I don’t watch movies as often as I should, I know I’ve been missing out on a lot of new good films. I decided to turn this assignment into a family movie night because my father and I love military action and western films. Of course, I had to pick an action film! I remembered The Hateful Eight because Nick from class was very enthusiastic about it, and it’s a Tarantino (I Love Kill Bill), and, it’s western, and it’s on Netflix! We started 8:44pm, I fell asleep an hour into it, my father was glued to the TV. After several failed attempts, I gave up and went to bed. I was determined to finish this movie, so I attempted to finish the film the next day, I woke up with my laptop sliding off my lap.
Oh, my god! I never realized the beauty of 70mm film. I didn’t think Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk was all that. The opening shots were breathtaking, image as crisp as the fresh snow, and because of the wide aspect ratio, you get a sense of the vast west in late 1860s. I am trying to analyze each scene, especially that long shot of wood carved Christ statue. My mom comments on this shot too. So, I explained to her that the filmmaker is holding this shot and slowly backing up because he wants us to examine everything we can see in the shot, and that his choice in showing a Christ statue in the middle of nowhere will tie into the theme later. I found it so impressive how he is progressing the narrative as the stagecoach advances, and for me the story kind of halted when the stagecoach rested at Millie’s (this is also the part I keep falling asleep on). It was interesting to see how African Americans were treated shortly after the emancipation proclamation. Samuel Jackson’s character is a Major, an incredibly high military position, yet Jennifer Leigh’s character, a low life criminal, refuses to ride the stagecoach with the major simply because he is black. I want love this movie but my father’s review is that it is so slow and barely any fighting. Being a Tarantino film, I want to at least finish it.
I’ve found that taking more and more film analytical classes throughout my time at Hunter has made me more of an annoying viewer. Not to myself of course, and not to the movie, as they’re made to be analyzed, but more so to the people I watch them with, just because I tend to easily pick out discontinuities or question motives as to why a director would shoot a particular scene that way or why would an actor portray their character in this way, when the person next to me is really just trying to watch the movie. This honed sort of thinking though, has definitely helped me in terms of writing papers about movies. It’s really rare now that I sit through a movie without a pen and notebook in hand, unless I’m rewatching a film or seeing it in a movie theater (which would then ruin the experience a little). The most recent film I’ve watched with notebook in hand was Sand Dollars or Dolares de Arena, which is a Dominican film written and directed by Laura Amelia Guzman and her husband Israel Cardenas. I chose this movie to be the focus of my final paper for my Spanish American Women in Film and Literature class. This movie contributes to Third Cinema and LGBTQ films. In class we’ve dedicated a few weeks to Third Cinema, although thinking back at it there were no LGBTQ films in the semester as a whole, probably because LGBTQ+ as a film category is relatively very new when it comes to film history. What interested me historically about this film is that the Dominican Republic is also a relatively new contender in the Latin American film industry, and I find it wonderfully ironic that this film stars Geraldine Chaplin as one of its main protagonists, who is of course the daughter of one of our credited founding fathers of the Hollywood industry as we know it, Charlie Chaplin. This movie does follow a lot of Latin American movie tropes, with its rather slow pacing, musical motifs and moments where seemingly nothing happens but is infused with deep heavy meaning. This film was released in 2014, and has been nominated and won several awards, including the FIPRESCI Prize at the Cairo International Film Festival for International Competition Feature Films and Best Actress at the Havana Film Festival for Geraldine Chaplin (which is a double honor considering that Cuba is one of the founding locations for Latin American Third Cinema).
I recently went to see Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle in theaters as part of Ghibli Fest, which for the past six months or so has been screening a Studio Ghibli film one weekend out of the month in theaters across NYC.
I feel like I’m part of a dwindling minority who actually enjoys the movie theater experience. I went to see the film on a Monday night after work, and because this is had such limited screen times, I had to buy the tickets before. I can understand people’s frustrations with skyrocketing movie theater tickets, they are pretty expensive, I paid $25 for two tickets to this screening. However, there are ways to get around that now. We have things like MoviePass, which for less than one standard priced ticket one could essentially see every new movie that comes out each month. Of course, there are people who aren’t movie theater fanatics who wouldn’t want to pay a monthly fee for an excursion they take maybe once every three months, that’s fair. Another alternative, which I have been using before I knew about MoviePass, was PlumBenefits. PlumBenefits is a little more restrictive in the fact that usually these are perks you would receive through your job (you can check if your job has a membership on their website) and from there you can buy discounted movie tickets, around 9 dollars for Regal Cinemas and 10 for AMC. The only snag is that you would have to use these tickets to buy them at the box office, so for Ghibli Fest, which often required me to order the tickets online in advance, I was unable to use the discount. That being said, I actually hadn’t seen much of Studio Ghibli’s films, save Kiki’s Delivery Service, so I didn’t mind paying the extra $2.50. I also didn’t mind because I really enjoy the theater experience, I just like being able to get away from home sometimes. I always get popcorn and a drink before the movie, and even though the screenings for the Studio Ghibli’s films have come without trailers, I thoroughly enjoy watching trailers. Not only do they put me in the know for upcoming films, but they tend to be set to really dramatic hype music which always gets to me. For Howl’s Moving Castle, I went to the AMC movie theater at Kips Bay. there they have reclining seats, which means I basically get to watch the movie laying down. However, because these films tend to have these long pauses of just scenery, laying down can lull me into a doze, so I opt for a position where my feet are up, but I’m still sitting upright. The audience were all Studio Ghibli enthusiasts, and it was really nice to see parents bring their children in to view the classics in a movie theater setting, it gives this sort of illusion of the film being released for the first time again. The audience overall were very polite, and at the end of the film there was a round of applause.
This week, I went to see the Sean Baker directed independent film The Florida Project. Now the name Sean Baker should be familiar to those in the class because he was mentioned at least twice in two timelines. Mostly for his work in the film Tangerine which made headlines for its use of the iPhone as the primary shooting camera. In this new film however Baker has chosen to shoot in 35mm film.
In short, the film set over the span of one summer in Florida near the vacation resorts of Disney World, follows the life of 6 year old Moonee as she lives with her single and rebellious mother, Halley, in a brightly-colored motel managed by the serious but caring, Bobby. The plot of the film does not really have a set structure as we mostly just get glimpses of Moonee’s life in and around the motel, which houses many impoverished Floridians.
After watching the film, I realized that many aspects of the film were very reminiscent of Italian Neorealiam: nonprofessional actors, on location shooting, themes relating to the poor and lower working class, episodic rather than linear narrative, documentary style.
nonprofessional actors: The majority of the cast in this film are first-time nonprofessional actors who were cast by Baker to bring a more authentic feel to the film. Halley, played by Bria Vinaite, was cast by Sean Baker after he found her through Instagram. Some of the kids were cast as Baker saw them while in local Targets and motels.
on location shooting: The film was shot around the Disney World area of Florida were there really are many homeless Floridians living in brightly-colored motels looking to attract the passing tourist. There is even a scene in the film, shot on an iPhone, that was shot inside of Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.
themes relating to the poor and lower working class: Although there is not much of a linear plot there is one consistent theme throughout the film and that is the struggle of those living in the motel to pay their rent. The film focuses a lot on the everyday struggles of those Floridians living paycheck to paycheck only able to afford living in cheap motels.
episodic rather than linear narrative: As I stated before, there is not much of a linear plot but rather we are treated to various episodes in the summer adventures of Moonee and her motel friends. The film does this so that we can get a better feel for the way that life is for the people living in these motels.
documentary style: The film is shot in 35mm film but Baker shoots the film in long takes that usually follow the children. These takes are meant to bring us closer into this world and at eye-level to the kids makes us connect more to the characters.
Overall, The Florida Project is one of my favorite films of the year as it captures a moment in time in which the fantasy of Disney World can not overshadow the realities of homelessness in Florida.
On Saturday December 9th, 2017, I went with my family to see the Pixar film Coco. My family is Mexican and we had been excited for weeks to see the film because it has been out in Mexico for quite some time already and has already become the highest grossing film of all time there. (To say more about the film’s general appeal rather than its cultural appeal to Mexicans, the film is breaking Pixar records in China where many were surprised that the film was not censored due to China’s refusal to show skeletons on screen. It was allowed after censors screened the film and left the screening in tears) . We went to see the film at AMC Bay Plaza in the Bronx where we live which is a predominantly Hispanic borough. Which explains what happened next.
My family all speak Spanish except for the young kids, who can barely even speak at all. Spanish is our first language. When we got to the theatre we were in the process of buying the tickets when we were told that there was a Spanish language version of the film that we could watch. This was exciting for me as many times my family, primarily my parents, have trouble connecting or understanding a film because of the language barrier. They speak and write in English but being that it’s their second language it becomes difficult for them to immerse themselves into a film. We quickly chose the Spanish-language version. It turned into one of the best times I have ever had at a movie theatre.
Not only was the film in Spanish but it did not feel as it was an afterthought but rather the initial plan of Pixar to make the film in Spanish. The songs sounded like they were meant to be sung in Spanish, the jokes flowed better in Spanish. It was one of the first times in my life that I was able to take my parents to see a film in their native language. Usually they are asleep by the first 15 minutes, but all throughout the film I kept looking over at them and seeing the joy in their faces at being able to connect so strongly to a film.
At the end of the film, my mom was emotional and teary-eyed and my dad had the biggest smile on his face. What this film was able to do was to capture a culture they grew up in with enough respect to treat it as normal rather than exotic. For a moment in the theatre, Coco transported them back home.
Please post any questions about the final exam as a comment below—and please post any answers you have to your classmates’ questions, as well! (Of course, you can always email me, but I encourage you to use the blog so that others who may share your question can see the reply…)
Classical Hollywood films tended to follow the same formula. The films followed an innocent main character who finds a fairytale love with the innocent or sometimes rough around the edges next door neighbor. In film 212 we discussed what makes a character a “hero” or the “good guy” and the narrative shift from portraying innocent main characters to films starring anti heros. Anti-heros are the leads in many films of the films screened in Film 212 like Blow Up and In A Lonely Place. Both films star male leads that can be difficult to root for. To many viewers the men may not even qualify as anti-“heroes” and serve as the protagonist and antagonist of their own stories. Rather than swooping in and saving a love interest at the climax of the film, the men are their own sabotage-rs.
In The Shape of Water instead of being the villain, the monster is the love interest and ends up being one of the most sympathetic characters in the film. So much so that it is almost uncomfortable to refer to him as a “monster.” Del Toro created a character with such care and precision, even without words, viewers could understand “Sparkle’s” plight. To further distance Sparkle from the regular big bad monsters in film, Sparkle wasn’t created with fear in mind. Del Toro stated that it took years to put together the materials, bodywork and technology needed to give Sparkle his smooth, mosaic texture that never settles on one color the entire film. The artists wanted Sparkle to be beautiful, the type of thought that usually goes into casting pretty boy actors as the lead and not designing the monster of a film. The Shape of Water attempted to redefine the meaning of the word monster not only through metaphors, but through the visual creation of Sparkle. Teaching viewers to not only be wary of wolves in sheep’s clothing, but to never forget there can be beauty in a beast.
Bonus: I got Del Toro to take a snapchat video with me!
Just a reminder that hard copies of your final papers are due in class tomorrow. Please also be sure to include the completed peer review sheet you received from your partner along with your paper. (If you did not receive a review for any reason, please use the worksheet to self-assess your own work, and include that.) Feel free to be in touch with any last-minute questions, or to post them as comments below.
On November 20th I was lucky enough to attend a showing of “Mudbound” at the Titus Theater inside the Museum of Modern Art. I had recently been gifted a membership card which allowed me free entry into the theater. I had never attended a screening at MoMa and was shocked at how large the auditorium was. The room was flat, so there were no levels nor did the seats ascend upwards towards the back. Because of this I chose to sit in the front row towards the side. Usually I prefer the seat dead center in a row that is fairly far back, but because the seating did not raise upward like a standard theater I chose to sit somewhere my view would be completely unobstructed in case someone taller sat in front of me. I was also anticipating having a good view of the director Dee Rees during her post screening Question&Answer session. The screen seemed to be a similar size as one in a regular theater, however I didn’t notice the curving of the screen on the sides that I typically do while watching a movie. Eating was not allowed so I had a light snack before the movie started at 7:30pm. My favorite time to see movies is at night on weekends because I love hearing the reactions of other audience goers during the film and feel it makes the experience more memorable.
The people at the MoMa were relatively older and few of them had questions for the director Dee Rees after the screening. One woman burst into tears while explaining that her own relative had undergone a similar fate as one of the main characters. After the Q&A, Rees spoke with the young woman and many others, including myself about the topics seen in the film. I snapped a photo with Rees and spoke to her about her first film, Pariah, which I adore. Once everyone had spoken to her, her handlers rushed her off and viewers were allowed to walk through the exhibits to exit the museum. All in all it was a great experience and I can not wait to put my MoMa membership card to use again.