Sex in Film isn’t Interesting

Here comes an article from the old cantankerous man in me: every other Hollywood R rated film has one: the obligatory sex scene. On average, it’ll last 5 seconds, with an emphasis on the upper body, accompanied by bedroom sounds. It’s not difficult to picture the behind the scenes mechanics of a Hollywood sex scene. Many actors have spoken about how awkward they can be. Setting aside the tedious details of how simulated sex scenes are done, attempting to look past any prudishness I have, I simply don’t think sex scenes are ever very good, and that’s not reserved for Hollywood. Perhaps there’s a bias that comes with being an American, but for me, as opposed to violence in film, sex scenes, in general, are not interesting cinematically. Sex scenes, simulated or unsimulated, are not romantic, they’re not sexy, they’re rarely realistic, and they’re always reduced to the same level (regardless of the acting or technical talent involved).

I can think of one handful of exceptions, but the majority of sex scenes aren’t sexy. When I think of sexy or romantic scenes across film history, I think of Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps playing basketball together in Love and Basketball (2000), Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis sharing a passionate kiss at long last in Witness (1985), James Stewart and Donna Reed sharing a phone call in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson struggling over a soppy book in Remains of the Day (1993), Daniel Day-Lewis unbuttoning Michelle Pfeiffer’s gloves in The Age of Innocence (1993), just off the top of my head. These scenes all built up dramatic tension through writing, acting, staging, what-have-you. How many different ways can you stage a sex scene? What’s the last sex scene that was filmed in a way you hadn’t seen before? I don’t think it even matters, because my main grievance with sex scenes, and maybe this only applies to me, but they all work on the same level, and sure they’re appealing on a base level, but not on any level I respect. Have you ever watched a sex scene and been impressed or moved by the performances? I haven’t. It doesn’t matter if it was Oscar winner Cate Blanchett or Playboy Playmate Shannon Tweed, no one is watching the acting. No one is thinking about the movie. If there is nudity involved in a scene, no one is thinking period. Can anyone relate Little Finger’s back story (this is a Game of Thrones reference, so not a movie, but my point remains)?

Violence in cinema can serve any number of purposes. It can give a film weight (Unforgiven), setup suspense (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), provide dark humor (Pulp Fiction or Fargo). Violence can even be aesthetically beautiful (which I’m sure many object to) as in Jean-Louis Trintignant’s sacrifice in The Great Silence. Nine times out of ten, sex scenes are just there for me to ignore awkwardly with my family.

-Walter Howard-

People Don’t Know How to Drive on Film

Still, after 90 plus years of cinema, actors remain unconvincing behind the wheel. They barely watch the road, or they turn the wheel incessantly, or they talk over their shoulders which would sprain any actual drivers neck. I can forgive classic Hollywood bad movie driving. The actors would climb in a car set in front of a screen that projected their surroundings later. One xample: To Catch a Thief (1955)

Keep in mind, this is by Alfred Hitchcock, one of cinema’s great masters. Keep in mind also, I’m not pointing to the old fashioned special effects, which are still rather effective. I’m looking at Grace Kelly’s simulation of driving. She, at least, keeps her eyes on the road convincingly, but she’s turning the wheel every other beat, which has become the standard for fake film driving. Why? Are actors afraid that if they don’t turn the wheel enough, we won’t buy into the illusion? Nobody turns the wheel that much when driving.

The thing is fake driving on film is still pretty bad more often than not. It’s not juts an old fashioned thing. Sixty years later, you still have these examples of poor driving:

No, it’s not that dire. It’s just amazing to me that director’s don’t point this out. It’s become a pet peeve of mine. Any time there’s driving in a film, I’m watching the technique.

-Walter Howard-

 

Television is More Diverse Than Film

Blockbuster films took a huge step forward over the past few years with the casting of John Boyega in a lead role in the new Star Wars trilogy and Diego Luna in Rogue One. Black Panther became the highest grossing, predominantly black movie ever in February, and Crazy Rich Asians showcases Asian Americans, in what I’m sure will be a hit worldwide. Film is heading in the right direction, I like to think, but it still has a ways to go to catch up to television. Name a demographic or a minority and there’s probably a show. Indian American: Master of None, and it’s not just that the show features an Indian American lead. Aziz Ansari created the show and writes for the show, meaning his voice is there. Single mothers, young black singles, Asian Americans,  traditional Hispanic families, twenty-something white women, etc. There’s a show. Obviously, the reason television is more willing to branch out has to do with the relative inexpensiveness it takes to produce a show, but film should takes notes on how wide open television has become. Television is more diverse than ever before, and people are watching television more than ever before.

-Walter Howard-

 

Troll 2 is the Worst

How often do people reach for superlatives? It was the best, the greatest, the most, etc. In many cases, it seems the easiest method to make a point. The same goes for the reverse hyperbole: the worst film of all-time. Whatever movie a person’s seen recently that wasn’t good gets described as the worst film of all-time. I’ve heard people say Titanic is, “the worst film of all-time.” It’s not. Even if you don’t like it, Titanic is nowhere near the worst film of all-time. I’ve seen a large number of very bad films. I’m just as curious about bad films as I am about good films. I try to watch one movie a week that’s said to be terrible. Plan 9 from Outer Space, The Room, Leonard Part 6, I’ve seen them. Because of this, I feel very confident in asserting that Troll 2 (1990) stands below them all. Troll 2 is the worst film of all-time.

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Unlike The Room, its closest rival, Troll 2 has a plot. The Room is a ponderous travesty. It’s profoundly terrible. You know how after watching a great movie, you can’t stop thinking about it? The Room is so bad, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Troll 2, on the other hand, has all the ingredients of a normal film- plot, structure, villains, a climax, a protagonist- but they’re all handled so poorly, the people involved are so talentless, that Troll 2 becomes special in its own way.

Directed by Italian filmmaker, Claudio Fragasso, the man behind Monster Dog with Alice Cooper, who supposedly had a very limited grasp of English, Troll 2 isn’t even a real sequel. Hoping to drift off of “the success” of 1986’s Troll (a film which itself sits at 26% on Rotten Tomatoes), producers decided to call this film about goblins, Troll 2, starring Michael Stephenson as a boy, named Joshua, dragged to the sinister town of Nilbog (Goblin spelled backwards). His parents don’t notice all the odd things going on in this town, nor does his sister, Holly. The only aid Joshua gets is from his dead grandfather, who comes back sporadically (never explained why he can’t just stay and help). Here are my three favorite scenes:

  1. The Dinner Scene- Devoid of logic, and therefore any suspense, this is a hilarious catastrophe of filmmaking. The ghost of Joshua’s grandfather tells him not to let his family eat the green food that they didn’t make, or else they’ll die. No explanation for why the grandfather can’t speak to the other members of the family. To help, he freezes everyone but Joshua for thirty seconds (no explanation for why he has this ability and why it only lasts thirty seconds). The face Joshua makes when seeing his family frozen is priceless. I can’t think of anything that’s made me laugh as hard, and you’ll see the characters that are supposed to be frozen blink. Then you have the fact that he wastes most of the “thirty seconds” (it’s clearly way longer than thirty seconds). At the scenes conclusion, we get a bit of acting from the father, and well…

2. Oh My God!-I’m not even going to try and explain this scene. It was already horrible, but Darren Ewing’s line reading is notorious. His underacting versus the other two actors just chewing up the scenery is a wonder to behold.

3. The Corn Scene-Seduction by corn. No one thinks of corn as erotic, and I doubt anyone ever will. In this scene, the Goblin witch seduces a dumb teen by rubbing corn against her leg, culminating with an excessive amount of popcorn when they start kissing. Inexplicable scene really. Honestly, can’t imagine what the filmmakers thought they were going for here, and I love that the actress playing the witch goes for Oscar gold. She really gives it her all.

Troll 2 is extremely funny and amassed a sizable cult following. The film’s star produced a successful documentary titled Best Worst Movie, dedicated to Troll 2. There are many movies made, designed to be inane like Sharknado or Piranha 3D, but they can’t compare, for me, to Troll 2 in which every actor and filmmaker gives their all, and it still sucks. Just like certain intangible things have to come together for a movie to be great, I think it takes a kind of magic for everything to go this wrong. Best worst movie, indeed.

-Walter Howard-

 

 

Idris Elba Would Make an Excellent James Bond

What is it that we like about James Bond? My first experience with the character and the franchise, Goldfinger (1964), starring Sean Connery, left me bewildered and significantly entertained. Bewildered because, at times, in one scene in particular, Bond wasn’t very heroic. I remember a stressful sequence where his “love interest,” Tilly (Tania Mallet) gets in a bind, and I’m thinking, how will Bond rescue her? The answer: he doesn’t. She dies, and he moves on pretty quickly. Not to mention, Tilly was already the sister of another girl, Jill (Shirley Eaton), he slept with and saw die earlier in the film. I’ve since seen at least 20 Bond flicks, and you learn to put up with a fair share of eye rolling and questionable antics (though the franchise has improved in some areas). All the accusations of misogyny and sexism are valid, and yet I, along with many people around the world enjoy these films, and it has to do with the opening music number, the title sequences, the action, the gadgets, the cars, the beautiful women, outlandish villains, and exotic locations, all surrounding a central character that’s supposed to embody cool. Sean Connery, the prototype, did that, and I think Idris Elba could do that too, given the chance. Rumors leaked out at the end of this past week that he’s being given strong consideration, and I think (though there could always be some dark horse unknown candidate) that he’s the right man for the job.

Image result for idris elba james bond

Before getting in to his qualifications- because I honestly think they should go without saying-let me address the objections people seem to have. He’s 45 at the moment. In other words, too old for the role. That’s pretty weak, and there’s precedents in the Bond franchise (as well as the fact that Tom Cruise is 56 years old and going strong in his Mission Impossible franchise) that render that argument groundless. I mean, Daniel Craig is 50 right now, and everyone seems pretty excited about his coming back for one more Bond film. Roger Moore did Bond until he was 58, and did his best Bond movie, The Spy Who Loved Me, at 50. Honestly, the only young Bonds were the first two, Connery and the woeful George Lazenby. I don’t believe people actually care how old Bond is. The real objection is, of course, the idea of a black Bond, and I don’t personally dismiss it as mere racism. “Why not get your own character,” some say? I think Doctor Who’s dealing with some of these feelings with the casting of Jodie Whittaker; a female stepping into a, heretofore, male role. I know I might be a little upset if, say, they rebooted Indiana Jones as a female character, but a reboot is different from Doctor Who and Bond, series without end. Changing Bond’s skin color, in reality, does not alter his character in any way. It doesn’t, and that’s the distinction I would make. Bond is a supremely skilled assassin and lady killer, always ready to save the world. Idris Elba in that role would still be that.

The original author, Ian Fleming, supposedly modeled the character after himself and American pianist Hoagy Carmichael.

Image result for hoagy carmichael

Eon Productions, the studio behind the films, has long left this image behind. Sean Connery became the standard bearer, truly, as soon as Dr. No hit. Tall, dark, and handsome became synonymous with Bond, and I’d argue that Daniel Craig veers furthest from this original film image. Shorter in comparison to earlier Bonds, blonde, and yet he proved to reinvigorate the series, and was a wise choice. How do you follow Craig? Eon could get a younger Craig-type, or they could be bold, which they always have been, which is why the franchise is ongoing and successful. Idris Elba already has an audience, he’s a strong actor, he’s cool, and I’d be anxious to see what he did with the role. Picking Elba is rolling the dice, whereas going with what’s already been done will make Bond stagnant. To be clear, Bond doesn’t need to be black to be exciting moving forward. I’ve heard Tom Hardy’s name tossed around. That could be good, or maybe there’s some guy that I don’t know, but the next Bond needs to be different, and why not Idris Elba?

-Walter Howard-

Faith Based Films Aren’t Good

It isn’t the subject matter that holds me back from movies like I Can Only Imagine (2018), Fireproof (2008), War Room (2015),  God’s Not Dead (2014), God’s Not Dead 2 (2016), or God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness (2018). It isn’t a case of religious discussion making me feel awkward, I’m sure. I can handle it. Besides, making someone uncomfortable, believe it or not, can be in service of a superior film.  My problems with the newly popular genre of “faith-based movies” is that they aren’t any good.

Image result for fireproof

True, some are better than others; we’re starting to see talented actors attached to these small films. Many of them make an enormous profit: I Can Only Imagine made $85 million on a $7 million budget, for example. However, I’ve yet to seen a movie that falls under the “faith-based” label that was interesting beyond replacing your end of the week sermon.

They are not challenging. Obviously, a sizable audience likes this. I don’t. I can look at the trailers for most in this genre, and tell you what’s going to happen, and what the moral will be. The resulting feeling is that of hearing a sermon. I don’t want sermons from film. I don’t think much of messages (whether they’re religious, political, social) in film. Themes are what give movies depth and what makes them last. I look at literature, at some of my favorite novels, Silence by Shusaku Endo for example, and I would call this a faith-based novel. Catholic priests in the 17th century persecuted in Japan grow involved with underground worship, since Christianity was outlawed. The premise alone is intriguing, but Endo created a protagonist, Father Rodrigues, who was self-righteous and looked down on the native Japanese, so that the narrative has an extra-dimension of interest with Rodrigues’ personal arc, climaxing with his moment of shame, but resulting in his being humbled. Silence deals with themes of questioning God, feeling like God is being silent in your life, and forgiving those who’ve wronged you, but Rodrigues’ personal growth and these themes are understood through inference and a thoughtful examination of the text, not spelled out in some wrap-up to close the novel.

There have been recent films that aren’t often associated with the faith-based set, that are, in my opinion, stronger works. Calvary (2014), starring Brendan Gleeson as a priest in a small Irish town who’s told in confession that he will be murdered by the end of the week, deals with the tragedy of Catholic priests molesting children in a way that’s really powerful, funny, sad, and surprising. Maybe that’s the key word that’s missing from many faith-based flicks: surprising.

-Walter Howard-

The Black Renaissance in Film is Real

Someone asked Spike Lee a few years back if he was impressed with the amount of films made by and starring black people recently. I don’t recall exactly what he said, but it approximated to, “no.” He felt it was a fluke, not a significant sign of change. He was right at the time. The following years seemed barren of diverse roles for black actors. Medea movies were still the main outlet. I’d be interested in what his answer to that question is now, though, one year after the incendiary satire Get Out, in 2018-a year when the highest earning film is Black Panther, and the picture many people consider to be the best of 2018 is Sorry to Bother You. Spike Lee’s own film, BlackKklansmen, is released today, his best reviewed movie in ages it seems. It tells the story of Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington), a black detective who infiltrated a local chapter of the Klu Klux Klan with the help of his partner, Flip Zimmerman (played by Adam Driver). I couldn’t be more intrigued by this film, its raucous trailer, or this brilliant poster:

Image result for blackkklansman poster

What’s next on the horizon? Rumors that Idris Elba could be the next Bond. If this were to happen, I’m sure it would be greeted by groans and applause, in equal measure, and that Elba would kill it. For something more definite though, the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival is full of exciting projects featuring black casts and made by black filmmakers:

  1. Widows, directed by Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), and starring Viola Davis leading a group of women finishing a bank heist their husbands died attempting.

 

2. If Beale Street Could Talk, directed by Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), adapted from a                novel by James Baldwin.

3. The Hate You Give, directed George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food), adapted from the                         recent popular YA novel by Angie Thomas.

What we’re seeing is a range of films from thriller (Widows) to out-there artistic fare (Sorry to Bother You) to Superhero blockbuster (Black Panther) to personal dramas (The Hate U Give and If Beale Street Could Talk). I’m optimistic that this breakthrough is sustainable and will carry over into the years to come.

-Walter Howard-