeline until suddenly you see one of a huge, black wolf with bared fangs attacking...

Then, a grumble and a sharp blunt of abrasive music almost channeling Hitchcock's Psycho. Atreyu turns to find Gmork sitting, waiting for him in a cave. It gives me chills every time. When you build up an air of creepy uncertainty through subtle imagery, its far more horrifying to meet the end result.

Now as for me, I would have ran away screaming probably have gotten eaten in the process. But Atreyu sits down, as if he knew eventually this would happen, and the two begin a very intense dialogue. Gmork's voice, the manners in which he moves his mouth, and those glowing eyes scared me to death. He is definitely not a CGI creation but an animatronic, and that makes him ten times scarier in my opinion. I even read some funny comments on YouTube from men in their 30s saying Gmork still scares the crap out of them. Oftentimes a childhood fear carries strongest into adulthood and honestly, as a filmmaker, you want to inspire such unforgettable emotions.

Atreyu faces Gmork, a fanart. 
Even though I was afraid, I remember listening intently to the conversation. It completely enveloped me. I loved the themes and ideas expressed throughout, and also the fear of knowing that eventually they would have to stop talking and one would have to kill the other. Though faced with an obviously powerful adversary, Atreyu simply warns him, "I will not die easily, I am a warrior." In some ways Atreyu, a preteen with shiny, long hair, is more of a badass than half the grown men we see in contemporary cinema.

Gmork teases him about being a "brave warrior" and challenges him to fight The Nothing. Atreyu says he can't because he can't reach the boundaries of their world, as he's been trying to his whole quest. Gmork lets him know, Fantasia has no boundaries.

This truth shakes Atreyu... but he continues to listen. Gmork reveals, "Fantasia is the realm of human fantasy. Every part, every creature of it, is a piece of the dreams and hopes of mankind, therefore, it has no boundaries."

Atreyu: "Why is Fantasia dying then?"

Gmork: "Because people have begun to lose their hopes, and forget their dreams, so The Nothing grows stronger."

Atreyu: "What IS The Nothing?"

Gmork: "It's the emptiness that's left. It is like a despair destroying this world, and I have been trying to help it."

"BUT WHY?" asks Atreyu. Knowing that Gmork is also a product of Fantasia and must be bound to it's fate.

Gmork: "Because people who have no hopes are easy to control, and whoever has the control, has the power."

I love what happens next, because it isn't what you'd expect. Atreyu looks at Gmork with a face implying he doesn't buy Gmork's words at all. He asks, "Who are you really?"

Gmork: "I am the servant of the power behind The Nothing. I was sent to kill the only one, who could have stopped The Nothing. I lost him in the Swamps of Sadness. His name was Atreyu!"

During this conversation, The Nothing is breaking down the world around them. Atreyu falls backward and grabs a sharp rock.

Atreyu: "If we're about to die anyway, then I'd rather die fighting! Come for me, Gmork! I AM ATREYU!"

And that's how it's done. I really wish they could have had an epic battle, it feels like Atreyu kills him too easily. However, I do know that an epic battle with an animatronic in those days would have looked awful, so I am really glad they didn't.

The idea that mankind is losing their hopes and dreams is something that I've noticed since those days as a little girl sitting wide-eyed in front of my VCR. I felt a stirring in my soul to do something about it, and I realized that by promoting hopes, dreams, truth, love and grace in my films and writing was my way of battling "The Nothing" and evading our own Gmork, the enemy, who daily prowls around seeking those to devour.

I saw someone on YouTube say that The Neverending Story is "a delicious metaphor thinly disguised as a kid's movie." I completely agree. It's not an amazing movie by technical standards, but if you watch the film, especially as a child, simply to get the golden nuggets of wisdom and provocative thoughts, you will enjoy it far more. Since the whole film is about reading books and using your imagination, pick up the original book by German author Michael Ende while you're at it. German's definitely know their stuff when it comes to fairy tales.

Until next time!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

"They will join you in the sun." - Man of Steel

I have to laugh a little first, I think the reactions to this film are hilarious. So many people do not like it, and seem kind of outraged or something. I’m completely aghast, because it’s the first (and only) good Superman film out there in the world, but people just aren’t having it. I thought we wanted less cheese, more grit… and this film gives that, but now people are whining that there’s too much grit and not enough cheese! I guess filmmakers just can’t win!

Anyway, I’m choosing to write about this film because I personally loved it, even moreso on a second viewing. It is very different and a little weird to digest, it’s true. The pacing is odd, but I kind of liked that about it. It’s definitely not formulaic at all and the story isn’t told chronologically at times. I loved that they did this because even for those who know the story, it didn’t feel stale at all, you weren’t sure what to expect.

I also just have to give a shout out to Hans Zimmer for his AMAZING score. This is one of the best scores I’ve heard in a good while. It’s dramatic when it needs to be, and soft and subtle everywhere else. It’s perfect for the atmosphere and telling of the story. (I’m actually listening to it as I write this) and it chokes me up a little because it’s so filled with purpose and emotion. Thank you, Mr. Zimmer.

Superman is a very unique superhero, believe it or not. Many people I’ve talked to say they don’t like him because he’s “too perfect.” My question is, why is that a bad thing? When so many heroes in comics or otherwise are very flawed, but interesting, doesn’t it kind of jazz things up a bit to have a hero that is, indeed, greater than those he’s saving? If Kal-El (Superman’s real name) was a tyrant, and abuser of his gifts and powers, then indeed he would be a loathsome hero, but he is not. Kal-El is humble, selfless, and ever willing to surrender and lay down his life for others. He is a Christ-like figure and, I dare say, that is what makes many people’s skin prickle. As humans, and especially in the Western world, we don’t like seeing someone of ultimate power humble himself before others. That isn’t our human nature. We are always striving to be the best, to be on top. Therefore, when we see someone who actually can boast being on top and not using that to control or belittle others, we just cannot understand it. We are baffled by such love that lays low so that others may rise up.

I personally love Superman for these reasons. I didn’t always love him. I, too, initially found him too perfect and boring, but when you really think about him and his story, it’s fascinating and unique to the comic book mythology. I can pinpoint to the moment I changed my mind about him, it was when I watched Kill Bill Volume 2. In the film, Bill gives a speech to “The Bride” about Superman, and he puts it in quite a provocative way it made me rethink Superman entirely. (You can listen to the monologue HERE, it's short).

Superman is so obviously a messianic hero that I don’t feel it necessary to point that out too much. So many superheroes struggle with themselves. They are either insecure and it shows, or they are insecure and they cover it up with an overcompensating confidence. Kal-El never does this. He seems to rarely think of himself, except perhaps when he was a child and not fully matured into the man he was supposed to be. It is natural for a child to be confused about identity and discovery. Kal-El, unlike the others, has a confidence in his purpose, and this confidence comes from his fathers.  

I read a fantastic POST on Cinemagogue about Man of Steel and Kal’s submission to the will of his fathers. I’d also like to expound upon the subject myself here as it was one of the most emotional aspects for me in the film.

Jor-El and Lara, his birth parents, planned Kal. On their planet, Krypton, people aren’t born naturally anymore, they are designed, bred, to become whatever society needs. There is little choice, and little hope for the people of Krypton. Jor-El and his wife share a vision for a brighter future and decide to conceive Kal and give birth to him naturally. He is the first natural birth in centuries. His parents gave him purpose, he was intentional right from the start, but they also wanted him to be free from their society to label him with a purpose and have him find his own. Their world is dying, both literally and figuratively, so while they love him deeply, they know the best thing is to give him up to a better destiny. The “S” symbol, is the symbol of the house of El, which means hope. Like the people of earth who have crests and heraldry to honor their families, those of Krypton have family house symbols. I love the Krypton mythology. I could watch a whole movie just about that.

So when Kal comes crashing in his little pod down to Earth, he is most fortunately found by a barren couple in the security of a farm in Smallville, Kansas. Like Christ coming to Bethlehem, it is the humblest of places for this mighty child to rest his head, yet that is what makes it so perfect for him. His Earthly father, Jonathan Kent, also saw immediately that he was special and meant for a greater destiny. Jonathan’s presence in Kal’s life was always wisdom. He taught his son to control his power and his feelings, and above all taught him patience. He knew that the world would need a very specific time for Kal to make his presence known, and also that he would have to mature first before this could happen. It may have seemed to Kal at first that his father was being over-protective, but in reality he was preparing him for his destiny by teaching him to wait.

A deleted scene! Aw!!! 
One scene that just tears me up is the scene of Jonathan’s death. They are driving along a highway and a tornado is in the distance. Jonathan helps people, including Clark (the Kent’s name for him) and his mother Martha, to get to safety under and overpass. They realize they’ve left their dog inside their car, and Jonathan tells Clark to stay behind, and he’ll get the dog. The tornado comes in too strongly though, and after an injury it is obvious that Jonathan will not make it to safety in time. Clark moves to rush toward him, he could have saved him in a split second, but Jonathan holds his hand up, and peacefully shakes his head. Though torn, Clark obeys him, and Jonathan is carried away with the wind. It was heartbreaking because Clark trusted his father and knew that the time was not right for him to show the world his full power, even to save his own father. This showed a father's sacrificial love for his son, and his awe and humility knowing what and who Kal is, and also it showed the deep trust and respect Clark had for his father.

Though both Russel Crowe and Kevin Kostner are not in the film for very long, their presence as his fathers is so strong and moving. From Jonathan’s subtle look as he holds hand up to Kal telling him to wait, or the way Jor-El first looks at his son with complete wonder and awe as he is breathes his first breath. Both of these performances (well, all the performances in my opinion) were so beautiful and I think they picked the perfect actors to show what these characters needed to represent. Superman was always strong with Father/Son themes and they nailed it in this film.

The star performance, I feel, goes to Michael Shannon as General Zod. He is a growing favorite of mine and always impresses me with his ability to spring from one colorful character to the next. I actually felt sympathy for Zod, as Shannon seems to be able to show Zod’s regrets and intentions with mere looks. Zod was a victim of Krypton’s breeding for purpose. Without his purpose, he loses his soul and his identity. It’s quite sad, and an interesting look at the effects of pouring one’s self into what one does, rather than having identity be given from a higher call.

I adore the cinematography in this film, led by Amir Mokri. It’s gritty and authentic, but not without being beautiful and full of interesting color composition to make it still fantastical. The way things are shot adds so much emotion and relativity to the scenes. When paired with the film’s exceptional score, the visuals alone can get the job done.

Adorable magazine shoot! 

I hope they will make another film soon and continue the story. They've only scratched the surface and there’s so much that can be done. While America seemed to struggle accepting this darker version of Superman, I embrace it entirely and say bring it on!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Update! The Sting Chronicles

Hello to my amazing readers! First off, I want to thank all the people around the globe who have read my blogs. It's so exciting and very humbling to be able to reach people across the world. Thanks for taking the time to read them and let me share my heart for film arts with you!

I am planning on blogs for Star Trek: Into Darkness, The Great Gatsby, and 99.9% most likely Man of Steel, and also one about Fantasia, so please don't think I've abandoned my post! (no pun intended) I have just been very busy starting my new webseries. So far it's going really well!

I am  producing, writing, and acting in a webseries. It's a lot of work, but I definitely won't be alone, I am surrounded by a cast and crew who are dedicated and amazing!

We want to tell a satirical yet human story. The Sting Chronicles is the video archive documentation of real-life "superhero," The Sting. It's a satire on comic book stories and also regales the humor of life in Arizona. The story is told in a vlog/documentary style showing the audience the every day life of our hero.

The story revolves around a young man, Ethan Harper, who has come to Arizona to live with his half-sister and her husband after the tragic death of his parents. Ethan is in his last year of high school and soon finds himself coming home from a school trip having been stung by a scorpion. He believes this scorpion has given him super powers and he now has a responsibility to rise up and become a hero. He tells his story through video records that he intends to show people the truth of who he is when the time is right.

It’s a coming-of-age tale that definitely pokes fun at the superhero genre, as well as our current pop culture, but it also has a lot of heart in that it delves into the changes and heartaches of young men finding themselves and their identity. The heart of the story is found in Ethan’s desire to become something greater than he is as well as a way for him to evade his emotions and escape the pain of what he’s been through.

My team and I will be telling this story over 2 seasons of 14 episodes each. Each episode will air on Fridays and be around 5-10 minutes long. Our first episode aired last Friday June 7th and our second one is coming up this week! Here is the first episode on our youtube channel: 

There is so little to offer those in the film and television industry in Arizona. Our state is still facing the challenges regarding tax incentives for multimedia productions. Ironically we have one of the best film schools in the country (SCC for the win!), yet no jobs to provide after school. This would draw positive attention to our state and maybe even further the efforts of the Arizona Film and Media Coalition to see these tax incentives passed. There are so many creative people in Arizona and it's time that we all showed the world how we shine.

Please support our series by viewing our videos, subscribing to our channel, liking us on facebook and following us on twitter!

The Sting Chronicles youtube channel:

Thank you all so much for letting me share this with you! I appreciate everyone who has stopped by my blog and taken a gander and me talking about my favorite subject. Thank you SO much from the bottom of my heart!

Until my next blogs!!!

Alexis xoxo

Monday, May 13, 2013

"Don't waste your life." ~ The Metamorphosis of Tony Stark

I am so excited to finally be able to share this post about one of the most memorable, quotable, and hate/love inducing characters of all time--Tony Stark, aka: Iron Man. For me, he is so much more than a superhero, he’s a fantastic, fictional example of so many themes I adore: salvation, sanctification, redemption, and legacy.

When we meet Tony Stark in the first film, his flaws are immediately laid bare for all to see. On the one hand, he is a genius and a brilliant innovator. On the other hand, he is a self-concerned, prideful, playboy whose interest has always been in one thing: himself. This stems from a long history of daddy issues and a corrupted, conceited independence.

Tony gets attacked during a routine test of his latest weapon inventions whereby pieces of shrapnel from a blast are lodged into his chest. With each passing day, the pieces become more of a threat as they inch closer to his heart. He is captured by a terrorist group, but he’s not the only one. With them is another brilliant man, a doctor named Yinsen. He saves Tony’s life and makes him a “new heart,” a device that will keep the shrapnel from killing him.

Yinsen right away is Tony’s antithesis. He is humble, and gentle spirited. He agrees to help Tony with an escape plan and ultimately lays down his life for Mr. Stark. The two form a friendship in their captivity, but it sadly does not last long. As Yinsen lies dying, he whispers a significant line, “Don’t waste it… don’t waste your life.”

This entire portion with Yinsen was Tony’s salvation chapter. His life, heart, and future were saved by Yinsen’s talent as a surgeon and by his selfless sacrifice. Throughout the whole first film, we follow Tony on his quest to become something new, and this begins with the first challenge of cleansing his company of immoral and unethical ways.

What I love about Tony, and what makes him a hero, is that he owns his mistakes. After he returns from witnessing the wickedness his company has become a part of, he doesn't sit around and cry about it. He gets his butt to work and does something. Tony sees a problem and executes a solution. I personally relate to Tony's motivation and quick action, and I also relate to the downsides too. Sometimes, the quick action can simply be personal rashness and majorly backfire, but initially, Tony's ambition is the fuel that fires his heroism. 

In Iron Man 2, Tony faces a common problem that occurs when most people are born again with a new life to live--the stumbling blocks arise. Tony has been given a new chance but he still has to live life in a fallen world where all his past problems and current threats can take him down, if he lets them. This chapter is his sanctification. The part where the rubber meets the road, when we have to put our money where our mouth is, and other irksome colloquialisms. It’s always a life-altering event that changes us, but staying changed for the better takes daily effort and struggle.

What aids this is Tony coming to terms with the truth about his father and accepting the family legacy. Legacy asks us to not only look to ourselves but look to the entire world. Tony’s family had immense wealth of gifts and knowledge to share that he so often took for granted. For him to truly transform, he needs to begin to think outside of himself.

In The Avengers, we see Tony still in the midst of that struggle, and this time faced with something new… sharing the glory with a team and having to lay himself down for the team. It was a great thing to see Joss Whedon engage in the character conflict between Steve (Captain America) and Tony. These two couldn’t be more polar opposite and their views clash tremendously. Steve is a naturally selfless man, he gives wholly of himself whether it’s giving his body to science experimentation or throwing himself upon a grenade to save those around him.

Steve sees everything as a team effort and when he meets Tony he is instantly rubbed the wrong way. However, by having to rely on each other, the two are faced with their own faults. Tony is faced with Steve’s accusations of his selfishness and “Lone Ranger” mentality, and Tony points out to Steve his tendency for blind patriotism and his own self-righteousness in regard to his values. In the end of Avengers, Tony shows that he was indeed listening to the Cap and puts others before himself. Likewise, halfway through the movie, Steve stops blindly trusting his superiors and goes on his own side quest to discover what Nick Fury is really up to. The two provide each other with a splendid and necessary balance. 

Now we get to Iron Man 3... Here Tony is pushed to his limit toward a climactic event. 

A favorite scene for me is the attack on Tony Stark’s home. This is a defining symbolic moment as Tony’s Malibu Barbie dream home and all his toys fall into the sea, portraying the end of his life as an object of materialism and the collapse of his comfort zone. He is stripped down to nothing--from the loss of his home, to his surprise crash landing in Tennessee far, far away. Jarvis malfunctions and he, too, is gone temporarily, leaving Tony without his trusty computer to guide him through turmoil. Tony has nothing to rely on but himself and the clothes on his back. As he tells Pepper, “I just stole a poncho from a wooden Indian.” It gets that bad.

He develops a relationship with a smart, manipulative little boy not unlike himself in the town of Rose Hill, TN. This boy helps him through his quest for answers and also his struggle with anxiety attacks. As children do, he gives him a very innocent, wide-eyed piece of advice… “Why don’t you just build something?” The kid reminds him that he is Tony Stark, and he doesn’t need all that junk, and all those toys or even his suits to do great things. This brings him to that realization of what’s inside of him being more important than the things and materials he has. Tony does just as the boy suggests and, using items from the hardware store and his innovative imagination, he takes down the security of the Mandarin's lair without once stepping into a suit. 

At the end of Iron Man 3, Tony comes to terms with the truth about his time thus far in the suit. It was in part a distraction, in other ways it was a way to control his fear by making bigger and better toys with the notion that they will help keep Pepper, and the rest of the world, safe. Yet, he ends with saying that his suits were a “cocoon” and my heart lifted in that moment because that line absolutely nails it. A cocoon is the net of new life, but you cannot come out of it without a great struggle beforehand, and nothing can assist you, or you will die quickly. The struggle of the birth, is how you are transformed.  

The heart of all the Iron Man films is Pepperony (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!) Tony’s relationship with his steady, loyal companion Pepper Potts. These two are one of my favorite couples in all fictiondom. From the very beginning, they have a chemistry and love that doesn’t always need to be spelled out--it’s obvious in all its subtleties. What I love so much about Pepper is that she is a determined woman who works hard, but she doesn’t sacrifice her femininity to do so. She has a nurturing, sweet spirit, but she is also a competent and inspiring leader. The two are match-made-in-heaven compliments of each other and balance each other's strengths and weaknesses.

For years Pepper has fought for Tony and with him. My favorite moment of all the Iron Man films is the amazing ending scene in Iron Man 3 when Tony has Jarvis initiate the “Clean Slate Protocol." AKA: He blows up all his suits. It's all for Pepper, and to start fresh with her. He doesn’t choose his need for material things, or his fear that leads him to believe he needs those things. He chooses her. Like Fourth of July, all the suits shoot light across the sky as Tony pulls her close and kisses her. Perfect.

The Iron Man films are by no means flawless or groundbreaking, but they aren’t supposed to be. They are there to tell the story of  Tony Stark, and at that they fully succeed. From his cocoon he emerges imperfect, but victorious none the less. All hail the man in the can!