‘The Puffy Chair’ Breaks Up with Hollywood’s Illusion of Lasting Relationships

11 December, 2013

Mark-and-Jay-DuplassMark and Jay Duplass exhibit the mundane elements of everyday life with The Puffy Chair, a road-trip film that explores these banalities as its self-centered characters go on a journey yet essentially do nothing extraordinary except watch television and disagree with each other. This quasi-documentary glimpse into the triteness of life utilizes naturalism and a low-budget style that diverges from conventional Hollywood filmmaking. The Duplass brothers satirize interpersonal issues when blurring the lines between their real and fictional relationships, with family members and significant others playing parts alongside Mark Duplass in this independent film. With breakdowns in communication, the duo mocks the quickness of romantic relationships in Hollywood films, questioning viewer’s acceptance for this hyper-compressed construction of time. Through presenting failures in communication as an antithesis to Hollywood conventions, The Duplass brothers’ mumblecore film anticlimactically and naturalistically shows the disintegration of romantic relationships.


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With the approach toward naturalism, the camera often spins around in search of the action rather than knowing where the next moment takes place. Comparable to Dogma 95 films, no shots exist without the shakiness of the digital camera recording the action like a home video. Minimal sets and no special lighting also become evident, enhancing the sense of real life similar to other independent films of the 2000s like Half Nelson. In doing so, the Duplass brothers look at relationships through the comedy and entertainment that comes from moment-based, dysfunctional scenarios rather than life-altering, climactic events. Regarding relationships of even unlikable characters, this brings viewers a more genuine identification that Hollywood films cannot re-create without this unpredictable, home-video style.

Rhett and Amber’s relationship comes without much build-up. The film stops following them in what seems like an eventful day after they meet. Instead, it stays with Joel and Emily in all their dullness, watching television and talking. This does not further the plot other than exhibiting the unexceptional happenings of everyday life, not letting the film skip over any of these mundane activities in pursuit of something more interesting somewhere else. Viewers only see the promise of Rhett and Amber’s first encounter, yet the suddenness of their marriage forces the audience into dooming the relationship rather than interpreting it as a hopeful scenario. Joel also acknowledges the ridiculousness of the situation, yet he allows for suspending his disbelief during the surprise engagement party that escalates into becoming a wedding.

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The Puffy Chair’s strength as an independent rather than big-budget, studio film comes from its improvisational style. This quality occurs not only with performances, but also with the cinematography. A camcorder aesthetic gives an impromptu sense of unscripted urgency when the camera, often refocusing and providing extreme close-up, gives viewers an intimacy with the characters while maintaining an atmosphere of movement and spontaneity. Though reliant on this spontaneity, this wedding scene makes an overt effort at scripting lines when Rhett repeats his wedding vows after what Joel dictates. Still, unlike the performances for typical, Hollywood films, Rhett cannot say the lines verbatim even within moments of Joel’s dictation. In this scene, Rhett also makes minor alterations to his brother’s words, exemplifying the immediate disconnect between the way the characters communicate in the film as well as Rhett’s incapability in promising commitment to Amber.

This scene also makes an anticlimactic parody of the fast-paced romances in Hollywood films; Rhett meets his wife and ends their relationship within a day. In her article, “Against Hollywood: American Independent Film as a Critical Cultural Movement,” Sherry B. Ortner says, “Where Hollywood films seek to provide escape and fantasy, independent films seek to tell realist or hyper(bolic)-realist stories about the world as it really is, in all its ugliness and cruelty, or all its weirdness and strangeness…” (Ortner 10-12). Ortner describes how Hollywood idealizes situations in a way unlike independent films. Emily, Joel’s girlfriend who deludes herself with romanticizing relationships, falls into this Hollywood mentality that separates her from Joel.

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Emily spends her free time watching movies and hoping for pop-culture reenactments, like Joel holding speakers outside her window. These moments also show that other films exist as fictions and entertainment for parodies within the world of this Duplass brother’s mumblecore. In creating these Hollywood ideals, Emily convinces herself of the possibilities for an unrealistic, happy ending for Rhett and Amber even though the relationship disintegrates as fast as it ignited. Even the eBay-bought chair, which Rhett believes taints their group relationship, meets an anticlimactic end. Rhett lights it on fire and within that minute, a stranger extinguishes it, putting out the flames to a potentially dramatic instance without letting the moment build up.

The moment becomes prosaic in the same way Emily and Joel’s relationship dissolves without a grand payoff. In the opening scene, when Emily and Joel fight and she storms off, this dramatic occurrence fizzles when Joel walks back inside his house instead of chasing after her. Later in the film, Joel says, “There’s a lot of things in this world we pursue that seem really important to us and we get wrapped up in.” In a Hollywood film, one attributes this pursuit to winning over the significant other. In this film, Joel fights harder for the trivial upholstering of an unappealing chair than for his relationship.


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The final scene also removes itself from Hollywood conventions by rejecting the happy ending. As Ortner writes, “…Hollywood films are in the business of fantasy and illusion, independent films… are usually highly realist; and finally, where Hollywood films classically have happy endings, independent films rarely do” (2). Here in the film’s final moments, Joel and Emily break up. While they argue with each other throughout the film, no big fight occurs within their splitting up. They make an amicable departure to their relationship, hugging each other for closure to a relationship they leave behind. Dissimilarly, Hollywood films prefer the happy, boy-gets-the-girl endings or scenes of aftermath in showing how characters cope with the break ups, like with He’s Just Not That Into You’s network narrative exemplifying each of these scenarios.

The Puffy Chair provides neither of those alternatives. Instead, it opts for authenticity, especially with Mark Duplass and Katie Aselton being a couple while playing the parts of two people in a relationship. In addition, the non-actor parents of Mark and Jay Duplass play Joel and Rhett’s parents in the film. By doing so, The Puffy Chair creates an overlap between real life and the fictitious plot of the film by blending actors and characters. This authenticity and naturalism gives viewers the impression of watching what happens in the real world rather than an upbeat ending one hopes for in a conventional, Hollywood comedy. If Hollywood films sugarcoat or sweep away the harsh realities of opposites attracting in relationships or sudden romance, independent films such as The Puffy Chair use tough love for reminding viewers of the problems present in these scenarios.

Unlike Hollywood films, The Puffy Chair approaches break-ups as the result of rushed relationships where characters lack commitment. The lack of communication between Emily and Joel exemplifies two people with different agendas. She wants marriage while he confronts her for unrealistic expectations of him. They stay together until the randomness of life happens on a road trip where they learn their differences, break up, and implicitly move on. The Duplass brothers mimic the naturalness of real-life disagreements, like neorealist films do in presenting the everyman and using non-professional actors for authenticity, instead of giving viewers an escape into the excitement of studio-concocted productions about finding everlasting love. In a way, The Puffy Chair even makes a joke of seeking excitement from Hollywood cinema when Rhett says, “So we pretty much have the whole day to do nothing,” which they do, so they go see a movie.

Works Cited

Half Nelson. Dir. Ryan Fleck. Screenplay by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden. Perf. Ryan Gosling. Thinkfilm and Hunting Lane Films Present, 2006. DVD.

He’s Just Not That Into You. Dir. Ken Kwapis. Screenplay by Abby Kohn and Mark Silverstein. Prod. Drew Barrymore. Perf. Justin Long, Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, and Bradley Cooper. Warner Bros., 2009. DVD.

Ortner, Sherry B. “Against Hollywood: American Independent Film as a Critical Cultural Movement.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2.2 (2012): 1-21. HAU Journal. Web. 6 Dec. 2013.

The Puffy Chair. Dir. Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass. Screenplay by Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass. Perf. Mark Duplass, Katie Aselton, and Rhett Wilkins. Roadside Attractions, 2005. DVD.

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‘Don Jon’ Review

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Overall Rating:  3/4

Cinematography

This is what I mean about comedies being able to have a style/look to them. The aesthetics of the film, from lighting to composition, aren’t cheapened just because it’s a comedy. Interesting enough, it comes from Thomas Kloss who may remind some of Fear. Don Jon is his best film in terms of creativity in cinematography, and hopefully he works on another one with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the future.

Acting

don_jon_addiction2The feelings I get from Don Jon are that Joseph Gordon-Levitt really is that guy. He’s believable, from the voice-overs to the sinister stare he gets when on the prowl for his next hook-up. I keep trying to remind myself of the dorky kid from 10 Things I Hate About You.

Scarlett Johansson plays both trashy and privileged well. Her character is obnoxious, but I enjoyed her in the role. Tony Danza isn’t a babysitter anymore to say the least and he’s great in this film along with his hilarious on-screen wife played by Glenne Headly. Brie Larson hardly speaks in this film and still adds to the dysfunctional family dynamics.

Julianne Moore cries and gets naked. That should be the title of her biography.

Directing

I find it impressive when a director gets such powerful performances while starring in the film as well, like Ben Affleck in Argo. They don’t stand behind the camera, watching from the same perspective as the audience. It’s much more subjective and interactive and I think that takes a different set of skills from a director.

You watch Don Jon and can’t help but realize that Joseph Gordon-Levitt really did what he wanted with his film of which he is the director, writer, and leading man and that he did it well. It’s different and entertaining. The film is unapologetically what it promises from its trailers and Joseph Gordon-Levitt definitely has my respect and blessing as director for being especially ballsy (points for my most appropriate use of “ballsy” ever).

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The structure of this film is basically what’s seen from the trailer in that it’s almost a feature-length montage sequence. The paralleling of the same scenes in certain locations works for Don Jon by not slowing down the pace or losing any of the film’s humor in the repetitions. The repetitions also play off the film’s emphasis on one-sided relationships in clever ways, especially when Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character confesses his sins to an indifferent priest whose identity remains unknown.

The third act falls short when it becomes reminiscent of lovable, dark comedy from the early 70s, which I’ll leave unnamed to avoid Don Jon spoilers. The ending is too awkward for this film mainly because of how forced it feels in relation to backstories and character arcs. Still, I admire this film for pushing boundaries and not holding back on its premise.

Score

Nathan Johnson, who composed other films starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt such as Looper and Brick, scores Don Jon. It’s nice that Joseph Gordon-Levitt got to know the people working in those departments on his non-directorial films and that he appreciated their work. Now as a plug for Brick, everyone should see it. It’s probably the best work from either of them and it’s completely underrated.

‘Prisoners’ Review

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Overall Rating: 3.5/4

Cinematography

I had no idea who the cinematographer for this particular film was, but as I watched it I kept thinking of how incredible it all looked. It felt familiar, too. When the end credits rolled, seeing the name Roger Deakins made perfect sense.

Deakins, one of the greatest directors of photography, can do no wrong. A very small handful of men find themselves in his league, such as Kaminski and Richardson. With 10 Academy Award nominations, this man is the Meryl Streep of cinematography. His work has a mesmerizing quality of elegance. In Prisoners, the subtleties and smoothness of his camerawork are hauntingly impressive. The lighting for this film is intentionally consistent, unlike Skyfall’s variety, so the film maintains its performance-driven quality. His lighting, while not being overpowering, is still striking; especially in a moment where Detective Loki throws open a door to a basement. With negative space and scenery, Deakins creates the sense of a tension that is both beautiful and disturbing within the shots.skyfall_deakins-620x435

 Acting

Prisoners contains a large group of people who know how to nail mannerisms, even for somewhat vague roles. This proves the power of emotionally driven performances, even when all the background information doesn’t lend itself to dialogue in the script. Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, and Hugh Jackman really did their homework and threw themselves into disturbing roles of characters with moments of contempt and redemption. Viola Davis, Maria Bello, and Terrence Howard play the broken-down parents of missing children with depth, and Melissa Leo is almost unrecognizable.

 Directing

Denis Villenueve pushes these actors over the edge. He does not hold back in presenting the horrors of this film’s subject matter, and that is what a movie with this kind of a context needs. This is not the kind of film for playing it safe and the pacing of this film never slows down or speeds up where it should not. It hits those beats with ease, even for a film that goes well over 2 hours. This film must have had an incredible editor as well.

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This is screenplay is an emotional roller coaster. The moments rise and fall in heartbeats, and in numerous moments I caught myself gaping at the screen, literally on the edge of my seat. It gives hope as fast as it takes it away and has you questioning right and wrong throughout.

There are controversial motives in this script, but it is the ending that leaves most viewers divided. Aaron Guzikowski leaves the final moments open for interpretation, where many hope for more closure. Still, even with its twists and turns, how often is there closure in these real-life situations? The answer is hardly ever, and the screenplay provides more closure than it may even need to. Sure, it’s an open ending that fades out moments too soon for some, but whatever comes after should be obvious. The ending, while not perfect for everyone, is perfect for the film. It is an ending that leaves a lingering feeling with you long after the film finishes, and haunting and hopeful feeling that’s hard to shake off and is much more powerful than relieving every emotional wound this film inflicts.

 Score

I am not sure I have ever experienced more stress watching any other film. Probably not, and a lot of that goes to Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, which is as seamless to the film as Roger Deakins’ camerawork. The score is subtle as well, which is admirable. Sometimes scores, in a self-indulgent way, draw too much attention to themselves for these sorts of stress-inducing films, but like the lighting, this score does not overpower. By not overpowering, it elevates the emotional drive of the film.

‘Gravity’ 3D Review

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OVERALL RATING 3.5/4

 Cinematography

It’s beautiful. George Clooney doesn’t need to mention it as much as he does because we all know it. The reflections in the space-suit helmets, the pitch-black starry sky, and the appearance of Earth are a lot more believable than any other space films.

The best part of the cinematography though is the intricate long takes that draw you in right from the opening sequence, with a camera that feels like it’s floating and spinning in zero gravity along with the astronauts. It’s a film full of long takes that reminisce that really amazing car scene from Children of Men. The entire film ends up feeling so much like a long take that I began forcing myself to pay attention to when there would finally be cuts. Needless to say, Emmanuel Lubezki, who works frequently with Cuarón and likewise has an adaptable filmography, nails the negative space as well. A space film isn’t awesome without negative space anyways.

Acting

It’s a good thing Sandra Bullock got this role instead of any of the other potential actresses. She’s emotional, she’s funny, and she’s honest. There’s never a sense that she’s trying too hard to sell the believability of a scene, and she definitely made me nearly want to cry at one point (that rarely happens for me). There are a lot of emotional shifts that go with her character and she eases well into those transitions.

Give her another Academy Award, especially for that whole final act.

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George Clooney plays a charming , space-man version of George Clooney. That’s basically it, and you love him for it. It’s easy enough to picture Robert Downey Jr. in that role he almost had, but that shouldn’t take away from Clooney. His character is just the space partner Bullock’s character needs, and I’ll leave it at that before I give away too much.

Directing 

Alfonso Cuarón’s filmography exhibits a versatile range of films, all of which he executes well. Gravity is no exception, and it’s arguably his best cinematic endeavor, although that’s a tough contest against Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá Tambien, and my personal favorite of the Harry Potter films. What is there to say except that this guy is a genius? In his films, no matter how elaborate or action-oriented, the best thing he accomplishes is getting to the emotional core through subtleties in the performances of his actors.

Writing

Gravity, written by the director and his son,  provide a satisfying amount of backstory for its characters. That’s obviously important for any film, especially ones with minimal characters for audiences to, no pun intended, gravitate towards. More importantly for this film in particular, without giving anything away, is that the backstories add an extra layer for the audience putting themselves in the character’s positions. Would we just give up? Would we be so optimistic, calm, or trusting? Would we make or accept those sacrifices? There’s enough backstory for empathy, and that’s crucial for a film that has you holding on to very few characters in one place (yes, in the context of movies I call space a single location). There’s a good balance of existential crisis and humor as well. I doubt that’s easy to pull off, but Gravity makes it appear so.

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The ending is pretty damn powerful too. I wish I could tell you what it is.  Go see this film. Seriously.

Score

Steven Price’s score strikes plenty of emotional chords in this space epic. It does a perfect job building tension in an immensely stressful atmosphere while not losing the sense of how amazing the visuals are. It doesn’t take away from the hauntingly silent, breathtaking environment (again, no pun intended… well maybe a little), even though it also motivates a reminder of a horrifying situation. My only issue is the heartbeat sounds interwoven into the score at certain moments, because heartbeats are overdone and I think we can be a little more creative than that.

‘The Bling Ring’: Why Is This A Movie?

OVERALL RATING: Do I really have to rate this? 0.5/4

Cinematography

This movie is so fascinating if you want to see obnoxious people do cocaine in a car, or cocaine in a club bathroom, or sit in a closet. There’s the added bonus of seeing repetitive security camera footage. Oh, and you’ll love all the paparazzi videos of no-talent celebrities that you never cared about seeing before. Cutting edge. Seriously, how much money did they give Harris Savides and Christopher Blauvelt to do this?

Apply lipgloss... for the entire movie.

Apply lipgloss… for the entire movie.

Acting

Vapid, obnoxious characters everywhere. I doubt their real-life counterparts fare any better, but this is a film. If an audience is going to spend money and 2 hours of their time watching these losers, then at least add some dynamics. None of their underdeveloped, pathetic backstories do anything for sympathy. I stand by my opinion that Emma Watson is not a very good actress. Her American accents create painful movie-going experiences and that goes against the fact that the person she portrays in this garbage probably cannot even articulate the alphabet. I’m not going to bother talking specifically about anyone else because they all bore me beyond belief.

Directing/Writing

The only director note this movie probably had was, “sound annoying and look busy by snorting cocaine.” At least Sofia Coppola stays behind the cameras nowadays. That’s the only kindness this film does for us, but we’ll still never forget The Godfather III. I’d expect a career of cinematic brilliance as an apology for that, but it seems like the joke is on everyone else for letting her make this film and reminding us that she doesn’t understand characters, not even in writing. There are more trips to Paris Hilton’s closet than character development in this film. We all know people take selfies but we really don’t need to see an entire movie of it. The film presents such an awkward structure as well, but

Every other line in the film: "Take a picture."

Every other line in the film: “Take a picture.”

the nonlinear moments and voiceover cut-ins add nothing interesting. This entire film could’ve been 30 minutes long and still told the same dull story. It could’ve been 10 minutes long and maybe we’d have an interesting short film, or zero minutes because it shouldn’t exist in the first place.

Music

The music is the only thing that works for this film… until the characters sing along to nearly every song.

‘World War Z’ Review

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OVERALL RATING: 2.5/4

Cinematography

Swarms of zombies seen from afar. Anything up close and personal is left more for the imagination. There are quick moments that Ben Seresin does a great job capturing, such as the red flare lights, pharmacy scene, and rainy runway aesthetic. The films takes the audience to many different places under various conditions, and Seresin does a great job keeping up with those changes. Overall, it seems like his best cinematic work.???????????

Acting

There are no outstanding performances in this film, except maybe from a couple zombies. Brad Pitt plays it straight as Gerry, the family man well-endowed with survival skills. Pitt is a brilliant character actor and roles like these don’t do justice for his talents. I’d rather see Tyler Durden fight zombies, Detective David Mills investigating the cure, or Rusty Ryan steal from a zombie-infested research center. We hear of Gerry’s backstory in dialogue, but why bother if he’s just so normal and blasé? Gerry seems quick-witted and more importantly, unflawed, making his character much less interesting.

Directing 

Expect more of an action movie than a blood-and-guts film. Marc Forster does a great job capturing the global chaos of a zombie apocalypse, but he does not focus much on individuals in danger, leaving audiences with less sympathy toward the film’s many zombie victims. The film constantly moves from place to place with its shaky camera, which is understandable given the circumstances of a global apocalypse, but it needs more beats for Gerry’s character. I attribute this to a lack of character development and while it may not be in the script, Forster could have found some moments within scenes like when the family finds shelter or in Gerry’s many nightmares.

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Writing

Many last-minute, drastic script changes went into this film, resulting in an entirely new ending. Once Pitt’s character leaves his family, the film gradually loses its sense of danger. Zombies are everywhere, but he’s the only character the audience really needs to care for and they already announced the sequel. The film throws so many odd characters into the mix as well without really making much effective use of them.

It is an interesting world when zombies run, rather than shuffle around, but anyone familiar with Zombieland won’t see World War Z as pushing any envelopes. In fact, the film loses its edge by its second act, and there’s arguably no tension at all in the convenient and hasty final act. This film does a poor job of setting anything up for the sequel as well, ending as a standalone feature.

Score

Marco Beltrami’s score surges through the film but it’s only after that you realize its impact. It’s not about scares, but it is about the tension that builds during a global crisis. The score maintains the suspense of the film more than any other aspect. It’s especially unnerving after Gerry and his family realize that a traffic jam soon becomes a Philadelphia zombie takeover.

‘The Heat’ Review

I’ll start by saying I wasn’t in the best of moods before seeing this but thankfully, this film in not what a lackluster trailer had anyone believing. Many still may not enjoy it but I think that as a comedy, the film did what it should because I felt better while watching it. I even laughed a few times.

OVERALL RATING: 3/4 

Cinematography

I don’t believe that comedies shouldn’t have an identifiable style. Usually, it’s the darker comedies, like In Bruges, that take the risk but I think it’s time for the genre to try a little harder. This is why I appreciate The Hangover films because even as mass-appealing comedies, they have a specific look. This is also where praise for a lot of Simon Pegg and British films comes in. The Heat doesn’t really light any cinematic sparks in this department though, which is especially disappointing since you may know the cinematographer, Robert D. Yeoman, for his work on Dogma and many fantastic Wes Anderson films. As a filmgoer, if you’re only looking for some inspiring lighting or memorable long takes, this isn’t the film for you.

Acting

Melissa McCarthy outshines Sandra Bullock, and everyone else in this film, but both women have great awareness with physical comedy. They swear as much as they like as well, which is a lot with McCarthy’s insults, and it’s unapologetically funny. As per usual, McCarthy’s husband cameos in the film as well. Another great appearance is from Nathan Corddry, for any fan of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and other recognizable television faces include Kaitlin Oslon from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Tony Hale from Arrested Development, and Andy Buckley from The Office.Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 8.17.28 PM

Directing 

Paul Feig, above all, is probably the reason this film does hit its comedic beats. His body of work proves his diversity with comedy (yes, not all comedy is the same and not everyone works well with each style), and he sets high standards for female-driven comedies, especially because of Bridesmaids. He seems to be the perfect director for McCarthy as well. She’s one of the funniest women around, but it seems that especially with Feig does her natural humor as the inappropriate character with heart please audiences the most.

Writing

The payoffs are predictable in Katie Dippold’s script, but at least the film keeps its pace. The problem with many comedies that extend over the 90 minute mark is that so many lose comedic steam midway through. When the energy gets lost in the script, the audience loses the laughter momentum as well. The Heat, playing off of its predictability, comes with a variety of  moments so ridiculous that it’s hard not to laugh, like McCartney’s “bad-cop” interrogation style or Bullock’s knife encounter. Not bad for a comedy that extends over 2 hours, especially since a sequel is now in the works.

"The Heat" New York Premiere - Outside ArrivalsThere is an issue with the generic lead characters. I wish they were something new to the buddy-cop genre rather than uptight FBI agent and reckless cop. The fact that they are female leads doesn’t excuse this lack of character development or make it refreshing. Merely dealing with gender doesn’t push any envelopes if the females are written like stereotypical male characters. This is the same issue Zero Dark Thirty had, because why are strong female characters basically written like a male, yet constantly proving themselves to men?

‘Man of Steel’: Lacking Personality and Effective Parenting

OVERALL RATING: 2/4

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Cinematography

This superhero film has a specific look. Visually, it’s one of those films you know looks great, but you don’t really care for it because it’s a wanna-be darker version of Superman that keeps masquerading itself as hopeful. Amir Mokri lights beautifully. Lord of War proves that even while much of his other work seems questionable, but Man of Steel falls short in story and characters, turning aesthetic appeal into a shallow surface. It’s like a costume, with nothing really super once you look past the cape… except maybe Henry Cavill’s abs.

Acting

Superman has no personality, and it’s probably because of his awful dads. One’s just some teleporting conscience in the form of Russell Crowe while his human dad is like a sadder version of Kevin Costner from Field of Dreams who tries teaching his son morals by being, well, kind of immoral. Sorry, Jonathan Kent, I’m pretty sure we don’t scold our super-human son for saving drowning children, but if your goal was to raise your alien son as passive, lacking personality even in comedic moments, and accepting of anything anyone tells him, then congratulations because Henry Cavill played along.

Zod comes back with a vengeance... and weird facial hair

Zod comes back with a vengeance… and weird facial hair

In fact, this entire film needs a personality reboot for the entire cast, except Michael Shannon does have his moments… playing the part of Michael Shannon. If you want a fun game while seeing this movie, imagine Zod as the angry sorority girl Shannon emulates for a Funny or Die episode.

Directing 

Zack Snyder, please leave. How is he still making films? How is he even working with an Iranian, Amir Mokri, after 300? Does he even have emotions because I cannot pick up on that with his films? Ok, I’ll give him a little credit and that’s about 30 seconds of the film when young Clark Kent fashions a cape for himself while playing with the family dog as his father of passive-immoral teachings looks on.

As for action, which is all Snyder cares for yet can’t entirely pull off, Superman’s fight with some Krypton girl is interesting enough until things get too heated up, much like the rest of this fiery mess. They really had a good time with the CGI fire on this film. It seems like there are so many different, strange action sequences that play out like moments from Thor, Hercules, and other strong-man movies so that more objects can fall to the flames. For a film about a superhero who can fly, a lot comes crashing down.

Writing

Why so serious... all the time?

Why so serious… all the time?

The film of disjointed moments and easily-resolved flashbacks. Nolan helped with the story and writer David S. Goyer is no newcomer to the superhero game, but where The Dark Knight Rises fell short, Man of Steel falls shorter. Basically, the lesson from this script is that superpowers and a pretty face don’t come with a super personality or vast emotional range. I do believe Cavill has the talent, but there’s nothing in this script for him. The comedic moments are poorly timed and his moments of heartache come with shouting, “No!” and, “Don’t do this!” for about 5 seconds.

As for an extremely picky complaint, there’s the actual reveal of naming the man of steel “Superman” that’s too cheap and poorly timed. The first half of the movie, even the film’s title, neglects referring to its protagonist as “Superman,” and I wish they kept it that way. We all know who he is, and this film want us to see that symbol as standing for something else, like “hope,” so don’t fly too far ahead of yourself if you want us seeing something more than an ‘S’, writers.

Score

I honestly cannot remember what the music sounded like in this film, or how it made me feel. Actually, I felt nothing. For a film that makes Superman a symbol of hope, hoping for another reboot instead of a sequel is a better option.

Hamlet on Film

2 December 2011

Hamlet is arguably the most often adapted William Shakespeare play. With each new adaptation, directors often take liberties in presenting the play. Though all 1990s film versions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990), Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet (1990), and Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996) all provide dissimilar conditions in which Hamlet reunites with his close friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Each film diverges in the context of settings as well as in the use of camera angles, time-lapse techniques, various points in which the character of Hamlet’s tone/character alters, and other differing elements to underscore the character traits of each interpretation of Hamlet and to provide insight into the relationships between Hamlet, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern. Stoppard’s film focuses on the centrality of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern while presenting a melodramatic Hamlet from their point of view, Zeffirelli’s film focuses on Hamlet and his secluded nature that keeps the secondary Rosencrantz and Guildenstern at a figurative distance, and Branagh’s film implements a balanced interaction between the three characters while Hamlet appears to be in a state of mania.

Game of Thrones' Jorah Mormont on his Shakespeare game

Game of Thrones’ Jorah Mormont on his Shakespeare game

One of the aforementioned versions of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Stoppard’s 1990 version, will first be analyzed as a distinct rendition of such a popularly depicted play. To heighten the atmosphere of absurdity and existential tone of this interpretation, Stoppard’s film provides a particularly unique interpretation of Hamlet for this scene in which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern first encounter the young prince. Here, Hamlet (Iain Glen) exhibits characteristics of ridiculousness, egotism, and aggressiveness. Each of these character traits becomes visible at different moments as the scene progresses.

Hamlet’s absurdity comes out right from the start when he appears to be having a conversation with no one around. While Rosencrantz and Guildenstern watch him before entering, they are confused by Hamlet’s unaccompanied behavior; Rosencrantz perplexedly asks his companion, “What’s he doing?” and Guildenstern responds that the peculiar Hamlet is, “Talking…to himself.” The ambience is already set for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be talking to an out-of-the-ordinary old friend rather than one who does not act out of absurd impulses because Hamlet’s actions have become exaggerated to the point where his thoughts have been projected in a secluded discussion.

Hamlet’s unusual behavior is also not limited to an enhanced disorientation in his own inclinations, but also to an inflamed ego. Stoppard’s film displays the egotistical Hamlet by giving him a certain, nonchalant tone of voice. Hamlet gives a proud speech saying, “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god” (Shakespeare II.ii.301-4). Then, he goes on to casually dismiss these astonishments as “dust” (II.ii.306). Unconcernedly, Hamlet remarks, “Man delights not me” (II.ii.306). With this switch to a blasé attitude toward the subject matter, Hamlet brings an existential philosophy into this version by quickly, and uncaringly refuting all of his appraisals and celestial comparisons of man so that they become meaningless.cap037

The final telling trait of this particular Hamlet is his aggressiveness. While talking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he removes his sword, belligerently cuts down a chandelier when Guildenstern admits to being sent for, and injures Rosencrantz and Guildenstern when he grabs their hands to say, “I am but mad north-north-west; when the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw” (II.ii.373-4). Even when Hamlet is standing on the table giving his dramatic speech, Rosencrantz must protect the items (plates and glasses) in front of him as Hamlet comes closer because Rosencrantz anticipates that the Dane could possibly break them. Through the use of these actions, both small (like the simple act of taking the sword out) to the more overly done actions (like actually cutting down a hanging chandelier), along with his apathetic egoism and absurdity, this Hamlet becomes different in that he becomes an unlikable interpretation of the Danish prince who is redeemed by comical, exaggerated behavior.

With a Hamlet that seems less like a leading man for his melodramatic behavior, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are seen as the central characters, especially since the scene starts from their perspective as they watch Hamlet. In this way, the scene is designed to revolve around their forthcoming experience with the prince, and in a role-reversal, Hamlet becomes a minor character in comparison. For example, during his dramatic speech, the camera often cuts to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, or shows wide shots that all three characters are instead of concentrating on only Hamlet. The time-lapse that keeps the characters in a widened shot also adds to the absurdity of this film because Hamlet’s clothes alter, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern look as though they have sat for hours, and the dark, undecorated room becomes illumined with candles and adorned with pictures. Viewers experience Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s point of view here because Hamlet does not seem to notice such changes, but Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do appear fatigued, which is what the audience relates to when a time-lapse is introduced to show how long Hamlet keeps his friends in one room.

While Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sit for hours and tolerate Hamlet’s antics, this shows that they are all close friends because in responding to him as well, Rosencrantz does not feel the need to defend himself when Hamlet asks why he laughed at “man delights not me…” (II.ii.306). Instead, Gary Oldman’s character suggest, through tone of voice, that his answer is genuine and rather than concocted to please Hamlet, so their friendship is long-standing enough to be so concerned with slight offenses. Upon entering as well, Hamlet is happy enough to see his friends that he elatedly embraces as well as joking pushes them. In the same instance, these visitors can casually walk in on Hamlet who is alone in a room, but in other versions others are around and Hamlet appears out in the open.

Zeffirelli’s Hamlet first appears in a field and in a pensive state by himself, not talking aloud like Glen’s Hamlet, to show that this Hamlet is more reclusive. From this, it becomes evident that Mel Gibson plays a very different Hamlet in Zeffirelli’s Hamlet from the same year. His manner is casual, but in a more relaxed way that correlates to the sunny and pleasant outdoors setting. The manner of speaking exhibited by this character takes a natural tone when greeting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, so lines—such as, “…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (II.ii.247-8)—do not become overdramatized as in other versions. When the prince says, “Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams” (II.ii.252-4) he even laughs.

Mel Gibson as Hamlet prior to going all Polonius crazy in real life

Mel Gibson as Hamlet prior to going all Polonius crazy in real life

Even so, Gibson’s Hamlet is passive aggressive, like when he asks to leave with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern because he “cannot reason” (II.ii.263), which characterizes this Hamlet as one who suppresses what he really wants to say to maintain a polite decorum (since his relationship with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is indifferent, so it would be rude to treat them otherwise within minutes of their arrival), and that eventually erupts into actual aggression when he kicks Rosencrantz in a hostile outburst. The point of this is to show that by initially trying to mask his anger, this Hamlet makes it clear that his relationship with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is not one in which he is good friends with them, because if he was, then he would not be bothered or uncomfortable with expressing his thoughts or feelings openly.

In fact, of the three films in question, Zeffirelli’s Hamlet is not as close to or friendly with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in this version. When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive, Hamlet struggles with recalling their names. The tone projected upon the visiting friends is one of attempted toleration rather than a warm welcome, up until he gets so frustrated that he actually kicks one of his “good friends” (II.ii.223). The two extremes, of Hamlet acting so indifferent toward the arrival of his guests to the violent outburst on one of them, emphasizes the remoteness in the relationship between the three characters, especially since Rosencrantz even has to be fearfully defensive when Hamlet accuses him of disagreeing by laughter over Hamlet’s displeasure with man. In this scene, Rosencrantz would not be so fearful if Hamlet was more of an upset friend rather than an angry stranger to him, but that is not the case since Hamlet never acknowledges his guests in any way to suggest that they are anything more than casual acquaintances.

Another way in which Hamlet is distanced from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is through close-up shots. The element of close-up angles while Hamlet gives his speech create a sense that he is talking to himself and as well as a pseudo-sense that Hamlet is the only one around because others cannot be seen reacting to him, and when they are seen, it is often through long shots and the few individual shots are quick and brief. When Hamlet’s speech begins, he is seen up close, looking at his hand, and then walking forward without the camera zooming out. Not until he addresses Rosencrantz does the camera show any other character. Therefore, in this film’s scene, Hamlet is evidently the central character.

The British fellow who does all the Shakespeare

The British fellow who does all the Shakespeare

Alternatively, Branagh presents a very different Hamlet. Branagh’s Hamlet is one in which Hamlet is outdoors during the arrival of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The weather is cold, and less comforting than that of Zeffirelli’s film, which is how this scene also contrasts since Hamlet is highly erratic. His tone changes as quickly as it does frequently from being overjoyed to see his friends to speaking in a grave tone when he says, “Why, then, ‘tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (II.ii.247-248). Similarly, his enraged “you were sent for” (II.ii.276-7) changes by the time he gives his very placid and composed speech on the curiosity of man, and tranquil music is even used to accompany this speech. The effect this has on viewers is that Branagh’s Hamlet is the most unpredictable, so the question regarding his sanity yields a more ambiguous answer.

Also, Branagh cleverly makes Hamlet seem questionably irrational with other components as well, such trudging his guests through the snow with haste only to slow down, then run rapidly and stop abruptly. The atmosphere is frantic, but Rosencrantz and Guildenstern show that they are capable of remaining in-synch with the Prince of Denmark and the camera follows all three as central characters. When Hamlet interrogates them to know their purpose of visitation, close-up shots alter evenly between all three characters and in Hamlet’s abrupt halt, he faces the camera while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can still be seen clearly, yet Hamlet is also shown from different angles even though he is standing in one place. This unconventional method effectively creates discomfort for viewers to see so many angles and each different angle highlights different parts of his personality (angry in one shot and constrained in another) to show how complex this Hamlet is.

Yet despite his complexity, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can follow Hamlet’s dialogue and walking pace. As Hamlet runs around for the whole scene, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern keep up. They chase after him when he says, “Shall we to th’ court?” (II.ii.262-263), they slowly walk up the stairs with him, and they stand still when he does before informing him of the players. To have a friend who acts out of the ordinary, and still manage to keep up with him, means that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have an ability to anticipate what Hamlet does, and that comes from being more than mere acquaintances or friends that do not know each other enough. This is not to say that they are not thrown off by the Dane’s unbalanced behavior, but they are able to go along with it, as if to amuse their friend before they can figure out why Hamlet is acting in such a way.

Also, the returning friends, unlike the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Zeffirelli’s film, do not show reactions of nervousness or blatant fear when Hamlet asks if they were asked to visit him. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern could be competent liars in search of information for the king, but if this were the case, they would be able to find some way to evade giving Hamlet the complete truth that they were sent to monitor Hamlet. Though having brief looks of concerned, minor facial expressions, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not too fazed by an angry Hamlet and Guildenstern responds to him with a guiltless tone in saying, “My lord, we were sent for” (II.ii.290).

Ultimately, instead of vehemently and persistently denying Hamlet’s claim, Guildenstern would rather tell his friend the truth than figure out some elaborate fib for the sake of Claudius. This further demonstrates the familiarity between the three characters, especially since they also speak in very close proximity to each other (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do not try to distance themselves when Hamlet is angry). The proximity also accentuates the fact that all three characters are central to this scene, because when Hamlet gives his speech at the end, all three characters can be seen. This is unlike in Stoppard’s film where Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are at far ends of a table, or in Zeffirelli’s film where the characters sit far apart and barely come near each other.

Whether from proximity and distance between each other, or other factors, each of these unique and modern versions of Hamlet deal differently with the individual character of Hamlet and his relationship with Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern. In doing so, the directors accomplish different goals and emphasize characters differently. This allows each film, with a mixture of elements, to tell the story of a world-weary prince and his reuniting with two people from his past, or, in the case of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern being main characters, it becomes the story of their reunion with a princely companion.

Sources

 Hamlet. Dir. Franco Zeffirelli. By William Shakespeare. Screenplay by Christopher De

Vore. Perf. Mel Gibson. Nelson Entertainment Icon Productions, 1990. DVD.

Hamlet. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Screenplay by Kenneth Branagh. By William

Shakespeare. Perf. Kenneth Branagh. Shepperton Studios, 1996. YouTube.

Milovy, 16 Sept. 2007. Web. 28 Nov. 2011.

<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jy6c4fpZyDw&gt;.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Dir. Tom Stoppard. Screenplay by Tom

Stoppard. Perf. Gary Oldman and Tim Roth. T. Schreiber Studio, 1990. YouTube. Hokubi, 6 Nov. 2009. Web. 28 Nov. 2011.

<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZ6mdtq5oik&feature=related&gt;.

Shakespeare, William, and G. R. Hibbard. “Act II, Scene II.” Hamlet. Oxford: Oxford

UP, 2008. 215-23. Print.

Iron Man 3 Review

IRON MAN 3

Iron Man is my favorite superhero and Tony Star’s return definitely did not disappoint. The film is everything one hopes for out of a Shane Black, Robert Downey Jr. reunion. Another plus, this film is just called Iron Man 3. Not Iron Man 3 followed by a colon and some obnoxious line. Take note, sequel writers.

OVERALL RATING: 3.5/4

Cinematography

Robert Downey Jr. has impeccable timing, both in line delivery and physicality. That requires camerawork that hits those marks with him, and I could write an entire review about the greatest rack focus shot in the history of rack focus shots. This is when the focus switches from a record player to Tony Stark seductively dancing. Just like that, John Toll became one of my favorite directors of photography.

John Toll doin' his dolly thing on the set of The Thin Red Line

John Toll doin’ his dolly thing on the set of The Thin Red Line

Toll has a diverse style. He can probably figure out the cinematography for any genre based on his variety of work so far. His films include Almost Famous, Braveheart, Tropic Thunder, The Thin Red Line, Gone Baby Gone, Adjustment Bureau, Cloud Atlas and even It’s Complicated. Fun fact, he is also the cinematographer for Breaking Bad’s pilot episode. What a guy, right?

Acting

The old: Legend has it that when Robert Downey Jr. was born, Stan Lee held him like Rafiki held Simba over a cliff in The Lion King. Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. Tony Stark is Robert Downey Jr. Everybody knows this. It’s a law of the universe. You know you love it when Tony summons his suit with his smart-guy Jedi powers now too.

Paul Bettany, who voices Jarvis, has so much comedic timing for his role. This is the most underrated performance in the trilogy. His robotic sass and nonchalance is perfect. You keep doing you, Jarvis.

Stan Lee with a young Robert Downey Jr.

Stan Lee with a young Robert Downey Jr.

Likewise, it’s great seeing Jon Favreau in a somewhat larger role. Pepper shows off her badass side that even throws Tony off guard and Rhodey can’t even keep a password a secret from Tony. Someone send these three on a vacation.

The New: Ty Simpkins plays Harley, Tony’s newfound partner in crime. This kid is a great actor who can hold his own with Downey Jr. Not a lot of adult actors even say they pull that off.

The re-generating characters became a little cliché, but this is a comic-book action movie so that’s what it needs. Honestly, I wanted one of them to regenerate and say, “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”

Without giving anything away, Ben Kingsley’s performance did not sell me until halfway through the film. You hate Guy Pearce the entire time. Even when you should feel bad for him, you hate him. He’s that annoying nerd who gets too much power, like in The Social Network when Rooney Mara tells Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg “…you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”

Directing 

Shane Black is cooler than you

Shane Black is cooler than you

Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr. cannot get it wrong when working together. Black, new to directing a Marvel film, knows exactly which character needs screen time devoted to them and when. Because of this, the story never lags. This was the problem with Iron Man 2, where too many characters played by talented actors did not fit seamlessly into the story. Iron Man 3 corrects that mistake, creating a better flow.

Writing

Shane Black has the gift of screenplay dialogue and structure and the biggest shame is how underrated he is. I haven’t quoted an action movie right after leaving the theatre this much since Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. His character duos, such as in Lethal Weapon, always come with the right dynamic and this man gets voiceovers right when so, so many get it wrong. He knows how to make voiceovers important to a story rather than a cop-out for actually showing it. If you don’t believe me, see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang right now. Literally go watch it right now because if you haven’t seen it, then there’s a huge, cinematic hole in your life.

Fun fact: Black’s incorporation of Christmas in his screenplays inspired one of the greatest, well-structured action films ever, Die Hard. THANK YOU! Black is a motivated writer who sticks to the Christmas setting in his films for good reason. In this great article, Black explains why Christmas figures so prominently into his stories and how Harley represents a Christmas Carol-like ghost of Tony Stark’s past. If you don’t think these reasons are a cool way to tell a story then I don’t know you, bye.

Score

I thought my perfect half-Iranian Ramin Djawadi, worked on Iron Man 3, but I guess I was wrong. He did work on Iron Man though. Anyways, Brian Tyler does an amazing job with the music and I feel like a bad person for not giving him enough credit. Recently working with a musician myself for the first time in scoring a film, I realize how important they are to completing the movie. Those actions sequences, as elaborate as they are, may not entertain in the slightest without the work that Brian Tyler adds to the film. He hits those cues perfectly too. Even if you know where they story ends up, Tyler does a great job building the tension and keeping an audience invested in the scene.

Easter Egg

Looks like Robert found a friend to help him deal with all that anxiety. Even better news… Tony Stark will be back.

And those end credits were pretty damn cool and nostalgic for the last 5 years.