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Road To The Oscars: Her

As we count down the road to the Oscars, I must be honest… I don’t usually watch or like Oscar Nominated films. It’s not uncommon for there to be a year I didn’t even see a single movie on the nominees list before the Oscars. Some years I don’t even WANT to see a single movie nominated for an Oscar. This year, however, of the films nominated for Best Picture I’ve seen two and plan to see at least two more, if not three. That will put me seeing five of the nine nominees, which is an all-time record, so I decided that, leading up to the Oscars, I’d post about each one I see and why I think they should or shouldn’t win the awards they are all nominated for.

We’ll start with the first one I saw and that is Her.

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I wanted to see Her since I saw the previews for it, so when I started taking classes in a city that actually HAD it (my small town cinema often skips more ‘artsy’ films that they won’t sell a lot of tickets to) I decided to go see it my very first day after class. When I told people I wanted to see it, a lot of people went, “That movie about a dude in love with his computer? That looks so pathetic and dumb.”

…. even if I had EVER thought that, I can assure you, Her is NOT pathetic and dumb.

If you don’t know what it is about, Her is a movie set in the future about a man named Theodore Twombly. For the sake of not forgetting anything, I’ll just give you the IMDB plot summary since I’ve seen a few movies since Her.

Theodore is a lonely man in the final stages of his divorce. When he’s not working as a letter writer, his down time is spent playing video games and occasionally hanging out with friends. He decides to purchase the new OS1, which is advertised as the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system, “It’s not just an operating system, it’s a consciousness,” the ad states. Theodore quickly finds himself drawn in with Samantha, the voice behind his OS1. As they start spending time together they grow closer and closer and eventually find themselves in love. Having fallen in love with his OS, Theodore finds himself dealing with feelings of both great joy and doubt. As an OS, Samantha has powerful intelligence that she uses to help Theodore in ways others hadn’t, but how does she help him deal with his inner conflict of being in love with an OS? (From IMDB)

Before we get into the spoiler-filled section, let’s take a look at what all Her has Oscar nominations for:

Best Picture

Her most DEFINITELY has the potential to win Best Picture, in my opinion. This film was beyond anything I have ever seen artistically, thematically, emotionally, and the acting was MIND BLOWING. Joaquin Phoenix honestly should’ve at least been nominated for Best Actor if you want my opinion. He was incredible. This film was moving and richly layered, and I honestly have seen very few movies that I walked out of feeling like it would be with me forever.

Music- Original Score

This film’s score was phenomenal. I cannot express enough how much the score to this film enriched the viewing experience. William Butler and Owen Pallett could definitely be contenders for this award.

Music- Original Song

I don’t really remember this song and honestly I think Frozen has everybody beat in this category (Sorry, Her).

Writing- Original Screenplay

A THOUSAND TIMES YES! Honestly if Spike Jonze doesn’t win this award I will call foul on the voting committee. This is the category that this film is meant to win. This story is beautiful and amazing and the writing is the WHOLE reason why it is so incredible. This is one of the most amazingly written pieces of art that has ever existed, in my opinion.

Production Design

Honestly I don’t know. I can see how this film COULD potentially win that award, but there are also several films up against it that could win it.

Trailer: 

This movie broke my heart. It was beautiful in the most original way, it was heartwarming in the most incredible way, and it was heartbreaking in the most tragic way, yet through all of that, the ending still is NOT tragic. It is bittersweet and filled with hope and you realize that Theodore is in a better place now than he probably ever has been. I won’t fully spoil the movie, but it makes you think of ‘what makes a person?’ that Samantha is so REAL. Samantha IS a person. Yet at the same time, she’s more than a person. She has no body, but she has a mind and a soul. It makes you think about what we all find in love and if we love the right way. It poses questions of judging people by things we may or may not understand the way so many judged Theodore for being in love with an AI. It shows you that love can be different in different ways. It hurts you and heals you and breaks you all over again, and honestly I’ve never seen a more artistically and philosophically wonderful film.

All in all I have to say that this movie was amazing, I would give it 9.5/10 (SERIOUSLY, it was INCREDIBLE), and I definitely say GO SEE IT!

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Posted by on January 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Loki: Exploring The Development of A Sympathetic Villain

Many of you may remember the post about the Five-Part Spectrum of characters. In that, we mentioned the Sympathetic Villain and used the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s Loki for that example. In celebration of the Thor 2: The Dark World being released, let’s take a closer look at what makes Loki a Sympathetic Villain throughout the three films he has been in.

Thor

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In Thor, we meet Loki as the eponymous hero’s little brother. He is very much the proverbial ‘spare’ to Thor’s ‘heir’ in their father’s eyes. Odin, the King of Asgard and their father, is not alone in showing favoritism to Thor. All of their friends seem to ‘put up’ with Loki because he is Thor’s brother.

And then the truth is revealed. In the photo above, Loki has just discovered from Odin that he is not only not REALLY Odin’s son, but he is not even the same species. Instead, he is the abandoned child of Asgard’s sworn nemesis, Laufey of Jotunheim.

Why this is important:

This is the MOST important point in Loki becoming a Villain in any form. This is the moment that pushes Loki over the edge from feeling a little left out to feeling completely betrayed. This is also a key point to him being a Sympathetic Villain because the viewer empathizes with him. You see a son learning that the reason he feels unloved is because, not only is he adopted, but he is the same ‘monster’ that his family is famed for destroying. This is a prince who was raised on the stories of Frost Giants being the most vile, horrible things in all the realms. He has lived his life hearing stories and playing games as a child in which he and his brother slayed the ‘horrible beasts’ just like their father, only to discover that he is one.

Beyond this moment:

In Thor, Loki’s ‘villainous’ deeds, while very undeniably villainous, were all actions carried out in an attempt to make his father love him as much as he loves Thor. He takes his father’s throne when his father is injured to prove to his family that he’s not worthless. He goes to Laufey – his birth father – and helps him sneak into Asgard on the pretense of murdering a bedridden Odin only to use it as an opportunity to kill the ‘horrible monsters’ in Odin’s chambers to try and prove himself. Even his attempts on Thor’s life are Loki’s way of trying to protect Asgard from an unprepared Thor taking the throne.

In conclusion:

Loki in his first MCU appearance is the villain that nobody could hate. He is essentially a prince trying to make his family love him and choosing all the wrong methods to try and do so. The viewer watches him fall to his ‘death’ and, rather than be glad the villain was defeated, mourns him.

The Avengers

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In The Avengers, Loki is our main villain. This time, he is clearly a very deranged villain who is harder to find sympathy for. Loki appears in a top secret laboratory via a magic portal he opened using the Tesseract that is being studied in this lab. He then steals the Tesseract, takes hostages, and goes on a murder spree that kills 80 people in two days.

However, from the moment he arrives, we can see that he is clearly not well. In the above photo, you can see how sickly he looks and you can see that his previously green eyes are now an eerie blue just like the Tesseract. In a scene further into the film, we see Loki going into some form of trance to discuss the plan with his co-conspirators, at the end of which, one says to him, “You think you know pain? He will make you long for something as sweet as pain!” 

Why this is important:

Loki is clearly not okay. We are given the idea that he fell into the ‘abyss’ between the realms and languished there for a while before Thanos and who knows what other unknown evil collected him. His appearance and this clear indication that his co-conspirators are really his masters help support the implication that he was held captive and tortured.

In conclusion:

What mental break Loki suffered in Thor has clearly been compounded with brainwashing and torture for who knows how long in The Avengers. The actions in this film are more villainous, and less excusable, but there is still this idea that this is a man who has been driven to the edge and then, quite literally, tossed off it and into the hands of torture and abuse that has driven him fully insane. His actions are less understandable, but the viewer still feels sorry for how he got to this point.

Thor 2: The Dark World

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WARNING: IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THOR 2 YET THIS SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!

In Thor 2: The Dark World, we meet Loki as he is being sentenced to imprisonment. Odin makes it clear that the only reason Loki is receiving this leniency for his actions on Earth as opposed to execution is because his mother, Frigga, loves him still as her son and Odin loves his wife. We then see him in prison talking to Frigga, who asks after he denies vehemently that Odin is not his father if he also doesn’t think of her as his mother. There is a moment where his anger drains and he reaches out to touch her only to reveal to us that – surprise! – Frigga is a glamour she sent down to the cells in her absence (Odin decreed that Loki never see her again).

And then, of course, Frigga is killed by the Big Bad of the film, Malekith. In the photo above, Thor comes down to talk to Loki about helping him defeat Malekith and when he asks him to drop his glamours, this is what he finds. In the photo, Loki has shed his nice clothes, he has destroyed his cell, he has stopped caring for his hair, he has bloody feet from walking on the broken dishes he shattered in his grief fueled rage, and he is lying in a pitiful heap as he mourns his mother.

Why this is important:

Loki isn’t THE villain of this film, but he is still clearly not a ‘good guy’. This set up gains him so much sympathy because virtually every viewer either has experienced or can imagine the complete and utter devastation of losing a mother. The viewer overlooks his past wrongs, forgets for a while that he is ‘evil’, and is left with a broken man who has lost the one person who loved him unconditionally before them.

Beyond this moment:

Loki actually doesn’t betray Thor, contrary to every expectation every viewer had. The empathy the viewer feels for him in his hopes of helping his brother kill their mother’s murderer makes the viewer almost forget he is evil, but it doesn’t erase the expectation of him betraying Thor in the end.

In conclusion:

There is some argument to be made that Loki isn’t the ‘bad guy’ in this film, but he is a Villain in general, so the sympathy the viewers feel for him at the loss of his mother will remain to be thought of later in his story as he becomes the Villain once more.

This sympathy viewers have for Loki, regardless of currently not being the main protagonist, makes him even more of a Sympathetic Villain.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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“He doesn’t act gay enough”- The portrayal of LGBT characters in films.

In the 21st century, it’s pretty much a given that stereotypes are an issue that every culture faces. When it comes to films, the LGBT stereotypes are almost always utilized. The movies that are meant to spread awareness and acceptance by focusing on LGBT characters often end up perpetuating negative stereotypes about gay culture that are more detrimental than anything. Among these stereotypes are the ‘tragically gay’, the ‘fierce, fashionable, and flamboyant’, the ‘religiousness corrupt’, and the ‘promiscuous and proud’ gay character.

Case in point,

Brokeback Mountain

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What is often considered one of the most ‘groundbreaking’ and ‘moving’ LGBT films of all times – and is certainly the most decorated with it’s 97 awards – is one big ‘ol stereotype.

If you somehow missed all of 2005 and don’t know what Brokeback Mountain is, it’s the story of two cowboys who fall in love one summer while out herding sheep just the two of them up on a mountain. It follows them throughout their lives as they go get married, have lives and families, and secretly meet up to get it on occasionally.

My personal opinion aside, (Oh God it’s the most boring movie I’ve ever seen and I refuse to believe it is only 134 minutes, it feels like about 4 hours) this movie is literally just one big cautionary tale about what happened to gay men in that part of history. Yes, it has great acting and wonderful cinematography, but it is basically 2 hours of ‘life sucks when you’re gay’. This is a very common stereotype in LGBT films all the way from Victim in the 60s, to Clapham Junction in 2007, and sadly I don’t see it going out of style anytime soon.

A good counter-film to this would be Maurice, based on the book by E.M. Forster, in which the story takes place in the early 1900s, has a bit of the ‘cautionary’ element, but then goes on to defy the presumed tragic ending.

Speaking of presumed tragic ending…  the next favorite tragic stereotype is almost ALWAYS the corrupted religious boy. The idea goes either ‘Gay boy is beaten and abused by insanely religious family’ or ‘Religiously oppressed individual comes to terms with their sexuality in defiance of their religion’. Almost all of these movies ends either in murder, suicide, or attempted suicide.

A good example of this is, Latter DaysImage

Admittedly, I have a guilty pleasure relationship with this movie, but nonetheless, it embodies two of our main stereotypes. The ‘breaking religion’ and the ‘promiscuous and proud’ stereotype. (That isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with liking sex and having however much you want, it’s just that gay stereotypes have this ‘one partner is a straight person thing’ idea going on in films). In this movie, a Mormon on his mission meets a party-loving young man whose only goal in life, it seems, is to party and get laid all the time. Long story short- they develop ‘feelings’, Mormon boy gets caught kissing another guy, gets sent home (but not before one night together) and is then excommunicated. And obviously, he tries kill himself. Because that’s how this stereotype works.Sure, this movie has the tragic heartbreak of party dude thinking Mormon boy killed himself and being heartbroken and then Mormon boy comes back and it’s all happy, but the stereotype is still there laid out step by step.

‘Token Gay’…

Also laid out step by step, is the ‘fierce, fashionable, and flamboyant’ stereotype. There isn’t even one movie to pick to exemplify this one so you can probably just check out every singletoken gay characterin any movie/TV show in the last 20 years. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of these movies, it’s just that it has to be pointed out they’re full of the ‘token gay guy’.

However, if you want a movie that throws out almost all of the stereotypes, ShelterImage

Shelter is without a doubt THE best gay film ever. (And don’t just take my word for it, check out This Viewer Poll).

While it could be argued that ‘normalizing’ gay relationships in film and TV isn’t a good thing either, this film does just that but in a new way. Instead of the ‘normalized’ version of ‘masculine breadwinner and feminine homemaker’ that basically just injects gay into stereotypical gender rolls, Shelter takes a story that is NOT based purely on the fact that the two characters falling in love are of the same gender. Shelter is a story about a young artist who gave up his dreams of art school to take care of his family. He finds solace from his life of working multiple jobs and caring for his nephew when his sister puts her life above her son’s care by surfing with his best friend’s brother, who has moved back from LA for the summer. As you would expect, Zach and Shaun fall in love, but here is what sets this movie apart: The main plot and points of contention in this film have little to do with Zach and Shaun being two men, but rather Shaun pushing Zach to go for his dreams when Zach is too stuck in wanting to provide for his family.

This movie is a beautiful film that shows the difficulties in understanding poverty from an outsider’s perspective, the struggles of balancing family and your dreams, and the difficulties of trying to rise above a bad set of circumstances to find happiness.While it is a love story, Shelter would work just as well if either Zach or Shaun were a woman and, ultimately, this film is about family and achieving one’s dreams. There are no ‘token gay guys’, no ‘breaking religion’ themes, no ‘promiscuous and proud’ issues, and absolutely no suggestions of the ‘tragic gay’ character. It’s simply a great film that happens to involve two men as the protagonist.

 

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The Modern Anti-hero: What IS an anti-hero?

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary entry, the definition of an anti-hero is

Antihero- a main character in a book, play, movie, etc., who does not have the usual good qualities that are expected in a hero;

a protagonist or notable figure who is conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities

In literary circles, there is much debate over what exactly an anti-hero is. Some believe any hero without heroic qualities (he lies, cheats, steals, etc.) is an anti-hero (think of Robin Hood). Others believe any ‘dark’ character would be an anti-hero (think Sirius Black post Prisoner of Azkaban). It is even argued that a non-protagonist-or-antagonist villain is an anti-hero (think Gollum). There are debates between what the actual characteristics of an anti-hero are. Is it a dark, gritty hero? Is it a selfishly motivated hero? Is it a villain with good intentions? All of these are debated ideas of what the anti-hero is in literature. The fatal flaw in these examples, I find, is that there seems to be a hard-line of choices between Heroic protagonist, anti-heroic protagonist, and villainous antagonist.

In “Exploring The Dark Side: The Anti-Hero’s Journey”, James Bonnet says,

“Villains become anti-heroes when the story is about them; when we see the process they undergo to become villains.” 

However, in modern media and pop culture, it’s easier to see beyond this solid three-part spectrum and allow for a more flexible way of identifying a character in the story.  I would argue that the best way to clearly identify characters is a five-part spectrum:  Hero, Dark Hero, Anti-hero, Sympathetic Villain, and Villain.

Hero: The hero is your clear and true ‘good guy’. I don’t agree with the idea of ‘absolutely heroic traits only’ because unless we’re talking about Jesus or Captain America, almost every hero has his or her flaws. However, a true Hero is the clear and obvious ‘good guy’. Usually this person is the protagonist of the story who swoops in and saves the day.

A good example of the hero in modern media and pop culture: Image

Harry Potter, the eponymous protagonist of J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular Harry Potter series, is a great example of a pure, unadulterated hero. From the very beginning, the reader/viewer (depending on whether you’re talking about the book or the film) knows that Harry Potter is the ‘good guy’. He’s the protagonist who constantly saves the day, saves his friends, and saves the world in general. There are flaws, sure, but they are minor compared to his large heart and refusal to give up. You are left without a single doubt that he is a hero.

Dark Hero: The Dark Hero is one of the gray areas that usually ends up being called an ‘anti-hero’ incorrectly. A dark hero is a character who has flaws of character that make them harder to like. They may even come across as a not very good person only to grow and change into a better person because of the events of the story. The Dark Hero often doesn’t want to be a hero at first but finds himself or herself unable to stand by and not intervene.

A good example of a Dark Hero in modern media and pop culture:

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Oliver Queen, the vigilante superhero from the Green Arrow comic series and, most recently (and pictured above) from the CW’s Arrow, is a perfect example of where Dark Hero diverges from ‘anti-hero’. Sticking with Arrow for this example, Oliver Queen begins in his back story as a pretty unlikable character. He’s the type of trust fund kid who is a bad son, a bad boyfriend, a bad brother, and an all around bad person. His story changes when tragedy strikes. He becomes a better person through a series of dark events and terrible situations and he comes out the other side as a vigilante who seeks justice. Many would perceive his former ‘bad guy’ traits combined with his vigilante justice as an anti-hero. Where he diverges from the ‘anti-hero’ spectrum is that his motivations go from ‘right the wrongs of his family’ to ‘save the city’. Like any hero, he sees injustice and wants to fix it. His methods may be rather dark (what with his method of ordering the bad people to ‘fix it or die’ often leaving behind the bodies of the bad guys) but he is still, at the core, a hero saving the day for non-selfish motivations.

Anti-Hero:  The Anti-Hero, when consulting the five-part spectrum of characteristics, is more closely defined than the dictionary definition. An Anti-Hero is, in it’s most simplest form, neither a villain or a hero. The Anti-Hero is selfishly motivated in his ‘heroic’ actions. It isn’t a villain who does ‘evil’ things, but rather a person who does heroic things almost incidentally while doing stuff for only their own gains.

A good example of an Anti-Hero in modern media and pop culture:

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Sherlock Holmes, from Sherlock, is a great example of an Anti-Hero. As a consulting detective, he obviously does ‘good’ things since he helps the police catch criminals. Unlike a hero, though, Sherlock Holmes is a cocky, arrogant, rude character. His main motivation for helping people is to prove that he’s smart enough to do it. He isn’t completely cold and he isn’t a villain, but he doesn’t have any characteristics of a hero. Even when he is self-sacrificing for various reasons, Sherlock Holmes only does so for the people he cares about for his own reasons. An Anti-Hero is almost precisely that: a character who mostly does heroic deeds for selfish reasons. An Anti-Hero often has shining moments of heroism before returning to their selfish state. The emphasis on selfish nature is pretty much what sets apart the Anti-Hero from the Dark Hero.

Sympathetic Villain: The line between Anti-Hero and Sympathetic Villain is a little more concrete compared to the line between Sympathetic Villain and Villain. Still, it is an important distinction when searching for the motivations of a character’s actions. The Sympathetic Villain is one that is popular in many forms of modern media and pop culture. The characteristics of a Sympathetic Villain are almost the opposite of the characteristics of a Dark Hero. The Sympathetic Villain most often starts out as a good or at least neutral character who, when something bad happens, becomes villainous. Often, a personal traumatic event or a history of emotional trauma is present before the Sympathetic Villain slips over the edge into villainous territory. The character is still a villain, still commits villainous acts, and is still viewed as the ‘bad guy’, but often the audience feels bad for the character even as they wish for their defeat.

A good example of a Sympathetic Villain in modern media and pop culture:

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Loki of Asgard, the Marvel character, is a good example of a Sympathetic Villain, especially for a film based on comic books where your villains are usually cold, hard villains. Loki is a Sympathetic Villain because his actions throughout his storyline in Marvel films are able to be understood with a level of empathy from the audience. His original villainous actions are more devious with the intentions of making things right than ‘evil’ until emotional traumas send him overboard. In a later film when he is closer to a ‘pure’ Villain in his actions, it is hinted that he has been tortured to insanity so the audience still feels sorry for him, even though he is the bad guy of the story. The Sympathetic Villain is often used to engage the audience so that they are able to identify and empathize with both sides of the story being presented in an attempt to draw them in and create emotional attachments with the characters. The same way the Dark Hero draws the viewers emotions in, the Sympathetic Villain is responsible for the same thing.

Villain: The Villain is exactly what you think: the bad guy. However, the difference between a Sympathetic Villain and the pure, honest Villain is that the Villain has very few or even NO redeeming qualities. There is nothing to really draw sympathy from the audience. There is nothing to excuse their actions in any manner. The Villain does bad things and has no justification, perceived or realistic, for said actions. In most cases, the Villain is the one character that exists to play antagonist opposite of the ‘good guy’ and will eventually be defeated most of the time.

A good example of a Villain in modern media and pop culture:

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Kate Argent from Teen Wolf, while probably less known than many Villains, is a good example of a Villain because she embodies the traits of having no redeeming qualities, earning no sympathy from the audience, and having no real excuses for her actions. Kate Argent’s penchant for torturing her victims, her history of horrific acts (for example, burning down a house with a family with children inside), and multiple references to pedophilia and past statutory rape make her a character so ‘evil’ that she rouses absolutely no sympathy from the audience. Therefore, she is just a Villain. A GOOD villain that audiences love to hate, but still a non-sympathetic villain.

While there are many opinions on what is and isn’t an Anti-Hero, the five-part spectrum of characterization definitely makes it easier to identify what isn’t an Anti-Hero. By following the motivations, it becomes easier to understand where a character falls in this spectrum, and knowing the type of character you are dealing with makes understanding and appreciating their actions and reactions so much easier. When you better understand what motivates the character, what the character’s goal is, what means the character is willing to go to to achieve those goals, and what the outcome of those actions will be you become a more active participant in whatever media you are presented. This in turn makes the experience of these works that much more enjoyable.

And in the end, enjoying the work you’ve immersed yourself in is the whole point.

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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