Category Archives: Genre

‘Oblivion’ director Joseph Kosinski sees his storytelling dream become sci-fi reality

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'Oblivion: Tom Cruise and Joseph Kosinski

‘Oblivion’ star Tom Cruise, left, talks with writer-director Joseph Kosinski on the film’s Baton Rouge set. (David James / Universal Pictures)

Mike Scott, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune  By Mike Scott, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune 

❝It was April 2005, and — between dreams of one day becoming a real, honest-to-goodness filmmaker — an unemployed, unknown 31-year-old kid decided he wasn’t going to just wait anymore for good things to happen. He was going to make then happen.

And so Joseph Kosinski put pen to paper and started writing a story. He couldn’t have realized it at the time, but he was writing his own future at the same time.

His goal — as with any good writer — was simple: He wanted to tell a story that inspired people to think, something that affected them on more than just a superficial level, something that got under their skin. In that regard, the result of those long-ago labors — the big-budget, sci-fi adventure “Oblivion,” which shot in Baton Rouge and New Orleans last year, and which opens Friday (April 19) in wide release — is something of a two-for-one deal.❞

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“’Zero Dark Thirty’ is the most vile and immoral war film I’ve seen in years” — Noam Sheizaf

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☞ After my postings on truthfulness in Zero Dark Thirty, I decided to temporarily exclude further postings on the film, as it was already prominent on this blog, as seen in the tag cloud. Subsequently, the film has also been mentioned in further articles that I have excerpted on this site. But one article simply refuses to go away: the following review by the Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf. I decided, finally, to post an extract from it. Like Michael Wolff’s review of the film, it goes beyond the criticism of the film’s factual deviations, by asserting that its apparent moral message is abhorrent. Making a surprising comparison with Israeli movies, Sheizaf finds that Bigelow’s film disastrously loses its moral argument by not only enjoying and fetishising the violence it depicts (which even the CIA claims is overboard and inaccurate), but also by justifying and rationalising it. In this light, the historical deviations may very well serve the purpose of enabling the presentation of a morally dubious perspective, which would have been moderated if a more truthful account was given.

❝“Revenge of the agonized killers” would have been a more appropriate title.❞ — Sheizaf

“Sometime in the late 1960s, Israeli cinema stopped producing heroic war stories – the kind of action or drama movies where the protagonist serves his country, noble against a powerful and cruel enemy. The quantity of other such works of fiction – in literature, for example – dropped as well. Which, when you think about it, is kind of weird for a country that has a war every few years and needs to reinforce its own ethos. Instead, Israeli popular culture started producing a different genre – that of the confessions. Here, the protagonists or story-tellers were usually trying to come to terms with the terrible things they were forced to do to – by their COs, by politicians or by circumstances, but never of their own choice. The genre even earned a name: “shooting and crying. “ It all seemed brave – but it wasn’t, since our heroes never assumed responsibility for their actions. The real perpetrators were others: generals, right-wing radicals, fools – and sometimes it was simply the Arabs’ fault. Sure enough, all those groups didn’t make movies. It was the lefty cultural elites that needed absolution, or at least explanation for the things they did (with much enthusiasm) – usually while continuing to do them. Today I would rather have a right wing that is proud of the occupation than an agonized lefty. You don’t want to do something, don’t do it. In the left-wing protests in recent years you can often hear chants of, “don’t shoot, don’t cry – get out of the territories now,” urging people to take responsibility for their actions.

Now I must say this – in decades of watching Israeli and international war cinema, I don’t remember a film as immoral, vile and self-righteous as Zero Dark Thirty. This narcissistic movie, with all its aesthetic portraits of torture and assassinations, not only enjoys and fetishizes the violence it depicts but also justifies and rationalizes it.”

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‘Lincoln,’ ‘Argo,’ and’ Zero Dark Thirty’: Reordering History

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☞ This post is a follow-up of my previous post. As we have seen, Zero Dark Thirty has had its fair share of presentation on this site with regard to its sacrifice of truthfulness for the sake of cinematic storytelling. But it is not the only recent film, of course, which has been accused of lack of truthfulness or authenticity, as we saw with Spielberg’s Lincoln (and as we’ll see again below). And neither are such accusations limited to so-called “non-fictional films,” as Tarantino’s Django Unchained demonstrates. The problems with Zero Dark Thirty are not easy to leave aside (as my next post will show). Here is a discussion in Indiewire’s blog last month, before the Oscars, on three of the main “non-fictional” contenders’ deviations from what actually occurred. Of the triumvirate, Argo has been relatively unscathed on this site, which I will be correcting shortly. The question is not whether non-fictional films should completely sacrifice themselves at the altar of truthfulness, but the limits of factual deviations, and the tipping point where these these untruths would start to affect our aesthetic judgment. It does seem to be the case that especially in the case Zero Dark Thirty, some reviewers and commentators have found it difficult to have a positive aesthetic assessment of the film, as a result of its blatant factual inaccuracies.

Tony Kushner

“For months, screenwriter Tony Kushner has been considered a shoo-in for an Oscar. But the award-winning playwright with impeccable credentials — Angels in America, his 1993 play about AIDS, won the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony award as well as half a dozen awards from drama critics — tripped, if not tumbled, last week.

To make the fight in Congress to pass the 13th amendment and end slavery in America more dramatic in “Lincoln,” Kushner changed the votes of two Connecticut congressmen from Yea to Nay. A current Connecticut congressman who could not believe that his state, which fought on the Union side in the Civil War, had voted to uphold slavery asked the Congressional Research Service to investigate. The answer: Kushner had rewritten history. And, with Academy members still voting, Kushner’s Oscar is no longer a sure thing.

Audiences understand that historical movies usually take historical license. “Argo,” “Lincoln’s” competitor for both Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay, is based on a little known rescue of six American diplomats during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. But “Argo” is basically a thriller with chases and near misses and a fake movie crew, and nobody cares if characters were telescoped or dangers exaggerated.

“Zero Dark Thirty,” another best picture nominee that is also nominated for original screenplay, suggests that important information that led to the capture of Osama bin Laden was gained through torture. The United States political and military establishment vehemently disagrees. But, after the non-existent weapons of mass destruction that led to the Iraq war and the discovery that the CIA uses the simulated drowning called waterboarding, Americans take such government assurances with a whole tablespoon of salt. If “Zero Dark Thirty” lost Academy votes because of the controversy, it gained as much or more at the boxoffice from audiences who wanted to see what the fuss was about.”

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Only in Hollywood…: The ‘based on a true story’ fake-out…

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❝Only in Hollywood could a movie that’s “based on a true story” endure heaps of criticism for being too unrealistic and still manage to walk away with multiple awards. Indeed, in the grand tradition of previous Best Picture winners like The King’s Speech and A Beautiful Mind, three of this year’s biggest Oscar contenders — Zero Dark ThirtyLincoln, and Argo — have claimed, to varying degrees, to be based on real events. But historians, reporters, and even government officials insist that these movies are playing awfully fast and loose with the truth.❞

— Jillian Rayfield

Lincoln’s pronunciation: Historical sociolinguistics in the movies

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☞ One of the big debates concerning recent American movies is their truthfulness or authenticity. There is much discussion on two of the major movies: Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained, as some of the entries on this blog illustrate: on truthfulness; on authenticity. Spielberg‘s Lincoln is not an exception here, except that the comments and complaints do appear to be usually more innocuous than those directed at the two other movies. In the following article by Mark Liberman, we have another linguistic discussion, like the previous blog entry on Lincoln. But this time, it is not on profane concerns, but on historical sociolinguistics. It is a rather positive take on the movie, with an emphasis on its historical value in the study of language.

[Abraham Lincoln, U.S. President. Seated portr...

Did the movie get his language right?: Abraham Lincoln, U.S. President. Seated portrait, holding glasses and newspaper, Aug. 9, 1863 (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

“From reader JM:

My son Chris (age 26) e-mailed me to ask which was correct: “younger than me” or “younger than I”.  He had been watching “The Patriot” (the movie with Mel Gibson), and noted the use of “younger than I.”  I assume that this would have been the standard in the late 1700s.  When he and I saw the movie “Lincoln” last weekend, I noted that Daniel Day Lewis pronounced what and which, etc. as [hw].  I gather (from Wikipedia, etc.) that the more common pronunciation in both the U.S. and the U.K. is now [w], but couldn’t find anything about the time course of this merger. Is it known for sure that Lincoln said [hw]? Just curious….don’t know anything about how much effort film directors put into this kind of historical accuracy.

The discussion of than in MWDEU suggests that 18th-century usage of “than I” or “than me” would have been a coin flip. As far as I know, there’s been no empirical work on how that coin was biased over time (and space, and register, and social stratum) — this would be a good term project in a linguistics course, and maybe even a good thesis topic.

With respect to Lincoln’s use of [hw] or [w], there’s a survey of relevant evidence in Donca Minkova, “Philology, linguistics, and the history of [hw]~[w]”,  and Lesley Milroy, “An essay in historical sociolinguistics?: On Donka Minkova’s ‘Philology, linguistics, and the history of [hw]~[w]'”, in Anne Curzan and Kimberly Emmons, Studies In The History Of the English Language II: Unfolding Conversations, 2004.”

Labov et al. on contrastive /hw/ and /w/ in the United States (late 20th century)

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Review of The Girl | John Crace | The Guardian

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☞ Since my previous post was a quotation from Toby Jones, on the challenge of acting as Hitchcock in The Girl, I thought I should quote from one of the favourable reviews of the television movie. Not everyone views the movie positively: some other reviewers, television viewers or friends of Hitchcock view the movie as a false portrayal of the director, and would question Crace’s assertion below that “it’s a fairly accurate account.” Again, the question of authenticity, although from a different angle, crops up.

Beauty and the beastly Hitchcock: a peerless study of sexual obsession

Picture from The Telegraph

“”Blondes make the best victims,” Alfred Hitchcock once said. The Girl (BBC2) was Tippi Hedren, the blonde who ultimately refused to be his victim and, as this HBO film was largely based on Hedren’s own interviews and Donald Spoto‘s Hitchcock biography, it is reasonable to assume it’s a fairly accurate account.

Directed by Julian Jarrold and written by Gwyneth Hughes, it began with Hitchcock choosing Hedren, an unknown New York model, to star in two of his finest films, The Birds and Marnie. It ended with her frozen out of Hollywood for five years after a stand-off in which she refused to work for him and he refused to release her from her contract. As a study of Hitchcock’s peculiar and demanding directorial methods, together with some eye-catching early 60s Hollywood period detail, The Girl was a class act: as a study in sexual obsession it was peerless.”

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Animated and life-action character interactions: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

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☞ While the discussion on the influence of an animated character on life-action characters is still fresh (see the discussion below on the television character Daria), let us go on to a film in which the interactions between animated and life action characters occur within the film itself: Robert Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The animated characters in this film, or what are called toons, are not mere dispensable decorations, as in Mary Poppins, but form an essential part of the narrative. There is also a social structure in the film where the toons are discriminated against. As the article notes, the film represents a significant advance on earlier use of animation — or more specifically, animated characters — in life action movies.

✼ “The story’s ingenious conceit is that human-created cartoons, including some of the most recognizable characters in the animated species, coexist with Homo sapiens — off-screen and three-dimensionally, that is. These “toons,” as they’re called, make up a kind of movie-industry underclass that is exploited for profit-making laughs. That’s a pretty audacious motif in a work ostensibly for children, and when you add the superimposition onto the crowded thematic canvas of a top-notch spoof on film noir, you’ve got a movie working overtime in the ideas department.”

✼ “Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Vertigo, and especially Chinatown — Roger Rabbit borrows from them all. There’s even a great bit of economical storytelling lifted from Rear Window, in which we’re brought up to speed on Eddie’s entire history solely through photographs and newspaper clips.

The technical virtuosity is even more impressive. As director Zemeckis recently explained on Fresh Air, the animators devised a process that endowed each cel with the same lighting as in the corresponding live-action scene. The film also breaks a longstanding rule of hybrid human-cartoon projects by allowing the camera to roam. In films like Mary Poppins, Zemeckis said, the recording device was always static “because it would be so difficult to draw different changes of perspective as the camera moves.” But he shot the film “like I would any live action movie. And the animators actually found that it worked better by having the camera moving. That they were able to actually give more life to the cartoon characters and have them feel like they’re more integrated into the actual two-dimensional set.””

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