2/4 dog costumes are revealed but you’ll have to wait until Saturday to see the rest!
I was babysitting my nephews this weekend, and after dinner we got a big bucket of popcorn, drinks in spill-proof containers, and crawled into bed to watch some “scary” Halloween movies together. Brady is newly 8 and Jack is 5 and two thirds so I didn’t want anything that was inappropriately scary, but I wanted to give them a taste of Halloween and who better than Tim Burton to do just that. We watched Frankenweenie, a favourite of mine, and Jack now has some very pervasive ideas about reanimating dead pets with electricity. I suggested to him that this was something that might only work in movies, but no, he assured me, this was not so. Apologies to my sister’s dog, whose corpse may suffer any range of indignities.
Interestingly, The Nightmare Before Christmas didn’t go over quite as well. It wasn’t too scary for them, but it was perhaps too boring. The fault is perhaps mine: they watched it fairly attentively until Herbie The Wonder Dog came up for a cuddle, and then they discovered some of the tricks he was willing to do in order to earn popcorn treats. So that did pull them away from the movie a bit. They were also taken by surprise by its ending – not the content of it, but the timing. And though I hadn’t remembered it being rather short, it is – only 76 minutes, and that’s counting credits. So we may have to try again next year to really give it a fair shake because this movie is quite beloved and dare I say almost cult-worthy…although, is that just among adults?
Jack Skellington (“Is he made of sticks?” Jack asked, and I didn’t exactly want to say bones, so I called him a skeleton and that seemed to appease him) is the pumpkin king, a resident of Halloween Town, where every year they put on a lavish but repetitive display of ghoulish horror. Jack Skellington is bored. So when he finds a clearing in the forest with portals to other holiday towns (and don’t you wish we’d gotten even a glimpse of some of the others?) you bet he opens up the most alluring and steps into the wonder of Christmas Town.
Now, very likely there are residents of Christmas Town who are every bit as bored of doing the same old thing every year as old Jack Skellington is, but we don’t hear from them. Instead we watch Jack’s eyes go round as he is mesmerized by all the merriment. When he eventually returns home, he conscripts Halloween Town’s citizens to put on their own Christmas…but a bunch of ghosts and monsters don’t quite pull off the winter wonderland of Jack’s vision. And the ways in which they get it wrong are quite endearing. Until they kidnap Santa Claus (Sandy Claws, as they mishear the title) and Jack steps into the role clad in trim red velvet suit. (“I’d punch him right in the nose,” says little Jack, quite perturbed by the Santa imposter).
Tim Burton has said that it was a shopping mall that sparked the idea for the film – watching as the Halloween merch gets taken down the day after the holiday and immediately replaced with Christmas stuff (of course, that was back in the 90s when we still had a modicum of decency…today both holidays exist commercially in tandem, as early as August).
Our kids may not have been big fans of the film, at least not yet, but there’s something about it that appeals to many others. Matt, Sean and I are headed to Disney World in a few weeks and we’ll witness Magic Kingdom go from Mickey’s Not So Spooky Halloween to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas, literally overnight. And the great thing is: Jack and Sally, rarely seen in the parks otherwise, make special appearances over this holiday time. Disney Land’s Haunted Mansion gets a Nightmare before Christmas makeover, and you can purchase specially themed ears to match, and treats too of course, because Disney is a master at getting you to part with your money.
As any comic book fan knows, Marvel Comics has more interesting heroes than DC, because Stan Lee’s storytelling focus was as much on the hero’s day-to-day life as on the showdown with that month’s villain. DC’s heroes have never had the same issues, because they are either literal gods (Wonder Woman), aliens who are stronger than most gods (Superman), or humans with seemingly unlimited physical, mental and financial resources (Batman). But because DC’s heroes are so powerful, DC’s villains have always had the edge on Marvel’s, and the Joker is at the very top of the list of DC’s best villains.
DC’s latest movie, Joker, tells the origin story of the iconic villain. Well, it tells an origin story for Joker, one that to my knowledge doesn’t line up with anything in the comics. It is a fitting origin that has some nice touches, including a subplot that casts Gotham’s beloved Wayne family in a very interesting new light.
We’ve seen the Joker on screen before. Jack Nicholson was suitably over-the-top and cartoonish, but still maintained a dark centre, in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). Heath Ledger was a flat-out monster in The Dark Knight, delivering an all-time great performance that gave a new level of legitimacy to comic book films. Jared Leto’s gangster Joker was almost an afterthought in Suicide Squad, and it probably would have been better for Joker not to have made an appearance in that film at all.
Now, in Joker, Joaquin Phoenix takes on the role, and he’s phenomenal. Phoenix’s Joker feels different enough from Ledger’s to be original, but borrows smartly from Ledger’s mannerisms to give Joker the manic energy that makes him the clown prince of crime. Seeing Joker emerge from the man formerly known as Arthur Fleck is a riveting process. Director Todd Phillips rightly describes Joker as a slow burn and the pace of the movie creates significant tension. We know Fleck is going to snap, and we can almost understand why, but we don’t know when or how.
Joker is worth watching for Phoenix’s performance, which, like Ledger before him, should get serious Oscar consideration (this time, for Best Actor, as Ledger won Best Supporting Actor for his Joker in 2009). Joker might be up for other awards as well, and the awards buzz is well-deserved. There is more than one way to make a comic book movie, caped crusaders are not always needed, and when the villain is this mesmerizing, it’s okay for the bad guy to win.
Since the original Dumbo is only 60 minutes long, it was inevitable that Tim Burton’s 2019 update would veer from the scant story line of the first.
Max Medici (Danny De Vito) is the owner of a rinky dink circus where little Dumbo is born and immediately considered a monstrosity, despite the fact that our eyes tell us that between his big, sad, blue eyes and his soft, floppy ears, CGI Dumbo is perhaps even cuter than his hand-drawn cousin. A couple of kids, Millie and Joe Farrier, befriend Dumbo and together they discover he can fly. Their father Holt (Colin Farrell), a former trick pony rider and current one-armed vet, cares for the elephants but isn’t particularly warm to them, or to his own motherless children. When Dumbo’s mother, Mrs. Jumbo, is in the middle of an incident, she is labelled ‘mad’ and sold away. This is the straw that broke the circus’s back. It gets eaten up by a new amusement park called Dreamland, owned by Vandevere (Michael Keaton) and featuring the beautiful Colette (Eva Green).
As you can tell by cast alone, all the trappings of a Tim Burton movie are there, but sadly, almost none of the magic.
The first thing working against it, at least in my mind, is a circus scene in the movie Big Fish. It’s only a small part of the movie but it’s completely wonderful. Shouldn’t the wonder just multiply when set entirely at the circus? But no. Things start off relatively well at DeVito’s flea circus, but once it gets swallowed up by the soulless Dreamland, things go off the rails.
Second, I despised seeing Dumbo ridden. Dumbo is a flying baby elephant. Isn’t that enough? But no: 2019 needs to subjugate his whimsy by physically climbing aboard. It also doesn’t help that the sight of Eva Green on Dumbo’s back is some of the worst CGI work in the movie.
Mostly though, the movie just doesn’t feel coherent. Dumbo isn’t really even the star. Burton decided against the whole talking animal schtick, and while that makes sense for a live-action remake, it means a lot of improvised human characters and actor egoes who need screen time and dialogue and character arcs.
But when Dumbo himself is on the screen, the movie puffs its little chest and feels bigger for just a moment. Dumbo is irresistible, particularly in his clown makeup. My heart practically grows arms that yearn to embrace the poor little guy. Unfortunately, this little heart of mine just can’t quite make its way to liking this movie. It has everything going for it but the sum isn’t more than the parts. The sum is messy, and a little cold. Burton’s Dumbo is BYOH – bring your own heart.
Scars are a movie shorthand. Bad guys often have visible scars, gruesomely healed. Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil has a huge scar, from the corner of his right eye down to his jaw. Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street is extensively scarred. Staff Sergeant Bob Barnes in Platoon has a face meant to tell you how crazy he is, right from the start. Most but not all of the scars on this list are found on villains, but in real life scars can criss-cross the bodies of all kinds of people, even, occasionally, good ones. Scars are portraits of courage and bravery, reminders of stupid decisions, the markers of time and change. My left arm was left completely scarred after a car accident; oddly, it is NOT the arm covered in ink (okay, it’s partially covered in ink). They make me a little sad, but also a lot grateful: scars mean you’re still alive.
The Joker: I suppose there are probably dozens of back stories as to how The Joker got his scars, but I love how Chris Nolan approaches them in The Dark Knight. The Joker himself tells several vastly different tales involving their provenance, which reveals nothing about their true nature, but tonnes about his sanity. The way he accents the scars with makeup makes us think he’s proud of them. He wants them to be noticed. Perhaps he wants us to believe they’re self-inflicted. Perhaps they are.
Tony Montana: It’s inevitable that a character nicknamed ‘Scarface’ will make this list. Tony is blasé about his scar, laughing it off, attributing it to his youth but never getting specific. It’s obviously a reminder of the past he left behind, and it’s a focal point to his enemies, something that makes him look scary and intimidating, perhaps warning them that he’s capable of violence. But in true Tony spirit, he addresses his scar only thusly: “You should see the other kid; you can’t recognize him.” I bet that’s true.
Harry Potter: Harry got his distinctive lightning-bolt scar in a failed murder attempt, when Lord Voldemort put a killing curse on him (his mother’s sacrifice saved him from death, but he would bear the mark of the attack). The scar is legendary among the magic set, and it tingles whenever the Dark Lord is near. It wasn’t just a warning system, but a link to what Voldemort was thinking and feeling – actually a small piece of his soul, yearning to escape. Which is pretty crazy.
Edward Scissorhands: Edward’s face (and not just his face) is covered with fine scars, the obvious result of learning the hard way how to live with scissors for hands. They aren’t terrible to look at, and actually give him a sympathetic look, reminding us of his hardships. Since the movie skewers conformity, Edward’s scars are just another thing that set him apart.
Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson: Randy shows stripper Cassidy some of the many scars he’s accumulated over his years in the ring as ‘The Ram’ in The Wrestler. His broken body is a good indication of his mental state as well, beat down and tired. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” Marissa Tomei quotes from the Old Testament. But his worst scar is yet to come: he undergoes bypass surgery on his heart, leaving the tell-tale scar down his chest, a constant reminder that his heart can no longer take the stress of his career. He’s forced into retirement, but can’t quite commit to it.
Marv: Sin City’s Marv puts Mickey Rourke on this list twice, ironic considering his own not-insignificant scars. In the 1990s he took up boxing, and had to have lots of reconstructive surgery as a result – two broken noses, a smashed cheekbone – but admittedly went to the wrong doctor to put things right. Finally, after massive amounts of plastic surgery, he’s starting to look good again. Regardless, in Sin City, Rourke’s face is covered in prosthetic scars. Marv is supposed to be too “ugly” to attract the opposite sex, which is why his relationship with Nancy is so pure and good, and highly cherished by him.
Scar: In Lion King, Mustafa’s brother is marked for evil by eye-skimming scar that leaves him disfigured. The movie doesn’t tell us how he got it, but we do know he’s defined by it, bearing its nickname.
Gill: Gill has terrible scarring to his face and fins after an escape attempt left him badly
wounded by dental tools. Voiced by Willem Dafoe, Finding Nemo’s Gill seems dark and brooding because of his scars, but we come to understand that they’re a symbol of his fight for freedom, and what the fish are willing to risk in order to be free.
Inigo Montoya: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” A mysterious man with 6 fingers attacked Inigo’s father, and presumably Inigo’s scar is from that same fight. His greatest wish is to avenge his father’s death, and he spends much of The Princess Bride pursuing the man who left so many scars in his wake.
Darth Vader: Vader’s scars represent his turn from annoying emo brat to pure evil. As the ghost of Obi-Wan tells Luke: “When your father clawed his way out of that fiery pool, the change had been burned into him forever – he was Darth Vader, without a trace of Anakin Skywalker. Irredeemably dark. Scarred.” Those scars are kept underneath a menacing helmet for much of the series, but when that helmet comes off, oof: impact.
Despite never having read the book(s?) upon which this movie is based, it still felt all too familiar to me while watching Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Could it be that we’ve finally seen the bottom of Tim Burton’s bag of tricks, and now we’re just watching the shadow of his talent?
Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) keeps the wards in her charge safe by keeping them in a 24 hour time loop, the 24 hours before their beautiful home is to be bombed by the Nazis, circa 1943. Neither she nor her peculiar children age while in the time loop, but to step outside of it would have time catching up to them in a hurry. Inside their cozy little loop, they can be as peculiar as they like without repercussion. Or they could until a peculiar gone rogue (Samuel L. Jackson) invents monsters to hunt them. That’s why Abe (Terence Stamp) chooses to live outside the loop – true he has to leave behind his love, but he keeps her and everyone else safe by hunting the monsters in turn. But in his old age, Abe meets an ugly demise and his eyeless body is discovered by his teenaged grandson, Jake (Asa Butterfield ), the only one suspicious enough (or peculiar enough?) to avenge his grandfather’s death.
Once Jake discovers the time loop and the peculiars, Tim Burton is in his element. He’s excellent at creating worlds, giving them texture and meaning and magic, and populating them with loads and loads of white people. Oh, haven’t you heard? Tim Burton’s a racist now. Well, not so much “now” as always, it’s just that only now are we really paying attention. Tim Burton is visionary; he can conjure ghosts in cheap suits, demon barbers and talking caterpillars – but cast a person of colour as one of his peculiars? That would just be weird. That is too much of a stretch of Burton’s imagination.
If it was just the Peculiar Children who suffer from his pale proclivities, we might forgive him, but a cursory glance over his IMDB list has me horrified. Samuel L. Jackson is the first black man he’s cast in a leading role EVER, and you know he’s playing a villain. Jackson aside, Tim Burton’s casting takes on a very pale shade of white. His sets may be designed in technicolour but Tim Burton himself only dreams in caucasian. And it’s not really Tim Burton’s fault. We’re the dummies who have accepted this unthinkingly for years. He’s had huge ensemble casts with not even a tan among them and I for one haven’t even thought to question it.
We’re awake now, though, and the cat’s not getting back into the bag, no matter how many claw marks Tim Burton accrues trying to stuff the fucker back in. His words, you see, have proven even more damning than his pasty casting choices. “Things either call for things, or they don’t” he’s said, meaning, if a script says “African American”, he’ll cast an African American. But if a script says “person”, Burton reads it as “white person.” And that’s exactly the kind of inherent bias we most especially have to watch for. White tends to be the default far too often in Hollywood (and in life). But audiences are not. Audiences are made up of real people, a whole rainbow’s worth. And in 2016, we demand to see that reflected on the screen.
Tim Burton is just another old white dude defending the old guard. He wants things to stay the same. Dude with scissors for hands? Sure. Obsessive candy man? Why not. Orphan in a rubber suit playing god? As long as he’s not black, have at it!
“I remember back when I was a child watching “The Brady Bunch”and they started to get all politically correct, like, OK, let’s have an Asian child and a black — I used to get more offended by that than just — I grew up watching blaxploitation movies, right? And I said, that’s great. I didn’t go like, OK, there should be more white people in these movies.”
-Tim Burton, ladies and gentelmen
Of course his ignorant comments have done nothing but confirm the need for the very thing he’s eschewing. The truth is, for as long as this white default exists, we need to fight it consciously by countering it at every turn. If a script doesn’t demand it, society should. There is no room for lazy racism like Burton’s in 2016; it’s time to stop casting movies like they’re segregated.
Never mind that Blaxploitation movies were born in response to systemic racism and preached empowerment. Let’s just take his statement for what it is: white privilege, white ignorance, and an embarrassing amount of #alllivesmatter racist thinking. Tim Burton needs to pull his white head out of his white ass, and we all need to hold him accountable. And maybe while he’s at it he might also make a movie not so nakedly derivative of his old work. 😉
We all watch movies with our earphones on in our office but you can always tell when someone is watching a scary movie. We yelp, we jump, we scream, we swear. Sometimes the “scary movie” is one of the trailers before the movie starts or even just an episode of Homeland. Yes, Jay and I work in an office of scaredy cats, ourselves included. I once startled the room by crying out in terror during an episode of Twin Peaks.
So, welcome to our horror fest, one designed specifically for the squeamish. I can’t guarantee that our selections won’t startle you, revolt you, or terrify you. But that’s what Halloween is about, isn’t it? Venturing into the unknown and confronting the spooky, the twisted, and the horrifying in a fun and safe place. And if you’re working in our office, remember that there’ll always be one or two other trained counsellors standing by if it gets to be too much for you. Oh, and also help yourself to some spooky cereal as you watch.
The Frightfest 2015 selections are as follows…
The Babadook– The more you deny him, the stronger he gets.
Beetlejuice– Beware Jeffrey Jones, the creepiest character featured at the Festival.
The Blair Witch Project– Everyone knows by now that it’s not real, right?
The Corpse Bride– I give them an eternity.
Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead– The anti-Semitic Zombie Movie!!
Double Feature: The Shining with Room 237– If Jack Nicholson isn’t crazy enough for you, check out the fans of the Shining.
Frankenweenie– Not as pornographic as it sounds.
Halloween– How does Jamie Lee Curtis still have a voice?
Housebound– The only thing worse than being stuck in a haunted house is being there with your mother.
A Nightmare on Elm Street– See Johnny Depp before Tim Burton turned him into a cartoon character.
ParaNorman– How parents just don’t understand.
Scream– The movie that convinced us all that we need Caller ID.
What We Do in the Shadows– Vampires are people too.
Zombeavers– Exactly what it sounds like.
We are very fortunate to live in the beautiful capital city of our country, and to have constant opportunity to do fun and exciting things. The good folks at Capital Pop Up Cinema have brought us a whole season of random, outdoor movie screenings, but this summer being packed full of travel and adventure, we only caught the last couple of offerings.
Last week, in the heart of the bustling Byward Market, hundreds of people brought lawn chairs, cozy blankets and hot chocolate to brave the cool temps for a viewing of The Nightmare Before Christmas. There were more than a few Jack Skellingtons in attendance, and the audience was in a festive and excitable mood as the sun set and the Capital Pop Up’s inflatable screen came to life. The market is the heart of our fair city, choc-full of restaurants, retailers, art galleries, night clubs, and stands selling beaver tails. Not to mention the extra-wide, pedestrian-friendly streets to accomodate the fabulous, year-round outdoor farmer’s markets that sell seasonal produce, everything from cranberries and parsnips to eggs and goat’s milk ice cream – not forgetting our world-maple syrup, of course! So imagine, if you will, this vivacious part of town, the constant stream of happy and satiated people, the occasional tour bus, the frenquent brides posing for photos, the sidewalk chalk artists, the parents pushing ginormous strollers, vendors with their gerbera daisies, and in the middle of it all, an impromptu outdoor cinema! I thought it might be distracting but actually it was good fun, and there were plenty of passerby (and maybe a homeless guy or two) who stopped to appreciate the movie and the intoxicating scent of popcorn in the air.
The Nightmare Before Christmas: a visually arresting work of stop-motion animation that blew everyone’s socks off in 1993, and legions of fans still know every musical number by heart (I can attest to that, having unintentionally sat beside some die-hards). Henry Selick directed but the film is popularly known to be Tim Burton’s, who wrote and produced the film but was simply too busy to direct. The film is about Jack Skellington, a denizen of Halloweentown who accidentally follows a portal to Christmastown, and decides that others back home should be able to celebrate this new and wonderful holiday as well – to darkly comic results. Danny Elfman, Catherine O’Hara, and PeeWee Herman all contribute voice work.
The week before, Capital Pop Up Cinema screened The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a 1920 German silent horror film that was brought to life with live musicians. It played to a smaller but enthusiastic crowd in the parking lot of Das Lokal, a kitchen and bar at 190 Dalhousie where chef Robert Fuchs serves up delicious European fare with a German twist. The charcuterie and das schnitzel are particularly recommended, and the cocktailed called Zugspitze (vodka, elderflower liqueur, cranberry juice) is an inspired choice from the bar.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: directed by Robert Wiene and written by Hans Janotwitz and Carl Mayer, it’s considered to be not only the quintessential work of German expressionist film, but also among the first true horror films. It tells the tale of an insane hypnotist (wide-eyed Werner Krauss) who uses a sleepwalker (Conrad Viedt) to commit murder. The screen writers, both pacificts, wrote the story in the wake of WW1, showing a people’s need for brutal and irrational authority; Dr. Caligari represents the German war government, and Cesare is symbolic of the common man conditioned, like soldiers, to kill. Some say the movie reflects Germany’s particular need of a tyrant, but that seems facile in the shadow of Hitler. The film’s visual style is graphic and jarring, with deliberate distortion to give the impression of insanity and instability. Honestly, the art work is to die for and you could honestly treat this film as a trip to a museum and that alone will ensure your rapt entertainment. This film has a huge legacy that I am ill-equipped to discuss at length, but lucky for me I’ve come across a really great post by fellow blogger David at Movie Morlocks that will do the dirty work for me.
Time for more Thursday Movie Picks! All the Assholes have assembled Avengers-style to talk about their favourite black and white films made post-1970
Full disclosure. I hate black and white movies, especially if they were shot past 1917 when Technicolor was invented. Why would anyone want to even go that route? I find it distracting and somewhat pretentious (The Artist comes to mind), I recognize that this is my own personal bias and you may completely disagree with me. That’s fine. That being said, if I was forced to pick some of my favorites, I would have to start with Kevin Smith’s Clerks.
A true cult classic that any obsessive movie goer has surely seen more than once. There’s so many things to like about this movie! It was shot in black in white in order to save money. This might be the only acceptable reason to shoot in black & white. It’s much cheaper to make a movie this way since lighting issues are non-existent. Post production colour temperature problems? None. Lighting problems? Nope. There’s many advantages to shooting in black & white, but aesthetics is not one of them, in my opinion.
I also admire Kevin Smith’s ambition as a filmmaker. The story goes like this, Kevin smith, who wanted nothing more than to shoot his first feature length, decided to max out his 30,000$ credit card and gave himself 21 days to accomplish this incredibly inspiring goal. How can you not support and admire this feat?
In regards to the movie itself, I find the writing absolutely brilliant, not much actually happens throughout the 122 minutes of conversations about movies, hockey, women, and blowjobs. Now that I think about it, it’s quite amazing that with a cast of friends and family members (hired to save money), this movie did so well.. It grossed over 3 million dollars, was critically acclaimed and really launched Jay & Silent Bob’s career.
This film is about the mundane, daily struggles of an apathetic convenience store clerk (Dante), who seems to have no real direction in life, and his best friend, Randal, a video store clerk, who’s in a similar predicament. Did I mention that Dante and Randall love hockey? Well, they love it so much that their sole purpose throughout the movie is to figure out how they can ditch work in order to play a quick game of pick up hockey on the rooftop of the convenience store and yes, I am talking about two grown men. We also get to meet two great characters, Jay and Silent Bob. Two pot smoking friends who sell marijuana, shoplift and give golden advice on women and relationships.
If you haven’t seen this movie yet, you might want to get out from under your rock and get on it! Seriously. Sean seconds this nomination and adds that it’s a movie he could really relate to at the age of 18 (and maybe still). “I remember always having similar conversations with my friends to those in the movie, just ridiculous things we threw at each other that led to hours of stupid discussions.”
Back to Luc. My second pick is no other than Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (might actually be my #1) but the movie was shot in 1948 and all the assholes agreed to choose movies post 1970, I’ll have to go with Frank Miller’s Sin City. I’m not sure this counts as a typical black and white film, considering that some scenes have bright red, yellow and green, but as I said before, I find it somewhat difficult to choose my “favorite” black and white movie since I generally don’t appreciate them. I love the themes that are explored in this movie: crime, corruption, loyalty. The graphics are also pretty stellar. I’ve never actually seen anything quite like it and if you’re familiar with Frank Miller’s graphic novels, you will surely recognize the artistry from beginning to end.
My third favourite black & white movie would have to be Good Night, and Good Luck, directed by no other than George Clooney. Frankly, I can’t remember all that much about the movie other than it being politically driven. You might say “dude, you write for a movie review site, can’t you at least take a couple of hours to watch the damn movie?” And the simplest answer is no. No, I can’t, it’s in black and white.
The pickings of great black and white movies aren’t as slim as Luc would have you believe. I don’t love black and white movies, I just don’t give a shit. If the filmmakers are telling a good story in an interesting way, I don’t care if it’s in black or white.
In fact, there’s lots of good reasons besides saving money to shoot in black and white. Actually, I would be tempted to argue that saving money is the worst reason. The Artist was a silent film about silent films so Michel Hazanavicius shot in the style of the classics he loved. Martin Scorsese wanted to avoid making a gratuitously bloody boxing movie so he shot Raging Bull in black and white to soften the blow.
Black and white films can feel timeless. Last year’s Ida didn’t feel like a new movie to me. It felt like a classic that had been around for years that I am only now just getting to see. Conversely, Schindler’s List doesn’t look nearly as dated as other films released in 1993.
Good Night, and Good Luck- I hate to say anything against George Clooney but, as a director, he’s never really come close to living up to the promise he showed in one of the best movies of 2005. To refresh Luc’s memory, it tells the story of news anchor Edward R. Morrow and his fearless coverage of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch-hunt. I don’t know if it needed to be in black and white but, because it recreates live television featuring real footage of McCarthy that would have originally been presented that way, it seems appropriate. It takes a smarter and less dramatic approach than most films that are based on real events and definitely a must-see.
Schindler’s List- Steven Spielberg’s 1993 passion project hasn’t seemed to age a day. I rewatched it for the fifth or sixth time yesterday and couldn’t help feeling that everyone involved from cast to crew to extras shared his passion. It’s a beautiful film from start to finish, with even the controversially sentimentality working for me. I feel a heart-wrenching sadness every time I watch it unlike anything else I’ve experienced at the movies and, when it’s over, I feel almost cleaned out.
Sin City- Robert Rodriguez’s 2005 film is almost a panel-for-panel adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novels. The comics were black and white (mostly) so the film had to be too. It works mostly thanks to Miller, whose writing ranges from as pulpy as it gets to almost poetic. “When it comes to reassuring a traumatized 19 year-old, I’m about as expert as a palsy victim doing brain surgery with a pipe wrench” is my personal favourite. Moments like that are almost enough to make me forgive last year’s disappointing sequel.
I like wondering why directors choose to shoot in black or white – what are they trying to tell me by presenting their movie in this way? One of Sean’s picks, Paper Moon (Sean says: it’s fun to see Tatum O’Neal as a little grifter, with her real life father helping out while thinking he’s in charge) is a great example of a careful choice. Set in the depression era, the black and white adds an evocative nostalgia factor. As Matt might point out, it’s a movie that refuses to age because it was purposely dated when released. It means to take you back to a “simpler” time, and then make you question what exactly was so simple about people trying so hard not to starve. Cinematographer Lazlo Kovacs uses black and white to great advantage, with a deep focus that keeps everything razor-sharp.
Pleasantville, in my opinion, uses black and white very wisely. It doesn’t just demarcate “old” and “new” but comes to symbolize enlightenment. Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon play teenaged siblings who get thrown into a 1950s sitcom, again, the “simpler” times that turn out to be not-so-simple. Although everything is superficially pleasant in grayscale, the two rapidly come to miss the highs and lows of life back home. As they influence the sitcom’s residents to challenge their notions and beliefs, the characters are engulfed in colour. They are set ablaze with their newfound edification but some are ashamed of their obvious (colourful) sophistication and seek to cover it up. Now the black and white is a symbol of repression and shame.
Sean chose Frankenweenie as his third and final film. It’s an animated and touching story of a boy scientist and his resurrected dog that’s sweeter than it has any right to be. Director Tim Burton has said “I find black and white very beautiful. It gives a real sense of emotion. I was really excited about seeing this in black and white because there’s a depth to it that I love. It’s not right for every project but when you take the colour out of something, sometimes you start looking at other things, such as textures and characters. I was very happy that the studio [Disney] went along with the idea. If they’d wanted it in colour, I wouldn’t have done it.”
I’m happy to report that this week’s theme made me seek out movies I hadn’t seen before. I watched Chris Nolan’s first feature-length film, Following, and enjoyed trying to pick out early hints of his trademarks. Why did he shoot in black and white? Perhaps to enhance the stylistic look of a film noir, but also, I suspect, like Kevin Smith, because he was shooting on a tight budget. Clerks was big-budget compared to Nolan’s six grand and he made the choice to get the biggest bang for his buck.
Denis Villeneuve, on the other hand, seemed to be more in camp Scorsese. He directed a Canadian film called Polytechnique that’s about the Montreal Massacre – the day a gunman decided to target women and killed 14 of them while they were in school, dismissing their male classmates while voicing his hatred of feminism. It’s a bloody day in Canadian history but Villeneuve seemed to want to minimize the impact of the blood, allowing the audience to think about the killing spree in perhaps a slightly more abstract way. The film rises above the tragedy and is quite cool in its presentation, some might even call it dispassionate.
Joss Whedon made a Shakespeare adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing shot in black and white – maybe to highlight the sexiness that’s supposed to be in the movie, or to make the comedy’s dark side come alive, maybe to help mask and mistake California for Italy, and maybe it’s because it’s as far as he could possibly get from his simultaneous project, The Avengers.
The hardest movie you’ll ever watch is almost certainly Man Bites Dog. A mockumentary that shadows a serial killer who engages in increasingly graphic crime, you can’t look away but you’ll want to. It’s hard to swallow but carries an important message. It was shot in gritty black and white, a tip of the hat to cinema verite style, which is falsely considered more objective. In this case, the medium is just as stark as the message.
We look forward to hearing all of your picks – be sure to let us know your favourite black and white in the comments!
p.s. You might want to check out last week’s theme, father-son movies.
This movie failed me on many levels. I want to tell you that it’s still a movie worth watching, it’s not horrendous, and it’s a fascinating story. I want to tell you that, and I suppose I have, but I also can’t help but tell you the rest.
First: Christoph Waltz. So miscast. He runs through the movie like a bull in a china shop. It’s like he decided to approach this role as a Jim-Carrey-in-The-Mask impersonation, with a peekaboo German accent, and maybe whiffs of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, just for kicks. When he was on screen, and he almost always was, I could barely suppress my urge to yell “Cut!” Where was director Tim Burton in all of this? Has Burton spent too long in kooky, make believe worlds that he can’t even tell what’s real anymore? It certainly felt to me like he was out of his depth. Waltz’s portrayal of Walter Keane was artless and unrestrained. Yes, he plays a schmoozy con man who takes credit for his wife’s art for years, but this was also a real man and Waltz does not convey for one second that he has a single genuine, authentic bone in his entire body.
Amy Adams as the quashed artist Margaret Keane didn’t quite satisfy either. I kept hearing in the script Margaret fighting back a little with bitterness and sarcasm, but Adams couldn’t carry them off. She’s too mousey and breathy.
My biggest problem, though, is this. The movie is about a woman who is passively (and then maybe not so passively) abused for years. Her husband steals from her, takes away the thing of which she is most proud, and intimidates her into silence, forcing her to live in secret, isolation, and near-sweatshop conditions. And the era in which she lives doesn’t provide a whole lot of viable alternatives. But the movie itself is another act of subjugation. She’s not really the star of her own story. It’s Christoph Waltz who dominates the screen. He’s allowed to steal the scenes. Amy Adams can never inject her character with enough backbone to compete. He walks all over her. This turns out to not be the story of her stolen art, but about his swindle. You need only look at the movie poster for proof.
So that’s how you ruin a mediocre movie. You take a powerful story and you tell it from the entirely wrong perspective. It’s as if the movie itself hasn’t learned its own lesson, and in 2015, that’s a heartbreak.