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Day Five – JayDanks introduces you to Beyond the Black Rainbow

Warning: I am going to curse my ass off in this post. My feelings about it still haven’t gotten very far past sitting on the couch staring blankly and muttering “fuck…” to myself repeatedly.

DAY FIVE: Beyond the Black Rainbow
QUICKIE DESCRIPTION: wtf, and I mean that in the best possible way
LESSON OF THE DAY: Apparently the script of this 110 minute movie was 11 pages long. I was on the edge of my seat for every moment.

The only thing I can say for certain about this movie is that it is a love letter to the science fiction movies of the 1970s.

On a whim, me and McCoyed got our hands on Beyond the Black Rainbow and my first warning to you is that this movie is scary as fucking fuck. I don’t like horror much at all, and this falls into that crazy realm of live-action anime visual horror that made me dread facing the night alone (on a totally unrelated note, I stayed awake until sunrise).

Beyond3

The Sentinaut is going to haunt my dreams forever.

But I still loved this movie. Everything about it is amazingly well done and even though it freaks you out, you enjoy the ride – the trying to figure out what’s going on, and the fact that even though it’s over you still don’t know… This film is going to unsettle you at the very least, but most likely is going to scare the shit out of you. Not in a gore way, I’m talking honest-to-goodness fear/terror. Michael Rogers comes out of nowhere to deliver one of the most terrifying yet (for the most part) insanely subdued performances I’ve ever seen. Between his acting and the atmosphere Cosmatos creates, a single stare can make you feel incredibly uncomfortable, and Rogers winds up doing a hell of a lot more than staring in this movie.

I’d say “be afraid” but I don’t see how you could help yourself.

I still don’t know what to think about this movie, and I hate to say anything about it because I really really don’t want to spoil it, and because it’s going to take me a few weeks and repeat viewings to piece it all together. Whenever it comes to theaters, I’m definitely going. I cannot recommend this enough.

Day Two: “Give me the damn veggies!”

Dwayne Johnson’s acting in this movie has to be seen to be believed. Complete ridiculousness is what makes his character so damn charming.

DAY TWO: Fast Five
QUICKIE DESCRIPTION: Phrack Fysics
LESSON OF THE DAY: Tropes Are Not Bad.

I haven’t seen 2 Fast 2 Furious or Fast & Furious, and it took talking about it for about ten minutes for me to even realize I had seen more or less the first “act” of Tokyo Drift. Going into this I was relying entirely on my memories of the first movie (which I’m convinced I saw on VHS, so however the hell long ago that was) and the exposition of the friend I was watching it with (who, when it comes to film, usually has the memory of a confused goldfish) so all I really knew going into this was as follows:
One guy’s a cop, one guy’s Vin Diesel. Cop went native and is dating Vin Diesel’s sister. First movie, Ba Dump.
Everything that happened since: Something something Vin Diesel’s girlfriend died, so instead of holding a wake they decide to steal a bunch of shit. Vin Diesel gets caught. Vin Diesel learns that grief isn’t the best motivator for pulling off heists successfully, and now he’s going to jail. Now this movie!

Despite the movie launching you right into the action that ended the previous movie, I was surprised by how well it handled the backstory. While it never outright states who Leticia was, she’s mentioned, sometimes by name, sometimes not, and Dom’s (VD) actions make it clear what she meant to him. It was nice to see this film actually expect the audience to use their heads to figure out what’s going on there.

I mean the part of your head that processes personal drama. Pay no attention to the magic eezo vault.

We were both surprised at how well this movie handled the decision to make Mia pregnant. Rather than the usual Hollywood fare of it becoming the MacGuffin that needs protection Hollywood usually centers the entire plot around, this movie never goes down the “Mia and her fetus are in trouble” rabbit hole. It’s just another motivation for the characters. Dom wanted everyone to split up and lay low to hide from the cops, but he can’t break up his sister’s soon-to-be family or bring himself to leave either. It’s a great touching moment that first adds a complication that pushes the characters into the next act; and second, it beautifully compliments the theme of family that runs throughout the entire movie. It’s a good time to note that if you’ve been ignoring these movies because they look like big dumb action flicks, the action can definitely be big and dumb, but there’s a bigger story going on than the car chase scenes. Unlike so many action movies that throw in the obligatory wife/daughter/nebulous excuse for the hero to go somewhere, these characters are motivated by their relationships with each other. Everyone they call in for the heist is a friend from a past movie. It’s great to see a team that doesn’t just join together out of convenience or for the money, but has a real connection with the main characters.

Although it’s important we don’t forget about the money.

So long as you’re willing to leave physics at the door, the action scenes are really good. Action scenes are, generally speaking, the single biggest guilty party for the “and then this happens” style of filming. I’m going to try not to turn this into a retread of the Hulk Explains Action article, but what he says about geography and logic really stood out for me in these scenes. Here’s a (sadly short) example from Fast Five:

There’s a real flow to the action some movies just don’t pull off. The scene gets set up, there’s a complication, the characters respond and that sets up the next part of the chase. You never lose track of what’s going on or where somebody is except for the moments the movie wants you to be asking those questions, and then they’re pretty quick to give you the payoff. Just contrast it with this clip, where it’s literally five minutes where nothing about the scene changes.

There’s three real actions in that entire chase – Sean knocks over the power pole, Nic goes through a building to avoid it, and Sean crashes a tram. That’s the entire chase. There’s just a shitton of chaos between those beats. In the minute long clip from Fast Five, the characters start to get away, but an obstacle is placed in front of them, and they have to find a way around it – essentially the same thing – but they accomplish it in under a minute. There’s a joke in a behind the scenes features of one of the newer Star Wars movies where George Lucas says the script was really easy because he just kept writing “they fight” a lot. The action in those movies is actually pretty good though because George was making a joke – even he knows that action isn’t just a flashy bit of excitement, action scenes tell stories. A little bit of chaos does work, but your action should go somewhere, and, like I was saying with cause and effect yesterday, where it goes needs to be directed by the choices your characters make. But enough about why I liked the movie.

As you can tell, once I sat down to start writing this I found I had a lot to say about things the movie did well that made me like it. But I’m still in a writer frame of mind so the first lesson I felt I got out of this movie is a simple one: Tropes Are Not Bad. The friend I was watching this with got excited when the movie came to what she calls “the Ocean’s Eleven part.” And she’s right. This movie does a lot of recognizable moments, Assembling the Team only being one of them. This movie has that duo of outsiders that argues all the time, Sexy Action Chick moments that are positively dripping with cheese, redemption through death, the adversary that joins up for revenge, and the list goes on.

Hell, 90% of The Rock’s dialogue is amazing for the simple fact that it is intentionally BAAAD. I haven’t fallen in love with cheesey lines this much since Willem Dafoe in The Boondock Saints.

This movie is very obviously derivative. It follows a ton of the heist movie and action flick cliches. But it’s still a damn good movie, for the same reason that the Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai and Avatar are all the same story but each good in their own right (though it wouldn’t have hurt if Avatar had tried hitting it’s points into your head with a smaller hammer). The outsider going into a different group, learning their ways and falling in love with the culture he’s in is a certain type of movie and there’s nothing wrong with transplanting that story into different settings – hell, The Fast and the Furious franchise did it twice! It’s okay to take ideas that have already been done and put them into your own movie. But you have to be smart about it.

Pictured: the duo of outsiders who argue all the time.

I don’t know if I’m anywhere near qualified to tell you “how to be smart about it” but the best way I can think of putting it is that you have to ask yourself the simple question of “Why am I doing this?” If the answer gets anywhere close to “because that’s how this is supposed to be done” you should ask yourself how the story would flow without that part in it. Skid and Mudflaps didn’t ad anything to Transformers 2, but I’m not sure if Fast Five could work the way it does without Leo and Omar. You can make a cliche work for your story. How exactly? Maybe here’s an even better answer than my first one.
Watch more movies!

Why 110, Danks?

Before I get to the bread and butter of this blog, I’m going to write a few quick words on what I’m trying to do here, and why the posts here aren’t going to be as long as a lot of the other reviews you find out there. This project isn’t really about comprehensive analysis of films, if I start accidentally doing that it’s great, but I’m not really at the point where I feel qualified to do that. I’m giving myself the goal of watching one movie for every day until the end of summer (ignore the seasons, for my purposes the end of summer = September 1) because I feel that as somebody trying to get into film I have one huge stumbling block:

I don’t have my own camera.

Okay, *two* stumbling blocks:

I haven’t seen enough movies.

Before you can ever start writing books you have to read them. And before I can really start making films, I have to get a better understanding of movies. When things do and do not work, and why that happens. And yeah, one can just start throwing things up on Youtube and learn the craft through trial and error, but you’re not going to advance very quickly that way. There’s no sense stumbling onto how to tell a story when you can learn from those who have come before you.

And I’m not just talking about the obvious “what not to do’s”.

In essence, I suppose this is as much a journal as it is a review blog. I’m trying to teach myself how to be more critical when I watch movies. How to better understand what’s being done well, and what isn’t. The biggest aid I’m going to have in all this is a blogger everyone should be following, Film Crit Hulk, who has already hugely influenced the way I think about movies. I’d especially like to point to his article on tangible details, the things we cling to that aren’t actually why movies succeed or fail.

So what can you expect when you accidentally follow the links I’m going to be throwing onto your Facebook homepage damn near daily over the next few months? I’ll open with a super quick summary of the feel of the movie (in as little as a single adjective if I can swing it) and what lesson I feel I’m taking from the movie. Right now I’m posting those on facebook as soon as I finish, but with enough prodding I could be convinced to set up that tweetir thing everyone keeps talking about – either way, they’ll also be at the front of each post. After that I’ll get into two things – why I liked or disliked the movie, and go into what exactly the filmmaking lesson I’m taking away is.

Coming up next (as soon as I write it): The first movie of this project, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.