Flix Fix: The Independent Movie Store

 

Film Title: Mr Nobody

By James

One day, I decided to be adventurous and trek into uncharted territory; I watched a Netflix movie without researching it. Granted, the movie in question had a 5 star suggestion for my tastes, but in principle, I was being very brave. As I sunk into my chair, I prepared myself for what was inevitably going to be a forgettable indie movie. From the cover, I could see that the film starred Jared Leto, and involved a cast of forgettables. Seeing as I had never heard of the film before the title seemed appropriate: Mr. Nobody. The movie focused on the importance of choice in the world, and the relevancy of any and every decision. The movie beautifully shot and thought out, making it a fantastic piece that I ended up loving.

Of my twenty favorite movies, fourteen of them are films that were produced by independent companies.  It’s not that big budget films can’t be amazing, and it’s not that every independent movie is amazing. Rather, the focus lies in the framing. Big budget films are a matter of probability. For every unexpected success in the box office, there are four flops. Most films made by companies like 20th Century Fox and Paramount are guaranteed cash cows. People joke that Hollywood hasn’t come up with anything profitable in years, but the fact is, movies are money. Even new movies are based on profitable old formulas to ensure that producers will make the allotted revenue. But, as this is a topic that my fellow collaborators have done already, I don’t want to drone on about the how and why of independent movies. Instead, I want to share my reasons for loving these fascinating, if slightly esoteric films.

People watch films for escapism. Films seek to offer us an opportunity to flee from the banalities of life, but how often do movies seek to change that banality within the larger context of our lives? The power within an independent film lies within the ability to change a person’s perspective. The movies that affect me the most always hit on one emotion: wonder. While joy, anger, and sorrow will last for the rest of the day, wonder will haunt me for months. After two months, I still feel that Mr. Nobody is hanging on the edge of my consciousness, subtly shaping the way I act. Mainstream films have realized the profit in other emotions, preying on romance, sorrow, and thrill, but rarely on wonder.

My love of independent films isn’t a sign of snobbery, but rather an appreciation of sincerity: sincerity of the thought that goes into movies, and sincerity of emotion within the script. The care and craft that goes into the best independent movies is extraordinary. And though the movie is created long before the viewer sees it, the decision to appreciate wonder belongs to the viewer alone.

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Today in Pop Modern: June 30, 2014

Summer Games Done Quick

 

Allen: Summer Games Done Quick, a live, charity-driven speed running competition hosted primarily on Twitch.tv ends tomorrow. It’s essentially just a series of scheduled games that Speedrunners from all over the world join in to play and beat as quickly as possible (hence the term “speedrunning”.) Besides being a fun look into the minutia of exploiting glitches and game abilities to play games in interesting ways, it represents a sea change in how people consume and interact with online video.

Users donate to a charity on a per-game basis. If, say, the upcoming speedrun is for Final Fantasy VI or Chrono Trigger,the user who donates the most gets to name the player character whatever they want. It feels like a beautiful use of Internet meme culture, where names are picked by the people who care to invest the most, not a vocal minority who would probably name everyone “BatmanX420.” And since it’s all livestreamed, the whole affair feels like a television network, with new content being broadcast constantly, the best games being played at prime time, and highlights hitting YouTube within hours of airing. It’s nice to see game enthusiasts all watching a fascinating series of skill-based play for a good cause.

Link: http://gamesdonequick.com/

Magellan: The link at the end of this entry is for a video that went viral last week, but that I’d still love to talk about. It’s that fan-made trailer for the original Star Wars trilogy stylized like the trailer for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which I can’t help but play over and over again. Something about watching “Hooked on a Feeling” kick in with R2 lighting up and then watching Han run screaming through an Imperial hallway is at once cloyingly nostalgic and viscerally refreshing. If nothing else, I now want to watch the Original Trilogy over again at the next available opportunity (even the Prequel Trilogy version is quite fun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYMJdhbitXQ). More than that, though, I experienced a new-found enthusiasm for the upcoming trilogy. This was helped in no small part by another bit of information that came out last week: Rian Johnson (of Brick and Looper fame) is directing the 8th film (http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/star-wars-enlists-rian-johnson-to-direct-episode-viii-20140620). I’ve been a huge Rian Johnson fan for years now, so you can imagine my glee at seeing a universe I adore promised to the guidance of a creator who I deeply respect and enjoy. I suppose there isn’t much else to say except that I feel we’re on the cusp of a Star Wars Renaissance. People who, like me, grew up with this universe are finally being given the chance to influence it in a big way, and I think that portends great things.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLyNMSkTiGg

James: I am going to go with something a little more mainstream here, and talk about something that most people already know. Recently I have been getting into TED talks, where TED stands for technology, entertainment, and design. These talks can range on anything from a four minute video on the most efficient way to use a paper towel (http://www.ted.com/talks/joe_smith_how_to_use_a_paper_towel) to a twenty minute talk on how body language can affect your life (http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are) . All of the episodes are smart, for the most part funny, and most importantly, less than half an hour long. These little gems can help fill a seemingly unproductive day with a fresh take on the world. There are mobile apps that give all kinds of cool talks, with topics ranging from all of the sides of science, artistry, and real-life. So today, I am pushing you to take half an hour out of your day to find and watch a TED talk that could make your day. The concepts in TED talks are fascinating, and at the very least can spark up interesting dinner conversations, even if they don’t change your life. But trust me, they will.

Link: http://www.ted.com/

 

Television Tribune: The Cult of Barney

 

By James

I really like How I Met Your Mother. It’s funny, clever, and relies on a cutting edge narrative that makes it one of a few unique shows to air on a major network. With that being said, I hate some major parts of How I Met Your Mother. I am not going to delve into the critically mixed finale, nor am I going to talk about the framing of the last season. Such a venture is dealing only with minutiae, an outlier among the other eight great seasons. My issue is with the reception by the fans of the show itself.

The show is really about the characters, structuring plots around the reactions of the different friends to different situations. The characters provide foils for themselves, with character traits that are supposed to clash. Ted Mosby, the main character, is the helpless romantic, who often destroys relationships in his search for a platonic ideal of “the one”. His friend Barney is a notorious womanizer with abandonment issues, whose life is shown as empty, despite the numerous women that he has sex with. Ted’s best friend Marshall often seems childish, a simple man with the loyalty that comes with simplicity, quick to pick sides, and steadfast in his beliefs in monsters and aliens. Lily, Marshall’s wife, is a flamboyant and ditsy character, who often forgets important matters, and reverses the typical roles of sexuality. Robin, the last member of these Merry Men, is a woman who believes in her job above all else, sacrificing personal life for love life every time.

Each of these characters is flawed in a particular and unique way, carefully balancing each other out. Ted’s romanticism and Barney’s lechery balance out to the comfortable love life of Marshall. Robin’s father issues and Marshall’s over-reliance on his father lead to the happy medium of Ted’s relationship with his parents. Each character is a balance, not only of strengths and weaknesses, but also (relative) normality. No one character has a domineering role on this stage of the New York bar life. Sure, there are episodes devoted to showing us the change. Both Ted and Barney eventually start to come closer to the happy medium of accepting relationships as they are, and Marshall and Robin are forced to accept a more traditional role as children, but by and large the show remains the same. All of the friends are first among equals, but that isn’t quite true.

My least favorite part of the show How I Met Your Mother is the fans. Now, I will be the first to say that I don’t like fanboys. I have written before on how much recent Doctor Who fans have raised my ire, but there is something wholly different about fans of How I Met Your Mother. The point of the show is that everybody has their own mix of horrible and fantastic attributes. And yet, whenever I ask a group of kids who their favorite character is, I inevitably get a cry of Barney Stinson. Now, I like the character. I think that Neil Patrick Harris has done a fantastic job of making his character, creating a half James Bond, half laughable magician. With that being said, people don’t just like the character: they want to be him. There is a phrase that Barney often uses: “Legen-wait for it-dary. Legendary.” After I started watching the show in 2010, I began to notice that phrase bandied about. A lot. In fact, it seemed like I couldn’t go a single lunch without hearing a reference to the phrase, or to Barney and his cult of sexuality in some oblique way. I don’t particularly like unoriginality to begin with: banality to me is a sin equivocal with theft of time. But the fact is that this wasn’t just unoriginality, this was a much bigger deal. Impressionable kids couldn’t see past Barney’s cool façade, and wound up thinking that Barney actually enjoyed his life. The show is founded on the principle that everyone is equally miserable, but without that critical insight, nobody could see past the lampoon. Instead, they took the satire as a standard, and molded themselves to the cult of Barney.

Once again, I want to reiterate that I love the show. The plots are great, characters develop, and the entire thing exudes polish. But I also believe in impressionability, the fact that people will not always understand what they are watching. In the end, a show shouldn’t be shut down to prevent the few from misunderstandings, but I also think that it’s important to keep this in mind. It’s important not to fall under the allure of the cult of Barney.

Monday Match-Ups: Sauron vs. Darth Sidious

Lawn Bowling

The Setup:

We’ve all had the lunchtime conversations about despotism in fantasy lands. Who would win the fight, Sauron or Darth Sidious? We at Pop-Modern are the trendsetting few who think further ahead. Sure, it would be fun to see the devastation of the planet known as Middle Earth by a re-rebuilt Death Star (note: Abrams- you can take this idea to the bank, just put as in the credits), but wouldn’t it be more exciting to watch these despots battle for title of lawn bowling? That’s what we explore here today in the never before explored lawn bowling duel between Sauron, Dark Lord, and Darth Sidious, Lord of the Sith.

 

The Contenders:

Sauron: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sauron

Darth Sidious: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Sidious

 

The Verdicts:

Allen: It doesn’t get more Anglican than lawn bowling. Similar to shuffleboard, it’s all about getting as close as possible to your target using a thrown, weighted ball. Now let’s take a look at our challengers. Sauron, the titular Lord of the Rings, has identity issues. Once a human for many years, he eventually abandoned his human form and took up the infamous Eye of Sauron form that he presents himself as in Tolkien’s epic novels. He can possess people probably, he can most likely, I dunno, squint really hard and move mountains, and, most importantly, he can roll a mean seven-ten split. His bowling skills were only elucidated in specific editions of The Silmarillion, but hitting pins does not a good lawn bowler make. Sidious also changed forms throughout his time as the Skywalker’s “creepy uncle who also wants to make us commit genocide” role, cliche as it is. His power is influence over anything else, despite what those damn video games will tell you about “Force Lightning” and “Force Choke” and “Improved Bonus to Lightsaber Crits”. With lawn bowling being a team sport, Sidious has got the motivation and pep to get his fellow bowlers on point. If we’re assuming this is human Sauron, all he can do is raise an undead army and command them to take over some land or something. Oh, and did I mention that Sidious can just use the damn Force to weigh the ball down right next to the jack? Oh, I didn’t? Oh, I’m sorry. I couldn’t you over the sound of Midichlorians not existing.\

Magellan: For this puzzler of a Monday Match-Up (would we have it any other way?) I’m going to make three key assumptions: First, I’m going to go ahead and say that “lawn bowling” is synonymous with “bocce,” if only because “bocce” is much more fun to say and sounds like the kind of game that two diabolical, older entities would play together. Second, I’m assuming that, however much it goes against character logic and the general rules of war (or lack thereof) that govern the Dark Side, Sidious has agreed not to employ the Force to give himself an advantage. That’s the only way we can make this contest fair, since any game that relies solely on physics would be irreparably broken by so much as a well-timed wrist-flick from the chubbiest Youngling, even with one of those glorified colanders they call training helmets on their head. Third, I’m taking it as given that Sauron isn’t manifesting as a fifty-foot fiery cat eye, but rather as the armored dude from the beginning of Fellowship. And therein lies the crux of my argument. Sure, Sauron has the strength and the precision to make some great shots at the pallino (another fun “bocce”-related word), but he just doesn’t have the maneuverability necessary to make some of the tricky finesse shots that will send Sidious over the top. You’ve got to admit, even with the pounds of skin that constituted Sidious’s eye brow region, he always looked nothing if not comfortable. He probably wasn’t even wearing anything under that robe.

Jim: The interesting thing about this scenario seems to be the issue of whether Sauron is a fiery eye, or a somewhat less immolated death king. I for one choose to believe that Sauron couldn’t bowl as such, as one eye would severely lack any kind of depth perception. Instead, I think that the contenders are an old politician, and a healthy, immortal death angel. Let’s face the facts. Politicians don’t make the best sportsmen. We’ve all seen Barack Obama playing basketball, and it is rumored that he only ran for president after the WNBA kicked him out due to his “uninteresting ball –play”. Could Sidious really do all that much better in bowling? Sure the death star probably has a bowling arena, but judging from the hunch in his step, Sidious wouldn’t even be able to pick up a 10 pound ball without seeing his local Twilek chiropractor. Besides, what with ruling over a galactic empire, Sidious hasn’t had much down time since he looked slightly less wrinkly. Sauron on the other hand looks stronger than Sidious’s brow furrows. Sure, his precision might have been dulled by using a gigantic mace for years, but what with lugging around a set of armor for millennia, and bench-pressing Oliphants, he could just throw boulders down the lane and crush people. Magic ring or not, this fallen angel looks like he’s fallen into the history books. Sauron wins lawn bowling, no contest.

 

The Results:

 

Darth Sidious wins 2-1

 

In a radical turn of events, the wrinkly old politician wins again. Nobody could have seen that coming since the 2000 presidential election. Political Comedy. Join us next time for some more cutting edge fan fiction.

 

 

Flix Fix: The Generality of Genres

In bruges

by James

When I was trying to recommend the film In Bruges to my brother, I came across some problems. The conversation ran something like this: “Jake,” (my brother’s name is Jake) “you should really check out this film. It’s like a dark comedy, but it isn’t really a funny movie, and it has some action parts, but it really isn’t an action movie, and there is some drama, but it isn’t like a real dramatic movie. Umm. It’s about Bruges. No really, you should check it out.”

When I try to talk about a film, the first thing that comes to mind is the genre. Inevitably, the first words out of my mouth are “It’s a horror movie,” or “It’s an action movie.” The human mind naturally categorizes things into a collection. The easiest way to describe something new is to start with something old. Only after the category is established does the explanation come out. “It’s a horror movie, but the serial killer is a puppet.” “It’s an adventure movie, but the main character is actually a cyborg dog. How awesome is that?” For the most part, these films are easily categorized. Hollywood knows what the markets are looking for, and tend to produce to the specifications. People want comedies? Give them a wacky setup, and send Kevin James in. People want a horror movie? Send in the teenagers and give somebody a knife and a mask. Most movies fit into this category, but from time to time, there comes a movie that doesn’t really fit into this mold.

Some of the most innovative movies are the ones that lack the boundaries imposed by genres. Adaptation, my favorite movie, is an example of a movie whose value increases due to its lack of restrictions. Adaptation is a movie about a man trying to adapt a screenplay. There is comedy, but the movie isn’t a comedy. There is drama, but the movie isn’t a drama. There is crime, but the movie is not a crime movie. The idea behind the movie is simple, but the writing by Charlie Kauffman brings out a complex look at the nature of change in many different forms. If it was forced into having more drama, or more crime, or comedy, the tone of the movie would change substantially. The focus would no longer rest on the ideas that the movie tries to convey, but instead the attention would be drawn away by the tropes of the genre.

I’m not saying that movies that are easily classified are bad. I enjoy watching comedies and action movies. However, the movies that stay with me are movies that contain ideas. Oftentimes, movies are so filled with tropes that there is little time for innovation. Was Lockout a fun movie? Of course it was, but I will never remember the movie as more than what it was: an action movie set in space.

Of course there will always be conventional Hollywood standbys. People will watch, and people will enjoy. Those are tried and true classic methods, and there is no reason to change it. But when I am looking for a movie to really speak to me, I’ll be looking for the film that nobody can describe.