Archive | March, 2014

A Stupid Opinion of the Visual Style of Two Fictional Hotels

27 Mar

I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel and immediately went on a cinematic tour of hotels. The next film was Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046, the title comes from a room in boarding hotel. It was such a juxtaposition that I ended my tour right there.  The contrast and similarities of the two films sparked this stupid opinion. On the surface, the two hotels couldn’t be less alike; The Grand Budapest Hotel is mostly the height of style and sophistication whereas the Oriental Hotel in 2046 is a neglected hotel where more guests live than spend vacation. Even in the later years of the Grand Budapest, it still had more class than the hotel in 2046. Despite the differences of the hotels, they both guide the visual aesthetic of their respective films.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel serves as the visual touchstone to the film. Even in its drab, rundown, communistic seventies interiors at the beginning of the film, it fits into the aesthetic of Wes Anderson. Then when the story returns to the hotel’s heyday, the pinks and purples launch the film into a whole new level of extravagant details that flood the senses. The hotel takes what Wes Anderson started in The Royal Tenenbaums and balloons it to the point right before it could burst in an explosion of corduroy, velvet and hastily tied bow ties. The hotel sets a high standard and the film attempts to fill the visual splendor with complimentary costumed characters. The cinematographer, Robert Yeoman, is able to capture all the perfectly centered scenes that really show the attention to detail that Anderson excels at. I have no doubt that Anderson had extensive and heated meetings about the style of lint that accumulates on the carpet of The Grand Budapest, and the wide angles primarily used in the film allow for this to be seen as well as let the story unfold on-screen. The characters interact with the elaborate sets, enjoy their costumes and let the events of the film flow along. It is the perfect visual style for the beautiful world of the plot driven Wes Anderson universe. 

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Then on the other side of the coin, we have Wong Kar-Wai’s equally beautiful film 2046. As opposed to the grandness of the Grand Budapest, the Oriental Hotel in 2046 is left almost a complete mystery. The film may not even contain a single wide shot, instead WKW and DP Christopher Doyle opt to go in much tighter. The majority of the film is in medium close to close-up. With these shots the mysterious hotel wouldn’t seem to add much to the visual look of the film, but the slightly rundown hotel provides just enough information to reflect the people residing within its walls. The shots of the characters using the lobby phone cut off the head of the actors, showing the toll and insincerity of interacting with people outside of the hotel. The characters can’t be honest on the phone and have to hide their faces when using it. The rundown green wood-paneled walls are the perfect neutral background that focuses all the attention back on the actors. With the tighter shots, we get a more claustrophobic feeling of living in close proximity to strangers. Which allows the hotel to serve as the metaphoric meeting place for all the damaged characters. This is a beautiful character study of the injured souls that inhabit boarding hotels. 

The plot of 2046 film isn’t as important as the characters or the mood the events of the film create and the hotel supports and enriches those elements, where as The Grand Budapest Hotel uses the plot and the characters to showcase the titular hotel. Both films look stunning and are great examples of masters working their strengths for very different results. Let’s just hope that they never decide to shoot each other’s scripts; that would be a crime against the moving image.

-C.Charles 

Pep Talk for Game of Thrones Season 4

23 Mar

Many people are anxiously awaiting the start of baseball season next week. But I’ve been counting down the days until Game of Thrones Season 4. Incidentally anyone who criticizes me for being a huge geek because I choose to get excited about a fantasy series rather than sports, better not be a Cubs fan. Because if you think the Cubs will ever not be terrible, you inhabit a fantasy land more detached from reality than Westeros.

Got cast

For anyone who hasn’t read the books it seems kind of pointless to continue on with the show because the character you liked the most is probably dead. The shock of The Red Wedding crushed more than a couple people I know and they’re willing to give up on the show altogether because it seems like only the good people die in Westeros. First off let me say that the Red Wedding was one of the greatest moments in television and didn’t take place purely for shock value, it’s important to the long term story but you have to stay tuned to find out why (or read the books). While it’s easy to dwell on all the dark depressing stuff in Game of Thrones, I want to take an opportunity to highlight some other things about season 4 that (hopefully) viewers can look forward to. Although I have read the books I won’t be spoiling anything, these are more like teasers and interpretations based on what the show has already set up. Let’s get psyched for Season four.

Thinking that only the good people die in Westeros is wrong, everybody dies! And eventually death’s sickle will swing toward the bad characters too. At least two people who you absolutely hate are going to die and their deaths will be messy.

Let’s also not forget that dying doesn’t always equal death, there are at least 2 ways the dead can return. One is to become reanimated as a White Walker. The other is to be resurrected by R’hllor the Lord of Light. As we’ve seen with the Red Priest Thoros bringing back Beric Dondarrion from the dead. One of your favorite deceased characters may come back in one form or another.

While the Red Wedding was the climax of season 3, we’re not done with weddings yet and there’s at least two more. Upon being rewarded lands and titles for him and his children, Little Finger remarked that he’d have to get busy with the having children part. He plans on getting married and has left King’s Landing, courting a bride is defiantly on his itinerary.

By the old gods and the new let’s not forget about King Joffrey’s wedding, sure to be the biggest social and political event in Westeros. This has earned the nickname “The Purple Wedding” and you’ll have to watch it to find out why.

Jamie Lannister is showing that it is possible for people to change. He has made it back to the Capitol, but he’s now missing his right hand. His skill with a sword made him who he was and deprived of his fighting hand how will others see him, how will his father see him, how will Cersei treat him? Last season showed us that Jamie wasn’t as bad as we thought but will he stay that way or will Cersei temp him back toward his old ways?

House Stark

Some of the Starks are still alive. Youngest son Rickon is in hiding with the Wildling, Osha so he’s out, but the other 3 are still in the game. Sansa Stark is clearly a victim but her time in King’s Landing has provided her an opportunity to see the heaviest political players jockey for power. Being married to Tyrion she’s now in a prime spot to see how the best people play the Game of Thrones, she’s a strategist in the making. I really like Sansa because unlike the other strong female characters Sansa is still very feminine, she thinks and behaves adhering to what people in that world think a lady should be like, people underestimate her and she doesn’t know it.

Bran Stark may be crippled but he’s walked as a wolf, and as Hodor, and dreams of the future and he hasn’t even found the three eyed raven yet. There’s many references to “The Old Gods” but they’re a big mystery. We’re going to learn a lot more about the old powers through Bran as he heads North.

Arya is awesome she has the clearest goal of anyone, to kill people on her hit-list. But she’s been held back again and again by those she cares about. Now everybody she’s ever cared about has left her or died she has no reason to stay put. With a foreign coin and the magic words “Valar Morghulis” she can get a ride to Braavos to train with the faceless man. Only Sandor Clegane stands in her way and he’s on her list. The time for Arya to go to assassin school has never been better.

Dragons

The best reason to watch season four is FUCKING DRAGONS! They’re huge now and their mother Daenerys has the urge to go beyond conquest and actually rule as a queen. While her military skills have served her extremely well, to actually be a fair and just monarch is a completely new experience for her. Dragon’s are great on the battlefield but serve little use in royal council chambers then again a well spoken “Dracarys” could easily solve a political negotiation. We all want her to be a great queen but now is the time we get to see how Daenerys will rule.

See it isn’t all murder and death and violence and nudity and sex and betrayal and rape and war and slavery and other such fucked up shit, that’s only like 97% of Game of Thrones. There’s positive stuff in there to if you look for it, so get stoked up and set the DVR, the season starts April 6th.

Carl Wells

A Stupid Opinion About The Dog of the South

19 Mar

The protagonist of Charles Portis’s novel The Dog of the South, Ray Midge, is so perfectly socially inept that I’m surprised that HBO hasn’t optioned the book to be a week-long mini-series. He stumbles through every situation he comes across on his journey from Arkansas to South America while pursuing his wife who has run away with her first husband Ray’s credit cards and his Ford Torino. Like the HBO shows with a similar lack of social mores (Curb, Hello, Ladies, Girls), every interaction Ray has should have been handled better by a person with even more substandard social skills.   He stumbles through every situation whether that be drunkenly over-staying his welcome at a bar and being ostracized to the corner, or taking a playful road interaction as a malicious annoyance, or when he gave a local boy who has helped him a giant pickle jar as a gift. Ray Midge is a hilarious, daft man whose wife had every justification in leaving him. The great thing about this book, however, is that Portis is so gifted as a writer that he’s able to make this character’s social unawareness come across even though Ray Midge is the narrator of the story. Every poor choice Midge makes he allows himself an explanation, and it’s still painfully obvious that this character is completely incompetent when it comes to interacting with people occupying the world around him. 

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Ray Midge reminds me of another literary character I had the pleasure of discovering this year; Al Roosten. He’s the title character from a George Saunders short story in an excellent collection; Tenth of December. Both characters regularly suffer from being called the wrong name, they both mentally justify their behavior in nearly every interaction. Both characters show just how mentally taxing it can be to be completely unaware. While Al Roosten passively aggressively challenges Larry Donfrey’s alpha male status in a lunchtime auction of Local Celebrities, he’s really just trying to mentally combat the years of repressed homosexual feelings. Midge’s journey is much different. He so occupied with projecting this idea of masculinity he received from his father he claims that he’s more concerned with his missing car than his missing wife. Throughout the story he’s given chance after chance to understand his motives, but he turns away every time in favor of his masculine idea of what it means to be a man.

Along the trip he meets the owner of the Dog of the South, an old school bus converted to transnational recreational vehicle, and Dr. Reo Symes, a fraudulent doctor with a revoked license and a hundred and one scams and schemes to get rich. Instead of being obsessed with the Civil War historian as Ray Midge is, Symes is more obsessed with an elusive, possibly deceased, author by the name of John Selmer Dix. Dix represents the essence of masculinity and success to Symes, but he only has one book by the author. He figures all of the answers are in this book. And though nobody has seen Dix, Symes follows his teaching with a religious devotion. Though Dr. Symes is much more self-aware than Ray, he is still what Ray will become if he continues along the path of painfully unaware faux-manhood.

The book tells of Migde’s quest for his car, his wife and his dignity. The socially unaware need redemption too, it just so happens that their redemption is about a thousand times more hilarious than the traditional of people who understand the basic principles of human interaction.

-C. Charles

The Measure of a Man: Webbed Prose – March 13, 2014

13 Mar

Once again, another foray into the realm of creative writing based on, or, rather, inspired by, an article from the web. Although this attempt is slightly different. I first read this article in an actual magazine on a 14 hour flight from DWF to Seoul, South Korea. The article is part of a bigger section based solely on jeans. It’s in the Style section of Esquire Magazine and it’s about Mark Warren who’s ashamedly afraid of skinny jeans and his quest for a mandated new pair of jeans. Here’s the piece: A Day of Shopping for Denim

The Measure of a Man

 I am always striving to become a better man, but sometimes along the pursuit of perfection or self-betterment you can get lost on a path. It’s like walking through the forest toward a giant mountain peak in the distance; you know the final destination, but how to get there is never clear. All anyone knows is that they needed to keep going forward. Upward and onward toward the peak. That vague platitude was all I had until I realized the perfect way to judge the success of a man. It is such a hidden and barely perceptible relationship, but rest assured it is nearly flawless in its assessment of success and the quality of a man. This is a secret I’m giving away for free under the assumption that making the knowledge public will only make the unnoticed relationship even more steadfast in its perfection. The measure of a man can be absolutely and perfectly measured by his ratio of pants to days of the week.

Let me expound on this success measuring ratio, if one has a ratio of 1:1 (one pair of pants for every one day of the week) this is a gentleman who is moderately successful. He has the means of wearing a new pair of pants Monday through Sunday. . .well, it isn’t rocket science, the more pants a man has the more successful he is. That’s all there is to it. I imagine a person like the President never wears the same pants, he just has a constant cycle of new tailor-made pants lining his closet week after week, and his success reflects that. So, the president’s ratio is something like an infinity to one. Where as someone with only one or two pairs of paints, even if they have the same infinite number of shorts, swimming trunks, jorts or capri pants, will not be a successful man. Let me share how I discovered this measure success on my journey toward self-betterment.

When I made this discovery, I was not very successful. And my number of pants reflected that. I only had one pair of jeans that I would wear regularly, another pair for some of my messier work (painting , gardening and general handyman chores around my apartment complex as a way to cut down on my main expense of rent) a pair of flannel pajama bottoms reserved for lounging, but not limited to only home wear. In fact, there were many times when I wore the pajama bottoms to the grocery store or to wait at the DMV, but before I realized the importance of pants, I even wore them to singles mixer where the invite suggested “casual attire.” And the final gem in my unimpressive collection of pants was my steady Adidas navy polyester track pants with three yellow strips down the side. These were the pants I wore everywhere with any and every shirt combination.

Then one day while stopped at an annoyingly long traffic light, I was deep in thought about why I was struggling from pay check to pay check and never seeming to be able to get even one measly step ahead in life. Then I saw a van pull up to a cleaner in a strip mall. A man opened the back door and began to load plastic covered bags into the back of the van. I watched as suit after suit was loaded into the van for delivery. I was shocked, that there were that many men in my very town that could afford not just these fancy suits, but to have them dry cleaned and delivered to their homes. Before the light turned green, I looked down at my trusty navy track pants and tried to remember the last time I had washed them. I scratched off a bit of dried something that had fallen on them, and realized that the men getting their pants delivered to them never had to consider the last time they washed thier pants because the quality of their life put a premium on clean, different pants. They didn’t wait for them to get dirty, they cleaned them so they wouldn’t get dirty.

That was the moment I realized the importance of pants. I don’t remember where I was going, but wherever it was I skipped it and turned into the closest strip mall where the dominate store was a thrift department store. No strip mall with its main store as a thrift store is doing very well, and looking back on the situation I see that it was metaphorically the best place for me to begin my journey to the mountain peak of success, because, as I said, I was not doing very well either at this time in my life. I went into the thrift shop and went directly to the long rows of soiled pants. I found my section with my waist size and grabbed the first pair that didn’t look like it was donated by a homeless man. Without even trying them on I took them to the counter and paid for them, then asked if the attendant didn’t mind if I used the changing room to put them on so I could wear them out. That is how instantaneously ashamed of my regular navy Adidas track pants I became. Fuck them in their probably flammable, mostly plastic, very dirty ass. If I hadn’t thought of using the track pants as object of motivation, I would have burnt them right there in the dressing room and left the ashes for some poor person serving their community service to clean up. I walked out of the thrift store with my head held high in my surprisingly comfortable and stylish new, used jeans.

I then drove directly to my father’s house to tell him the good news about my realization that I have indeed been slacking on my potential and was finally ready to live up to the name and genes he’d given me. After telling him the story, he could see the boldness of my new thrift store purchase and universal truth of my newly discovered success ratio and knew that I was on the right path. He was so proud of me that he took me out that very instant to be fitted for a new suit on his dime. I watched every movement of the tailor as if I was an apprentice on the first day of the job. The man who made success was measuring my inseam. That was something I need to fully absorb.

On the drive home my father said that he would give me one his suits that was closer to my size than his. And just like that I nearly doubled the number of pants I owned, which made me regret not just leaving or donating the track pants so I could have actually doubled my pants and my success all in one afternoon. And let me tell you the self-improvement and betterment followed in rapid succession of that afternoon. Some people may say that my success is related to a whole lot of good luck and knowing the right kind of people, but I know better. And now you do too. This profound moment of my life was the turning point from coddled helpless wanna-be using excuses and dirty track pants to the successful, respected, owner of twelve different pairs of pants you see before you today. Dream big, success is real and within your grasp.

The End

-C. Charles

A Few Stupid Opinions About the Academy Awards

6 Mar

This post is a day late and a dollar short, but that’s what happens when vacations intersect with self-imposed deadlines and Fat Tuesdays. C’est la vie. I haven’t watched the Oscars in the last 5-10 years. Maybe longer, and there may have been a year that I checked out a moment or two from the show, but the last one I consciously remember watching included Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller hawking their Starsky and Hutch remake. But, I will also say that one of the reasons I got into filmmaking was the Academy Awards. I thought as a youth that there was no validation as powerful and as a gold statuette named Oscar, well an Oscar and being drafted in the Lottery had the same level of validation points in my book. So, in hindsight, it isn’t a big surprise that right around the time I realized that I could never play in the NBA I began to pursue making films. Wow, that’s an embarrassing bit of subconscious motivation I just revealed to the world. (Phew, good thing that only eight people read this blog) Anyway, here are some thoughts not long enough or weighty enough for their own stupid opinion that came about from returning this year to watching the Oscars this year:

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If you haven’t seen the films, the Academy Awards is just a three-hour long commercial, if you’ve seen the films it’s a three-hour opportunity to feel a superficial connection to beautiful, lucky people wearing designer clothes. All award shows are dumb, they are the glamorous under belly of capitalism. But not just award shows, also sports competitions where judges determine the winner, they are nothing more than art sold out to the bank of competition. Both are designed solely to increase the value of art. A way to judge art on something that isn’t emotional impact. The gold medal in figure skating and the Oscar for Best Picture should in theory both be equally worthless to the artists who did the work, but of course that isn’t the case. Steve McQueen will jump for joy, whoever beat Kim Yuna will cry tears of joy. It’s a strange dichotomy of art. Emotional connection is key, but there needs to be exposure to give the opportunity for that connection. The thing I enjoyed about this three hour commercial was that it was presented in a quality way. The graphic design for all of the films was unique, reflected the themes of the films and beautiful. Quality art, design and craftsmanship was used to sell quality cinema, which is more than can be said for any type of art in communist N. Korea.

Next up, the Best Original Screenplay is code for best film in my book. The Academy rarely misses in the category. Nearly all the films nominated are some of the best of the year, in my humble. That or my definition of a quality film is the same as the Academy’s definition of a well written, original film. There is one minor thing that I just can’t seem to wrap my head around, why does the Academy regularly nominate Woody Allen for writing to the tune of sixteen original script nominations, while the Coen Brothers only clock in at two original and three adapted. I wonder if the Academy is susceptible to psychological reactance, where they want it(Woody Allen’s attendance) more when they know they can’t have it. It’s shocking that Inside Llewyn Davis didn’t get a nod, but the blue period Blue Jasmine did. Even with that miss, the Best Original Screenplay is the best example of proper artistic appreciation. So good on ya, Spike Jones.

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Last stupid thought generated by the stupid Oscars is that Matthew McConaughey could be the most likable dude on the planet. What a professional. His acceptance speech was a perfect blend of entrainment and genuine gratitude. If everyone prepared a speech as well crafted as this, instead of playing the false modesty game of not thinking they were going to win, then the Oscars would be worth watching once again. I don’t know if retweeting a picture will make the Oscars more worthwhile, but hearing gems like your hero is yourself ten years in the future is something that makes the three-hour commercial worth it.

-C.Charles