Image Credit to Wikipedia
So yesterday, Josh Hammond of Monday Morning Movie Quarterback nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award. The goal of the Sunshine Blogger Award is to allow a blogger to promote other bloggers he or she enjoys reading by mentioning them in a post and then asking them 11 random questions to answer.
Josh nominated me with these rather kind words:
Akash has some great thoughts on Rogue One and has just started a Christopher Nolan retrospective I’m looking forward to. Like him, I also think House of Cards changed from a mediocre but interesting show to a bad show.
Unfortunately, I doubt that Nolan retrospective will happen anytime soon. However, as a way of saying thanks to Josh and as a means of entertainment, I’ve answered his eleven questions below (my responses are in bold).
- What franchise stayed fresh (or is still fresh) for the majority of its run?
The Indiana Jones franchise. What I love about the first three films (and even the fourth one, to be honest) is how Spielberg and Lucas varied the tone in each film from the last, which allowed the franchise to remain fresh. You can see it most obviously in how much darker and more disturbing Temple of Doom is when compared with Raiders of the Lost Ark (sidenote: the first time I saw Temple of Doom at the age of five, I actually couldn’t finish it because of how much the film scared me). After Temple comes The Last Crusade, which goes back to the lighthearted style of Raiders, and then beyond it, suppressing most, but not all, traces of darkness. Finally, you end with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a movie that alternates between nostalgia and weariness as it tackles the question of whether or not Indiana Jones is too old to kick some ass and save the world (spoiler: he isn’t).
2. What movies do you wish had been long form television a la True Detective and vice versa? (Mine is a little non-traditional: I think Crazy Stupid Love would have worked much better as a 10 episode mini-series. There would have been more time to develop the characters, and reveals like Nana = Hannah would have made perfect cliffhangers.)
I really don’t have an answer for the movies-to-TV part of this question. Any answer I give would require naming a movie that is bad because if it was a good film, it wouldn’t require more than its runtime to tell a story. The problem is that I can’t name a bad film here because whenever a bad film comes to mind, I recoil at having to spend another minute in its world, let alone multiple hours.*
To be honest, it’s also difficult to name a show for the TV-to-movies portion of this question, as again it needs to be a bad show (since no good show should ever be able to lose so much runtime without it significantly harming the quality of the program) and any bad show I think of is one where I’d rather spend no time in its world instead of just less time in its world. However, I’ll sort of give an answer here and name Legion because it’s the best example of a show that should’ve ended after its pilot. The pilot doesn’t tell a complete story, but the story it does tell is wonderful; moreover, the way it tells that story, through some of the most brilliant editing you will ever see (God, there are a few wipes in that episode that I keep playing in my mind over and over) is amazing. After that pilot, though, the show becomes rather dull, telling a conventional superhero story with a rather conventional visual form. Yes, there are a few twists and turns, and some elaborately designed set-pieces, but neither the writing nor the direction ever feel as inspired as they did in the pilot. Nothing makes me angrier and more disappointed than thinking of how much that show squandered the potential it had after the pilot.
- What should have won Best Picture last year?
Of the nominees, Manchester by the Sea. It’s not a great film; Kenneth Lonergan’s direction, especially early, is a bit awkward. Glenn Kenny at the Some Came Running blog tore the film apart for some of Lonergan’s weaknesses with the camera. However, the performance by Casey Affleck in the lead role makes up for most of the film’s deficiencies. Yes, Lonergan’s camera placement and editing can be distracting (especially when he breaks the 180-degree rule randomly), but Affleck makes up for it by being such a visual force on screen. What’s amazing is how he’s this visual force by just standing there, not even drawing attention to himself, and communicating his character’s feelings subtly. He embodies how devastated, emotionally paralyzed, and hollow Lee feels about his past actions and the loss of his brother. It was difficult to hold back tears watching Affleck’s performance, and eventually, it swept me up into the narrative and themes of the film.
I guess this is as good a time as any to deliver my most controversial opinion, which is that I wasn’t a big fan of Moonlight, last year’s Best Picture winner. The film has very good performances, with the standouts being Mahershala Ali as Juan and Andrè Holland as Kevin. Plus, the film’s editing provides it with a few transcendent scenes (I’m speaking here of the first scene between Chiron and Kevin on the beach and the scene between the grown-up Chiron and Kevin at the restaurant late in the film). But too often, I found Barry Jenkins’ direction, especially his cinematography, a weakness. It felt like he didn’t trust his amazing performers to communicate the emotions he was asking them to, and so leaned on his film camera to convey such emotions in obvious ways, a stylistic choice that either undercut what his performers were doing or ended up feeling redundant in light of the work’s sensitive and subtle acting. His filmmaking wasn’t technically wrong in a film-school 101 sense; it just felt like a distraction from the other, better elements of the picture. The prime example of my complaint would be the scene in which Juan teaches “Little” Chiron how to swim and the water keeps cutting off our view of the two in order to emphasize the inner turmoil Chiron must be feeling. I’d rather have just seen the actors (Alex Hibbert as Chiron and Ali) communicate that turmoil and its peaceful resolution with their bodies and faces instead of having my view of them repeatedly obscured by the water. But hey, almost every critic I respect loved the film, it won Best Picture, and Jenkins was nominated for Best Director, so what do I know?
- Favorite science fiction film?
I have a lot of answers to this question, and too many of them are the cliché ones. However, here’s a story about one of the cliché ones: The Matrix. The first time I watched it was in senior year of high school. At the time, I had been struggling to write my college essay. After I watched The Matrix, I had a similar experience to the one that a lot of people have with that film. I didn’t start questioning my reality, but I did begin to challenge a lot of the values in my life that felt like they had been arbitrarily handed to me by my authority figures. Or maybe I didn’t begin, but this challenging did intensify. Anyway, what ended up happening was I took this experience of having seen the film and its impact on how I dealt with my world and wrote my college essay on that. It was sort of ridiculous, in that while other kids were writing about traumatic childhood experiences, the summer volunteering programs that changed their lives, and bonding with cancer patients (I’m pretty sure everyone who wrote this type of essay my senior year lied about it) I wrote about how a movie had made me cry. But it ended up working; I got into the school I wanted. More importantly, my guidance counselor praised the essay, and ended up showing it to all the other guidance counselors in my high school because of how much she loved it (which is really embarrassing on the one hand because it meant they all read about me pouring my emotions out on this Sci-Fi film, but also pretty cool).
- What is the best super hero movie ever made? Or has it not been made yet?
I think it’s The Dark Knight, but I haven’t rewatched it in a while. The last really good superhero flick I saw was Logan, which was actually pretty bad in many ways, but ended up committing so thoroughly to exploring Logan/Wolverine’s death wish that I found myself moved. I think, in general, that’s a major issue with superhero flicks these days. Even the really good or good ones feel like they only succeed because one aspect of the film ended up working. For example, with the first Guardians of the Galaxy I enjoyed it because the jokes were so clever, even though I found it to be rather immature in how it could never deliver an emotional moment without having to drown it in irony or winking comedy. Similarly, when Captain America: The Winter Soldier delivered its message that security without liberty isn’t really security, I found myself happy that a superhero film was actually taking a stand on something. However, I remember thinking that it never really explored that position with any scrutiny what-so-ever. I mean, I prefer these films to others that are complete messes, but it bothers me that the best a superhero film seems capable of now is doing one thing extremely well, while doing nothing else that well. What’s amazing about Hollywood blockbusters is that they can often operate on multiple emotional and intellectual levels, and thus appeal to a lot of people with different tastes. The fact that the leading blockbusters of our time can often only work in one way means that our audience is being cheated. Not only are they getting poorer films, but they are becoming poorer viewers, accustomed to settling for films that are one-dimensional and unable to bring their multiple ambitions to fruition.
6. What do you like or not like about horror movies?
I like anything that makes me feel suspense, which horror does. I also think that a major part of life is dealing with the knowledge that we are all going to die, and that horror is the only large genre (as opposed to drama, musical, fantasy/sci-fi, or comedy, say) that tackles this knowledge head-on. The best horror films, like Halloween which I rewatched recently, are, at least partially, about facing the fact that we’re all going to die, dealing with how scary and emotionally devastating that is, and then realizing what it takes to keep fighting and survive.
- Last movie that made you cry?
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. There were many scenes in that movie that hit me hard. But the best one was the scene where the ships show up to bring the British soldiers home. The commander of the soldiers christens the moment with grandiose dialogue, the music swells, the soldiers cheer. And against this epic backdrop, Nolan provides shots showing a few, tiny, modest ships finishing their journey across the vast ocean, making their way towards their desperate countrymen. Seeing how small those boats were (relative to the big ships we had seen earlier in the picture) and, yet, sensing (thanks to the dialogue, music, and soldiers cheering) how important they were just wrecked me emotionally.
- Go-to movie snacks? (For me, popcorn and a Coke are required, Sour Patch Kids are optional, and Snow Caps can be substituted for Sour Patch Kids under certain circumstances).
Coke. Ice cream. No popcorn because the noise distracts me.
- Do you like theaters with “fancy” features – reclining leather seats, food service, alcohol – or are you a traditionalist? (For me, the perfect setup was realized in the late 90s with stadium seating – anything else is overkill.)
I haven’t been to that many theaters with fancy features. However, the theaters I have been to with fancy options tend to annoy me. The features they provide, while nice, end up distracting from the movies. But it’s not that the features are distracting that’s bothersome, it’s that they encourage many consumers to treat the act of theatergoing as a fun hang-out experience where you can get food, relax, make chit-chat, and look at your phone, which is not just distracting, but often ruins many good movies for the people who want to see them. Movies don’t have to be a religious experience, where everyone sits in silence till the credits roll, but I think anyone who goes to the theater should remember that others are there to be engaged and caught up in the experience of the film, and not taken out of that experience by you talking on the phone or ordering food.
With that being said, the one feature theaters should have is assigned seating. It’s really annoying if you are in a crowded theater and have to find a seat when most are taken, and it’s also annoying for the people sitting down to have to tell you if a seat’s taken or not.
- Favorite action sequence? (I think you all know mine . . .)
- What is your opinion of movie musicals, either classic (Singing’ in the Rain) or modern (La La Land)?
The musical is not my favorite genre, but I keep an open-mind while experiencing it, and can appreciate a good example of the genre like I can appreciate any good film. I really liked La La Land.
So those are my answers to Josh’s questions. Now, comes the moment where I nominate bloggers to answer my questions. The problem is that I don’t know that many bloggers on WordPress and certainly not the required eleven for the Sunshine Blogger Award. For that reason, I’m going to open this up to anyone who reads this post and just wants to write a response. If you’re compelled to answer my questions, go for it! And write a post letting me know, and I’ll link to it.
Still, I want to honor the spirit of the Sunshine Blogger Award in some way, so I will nominate some bloggers who have written kind words on past posts of mine, followed me, and write in such a compelling way that I am interested in their thoughts. I do want to emphasize to those bloggers that they need not answer these questions if they are too busy or have done the Sunshine Blogger Award in the past. The award is just for fun.
Here are my nominees
And here are my questions
- When you judge a movie, what factors into your criteria of judgment? (Ie. aesthetics, politics, personal factors) Is there anything that does not factor into your criteria that factors into a lot of other critics’ criteria?
- Do all good movies have something in common that makes them good (other than the fact that you enjoy them)?
- Who influenced your opinions on movies the most? Try to answer with someone who doesn’t work within the film industry or within the field of film criticism. (For me, it was my high school film studies teacher who also taught me AP Literature. His way of engaging with art, which involved examining its formal style, is the bedrock for how I engage with art. Not a day goes by where I don’t use something he taught me.)
- Who is your favorite actor/actress ever? (This changes for me, but right now, I think it’s James Gandolfini).
- The Godfather: Part I or The Godfather: Part II? (For me, it’s The Godfather: Part II just for the ending scene).
- What is the movie you love that others seem to not love? (A recent one, for me, is Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock)
- What are the best and worst films you saw this summer? (Dunkirk for Best/Wonder Woman for worst).
- Name a film that you drastically changed your mind on. (Recently, I tried watching Nightcrawler, a film I originally loved, and found it really bland).
- Do you watch TV? If so, do you watch it as regularly as movies? How do you define the relationship between TV and movies? What is your favorite TV show of All-Time if you have one?
- What is your opinion on award shows like the Oscars? Do you like them? Do you find them a cancer when it comes to serious film engagement?
- What is the one thing you wished that more moviegoers understood better or thought about more when it comes to movies? (I’d like to see more moviegoers think about how a movie can affect them beyond only allowing them to escape).