On Fandom Hope/Hype

Today has been officially labeled as “Back to the Future Day” as it is the actual day in which Mary McFly actually traveled through time. Ignore all the shitty memes. It really is today. So, of course, social media has been inundated with people posting Back to the Future related posts. It’s kind of cool, a bit odd, and at times just weirdly confusing.

Honestly, though, I am just content that there is a method and manner of nerds, geeks, and dorks to communicate and congregate, even when distance is a factor. I like that so much of the media and totems of goofy and dorky media has become mainstream, but I wonder if we are reaching critical mass. Is the hype and bubble about to burst and explode a massive blow-back onto the nerds and geeks of the world?

I mean just look at all the media (both old and new) around the upcoming Star Wars movie. There are toys, books, videos, commerce tie-ins, etc. Hell, the latest trailer premiered during a Monday night football game. It was pretty awesome though.

So, is geekery and nerddom reaching a tipping point? Truthfully, I have no clue. I know that nothing, at least nothing I have seen thus far, can grow exponentially without loss and consequences. And most likely the mass saturation of comics, films, television, etc. will probably reach a level in which it can no longer sustain itself.

However, I can enjoy all the amazing and astonishing creations, both new and old, being given life and deal with the fallout, if and, when it happens. i can’t control the media being produced or it’s eventuality, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t enjoy the ride as it happens. Thus, I suppose that is what I, and maybe all of us, should do.

Besides, have you seen that trailer? I know the movie might end up being shit, but the hope and expectation for the possibility of the movie is more than enough for now.

Lessons From…Gotham (SE3 “The Last Laugh”)

Admittedly, season one of the Gotham series was a bit lackluster for me. It just didn’t seem to really know what it wanted to be and was basically all over the place. Frankly, I wasn’t sure that I was going to keep up with the show, but I am a Batman fan, so slap that bat logo on something and I will watch. Season two seems to be more concise and sure of itself. It is still far too early to tell if it is actually a good show, but so far it appears to be better than its previous season. Part of this improvement, in my humble opinion, has to do with upping the insanity and quality of the villains. There were several prominent villainous figures up to the third episode of the current season, “The Last Laugh,” and the emerging villains and few heroes all share one common element which is the focus of this post. As always SPOILERS ahead.

The episode centered on the next phase of Theo Galavan’s, the newest big bad of Gotham, master plan for controlling the city of Gotham. After breaking free six demented psychopaths from Arkham Asylum and allowing them free reign and destruction to their black hearts’ content. He has already lost a few of his make shift crew, but the plan keeps chugging along with the de facto leader of the self prescribed and named MANIAX, Jerome Valeska (Gotham‘s proto-Joker) taking center stage of a hostage situation. All the key players of Gotham end up involved: Jim Gordon, Jerome, Bruce Wayne, and Theo Galvan. The ultimate result is expected and, honestly, not entirely necessary because the real meaning is what happens after the hostage situation is resolved and what these four central figures have in common; legacy.

Basic Oedipus rule: You want to achieve greatness, kill your dad.

Basic Oedipus rule: You want to achieve greatness, kill your dad.

Jerome wants to be famous. He wants Gotham, and the world, to know his name and to fear him. He will do anything and everything to achieve this singular goal. Jerome breaks into Gotham Police’s Headquarters and kills the commissioner along with several officers. He murders his own father in cold blood to further Galvan’s agenda. And he has no issue with killing an innocent child, Bruce Wayne, simply because of boredom and orders. Jerome is insane, but he basically wants to leave a legacy behind him. He wants to be remembered beyond his years so that generations say his name. And according to the episode’s end, his wish may actually be granted. He is not the only one who is concerned with how history will remember him.

Theo Galvan believes that the city and citizens of Gotham have done him and his family a great disservice and insult. His family, according to him, built Gotham, yet they have no recognition for their efforts. Galvan feels that his family should stand alongside the great families of Gotham like the Waynes and Keans. Like Jerome, Theo has no qualms about getting his hands dirty to achieve his family’s redemption and secure his own legacy as savior, protector, and creator of Gotham. Hell, he broke out crazy murderers and is responsible for the capture, detainment, and murder of several prominent political and social leaders. Galvan’s want his name to be in the minds and memories of Gotham’s citizens forever. He wants to etch his name into its skyline alongside Wayne. Really, he wants to eradicate every other prominent family and rise above them. It is the only thing that matters to him. The world can crumble as long as he gets to stand on the ashes, or at the very least his name is whispered and revered by the survivors.

Yup that's the face of comic book villain. I can just here him monologuing...

Yup that’s the face of comic book villain. I can just here him monologuing…

James “Jim” Gordon is the only police respondent to the hostage situation orchestrated by Theo and Jerome. He is also, at this point, the only positive force in the Gotham Police. Gordon is a former soldier who just wants to do a good job and have a positive impact on his city. He (in this continuity) was born and raised in Gotham and believes that it can be a great and safe city again. This is his driving mission. He will risk his life, love, safety, and sanity to make his vision of a safe and thriving Gotham a reality.

These three individuals all have different, and at times conflicting, but interconnected goals. Most of all, they are simply concerned with their individual legacies. One wants infamy, one wants power, and one wants salvation, but all want nothing more than to leave something behind that masses will remember.  However, the world and path they walk is not a secure one and will most likely end in death, so like all great individuals they need to create a legacy that will survive them. It is the most any of us can hope for, but we also need to ensure that our legacies are worth remembering. In this respect, James is the only one that can truly succeed because his vision is concerned with people while Galvan’s and Jerome’s are concerned with buildings and fear. People will always live on and through them it will be how we continue on and perhaps achieve a sense of immortality and legacy.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

 

Lessons From…American Ultra

Alright, so this post is going to be a little different from the standard Monday/’Lessons” post. Normally, I mention seeing, reading, or playing something and then analyze a few possible takeaway morals or ideas from the overall work. This time around, the “lessons” won’t be concerning the narrative but more the actual film and how it worked, or more accurately how it didn’t. However, as always there will still be SPOILERS ahead.

Should I get a new image?

Should I get a new image?

So before we really dive into the issues I had with American Ultra, I think you will need to see the trailer at the very least for any of this to make sense.

Doesn’t that pretty much scream stoner action comedy? It did to me, so when I went to see the movie that was pretty much what I was expecting. Unfortunately, that is not what I got in the theater. Now, that is not to say that a film cannot subvert expectations for entertainment or social commentary. Many great films (both big budget and indie) have in the past to great results. Some random examples, and quality movies you should see, of such a thing are Tucker & Dale vs Evil, Cabin in the Woods, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Dot the I, and many more. Had this film attempted some form of subversion, I think I could have forgiven a few more aspects and enjoyed it more, but it didn’t even try that. Instead, what I was treated to was a jumbled mess of intriguing possibilities but ultimately unfinished and underdeveloped ideas and tangents.

So much damn potential...

So much damn potential…

Okay, before I get accused of trashing this film without cause, let’s get down to the finer points. First off, let this film be a lesson to all future productions in marketing. By that, I mean studios/distributors need to learn how to market the product they have and not the one they wish they could deliver. This film, based on the trailer, posters, and many of the interviews, was marketed as a stoner action comedy a la Pineapple Express for a younger generation. The problem is the film was never really any of those things. Yes, the two lead characters smoked pot, but were hardly stoners/potheads and weed had little impact on their overall lives. There were a few action sequences throughout the film, but they were all relatively short except for the final one near the end of the movie. And finally the comedic bits were few and far between within the film.

In all honesty, the movie was more of a romantic drama/coming of age story between the two main protagonists, Mike and Phoebe (Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart). Had the promos and marketing strategy revolved around that aspect, it would have been better done and possibly better received. Yeah, it might not have been seen as the stoner comedy of the summer, but isn’t it better to be more honest with your audience than to deliver a flop. Though, to be fair, the romantic subplot had its own major issues that will be discussed later. Overall, when your stoner action comedy has little action with a few comedic bits thrown in while one dude occasionally smokes weed, you have some issues with your film.

This promo banner has more smoke than the movie.

This promo banner has more smoke than the movie.

Beyond the marketing, which directors, actors, or writers rarely get a vote on, the actual narrative of the film was full of inconsistencies, incomplete tangents, and underdeveloped ideas. Seriously, I saw this movie about two weeks ago and still have questions/concerns about it.

Basic synopsis is Mike Howell is a burnt/forgotten/former CIA asset who lives in bumpkin town in Virginia with his girlfriend Phoebe and no memory of his past as the sole survivor/”success” of the ULTRA project. For some unknown (no seriously, the film never really bothers to explain why) reason, a new CIA sub-director decides that he needs to be killed, so he sends assassins, top secret (recently trained) TOUGHGUY  (again, not joking that is the code designation) assets, and essentially an army battalion against this one guy in a “covert” mission to end Mike’s life. Along the way, Mike is “activated” by his handler but still manages to be an ignorant nuisance while also being a fighting badass. We also learn that Mike’s entire life as he knows it has been a lie and that his girlfriend is actually also a former CIA asset. Eventually (rather quickly actually), Mike gets over this betrayal and takes down all the CIA assets that were sent against him. He then becomes a top secret Bond/Bourne style agent at the end.

Also, maybe Jesse Eisenberg is not the best action star material...

Also, maybe Jesse Eisenberg is not the best action star material…

Seems like a pretty good movie, or at least interesting, movie from that pitch right? Well, movies are longer than two minutes and that is where a lot of the problems come into play. The story just doesn’t make a lot of sense. To begin, the movie states that certain aspects of Mike’s brain were altered to ensure his safety, e.g. his crippling panic attacks whenever he tries to leave the town and all knowledge of his former life. Sure that makes sense to a degree, but did the CIA also deprive him of desire, passion, and basic common sense? Just because someone smokes pot doesn’t mean they want nothing out of life, but that is essentially the best way to describe Mike’s character. Lazy, impotent slacker who smokes pot and is mildly obsessed with his girlfriend. There was never a singly point in the film when I empathized or really cared about Mike’s story or progression/evolution (though there really wasn’t any on that front either). You can have stoner characters. You can write slacker characters. You can create pure evil or even ambivalent nuisances, but you must still make the audience care about them in some way or for some reason. If you don’t, you failed at your job.

Moving on to the character of Phoebe. Unlike Mike, she is fully aware of both her and Mike’s CIA past. She knows that he cannot physically leave the town without dire consequences beyond his panic attacks. Still she has, on multiple occasions, attempted to do so and then has the gall to be angry that he is unable to do so. If she loved him, wouldn’t she try to dissuade him from leaving since there would probably be a CIA death squad waiting for them at whatever their final destination happened to be? Secondly, the audience is supposed to believe that Phoebe was so in love with Mike that she literally gave up her life to be with him, but there is no evidence to suggest this. The movie begins with her being angry and disappointed with him about their inability to go to Hawaii (even though she knows they can’t go) and criticizing his slacker actions and ambitions. At no given point in the film, do we get the notion that they share a bond worth the sacrifices she made. In fact, half the time I wasn’t even sure she liked him so much as tolerated his actions.

This was about two to five minutes in and is the only time I thought they were a loving couple.

This was about two to five minutes in and is the only time I thought they were a loving couple.

Then the CIA comes into play. The lead antagonist, Adrian (played by Topher Grace), is characterized as a cowardly, narcissistic, brown-noser who got his high position on a technicality and through kissassery. Fine, I can see that. I have known several people like that throughout my life. Here’s the thing. Those type of people are not risk takers. They are not proactive go-getters. They are at best opportunistic scavengers. They would wait for the perfect easy win to impress their superiors. What they wouldn’t do is send their brand new assets to cause a lot of destruction and attention. They also would never act without their superior’s knowledge for fear of repercussion. More importantly, once failure kicked in, they would most certainly never double down on their bet as they would flee immediately and find the nearest scapegoat to pin it on. Basically, hardly any of the actions taken by the character of Adrian align with the type of character the film has developed. Also, it was never really clear why he wanted Phoebe taken in alive since she was, at that point, a major liability. I thought the movie was alluding to some sort of romantic triangle between Mike, Phoebe, and Adrian as the unrequited/scorned ex or something but if it was, again it was way underdeveloped.

Add to this a bunch of underwhelming secondary characters and unclear moral lessons and notions and you get a messy, incomplete story which is the major issue I had with the film. The tagline pitch sounded amazing. Stoner action comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg as a pothead who learns he is actually a CIA super killing machine. But here’s the issue, what’s the rest of the film? A two minute elevator pitch is great but a solid 90+ minute story is infinitely better.

It probably seems like I bagged on the writing a bit before, right? The reason it might seem that way is because I tend to focus on the writing (given my background) and because the screenwriter is what prompted me to consider this film. So, the screenwriter of American Ultra is Max Landis. Let me be perfectly clear: I don’t know the guy. I have never met him before. I don’t follow him on any social media site. And any opinion I have of him is completely informed and based upon interviews and social media retweeted/tumbled/etc. by someone else. If you want to get a glimpse of that, Google him yourself.

This guy.

This guy.

Now, I really liked his last major screenwriting project (that was actually made because, with my limited understanding of Hollywood, a few of his scripts have probably never seen the light of day much less actually created) Chronicle. Again, another solid elevator pitch. Three friends find this thing in the woods and develop super powers. Yeah, sounds cool. I’d go see that. However, that is just the weird add on because the core of the film is really the story of three friends from very different backgrounds/situations growing up and figuring out who they are and what they want out of life. Might not be the best elevator pitch, but it is a relateable, universal story. The whole superpower thing just makes it more interesting and gives it an edge. In comparison, the underlying story of American Ultra, slacker trying to get the guts to marry his girlfriend, is not quite as good because the end goal is too easy with the resolution being kind of unearned. Why? Well, simply because the slacker in question is not really trying to be or do anything other than the girl and has no real moment of change. Yeah, he finally goes and saves her from the CIA at the end, but 1. it felt too easy, 2. already had the skills built into him so no real development of abilities, and 3. for Mike saving the girl was the endgame. He would have seemingly been content to go back to working at the corner store and smoking pot for the rest of his life.

Anyhow, the reason I was focused on this film in particular is because of Landis’s criticism during the opening weekend of the film. Once more, you can Google it yourself, but essentially he was lamenting about the American movie going audience concerning their tastes. He could not understand how an original [emphasis mine] movie with two high caliber stars could do so poorly in theaters. His guess was that the current public is only interested in superhero movies or sequels. Now, I agree that there is definitely a deluge of superhero films, sequels, and movies with built in franchises and a severe lack of original IP. However, you don’t get brownie points for just being original. You actually need to deliver a wanted, quality product.

During the week leading up to the release of the film, a few people who had seen an early release or screening were hyping up the film as usually happens. Looking back, on the other hand, I noticed that almost all the positive praise was concerning the fact that the film was an original movie. Honestly, that was almost all that was positively said on social media (maybe I follow the wrong people).  Not much was said about the story, acting, cinematography, style, humor, characters, etc. It was about how they were glad there was an original film competing against the sequels. Which, once more, is great that original films can still get made, but if it does not do well (and if you have only had one prior ‘success’) maybe the audience is not the issue.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

(As an aside for the sake of discussion, maybe I am in the wrong here (though box office numbers and criticisms do not suggest it) and this will end up being a sleeper hit or cult movie. What do you think? Tell me below.)

Lessons From…The Admiral: Roaring Currents

I am a big fan of Asian cinema and movies. Loved the over the top Chinese kung fu (still think Drunken Master is the epitome of Jackie Chan’s work) and martial art films and the suspense thrillers that South Korea (Old Boy, anyone?) has been making recently. While the films from before 2000 were usually low budget and more campy/kitschy, recent movies from the East have been well done and more concerned and attentive to story, effects, characterization, and utilizing the medium to greater narrative potential. (Similar to the evolution of film in the West because our early films were not exactly high art either).

Honestly, this is probably why I have no issue paying for Netflix or Hulu because there are always random foreign movies and television shows to watch and enjoy. (Seriously, Korean dramas are infinitely better than 90% of American ones) During the weekend, a recommendation kept popping up and I finally gave in. I saw The Admiral: Roaring Currents on Saturday and was pleasantly delighted by the film.

Right? Don’t you want to go see this now? Anyhow, the film got me thinking and as usual I felt the urge to write a post on some thoughts. As always SPOILERS ahead.

Spoilers...

Spoilers…

The film, as seen in the trailer, tells the story of the Battle of Myeongnyang, a famous naval battle in 1597 between the Korean Joseon kingdom’s navy led by Admiral Yi Sun-sin against the invading Japanese navy in the Myeongnyang Strait. However, the actual battle does not really happen till near the end of the movie as most of the film is about Yi Sun-sin strategizing how to overcome the greater Japanese force and deal with his dwindling, frightened soldiers. In fact, this is one of the core themes of the film; fear and how to utilize it. Not coincidentally, it also happens to be the first lesson. Fear is simply an emotion and state of mind that can be used, controlled, and wielded like any other tool at your disposal.

All of Yi Sun-sin’s men have heard about the vast number of ships that the Japanese navy has. On top of that, they are aware of the losses suffered by another general at the hands of Japanese ships and the massive army that is on route to the capital. They are a small band of warriors, only 12 ships, against the full might of a superior force. Every single soldier is basically shitting themselves and spreading their fear and doubt to their fellow fighters and the peasants of the small village they are currently at. Yi Sun-sin sees this and understands that his men have lost heart. He knows that the odds are stacked against them and that they are probably doomed; however, he also is aware that the loss of hope is the worst possibly outcome. For his country and people to survive whatever outcome awaits, Sun-sin knows that they cannot succumb to the uncertainty and horror of their fear.

To be fair, I would probably be terrified if I had to face this with only 12 boats and a handful of men.

To be fair, I would probably be terrified if I had to face this with only 12 boats and a handful of men.

While I definitely love big action movies with idiotic fight sequences, what I really love and prefer about these types of films is that the protagonist has to implore some actual strategy to win. Frankly, the best generals, fighters, and battles were not the ones that were just tough and hearty. The ones that stand the tests of time and are remembered throughout history are the ones that involved a bit of intelligence, cleverness, and strategy. The Battle of Thermopylae (aka 300 Spartans thing) only happened because Leonidas was not an idiot and realized he could use the area to his advantage against the superior numbers of the Persian army. Same for most other well known military individuals, honestly. Strategy and intelligence trump sheer will, power, or strength 9 out of 10 times.

Yi Sun-sin knows how perilous and dire his circumstances are. However, he is no ordinary soldier. He is an admiral of the Joseon kingdom. The Japanese navy know this man. Its generals and admirals have lost battles and ships and men to this Admiral Yi Sun-sin. They know what he is capable of and a few among the Japanese ranks fear what he can do. Yi Sun-sin knows this and decides to use fear as a weapon and source of inspiration. He faces the immense Japanese forces alone, ordering his forces to stay behind, because of their fear. During the initial battle, he uses his knowledge of the waters and weather to trick his opponents and over power them. Granted its only the vanguard of the full force but that small victory inspires his men to finally move and great fear in the Japanese forces.

Yeah, I wouldn't want to be in a fight against this dude. Even 1 on 1.

Yeah, I wouldn’t want to be in a fight against this dude. Even 1 on 1.

Eventually, Yi Sun-sin’s actions are enough to show the Japanese navy what they can expect if they continue to act against Joseon. The Japanese navy knows the costs of victory and turn away instead. That is the final lesson. Sometimes the only win we can achieve is simply making the other player leave. It’s not total. It’s not glorious. There will probably not be ballads and stories told about how you kept them at bay or from completely winning, but it keeps you alive and able to go on. And that is something worthwhile.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

Lessons From…Pride

On Saturday, I watched the film Pride. Truth be told, I had kind of forgotten that this was in my queue, but I was pleasantly surprised when it arrives. Yes, I am still one of probably a small percentage of individuals that still has a Netflix DVD plan. It’s useful for moments and small films like this one.

It is an independent film based on a true story. Obviously, elements have been changed for the sake of narrative and drama, but overall the core narrative is still a worthwhile watch. The story revolves around a small group of British lesbian and gay activists raising funds and awareness for/of the plight and struggle of the unionized miners of Britain during the summer of 1984 when they were on strike. It is an intriguing film that I highly recommend. As always SPOILERS ahead.

Does continuous use of this imply I have a problem?

Does continuous use of this imply I have a problem?

Honestly, the film itself is chock-full of intelligent wisdom and debate all on its own, I am almost tempted to just tell you to watch the film in its entirety and be done with it. However, I will try to focus on a few stand out points and examples. The first lesson comes directly from the words of Dai (played by Paddy Considine) the leader of one of the protesting miners group: “It’s friendship. When you’re in a battle against an enemy so much bigger, so much stronger than you, well, to find out you had a friend you never knew existed, well, that’s the best feeling in the world. So, thank you.” 

This is the basis of the film. Uniting with others to confront and defeat a stronger, more ruthless foe;  in this case, gay and lesbian activists teaming up with the miners to take on the oppressive English government and its policies. No one has ever managed to do anything on their own and when taking on such a powerful force as the fucking British government, you need some backup. They may have had initial differences, but these two groups knew they could do far more in unison than separate. Together they changed the entire fucking country and made history.

Two hands clasped together in unity and defiance.

Two hands clasped together in unity and defiance.

Of course, no movement is without some obstacles and the film does not back away from that, even if the issues present resolve themselves rather quickly. After the miner community overcomes their homophobia (mostly and because of dance number mainly), they are still faced with the near impossible task of actually taking on the British government. Eventually they become dejected and miserable and begin to lose hope. As one character puts it, “Nothing worse than a hopeless cause. Once that happens you’re dead.”

This is obviously two fold for both the miners’ protest and the gay rights movements in Britain. The miners are feeling the pain and turmoil of a long battle and are unsure how to carry on (in grand English tradition). In order to keep their spirits alive, the women of the mining community sing a song during a winter celebration to keep their hopes up. Sometimes the only thing we have amid the worst of times is our own resilience and knowledge that we are not alone. It is not much but it enough to help us through. This scene best exemplifies this idea.

There is one final aspect I wanted to touch on in this post. During the pro-miners campaign the original support group, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), have a bit of an internal schism over ideologies and politics. As members have a “private” disagreement in public, an older woman chimes in and basically says that she doesn’t care about what they want to do or say as long as they stop interrupting the BINGO game that is being played.

While intended for comedy, the point remains discuss, debate, and argue over the nuances of politics, social etiquette, responsibility, etc. but at the end of the day, you still need to actually do the work. As a former grad student (and possibly prospective), this was one of my biggest gripes of the classroom. There were a bunch of, usually, white, middle-class, twenty year olds arguing over the nuances of oppression and theory without ever actually doing anything (for the most part as there were a few that would actually join protest movements and such). In the end, talk is easy; work gets things done.

Sometimes, work even leads to large parades.

Sometimes, work even leads to large parades.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

Lessons From…The Drop

Finally saw a film I had been wanting to watch for some time this weekend; The Drop. Any movie with Tom Hardy or Noomi Rapace is going to peak my interest. Both of them together and I am pretty much guaranteed to watch it. I mean just watch this trailer.

Seriously, how could you not want to see that? Of course, I found a few points worthy of discussion during my viewing. As always SPOILERS ahead.

Okay there might be one spoiler ahead...

Okay there might be one spoiler ahead…

Alright, so just to get this out of the way, the dog/puppy lives. I know. I was worried about the dog’s fate initially since most media has taught me to fear happiness particularly when cute animals are concerned. Now, with that out of the way on to the major points of the film.

That's right boy, you live!

That’s right boy, you live!

The movie revolves around a bar that serves as a drop off for an organized crime family. Everything runs smoothly until the bar is robbed, and the two proprietors are told to find the stolen money. This is the major conflict of the film as both individuals are holding secrets from one another about their pasts and their ties to the robbery that has them on the line to a violent crime boss. The tension between the two primary characters, Bob and Cousin Marv, played by Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini respectively, is the driving force of the film as they want two distinct and opposing things.

Cousin Marv used to be a big player in his hometown of Boston, or so he thinks, until the Chechens take over. He then is relegated to nothing more than a middle man. Marv is very unhappy with these circumstances and is desperately trying to find some method of regaining prestige and favor whatever the consequences. Bob, on the other hand, merely wants to run a bar and keep his hands clean from the nastier, dirtier side of the business. He wants to live a simple, quiet life away from the necessity of violence of his past.

Two roads and souls diverged...

Two roads and souls diverged…

Unfortunately, Marv decides to rob his own bar, and the Chechens, to set himself up for the future. Bob suspects this and confronts Marv about his suspicions. Undeterred, Marv continues with his plan and everything is set. Marv is assassinated and Bob becomes indebted to the Chechens. Yet, both their conclusions seemed essentially fated due to their demeanor and personalities. One wanted to be known, feared, respected and the other wanted to be left alone. Sadly, neither individual was suited for their desires. Marv was never going to be a big shot and Bob was not meant to be a quiet bartender which is the ultimate moral and lesson of the film. As hard as they may try and fight no one can ever escape who they really are. Marv was a pathetic wannabe trying to rise far above his station and Bob could not suppress the intellect, strength, and beast that was buried within him.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

Lessons From…12 Angry Men

So had the opportunity to finally watch a piece of classic American cinema (thank you Netflix), 12 Angry Men. Amazingly, I had not seen this film before and as a self declared cinephile, I am slightly ashamed of that fact. But it was such a good movie. And not just for its time or place. Instead, it is a film that could, and probably will, stand the tests of time, space, and culture.

Above is just the trailer, but it is enough to give the general idea of the movie without ruining it for anyone; unlike many modern trailers. If you want to see the full movie, you can watch it here. A choice I highly recommend. I was thoroughly impressed with the film and of course tried to find a few choice nuggets to gleam off it. As always SPOILERS ahead.

I wonder how the 12 men would have judged this case...

I wonder how the 12 men would have judged this case…

The first thing that caught my attention about this extraordinary movie was its lack of pomp and circumstance. Seriously, I am trying to think of the last movie I saw, much less enjoyed, that was so simple and unassuming in its approach; even for a drama. There were no fancy cuts or secondary story lines or big movements at any point throughout this film. In fact, it was pretty much a single, small set. And the film could have used different sets like when the men are discussing the scene of the crime or the train or witnesses that spoke. Instead, we, the audience, are stuck with the jury in this single room with no distraction or chance of escape until the terminus. This is the first lesson: Simplicity is best, especially with great narrative, characters, and actors.

Really exceptional actors.

Really exceptional actors.

Bells and whistles are just that and ultimately and little to nothing. Basically, you can make a piece of shit look as nice as you want but at the end of the day, it is still a piece of shit. More importantly, the great artists work within their limitations to draw in an audience to a deeper connection and understanding of the work. (It is a technique used primarily in visual mediums)

In the film, the audience is stuck with the jury and never exits the limited space of the jury room. There are several opportunities where other actors/characters could be shown or new settings could be presented. However, that never happens. Instead, the audience feels the pressure mounting and the limited space of the room further encroaching. The emotional outburst and hot tempers are better understood as the audience experiences those same claustrophobic emotions and tensions; which brings us to the next lesson: Use your resources, no matter how limited, to their full potential.

The fan is a symbol or something...

The fan is a symbol or something…

There is a great scene that fully exemplifies this notion involving the fan. Throughout the film, the jury is suffering from the heat with their only relief (a fan) is seemingly broken. It however begins to miraculously work, thus providing relief from the unforgiving heat, only after the jury reaches a fifty-fifty split and the verdict begins to change. Not many movies pay attention to the little tricks anymore.

Beyond the film techniques, what caught me about 12 Angry Men was the content of the narrative. It deals with issues of racism, justice, duty, anger, immigration, and more universal issues that still plague us to this day. But what works about the film is that even for its time, it is never ham-fisted or overly preachy. Instead, it focuses on developing the characters and making the story play off their interactions and development. The issues the film discusses are not stories from a particular group or person but universal ideas that everyone deals with at some point, if not their entire lives. If you create, don’t create for a specific time or person or event. Instead make something with an emotion, idea, or concept you are trying to express. Those creations are the ones that touch people and remain with us for ages.

One of these is a racist and the other a considerate immigrant. Can you guess which is which?

One of these is a racist and the other a considerate immigrant. Can you guess which is which?

12 Angry Men was an exceptional film that demonstrates why, even in a visual medium, narrative matters most in storytelling and how certain themes and ideas will always be worth examining. While there have been many reimaginings and interpretations, this film is one of the best. I highly recommend you watch it.

Thus endeth today’s lesson(s).