The Dinglehopper

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Looking at Remakes Side-by-Side

Hollywood loves to recycle–both foreign films and its own. Jaume R. Lloret, a video essayist I just discovered, created a short video (only 3 min!) that pairs images from a series of original films and their remakes to explore the similarities and differences. And because there is no commentary, the viewer is able to make their own evaluations on whether the original or remake is superior and how. Of course, often these things are a matter of preference for the style choices of the filmmakers, and I enjoyed noting my own responses. For instance, I have a strong preference for the originals of both Psycho and The Omen, and not always the reason to back it up. With other pairings, like Cape Fear and Infernal Affairs/The Departed, the progression towards more camera movement and faster cutting is obvious.

Definitely worth three minutes of your time.


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Kanye | Kubrick: A Video Mash-Up Comparison

Kanye West, surprising no one, exhibited the size of his ego once again when he ranted on SNL that he was more influential than many artists, including Stanley Kubrick, whom he has also said has influenced him. As far as current artistry goes, he’s probably not wrong, but if we’re looking more historically, Kanye should probably wait to take the tally of influence.

His rant, however, offered inspiration to one of my favorite video essayists, Nelson Carvajal, who has edited together both Kanye and Kubrick to deliberately explore their relationship. However, Carvajal leaves any evaluation of what that relationship is up to the viewer. For my money, it largely seems to come down to self-importance and the objectification of the female body.

Warning, this video is NSFW.


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Responding to the ‘Ghostbusters’ Trailer

The newly released Ghostbusters trailer doesn’t break a lot of new ground, except for it’s gender-swapping. In fact, I suspect it was put together to offer only that major change, because much of it is entirely familiar, calling back to the 1984 film through settings, slimings, and character types.

Considering how reactionary a large portion of the public has been concerning even switching up the gender roles, I suspect making everything else look familiar was a good bet. I ended up mostly enjoying the allusions and callbacks. The trailer knows it owes the source material too–it gives credits for the original film. Kate McKinnon appears to be an even goofier Egon, and Melissa McCarthy fits into the mold of Ray.

More problematic is the clear connection between Leslie Jones’s character, Patty Tolan, and Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddmore. Tolan, like Zeddmore, is the not-a-scientist of the group and also the person-of-color. Plenty of people have criticized the repetition, stating outright that Tolan could have been a scientist quite easily. Instead she’s an MTA worker, which is at least one step better than Zeddmore, who almost entirely lacked backstory.

Jones has spoken back to the naysayers, pointing out that the trailer isn’t much to go on. She also points out that there’s nothing wrong with being an MTA worker and shared a message she got from an MTA worker fan celebrating seeing the representation.

Although the portrayal of white women as scientists and black woman as street wise MTA worker is definitely problematic, due to the focus on similarities to the original film, I can’t help but hope that all these tropes of the first film will be twisted in the new one. After all, not turning these tropes would make the film mostly pointless. Furthermore, Leslie Jones is spectacularly funny. She exudes strength no matter what character she plays. Case in point: the muffin-missing manager on the SNL skit “Undercover Boss: Starkiller Base.”

Only time will tell, but for now, I remain hopeful in my anticipation of the new Ghostbusters.

For fun, I link for you the teaser recut with the original theme song. Enjoy!

 

 


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Hearts Going Boom Boom Boom for the New Finding Dory Trailer

Disney Pixar released a brand new Finding Dory trailer this week on, appropriately enough, The Ellen Show. This is the first new animation we’ve seen since early November. That was a sort of quiet anticipatory intake of breath. This, though, is the smile on one’s face after cheering.

The friendly-but-forgetful blue tang fish reunites with her loved ones, and everyone learns a few things about the real meaning of family along the way.

Finding Dory Poster

This is definitely a sequel, okay. There are three migrating species in the trailer alone. We reprise the worlds apart banter between Marlin and Crush. And we meet a new character, Destiny, for whom Dory’s signature trait is a gift rather than a burden. Which is honestly fantastic. When we saw the first teaser I wrote:

Frozen explained agape. Cars articulated wisdom. And Finding Nemo demonstrated persistence. Emotional vocabulary stuff that’s stickier for younglings than Inside Out.

And I couldn’t be happier that beyond the theme of family driving the trailer, those struggles are foregrounded and celebrated. It’s one thing to impart your values to your children. It’s another entirely to see them reified and reinforced in their favorite fictions.

I’ve come around to the notion that the additional characters and broadened contexts of the Pixar sequels are almost always vast improvements. The first installments are often sweet and powerful, but the expansions wrap up more stuff in a more engaging story. It can look crass to adults, but for kids the take home is much more significant.


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Earthling Cinema Examines ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

Hooray for Earthling Cinema for taking on the very recent 6 Academy Award-winning Mad Max: Fury Road. As is their usual pattern, the first part of their look walks through the plot of the film in humorous ways, often hitting on keen insights pitted within mistaken assumptions about a long dead (to them) culture.

Then they get into the meaning-making, exploring the film as part of the Dieselpunk genre and then digging into the objectification of women and men in the Wasteland. As always, the short video leaves the viewer feeling entertained and edified.


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The Coen Brothers’ Masterful Use of Shot/Reverse Shot

It’s probably the most used sequence of shot types in film: shot, then the reverse. A shot showing a character looking at something, then the reverse to show what they’re looking at. A shot to show a character speaking to someone, then a reverse to show how the other person responds. It’s a sequence practically invisible to audiences due it’s ubiquity and familiarity.

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But the nuances of it’s use will make or break a film, defining it’s pacing and tone. In his most recent Every Frame a Painting, Tony Zhou analyzes the masterful use of shot/reverse shot in Coen Brothers films. He examines their framing and timing of cuts among other things that differentiate their use from more amateurish examples, including from a film they wrote but didn’t direct. As always, Zhou’s insight and affability make his video essays edifying and entertaining. Check it out.


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The Prestige as MetaCinema

I have mixed feelings about Christopher Nolan, who lost me after The Dark Knight Rises. But his earlier work still wows me. Recently I got to thinking about The Prestige for use in my film class, and then, like magic, Evan Puschak (Nerdwriter) made an insightful video about.

In the video Puschak explores the way that the film hides its big secret in plain sight, using our desire to be tricked against us until Nolan wants us to see the truth. It’s a clever film, well-acted, and fully engaging. Puschak examines the imagery, narrative order, and editing to create an analogy to the power of cinema. This isn’t a new breakthrough exactly, Nolan has often dealt with cinema as his metaphorical subject in other films, like Inception.  Here, though, it holds extra charm, since the film works as a magic trick too, following the same design that Michael Caine’s character lays out in the opening, the three parts of the magic trick.

If you’re a fan of The Prestige or of Nolan in general, I highly recommend taking in the 7 minutes of Puschak’s analysis.


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Buster Keaton – The Art of the Gag

Tony Zhou, creator behind the series Every Frame a Painting, is one of my very favorite video essayists. A few months back, he made a video exploring Buster Keaton, one of the great silent comedians along with Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin. I frequently use Keaton’s One Week or The General in my film class, because, despite being a century old, the humor holds up. Keaton’s charm continues to engage and his stunts are still smile-inducing. This semester, I’ll get to deepen the students’ understanding with Tony’s insightful examination.

Zhou starts by establishing how the elements of Keaton’s comedy continue to inspire and influence comedians today, from Chuck Jones to Jackie Chan to Wes Anderson to Bill Murray. Then he breaks down the importance of camera placement for the gag to work. This is largely because Keaton’s gag world is flat, and the rules are of a flat world. Additionally, what’s outside of the frame is not only not visible to the audience, they’re also not visible to the characters in the film. Lastly, Keaton did his own stunts and was devoted to doing it once without cutting to create a vitality to the gag. If it felt too practiced, the stunt wouldn’t charm the audience. All his stunts were real, and they’re just as impressive now as they were then.


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Open Your Eyes to Use of Color in Film-making

For a few years now I’ve been talking about color use in film-making to my students using Ocean’s Eleven and The Social Network. The former contrasts Danny Ocean’s bland, restrictive, routine time in jail, colored with beige and winter cool blues, with his impassioned, adrenaline-boosting adventure executing a heist and winning back his wife, coded with red, gold, and green. The Social Network, alternatively, uses red and gold for the Harvard scenes, and introduces the coolness of blue and white with fictional Zuckerberg’s computer programming and development of Facebook. The meaning is obvious: Harvard’s school colors are maroon and gold while Facebook has a blue and white design.

But recently I discovered a video essay by Lewis Bond that takes a much broader view of color use, exploring history of color in film, the psychological reactions people have to particular colors, and the coding of characters using color. Bond discusses saturation, hue, balance, plus common combinations. He also discusses transition of color use to show a character’s development.

At only 16 min, the video accomplishes quite a lot, and I found it broadened our discussion and even clued me in to color coding in Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Yellows for Scott’s mundane life, red and blue to represent his relationship with Ramona, coded to match the colors in the DDR-Mortal Kombat game Scott plays on the date with Knives and figures as a motif in the final fight against Gideon.


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Even More Pre-Oscar Required Viewing by Kevin B. Lee

At this point, I believe Kevin Lee has completed his Oscar 2016: Video Evidence video essays having added Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography. Additionally, he has created a #OscarsSoWhite video that offers six African-American performers or creators overlooked by the Academy, leading to the gross under-representation of people of color among the nominees.

In the Best Cinematography video, Lee recommends watching the footage without his commentary first, to see what you notice, then again with his commentary. I did this with my film class and had great success discussing why they thought a particular film deserved the Oscar. Lee’s main point is that only when the sound and context are pulled away can the cinematography be judged on its own merit.

 

In the Best Director essay, Lee posits that its not enough for a director to simply do good television on the big screen. His two favorites–The Big Short and Mad Max: Fury Road–win their spots by the virtue of their innovative rhythms on screen.

 

Kevin Lee’s choice for Best Picture is The Big Short, which he puts in a small but illustrious group of films he calls “essay films.” The most famous of these he mentions is Orson Welles’ F for Fake. He goes on to describe the miraculous way The Big Short manages its subject matter: the 2005 housing bubble. The video will make you glad the film is already on bluray and you have your second chance to see it.

 

Finally, Lee wants to make it clear that Academy voters continue to do wrong in their lack of recognition to creators and performers of color. His #OscarsSoWhite video suggests one option for each major category without any commentary at all.