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Archive for the ‘Main Features’ Category

Until recently, I hadn’t watched Saturday Night Live in probably 10, maybe even 15, years. I could easily kick the show in groin by saying that I haven’t been watching because the skits are no longer funny and neither are the actors. But I won’t. The real reason I haven’t watched is, of course, I can’t stay up that late anymore because I’d rather spend my Saturday nights out at the club. But after hearing that Betty White’s hosting of SNL was a hit, my SNL hiatus was over (I am an uber Golden Girl fan. Go ahead, laugh it up fuzzballs).

And that was when I was formally introduced to MacGruber.

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Part 2

The Searchers (1956) based on Alan Le May’s novel from nineteen fifty-six is highly regarded as Ford’s finest work and ranked as high as number five on the prestigious British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound worldwide critics poll. The Searchers(1956) concerns the story of ex-confederate soldier and outlaw Ethan Edwards played by John Wayne. Upon returning to his brothers ranch in Texas the home is attacked while he is away by Comanche Indians. His brother and sister-in-law are killed and their two young daughters are abducted. This sends the already unstable Edwards into a psychotic frenzy, which spurns a racist, obsessive, and sadistic search for the youngest daughter Debbie. Martin Pawlenty, the family’s adopted brother who is an 8th Cherokee Indian accompanies Ethan on his quest. Soon, it becomes apparent to Martin that Ethan has no intention of saving Debbie from the Comanche, Ethan sees her as being tainted by them. The only way to redeem his family is by killing her. In Ethan Edwards, Ford conjured up an anti-hero that is deplorable, un-forgivable , and at the time mirrored racial prejudice in the US. Edward Buscombe writes in his in-depth piece on The Searchers (1956) that Ford, “set out to make a film on the perennial American issue of race”.

Many critics have dismissed The Searchers(1956) as furthering the white dominance myth and manifest destiny themes that can be easily taken from the film upon a shallow and brief viewing. Tag Gallagher, the noted Ford historian gives a brief defense of Ford’s views on race and sexism in an interview from 2001 with Toni D’Angela.

“Naturally, the Ford bashers claim Ford “celebrates patriarchy” when, for example, he depicts the rich tapestry of rites and traditions of the family in How Green Was My Valley.  It doesn’t matter that Ford also shows that because of these traditions the family and the valley are destroyed, like in Fort Apache.  Ford’s sin is to depict them in the first place.  Similarly, because Ford shows that people are conditioned by racism, he is called  “racist.”

In a film such as The Searchers (1956), which deals with uncomfortable topics and situations, an emotional reaction can sometimes hide the true meaning from audiences. Larger metaphors can be missed or forgotten. Buscombe writes that the “moral conscious” of the film in embodied in Martin who is of mixed race. He is an altogether better human being than our main protagonist Ethan, who is a brutal racist and bigot. Upon first meeting Ethan the audience is drawn to him, enjoys him, but as the film progresses his violence and hate becomes intolerable, but it is not hatred that we feel for him , it is pity. Herein lies the great subtle dualism of The Searchers(1956), and why it can make audiences so uncomfortable at times.

During the nineteen sixties John Ford made one more important film, The Man who Shot Liberty Valence (1962) starring Jimmy Stewart as lawyer who is celebrated as the man who vanquished famed outlaw Liberty Valence. In actuality, Stewart’s character did not kill Valance, and he has been living a lie. This film is of particular note because of its assault on the concept of male domination, patriarchy, and unearned privilege. Art Redding in his fabulous essay about Ford, masculinity, and the Reagan administration speaks to this admirably.”The western offered a fantasy of a threatened Cold War masculinity redeemed in an all-male world of privilege and action and honor—an ideological conceit that survived, as I have argued elsewhere, until 1963, when it was exposed as hollow by such films as Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, where the male competence underwriting social power is acknowledged to be entirely a sham”. The unraveling of the masculinity myth exemplifies the multi-leveled discourse that was always present in Ford’s Films.

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Part 1

Oh for shame, how the mortals put the blame on us gods, for they say evils come from us, but it is they, rather, who by their own recklessness win sorrow beyond what is given…….

-Zeus, from Homer’s Odyssey

“Art is a lie that Tells the Truth.”

-Pablo Picasso

Tales of human perseverance, loneliness, courage, persecution, and strength have been handed down for centuries from one storyteller to the next, carrying on a sacred tradition that is as old as time itself. These tales have framed the fabric of the human psyche and our culture has come to reflect them. John Ford and Akira Kurosawa, two directors from distinctly different cultural backgrounds embody this fable telling in its most profound contemporary manifestations.

John Ford, the great American filmmaker of the mid-twentieth century was a monumental influence on the young Akira Kurosawa. Both men would shape modern cinema in ways that neither of them could fathom, Kurosawa borrowing many of the themes and tones of Ford’s films. Kurosawa in turn would directly inspire modern filmmakers such as George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. This artistic connection and mutual admiration between these giants of film produced some of the greatest cinematic moments in film history. The themes explored by these two poets of the human condition are not new. Sacrifice, death, courage under extreme duress, and the constant struggle between man and the environment are central to the mythology Ford and Kurosawa helped to explore. The lyrical and contextual images of their films are strikingly similar in prose and style, both preferring simplicity in shot selection and dialogue. Both saw the natural setting of their films as intricate to the storyline, as an active participant in the film’s narrative. The imagery of characters dwarfed by Neolithic rock formations or riders in shadow approaching along a ridge descending into a deep ravine do not simply imply movement to a destination, for Ford and Kurosawa these panoramic shots say more about the people and storyline of their films than any dialogue ever could.

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I am a fairly cynical person these days. Not sure if it has always been that way or this is a new thing. Nah, on second thought it’s a new thing. Can you blame me? How can someone these days not be cynical, especially when it comes to popular culture? Music is beyond terrible, where artists have been replaced by robots — at least that is what it sounds like anyway. And don’t give me this “well you just have to look around for the good music” excuse. It wasn’t long ago that good music WAS popular music, so I don’t think that is a valid argument. Film, though, is different. You hope the film industry strives to stay balanced between the “quick buck” and the art. But lately it hasn’t, and the industry is increasingly becoming more concerned with making money (more so than ever) than it is in being an outlet for art. I was watching Apocalypse Now the other day, and finally realized just how deep and complicated that movie is. You seriously need to take a class to be able to dissect every scene — it is that good. Moreover, Francis Ford Coppola kind of went crazy committing his vision to celluloid. Could you say the same for James Cameron and Avatar? You know the film that was nominated for Best Picture, despite having a story line that was universally panned by critics. That’s not fair J, it was a technical achievement and the highest grossing movie!! Yeah, so was the Ford Pinto.

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This film reminds me of cucumbers, please, let me explain. First, Nelson Mandela and the Springboks both deserve better. Mandela, perhaps the transcendent world figure of the 1990s and the Springboks, the symbol of South Africa’s racist and hegemonic past to most Africans and who miraculously pulled off one of he greatest athletic upsets of a generation, deserved a theatrical representation worthy of their deeds. Instead, what we get is a thoroughly predictable (the irony in this is palpable), high budget, slick recreation that comes across the screen as benign and unmoving.

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I know I had promised an in depth review of Crazy Heart, but I just saw a movie the other night that caused a lot of discussion between me and my wife for the past few days. I swear I will get to Crazy Heart at some point, perhaps when the Oscar’s draw nearer.

Last night we watched The Squid and the Whale, written and directed by Noah Baumbauch, and starring Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Billy Baldwin, and the now emerging Jesse Eisenberg (who, by the way, I am usually not a huge fan of but was pretty good in this movie). This is a story about divorce, and how insensitive parents can be when it comes to the confusion that kids naturally feel during the messy process.

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There is a certain order to things, always has and always will be.

To explain what I mean I would like to briefly discuss the subject of the much debated, sometimes infamous, “tracking shot”. Now, before we move forward I believe that it is important for all of us to be on the same page (so to speak). Therefore, I would like to put forth a definition provided to us by the always reliable Wikipedia. Ready? Ok, everyone take a deep breath….

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