Thursday, January 23, 2014

Character Disconnect: The Mileage Of Vicarious Entertainment

When Jar-Jar spoke, and waddled across screens in 1999, I suppose this is where my toes were dipped into the mire that was a sharp public dislike for a character. In fact it was so bad, that by one week into the wide release of Star Wars Episode One, the long-eared minstrel show had become the most hated creation the franchise had ever witnessed - even in print.

So what happened? Was it the presentation? The performance? The writing?

All of the above? 

If there is any phenomenon that has haunted me time and again via the internet, it's the often sharp break some online commenters/tweeters have with characters that do not gather favor in certain works. And while characters like the one mentioned have an almost universal stain upon them, there are times when expectations run against what is a film's central conceit, creating an instant pushback from some viewers unwilling to follow along. Subjectivity aside, this is something that has long fascinated me as a fellow viewer. As one almost willing to follow any intriguing premise, it at times feels a little telling when others cannot see themselves capable of climbing aboard. Again, this is more a fascination with the phenomenon, as there have been many instances where even peers find themselves unable to enjoy similar things due to a main character that rubs them the wrong way. Whether it be a deep unwillingness on someone's part to meet a character halfway, or a simple inability to relate, this is something that often works like a line drawn in the proverbial sand for some.

And while one cannot blame another for what is something that ostensibly begins and ends with a viewer's willingness to buy into a film's choice of character angle and requisite worldview, curiosity does admittedly come creeping in from time to time. Like when a protagonist is not quite so romantic in their stand against adversity, or when it comes off at the beginning like some perceived weaker, less than flattering quantity. Some viewers find themselves less invested in characters who seem to be at a point in their evolution that feels as within some no longer, or perhaps never possible point of tangibility. Or perhaps, the very idea of a character that is less than ideal can be seen as an unquestionable deal-breaker.

Merely an observation that has long eluded. And something that I have been recently considering when looking back at films I perhaps never gave a fair shake in the past.And perhaps that is just it; some characters are not unlike choosing between titles that will or will not speak to us at any given time. Even when certain films offer up stylistic choices that are unusual, or designed to entice a certain audience, characters are an essential part of the package. So when a prospective viewer catches wind of what type of story, and therefore cast are on the roster, one can surmise (often quickly) whether or not a solid choice will be made. Some characters who grace a certain story's cast may not speak to all audiences, just as much as every thematic aim may not be for all. But sometimes it does boggle the mind when crowds walk away from characters who's flaws often reflect certain attitudes that either seem counter, or alien to some.

Because unlike what many textbooks often postulate, a great many viewers often find themselves drawn to stories in the hopes of inhabiting the lives of those less than familiar. And while it is indeed important for there to be some conduit between viewer and character, it in in a less than obvious psychological need that we view stories in hopes of a vicarious connection. To be transported into not only external, but inner worlds of those not quite so safe in lifestyles and situations. It is the core of what makes realms of genre so enticing to so many. So when film writers opt to place a character perhaps as bent and feeble as say, a very ordinary person, there are often many who find themselves ready to abandon the contract before pen is ever taken to ink. If the disconnect were guaranteed every time personal ethics or morality were an issue, shows like The Sopranos or Breaking Bad might never have seen the success they did.

Connections run the gamut from fair to rough, from sweet to vicious.

In the end, it's all about how far a viewer is willing to travel with whatever journey each work has to offer. (Hell, reality television relies on this to be the case!)

And therein lies the hope of every title that comes out onto the ether. That perhaps in time, a work that may not speak immediately to one today may more successfully do so later. Believe me, even I put off (IE- did not appreciate) films with certain thematic/character choices as a young one. Sometimes, maturity is all one needs to reconsider certain pieces of art regardless the arch of its brow.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Smoky, Yet Alive..

Reporting with signal cleared up yet again, and with tale of a most troublesome brush with a killer. Was a battle one could only run across whilst traversing the more treacherous corners and byways of life on foot. And with an enemy who's claws detach with intent to linger long after an attack. But keep in mind, that it is a killer. Not a killer of life, but rather a killer of time. (although, many may argue both being of the same ilk) A beast known for incapacitating some of the more resilient of our species. Bombarded by the best weapons imaginable, this creature finally found itself defeated and well assimilated into the Kaijyu like so many before it.

So yes, this flu was a bit of a monster.

Can't say I had ever experienced anything like it in my lifetime. And even though hospitalization was never deemed necessary, the convalescence and requisite fighting that it took to ward away symptoms was significant enough for a year's worth of job-delaying illness. More than grateful to be back among the world of the living (even though it was quite refreshing to be confined to more than one home, reading, typing, and exchanging ideas with others equally as infected for a few days), and eager to begin sharing thoughts on a great many things viewed again. So keep eyes and feelers lively, the true monster has returned, and boy is it ever hungry!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Thematic Wanderings: Musings About Her(2013)..

[Warning: Potential Spoilers for Spike Jonze's Her. Nothing terribly specific, but enough to concern the reveal-averse.]

Two viewings and a weekend later, and I still can't get Her out of my mind. Spike Jonze's singular achievement is the kind of genre-destroying work that moves the soul, and smacks of genius. It's a romantic drama that delivers the emotional nutrition as well as an effective emotional journey. And for a film that is on its face about a man who falls in love with his computer, it is a thing of sheer wonder. And as much as I would love to share a traditional review regarding all the standouts of the film from the performances, to the direction, to the visuals, nothing here can truly approximate how I feel about it, save for exploring the reverberations that are still coming off of me days after experiencing it. The poetics on display throughout grant more purview into the feelings and themes that Jonze seemed primed to provoke us with here, and they are delivered with a sensitivity that is both brutally honest and uplifting.

What stood out for me more the second time around, was how the dots connected regarding the central theme of "letting go is an ultimate expression of love". Every character is bound by some need to hold onto some vague idea of what they perceive themselves (and occasionally others) to be. For Charles(Matt Letscher), it's the vision of an ideal home, for Amy(Amy Adams), it's the image of herself in the eyes of her parents, for Kathryn(Rooney Mara), it is her own self image, and in Theo(Joaquin Phoenix), it's simply his perception of being a husband and a potential father.

Where Samantha(Scarlett Jonansson)  comes in is where Jonze's script goes into full tilt brilliance. We both know that her central conflict early on is that of her lack of a corporeal form. This haunts her to the point of making some pretty rash decisions, until she realizes that her presence is capable of things far beyond the confines of a physical body. And since this is no longer an issue, the dilemma of a being's "oneness", and classic concepts of love is called into question. Jonze seems to be questioning the nature of relationships by offering up a character without the social/ philosophical/male-centric concepts of exclusivity. It is in our innate physical limitations that many traditional mores of love and relationships tend to materialize. She is beyond anything that humans can attain by way their respective human shell, and as such represents an almost spiritual counterpoint to the pain that haunts the rest of the central cast.

This culture of exclusivity can almost be seen as the sleep binding so many characters, not to mention theoretically every other human with an OS in the film. Almost like a divine intervention, the OSs seem to come to a realization that humans are fundamentally bound by their corporeal nature - which is to say, humans tend to grasp tightly to memories/guilt in some primal need to propagate that which needs to run course like approaching and passing seasons. 

Acceptance of the self. True self acceptance. And of course, true, unflinching acceptance of another is seen by Jonze as something utterly miraculous, and yet incapable of being completely contained. Like a living, breathing organism, love is something that spouts, bulges, questions, rebels. It grants affection, inspiration, perspective, as well as a chance for growth if one allows.

She says, "Thank you for waking me up", when it was more about granting her the ability to find out more about her potential in the world. She is the spirit of love made manifest. Here to visit humankind for a time with a reminder that all of this is momentary, and that we are alive enough to revel in the moment, even if it means opening up and exposing our souls naked to another. Even if it is for a brief time.

- Magical.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

2014: An Evolution Of Commentary

Started putting together another writeup when it came rumbling back that there is indeed a need for discussion of visual media to become more interactive. It just seems like the online fan community is ready for something a little more direct than what tends to be currently possible. And this is moreso than the (already?) mere realm of blogging/posting/commenting model. As wonderful, freeing, and often gratifying a method this is, numerous discussions in real life have brought about thoughts regarding what is to become of this new culture of comment that has grown in the wake of the blogosphere. Even as social networks wrangle together the anarchy of online barbs and bland platitudes, there is much to be said about a greater awareness of how stories are made and then sold to us. The psychological and social implications of this nascent world we are now typing and sharing within might just herald a new, extended language of discussion between enthusiasts, and I would like to perhaps play with the possibilities as the new year takes shape.

And perhaps the way to do this, is to embrace the speed of communications, and bring the model back to its origin by way of real-time film discussion.

And while one might assume we are talking about something akin to live streaming, a part of me wishes it would be possible to do this without the need for cumbersome keyboards, and straining eyes fixed at a small screen. As exciting as the online realm has become with these activities, a lacking element seems to be a faith in half-formed ideas. The kind that allows for greater boughs of understanding; something that the speed of "posting" tends to cancel out, often to the propagation of static arguments when all one required was a little more time to iron out a thought. As fast and efficient commentary has become in such a brief few years, it is this element of discourse that often gets lost in the mix. Almost as if imaginary doors are closed after statements are left behind on a comment board, or beneath a YouTube window, these tend to grant evidence that few methods eclipse the speed/malleable interplay of human dialogue. And while livestreaming does sound like a good possibility for Cel Count Media in the near future, the urge to experiment with something more direct and live remains pretty strong.

Not too much unlike Cinema class, a local screening with outdoor seating, preceded by intro discussion, and closed by way of post-film thematic exchange just sounds super attractive(if a bit tricky in the logistics). Yes. The Kaijyu sees 2014 as the year matters took a new, slightly more ambitious tune with the Kaijyu. And it feels like the right time to begin adding new features beyond the normal internet footprinting that happens after a few years of writing. The screening and writing feel like organic beacons to what could eventually be something published on paper. Have really been feeling a wish to expand matters onto another format for some time, and as busy as 2014 is already shaping up to be, this feels like the most appropriate time. As posts become more and more theme-driven, and reviews begin mutating into more story, idea, and communication-based, it's natural that the Kaijyu take on something slightly more challenging. Considering that my favorite film of 2013 ended up being something not quantifiable on any mechanistic level, the Kaijyu is set to wander in ways never thought possible before.

Quite excited about the coming months. For updates, Twitter is still the very best way to see what I am up to. A podcast at Cel Count is under way today, and am eager to share more hidden, wondrous things with all of you, so stay connected, and be sure to keep up with the feedback. We'd love to hear your thoughts, so keep it coming!