Election (1999) Analysis

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Election. The movie captivated me from beginning to end. A rare feat nowadays. Ostensibly, the film is quite simple, yet there is a lot of fertile ground for analysis. As soon as the movie finished, I wanted to watch it again despite it being about two in the morning. I consider this proof of the movie’s entertainment value. In this post, I will attempt to decode the elements of this film to find out why I liked it so much. Hopefully I can discover something useful and relevant to my own creative endeavors.

Election stars Matthew Broderick as Jim Mcallister, a high school social studies teacher in Omaha, Nebraska. Jim is popular with students and he runs the annual school election. His life becomes complicated when Tracy Flick, an overachieving and self-important student, runs for president. Mr. Mcallister dislikes Tracy so he goes to great lengths to prevent her from winning the election. He persuades the high-school quarterback to run against Tracy and even attempts to rig the vote in the quarterback’s favor. The various characters portray the types of politicians usually scene in national elections. The film is prescient as it was made when politics and elections were very relevant in the United States.

One of the reasons I enjoy Election so much is because it refuses to cater to easy interpretations. While watching the film, I was tempted to make broad conclusions about the characters. I wanted to label Tracy Flick a villain because she represents a kind of person that I loathe: the overachieving and success-driven woman who will do anything to get what she wants. I simply wanted to categorize her to make my interpretation easier. Yet I could not conclude this so easily because the film also paints her admirably. She’s incredibly disciplined and driven so how could I hate her too much?

Tracy Flick is an anti-hero in all the right ways. She might be a total try-hard, but she has something worthwhile underneath. I believe this is what makes her an effective character. I simultaneously wanted Tracy to win and wanted her to fail. Matthew Broderick’s character is fashioned in  a similar way. His flaws are not as apparent as Tracy’s but they still exist. Broderick is living a stagnant life yet he is convinced that everything is great. His level of self-denial is astounding. On the surface, he is hard-working, likable, and popular, but this veneer hides the darker side of his personality. I wanted to see Mr. Mcallister as the righteous hero of the film even though some of his actions are objectively villainous.

Election has a very uncensored attitude towards sex. It straddles the line between creating a realistic depiction of sexual relations and using sex as a means entertainment. Election does not had the fact that both teachers and students are interested in sex. The film surprised me with its lack of censorship. It throws down the sexual gauntlet early and does not back down. This element is very much a successful one for Election and its creators.

This film has a lot going for it so why did it take me so long to discover it? It achieves a balance of comedy and drama in a way that few films do. It has something relevant to say about politics and its characters are well-rounded and relatable. Do yourself a favor and watch Election.

The Witch (2016) Review

There’s something about watching a movie you don’t quite understand. You can appreciate what’s happening but you know that you are missing something on a deeper level. The Witch feels like a documentary about a typical New England family in the 17th century. It’s an incredibly immersive world and everything about it feels real. The Witch may be one of the most perfect movies that I have seen. It accomplishes something that few horror films have. I do not hesitate in calling The Witch my favorite horror movie of all-time.

There’s a certain “je ne sais quois” feeling to The Witch. Something lurks beneath the surface. Something unsettling yet subtle. A feeling that is both terrifying and ecstatic. It has something to do with the supernatural elements of the film. So many horror movies are unwilling to give a face to the horror. Let the audience imagine the horror because their minds will always create something more horrifying than what actually exists on screen. The Witch plays this game for a little while but it also does not. We actually see the titular witch early in the movie when she steals the family’s baby. There is a truly haunting sequence where the witch slaughters the baby and rubs its blood on her body and broomstick. It’s unequivocally terrifying and it gives you an idea of what the family is up against.

The Witch is a bit slow at times, but I was always engaged with what was happening. Everything is authentic to its time period. I will definitely be watching this film with subtitles as soon as possible. I can’t recommend this film enough. I am so happy that I had the opportunity to see it in theaters. I was recently terminated from my movie theater job so I am no longer able to see free movies in theaters. The Witch will go down as the last film I saw as a movie theater employee.

This is a somewhat short review. I will not be writing on this site as frequently because I will have to start paying for movies again. But fear not loyal readers because I will still be writing about whatever I am streaming via Netflix or watching through some other method. If you came to my site for hot takes on the latest blockbusters hitting the big screen, then you will be disappointed.

Congrats on making it to the final paragraph. If you are still reading, give me a recommendation of something to watch on Netflix or wherever. I will be eternally grateful for your sharing of taste.

 

Scanners (1981) Review

Do you ever start watching a movie only to abandon it half-way through?

Such was my experience watching Scanners. Don’t get me wrong, Scanners has some very interesting things going on. The special effects are pretty awesome. A dude’s head explodes and people make the strangest looking facial expressions that I have ever seen. What would it feel like if someone were reading your thoughts? According to the facial expressions in this Scanners, it would feel like you were getting shocked with a taser

Scanners is directed and written by David Cronenberg. That name implies particular qualities, so it makes sense to start a discussion of Scanners with a discussion of David Cronenberg and all that is associated with him.

Here’s what I associate with David Cronenberg:

  • Body Horror
  • Canada
  • The 1980s

Scanners is missing something. While watching Scanners, I realized that the movie was not doing enough to keep me interested. Perhaps that says more about me that it says about the film. Regardless, I knew at the halfway point that if I continued watching Scanners, I would not have a good time. For what its worth, this is a sign that the film failed to keep me engaged.

Films usually keep me engaged in one of several ways. Usually this is a combination of compelling characters, interesting ideas, and visual style. Scanners is a lacking in the compelling characters category. I simply didn’t care what happened one way or another. The main character didn’t have a particular reason why he was tracking down the villain. As a result, the film doesn’t feel human. None of the characters are relatable or convincingly human. What this film needed was more meaningful character interaction, so the audience would actually care about what’s going on. Without that, we are left with a tiresome story held up by a sci-fi premise that doesn’t do enough. Scanners feels like merely a vehicle for Cronenberg to experiment with telepathic characters.

Unless you are especially interested in body horror special effects or telepathy, don’t waste your time watching Scanners. Watch something else that actually care about whether viewers are interested or not. As my first experience with Cronenberg’s early films, I have to say that I am unimpressed. Eastern Promises and A History of Violence were both better films. Perhaps Cronenberg gets better with age. I will probably watch a few more of his early films such as The Fly. Even if its a bad movie, I will still learn something. Sometimes a bad film can teach you more than a good film.

Better Call Saul: Episodes 1-4

How do you follow the success of Breaking Bad?

Vince Gilligan created one of the best shows I have ever seen. At this point, the least I can do is watch Better Call Saul. If you are familiar with Breaking Bad, you are familiar with the character Saul Goodman, played by Bob Odenkirk. Goodman is Walter White’s sleazy yet capable lawyer and one of the more popular characters on Breaking Bad. Goodman was so popular that Gilligan created an entire spin-off TV series about Goodman’s life before the events of Breaking Bad.

The series begins with Goodman working at a Cinnabon and keeping a low profile. One day he sees a man that makes him nervous. Goodman seems to think that the man is going to confront him, but he ends up walking right past him. It’s unclear whether Goodman knows this man, or if Goodman is confusing him with someone else.

He leaves the Cinnabon and starts working as a public defender, making what he considers not enough money. Yet Goodman continues defending people without any options and he seems to be really good at it. This is apparently where Goodman gains his legal skills.

Several things are worth talking about with this movie. Every episode ends on a cliff-hanger. This is a super effective way of drawing you into the next episode. It is such an effective method that I am surprised how infrequently I see it in other shows and movies. Cliff-hangers are more suited to TV due to its serial form, but perhaps this method would work in films as well. It’s only a matter of time before cliff-hangers take over media. The cliff-hanger succeeds because it blatantly denies providing the closure desired by the audience.

It remains to be seen what will happen in this show. So far I have watched four episodes and I am excited to watch the rest. If Breaking Bad is any indication, the creators have the entire show planned to perfection. Breaking Bad is one of the most entertaining and popular shows ever made, so I’m hopeful that Better Call Saul will follow in its footsteps as one of the all-time greats.

Hail, Caesar Review

 

Hail, Caesar is an interesting movie.

It has a lot of great actors and actresses performing at a very high level. It has some of the most hysterical scenes in recent memory and it looks amazing, however I found myself bored watching the film. At a certain point, the story started to drag. I stopped caring about the protagonist’s journey and started looking at my watch.

Hail, Caesar focuses primarily on Eddie Mannix, a “studio fixer” employed by Capitol Pictures. His goal is to keep the studio running smoothly. This entails dealing with movie stars such as Baird Whitlock, Hobie Doyle, DeeAnna Moran and Burt Gurney. Each of these performers has their own interesting thread, but the central story involves Baird Whitlock who plays the lead role in Capitol Pictures’ prestige film, Hail, Caesar. Whitlock is kidnapped and it is up to Mannix to find Whitlock while Mannix balances his personal and professional affairs.

It turns out that the people who kidnap Whitlock belong to a Marxist study group. My favorite moments of Hail, Caesar are when Whitlock speaks with his captors who present a very compelling argument for why they deserve Capitol Pictures’ money. They argue that the studio owns the “means of production” and thereby exploits the common man. Income inequality is at an all-time high in the United States, so this part of the movie seems prescient. The film does not portray those working in the studio system as morally righteous. Mannix’s main conflict is his choice between staying at the studio or accepting a better paying and less demanding job with a different corporation called Lockheed. The film portrays Hollywood as corrupt but valuable.

In the end, Mannix chooses to stay with Capitol Pictures. After retrieving Whitlock from the Marxists, Mannix hears Whitlock’s argument that the studio system is exploitative. Mannix responds by slapping Whitlock in the face twice and telling him to go finish his movie. Regardless of his success, Mannix refuses to see the sense in Whitlock’s argument. Mannix’s response seemed to me like an outright dismissal of Whitlock’s speech as crazy talk.

“Capitalism and logic are incompatable”

This seems to be the film’s thesis. Put another way, creating value is the ultimate pursuit in life and the best measure of value is cash. Mannix also places value in the feeling of belonging. This is the other part of his argument for continuing his job with the studio.

What really is belonging?

Belonging means being accepted as a member. Sure, there is a pleasure in being part of a group, but what does this cost? Mannix may be happy staying at the studio for this reason, but the film seems to think otherwise. The true victims of the film are Mannix’s wife and children. They are only present for one scene and it’s clear that Mannix does not value them as much as his career. Mannix’s wife expresses a sadness that her husband must constantly be at work. By forcing Mannix to work long hours, the studio system punishes Mannix’s wife and children. Not only does the studio system exploit its most valuable workers, it also hurts families.

Hail Caesar poses interesting questions about the ills of capitalism in an easy-to-digest package. Capitalism may be harmful, but at least it produces high-quality entertainment. One could look at the present economic state of the U.S. and point out even more problems caused by unhindered capitalism. While Hail Caesar is not the most entertaining Coen Brothers’ film, I appreciate its existence. The Coen Brothers’ may not be making the insanely entertaining films of their past, but they have focused on larger issues.

Oldboy (2003) Review

I remember hearing about Oldboy all the time. Usually it is presented as the standard for revenge movies, where the main character goes through a long and difficult journey to get justice against those people who wronged him or her. I think I lumped it together with Fight Club and Donnie Darko in the “dark and well-made movies for guys” category. Oldboy existed on the fringes of my perception until last Sunday when Devin Faraci and Amy Nicholson talked about the film on their podcast, The Canon.

Oldboy is the story of Oh Dae-Su, a man who is locked in a room for 15 years by a mysterious figure. Oh Dae-Su escapes from his cage and decides to get revenge on the guy who stole 15 years of his life. Over the course of his journey, Oh Dae-Su hurts a lot of people, gets hurt himself and eventually tracks down the man responsible for his imprisonment.

Oldboy is awesome. The film is based on a manga and watching it reminded me of reading a really superb comic book. The director Park-Chan Wook is adept at mixing humor with dark material. One memorable scene depicts Oh Dae-Su ordering his first meal after escaping. He orders “anything alive” and devours a live octopus. Watching Oh Dae-Su stuff the living octopus into his mouth was hilarious but also tragic for the octopus. The scene cuts back and forth between Oh Dae-Su eating and the waitress watching him with horror, revealing the indifference of Oh Dae-Su’s personality. He is the kind of guy who will do anything to get what he wants without considering how his actions affect other people.

The action scenes in Oldboy are another highlight. One scene shows Oh Dae-Su beating up a team of bad guys as if he exists in a side-scrolling video game. Describing this scene will not do it justice. It’s refreshing to see an action scene filmed this way because I am so used to the typical editing in other action movies. I can’t think of a better way to film this scene. If you have ever seen a style like this used in another movie, please let me know.

I don’t know why it took me this long to watch Oldboy. The film reminded me why I like watching movies, especially those that come from different cultures. Don’t be stupid like me. I am sure that I will watch Oldboy at least one more time and hopefully have more to write about it.

Star Wars is making a lot of Money

Everyone is seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens!

Today, The Walt Disney Company reported that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is expected to pull in 900 million dollars domestic today and 2 billion dollars global in a few days. This is a very large amount of money. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the first film in history to reach the 900 million dollar milestone. This is great news for Disney, J.J. Abrams, and fans of the franchise. What’s even more incredible is that it only took 50 days for Star Wars to reach this milestone.

Here are some of the records Star Wars: The Force Awakens has broken:

  • Biggest opening day domestically ($119.1 million)
  • Biggest opening week domestically ($390.8 million)
  • Fastest film to $1B globally (12 days)
  • Biggest film of all time in the U.S and the U.K.

Star Wars: The force Awakens is doing really well in the U.S. and abroad. It has gone well over its $200 million dollar budget. The fact that Star Wars is doing so well proves that movies are more capable than ever of bringing in revenue. Or perhaps this merely shows the degree of economic inflation over the past few years. What do you think?

Please check out my review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and let me know what you think.