A Smart Analysis of The Sixth Sense

Over at Ace of Spades. I did not realize that The Sixth Sense would have been the #1 film  that year were it not for Star Wars. I haven’t seen it in forever, but I have a feeling I wouldn’t dislike it on rewatch (my favorite film from that year, however, remains Fight Club).

And, here’s the thing, with the Big Twist out of the way, it’s actually a much better movie. (How’s that for a twist!)

The build up to the twist—the sleight-of-hand that prevents you from seeing it—is actually sort of rickety. I remember someone complaining at the time that there are a lot of odd tropes abused by The Sixth Sense that (if you don’t overlook them) make it seem like you’re watching a very sloppy film. And I remember when I saw it the first time, I was like, “Huh. That was odd. That doesn’t make much sense. Why is that happening?” And I did overlook them and so was pleasantly duped.

I’ve always thought that movies work better when you let yourself get pulled into them. Your mileage may vary, but read the whole thing.

The Rise Of Skywalker

I must admit, the title intrigues me.

I don’t want to speculate too much, but the title suggests an ending on a high note.

A Rise is something coming into being, gaining in power and prominence. This is distinct from a Return, something gone coming back, or a Revenge, the destruction of a foe. A Rise can include these things, but does not have to.

Skywalker has been, heretofore, a name. A surname. Three characters in Star Wars have had that surname: Shmi, Anakin, and Luke. Leia had the right to it, but never used it, retaining the Organa she grew up with. Kylo Ren was born with the surname Solo.

But this title doesn’t feel like a surname. It feels like something else. It feels like a mantle. An order, perhaps.

Who knows. Maybe it means nothing at all. The Force Awakens” has no particular meaning to the plot of that film. However “The Last Jedi” did.

We shall see.

Quick Review: Velvet Buzzsaw

jake-gyllenhaal-in-velvet-buzzsaw

People always make the mistake of thinking art is created for them. But really, art is a private language for sophisticates to congratulate themselves on their superiority to the rest of the world. As my artist’s statement explains, my work is utterly incomprehensible and is therefore full of deep significance.

-Bill Watterson

Modern art is good for nothing so much as the joy you experience in hating it. A trip through MoMA in New York is a wonderful opportunity to sneer, and it is a merited sneering, because most people not in the modern art scene have intuited that the singular mood of that scene is one of sneering at them. Whether modern art has any aesthetic merit is a separate question. The bulk of it doesn’t, as it is driven by the sneering to produce anti-art more than anything else.

There is thus something disturbingly satisfying to the Netflix film Velvet Buzzsaw, which inflicts horror-movie tropes upon art-scene stereotypes. Horror is largely a genre of Judgement, and one of its unspoken messages is that the victims deserve their fate because of their ignorance. The drunk girl who swims out into the night ocean at the beginning of Jaws is a fool tempting fate, and fate devours her. To see this applied to the brokers and curators and critics, to see them killed, as all of them are, by Art, cannot but evoke a knowing nod of the head.

And yet, it doesn’t quite work. The other unspoken rule of Horror is that the Dread Thing, the Monster, have clear rules, thereby giving characters an opportunity to escape. At some point, late in the second act, it is traditional for some Outsider possessing knowledge of the Monster to explain to our protagonists how to avoid it. This never fully happens in Velvet Buzzsaw (some underdone investigating occurs), consequently, the Monster is never fully seen, and can pretty much do whatever it wants whenever it wants. The film thus devolves to an indie version of Final Destination; Death comes when it needs to, for no particular reason.

Probably there are two many characters in the narrative, each traveling their own arc, to give the Monster enough development. One of the reasons its handy to put horror protagonists in a single Place (an island, a cabin in the woods), is that we don’t have to give time to exploring their unique lives, and can so focus on the encounter with the Monster and so figure out how to escape it. But Velvet Buzzsaw is so determined that we find these snobs execrable that they end up without the advantages of a bunch of teenagers in a Slasher flick.

Bottom Line: fun mis-en-scene, almost rises to satire, but incomplete. On the other hand, it’s on Netflix, so watching it won’t cost you anything you haven’t already spent. That’s more than most Modern Art can say.

Movies Have To Be Seen in a Movie Theater, Because Something Something Nostalgia Something Something

Owen Glieberman, pondering in Variety, avoiding the point like it carries Bubonic Plague.

And that’s why, more than not, I’m with Steven Spielberg on his likely proposed change to the Academy guidelines. He is not dissing what Netflix does. He is trying to isolate and hang onto the DNA of cinema — to preserve an essential definition of what movies are, as distinct from what we watch on television. The notion of an extended theatrical window, or something comparable to it, would be the updated version of the old requirement that a movie had to fulfill to be nominated for Oscars: the one-week qualifying run. That was before streaming, but it’s only natural that just as technology changes habits, it changes protocol and it changes rules. It’s the one-week qualifying run that’s become a relic, a trivial hoop that Netflix (or anyone else) can jump through.

But…

Why, though?

Consider film as a form of art. Consider the things that make a film a film. Ask yourself why a film ceases to be a film based on the location of it’s viewing audience. What is so essential about the public movie theater?

If I’m watching Citizen Kane in a theater, I am watching a movie. If I’m watching Citizen Kane on Blu-Ray in my house, I am still watching a movie. If I’m watching it on my tablet streaming from Amazon Prime, I am still watching a movie.

Are we prepared to argue that the only reason I can say “I am watching a movie” is the fact that, thirty-five years before I was born, it was shown in the only venue that was available to the viewing public at the time?

That’s absurd. A requirement that movies be shown in theaters is absurd. It’s not just that theaters are unnecessary; they’re actually sub-optimal. The expense and aggravation of seeing a movie in a theater is no longer worth the minor technical quality of the viewing experience, in an era when wide-screen TV’s and home audio technology is within most people’s grasp. There is no downside to watching Mad Max: Fury Road in my basement, with my own snacks.

The communal experience, you say? If I really want that, I can invite people to my basement. Movie Theaters have nothing to offer but nostalgia, a habit of thinking “this is what a movie is”.

A long-form cinema narrative can be shown on any device. This rear-guard action will not hold.

Look Upon My Predictions, Ye Pundits, and Despair: My Oscars 2019 Scorecard

People really seem to like Queen. I mean, I can dig one or two Queen songs, but…

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I don’t get it. That’s okay, though.

Let’s proceed to the actual scorecard. I’m counting it a win if either my Probable or Sleeper Predictions won. Does that give me an unfair double-shot of being right, and smug about it? Yes. It also gives me two chances to be wrong. So I think it’s fair. This is my scorecard. Go do your own predictions.

Best Picture:

What I Predicted:  The Favourite, with Black Panter as a Sleeper.

What Won: Green Book. Race stuff still trumps gender stuff.

Best Director:

What I Predicted: Spike Lee collecting Dues, with Yorgos Lanthimos as a Sleeper

Who Won: Alfonso Cuaron, for Roma. Foreign Language films are becoming safer than I realized.

Best Actress:

What I Predicted: Yalitza Aparicio, with Olivia Colman as a Sleeper

Who Won: Olivia Colman

Best Actor:

What I Predicted: Rami Malek, with Christian Bale as a Sleeper

Who Won: Rami Malek.

Best Supporting Actress:

What I PredictedRachel Weisz, with Regina King as a Sleeper

Who Won: Regina King

Best Supporting Actor:

What I Predicted: Mahershala Ali, with Richard E. Grant as a Sleeper

Who Won: Mahershala Ali

Best Animated Feature:

What I Predicted: Mirai, with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as a Sleeper

What Won: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. More important than this, however is my prediction, almost a year-old now, that Wes Anderson will not win an Oscar. The Academy does not love you, Wes. It never will. Your stuff is too cute for them.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

What I Predicted: If Beale Street Could Talk, with A Star is Born as a Sleeper

What Won: BlacKKlansman. They gave Spike Lee his Lifetime Achievement/Paid Your Dues award with a Screenplay Oscar? That’s cold. But it did give us our Political Grandstanding of the night, so that’s something.

Best Original Screenplay:

What I Predicted: Vice, with Greek Book as a Sleeper

What Won: Green Book. I really did not expect them to shut Vice out, but they did.

The Technical/Craft/Unimportant Awards did not provoke strong predictions from me, so I’ll just list my shots and whether they were right.

Cinematography: The Favourite Roma

Documentary Feature: RBG Free Solo

Documentary ShortPeriod. End of Sentence.

Live Action ShortDetainment Skin

Foreign Language FilmRoma

Film EditingBlacKkKlansman Bohemian Rhapsody

Sound EditingA Quiet Place Bohemian Rhapsody

Sound Mixing : Bohemian Rhapsody

Production DesignBlack Panther

Original ScoreMary Poppins Returns Black Panther

Original Song: “All the Stars” “Shallow”

Makeup and HairVice

Costume DesignThe Favourite Black Panther

Visual EffectsFirst Man

Scorecard:

Correct predictions – 12

Incorrect predictions – 12

Conclusion: I am awesome at calling shots of an awards show I care nothing about, celebrating a collection of films I hardly saw any of.

giphy

 

 

Variety Buries the Lede About Disney’s Film Division

 

Walt Disney Studios had a much more magical earnings report than analysts had expected. The entertainment powerhouse behind Pixar, Marvel, and the world’s most trafficked theme parks logged earnings per share of $1.84, a 3% drop from $1.89 in the prior-year quarter. Disney also reported revenue of $15.3 billion, essentially flat with the year-ago period.…

The article is called No Star Wars, No Problem, and it’s true that Disney had a good quarter. But why?

The better-than-anticipated financial picture is attributable to higher broadcast revenues and the increased popularity of its parks, bright spots that off-set declines in Disney’s film division. The company faced difficult comparisons because it did not field any “Star Wars” sequel or spinoff during the holidays for the first time in four years. The lack of a “Star Wars” film also took a bite out of licensing profits.

Doesn’t that seem to suggest the opposite of the headline? The fact that other divisions of the company are covering for a loss does not mean that the loss is not there. How bad is the loss?

Disney’s film unit released the hits “Mary Poppins Returns” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet” during the final three months of 2018, as well as the box office bomb “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.” Film revenues for the quarter decreased 27% to $1.8 billion and segment operating income decreased 63% to $309 million.

That seems bad. And note something here. Of the three films released, two were sequels to existing properties (one a sequel to a film fifty years old). Those were the hits. The bomb was a re-imagining of “The Nutcracker” that no one wanted and was critically panned.

You know what didn’t get released?

Anything new.

Now for a year of live-action remakes of earlier films, more sequels, and comic book movies?

The Renaissance is over.

Quick Review: Mary Queen of Scots

MV5BNDVmOGI4MTMtYmNmNC00MTliLTlkYjQtYmU2N2EyNDk2YTAwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjM4NTM5NDY@._V1_What is this movie about?

This was the question Wifey and I asked each other after viewing it. Ostensibly, it’s about a great many things, as a great many things were involved with the life of Mary Queen of Scots, the last Catholic monarch of Scotland (you might say, the last monarch of Scotland, period, if you consider her son to have been the first monarch of the United Kingdom, even though it wasn’t called that for another 100 years. You see the problem?), and this film tries to hit on all of them, to give us an insight on her and her tumultuous reign.

And it does a pretty decent job of it. Mary had one of the more colorful lives of 16th century monarchs, and that is saying something. Queen of Scots from the tender age of Six Days Old (Which was completely normal. The Stuarts were an incredibly unlucky dynasty, beset with early deaths and long regencies. Here’s a Reddit Post with the details), she was carted off to France as a child to marry the Dauphin (what that “Reign” show was all about). For about a year, when said Dauphin became Francis II of France, she was both Queen Regnant of Scotland and Queen Consort of France. Then Francis died of meningitis, and back to Scotland she went. This is where the movie picks up.

Finding herself the Catholic Queen of a country gone full Protestant in her absence, she attempted to hoe a tolerant row, and was rewarded with disrespect and conspiracy by the Reformers, especially John Knox, whom the movie finds very quotable for that Whore of Babylon rhetoric that 16th Century Calvinists were so keen on. But that’s just one wrinkle. Like many a Scottish Monarch, she had to deal with the bloody English. Not for the usual Overlording, mind you, but because of The Tudors fathomless inability to reproduce (the dynasty was three generations, and five monarchs, the last three of which were siblings who all died childless) made Mary the heir of her cousin Elizabeth through her grandmother, the daughter of Henry VII of England. At the opening of the film, Elizabeth is still young and could ostensibly still marry and produce children, so Mary’s rhetoric about being the Heir to England has very much an air of imperialist presumption about it. Which is why the film’s attempt to dress these two up as Sister Monarchs torn apart by Teh Patriarchy doesn’t quite work. Mary and Elizabeth were rivals for the same reason that Edward III of England and Phillip VI of France were: dynastic politics and claims to thrones. Their status as women was to a large degree incidental to their political problems.

Allow me to prove my brief. Let’s say that instead of being born a girl named Mary, the only surviving child of James V of Scotland had been born a boy named Robert (I’m saying Robert because to earlier Stuart monarchs had that name, and so as to avoid confusion with all the Jameses), and that from the age of six days old, he reigned as Robert IV of Scotland. What precisely would be different? Granted, he would not have been sent out of the country to marry a Princess of France, but Mary’s sojourn there doesn’t seem to have cast a blight on her legitimacy as a monarch. But he still would have been faced with a similar set of choices:

  1. To remain a Catholic, as his father had been, or to embrace the Reformed Church.
  2. To marry someone which would not cause antagonism with England (especially has both James IV and James V were undone by wars with their southern neighbor).
  3. To do all the other things expected of a Renaissance monarch: manage the nobility and burgeoning middle-class, govern the public fisc, keep order and justice, protect the realm from outside threats, etc.

Being a male monarch might have made this easier, but as the above link of the history of the Stuart dynasty will tell you, it by no means ensured success. Two of the Stuarts were assassinated by nobility (three if you count Robert III’s intended heir), one was killed in a civil war, two as a result of war with England, and one blown up by one of his own cannon. And all of that is before Mary.

But this is an argument for historians. Does the film work? I think so. It doesn’t not work. It’s well-shot; it’s well-acted. The ins and outs of the plot make sense. I just don’t know that it works as well as Outlaw King did. I don’t think it quite packs the emotional punch it wants to. The relationship between Mary and Elizabeth is so distant and political that I have a hard time believing that they really mean anything to each other. Thus, while both Ronan and Robbie seem to absorb the camera when they’re on screen, ultimately I’m not sure why Robbie’s Elizabeth I really cares what happens to her cousin. Mary is nothing but trouble to Elizabeth from the beginning. Why would she be bothered by chopping her head off?

I mean, other than the fact that it completely demolishes her claim that she’s not her father, and perhaps strikes home the object lesson that a successful monarch is obliged to shed blood to keep the throne, as her father, grandfather, and almost any of her ancestors could have told her. Other than that, what does she care?

So while I get the dichotomy the film shows us: that unmarried, childless Elizabeth has a long peaceful reign, but the fertile, overthrown Mary ultimately wins by having a son who unites both realms, I think the film would have worked better if it had either given Mary and Elizabeth equal time, or made their relationship more honestly antagonistic.

But then, history doesn’t fit into narratives that way.

Bottom Line: If you dig on historical pieces, this one is honest and human.