19 January 2015

THE WONDERFUL, WHACKY, WEIRD WORLD OF MOVIES/WHERE THE HELL DID HE COME FROM?

Trying to break yet another long dry spell. I have been watching a lot of films and would not know where to begin really as far as a review goes. I will be getting back to reviews in a day or two I hope. But I thought to get myself loosened up I would revive my old WONDERFUL, WHACKY, WEIRD WORLD OF MOVIES category/label. I did one post a long while back and totally forgot about it. It is an attempt on my unskilled part to move away from just reviewing a film and rather discussing my views on the process of film making itself. These would be observations about themes, motifs and basically gimmicks I notice while watching films. Probably everybody who watches movies regularly knows what I am talking about. I will try to explore some things that do not get that much attention in movie blogs ordinarliy, though I doubt I have discovered anything new under the sun in any of these. In my first post in this category I explored briefly the recurring theme of the disgruntled teen in the back seat. For this post I will touch on, even more briefly, three more recurring themes I have noticed in movies. These themes, or tools or story telling devices even, are not found only in the b-movie drek I tend to write about here for the most part, but can be found in classic and mainstream films as well. I will save for last an example from a very well known and respected  movie, but for now let me get to recurring movie gimmick number one.

1) The soon to be dead guy who just has to show off pictures of his wife, fiancée or kids. This little film story telling trick or tool goes back as long as movies have been made I suppose. I just saw it done last night in a horrible Joe Don Baker film (and aren’t all Joe Don Baker films pretty horrible?) called Final Justice. Well, as if you don’t know what I am talking about, what is happens is an obvious attempt to build up sympathy for a character who is about to die and in the process make the bad guys look even badder and justify the good guy’s revenge killing spree that goes on for the rest of the movie. The soon to be corpse may or may not be friends with the hero, but in any case he may ask the hero something like “hey, have I shown you my new pictures of my wife/fiancée/children/pet lizard?” and the hero looks on casually as the poor sap shows of pictures of his perfect life. Our hero's innate survival instinct almost makes him reach for his bullet proof vest as the nice guy goes on about how lucky a fellow he is. It may not be a picture sharing moment. Perhaps out hero simply will ask the doomed soul “hey, before you run that telephone line across enemy lines, how is your wife and kids?” It is usually something like this and the more the future looks cheery the worse the poor slob gets it in a few more frames. This gimmick is so prevalent they even it spoofed it in the Top Gun parody film Hot Shots with the character Dead Meat.

2) The good deed that must be secretly witnessed. This little gimmick is not as easy to detect as a recurring and annoying story telling device as it is not as frequent as the “Dead Meat” gimmick, but if you have not seen it before and cringed you will after reading this. It is more common I think in TV shows than movies, but that counts. What happens here is there is a character whose reputation is somewhat tarnished and questionable to most all of the other characters in the story. Maybe he is an ex-con, or recovering alcoholic, or maybe he even supported Dennis Kucinich in an election or considered Edward Snowden a real American hero. You know, things that leave a black mark on you forever. His character in the film is mocked behind his back and even to his face. He is a loser. A pariah. But at some point he performs some altruistic act like giving all his money to a homeless guy, or telling a funny story to a crying little girl with mud on her face, or maybe takes a litter of cold, wet little kittens to the Humane Society on a bleak windy day. Okay, so don’t we all do these things at one point or another in our lives? No one ever even notices right? Well, what is important here is that the kind act is witnessed from around a corner or from across the street or out of a window by one of the characters who once held him in contempt up to that point. The once cynical character is transformed suddenly as she (and it is usually a she) watches guy she once disdained buy all the cookies he can from an ethnic minority Girl Scout. The deed must be witnessed by a scoffer and doubter. And just like in real life, the person who sees this is some sexy hot babe who falls for the guy now and helps him redeem his character by the end of the film, or at least stands by him against the other characters in any case. “Yes, I love him! He took those little cats to the Humane Society while all of you were eating your high class, hoity-toity dinner on Park Avenue and discussed the stock market! He is the man I love now! Yes, he sold some bad heroin to school children but who hasn’t made a mistake in their lives!”

 
3) “Hey, where the hell did he come from?” Now what I am not talking about here is what can be called something like character teleportation. You know that from most slasher/stalker films. Where the high school track star runs as fast as he can but the gimp legged, drooling masked killer is always going to wind up catching his PF Fliers wearing ass in a second or two. No, what I am talking about here is something a lot of people are not aware is even happening for the most apart. It took me some time to figure out what was going and how illogical it is. And I have a really good example for this one. Before getting to that I notice this in a lot of episodes of The Walking Dead. In fact zombie movies in general are filled with this gimmick. Running over with this gimmick I would say. What happens, and the director has to be aware it is happening, is that you have a shot going on with some characters in a space where what is happening around them should be pretty obvious, and suddenly, from off camera, somebody appears. Of course it is almost always a monster or villain. It is as if the edge of the movie or TV screen is the edge of reality itself, and things can just appear right in front of you suddenly with an orchestra hit and it all seems logical in the weird, whacky world of movies. I said I had an example. My example is from Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (which I actually reviewed here a long while back). The shoot out scene at Sand Hill Cemetery is one of the greatest moments in film history, one of my favorites in fact, so it seems a little odd that I would pick on it. Well, actually I am talking about the moments before the shoot out, when Blondie is making Tuco dig up the grave of the unknown soldier. As he tosses him a shovel and says something another shovel suddenly appears and Angel Eyes is standing there and says something like “two can dig faster than one.” Try to defend it if you want, but there is no way in hell Angel Eyes could have walked across the entire open expanse of the cemetery’s center, where the gunfight takes place, and not be seen by Tuco or Blondie. It is again as if so long as he is out of camera range he and the world related to him do not exist. Then by some film making logic he can suddenly appear. Clint Eastwood’s character just looks and squints and keeps his cool and lights one of those skinny cigar things. But most ordinary people would have shit their pants and shouted “where the hell did you come from man! I mean, we were here in this huge open space, and I can see in all directions to the horizon, and then...shit... there you are! How!? How damn you!?"”

Well, that is all for this edition of the THE WONDERFUL, WHACKY, WEIRD WORLD OF MOVIES. Until next time be on the look out for this story telling gimmicks…er… devices.

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