A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)

I’m not quite sure what to say about this film. For every label it seems to give itself, it certainly breaks the genre expectations, from at least the expectations that have been set up by Hollywood and other Western media.

The film calls itself a vampire Western, which immediately makes me think of cowboys and Texan rangers riding off into the night to protect their families in a weird mash-up of Cowboys vs Aliens (2011) and The Last Man on Earth (1964), with some famous Western actor shooting wooden stakes out of specially made guns, which honestly sounds like a summer blockbuster that could be coming out in a few years, though for all I know, that exact concept has already been done. Within the first couple of minutes of this film, we immediately see that this film is not the film I just described.

It very obviously is a vampire film, a genre that ranges from classical horror to psychological thriller to badly written romances. The mythology of the vampire isn’t important to this story, but rather the fear that the character represents. The Girl and her entire back story are unknown to us, but she watches over every other character, acting as an Angel of Death, sometimes a guardian spirit and sometimes the judge, jury, and executioner of life where she deems fit. In fact, the film is so slow and drawn out, a fictional representation of the black and white color scheme of the film, she appears a single point of brightness among the mundane. When she appears and when she hunts, I was never really scared of her, just shocked out of the state of stasis the film had put me into. Even at her scariest, when she’s threatening the young boy, she’s more of a character of mystery than one of horror.

So, it’s not a horror film, but it definitely is a vampire film. Different than most vampire films, but definitely not the strangest I’ve ever seen. However, is the film a Western? We talked in class about how important iconography can be to genres, especially the Western genre, which is centered around certain times and locations, particularly the post-Civil War South, but can be transported to any setting by keeping the similar icons of guns, cowboys, and horses, or the common themes of chivalry, honor, frontier life, and rescuing the damsel in distress.

What does this film have from among those? Almost none of them. Sure, there’s guns and blood and the continuous shots of oil fields that keep reminding me of Texas. We get small glimpses of Western-style clothing in random scenes that seem to add nothing to the film, and the film takes place in an isolated town that might as well be in the deserts of North America. We even have The Girl saving Atti, in a small play on the Damsel in Distress. But the film doesn’t feel like a Western to me. There’s no action and the strong emotions that are often evoked in Westerns are placed far apart. It follows a plot structure far more similar to those of art films that we discussed in class, and the overall mood, tone, and setting of the film makes me want to classify it as a modern day gangster film, focusing on the mundanity of reality in a world of pain, with a vampire lurking just out of sight in a characterization of fiction that doesn’t belong in that world.

The Searchers (1956)

I’m actually from Texas. Born and raised in Houston. Of course, my parents are Canadian, so I have a bit of a political and cultural disconnect from the area, but it always amazes me how people will watch a western and still expect Texas to be like that, complete with the cowboys and ten gallon hats. Now, there are certainly still ranches out in Texas, but nobody really lives on the frontier anymore. Hell, Texas’ true population boom didn’t come until the invention of the air conditioning made life bearable for all but the roughest and toughest. Texas isn’t a land of men and women facing against the inhospitable environment and making a way for civilization. It’s a land of fast food, staunch conservatism, and a weirdly religious obsession over football.

But does The Searchers represent the good old Texas past, complete with violence, lack of education, and racial prejudice? Then I suppose it does. The main character, Ethan Edwards, is one of the most violent men of vicious attitude that I’ve seen put on screen as a hero. He kills for the purpose of killing and he hates for the purpose of hating. This man is no role model, but rather an ideal of masculinity that is so venomous and set in his ways that he is willing to kill the very niece he spent years looking for simply due to her having adapted to the life she was forced into. This same hatred that seems to flow through his veins can be seen when he is hunting the buffalo, willing to needlessly kill far outside what he can eat for the sake of killing and supplying the natives with a less buffalos for the coming winter.

On top of all of that, we have the adopted son, Martin, a boy so set in his search for his sister, who may or may not be alive, he is willing to throw away a relationship with a girl who is madly in love with him. He almost loses her to another man simply by disappearing for years on end, sending only a single letter in the meantime. And ironically, Scar’s band, the same one that stole his sister in the first place, ends up coming right back to the valley at the end of their search anyways. Had they simply stayed there, the majority of the troubles they face in the film would never have come up. That probably wouldn’t have made a pretty good story, but the final conflict of the story also shouldn’t occur where the story began if the journey is meant to matter.

So, if this film is supposed to be a prime example of a Western, what are the elements of a Western? There’s definitely the rough housing, the alcohol, the idea of honor and chivalry in a land where trigger speed matters more, but also an element of hate for society from our protagonist. It is a romanticization of a world where hard labour mattered, but avoiding the death and dangers around the corner mattered more. A world where only the hardest of men, and therefore the men least adapted for social interaction, are intended to survive.

All That Heaven Allow (1955)

I don’t like melodramas. Too dramatic, not enough humor. I can appreciate their purpose as a piece of art and as a study of human interaction. However, they use the same driving force of every other film as the center of their conflict, human stupidity, but do it without even an attempt at a joke. Who wants to watch something that serious?

In a film whose only conflict is man vs man, rather than man vs environment, almost every conflict is going to occur in some way from a lack of communication between two people or groups. Let’s just look at all the ways these characters fail to communicate with one another.

First off, Cary makes the mistake of telling absolutely no one in her life about Ron until they’re already engaged to be married. She doesn’t tell her children that she’s dating a man several years her junior until the night of that marriage announcement, and almost immediately expects them to accept their relationship for true love and look to Ron as a possible fixture in their lives. Now, I don’t believe that anyone should dictate who Cary should be allowed to date, or judge her or her partner by their age. But had she clearly communicated this relationship only a bit earlier in the film to her children, they may have had more time to grow accustomed to him, and their actions wouldn’t have been nearly as rebellious.

Then we can consider the argument between Cary and Ron. Cary has lived her entire life according to one set of ideals, and stands in conflict between love and her social obligations. Ron lives separate to those ideals, having found the life of societies and country clubs not fitting for him. When these two sets of ideals come in conflict with each other, rather than working to compromise and finding a solution that will allow both to live comfortably, Ron places an ultimatum on the table and expects and immediate answer. A little more communication, and they might have had a happy ending right there.

Finally, consider the lack of communication when Cary is shopping for a Christmas tree. She sees him with a female friend and jumps straight to the conclusion that he has begun dating her. She runs away, not saying a word, relying on her own assumptions rather than a confirmation of reality.

So, is this film a tragedy? No, because it appears to end happily. Lessons are learned, but never at the hand of true loss. Had Ron died in that fall, and Cary was forced to truly examine herself and what led to his death, it would be a tragedy. But the lessons here are softened by the knowledge that all ends happily and that even when someone massively screws up a relationship through a lack of communication, they can still end up together. Would the story of Oedipus have the same impact of falling for one’s own hubris if Oedipus grew his eyes back at the end and was allowed back into his kingdom after only a short exile? It is this permanent and lasting lessons that turn his story into a tragedy to learn from, rather than a drama to watch.

In the Mood for Love (2000)

While watching this film and Chungking Express, both directed by Wong Kar-wai, several elements of style became pretty apparent across both films that I feel are unique to this director, at least their combined execution. The manipulations of time, the abstract camera shots and angles, and the use of repeated motifs and locations all lend a hand in creating this style.

The most striking element of these for me was how time was manipulated in the film. The film seems to approach life at three paces. When action is happening that is important to the plot and lends a hand to the story, the pace is normal, almost mundane in how life is presented. And when there is action that is meant to convey emotion or set a mood, time slows, and dialogue is replaced by melody. These visually appealing shots overlaid with beautiful music allow for a transition both in story and mood. Finally, the film skips time that neither lends to emotion or plot. Time between scenes passes in days and weeks at a time, forcing the audience to recollect themselves based on context. This is yet another depiction of how time passes in real life, long moments of nothing important that join together the instants of excitement in life. These time skips also allow for some fun manipulations only minutes apart, repetitions of a scene just played, with the characters acting out a make-believe scene slightly differently. All of these are different views of how time passes in our lives, from the mundane present, to the slowed down moments that seem to last forever, to the entire weeks that seem to pass all at once.

The camera shots that are also visually unique. Often, characters that are the focus of dialogue are out of frame for an entire scene, or the camera will stand off angle with half the frame looking into a door, focusing on a group that we can’t quite see. Often, door frames are used to hide a character, but other times, the camera will pass back and forth through a wall to watch as time passes. Other times, the camera will focus on objects, either at the foreground of a scene or completely unrelated, like the repeated shots of the clock, or the glass of a window will be fogged or opaque. All of these make the film seem slightly less like a storybook that we are reading, and places the audience in a position of pure spectatorship, unable to fully look in on what’s happening, only able to gain glimpses of lives as they pass by.

To add to this voyeurism of real lives that are simply passing by the viewer, we are often presented with repeated locations, always at the same angle as before. Unlike other films that will explore an entire room, or make use of space to continually create new angles, we are presented with the same angles over and over, always slightly off frame, like looking into a store window on a sunny day. The camera stands at the end of a hall, looking down a row of doors, or we stand just outside the door of an office, seeing just half the room.

These elements definitely give these films a unique style, one that definitely seems less clean and clear than anything that is heavily focused on in media. We are still being told a story, but the full details are always out of frame, like listening to your neighbors fight through the wall, or watching another family at a restaurant.

 

 

Good Bye, Lenin! (2003)

This film was actually hilarious. I walked into class expecting to see a documentary or a dramatic retelling of life in the Soviet Union. I was not expecting a comedy that would teach me more about East and West Berlin than any of my history classes ever did.

Yeah, I know that sounds a little crazy, but it’s also to be expected of America millennials who were born after any of these events took place, and only learn of the cold war at the very end of every history class, if the class was even lucky enough to get that far through the material. For the longest time, I even thought the cold war had ended in the fifties or sixties, rather than in the nineties.

This film was full of discoveries for me, especially the views it provided from a character that lived in East Berlin during that time of political and economic turmoil. Perspectives on life within the Soviet Union and Communism were provided that I had never been able to glimpse before.

In my opinion, the most prominent moment of the film is when the mother reveals the truth about their father running away. In a way, this is simply a paralell to the lies that Alex had been tying her, from the hiding of evidence to the total withholding of information that they each had the right to know. However, it also points out our perspectives of reality are entirely subjective to the information that we have avaliable. History and memory, if not experienced directly, depend on others being reliable narrators for a world that we could not view first hand.

Under this guise of subjective reality, one could say that it is actually possible for conflicting realities to exist at the same time within the minds of two different people. What makes one reality more correct over the other when both are entirely based on the facts that have been presented to the people that hold those views? Just as we took for granted the reality of Alex’s father leaving as fact for the first portion of the film, isn’t the reality that Alex creates for his mother completely and totally real and true for her?

Just as Alex says, he got to create the reality that he wish he could have seen for his country. Not only as an act of creative writing, but also in the direct manipulation of his mother as he controlled the flow of information to her room in a misguided attempt at keeping her in a state of innocent patriotism. He got to recreate a world where he not only knew his mother was happy, but also where he was happier. Ultimately, the fantasy he created was not for his mother, but for himself, a world where the country thrived and his childhood hero eventually became a leader of the country, a world where East Berlin would’ve continued strong or gone out with a bang, rather than a passive whimper.

As the saying goes, the victor gets to write the history books. But does that matter if someone doesn’t read the books?

Ex Machina (2015)

This was my third viewing of Ex Machina and I can’t really say that I found any deeper insights into the film than before. Perhaps the twist that the first viewing presents leaves less impact behind for future viewings.

One of the biggest questions that the film tries to present is whether or not free will can be programmed, and if a simulated consciousness meets the requirements of not only being able present free will, but also understand that it has free will. As Caleb puts it, is a computer playing chess simply because it was programmed to, or does it understand that it is playing chess?

This comes down to not a case of the Turing test, but rather the Chinese Room problem. A machine can be programmed in a way that presents a personality and even creative thought, but it is impossible to know if a machine is capable of true thought, or is simply taking in symbols, passing them through algorithms, and returning an output without truly understanding the meaning of the symbols.

 

We are told that Ava has the ability to memorize and to think creatively, and is able to use her resources to solve problems. But it would require deep analysis of her code and how she analyzes these problems to understand if she is a strong AI or a weak AI. When Caleb tries to ask Nathan about how he created her, he was taking the proper approach. Examining a machine for consciousness is not a situation that can be based on feeling, not without proper understanding of how that machine is determining the responses it gives. The real reason that Nathan does not give this information to Caleb is a combination of Nathan’s narcissism and the fact that Caleb was nothing more than a pawn for a game that Nathan was playing against himself, as he tried to create machines that could think and even outsmart himself.

Partially, I feel I am unqualified to even attempt to answer these questions, which have deep philosophical answers that go far beyond the field of artificial intelligence, and well into the realm of the meaning of life, consciousness, and even religion. As Nathan said, we are also programmed, by nature or by some other force, but we also rely on algorithms to determine every action we take in life. Just because we have evolved so that our algorithms are able to consider the idea of internal reflection, are we truly conscious? Do we have free will if everything is determined by chemicals in our brains?

Whether or not Ava is actually conscience is an answer that only the director and screenwriter know, and that we are left to speculate. Rather, we can only focus on the themes that the film presents, such as the use of sexuality as tool in the film. Ava is able to influence Caleb through appearance, her own features based on the preferences that his searches have presented. She uses these tools, shutting down the power and human sexuality, to reach a goal that may or may not have been programmed into her, to reach the outside. Without knowing Nathan’s true motives, it is impossible to tell.

I feel the weakest part of the film is the questions that it leaves unanswered, which add to the psychological thriller aspect, but detract from deeper analysis of the plot. Why is Caleb still trapped in the room after the facility goes into lockdown? Didn’t he rewrite the parameters so that doors opened instead of sealing in those cases? Why is Ava able to board the helicopter that was expecting Caleb? Why does Kyoko maintain consciousness, even after Nathan has repurposed her? These are questions that must be left so that the ending can have the same impact that it did, but also leave a bad taste in my mouth when I reflect back on the film.

Attack the Block Discussion Question

From the very beginning of the film, we are presented with a group of protagonists who spend their free time terrorizing the neighborhood as a teenage gang. As we see them then, they are not heroes. Throughout the rest of the film, as they fight against the alien monsters, there are circumstances where they save others’ lives, such as Samantha’s when one beast is attacking the police van. However, they also put other lives in danger, including the teenage girls and the college student. Though some of the boys die in the film, the only truly selfless moment of sacrifice is when Moses is willing to take the dead female monster and run through a room of the males in order to destroy them. His unlikely survival allows him to become the “hero” of the block, no longer viewed as a teenage menace, at least by his neighbors.

Are all of our protagonists heroes, or are they simply victims of circumstance that may happen to survive the night? Were those who died heroes before the moment of their death?

Attack the Block (2011)

Attack the Block was a wonderful take on the science fiction genre, taking a previously used basic idea of an alien invasion, and a seemingly monstrous one at that, and placing it in a setting that was never really been considered for science fiction before.

I found the most interesting part of this film was the focus of conflict and enemies, especially surrounding the character of Moses. When the film begins, the enemies that Moses faces in his life all come from the “outside”, particularly from outside of The Block. The police and the people he and his friends rob are all outsiders, forces of unknown power who cannot understand their lives, since they are not from The Block. When Samantha is attacked and mugged, the boys had no idea that she lived in The Block, having never seen her there before. They are willing to attack those who live outside The Block as they see it as a form of socialism, taking from the rich and giving to the poor, themselves, and that without the mugging, they would receive no help. This strong internal attitude leads to a comment from one of the boys that Samantha’s boyfriend should be helping kids in Britain, not kids in Ghana.

The alien monsters are also from the outside, and represent the same threat that the police do. They are a faceless force that wishes only to attack without discrimination, and appear to the boys to be an enemy that is nearly impossible to fight, to run away from, or negotiate with. As Moses says, “Government probably bred those things to kill black boys. First they sent in drugs, then they sent guns and now they’re sending monsters in to kill
us. They don’t care man. We ain’t killing each other fast enough. So they decided to speed up the process.” To the boys, the monsters are simply another facet
of a society that is always out to get them.

However, despite the enemies that are obvious to both us and to the boys, there are still more enemies from the inside. Hi-Hatz, who runs the drug business, claims to have the boys’ best interests at heart, but really represents the drug and gang culture that runs rampant in areas of lower socioeconomic status, such as The Block. He recruits Moses at the first opportunity, and the boys look up to Hi-Hatz as a badass role model. Similarly, Ron the drug dealer deals weed to the kids, willing to make a profit off children,
whereas the boys look up to him as a kind of genius, simply because he watches a bit too much National Geographic. The boys will not recognize these men as enemies to the improvement of their future, however, as these are the men that appear to show charity to them, even if on a superficial level.

The enemies that these boys face throughout the movie represent the many facets of society that they face on an everyday basis, from the people that pretend they don’t exist, to the cops who see them as a nuisance, to the drug dealers who see them as employees and consumers. Though they finally defeat the monsters, they will constantly fight these other enemies throughout their lives.

 

Speed (1994)

I absolutely loved this film. I loved the over-the-top action, the cheesy jokes and the hidden foreshadowing, and particularly the huge number of parallels across varying parts of the story.

Jack Tavern, played by Keanu Reeves, is presented from the beginning of the film as an instinctive, no nonsense cop who is willing to try anything to save lives and catch the bad guy. He sticks to his guns, going as far as to keep his word on shooting the hostage when his own partner is being held as a human shield during the opening act. He is quickly thrown into a life-or-death situation of ridiculous proportions, chasing to stop a bus from reaching 50MPH and then needing to keep that same bus above 50 to prevent a bomb from exploding. Through a series of events that only exasperate their situation, Jack and the passengers race against time, fuel, the wear of tires, and the speedometer to save their lives.

There were many excellent jokes at the expense of their situation, including two that stand out to me in particular: Annie’s lost of her license due to speeding, and Howard Payne’s claim that only poor people are crazy, and that he’s eccentric. Both of these add humor to dark situations, allowing the viewer to laugh despite the tension presented on screen.

There were also great elements of mise-en-scene, particularly close ups on points of tension. When a rope or cord was about to snap, the focus was on the breaking point of that rope. When the first bus of the film exploded and the payphone rang, the flames of the bus were reflected against the metallic surface of the payphone. When the bus was speeding, the camera focused on the speedometer and the inching back and forth towards 50. When the bus was forced to take a hard turn, the camera focused on the blinker outside the bus, representing both tension and the ridiculousness of this situation and everyday life where a turn signal would be needed.

The greatest facet of foreshadowing I saw in this film was the use of the gold watch as a timer for the bomb on the bus. It was a key piece in revealing the motivation of the villain, but was given true context after the the villain’s identity had been revealed. There was only one previous mention of the watch even, during Harry’s drunk talk at the bar, and was quickly dismissed as evidence within the film itself, used more as proof of the villain’s instability and prowess with explosives.

The parallels within the film were also amazing. The parallel of the calm inside the bus at the beginning versus the rush of Jack’s chase through the city to reach it, representing the reality of everyday life versus the reality of the present moment. There was the parallel use of access panels being used during both bomb situations and their availability being the true savior of the passengers of both the elevator and the bus. There was the parallel of Harry’s and Howard’s death, and their stares into a red light representing an unstoppable force.

The two largest parallels are between the first act and the third act, and the second act and the third act, in particular, the hostage sequences and the unstoppable vehicles. Just like in the beginning of the movie, Howard takes a hostage, but uses past experiences to prepare and place the explosive vest on Annie instead of himself. When Jack must once again make the choice of shooting the hostage, he cannot bring himself to do it, due to love and the worst possible outcome that could arise from it. Similarly, Jack and Annie are once again trapped on a unstoppable vehicle on the subway, and Jack once again has to make a decision when presented with the fact that the road (track in this case) ahead of them is unfinished. He chooses the same action as before, ramming ahead at full speed and hoping for the best.

Despite Speed, in my opinion, being a hilarious and self-aware film, it is still a prime example of the mainstream cinema that we discussed in class. The most poignant evidence of this fact is the film’s structure as an action flick featuring buddy cops and a side of romance in a stressful situation. The main character is strong and decisive, and is prepared to make his own plans in the face of new situations. The villain is bold, forward facing, with a clear plan and motivation. Narration is told through action and conservation, the situation gively plainly through a phone call. Jack and Annie develop a relationship within 3 hours, brought together only by friendly banter and stressful situations. And the end of the film wraps everything up in a nice bow, with the guy getting the girl and the villain absolutely, positively, for sure dead.We have the goal of saving the bus and finding the bad guy, the dual plotline of the developing relationship between Jack and Annie, and even a deadline of 3 hours before the bomb explodes, all together in a package for the perfect action movie.

One last note. The bomber was only asking for $3.7 million. Wouldn’t it have been cheaper to just pay that? I get the whole don’t negotiate with terrorists thing, but the damage to the city, the number of lawsuits, and the freaking plane that was blown up, and worth way more than $3.7 million.

This is my blog

This is my blog. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
My blog is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.
Without me, my blog is useless. Without my blog, I am useless. I must write my blog true. I must write straighter than my enemy who is trying to outwrite me. I must criticize him before he criticizes me. I will…