Brief Examination: The Force Awakens- Title and Teaser Trailer

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It is still hard to believe that Star Wars is coming back to the big screen. With the small nuggets of information that are creeping up on fans, week after week, this is seeming more and more like an exciting inevitability. The two big pieces of news that have emerged recently are the title and teaser trailer.

Briefly commenting on the title, it is very bold and unique. The first thing that stands out about it is its metatextual quality. It is announcing to the audience that Star Wars is coming back in a major way and is aware of its lofty ambitions. Additionally, the title still retains some of the cheesiness present in the other titles, which were fashioned after the Saturday-matinee serials that George Lucas grew up with and was one of his chief inspirations.

As for the eagerly anticipated teaser trailer, I loved how it provided an excellent microcosm of what this post Return of the Jedi world is going to look like. The vehicles are a little beat up; the environment looks harsh, and the galaxy looks like it is going to be shaken. Filmmaking wise, the balance of the stylistic differences between Original Trilogy and Prequel Trilogy were evident. Of the former, the beat up used future is visible, showcased with shots such as the first reveal of John Boyega’s character. As well as the junk yard, which shows us a glimpse of a Droid.

As for the latter some of the images had the clean, pristine quality, that many of the shots from the Prequels had. In fact, the broadsword lightsaber shot felt like a great homage to the Darth Maul doubled sided lightsaber reveal in Phantom Menace. Additionally, some of the speed and ferocity seems like it could come from the Episode I-III era. So far, it is clear that JJ Abrams has reverence for the saga as a whole, which is refreshing to see.

Additionally, as an aside the rolling Droid, was a great fine touch. It was a good reminder that the film is going to have the same kind of fascination of the odd and absurd alien creatures and robots as the originals did. The trailer was also being hyped for the apparent inclusion of new and original John Williams music. From the sound of it, this seems right, and the new material is hair-raising, experimental and intriguing in its use.

The tone of the teaser feels foreboding, urgent while additionally feeling like a literal and loving adoption of the infamous Lucas’s mantra- “Faster, more intense! This aspect coupled with a lack of the big three characters, and you have a trailer that is carving out a bright future for Star Wars. Like the best moments of the epic space saga, it sparks the imagination with images, which are exciting, mythical and finally, a grand reminder of the power of cinema.

A Personal Tribute: Mike Nichols

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Mike Nichols was a visionary director, his body of work was unparalleled in showcasing pure authenticity in what could be seen as the ordinary moments of life. He proved that the cinema can be intimate and small.

It was this aspect that was quite immediately clear when watching his films, which sadly at this moment stand at just two. In the 1967 classic, The Graduate, in one shot, Mr. Nichols illustrated the pitfalls and tragedy of youth, showcased in the lingering last moment of the picture.

Despite feeling elated at what we have just witnessed, the film leaves us with the subtle point that perhaps the rash action was a mistake. We see doubt slowly creep in, thus showing how many youth-oriented actions can end in misery. It is a point that is further emphasised when one reflects on Mrs Robinson and the thematic point of her character in relation to the narrative.

The Graduate was a film that Roger Ebert thought had lost its shine, citing that it was a film of its time. I respectively disagree with Mr Ebert as the film still feels important and seminal in its portrayal of growing up in one’s twenties.

Closer (2004) is another film that stood out at me and for reasons utterly opposed to The Graduate. The picture illustrates the sting of infidelity in such a resonate and cathartic way. The best demonstration of this was the scene when Larry (Clive Owen) finds out that his respective other, Anna (Julia Roberts) has been cheating on him. Aside from the writing and the location, Mr Nichol’s direction is key in synthesising dialogue, acting and shots to show how even the littlest details can affect an already painful revelation.

Whether you have seen one moment from his films or his entire filmography. There is no doubt of the impression that Mike Nichols has left on American cinema and the medium of film as a whole; he will be sorely missed.

RIP Mike Nichols

Examination: Vertigo (1958)

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Vertigo is the closest film in the history of the medium to achieve a dream like quality. While one can point to David Lynch or many other surrealists for essentially doing the same thing, one could argue that Vertigo perfectly replicates what it feels like to experience a dream.

It was most apparent on my second viewing of the picture. It was on television and the famous silent portion of the film where Scottie (James Stewart) is keeping a close eye on Madeline (Kim Novak) was occurring. During this moment, not only was the visual storytelling impeccable but also was Hitchcock’s ability to craft great images with no dialogue and minimal score.

Furthermore, it dawned on me during this moment that I had forgotten the plot, the sequencing, and the general orientation of the scene in regards to how it fit in with the rest of the film. I assure you, fair reader that this was not the consequence of being forgettable. But more out of the effect of the film being purposefully designed like a dream. You do not remember, how you got there, what point of time or place, you’re just thrust into a dream, and this was my reaction to that lengthy scene.

With this aspect in mind, the lenses can now be sharpened and focused upon the third act of the film, which warrants much discussion and examination. Narratively, Scotty had witnessed the death of Madeline and is recovering in a halfway house, emotionally crippled; as a result. Filmmaking wise, Mr. Hitchcock has just committed one of the most trippy scenes of his career to screen. We witness Scotty mentally breaking down due to his fear of Vertigo and Madeline falling from the top of the church.

The third act plays out as gut-wrenching tragedy. Scotty is doomed almost in a fatalistic way to repeat the mistakes of the past, and his former traumas are worsened with his new obsession of wanting back Madeline. In itself, this sets up an elegant twist. Scotty, loved an illusion, a conception of Madeline that was based on superficial details. Additionally, the Madeline that Scotty was watching earlier in the film was played by an actress who looked like the real Madeline, and whose death was faked. While, we can comment on what loving Madeline meant for Scotty earlier in the film.

What makes the third act so interesting is that aside from its plot twist and Scotty getting over one trauma to be doomed to gain another, is the presentation of the act. One could make the logical assumption that the third act represents Scotty’s attempt to get over his trauma. However, he is doing so while still being in a halfway house and being a silent, broken person that we saw earlier.

So what evidence is there for this reading? Well, firstly, Mr. Hitchcock never shows us Scotty leaving the establishment officially, he just makes a quick cut to him seeing Madeline’s green car and thinking he sees her driving it. Secondly, a pre-established character is completely dropped and does not appear in the third act. It is an odd choice as she was established as being an active almost maternal figure for Scotty, caring for him a great deal.

Thirdly, the scene closely follows the one where we see our protagonist snap psychologically, so it gives this reading some validity. Finally, the explanation of the twist, aside from working on a thematic level, holds little logical ground, it sounds preposterous and is given minimal description. Could it be possible that Scotty is working out his issues and out of some self-loathing or other factor, he conceived of this betrayal?

Whatever, you may feel about the issue in question or the film at large. There is no doubt that Vertigo is a film worthy of its reputation, and one hopes that there are many more enigmas hidden deep beneath its dreamy depths.

Brief Examination: Interstellar

 

interstellar-featAlong with Citizen Kane, no film has been more deserving of a brief examination then Interstellar. It is not only because it is a spectacular film that demands repeated viewings, but also because one can imagine that it will stimulate the imagination and discourse for years to come.

The area that cast the most substantial impression on first viewing was Christopher Nolan’s meditation on time. In prior pictures, Mr. Nolan has used time as a methodology in the way he constructed narratives. Memento being the best example of this where two narratives threads were established, one representing the past and the other, the future, until they both converged at the end of the film. Time is not just an exclusive concept that Mr. Nolan deals with in his pictures.

Earlier this year, Richard Linklater presented a fleeting portrait of the concept in Boyhood, which depicted a child growing up from age 7-18. Mr. Nolan responds to this ephemeral picture in an emotional and harrowing scene when protagonist Cooper comes back from a mission and realises it has been twenty three years since he has been gone. As a result, he has video messages backlogged from two decades and we witness his reaction to his children growing up before his eyes.

The sequence is simultaneously interesting for its moving content but also for its social commentary of showcasing how we do see people grow via social media and through a non-contact basis. But also like last year’s Gravity it shows the hardships of space, that along with an intriguing plot point at the beginning of the film, further crushes the idealistic 1960s American image of space.

Time in Interstellar aside from the aforementioned context is also critical to the plot. Many of the characters speak of how to evade it, due to the difference of it on Earth, versus where they are currently.  Mr. Nolan has stated in interviews that if there were an enemy in Interstellar, it would be time. The statement has a lot of weight and is true in many regards.

Hans Zimmer’s score uses the counter-intuitive primary instrument of an organ. Its use against images of space seems strange at first.  But if it is thought of as the musical identity of time then, its value is elevated, due to making the concept sound ominous, majestic and eternal.

In the third act, Time is presented at its most potent in an ambitious sequence where Cooper is perceiving the concept in a physical dimension. Within this space, he can see his memories in many shifting windows, in an environment that looks like an abstract, fading silvery library. The scene as a whole, while harkening to 2001, also serves as Mr. Nolan’s best use of the concept. It is showcased in the form of a story point that loops around itself and the effect is emotional and awe inspiring.