Wednesday, October 22, 2014 0 comments

Eclipse Series 1: Early Bergman- Thirst (1949)

Directed By: Ingmar Bergman
Written By: Herbert Grevenius
Torment, Crisis, and Port of Call, for as much potential and ambition they held, were ultimately disappointing starts for writer and director Ingmar Bergman's illustrious career in filmmaking. The first two films being unwieldy and melodramatic from a narrative standpoint and visually stiff, and the third, while visually stunning due to the work of cinematographer Gunnar Fischer and the most  competent of the three films, suffered from issues brought on by both its structure and character development.

Bergman's seventh directorial effort, Thirst, is unlike any previous Bergman film, utilizing a non-linear, flashback heavy structure that really serves to challenge the audience. The film follows troubled couple, Rut (Eva Henning) and her husband Bertil (Birgir Malmsten), as they travel across post-WWII Europe, all while simultaneously recalling the past events that brought them their, a past that involves affairs, infertility, and abuse. Additionally, that storyline parallels that of a mentally disturbed widow Viola (Birgit Tengroth), as she deals with her own issues, which involve a sadistic psychiatrist and depression.

Yet interestingly, Thirst is so much like Bergman's previous films. His trademark dark subject matter is all here intact: the unfortunate characters of Thirst dealing with such wonderful issues like abortion, murder, infidelity, depression, abuse, suicide, sadism, and death. Bergman's treatment of youth culture is as empathetic as its always been, and his tendency to focus on a romantic relationship to provide a narrative framework for the entire film is also done here.

In short, it feels like Bergman finally has figured out what he wants his films to be about, all while finding a structure that he feels most comfortable in. Gone is the superficial melodrama of Torment and Crisis, the tense high stakes psychological drama Bergman excels at taking its place.

What's more is that Bergman is at top form as director here. A tense sequence (Which can be seen on the clip below. SPOILER ALERT!!!), which features Bergman at his most horrific, shows just how skilled he is at utilizing lighting, editing, direction, and sound to achieve such simultaneously hypnotizing and chilling effects.

It certainly isn't a perfect film. The narrative is perhaps a bit too sprawling at times, moments of confusion over where I was in the film's timeline being all too frequent when the film first starts. Additionally, the film's attitudes on sexuality, while certainly progressive at the time, haven't aged nearly as well as they could have, a scene featuring a cliched "devious lesbian" character (I use the word "devious" because her hair conveniently forms horns on her head in one shot.) being an eye-rolling example of this. Yet one can be forgiven for cutting the film some slack considering that it was produced over 60 years ago.

Thirst is the first great film of the Bergman filmography. It's a work that ambitiously treads through a non-linear storyline, all while dealing with harsh thematic subjects effectively while also setting up some skillfully directed sequences. It certainly won't be the best film of his filmography, yet that speaks more of whats to come rather than what's here.

Rating: 4/5
Next: The 400 Blows (1959)
Monday, October 20, 2014 0 comments

Halt and Catch Fire Season 1 Catch Up: "FUD"

"Son this is about relationships. This isn't something you'd understand."
I don't think the writers have any idea what to do with Joe.

On one hand, the reveal that Joe is completely full of shit is certainly a refreshing twist on the white male anti-hero trope. Where most anti-hero shows reveal the hollowness of the protagonist's goals, Halt and Catch Fire has essentially just revealed that Joe is a con-artist dressed up as visionary. It certainly explains why his speeches rung false in the last episode. The boardroom scene where Gordan says, "Tell me you have a plan Joe," and Joe silently looks at him with guilt definitely was a power to it that suggests the show has an awareness of the usual cliches of the antihero trope.

Yet on the other hand, the move serves to deflate Joe's storyline to the point where I simply have no interest in seeing Joe's storyline develop any further. It may be an interesting idea to have Joe be this pathetic loser, but its executed in the most boring manner possible. Whether it be Joe frantically throwing stuff around in search of the BIOS binder, a freakout in a speaker shop, hints at a bad childhood, or a terribly miscalculated shirt ripping scene, Joe's character has so far proven itself to be a toxic element in this series.

Before we go into all of that though, let's talk some good stuff.

The episode picks up immediately after the first episode, with Joe and company completely taking down the IBM legal team through their pre-rehearsed answers. With IBM sent running, Joe reveals to Gordan and Cameron what he wants from them: a personal computer that can run twice as fast at half the speed. Gordan thinks such an idea to be difficult, but possible, while Cameron outright rejects the idea, believing that they should strive to be more creative. This entire situation sets up what is sure to be the major conflict of the series: creativity versus practicality. Gordon believes in progress moving in increments, while Cameron believes in revolutionizing technology. The scene also does a good job of giving an indication of what the season is going to look like, a job which the pilot simply didn't accomplish.

The episodes high watermark definitely is the scene where Cardiff Electric gets raided, IBM swooping in to take all clients. One great sign from Halt and Catch Fire is that it effectively knows how to dramatize people going on phones panicking over a rival business, showing that Halt will have little to know trouble making the PC business interesting. It's a bonus that the writer's were able to imbue the scene with character moments in order to create scenes which are both dramatic and purposeful. "Son this is about relationships. This isn't something you'd understand," Yells Toby Huss's John Bosworth at Joe, a line that smartly showcases the differences in business expertise between John and Joe, while additionally allowing John to call Joe a sociopath. Moments like this prove that Halt and Catch Fire isn't just a mere Mad Men clone here. There's some real craft and ideas at play here that have the potential to make for some fantastic television

Yet Joe, who is unfortunately the central character of the show, is a black hole. Lee Pace attempts to do his best with the script he's given, yet its hard to really give much depth to a character so thinly conceived. The pilot set Joe up as a mystery man with a grand plan; only for this episode to reveal that he may not have thought up his plan thoroughly enough. It's certainly an interesting twist on the anti-hero archetype and definitely superior to Joe being some omniscient mystery man who's plans work out perfectly.

But there has to be better material for Lee Pace to work with than screaming at people he's angry with, throwing weird temper tantrums in basements, and spinning terrible yarns about how he was abused as a child for being a nerd. Take the scene near the end of the episode, where Joe gets into a fight with Gordan, only to have his shirt randomly tear off, revealing a bunch of scars on his chest. "To this day, I don't blame them. I don't think they meant to chase me off the roof." Says Joe to a shocked Mackenzie and Gordan. It's a pretty terrible scene for a number of reasons, chief among them being that its a hilariously unbelievable scene in an otherwise believable TV show. The reveal that Joe made up the story on the fly only serves to concern me even more that the writer's have no idea what the hell they're doing with Joe.

Which isn't to say this was a terrible episode. It's an hour that displays Halt and Catch Fire is at least self aware of the genre pitfalls and is actively writing around them. Nowhere is this most obvious than in the relationship between Gordan and Donna, where the writer's pretend to set up a very contrived conflict between the two, only to knock it down immediately to prove that this isn't that type of show. Again, the raid scene was great, Toby Huss as John Bosworth is pretty spectacular, and Cameron has been put in a great position for future episodes. Yet even with all that, the problems the show has been having with the character of Joe MacMillan only serve to worry me. It's entirely possible that the writer's are able to figure out Joe in future episodes. Yet rather than looking at Joe's future on the show with anticipation, I must admit that the prospect of spending more time with Joe MacMillan only serves to bore me.

Rating: 3/5

Friday, October 17, 2014 0 comments

Criterion Collection #4: Amarcord (1973)

Directed By: Federico Fellini
Written By: Federico Fellini & Tonino Guerra
Chaotic, joyful, and over-sexualized to the point of farce, Amarcord is Frederico Fellini's attempt to make sense of adolescence. A semi-autobiographical work, Amarcord depicts a year in adolescents of Titta (Bruno Zanin), a kid struggling with sexual and familial tensions brought on by the political and social issues of Fascist Italy in the 1930s, while also checking in on the lives of the various zany character that inhabit the town of Borgo San Guilanon, a town situated near the birthplace of Fellini.

While there are slivers of nostalgia throughout the film, Amarcord is, at its heart, a biting satire. Whether it be fascism, sexuality, and even the Catholic Church; Fellini mocks it all through scenes both dramatically interesting and comedically ridiculous.

A hilarious scene has Titta attempting to confess his sexual desires to a masturbation obsessed priest, Fellini utilizing the scene to skewer the Church for its repressive attitudes towards sex and inability to connect with the youth. Fascism receives an even more brutal treatment, a scene showcasing Fascist guards shooting down a gramophone playing "La Internationale" in a distant tower, displaying the radicalism and madness of Fascists Italy at the time.

Fellini is a master at constructing scenes that strike a perfect balance between farcical and dramatic. A dinner scene with Titta and his family is highlights this ability. Every shot is extremely busy and dynamic, despite it featuring people literally sitting down for dinner. Fellini is able to effectively also derive a ridiculous amount of tension due to the abhorrently hostile relations each family member has with each other, the scene eventually evolving into a moment of intense emotional rawness for nearly all the characters.

This leads me to the biggest reason why Amarcord is such an effective film: its honesty. Fellini consciously avoids the usual sappy cliches and trappings of family dramas, instead portraying a family flawed at its core. Titta is terrible towards his parents and vice versa, their relationship only reaching somewhat of a peace during times of illness or death. What's better is that the film doesn't cop out when dealing with those problems, foregoing the usual "they love each other in their hearts" in favor of something more grounded and dark, despite it being a film that is often cheery and farcical.

And that would be the best description of Amarcord, a film that, on the surface, is crazy and upbeat, yet has a darker more honest core that fuels those comical elements. Fellini has constructed possibly one of the more the more unique contraptions I have seen in awhile: a film that's message is so at odds with its tone that you still are left wondering whether Fellini is pining for the times of his childhood or scorning them. Possibly a little bit of both?

Rating: 4/5
Coming Up Next: Thirst (1949)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 0 comments

Eclipse Series 1: Early Bergman- Port of Call (1948)

Directed By: Ingmar Bergman
Written By: Ingmar Bergman and Olle Länsberg
Rating: 3/5

After the admirable failure of Crisis, Ingmar Bergman would work on 3 more films: It Rains on Our Love (1946), A Ship Bound for India (1947), and A Ship for India (1947). In his fifth directorial effort,   Port of Call, a melodrama about a romance between the tortured Berit, played by Nine-Christine Jönsson, and gruff sailor Gösta, played by Bengt Eklun, its obvious that Ingmar Bergman has a much clearer grasp on how to direct a motion picture. Whether it be the beautifully hazy shots of shadowy dockworkers walking along the shipyard at dawn or the fluid long take that Gösta meeting his fellow dock workers in a shadowy room, Port of Call is a gorgeous film.

And yet the film is part of a genre not known for being particularly "gorgeous." Port of Call would be Bergman's first foray into Italian Realism, a genre more known more for its realistically, gritty urban environments and unkempt characters than stunning imagery. What's interesting is how Port of Call balances these two visual style. The dirt and grime are still there, Berit and Gosta often in a rather unkempt state for the majority of the film and images of working class poverty are in abundance. The difference is that Bergman is now, for the very first time, working with his longtime collaborator Gunnar Fischer, who would work with Bergman on many of his seminal works, such as The Seventh Seal (1957) and Wild Strawberries (1957). Fischer succeeds in creating visual wonders by raising the image contrasts to more actively separate light and dark, creating beautiful outdoor scenes, such as the previously mentioned dock scene, and interior shots that have a nourish feel to them.

Yet despite this breathtaking imagery, the world of Port of Call is by no means pretty. The central romance between the suicidal Berit and the aimless Gosta unsurprisingly goes to some extremely dark places, dealing with Bergman's usual themes of childhood alienation, adult dismissal of youth opinion and culture, depression, anxiety, suicide, and even abortion. Combine this with it's realistic urban environment, and you've essentially got another dark and depressing Bergman film. In fact, the film was so controversial at the time, that it wouldn't even be released in the United States till 1963, even receiving an X rating when it debuted in the United Kingdom.

What really differentiates this from Bergman's previous efforts is, up to a point, Bergman actually integrates the themes into his narrative and actively engages with them.

What this leads to is the most fully formed Bergman films so far. Whether it be the extremely interesting relationship between Berit and her hateful mother, played by the menacing Berta Hall, or the dark emotional journey Berit goes through as she descends deeper into depression and madness due to years of neglect and isolation, Port of Call is the first Bergman directed film, in the Eclipse series at least, to actually have a core storyline that drives one through the entirety of the film.

However it all works up to a point. Unfortunately, the Gösta part of the story falters simply due to his character essentially being a cipher for the entirety of the film. What this means is that the central romance simply isn't able to come to a satisfying end and any scene involving his character becomes frustrating due to a lack of knowledge of his motives. By the end of the film, we know little of Gösta beyond him being a gruff sailor who sometimes is prone to angry emotional outbursts that aren't really adequately explored or thought out.

Which isn't to say that the film is a failure per say. Berit's story is thankfully the focus of the film, meaning that one will, at the very least, be interested for majority of the film's running time. It's a pity that Port of Call isn't better, especially considering the large strides forward in both writing and directing when compared to his directorial debut. Yet it's hard to be too disappointed when you take into account that Bergman had successfully constructed this fairly ambitious film merely 2 years into his directing career.
Monday, October 13, 2014 0 comments

Halt and Catch Fire Season 1 Catch Up: "I/O"

Author's Note: The following is a series that will focus on a show that has already aired its first season. It's a means of catching up with it and writing about it when its second season premieres.
"What are you trying to prove with all this?"

Reverse engineering Mad Men isn't exactly the best starting point for a TV show.

That's exactly what Halt and Catch Fire does in its pilot episode. From the "Draper-esque" protagonist, a handsome businessman who's motives are as mysterious as his origins, to the authentic, if stylized, portrayal of its time period, to the focus on character development over plot momentum, to even the cutthroat business setting, calling Halt and Catch Fire "Mad Men: 80s" wouldn't be such a huge stretch. 

It's obvious that AMC, realizing that with Mad Men leaving and Breaking Bad ending, needs something that will rake in the awards. Yet rather than take a chance with someone with a proven track record of critically acclaimed television, AMC has instead opted to just simply copy the formulas of the tried and true.

Usually such a gambit doesn't work. Attempting to reverse engineer a show into existence usually just leads to uninspired archetypes, rehashed narratives, and simply makes for uninteresting TV in general.

So boy was I completely shocked when Halt and Catch Fire completely bucked this trend. Not only was it an engaging, solid hour that lays the foundation for what should be a fairly thought-provoking, if not at the very least engaging, series on the PC revolution of the 80s, it actually went to some very unique and interesting places that bode quite well for the future, while also raising some ominous red flags.

Taking place in 1938, Halt and Catch Fire follows mysterious businessman Joe MacMillan, played by Lee Pace, as he attempts to build a PC under intense legal pressure with sales engineer Gordon Clark, played by Scoot McNairy, and punk programmer Cameron Howe, played by MacKenzie Davis.

What differentiates Halt and Catch Fire from other AMC period dramas, like Hell on Wheels and Turn: Washington's Spies, would be its focus on character development over plot momentum. The show has all the right instincts of what needs to be focused on at least in the pilot, giving us time to better understand the characters, while also setting up a plot that definitely has me excited to watch.

The characters that most benefit from this narrative style are husband and wife team Gordon and Donna Clark, who is played by Kerry Bishé. What originally seemed like the "depressed husband, nagging wife" dynamic that so many cable shows, like Breaking Bad and even Mad Men, annoyingly present, eventually evolved into a complicated relationship between two  individuals who, while obviously in love with each other, struggle to balance their personal and professional aspirations. This wonderful kitchen scene has Donna and Gordon frankly discussing their relationship, eventually coming to an agreement that usually comes episodes, or sometimes even seasons into a show in order to arbitrarily sustain the drama. It's refreshing to see Halt and Catch Fire not turning Donna into the nagging wife stereotype, while also acknowledging Gordon's self absorption.

Speaking of wonderful scenes, Halt and Catch Fire is packed full of them. A fun scene where Joe and Gordan attempt to reverse engineer an IBM PC shows an ability at presenting really complicated technical processes while still making them interesting to watch. A hilarious scene where  Joe and Gordon attempt to recruit Cameron to their team show that the writers do get how to derive humor from the different cultural backgrounds of the characters, while also successfully setting up an interesting female character in Cameron. The best scene comes at the end, when rows upon rows of lawyers comprising IBM's legal team stroll into Cardiff Electric office towards Joe, Gordan, and Cameron, prompting Gordon to chuckle and say to Joe, "What are you trying to prove with all this?"

It's a question that's supposed to define the entire season, much like, "Who is Don Draper?" in that amazing first season of Mad Men. Yet I'm not exactly sure the writer's are going to be able to answer that question, for one simple reason: Joe MacMillan, at least for now, is a very cliched cable anti-hero  and also the most uninteresting character in the entire show. From his glaringly clumsy and artificial speeches, to his annoyingly emotionless exterior, MacMillan simply feels way too derivative when put against other cable protagonists. 

This segues into a big, potential red flag for the entire season. Whereas it's usually acceptable for one character to be underdeveloped or uninteresting in a television show, it ideally should not be the one that the show's centered around. Admittedly, it's way to early to predict whether or not Joe will be a liability. It's possible that show-runner Jonathan Lisco is able to figure out the character or maybe even reduce his role in future episodes. Regardless, it is an early issue that will have to be overcome in the following episodes.

Yet, I find myself extremely optimistic about the show despite this major issue. Already Halt and Catch Fire has figured out so many of the advanced stuff that many cable shows still struggle with, that I would be shocked if it wasn't able to overcome this basic issue. It may not be perfect, but the Halt and Catch Fire pilot is an engrossing episode that avoids many of the basic traps and pitfalls that befall many cable dramas nowadays.

Rating: 4/5
Friday, October 10, 2014 0 comments

'Wetlands' Review

Here's my a review I wrote for David Wnendt's Wetlands, a provocative comedy that features some of the most disgusting imagery I have seen in years. In other words, I loved it! Click here for the review!
Wednesday, October 8, 2014 0 comments

'The Congress' Review

Here is a review I did for the Hatchet on Ari Folman's The Congress, a perplexing film that, after reviewing a little over 3 weeks ago, I still can't figure it out. Click here to read it!
Thursday, August 21, 2014 0 comments

GW Hatchet Update: Sifting through GW's hundreds of student groups: picks from food to art to service

Here is another "Welcome Back to School" article I wrote with Hatchet reporters Tatiana Cirisano and Maddy Pontz recommending various food, art, community service, and performance clubs around George Washington. Check it out!

Hatchet Update: A quick list of open, unique work study jobs

Here is a "Welcome Back to School" article I wrote for the GW Hatchet recommending four federal work study jobs around Washington DC and the GWU campus. Check it out.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 0 comments

Criterion Collection #3: The Lady Vanishes (1938)

The Lady Vanishes
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Written By: Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder

What's striking about Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes is how simple it is. It isn't a film that's making really any grand statement on European society, like the first film I reviewed in the Criterion Project. In essence, The Lady Vanishes is a comic mystery thriller, a genre not exactly known for being all that groundbreaking. It’s certainly the most commercial film I have seen from the Criterion Collection so far and also proves to be the most thematically lightweight.

Make no mistake though: The Lady Vanishes is a very important film. It's one of the final British films that Hitchcock would do before moving to the United States. Without its success, Hitchcock would have been less likely to make his masterworks in the United States.

It also happens to be something that many modern thrillers only strive to be: thrilling.

Following English Tourist Iris Henderson, played by Margaret Lockwood, and musicologist Gilbert, played by the charming Michael Redgrave, to find and prove the existence of the former governess Miss Froy after she disappears from a moving train, The Lady Vanishes is essentially a puzzle.

When it comes to the solving of this puzzle, The Lady Vanishes is outstanding. Hitchcock is fantastic at being able to introduce crucial details without making them seem too obvious or contrived, whether it be the introduction of a bandaged burn victim, a seemingly random conversation between two characters, or the mentioning of a characters favorite brand of tea leaves. Amazingly, Hitchcock usually doesn’t put these details off-frame, but shows them at the center of the frame for emphasis. The reason the audience usually doesn't catch them is because they are so well integrated into the narrative that it ends up tricking the audience.

However, while the mystery of The Lady Vanishes is definitely worth mentioning, the most noteworthy element has to be the suspense. The entire third act of the film is a nail bitter, a simple tea time discussion being miraculously more tense than the intense gunfight that follows.

Which isn’t to say that The Lady Vanishes is some reinvention of the wheel. At its core, The Lady Vanishes is as commercial and crowd pleasing as they come. Whether it be the inclusion of the comic relief characters Charters and Caldicott, two cricket obsessed British passengers who would appear in many films afterwards and would even get their own television program, to the unchallenging thematic content, The Lady Vanishes is essentially a comedic thriller, albeit a very masterfully constructed one.  If nothing, The Lady Vanishes proves one thing: regardless of how generic or commercial the content may be; execution is the key to it actually having a legacy beyond its century.
Friday, August 1, 2014 0 comments

Eclipse Series 1: Early Bergman- Crisis (1946)

Directed By: Ingmar Bergman
Written By: Ingmar Bergman

Ingmar Bergman's directorial debut is a mess. While it’s visually appealing and poignant in parts, Bergman's screenplay makes the same mistakes as Torment: it is overly melodramatic, piles way too many story-lines on top of each other, and tackles way too many themes in its 93 minute running time.

Crisis is the story of a small town piano teacher Ingeborg, played by Dagny Lind, dealing with the arrival of her foster daughter’s mother Jenny, played by Marianne Löfgren. The 18 year old foster daughter Nelly, played by future Bergman collaborator Inga Landgré, feels limited by her quiet life in the town, so she decides to leave with her mother to the city.

Right off the bat, the film seems like it’s going to mainly deal with two potential themes: the painful process of growing up and the loss a parent must deal with when a child eventually must leave them.

Had Crisis focused on these two story-lines  it probably would have turned out to be a fine coming of age film. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for Bergman. In addition to those two main plot lines, Bergman added another about Jenny’s mysterious companion and Nelly’s lover Jack, played by a Stig Olin. While the plot line certainly is interesting due in part to Olin’s fantastically balanced performance as Jack, it still feels completely unnecessary. 

This combined with the fact that Ingeborg gets a terminal illness that is never dealt with at the end of movie and Nelly is given a romantic subplot with her roommate which inexplicably resolves itself by film’s end despite no prior development or chemistry between the actors, leads to way too many story lines occurring simultaneously and thus few of them getting adequately developed or explored. 

Nelly’s storyline fails because it doesn’t explore her point of view nearly enough to have an idea why she became disillusioned with city life. Jack’s storyline derails due to a sudden last minute character transformation that is supposed to be illuminating, but ends up being confusing due to its suddenness. The only storyline that works at all is Ingeborg’s, and even hers is too melodramatic to be taken seriously.

Yet one can’t disregard the film entirely. While a mess, the film definitely is visually appealing. While Bergman’s direction definitely is a little stagey and stiff at times due to his prior  work in play production, his visual compositions are outstanding, the climatic scene featuring a confrontation between Nelly and Jack being a standout of the entire film due to Bergman’s use of lighting and staging.

In another instance where Bergman’s play writing background works as an asset, Crisis has dialogue that is both very poignant and clever in equal measure. The scene where Nelly and Jack meet for the very first time in the local town ball is interesting in showing how the film could have been had Bergman decided to focus on Nelly’s development from an innocent girl to a cynical adult. Jack and Nelly converse about various topics varying from poetry to the town itself while sitting drunk on the shore of the lake. It’s a heartrending moment due to how it’s the first time Nelly really meets anyone or does anything interesting in the town. It’s that moment of rebellion that every teenager has had at one point or another.

Had Bergman toned down the melodrama and general bloatedness of the story, Crisis might have been a poignant coming of age drama or even an emotional tale of loss. Instead, since it tried to be much more than that, it ends up being another small step up in Bergman’s film-making journey. In this case, it can be said that less is much more indeed.

Up Next: The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 0 comments

Criterion Collection #2: Seven Samurai (1954)

Seven Samurai poster2
Seven Samurai 
Directed By: Akira Kurosawa 
Written By: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni

Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai is a film filled with silence. Characters spend extended spans of time either staring at each other or looking off into the distance. You would assume that in a film over three hours in length, such pauses would be boring, sometimes even painful.

Yet despite a majority of Seven Samurai being composed of silence, the film happens to be one of the busiest things I have ever seen. Whether it be issues of class, gender, morality, love, violence, loyalty, friendship, war, or even society itself, Seven Samurai delves into many issues with a skill, intelligence, and flexibility rarely seen in cinema today.

What's more: Seven Samurai happens to be a very commercial action adventure film, the movie following the exploits of a peasant village attempting to fight off a bandit invasion with the help of seven samurai. With a plot that simple, to say that Seven Samurai isn't as commercial as any modern action film would be hilariously ignorant. Seven Samurai actually is even accredited with creating many of the tropes and plot structures that are used by various action adventure films today.

Yet despite being Kurosawa's more commercial film, it fulfills such high ambitions all due to the skilled film making of Akira Kurosawa. All of those aforementioned silent scenes are filled to the brim with meaning, visual storytelling, and metaphor. A standout scene is the introduction of lead samurai Kambei Shimada, played by a subdued Takashi Shimura, through a wordless scene that has him slowly preparing to save a child from a hostage crisis. The scene establishes Kambei as a restrained individual with a calm and calculated mind. It also establishes what Kambei's role will be in the team of samurai: the leader and chief strategist.

Korosawa's silent storytelling also is evident in the first of many meetings between samurai Katsushirō Okamoto, played by Isao Kimura, and village girl Shino, played Keiko Tsushima, which effectively establishes a romance, while also bringing up issues of class and gender with minimal to no dialogue.

Yet even with all the silence, Seven Samurai nails the one thing that usually makes or breaks an adventure film: scope. Kurosawa famously constructed the set for the peasant village instead of using the Toho Studios peasant village. Because of this, Seven Samurai feels as big as many of the summer blockbusters that come out every year. It’s obvious just why this film set a new standard in Japanese cinema.

And that isn't even mentioning the plethora of other positive aspects Kurosawa brings to the table. Whether it be the incredibly odd performance of Toshiro Mifune as samurai Kikushiyo, who brings a simultaneously bitter, hilarious, heartfelt, and immature performance to a role that essentially becomes the heart of the entire film, to Kurosawa's incredible editing and cinematography. Kurosawa is a master of wringing out emotional moments through visual images, whether it be the uninterrupted scene where samurai Kyūzō, played by Seiji Miyaguchi, is jarringly gunned down by a rifle, or the the technically revolutionary sequences where the Samurai and villagers actually do get to battle the aforementioned bandits.

Ultimately though, Seven Samurai is just plain sophisticated. It’s a film that ambitiously wants to deal with a variety of issues within the context of an action adventure movie. Yet unlike many of those current adventure blockbusters, it knows how to efficiently execute those ideas, while simultaneously developing characters and advancing the narrative; sometimes even in the space of a completely wordless scene.

Up Next: Crisis (1946)
Monday, July 28, 2014 0 comments

'Every Frame A Painting' is the best film anaylsis on Youtube!

I find film analysis strangely lacking on Youtube nowadays. Most reviewers seem so focused on the story of a film that they leave little to no discussion of the actual visual composition or craft. Writing is an invaluable element of film, but it's still only one portion of a film. I blame this trend on the proliferation of channels in the vein of the Nostalgia Critic and CinemaSins. While those people can be thematically insightful in some instances, their "analysis" usually revolves around pointing out plot holes and making jokes around those plot holes. This is a shame, as Youtube, a video platform, seems like the perfect place to analyze visual composition and directorial techniques.
Thankfully Tony Zhou seems to have realized the potential of Youtube as a platform for film analysis, as evident by this recent viral video he made regarding Michael Bay's filmmaking technique.

What strikes me about this analysis is just how proffesional it is. While most Youtube reviewers would immediately go on some profanity laden tirade about how shitty Michael Bay is, Zhou does something way more devastating: he cooly pieces apart Bay's style. Utilizing interviews with Bay, his entire filmography since Bad Boys, and an advanced knowledge of film theory and visual composition, Zhou shows why audiences gravitate towards Bay's films, while also effectively what's so wrong about it. It's an effective video essay that definitely led me to check out more of his videos. This one that analyzes the comdies of Edgar Wright is probably my favorite!

So check out Tony Zhou's channel Every Frame A Painting right now! It's the place to go for the most intelligent form of film analysis currently on Youtube! Hopefully, more people decide to follow in his footsteps!

Friday, July 25, 2014 2 comments

Eclipse Series 1: Early Bergman- Torment (1944)

Directed By: Alf Sjöberg
Written By: Ingmar Bergman

Torment is clearly the work of a man with vision still trying to master his own creative voice. It's the type of film that deals with big, ambitious ideas, but falters when it comes to the execution. This is not to suggest that Ingmar Bergman's screenwriting debut is a complete disaster per-se, but it's obvious that Bergman still has yet to master his craft.

Torment seems to be two entirely different films squished together. The first follows Jan-Erik Widgren, played by Alf Kjellin, as he deals with sadistic Latin teacher Caligula, played by Stig Järrel, who seems to have it out for him. This plot effectively shows the disdain Bergman has for Sweden’s school system and sympathy towards youth culture. Whether it be the tearful little boy being punished for missing morning mass or the students quivering in fear of Caligula as he screams at Widgren, the plot is powered by a righteous anger that makes the proceedings rousing and exciting to watch.

It makes you wonder why Bergman had to shoehorn a romance, murder plot that completely derails the proceedings. Here Widgren falls for store clerk Bertha Olsson, played by Mai Zetterling, who coincidentally is also being tormented by Caligula, but in a much creepier and horrifying way.

Caligula’s transformation from an overly controlling school teacher, to a predatory psychopath ultimately derails the entire narrative of the film, turning what was ultimately a drama about the Swedish school system into an unsuccessful psychological thriller. 

Surprisingly, this is by no fault of director Alf Sjöberg, whose moody direction definitely is successful at creating an eerie atmosphere at parts. Instead, the fault lies in Bergman’s confused screenplay, which fails to provide the major element that all psychological thrillers need to survive: fully realized characters. 

Kjellin is unfortunately not able to give Widgren more dimensions beyond stressed teen, as evident by a hilarious crying scene in the third act of the film. And despite a crazed performance by Järrel, Caligula is simply too psychotic, his motivations and psychological problems being completely muddled in the process. One moment he seems to not mind what his students think; the next he’s recoiling in horror when a student insults him during graduation. It’s these inconsistencies that ultimately hurt the film.

Despite the uneven quality of the film, Torment marks the beginning of one man’s journey into filmmaking. Whether it be its ambition, incisive commentary, or thoughtful pacing, Bergman’s debut is a reminder of the things to come. It may not be good, but it certainly gives an idea of where he started.

Up Next: Seven Samurai (1954)

Thursday, July 24, 2014 0 comments

American Party Candidate Jill Bossi Pushes Term Limits in S.C. SenateRace

Here is an article I wrote about Jill Bossi's push for term limits in the South Carolina Senate Race. Click here to read it!
Wednesday, July 23, 2014 0 comments

Criterion Collection #1: Grand Illusion (1937)

Grand Illusion
Directed By: Jean Renoir
Written By: Jean Renoir and Charles Spaak

When I started watching Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion, a nice warm feeling had permeated my viewing experience. Here was definitely one of the most humanistic war films I had ever seen; whether it be evident through the good-hearted discussions between French aristocrat Boldieu, played by Pierre Fresnay, and German aristocrat Rauffenstein, played by Erich von Stroheim, or a touching scene where the isolated and disturbed Maréchal, played by Jean Gabin, is given a harmonica by an elderly German guard in a small act of kindness.

By film’s end, those tender feelings had mostly dissipated.

On the surface, Grand Illusion is an oddly optimistic film about one of history's deadliest conflicts. Enemy combatants exchange petty insults or even pleasantries while World War I rages on somewhere in the distance. As if to make the war seem more distant, only two deaths occur in the entire film: one of them occurring off screen, while the other occurs by a mere accident.

Upon further analysis, Grand Illusion is about the pure futility of the war and how it destroys absolutely everything in its wake. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in a scene where a lonesome German widow reminisces on the “greatest victories” of the German army by recalling each of her relatives that died in those battles.

The film starts when two French pilots, Boldieu and Maréchal, are shot down and captured by German aviator Rauffenstein. Upon capturing them, Rauffenstein invites the duo to lunch, in a pleasant scene that reveals that Boldieu and Rauffenstein are related by the aristocracy. The scene presents the emotional core of the entire film, the tragic and poignant relationship between Boldieu and Rauffenstein.

After being transferred from prison to prison, the pilots are sent to a high-security fortress led by Rauffenstein. Now wearing a neck brace and gloves to cover the scarring and burns from a nasty aviation crash, Rauffenstein finds himself yearning for a position that would allow him to be more useful in the war. Boldieu and Rauffenstein maintain a warm friendship all until Rauffenstein is forced to shoot Boldieu after he stages a distraction that allows Maréchal to slip past the guards and escape from the prison. What follows is the saddest scene in the entire film, a deathbed conversation between Boldieu and Rauffenstein. "For a commoner, dying in a war is a tragedy. But for you and me, it's a good way out, ” says Boldieu to Rauffenstein. The relationship represents another casualty from World War I: the aristocracy and class system of Europe. Stroheim gives a flawless performance as Rauffenstein, a man stubbornly struggling to hold on to a collapsing social order in the face of never-ending destruction.

Some may argue that the scenes that comprise the latter part of the film with Maréchal and German widow Elsa, played by Dita Parlo, are unnecessary and simply a way of shoehorning a romance into the mix. To do so would be to dismiss a storyline that also dispels of any notion that war is at all useful through the minor, if noticeably gentle conversation between a random German soldier seeking directions and Elsa, to the major implication that love knows no political loyalties or geographical boundaries.

The final scene is of Maréchal and his fellow escapee, Rosenthal, crossing the Swiss border. They are subsequently fired upon by German soldiers, who immediately stop upon realizing that the pair have crossed into Switzerland. It’s a moment of mercy that plays well as a summary of how Renoir views human beings. It doesn’t, however, contradict the extremely cynical view that Renoir has of war itself and the complete destruction it lays upon the world, whether it be the life of a German widow, or the entire social order of Europe.

Up Next: Torment (1944)
Tuesday, July 22, 2014 0 comments

The Criterion Project

I have come to a decision. A decision that I believe will be both daunting and fulfilling (mostly daunting though). Daunting in the sense that it will probably consume many years of my life, and fulfilling in that I believe it can only help me improve both my writing and film knowledge.

I am going to simultaneously write about films from both the Criterion Collection and Eclipse Series.

Now here is a clarification. Due to budgetary restrains brought upon by being a college student, I will be forced to forego DVDs in favor of streaming. This means that I will not be writing about the amazing special features that usually accompany a DVD from the Criterion Collection. I might purchase the odd DVD if the film in question is interesting or special enough, but for the most part, I will be focused specifically on the films themselves.

Kicking off this task, which I shall call 'The Criterion Project' (because someone has already taken the name 'The Criterion Contraption'), will be Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937) and Alf Sjöberg's Torment (1944). Wednesday will be the release of a Criterion Collection film while Fridays will be the release of an Eclipse Series film.

Let's hope I don't go mad going through all these films!
Monday, July 7, 2014 0 comments

Flashback: Will Millennials be the Generation to End Partisanship?

Definitely one of the more difficult articles I ever had to write for IVN. Thankfully, helpful interviews really help to put the story in focus. Click here for the article!
Friday, July 4, 2014 0 comments

Flashback: Independent Larry Pressler Wants to End ‘Poisonous’ Disputes in DC

This was an article about Larry Pressler`s attempt to reclaim his former South Dakota seat. It was very interesting, as I was able to interview my very first former U.S. Congressman. Experiences like this make me happy to write about politics. Click here to read more.
Monday, June 30, 2014 0 comments

Flashback: Frohnmayer: Over 50% of Oregon Voters Don’t Have Equal Voice in Elections

This was an article I did for IVN about the Unified Primary initiative in Oregon. Click here for the article.
Friday, June 27, 2014 0 comments

Flashback: Falchuk: Massachusetts Election Reform Bill Won’t Improve Voting

This was one of the first articles I ever had to conduct an interview with. The experience, while initially nerve-wracking, was absolutely fullfilling. To this day, the interview process is something I have not only gotten decent at, but actually look forward to doing when tackling an article. Click here for the article.
Monday, June 23, 2014 0 comments

Flashback: 5 Lawmakers in 10 Elections Makes TX-23 Most Volatile District in State

This is an election article I wrote earlier this year. Click here to read it.
Friday, June 20, 2014 0 comments

Flashback: 'The Michael J. Fox Show' Pilot Review

Another one of my first pilot reviews for the Hatchet. This pilot was pretty disappointing unfortunately. That's probably why it got cancelled. Click here to read it!
Wednesday, June 18, 2014 0 comments

Flashback: 'Super Fun Night' Pilot Review

One of the first movies I review for the GW Hatchet. Personally, I think it's the best review I ever wrote for the publication. Click here to read it!
Monday, June 16, 2014 0 comments

Flashback: Capital Funk pops and locks for 10th anniversary showcase

During my first year at the Hatchet, I did a piece about George Washington University's Capital Funk, a hip-hop group that was celebrating it's 10th Anniversary with a big showcase. It was a very interesting experience that was very fun to watch and write about! Click here to check it out!

Friday, June 6, 2014 0 comments

I'm awake! I'm awake!

Dear non-existent readership,
Well that was a long hiatus! Thankfully, the hiatus only gets longer, as I will be backpacking in Europe for the entire month. Thankfully, I have a large backlog of material that I will use to try to fill the gap. Plus I have a few ideas planned for the future. I can't really talk about them, as they need more time to coalesce, but in the mean time: here are some old reviews and articles I neglected to update you on!

Eric Robinson

PS: Is anyone out there?
Monday, February 3, 2014 0 comments

Looking Pilot Review

Sunday, February 2, 2014 0 comments

The Legend of Korra is Disappointing

Avatar: The Last Airbender is often cited as one of the best children's television shows ever made. With smart writing, serialized plotting, and an imaginative setting; the show set a new standard in children's television that still has yet to be surpassed today. The creation of the sequel, The Legend of Korra, was anticipated to be the moment where that bar would finally be surpassed. The season one premiere seemed to confirm this, as a mature script, fluid direction, and improved animation suggested that Korra was likely to, not only equal, but surpass its predecessor.

Two seasons later, it would become very obvious that, while certainly a beautiful looking show with fantastic individual episodes, the writing and plotting are simply not strong enough. Whether it be the abrupt endings of both seasons that seemed desperate in it's eagerness to hit the reset button, poorly developed supporting characters, questionable character actions that stretched both character believability and consistency, and a second season that seemed to work only in its second-half.

The problems really began to show in the latter half of Korra's first season, when characters like Mako, Bolin, and Asami, while certainly not terrible, seemed to be getting the shorter end of the stick. Episodes would go by with little understanding of their wants or need. It was as if the show was moving too fast, as Korra had both a shorter season than that of Avatar, and a pacing that simply did not allow for the standalone problem of the week episode that so regularly characterized Avatar.

In Avatar, especially in it's first season,  the main storyline would often move in short bursts right after a few standalone episodes that would have the characters going from town to town dealing with various problems. Such episodes assisted in developing the world and the various supporting characters who inhabited it. In Avatar, you cared about the side-characters because they were more than a single personality type.

Korra doesn't do that. Instead, it's narrative is way more serialized and fast-paced, resulting in much less standalone episodes. That's not to say that a faster paced structure is inherently worse than a slower one, but it does mean that the writing necessarily must be more efficient than that of a slower paced show. A writer has much less time to give us the necessary motivations, personalities, and details that make up a well-rounded character, much less one where the episodes are only half an hour long.

The first half of season one suggested that maybe this was possible, as the main-story was just forming and the characters were all just being introduced. A standout episode of the first season, "The Spirit of Competition," had Korra, Mako, and Bolin clashing while also attempting to win a pro-bending game. The episode not only maturely dealt with the love triangles that were beginning to form between the characters, but also gave us time to settle down with the characters and better understand who they are when they aren't busy saving the world.

Unfortunately the inferior second part of the first season simply suffers from a pacing that is way too quick. Characters are introduced with little to no understanding of what motivates them or who they even are. Mako turns into a boring and emotionless character who's main attribute seems to be that he can spout fire. Bolin is relegated to comic relief duties, making him funny a lot of the time, but also universally boring in dramatic moments. Asami is given an arc that is interesting at first, but then falls apart due to the writer's  neglecting to give her much to do. That isn't to say that nothing interesting happens in the second half, it's just that it would of been much more interesting if I was given a reason to care about any of the supporting cast.

And then there's the ending of that season, which seemed so desperate to close off the story, that it ended up using multiple contrivances in order to end nearly all the conflicts in the season rather abruptly. Avatar at least had the decency to let those conflicts play out in the succeeding seasons, often leaving things off with big cliffhangers that felt natural. Korra, on the hand foregoes this naturalism in order to maintain a status quo that raises nearly no anticipation for the next season. As if to add insult to injury, the show also preceded to have a dues ex machina that ensures that none the characters in the show would suffer any consequence from any of the preceding events in the season. It was bizarre how far the show was willing to go not to disrupt the existing situation.

Nevertheless, the first season of Korra is at least provides some solid fantasy thrills, the political and social conflicts within the city being quite interesting, the animation consistently being fantastic and beautiful, the plot still moving briskly enough to provide entertainment in the moment to moment action, and Korra herself being a very proactive and interesting character. Her hotheadedness, drive, and toughness, along with the acknowledgement that she still was a 17 year old who has to deal with the issues of being a celebrity, made her quite unique. All of this led to the hope that the second season would iron out all of the problems that plagued the first season and make for a smoother ride as a whole.

Boy was I in for a disappointment.

The second season of Korra, not only fails to improve upon the problems of the preceding season, but also proceeds to create other problems. They start almost immediately by having Korra rehashing a seemingly fixed conflict she had in the first season, her volatile relationship with her mentor, Tenzin. As if to add insult to injury, Korra also develops a conflict with her father and her new boyfriend, Mako, out of seemingly nowhere. That isn't even mentioning the fact that Korra spends the first four episodes helping a man who is so obviously the villain of the story and then proceeds to spend an entire episode attempting to start a war by repeatedly complaining to everyone about how much the war means to her and her people.

Not only does this whole exercise serve to establish Korra as a whiny, unlikable, stupid, and unthinking child that serves to make the audience dislike the only interesting and likable character from the first season, but it also stalls most of the episodes in the beginning. The first 3 episodes build up to the extremely obvious discovery that Unalaq is a traitor. Many episodes are spent on a ridiculous and completely pointless arc that has Bolin turning into a celebrity and an out of character jerk. Mako breaks up with Korra, gets together again with Asami, then breaks up with her when he gets together with Korra again. The first half of the season is essentially the show spinning its wheels.

And I haven't even gotten to the animation.

When season two of Korra was being made, the studio that animated the entire first season, Studio Mir, was busy working on The Boondocks. This meant that they were only going to be able to produce the latter half of the 14 episodes in production, resulting in Studio Pierrot, the animation company that animates shows like Bleach and Naruto, to take charge of the first 7 episodes.

The Studio Pierrot episodes are really inconsistent. The character models lack fluid motion and generally look wrong, lifeless, and very awkward. Action scenes suffer immensely and basic character interactions seem stilted and off. That isn't to say they're bad, as the backgrounds, locations, and creatures look generally good. Thankfully, the Studio Mir episodes are absolutely stunning to look at and feature some of the best animated fight scenes on television.

With the animation, the show itself also begins to pick itself up beginning with the two-parter, "Beginnings," a flashback episode that chronicles the life of the first ever Avatar. Possibly the best episode of Korra ever created, the episode tells an epic origin story that not only succeeded in reinvigorating the season, but also added an element of tragedy to the Avatar's entire existence. Ironically though, the best episode of Korra ever is an episode that barely features the title character.

From the point onward, Korra, while still being a show with poorly developed characters, questionable character actions, and writing that isn't very smart, now was burning through plot rather quickly, bringing back the much needed pulpy thrills of the first season. It almost seemed that the season might end on a high note.

Until the show completely struck out with another bad season finale that further established Korra as a show that simply wasn't willing to take risks. The finale featured a two episode long battle that was tiring in its longevity, ridiculous in its use of dues ex machina, and completely devoid of really any consequences for any of the main characters. The status quo changed minimally, with little to encourage anyone to want to visit another season of this show. Oh wait? Mako breaks up Korra again? Oh, how I can't wait for next season!

If it sounds like I hate The Legend of Korra, then I must clarify that I do generally like the show to a certain extent. The Legend of Korra is a show that has its moments of pulpy fun and narrative brilliance, as evident by "Beginnings." However, as good as it can get, the show ultimately suffers from way too many problems relating to its inconsistent and poorly developed characters, uneven plotting, and unwillingness to take any risks narratively. Some of these criticisms are born out of comparisons to the original, which definitely set a really high bar for the spinoff. However, as much as I understand the pressures of fulfilling those expectation, The Legend of Korra has a much higher budget, much more creative freedom, and shorter episode orders that allow for greater narrative economy. The fact that The Legend of Korra has all of that going for it and still wasn't able to get even close to reaching that expectation is perhaps the biggest tragedy.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014 0 comments

Rake Pilot Review (FOX)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014 0 comments

Republicans Seize Opportunity to Take Open Iowa Senate Seat