Thursday, February 16, 2017

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Zack, Alex, and Kevin's 397: Beasts of the Southern Wild and Manchester by the Sea (Movie Droogs)

Zack, Alex, and Kevin discuss the films, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Manchester by the Sea, in regards to the end of the world.


Dr. Strangelove: Bombs are for the Boys!

Powerful. Violent. Dominate. Explosive. These are adjectives that describe society’s normative idea of ‘masculine.’ Or are they precisely chronicling a bomb? It seems that men and bombs are interchangeable when accounting their characteristics. Masculine traits can be perfectly defined by the violent tendencies of a bomb. In the film To Be or Not to Be (1942), a hilarious WWII satire, they use this subtle metaphor to their advantage. In an attempt to impress famous actress Maria Tura, bomber pilot Lt. Sobinski tells her “I can drop three tons of dynamite in two minutes.” You know what's even better than “three tons of dynamite?” Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove, one ups Sobinski’s military prowess with “1400 megatons” of bomb. Director and writer, Stanley Kubrick creates his own satire 22 years post To Be or Not to Be with Dr. Strangelove, a nightmarish comedic masterpiece. With the help of his creative team, Kubrick uses the atomic bomb to satirize the absurdity of male masculinity. Important male characters are divided into two categories: hyper masculine and emasculated. Kubrick is able to depict their traits using visuals, symbols, and allusions. The film engages the social issue of emasculated men struggling to operate with the hyper masculine majority using satire.
 This social issue is of very delicate territory as it pertains to men who are the ‘dominant’ gender. Jackson Katz clearly explains the phenomenon of men’s masculine ingraining being invisible to the reasoning for violence, in his documentary Tough Guise. Although close to 100% of mass shootings are committed by men, reporters go out of their way to keep the issue gender neutral, Katz calls it “a systematic failure to focus on men as men.” When girls fight it is of concern, when boys fight it is brushed off as “boys being boys.” If the world's demise came in the form of nuclear destruction like in Dr. Strangelove, men would be to blame. As the creators and operators of the biggest and deadliest weapon in existence. Would the colonies surviving hundreds of miles beneath the Earth's surface write off the history of the catastrophe as “boys being boys?”
The cycle of boys adopting society’s normative masculine traits they see in their elders is an endless epidemic. A social issue that is ignored in mainstream media, mostly because it pertains to those who operate and own media who are mostly male. When someone commits mass murder like Jack D. Ripper in the film, news outlets like to scapegoat mental illness as the reasoning. President Muffley follows suit when calls up the Russian President Kissoff to inform him of Ripper’s actions, he explains it as “well he went a little funny in the head” (41 min). When Kubrick and writing partner James B. Harris tried to develop the book Red Alert into a screenplay they discovered it just didn't work as a drama/suspense film. When dealing with men's obsession with violence under the means of nuclear gamesmanship, Kubrick decided comedy would better reach viewers. Greek philosopher, Horace, put it best “joking often cuts through great obstacles better and more forcefully than being serious would.” Kubrick understood that molding together a satirical piece of farce that examines the vices of masculinity (and the end of the world) would increase the mental flexibility of viewers.
Mental flexibility allows for the viewers of the film to pick up on the allusions that Kubrick cleverly uses to establish satire. Kubrick uses the names of characters (who all hold military affiliation) that allude to masculine status. Influences derive partially from the U.S. military and their use of alluding names in order to promote masculinity as superior. Any signs of emasculated nature was inferior. In 1944 the U.S. army released Pvt. Droop Has Missed the War, the pamphlet depicted Pvt. Droop as lacking masculinity an epitome of what recruits should not be. It is clear that his name “Droop” is an allusion to “lacking virility and physical presence” (Locke, pg. 86). The themes of masculinity and repressed sexuality in Pvt. Droop and Dr. Strangelove mirror each other. The film is layered with sexual framework due to the decision to bring in Terry Southern, a veteran of satire known for his outlook on sexuality particularly in his novel Candy.
With Southern apart of the writing team they begin to construct characters who represents various volumes of masculinity strewed with sexual tones. Kubrick's includes all the masculine military personnel in the War room smoking cigars, a phallic symbol that exercises them exerting their sexual aptitude. Although when Kubrick chooses to use a low angle close up of Ripper smoking a large cigar it sends a different message, one of suggestive homosexual nature (23 min). Ripper compensates for emasculate homosexual insecurity with violence, one of the defining traits of hyper masculinity. Ripper gives the order to infringe Russia with the U.S.’s nuclear arsenal, we then begin to follow the likes of Major Kong as he makes it his personal mission to drop that bomb.
The name Kong is an allusion to King Kong, contriving him to be primitive in sexual nature. Major Kong is established as an oversexualized character, he is intrigued by a playboy magazine and comments “a fella' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff” when going through a military issued survival guide. King kong is also known for his obsessive love for Ann Darrow, that parallels Major Kong's obsession to destroy his target despite all drawbacks. The target being Lupita, a place created by satire maestro Jonathan Swift , meaning ‘the whore’ in Spanish. Major Kong flies down on the nuclear warhead himself, Kubrick shoots Kong falling farther away from frame with the massive bomb at his groin (127 min.). Kong implodes Lupita with his giant phallic warhead (blatant sexual reference) and then all of mankind is destroyed. Hypermasculine characters like Ripper and Kong use violence as a release to their suppressed sexual obsessions, of course destroying all of mankind is an exaggeration for exerting violence but this is the work of satire.
Comical and juvenile General Buck Turgidson is also categorized for being hyper masculine, he demonstrates infatuation for sex and war. His name alludes to his extreme oversexualized nature, considering ‘turgid’ to be defined as swollen. In light of not taking care of his sexual ‘turgid’ state with his mistress secretary, Buck displays aggressively zealous antics matching those of a testosterone crazed adolescent. In the film he pouts when scorned and holds defusing situations with his mistress secretary over the threat of nuclear annihilation in his priorities. His character is also constantly chewing gum with a ravenous fixation. Similar to the phallic symbols mentioned earlier, the gum is another blatant sexual reference. Both the phallic and oral symbols in the film pay homage to Sigmund Freud's theories of  Pyschosexual stages. Oral is the first stage of psychosexual development, occurring in infants below the age of one. Turgidson’s oral overindulgence depicted by him chewing one piece of Juicyfruit after another alludes to his his lack in maturity. Buck finds delight in Dr. Strangelove’s proposition of Nazi eugenics that would include a ratio of “ten females to each male” (130 min.). He attempts to plant a spy camera on the Russian embassador and continues to try and physically overpower him in schoolyard fashion. He acts like a childish brute who stands in the opposition of emasculated characters like President Muffley who act on behalf of logic and not their ‘turgid’ affairs.
Peter Sellers displays his outstanding acting range in his performance as President Muffley, as well as Lionel Mandrake and Dr. Strangelove all of whom possess emasculated traits. Dr. Strangelove is the most interesting example of walking the line of  masculine and emasculated. He is physically incompetent from the waist down and subdues to a wheelchair. When are first introduced to him he appears weak, as a tiny limp cigarette hangs from his mouth in a room full of cigar smokers. The cigarette is another clear phallic symbol although this time it alludes to him being sexually impotent. Although in the end of the film we see Strangelove fully erect standing up, he yells in elation “My Fuhrer, I can walk!” (132 min.). It is his strange perverted love for nuclear annihilation combined with the prospect of having ten women at his disposal through Nazi agenda that gives him such sexaul arousal. Our hyper masculine characters in the film like Turgidson and Ripper are not different from the perverted Dr. Strangelove. They all shared a fetished craze for sexual and violent stimulation.
The only characters who deviate from this perversion are Mandrake and Muffley. Mandrake appears to be asexual in the film, while President Muffley is alluded to having feminine traits that emasculates his stature. “Muff” is slang that refers to the female genitalia. Muffley is established as feminized, separating him from the mass of military men who only think with their phallic parts. Throughout the film characters like President Muffley and Mandrake are bullied, pressured, and suffocated by the overpowering hyper masculine military presence in the film.  Muffley has to succumb to the mercy of the military, as he say to Turgidson “far beyond the point I imagined possible” (26 min) when addressing Ripper “exceeding his authority”. The larger military personnel like Turgidson and Ripper do not respect the provisions of the emasculated characters because they do not follow the military code of masculine aptitude.  
Mandrake, another character who is not controlled by sexaul desire, is disrespected and overpowered by the force of military masculinity around him. Scenes where Mandrake and General Ripper share screen time Kubrick frames Ripper dominating Mandrake in physical size as he appears submissive. When Kubrick used shot reverse shot between the pair, Ripper is shot at a slight low angle making him appear even more powerful. Mandrake is also disrespected by Col. Bat Guano who is blinded by his ego to see Mandrake’s overriding authority and comments on his uniform by sayin “What kinda suit you call that fella?”. When Mandrake clearly explains his rank and position as Group Captain and second in command, Guano decides to resort to the threat of violence as he continues to point his rifle at Mandrake.
Characters like Mandrake and Muffley are not apart of the boys club that boast an unhealthy desire for violence and sex. Jackson Katz explains the complex of trying to keep boys apart of this club by using insults like “wuss and sissy” or in the case of Dr. Strangelove “muff”, for those who don't fit the criteria. Because of this lack of respect, Jackson Katz states that for boys there’s “a lot of pressure to conform, to put up the act, to be just one of the guys.” This pressure is evidently the same in character’s like Mandrake and Muffley who are both constantly tempted to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Bomb. The bomb is a metaphorical representation of the military ideal of being masculine. As President Muffley is being persuaded to send more bombs into Russia by General Turgidson, General Ripper is simultaneously trying to persuade Mandrake in seeing the justification of his plan “R” order. The military creates erratic hypermasculine servants who are blinded by ego, sex, and violence to make a rational decision. The U.S. military also see “Droops” as the biggest threat to their association. It is the “Droops” of Dr. Strangelove and only the “droops” who see starting nuclear war as an issue. The masculine ideal is toxic and needs to be terminated although the powerful influences like the military keep it prevalent today.
Even more powerful than the military is the media who keep normative and viceful traits of masculinity alive. Popular blog Barstool Sports has an entire column of articles dedicated to the title “And the Pussification of America Continues.” They coin the term “pussification” to anything that threatens their code of masculinity that values polygamy sexual dominance and vacuous violence. They have made the phrase “Saturdays are for the boys” go viral nation wide, in attempts to promote masculine prowess. I’m sure if Barstool affiliates had made it into the War Room they would have been shouting “Bombs are for the boys!” Stanley Kubrick recognizes and deconstructs the social issue “for the boys” in Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb through satire. He creates characters that articulate different masculine definitions as well as their vices by his clever use of visuals, symbols, and allusions. Kubrick understood that as serious and frightening as men overdosed in testosterone ending the world may be, comedy was the only suitable median. Comedic master and French playwright Moliere once said “As the purpose of comedy is to correct the vices of men.”

Dir. Jackson Katz. N.p., n.d. Web.
Locke, Jackson. "Introduction to the Military Masculinity Complex." The Military Masculinity Complex. University of Nebraska, n.d. Web. Oct. 2016.
2008, Saul McLeod Published. "Psychosexual Stages." Simply Psychology. N.p., 01 Jan. 1970. Web. Oct. 2016.
To Be or Not to Be. 1942. Ernst Lubitsch.

Horace. "Horace's Lyric Poetry the Force of Humour." Horace's Lyric Poetry : The Force of Humour (Book, 1987) []. N.p., 31 Aug. 2016. Web. Oct. 2016.

Blade Runner: Cyberpunk’s Quest for the Inner

Revisiting Ridley Scott’s masterpiece that is Blade Runner (final cut version), is like looking at yourself in the mirror for two hours straight. You begin to formulate questions of your own humanity while simultaneously discovering new aspects of your appearance that had since been unrecognized. As complex and unique as the features of the human face actually are, upon the surface level they can go unnoticed and under appreciated. Similarly when watching Blade Runner audiences can very easily see it’s aesthetics simply upon the facade effect it has and not fully appreciate the set design of the film. Audience members like myself, who are millennials, might have a hard time really appreciating the set design because we have seen it before in films like Star Wars (second trilogy), The Matrix, and Dredd. Although it is Blade Runner that created a new wave genre called cyberpunk that would later influence such films.
Being a prior art director himself Ridley Scott put as much money, work, and time into the art design than producers would usually allow. The attention to detail from Scott and his team pays off. Fictional worlds in film are made believable by their set, costumes, and props. And although the film’s time period of 2019 is almost two years away and there are no signs of flying cars or replicants in our near future, every time I watch Blade Runner the world it has created becomes more real.
Syd Mead who is credited as the “visual futurist” sees the world of the future to be a place that wears the guts of it’s technology externally. Many of the buildings on set are split open and put on display, as wires and generators scale their outer walls. This idea of inverting a buildings structure is what defines the cyberpunk genre. Cyberpunk is described by being in a futuristic world where society is high tech but low life. Although the set design of the city appears “high tech” with all its flashing neon lights and big screens, it also appears to be “low life” because all of the inner workings of the tech are exposed and naked to the eye.
Along with discovering something new about the intric, layered, stimulating set design with each watch you can also discover something new about your own humanity. Protagonist Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, is a Blade Runner which means it is his job to hunt and kill replicants (or androids). Distinguishing who is human and who is not in the film becomes rather difficult and may cause you to do some self reflection. What does it mean to be human? Although this question is not exactly answered in the film it is one that Scott poses. The film is ambiguous in the fact that it doesn't really answer any of the many questions it imposes on viewers. But, with that being said if you look close enough it does show you the answers rather than tell you.

This is why it is crucial to watch the final cut of this film not the theatrical release. In the original release Harrison Ford's voice over plays throughout the film causing audiences to be told what is happening rather than see what is actually happening. Watch this film but when you do, you must really watch it, let the world of Blade Runner consume you. This true start of a cyberpunk movement will relinquish your insides and put them on display.

Embrace The Serpent: Neglecting Truth

Colombian writer and director, Ciro Guerra, took on quit the delicate task when he decided he wanted to greater examine the unheard stories of the many tribes of the Amazon river, in his film Embrace the Serpent. Exploited, oppressed, and mistreated the indigenous people of the Amazon have suffered. But therein lays a piece of this fragile double edged sword, to depict them as “suffering” people, that is all they come to be, inferior to colonial society. Similar to how history books falsely depict Native Americans as past  “problem” for the European manifest destiny that involved the conquering of the west. A “problem” that has since be “resolved” and taken care of, neglecting the many tribes that still live on today who struggle have their voices heard because we misconceive them to be dead.
Guerra wants the muted voice of the indigenous people of the Amazon to be heard but more importantly he refuses to misrepresent them. He obviously wants the film to play with ethnological realism but doesn't really have the liberty to do so respectfully as a work of nonfiction. In order to compensate Guerra creates fictional names for tribes, plants, and places in order to maintain respect, he states “I would have had to spend forty years with a single community to accurately represent an indigenous group.” He is extremely mature to say so and creatives should follow suit when engaging the lives of such indigenous tribes. Although Guera wanted to tell the story of indigenous people of the Amazon he knew in order to reach a wide audience he had to bring a Eurocentric perspective to the film.
The stories of explorers Theo and Evan are separated by over forty years but are connected by by the Shaman Karamakate. Gurra entwines their two separate characters as they embrace the serpent that is the Amazon river. They seem to be the “same person” (just  like Karamakate says) as match cuts of the river are used to jump in between forty years of time. The mirroring effect of the characters Theo and Evan create for one larger character arc begins a with a man of Western society and ends with one of the serpent.
The journey along the river that Giro takes viewers on is framed by the maestro cinematographer David Gallego. Very little lighting in the film is artificial, it's mostly all organic. In the nighttime Gallego brings the jungle to life with fire, a simple aesthetic yet very vibrant and pleasing on the human face. For inspiration of the look of the film Gallego and Guerra used the photographs of the real life explorers Theodor Koch-Grunberg (1872-1924) and Richard Evans Schultes (1915-2001), who characters Theo and Evan are based off of. In attempt to authentically replicate their photographs Gallego went for “high contrast, very slow emulsions and a very visible grain” as he thought “these features guided us toward the aesthetic identity of the film.”
As the aesthetic identity of the film is quite beautiful, the narrative of the film is a bit uglier. Not in a sense of storytelling technique as Ciro Guerra constructed a truly engaging script, the problem is the film engages viewers in a way they are not comfortable with. The issues that Guerra confronts are not talked about outside the context of the film for a reason. The questions Guerra formulates in the film don't have any easy answer for a reason. The material is ugly, emotionally heavy, and morally complex. Which are best reasons to make a film and the reason Embrace the Serpent needs to be seen.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Mad Max: Fury Road: Eyes Wide Open


Not a moment is wasted in Mad Max: Fury Road and not a moment is spent anywhere else but on the edge of your seat. George Millar reboots his post-apocalyptic franchise thirtyfive years after the original Mad Max was released and spends over ten years in pre-production in order to get this film made. But the outcome is well worth the wait. George Millar constructs exhilarating visual candy with a surprisingly strong narrative. The excursion you embark on as a viewer is something entirely different from the previous Mad Max trilogy.
Mad Max harnesses the most oscar wins in the year 2016 boasting six little gold men for the visual and sound aesthetics of the film. George Millar’s wife, Margaret Sixel, leads the editing team to victory with what Millar exclaims to be the very needed “touch of a women.” Millar claims that the editing differentiates the film from every other action flick of the time. Within the 120 minute runtime there is over 2700 individual cuts compared to an average film that tops out around 700 cuts. Needless to say the film is paced at an exhilarating fast rate that doesn't give you a moments rest in the full two hours. But Mad Max is a far distant relative of any chaos cinema counterpart that can be epitomized by any Michael Bay film.
The cutting is congruent making the narrative easy and a thrill to follow. This is due to Sixel who keeps the action center framed in every cut. The viewer's point of interest never changes throughout the film, and what Millar wants the audience to see will come barreling right at them. With each cut also comes a new pulsating sound effect. In every action packed scene (almost the whole film), cuts will jump out like a jack-in-a-box. With a film that boast such visceral triumph one would imagine a lacking narrative. Simply not the case.
Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy, as Furiosa and Mad Max, lead stellar cast of men and women. In a story where a group women fight against ownership from their cruel tyrant leader Immortan Joe, gender is characterized with flexibility. We are introduced to men and women in the beginning under the reign of Immortan Joe, where they are defined as objects. Men are used for war and violence while women are used for childbearing and caretaking. But as the film progress we see some many of our characters break these normative gender barriers.
Mad Max passes the Bechdel test with ease but it is important to mention that this film isn't apart of a “feminist agenda” that some point it out to be. Although it does have strong feminist tones with a staff that boasts the likes of Vagina Monologues creator Eve Ensler, its effects are subtle. Much of the films “made for feminists” make the mistake trying to advocate for the importance of women by telling audience rather than showing. Mad Max is visceral masterpiece and subtly reinforces the importance of gender equality and destruction of “normative” gender roles. Nothing feels forced. Nothing feels overdone. Mad Max: Fury Road puts audience member in A Clockwork Orange’s torture chair, eyes glued open and all, without anyone ever realizing.