Saturday, March 25

1936 - Random Cinematic Year in Review

Random Cinematic 
Year In Review

1936


 

 By: Emery Martin-Snyder


Preface: I have decided to write this series at least in part because I don't make it out to see new films very often and I've found that I spent too much time at the end of the year attempting to see all the big releases (many of which I'm not even interested in) for no other reason than to make an obligatory 'year end list'... This is a way that I can continue writing about films without feeling the pressure to see a bunch of stuff that I wouldn't otherwise take the time to. I'll still see most of them eventually, just on my own time. I use a random number generator to pick a year and I use letterboxd.com to determine the actual release year.

 

In January of 1936, American nightmare and serial killer Albert Fish was executed in Sing Sing Prison in New York. Do you ever catch yourself thinking, “What’s this world coming to?”Maybe you’re watching some Fox New coverage of their Missing White Woman of the Week and harkening back to a simpler time… you know, before bath-salts and immigrants were staining the streets with the blood of their victims Albert Fish was from way back when America was “great”. I won’t detail here what he did but his Wikipedia page (do not click on this link) is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever read (seriously don’t read it)I’d like to tell you about all the great serial killer films that were inspired by Fish but the vast majority of fictional cinematic serial killers give credit to Ed Gein and Ted Bundy, among others. There have been a few films based on Fish’s true story. I haven’t seen them and they don’t seem to be very well received. I’m not really sure if Hollywood would actually finance an accurate retelling of his story (you’ve been warned) it’s just too gross.

 

Meanwhile across the pond, another better documented serial killer was busy hosting the Summer Olympics (XI) in Berlin, Germany. This was the first time a sporting event was covered on live television and Hitler thought of this as a great opportunity to showcase the superiority of the Aryan race. Unfortunately for Adolf, a young African American track star from Alabama by the name of Jesse Owens had other plans. He won 4 gold medals. Hitler reportedly replied:


People whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive; their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites and hence should be excluded from future games."


Nazi translation: “I’m taking my ball and going home…”


The footage from these games would eventually be used by Nazi propagandist filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl in her 2-part documentary, OLYMPIA. This would prove to be a groundbreaking cinematic effort. The film would be finalized and released 2 years later and it featured some of the groundbreaking and unprecedented cinematography and editing techniques that would later become a staple of modern filmmaking. I think it’s important for us to acknowledge the fact that artistic, technological and even cultural advancements can sometimes be born of the most nefarious of intentions.


Emery's Notable Five 


5 – SABATOGE  (Directed by Alfred Hitchcock)


 


I think this is one of Hitchcock’s most underrated films, especially among his earlier British work. There’s no reason that this shouldn’t be talked about in the same breath as THE 39 STEPS or THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. It runs in the same paranoid vein. This film is a great example of Hitchcock’s “bomb theory” in which he illustrates the difference between horror and suspense. We see the absolute most literal example of it here.


4 – OSAKA ELEGY  (Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi)


 


This gives us a glimpse of some of the cinematic greatness to come later from one of Japan’s most prolific filmmakers.Though not nearly as substantial as some of his later work like UGETSU, THE LIFE OF OHARU or SANSHO THE BALIFF, this film works on a much softerOzu-esque level of melodrama. We are also treated to the beginning of actress, Isuzu Yamada’s 3 decade long career as Ayako, a woman who becomes her boss’ mistress in order to keep her embezzling father from prison. She is rewarded for her sacrificial act with the disdain of her family and the man she loves. 


3 – THE LOWER DEPTHS  (Directed by Jean Renoir)


 


This is my favorite Renoir film… of 1936 (I had 3 to choose from), and probably my 3rd or 4th favorite of his entire filmography. What I’m trying to say is: I’m a big fan of his, especially his films from the 30’s. Based on the Gorky play of the same name, this was one of Renoir’s first jabs at the bourgeoisie. It beautifully illustrates the widening chasm between the haves and the have-nots and it does so with the sense of humor a Renoir screenplay would come to be known for. If you are unfamiliar with his work, I would actually suggest starting here. It’s not quite as poignant as some of his other work but it may prove to be more accessible and relatable.


2 – MODERN TIMES  (Directed by Charles Chaplin)


 


I think you could watch this film as a metaphor for how Chaplin himself felt in the brand new world of “talkies”. It’s probably the only film in which he actually turns into The Tramp as the story unfolds. This happens because of advancements in modern technology that his skill set just can’t seem to keep up with. But fear not, complex follies give way to triumphs of simplicity as the film rolls on. We are finally rewarded with the solace that, although he may have to get by with less, The Tramp will be alright.

 

1 – FURY  (Directed by Fritz Lang)


 


I bet you thought I was done talking about Hitler…. Sorry, I can’t talk about Fritz Lang’s first American film without mentioning how it was obviously inspired by the Nazi party that he had fled from three years prior. Lang was offered a position as the head of German Film Studios by the Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. He replied by fleeing Germany to Paris and eventually making his way to Hollywood. This film works amazingly as an indictment of the fragility of man’s conviction that give way to the mob mentality that makes fascism possible. Misinformation mixes with communal insecurities to create a toxic blend of fervor and zeal. All it needs is a place to direct its energy and foreigners traditionally make the best scapegoats. So yeah, I find the conflict of this film to be relevant today. But I also find its resolution to be just as relevant. I won’t give it away but to say that the truth in 1936 was far more elusive than it is in 2017… and we should be thankful for that.

 

Friday, March 24

Raw Review

 

Raw

Dir: Julia Ducournau

Starring: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Joana Preiss, and Bouli Lanners 

It was a Friday afternoon. The group of people from the office I worked at were going to get lunch at a new sushi place. At this point I wasn't a big fan of sushi but was willing to give it another try. One of my co-workers had never had it before either. The introduction for us was sashimi, a Japanese delicacy of very fresh raw meat. I hated it, my co-worker absolutely loved it. I remember him calling the meal "life changing".

 

The awakening of emotions and instincts in a young female veterinary student in director Julia Ducournau's new film "Raw" also brings about life-changing events, more than just finding a new favorite food. The experience in this film is so much more than just the visceral imagery you might connect to a film about cannibalism. Instead, the connection to the title of the film holds a deeper and more thought-provoking meaning, one that evokes a strong look at feminism, sexuality, and maturity. Ms. Ducournau has crafted a bold and confident dramatic horror film.

 

 Justine (Garance Marillier) is a young vegetarian woman who is on the fast academic track to veterinary school. However, after a carnivorous hazing ritual that the upperclassmen impose on all new students, in which they must eat raw meat, Justine begins to have strong cravings.


At the core of "Raw" is a coming-of-age story about a young girl thrown into maturity. In the film she is basically kidnapped in a cruel hazing ceremony that ends up with her at a wild party that feels like something out of "The Warriors". Ms. Ducournau does an exceptional job of displaying Justine's confusion and frustration with people around her but also how the new experience naturally entices her inquisitive nature. It's within this maturation that Justine begins to find herself, where she begins to find her true self. Regardless of how strange and unusual that person might be, the film never flinches during these awkward and startling moments.

 

 Also interwoven into the film is a story about family, specifically the bonds of sisterhood. Justine's older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is naturally perturbed that her younger, annoying, know-it-all sister is in school with her. Early in the film you get a sense that these sisters both love each immensely, however you also understand that the sisters are naturally competitive with each other. This leads to interesting moments that display the heartfelt and the cruel nature that siblings can have with one another, specifically in the way that they communicate with each other. The aggression builds, but so does the compassion and understanding. It's a complex relationship, and as aspects of cannibalism begin to take hold you can feel that these two siblings understand that the only way they will survive is to help each other. It's a fascinating narrative undertone that provides a depth to challenge the intense aspects of the film.


 The performances from Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf are exceptional. They embody the difficult aspects very well, but that isn't very hard to do considering the graphic nature of the theme. Instead it's the subtle progression of these two women and how they change, you get insight into what is shaping Justine and what has already shaped Alexia.

 


"Raw", as the title implies in many ways, is a film that can be uncomfortable and difficult to watch, but not simply because of the intense scenes of gore and violence but rather the emotional turmoil that many of the characters in the film are dragged through. This isn't a film for every film fan, this includes horror fans. Still, director Julia Ducournau has crafted an impressive debut film that challenges how filmmakers are utilizing genre film to tell stories. Whether a commentary about gender and sexual empowerment, a coming-of-age film that displays the fragility of the process, or a film about family and how unique the definition is to everyone; its quality that I hope continues within the genre.

 

Monte's Rating

4.25 out of 5.00

Friday, March 17

Beauty and the Beast Review


 
Beauty and the Beast
Dir: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, and Emma Thompson

“Tale as old as time”. In 1946 French artist, playwright, and filmmaker Jean Cocteau brought a classic of storytelling to stunning, visionary life. “Beauty and the Beast” has since been retold and reimagined, though it wasn’t until 1991 that a film would come close to matching the magical quality of Cocteau’s film. Disney animation crafted a children’s musical that would become a beloved staple for a generation of young people.

Director Bill Condon, “Mr. Holmes” and “Dreamgirls”, adapts the Disney animated film in near shot-for-shot fashion, lovingly recreating many of the moments fans will remember from the classic animation. Add a group of talented live action actors, computer generated household items like the candelabra “Lumière” and the teapot “Mrs. Potts”, and a digitally composed beast, and it would seem like all the pieces are present to make another beloved film for a new generation. To a large extent this rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” works just fine, supplying enough uplifting tunes and beautiful imagery to arouse a sense of nostalgia or make you forget that you’ve seen this film many times before. 

 Emma Watson plays the confident Belle with wit, charm, and tenacity. Belle has always been one of the more interesting of the Disney princesses, a maturing girl raised by her father in a village that she has outgrown. Her escape ultimately comes in the form of a capture. Ms. Watson fits the role perfectly, her look and handling of the character’s defining qualities, the empathy and intelligence especially, is the glue that holds the film together.

Dan Stevens plays the Beast, a performance composed with a motion capture suit that is then transformed digitally into the towering, roaring monster. This method works half the time, mostly when Ms. Watson is there to support and react to the performance. Whenever the Beast is left to portray dramatic moments, and sing on a few occasions, some of the digital seams are revealed and the emotion that should come through, as it did with the beautiful performance by Jean Marais in Jean Cocteau’s film over 70 years ago, is lost. 

Still, Mr. Condon builds such a spectacle of song and dance that even a talking pot, voiced by Emma Thompson who accomplishes the giant charge of replacing Angela Lansbury, and a mannerly candelabra, voiced by Ewan McGregor and tasked with singing “Be Our Guest”, are provided opportunities that will undoubtedly sweep the viewer into all the fun.

As for all the controversy that has produced anger and boycotts from different groups, these scenes are so minuscule, so slight, so simplistically woven into minor moments in the film that unless you go into this film specifically looking for controversy, you will hardly recognize it. For a film that displays a character living in a world that attacks difference, it seems so foolish to think that some viewers wouldn’t recognize the moral of the journey of Belle, which is empathy, acceptance, and knowledge above all can change anything.

 “Beauty and the Beast” spends more time, over two hours, building a display of lavish digitally composed atmospheres than it does trying to establish a better narrative or deeper connections to the interesting characters found in this fairytale. Still, the loyal and dutiful allegiance to the original animated feature may be enough to overlook the blemishes. 

Monte’s Rating
3.50 out of 5.00