Sunday, June 10, 2012

Dr. Strangefilm OR How I Stopped Worrying And Tried To Figure Out Prometheus

Prometheus was one of my most anticipated films this year, along with The Dark Knight Rises. I love the Alien franchise dearly. It scared the living hell out of me as a kid, so much as to where I could barely be in the same room when it was on the television. Yet, I loved it. My Dad would buy me the action figures of xenomorphs and sit half-listening (or perhaps not really listening at all) as I asked about all the film universe. I asked him questions that he didn’t know the answers to, yet he gave them a shot. I was in love. Terrified, awe-struck love.
As I grew older I came to view the first film as a masterpiece. One of the few almost perfect films. So when I found out that not only was there going to be a pseudo-prequel to Alien I was ecstatic, and to top it off Ridley Scott would be directing. There was no way it wasn’t going to be anything more than awesome. Right?
Well here I am, two days after seeing the film and I just don’t really know how to put into words my reactions to the film. And I don’t mean that as “too good for words” or “two crappy for words” I mean that I literally don’t know that I can categorize it as a film that I “like” or “dis-like.” At least not yet.
Yes, the movie had flaws galore. Underdeveloped characters that made stupid decisions (even thought they were “intelligent scientists”) that served only to move the plot forward. I mean really, if an alien snake that came from a mysterious black goo is hissing at you, I cant imagine anyone would think it’d be a good idea to pet it. Characters, who I felt were intended by the filmmakers to be villainous or amoral, seemed to be the only characters making rational decisions. For instance Charlize Theron’s character seems as though she is supposed to be the Weyland Corp ambassador with ulterior motives, that takes place in every Alien movie—in fact she basically admits it in the beginning. Yet, she seemed to be the only person on board the ship that was thinking clearly. There is even the parallel scene with Alien where she refused to allow an infected human on board the ship—just like our beloved Ripley did in Alien.
But enough of these issues, enough has been written about how almost all of the characters in Prometheus are underdeveloped, strangely written, and exist only to move the plot forward.
It’s safe to say that for each film in the Alien franchise there is an underlying theme(s). For example: Alien-The Female Voice in a Male World, Aliens-The Mechanics of Family, Alien3-Religious/Cultish Group-think, Alien: Resurrection-Science and Ethics. Following the trend, Prometheus had its own theme, a big broad vague one: Creation. Why are we here? Why were we created? What purpose do we serve.
Now I’m not going to turn this into a religious/philosophical blog so I’m going to keep to what is addressed in the film, and try to keep it focused on the film’s reality and that of it’s characters.
Prometheus’ biggest problem it had going in was the fact that it was being touted as a non-prequel to Alien, which of course, doesn’t really make sense. But also, saying that something is the “not really a prequel” is like asking people not to think about pink elephants. The entire time I was in the film I was inadvertently making “connections” to Alien, which of course was my first big mistake. When I came out of the film I was a bit angered at how sloppily Mr Scott had connected his franchise. At the end of the film we see the birth of a xenomorph, thus starting the chain of events that would lead to our characters on the Nostromo, right? But that doesn’t make sense because the Space Jockey that the crew in Alien found was in his pilots seat, with a bursted chest—NOT in a human ship. Well, see this is where my assumptions got the best of me. See after chatting with a friend I realized, this is a different space jockey. In fact, this is a different planet altogether. Why did I assume it was the same planet when it didn’t even look the same—well it’s the “don’t think about pink elephants” paradox, unfortunately.
It all made, well, some sort of sense to me after I had this revelation. After chatting with my fellow film cohort we came to a few conclusions (assumptions) which led us to a couple of possible theories. After seeing the mural on the wall inside the Space Jockey’s vessel, it’s safe to say that they held the xenomorphs in rather high regard—perhaps as the ultimate harbingers of death (the ultimate biological weapon of mass destruction) or, perhaps they worshipped them as deity figures. Now, it is safe to say that the mysterious black goo is the secret to the space jockey’s bio-technology. It seems to be able to make their ship work—and even create life.
Now here are my two theories:
1) The space jockeys were trying to harness the ultimate weapon to become ultimate rulers of the universe. They engineered humans to basically produce the xenomorphs in order to take over the world. Now of course we know that probably wont work out well—considering we know the xenomorphs are the ultimate death dealers. The xenomorphs got out of control, hilarity ensues, and the Space Jockeys abandon their plans. Once our crew on Prometheus goes to find our creators, the Jockeys decide, in order to fully prevent the xenomorph DNA strand from ever reproducing again—they need to destroy their creation, us.
2) The Space Jockeys were on the same mission the Prometheus was on, to find their creators or Gods, the xenomorphs. The only way they thought they could do this was to actually try to create their God. Obviously this was a big mistake.
To me one of the most interesting exchanges in the film was between David and Charlie (or as my buddy, and I like to refer to him, B-Grade Tom Hardy). Charlie taunts David, telling him that he was created just “because we could.” David responds by asking Charlie how he would feel if he met his maker only to hear “Because I could.”
Its an interesting premise, to assume that our engineers are not benevolent, and perhaps not even malevolent—but indifferent. How would that affect the human psyche? Do we actually need a physical purpose to feel important? Would it make our actions insignificant to all of the sudden find out that we were basically a science project?
Prometheus does not attempt to answer these questions. In my opinion, it doesn’t really even directly ask them. It hints at the possibility that perhaps these questions are worth a ponder.
Prometheus is not a perfect film. Far from it really. But it got me thinking, and it got me talking. And really isn’t that what we want from movies in a film-era full of Transformer films and lovelorn vampires?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Obligatory Favorite Films of the Year Post

You all knew it was coming up. Here is a list of some of my favorite films of the year:

Note: I really hate ranking films, so please don't give too much weight to the rankings. These films are all worth seeing.

Almost Got In There But Not Quite:

-The Help
-The Ides of March

Top 10 (11):

10. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo- While I consider this flick to be a lesser addition to David Fincher’s body of work—I still thought it was pretty damn solid. Rooney Mara deserves to be in the best actress race come award season, hell she might even deserve to win. The story is what it is, whether you like it or not, but I don’t think anyone can argue that Fincher nails the dark murky tone required to make this film worth seeing.

9. Win Win- The thing I loved the most about this movie was that it was about...wait for it...normal people. Flaws and all. As deep a hole as Paul Giamatti has digs for himself in this movie, he never ceases to feel like the hero of the story. In real life people make mistakes, act mean and harsh, and sometimes things get better and sometimes they don’t. This movie portrays that sentiment perfectly.

8. Super 8- From the moment I heard the first few notes of Giacchino’s score I knew that I was going to be in for a treat. I was really surprised that a lot of critics stated that the movie was not able to stand on its own, and that the Spielberg fingerprints were too distracting. I was sucked into the story from the very beginning. If I had seen the movie when I was 9 or 10 it would have been my favorite movie ever—and I mean that in the best possible way.

7. Beginners- A lovely study on how loneliness and sadness can be passed on through family members, both intentionally and unintentionally. Matched with loads of heart and pathos, this film has just enough quirk to make it different, but not too much to where it becomes annoying. Christopher Plummer delivers a heartbreaking, yet hysterical performance.

6. Tree of Life- I think it is safe to say that this was the most divisive film of the year. There were people who hated it with a passion, people who thought it was just alright, and people who loved it. I loved it. I had never seen the emotions presented here caught on film before. I loved the scene where young Jack (who was brilliantly acted by Hunter McCracken) is coming back from breaking into that house and taking out the woman’s slip. Innocence has been lost and it shows in Jack’s face as he walks home on a muggy afternoon. Brilliant stuff.

(Tie) 5. The Artist- I saw this one post hype and of course I went in thinking, this one couldn’t be as good as everyone says it is, but dammit, I really loved it. It was sweet, moving, witty, and charming to boot. The acting was perfect, I felt as though I was watching genuine actors from the silent film era. It is so refreshing to see such a charming feel-good movie be praised up and down--and actually deserve it.

(Tie) 5. Hugo- I mean, how can you go wrong with Scorsese directing a love letter to the history of cinema? When I first saw the trailer for this movie I had my doubts, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking, “it’s Scorsese, even his misses have value.” Well my doubts were squelched completely. Martin Scorsese is dubbed a master for a reason, and I thought Hugo was one of his best efforts.

4. Moneyball- I read this book over a vacation in like two days and thought it was one of the most fascinating non-fiction books I had ever read, and it translated perfectly to screen. Pitt disappeared into Billy Beane’s persona. I loved how it was almost the anti-sports movie. A look into the behind-the-scenes of baseball, warts and all. Wally Pfister's shots were really and inventive aided to the story beautifully. I’d have to say this film takes the cake when it comes to best acting from an ensemble cast. Everyone was fantastic.

3. Midnight in Paris- For me, this is Allen’s best work since Crimes and Misdemeanors. I loved how light-hearted, yet meaningful it was. Owen Wilson took the “Woody Allen Persona” and made it into his own thing—which worked wonderfully. I also really appreciated how un-sci-fi the time travel elements were. It basically worked like a dream, you get into a car and then poof—you’re in a different era. Simple and effective.

2. Warrior- On paper this film should be a clich├ęd mess of macho-stereotypes, obligatory dialogue, and manipulated emotions—but it isn’t. It’s a study of a broken family learning what the idea of forgiveness is. Tom Hardy is awesome and Nick Nolte gives perhaps the best performance of his career, but it’s the writing that elevates the film. It is just so perfect. Not in the Aaron Sorkin sense where it is poetry on screen, but in a brutal, bruised honesty type of way. The words are so delicately chosen and heartbreaking. I missed the film in the theater, but I ended up redboxing it one night. I went out and bought it the next day.

1. Drive- Cool, capital “C.” This film is so drenched in style that it at times reaches absurd levels and I couldn’t have loved it more. But what keeps Drive from being "style over substance" is its beating heart. Underneath the blood and oil there is a classic love story being told. Gosling gave a stunning, subtle (apparently too subtle for a lot of people) performance as the classic silent hero. And Albert Brooks shocked the hell out of me by playing the most convincing and unnerving villain I've seen since Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds. His performance really gives new meaning to the phrase "playing against type." The brilliant soundtrack only added to the gleaming neo-noir style.  Slick yet gritty, tender yet violent, Drive was my favorite film of the year.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What I've Been Up To Lately...

It's been forever since I've added to this thing--I promise I'll try to write more, but today I just felt like I should jot a few things down to fill the time.

What has been going on in David Dangelico's life?  Well...Lia and I were planning to move to another city. And when I mean another city I don't mean Alexandria or Arlington. I mean that we were looking at places as far South as Panama City, and as far West as San Diego. BUT, we have decided to give NOVA/DC another year to see if we can get anywhere in our careers.

So where does that leave us? Well, basically just doing a job search. Which can be fun and exciting. We'll see.

In other news, I've been bitten by the comic book bug again. DC's recent total reboot got me hooked. I loved reading comics when I was in middle-school and high school, but as the trials of college became more and more daunting  I began to slowly put them aside. I still would crack a graphic novel or three every once and a while. But since then, the only comic that I had been reading regularly is Kirkman's The Walking Dead (which is still fantastic BTW). ANYWAYS, what DC did (for all of you non-comic geeks out there) is completely reboot 52 of its titles. In other words 52 different comics would start over again starting with issue number 1.

I mentioned this to Lia. I told her about how interesting (and risky) a move it is, and how I wouldn't mind picking up a couple #1's just to see what they are doing and how they are doing it.

"What does she do?" you ask?

Well, on a trip to visit her sister in Philadelphia she picks up Batman #1 AND Ultimate Comics: Ultimate Spider-Man #1 The reason she picked up the Spider-man comic is because I had told her about how in Marvel's Ultimate Comics Universe, Peter Parker dies a hero's death, and is replaced with a new Spider-Man (hence the #1) a half Latino, half African-American teenager named Miles Morales. Almost as risky a move as rebooting all of your characters!! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Lia is indeed the BEST WIFE EVER!

*Fun fact: Glen Beck went into a tizzy about how a minority is the new Spider-Man. Beck blamed Michelle Obama, of course.

Needless to say, I thought both issues were fantastic. Now I'm knee deep in Batman, Spider-Man, Action Comics (Superman), Green Lantern, Animal Man, The Ultimates, and Swamp Thing. Whew!

It's been a blast, lots of great stuff is being written about some of my favorite heroes, and I'm even becoming a fan of a new one: Animal Man. I knew next to nothing about this character, but friends told me I should at least pick up the first issue because there is a lot to like. Now, Animal Man is one of my absolute favorites!

Everyone who knows me knows that I love superheroes and that I have a deep, immense, love for these characters and their stories. It's been with me since I was a little tyke. Comics and superheroes really had an impact on my life when I was growing up, and honestly shaped me as a person. It's a passion that is difficult to explain to people who aren't also as in love as you are. To outsiders, comics and superheroes (which don't always go hand in hand in fact, there are several brilliant comics written about anything but superheroes like American SplendorMaus, Blankets, and Persepolis) are "for kids," or a "waste of time." (Unless of course their favorite heartthrob is fantastic in the latest Summer blockbuster, in which case they are all for them.)

To those people I say: Whatever man, I love comics, and my wife is smoking hot, so take that! POW!!

But seriously, it's difficult to put into words what the allure of comics actually is. Of course, the artistry and storytelling is there for anyone who is not to snobbish to notice. In fact some of the best stories being told today are being told in comic form. But what is it about comic books that makes us fans so giddy?

Well, I think Aunt May said it best in one of my favorite movies of all time, Spider-Man 2:

I'll try my best to blog more (for real this time), and you can bet they will be a bit more comics-infused!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Favorite Music of 2011

Its that time of year again so you all know the drill...

Here's a little list of what I've been listening to and what I deem as my favorite records of the year.

Overall it was a pretty solid year for music, with a bunch of artists finally having their breakout records, and some old favorites remind us again why we loved them in the first place. Also, there was a new Tom Waits record, know, is always good.

The records are in no real order unless noted otherwise.

Top Ten
Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Favorite record of the year)
Wye Oak- Civilian
Yuck- Yuck
Tom Waits- Bad as Me
m83- Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
The War on Drugs- Slave Ambient
Childish Gambino- Camp
Future Islands- On the Water
Wild Beasts- Smother
Kurt Vile- Smoke Ring for My Halo

Wild Flag- Wild Flag
Iron & Wine- Kiss Each Other Clean
Beirut- The Riptide
James Blake- James Blake
The Antlers- Burst Apart
Kanye West & Jay-Z- Watch the Throne
Girls- Father, Son, Holy Ghost
TV on the Radio- Nine Types of Light
Feist- Metals
Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues

Favorite Song of the Year: Civilian by Wye Oak
Favorite Non-albums: Pearl Jam 20 Soundtrack, Drive Soundtrack

Lots of great music came out this year, if you have a moment and need some new tunes--any of the above should do the trick!

Monday, June 20, 2011

What We Feel When We Go To The Movies...

Last night I was involved in a conversation with family about how we all look at movies and then, in turn, how they affect us. The typical inaccurate stereotypes were thrown around "Men can't understand this...","Women aren't entertained by that..." and of course "You'll understand when you're older." All of which, of course, are wildly inaccurate blanket statements that simply are not true. Not about men, not about women, not about young people, and not about older people. But perhaps the more interesting part came when my mother-in-law said (and I'm paraphrasing a bit) "David looks at things from an artistic standpoint, direction, writing, least from what I have read on facebook."

At the moment the comment didnt really bother me. In the context of the conversation, she was saying that the way I percieve violence and language in film is from an artistic standpoint and not a parental one--which is certainly true. I am not a parent therefore I watch films for my own enjoyment and entertainment--not to screen them for children (although I do think I could do it if you asked me to). And while I may be more careful about what I bring into the house when a young David or a young Lia is in the house, I would like to think that my fundamental beliefs on movies and music will not be changed when that day (far off as it is) may come.

But it got me to thinking about how I, and in turn we as a people, look at movies. Do I look at films differently than other people? My first instinct was to say Yes, of course, I've taken film classes, I know more about the way a film is made than the average person on the street. But what exactly does that mean? Just because I know a little bit more about how a film is made than the average person doesn't mean that my film-going experience is different than other people (also, that was quite the conceited thought you just had there, self, cool your jets). Are cinephiles so caught up in the technical aspects of films that we can't look at films in any other way? Of course not. In fact, I think it is impossible for anyone to step foot in a theater and not watch a film from a personal, emotional, or cultural standpoint. It is impossible not to take a film and look at how aspects relate to us or affect us. Movies do this to us without us even knowing (at least good movies do this to us without even knowing).The basic question, and the reason why we as a people love going to movies is because in some way or another we have an emotional or cognitive response to what is happening on screen. We all feel movies.

For instance, last year Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan was released. It was a wonderfully made film, superbly acted, and impeccably written. However, and this is not necessarily a knock on the film as I think it was intentional by the filmmakers, it left me emotionally cold. I understood and could see why it was a well made movie based on what was happening on the screen, and I certainly went home and had long conversations about it with my wife and my friends--yet I cannot say that the film affected me emotionally. Black Swan was a much more cognitive film. It was a thinking film and really is meant to be a head-trip rather than an emotional journey--which it succeeds wildly in being.

Now, on the other end of the spectrum, Aronofky's film The Wrestler (an equally well made film) does not have the trippy psychological plot that Black Swan has. However, it is very similar. It is about a physical performer, who loves his craft so much he is willing to give anything to it. A rather basic premise, yet it is one that The Wrestler and Black Swan share, perhaps on purpose. What makes the films different is how we relate to what is on screen. The Wrestler is much more of an emotional journey than Black Swan is. Perhaps because while Black Swan was very much a journey into the head of it's main character, The Wrestler is very much a journey into the heart of it's protagonist.

We all bring our own baggage with us into the movie theater. However our baggage does not necessarily mean that we are able to comprehend a film more-so or less-so than others. Say a person does not come from a broken home and watches the film Kramer vs. Kramer. Is he or she still able to understand the emotional complications of the film? Of course they are. Of course they can see the hardships and feel the heartache. Why? Because it is a well-made effective movie. The only difference between a person watching the film who has come from a broken home and a person who hasn't is one will be able to say: yes, that is an accurate portrayal and that is how it feels. They both feel what is on the screen, one just might be able to say whether or not it was they way it was for them.

Movies are a part of our culture for good reason.They connect us. They bridge the gaps that are created by life and help us to understand each other better. This is not only true about film, but any kind of craft.So, I guess in a way, we all look at film from a technical and artistic standpoint--we just don't necessarily realize it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Paris, Texas: A Love Affair Between A Boy And A Movie...And A Boy And A Girl

When I was a sophomore in college I saw the film Paris, Texas (1984). It quickly became my favorite film (tied with Blade Runner (1982)) of all time.The movie is directed by German New Wave pioneer, Wim Wenders and stars Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Stockwell, and Nastassja Kinski. The film opens with a wandering wide-shot of the vast, craggy landscape. The camera wanders along until it finds our main character, Travis (Stanton). Travis' clothes are raggedy, his face sunburned and wrinkled. Travis is walking towards, or away from, something--we just don't know what. Soon after, Travis passes out near a doctors office and his brother Walt (Stockwell) is called to pick him up. It's been four years since the brothers have seen each other. From that point on the film follows Travis as he pieces back together his life.

I stumbled upon Paris, Texas in a bit of a peculiar way. I was bored one night and I was watching interviews with my favorite musicians, in this case The Hold Steady. The bassist listed his favorite films, two of which I loved (A History of Violence (2005) and Videodrome (1983)). Then he mentioned that his favorite film was Paris, Texas, so I casually put it at the top of my netflix queue. When it came in the mail, I invited this girl, Lia (you all know the one) over to my apartment to watch it. We had planned to watch the movie in my living room, but alas, my roommate Quinn was watching Alien 3 (1992), so Lia and I had to change to my bedroom. If this sounds like a sly trick, you would be wrong.

Let me take the time to explain what consisted of my apartment bedroom. There was a mattress on the floor in the corner, a dog house with a two year-old Dalmatian-Lab mix inside, a desk with a crappy laptop, and a crappy TV sitting on a barely standing crappy table, oh and a beach chair. Not exactly ideal conditions for wooing. We started the film, regardless the conditions, as well as my dog's insistence that she lay on the bed and watch as well.

We were transfixed, something in the film clicked in both me and Lia's brains. We both got it and talked all night (after she went home of course) about what we loved about it.

Fast forward a year. Lia and I are dating, she is studying in France and I am juggling a few summer jobs. Because of the time difference we only get to talk on the phone at really odd hours--so of course communication was limited. She did however tell me that she had a surprise for me when she gets home and that I wasn't going to believe it. She had found, at a random used record store in Athens, Greece, the Paris, Texas soundtrack. What are the odds? (By the way, I consider the score to Paris, Texas to be the ABSOLUTE best score to a movie ever--this is including all of John Williams' stuff)

Today, Lia and I are married, and we have two copies of Paris, Texas, one on DVD and one on Blu-Ray. It truly has become a part of our lives. I've always felt that art can change you. And I mean this in the most literal sense. What if we had watched the film in the living room, perhaps a better, but certainly less intimate location? What if I had never caught the interview with the bassist from The Hold Steady? Would our lives be the same? Maybe, but who knows. I always thought the connections we make through movies are important, I just never thought (though maybe I should have) that they would lead me to the most beautiful and important person in my life.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Favorite Flicks of 2010

I'm a little late on posting this one--mainly because of the late surge of really great movies. It really turned out to be a great year for cinema. Things were looking rather dismal mid-year, but then awards season kicked in and we got a flurry of really great stuff. Here are my favorites (in no real order as usual):

The Social Network
127 Hours
The Fighter
Toy Story 3
Black Swan
The King's Speech
The Town
Never Let Me Go
Shutter Island

Best Direction: David Fincher for The Social Network

Best Writing: Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network

Most Underrated Movie: Tie, Never Let Me Go and Shutter Island

Most Overrated Movie: The Kids Are All Right (I thought it was a good movie, just didnt understand the hype)

Worst Movie: Sex and the City 2 (only because I was too scared to see The Last Airbender)

Best Cinematography: True Grit

Best Original Score: The Social Network

Best Documentary: Restrepo

If you havent seen these films, all of them are worth checking out (except, of course, the worst movie of the year). Here's to another great year of cinema!!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Favorite Records of 2010

If you haven't gotten a chance to listen to any one of the albums off this list I suggest you get to the nearest record store pronto. 2010 has been one of the best years in music in a looooong time.

1) Kanye West- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

2) Arcade Fire- The Suburbs

3) Janelle Monae- The ArchAndroid

4) The National- High Violet

5) The Tallest Man on Earth- The Wild Hunt

6) Beach House- Teen Dream

7) Local Natives- Gorilla Manor

8) Max Richter- Infra

9) The Walkmen- Lisbon

10) Best Coast- Crazy For You

11) Sleigh Bells- Treats

12) Big Boi- Sir Luscious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty

13) Deerhunter- Halcyon Digest

14) Wild Nothing- Gemini

15) Joanna Newsome- Have One On Me

16) Cee Lo Green- The Lady Killer

17) LCD Soundsystem- This Is Happening

18) The Roots- How I Got Over

19) Sufjan Stevens- The Age of Adz

20) Spoon- Transference

21) No Age- Everything In Between

22) Broken Social Scene- Forgiveness Rock Record

23) Sun Kil Moon- Admiral Fell Promises

24) Four Tet- There Is Love In You

25) Band of Horses- Infinite Arms