Reefer Madness

Posted in Uncategorized on November 30th, 2008 by daflo05

I had mixed reactions about this movie. On one hand, I can see how this could have been effective in the 30’s, b/c it does address how scary the effects of being a pothead can have on someone. On the other hand, the overacting and the bad filmmaking gives you no choice but to laugh at the movie and take nothing serious from it. My mixed reactions on this, though, are reflective of Hollywood’s interpretation of narcotics in the United States – they see both sides. However, it seems that lately, the films released have emphasized the humor behind marijuana and other drugs. Seth Rogen-written films (Pineapple Express, Superbad) have used this as a vehicle for his movies’ successes. Unlike films in the late 70’s and 80’s that seemed to focus on the downfall of drug-users (take the Al Pacino-led films Scarface and The Panic in Needle Park), Hollywood has been glamorizing the pot-smoker. Whatever Hollywood’s stance may be, Reefer Madness is one of a kind and rarely does a film become resurrected by a cult the way this movie has.

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Born on the Fourth of July

Posted in Uncategorized on November 29th, 2008 by daflo05

I think comparing this film with Best Years of Our Lives is very appropriate. Both films focus primarily on the impacts of a soldier’s homecoming, emotionally and politically/historically.

While BYOL was a bit ahead of its time in addressing PTSD as a common and severe symptom of coming home from war, BOTFJ took it to another level and was expressed stylistically by Oliver Stone (for example, the scene where Tom Cruise/Ron Kovic was giving a speech and the sound of the baby crying led to the character reminiscing vividly and reluctantly about the war).

At the same time, Stone’s movie addresses the difficulties of coming home as a paraplegic. BYOL tackles that same issue but through a different character, but its implications are just as effective. Both characters go through humiliation, de-masculination, and fight through their respective relationship problems (Homer struggles to re-connect with his gf, as does Kovic with his high school fling and his family).

Another issue both movies do a good job of addressing is alcoholism. In these two movies (as well as many others), it seems that alcohol and drug use are prominent escapes for an ex-soldier whenever an attempt to forget about the war is needed. Fred in BYOL exposes his drinking to his family, and Kovic takes this to another level by going to Mexico and using his disability checks to finance his alcoholism. Of course, resorting to alcoholism affects the person and everything around them and exacerbates the life of the individual.

I thoroughly enjoyed both movies because they express the same issues, yet stylistically they are different because each movie is a product of its time. While this has an effect on how the director expresses these issues, in the end they are perceived virtually the same way: a soldier’s homecoming is not all parades and nurses-kissing-the-sailor in the street – the transition is difficult, for lack of a better term, they need all the support they can get.

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The Long Walk Home

Posted in Uncategorized on November 15th, 2008 by daflo05

By far the most poignant film we have seen this semester. We covered a lot in our class discussion, from differences/similarities in gender roles between blacks and whites, the specifics about the bus boycotts, and the difficulties of being a black or white person during this time period.

One thing I was hoping we would go into more detail, though, was the choice to have the film narrated by the Sissy Spacek’s daughter. Roger Ebert said on his website that the narration was pointless and it didn’t add anything to the plot or the emotional aspects of the film. I disagree with this. I don’t think you can get a more objective point of view, considering the time period. The daughter has no concept of race or discrimination. She only sees the love and care of her family and Odessa (Whoopi Goldberg). I find the daughter as a narrator effective because it allows us to be immersed into the shoes of Odessa and the mother, while also giving us the opportunity to step back and analyze the struggles from both sides.

The Long Walk Home was beautifully made, and did well with incorporating fictional characters into a specific historical event. Instead of telling the story of the main historical civil rights leaders (MLK, Rosa Parks), we got to see what life was like during the bus boycotts from one of the 40,000 people who protested it, as well as the whites who were caught between supporting and opposing the boycotts.

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The Best Years of Our Lives

Posted in Uncategorized on November 7th, 2008 by daflo05

I was very impressed with this film in many respects. There are not many movies like this one, i.e. a movie made during a certain time period that is about that specific time period. This made it very challenging yet interesting to analyze.

In class, Dr. M showed us the trailer to this film. I did not know how much the producers wanted to romanticize this genre lead the viewers to think that this was going to be another love story. Maybe the intention behind this was that they did not want to explicitly express that this movie was going to tell the story of three WWII veterans returning home and how their lives would forever be changed. This topic may have hit too close to home at the time and playing that angle would have turned a lot of people away. Regardless, the strategy worked since millions of people went to the theaters each week (I think the number said in class was 9 million?), the film garnered seven Oscars, and it is included on AFI’s numerous lists of greatest-movie categories.

One thing I was disappointed about in class today, though, is that we never got a chance to compare this movie to the other ones seen in class. I felt I made a good contradiction between this one and Matewan, which we saw the previous week. Since I did not get a chance to blog about Matewan, I think I”ll just kill two birds with one stone. The thing about Matewan is that it is not that different than Best Years. The former was made in the 80’s and tells the story about labor unions in WV, an 80’s where labor unions were consuming the media again. However, this movie does not end with any closure (like Best Years does). The fate of the labor unions was unknown in the 20’s, as was the feeling in the 80’s as well. Best Years seems to solve much of the problems with love. Each soldier finds a woman who is willing to take back the man and adjust to their state of being. It seems far-fetched now, but it helped balance the movie’s perspective on what it was like for a soldier to return home and what their future held at that time (propaganda during WWII seemed to express that a soldier’s homecoming was all sunshine and flowers, when that was not the case at all).

I won’t even get into the specifics about the complexities of each soldier upon their return to their families, but I will say that it captured them very well and in very different ways. This led to many poignant scenes in the movie that I’m sure viewers from the 40’s would have been tear-jerking non-stop. Take, for example, the scene where Homer helplessly has his dad help him get ready for bed because of his lack of hands.

I am glad I got to see this movie, and it definitely falls in the same bubble as the other historically accurate films we have seen (Matewan, Last of the Mohicans, Glory, Amistad, Gone With the Wind). Furthermore, the movie itself serves as a bridge for connecting audiences of today and helping us relate to our current events.

My Darling Clementine

Posted in Uncategorized on October 22nd, 2008 by daflo05

This is one of the few Westerns I enjoy watching (another is Tombstone, which tries to tell the same story of Wyatt Earp and the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral).  After reading the Wiki posts, I was disappointed in how many other people were disappointed with the film.  They disliked it either because it was thoroughly, historically inaccurate (which it was), or that they didn’t like Henry Fonda (which they should), or for whatever other reasons.

It is clear My Darling does not tell the story of the O.K. Corral correctly, so let’s accept that.  It does not mean the movie should be harshly criticized in general.  What this movie does is give the most accurate depiction of the lifestyle of the Old West as it can.  Violence played a big role then (although not as many people died due to shoot-outs as implied in the film), but more importantly the movie gets the scenery of the Old West right.  Every scene (except when you’re inside the bar) is in the backdrop of vast land, canyons, mountains, cacti, etc.  I agree, this movie is not a good secondary source about the history of Wyatt Earp, but it is extremely influential in how future Westerns are made because of its archetypal characters and its dramatic shoot-outs.

Some people have criticized the movie in the same pitch as they did with Pocahontas.  While the criticisms were well-deserved, we should ask ourselves, “what was the purpose of making this film?”  Disney wanted to make a children’s movie, so it had to fabricate much of the history and its figures.  Was Ford trying to target a specific demographic for his movie?  I don’t know, but I do know that if he wanted to give us his most accurate portrayal of Old West lifestyle, then he did his job.  If he wanted to tell the story of the Earp Bros. and the shoot out, then he failed miserably.  However, the film is a great watch for entertainment purposes, if not solely for reaching historical accuracy.

Glory

Posted in Uncategorized on October 8th, 2008 by daflo05

My initial reaction to Glory upon finishing the film was that this was a powerful portrayal of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment.  The movie does great in moving the story along with Robert Gould Shaw reading his letters and serving as a narrative.  Glory captures all the complexities of the situation, from Gould’s personal struggles with being in charge of the most prominent all-black regiment to the character division among the blacks themselves; from the battle scenes that convey the emotion of both the black and white Union troops to the blacks’ attempts to re-defining themselves; and how racism was used as both a tool for insult and motivation for the black soldiers.  While Gould’s letters to his parents serve as the primary source about this army, Glory is an excellent secondary account about the past that worked hard in creating the most accurate story for history-enthusiasts.

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Amistad

Posted in Uncategorized on September 23rd, 2008 by daflo05

Steven Spielberg’s dramatic representation of trial surrounding the alleged slaves of the Amistad ship received much criticism.

First, while historical movies tend to be inaccurate on one or two big issues, this film gets numerous subtleties wrong.  This ranges from the fact that nobody wore beards or mustaches during this time period to how certain important characters in the film were not developed as well as they should be.  Secondly, critics claim that Spielberg did not put forth the effort necessary to create an accurate historical account of the Amistad trials.  This last point is why I’m posting on my blog.

Spielberg has attempted to direct movies surrounding a historical setting, such as “The Color Purple” and “Schindler’s List.”  While Amistad was being edited, though, Spielberg was working on yet another historical fiction, “Saving Private Ryan” (Reel History, 75).  Like I’ve said already, Spielberg received much criticism for “Amistad,” mainly in terms of the script and the characters in the film.  So many historical figures were involved in the Amistad trials that Spielberg was forced to choose three to work with (Joseph Cinque, Roger Baldwin, and John Quincy Adams), all of whom were protagonists in the film.  People like 8th U.S. President Martin Van Buren, Queen Isabelle II, and James Pennington (who was not portrayed in the movie) did not have significant roles in “Amistad.”  Furthermore, the nuances that Spielberg got wrong (things dealing with cosutme design and setting) were also heavily criticized.  Furthermore, all of these errors were a result of Spielberg not giving this work his full attention.  The director had to split time with also developing an eventual success in the form of “Saving Private Ryan.”

My issue with this is that I feel when making a movie as demanding as “Amistad,” 100% of everyone working on the movie should be given.  An historical event with as many people involved as this one, writers and directors need to take the time to decide who to focus on and how the angle they choose will determine how the movie portrays the event.  While “Amistad” was a respectable success, it could have received much more praise and historians would have highly touted the film rather than bash its more minuscule errors.  Granted, Spileberg is a businessman who was not only working on another potential box-office hit, but was also in the middle of developing another production company, historical accounts deserve much more care and attention.  This is important because if the goal of a director is to give the most accurate representation of history in a cinematic presentation, then he or she needs to do their best in telling that story in the right way.

Last of the Mohicans

Posted in Uncategorized on September 15th, 2008 by daflo05

Really?  Are we really supposed to believe Daniel Day Lewis to be a Native American?  A white person to be a mocha-skinned Mohican?  So much about this film distracted me from its intended purpose (which is to give, based on the adventure tales of James Fenimore Cooper, the most profound insight possible into the Native American-British alliance during the Seven-Years War).  There was poor acting, lack of continuity, some historical inaccuracies, and on top of that…it was flat out boring.

In class, Dr. McClurken gave a riveting blurb on his thoughts about the film.  One of his main points was how this movie captured the dualism that Cooper implemented in his novels, specifically the perception of the Indians (those allied with both the French and the English) as noble savages vs. evil savages.  However, I what I liked the most about his speech was his argument that Last of the Mohicans is more of a primary source for the time period (1990’s) rather than a secondary source for the 1700’s and the book.  What I felt he was basically saying was that the movie (and I am of course referring to Fenimore’s books as well) took a historical event, developed fictional characters, and created a storyline out of it.  The difference between the book and the movie, McClurken says, is that the film is a romance novel (for the 90’s) that was meant to deviate from the book.  I agree with him because I feel that his points correlate with my main point in my last post (about Pocahontas) that the film industry’s primary purpose is to entertain, and then educate (if necessary).  Unfortunately, Last of the Mohicans struggled to do both.

N.B.  McClurken made a very clever joke about the movie during his speech.  When he said the movie was a primary source for the 90’s instead of a secondary source for the book, he followed that that was like having George Washington throw out the first pitch of a Washington Senators baseball game in the 1800’s:  there was a GW, there was baseball, there was a Wash. Senators, and there was an 1800’s.  Hilarious.

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Pocahontas

Posted in Uncategorized on September 7th, 2008 by daflo05

So the first movie we watched in this class was Disney’s Pocahontas. Before last Tuesday (Sept. 2nd) I had not seen this children’s classic since I was about 8 years-old. I know I don’t have the most accurate memory, but I think it is safe to say this film provided a different perspective about Native American life than when I was a grade-school kid trying to sing-along to the lyrics of the popular soundtrack. Furthermore, it would be an understatement if I said that in class, we just bifurcated the movie into what was accurate about it and what they got wrong. We actually focused more on the inaccuracies and pretty much denounced Disney for their attempts at making a film about the English settlement in America.

One thing that gets me, though, is are we really justified in calling out Disney’s inaccuracies? What I mean is, was Disney’s original intention to tell the true story of Pocahontas, John Smith, Jamestown, etc.? Or did they just want to take two historically significant figures, develop a romance story between them in the context of a historical event, and make it animated so it’s targeted towards kids? If the former is true, then I think it is everyone’s duty as Americans to point out every minuscule flaw we see (even if it is outrageous as a talking tree). However, if the latter was the way Disney wanted to go, then we should think twice about our criticisms. After all, do kids really care about whether or not Ratcliffe was technically a captain of the ship and not a governor of London? I would think they were more concerned about Mikko being funny and cute enough and songs catchy enough to sing along to. I think it is great that we as movie-goers and history-buffs are keen and aware not to be fooled by a false story when we see one; but we should look at why a movie about specific historical event was made. Not everyone enjoys history, so movies are a great way to go about teaching it. Maybe the errors movies make were on purpose just so the film as a whole could be appreciated by a specific audience. Then it is up to the audience to delve deeper into history and find out its true story.

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