Themes In Film – Redemption (Cross Talk EP 36)

Redemption is a fairly universal theme in cinema.

It’s something that can motivate anyone no matter what their moral, ethnic, or social standing is. In fact, some of the most beloved characters of all time are ones who follow a path of redemption. You have Darth Vader, Severus Snape, the T-800, Phil Connors (Groundhog Day), Derek (American History X), and Andy Dufresne (The Shawshank Redemption) for starters. Whether the story is one of holding out hope, belief in something greater then ourselves, a desire for change or simply fighting injustice, it’s a great theme that invites us to see the possibility of choices in life.

Now to be clear, the stories we’re talking about in this episode of Cross Talk aren’t exclusively about redemption, even if some of them have an overt story arc featuring the theme. What’s more important to me is to demonstrate how this topic transcends genre, it can be in action movies, dramas, comedies, crime stories, horror and a whole host of other examples. These themes permeate our culture, and I personally think it’s because at any given time we are all holding out for a hero. Redemption teaches us that we are fully capable of becoming our own source of rescue.

Chris and I decided to provide a selection of films to demonstrate this point about the significance of redemption in life. We selected The Green Mile, Unforgiven, Good Will Hunting, In Bruges, Gran Torino, The Hurricane, V for Vendetta, and Les Miserables. All of these films have an element of drama to them, but the stories are wildly different, some being based in fantasy, others based on history, and still others simply fit a time and a place.

Redemption can bring freedom. Freedom from societal oppression, creative limitations, and intolerable views. And sometimes it can absolve past wrongdoings.

I’m really excited to share this one with you because while we are going to go over each of this four examples, Chris has decided to focus his attention on Les Miserables, the 1935 version, and not one of the other twelve film adaptations out there, though I do have some special love for the Liam Neeson vehicle. And then for my pick, I’ll give some insights on why I think the redemption in V for Vendetta comes from Evey, as portrayed by Natalie Portman, and NOT Hugo Weaving’s theatrical V.

And so this is episode thirty six of Cross Talk. Themes of redemption in film.

theories Summarized

That was such a fun topic for us to discuss – I learned something about myself that even I didn’t know, how important a seemingly popcorn flick like V For Vendetta can represent an ideal about culture. And now I need to check out yet another version of Les Miserables, as Chris promises that the 1935 film is the best version out there.

But what are your favourite examples of redemption in the movies? Do you prefer The Shawshank Redemption? What about The Wrestler? Until next time, please like and share the content! And subscribe to the mailing list if you haven’t yet. I’ve got really cool folk country album to share tomorrow from Kacey Musgraves… and I’ll give you your space cowboy!

Tim!

They’re Creepy and They’re Kooky (Tokyo Ghoul review)

Japanese culture is ripe with interesting examples of fantasy, science fiction, drama. And most importantly it’s always visually appealing no matter what the subject matter being tackled. This week’s review doesn’t hold back.

Tokyo Ghoul (2017)

Cast: Masatak Kubota, Fumika Shimizu, Nobuyuki Suzuki, Hiyori Sakurada, Yu Aoi
Director: Kentaro Hagiwara
released on blu-ray April 3, 2018
****** 6/10

IMDB: 5.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%, Audience Score 68%
The Guardian: N/A

Now, I don’t have very much information about this live-action film’s director, Kentaro Hagiwara, as he has managed to avoid appearing all over the internet with a solid measure of success. Thus I am resigned to believe he is something of a ghoul himself, hidden in a secret society and only emerging for brief periods of time to prove his existence.

Which is why I’m not going to assume that this is his first time directing, but I will grade the movie as if it were. So let’s talk about this adaptation of the hit manga by Sui Ishida.

Special thanks to Claudio for the IMDB summary (I corrected some grammar) –

In Tokyo, the shy student Kaneki Ken () finally lands a date with this beautiful girl Kamishiro Rize (). While in a lonely park, she does a gender-reversal on the classic monster movie and attacks him because she is in fact, a flesh-eating ghoul. Luckily, Kaneki escapes after a freak accident that kills Rize, but he soon learns that he has become a ghoul himself in an emergency organ transplant that happened while unconscious from his wounds. He then befriends a group of peaceful ghouls and tries to live his new life with them. However, they are hunted down by relentless two police officers from the Ghoul Division in charge of eradicating ghouls from their district.

My initial impressions after I watched this movie were pretty harsh. While I really liked the premise of an alternate reality where monsters were real and far more complicated then their appearance, I struggle with the CGI used to create this fantasy world. It constantly takes you out of the story, where literally any other distraction could take place and become more engaging.

It’s great to see an assimilation story for the contemporary age, and one that takes what could have easily been a horror film, and turned it into more of a supernatural drama. Lots of cliche ideas about families being found anywhere, and the importance of acceptance for people other then ourselves, but none of the major characters are presented as particularly complex, so the story then suffers.

Pros: It’s visually intense, unnerving and while the CGI itself is difficult to watch, they don’t replace the importance of a good story about mythological creatures that live in modern times.

Cons: It’s almost as if there is an expectation that the story adhere closely to its roots, which appears to be in conflict with the directors much more interesting vision. The primary character played by Masatak Kubota rarely emotes in the right moment.

Runtime: 1 hour 59 minutes

Points of Interest: The musical score is composed by Don Davis, who also did the music for The Matrix trilogy. The director has cited Kill Bill: Vol. 1, District 9 and The Last Samurai as major influences for the film.

If you can get past the bad CGI and the shallow characterizations, this is a very entertaining fantasy movie with some great commentary on social issues, including hierarchy in Japanese culture. The challenges that Kaneki (Masatak Kubota) face as he learns to accept his new lot in life are compelling, and might have been better accomplished with less fights.

theories Summarized

With all of that said, do I think you should run out and get a copy of this flick? No, I think it’s an acquired taste. But, I also recognize that exposure to films from other cultures can be incredibly satisfying, and give context to a broader film discussion. A timotheory if you would.

Now, this week’s Watch Culture video review is a little bit kooky as well, but I can endorse this movie over and over again. Super Troopers is one of my favourite comedies from the early 2000s and a potential spiritual successor to some of the classic Mel Brooks and Monty Python films of the 1970s and 1980s. If you haven’t seen it before, give our review a once over, and I bet we can change your mind.

And of course, please let me know what you thought of both reviews, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel (and email) if you haven’t already. With even more theories in the pipeline, you’ll have content to chew on for days.

Tim!

Not Experimental Enough? Hold My Whiskey (Jack White, Boarding House Reach review)

What rock and roll artist worked with A Tribe Called Quest and Beyonce, and is completely frantic? The guy who used to wear red, white and black.

Now known as the guy who wears blue, white and black.

 

Jack White – Boarding House Reach

released March 23, 2018
******* 9/10

John Anthony White, better known by his stage name, Jack White, is an American musician, singer, songwriter, record producer and actor. He is also the lead singer and guitarist of The White Stripes, and performs with other bands (The Raconteurs) and artists (Beyonce, Alicia Keys) often. His debut solo album, Blunderbuss, was released in 2012 and followed up a mere two years later by Lazaretto. And to be honest, Lazaretto was the stronger album in my personal opinion.

Both of his solo albums have had considerable commercial success and critical acclaim, so it is not surprising that he eventually followed up with album no. 3, Boarding House Reach; though the time gap was a little wider this time.

Boarding House Reach is an atypical blues rock album and has been released on White’s own label Third Man records as well as Columbia and XL. In an odd move, Connected by Love and Respect Commander were released simultaneously as the album’s lead single back in January, and Over and Over and Over was released as the second single in March. Corporation and Ice Station Zebra were also released as singles, and consequently, the album was able to reach no. 1 on  the Billboard 200.

This is an album which has a lot of layers, and absolutely needs several listens in order to be properly appreciated. Because it probably won’t sound as good as it is the first couple of times, I suggest sitting with it in the background as you drive, while you work away the day, and even as you burst through your evening work out. It’s a rock album that is challenging rock and roll in a time when rock is basically struggling for air.

Thankfully for us, he is a veteran of blues rock, having fronted The White Stripes for years, and it makes sense for him to explore funk, jazz, and even gospel music, but man when he decided to inject hip-hop and spoken word poetry into the mix… that’s when I knew I was onto something special. Plus, it’s a polarizing album, with lots of people locked in, but a healthy amount of skepticism from seasoned reviewers too.

The singles make perfect sense now inside the context of the record, but they are not the highlight of the album, no. They are an introduction into a more fun and carefree Jack White. Yes that might seem off, but listen to Hypermisophoniac, Everything You’ve Ever Learned and What’s Done is Done, and tell me this isn’t a new Mr. White.

Pros: His vocal performances are way out there, and it’s refreshing to see how he is stepping away from blues rock and yet he is still darkly edgy in his lyrical choices. Why Walk a Dog is a great little absurdist track about the idea of owning pets and whether dogs really do have a good life.

Cons: There are a lot of collages of different ideas floating around here, from spoken-word, rapping, progressive rock, funk music, to a cover of Al Capone’s own song (Humoresque). And sometimes they fight with Jack White’s natural sound, whatever that means to you.

Runtime: 44 minutes

Points of Interest: White chose to write like Michael Jackson would, by thinking of the songs as a whole rather then parts. He did everything in the silence of one room, for several hours at a time each day. This is White’s third no. 1 solo album.

This is not an album rooted in the past, like his previous solo albums and his work with The White Stripes. No this is something out of time, and I’m thankful to have found it – now check out our video review below!

theories Summarized

I’ll admit that when I listened to this the first couple of times, I thought, yeah it’s technically good, but definitely not a knockout album. This is normal, and a good thing, dear readers. So settle in as instructed, and you’ll come out the other side singing the praises of the future of rock and roll.

Yeah, it’s a weird album. Ha! But I love it all the same. I hope you get to feel the same, but either way hit us up in the comments, like and share the video if you found it valuable, and of course, please subscribe to the blog and channel for more awesome theories on the arts.

Tim!

The Shape of Water, A Filet or A Flop? (Cross Talk EP 35)

 

This should be a fairly straightforward post.

I’ve already written a fairly in-depth review on the movie The Shape of Water – and I made my love of the film known pretty clearly there. But too be perfectly honest, Chris doesn’t care for the movie, and I value his opinion a lot, so we decided it would be fun to put together a deep dive episode on the movie and talk about our differing opinions. Which as some of you know, is one of the reasons why I started Cross Talk in the first place.

To discuss movies, music, board games etc. and present topics in a more meaningful way then your average review or criticism video.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of great channels out there where the presenters have a degree in film criticism, others where the reviews are purely based on if the movie is enjoyable or not, and still others where the film is dissected and all of the symbolism is put on display. But that’s not how people really talk about movies necessarily.

When you are chatting about a movie like The Shape of Water with your friends, you’ll get lost in incidental details like the way the government facility looked, or the musical score choices, or whether Doug Jones did a better job playing Abe Sapien, the Faun, the Pale Man or  “the Asset.” And if you’re a movie geek like us, you might even start entertain interesting theories about why the movie is a fairy tale, and not an alternate reality where mermen exist.

Or maybe you’ll point out how there are so many more movies that do star-crossed lovers in a better way, with more compelling characterizations. And you’ll get passionate about it. Wondering why an amazing film like Get Out only got attention for it’s screenplay.

And so this is episode thirty five of Cross Talk.

theories Summarized

Do you think my theory about Giles having invented the majority of the story is right? Or am I completely off the rails with this one dear readers? Chris has a better appreciation of why I relate to the story so well now, but maybe I’m projecting, and the movie isn’t anything more then what you see on screen.

In that case, maybe the submerged bathroom scene is completely ludicrous.

But that doesn’t mean the film isn’t worth talking about, we managed to fill a 20 minute space talking about it, and you didn’t even see all of the outtakes we have! Until next time, please like and share the content! And subscribe to the mailing list if you haven’t yet. I’ve got a blue review on Jack White coming up tomorrow!

Tim!

In Love With The Shape Of You (The Shape Of Water review)

Join us for a very special film review on this week’s episode of Watch Culture.

I say this because I’m about to drop some knowledge on why The Shape of Water holds a special place in my heart, so much so that I’ll also be running a deep dive on Cross Talk with Chris later in the month (read: sooner).

The Shape of Water (2017)

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones
Director: Guillermo del Toro
released on blu-ray March 13, 2018
********* 10/10

IMDB: 7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, Audience Score 74%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Guillermo del Toro is a Mexican film director, screenwriter, producer and novelist. His films have a strong fantasy element running through them, often using dark themes and gothic backdrops to convey both subtle and overt messages about human nature. Some of his more mainstream films are Pacific Rim, Blade II and the two Hellboy adaptations, but he also dabbles in spanish language focused stories like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth.

Looking back, his most recent film before The Shape of Water was Crimson Peak, a strong indicator and launching point toward fairy tale narratives.

Special thanks to Huggo for the IMDB summary.

1962 Baltimore. Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), found abandoned as a baby with scars on her neck, has been mute all her life, that disability which has largely led to her not having opportunities. Despite being a bright woman, she works a manual labor job as a cleaner at a military research facility where she has long been friends with fellow cleaner, Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer), who often translates her sign language to others at the facility. And she has had no romance in her life, her major emotional support, beyond Zelda, being her aging gay artist neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), the two who live in adjoining apartment units above a movie theater. Like Elisa, Giles is lonely, his homosexuality complicating both his personal and professional life, the latter as a commercial graphic artist. Elisa’s life changes when Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings a new “asset” into the facility, Elisa discovering it being a seeming mixed human/amphibious creature found in the waters of the Amazon. Secretly visiting with the creature, Elisa is immediately drawn to him, and despite he having a violent side as part of his inherent being, the two find a way to communicate with each other and end up forming a bond with each other. Elisa has to decide what to do when she discovers that although the reason for bringing the creature to the facility is to test the possibility of him being sent into space, Colonel Strickland, who has always had antagonistic feelings toward the creature, ultimately wants to kill him, this following the systematic torture he has inflicted on him. Elisa may have to balance her feelings on wanting to be with the creature against what may be the greater benefit to him of being set free back into the wilds of the water. Complicating matters are that the Soviets are also aware of the creature, they having a secret agent who has infiltrated the facility.

Smarter people then I have reviewed this film to death already.

So I won’t pretend to impart the same learnings as them in my review of this film, but I will acknowledge that there is some derivation at work here. As Chris will rightly point out in his own thoughts on our upcoming Deep Dive; this is a story that effectively borrows from other films. The Beauty and the Beast story arc is the bones of this film, it also throws in homages to monster movies (Creature from the Black Lagoon), musicals (Shirley Temple, That Night in Rio) and biblical stories (The Story of Ruth).

But where the brilliance comes in is in altering the arcs of these stories. The beast doesn’t transform to be loved, the creature from the black lagoon doesn’t die AND gets the girl, the mute girl and her two minority friends save the day, and love of the arts is celebrated.

That said, even if you don’t know these things, this film challenges the notion of fearing the other – it fights fear with love, and I think it smartly uses Giles (an artist), as a narrator of this ideal, in a time when those ideas couldn’t even exist in popular culture. Giles is a closeted homosexual, someone who dreams and imagines how things could be, and I have a theory that a lot of the film actually happens in his mind.

Pros: It carefully crafts all of it’s themes and ultimately tells a universal story of acceptance, love, and celebrating what is, rather then what should be. del Toro is at his personal best, and he poses some great questions.

Cons: While beautiful to behold, and universally clear in the truths it wants to share, to fully appreciate the story, you might actually need to love all of the things it references – the subtle historical shifts at play. And if you want character nuance, the characterizations could be frustrating to watch.

Runtime: 1 hour 55 minutes

Points of Interest: Guillermo del Toro wrote lengthy backstories for each of the major characters, giving them each the option to use the information or ignore it. Some opted to take the direction, while some, like Richard Jenkins, refused it. The poem at the end of film has been paraphrased from works by Persian poet Rumi and his predecessor Hakim Sanai.

I really do see why Chris struggles with this film. And believe it or not, I’m not picking apart his thesis before he’s had a chance to defend himself, but rather I want to show you that his perspective is key in understanding my own theory.

The derivative themes, the abstracted characterizations, and the reliance on style as a vehicle for the underlying substance are important. If we consider that the whole story is told from the perspective of an artist character (Richard Jenkins) who has had to hide so much of himself in a time and space of persecution and judgment, then I think the story takes on new meaning. Not to mention the fact that his chosen form of expression, painting, is being supplanted by photography in advertising. Giles loves musicals, lives above a theatre that shows biblical films, and draws the creature he does not understand lovingly. He wants to see a fairy tale realized because his own story did not come through as he wished.

Additionally, he is the most detailed of the characters, which is often how we see ourselves, as opposed to how we simplify others in our own life stories.

theories Summarized

I think The Shape of Water is an amazing film, and to be honest, I haven’t even given you the full expression of my thoughts on it yet, but I believe that the upcoming Cross Talk deep dive episode will reveal even more about it. A fairy tale for adults is an amazing thing to behold, indeed.

If you want another fairy tale for adults, then you should check out this video review of 2010’s Scott Pilgrim VS the World, an anti-thesis to rom-coms told from the perspective of a video game geek. It’s a blast to watch, and whether you grew up between the 1980s to 1990s or not, the nostalgia callbacks are insightful.

So please let me know what you thought of our review, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel if you haven’t already. There are even more theories coming up next week, y’all come back now.

Tim!