By Anthony Manzi, February 12, 2014
The action film is defined by masculinity. It's a genre where hard muscles and big guns are the engine, and testosterone is the fuel. The genre has succeeded for decades with male audiences by staying true to a simple formula: men behaving manly in the face of lesser men in order to validate their own superior manliness. The heroes of the action film are the definition of the heterosexual man. They're fearless, taciturn, stoic, virile, and above all, deeply faithful to the masculine construct. The entire structure of the genre was built around this androcentric ideology. It's a genre created by men, for men, in celebration of men. Classic action films don't just reaffirm this ideology, they force it down the viewer's gaze, indoctrinating the values that heterosexual men are supposed to hold sacred. And yet, after seeing enough action films, an unintentional pattern begins to emerge, a pattern that is buried deep beneath the masculinity. It's a phenomenon that's inherent to the genre, yet antithetical to the genre's ideals. No matter how much the action film adheres to its established structure, the pattern is always present, tapping faintly in the distance like a persistent drip, waiting to be discovered. In 1991, a single pioneering action film was made that not only exposed the pattern, but pulled back the genre's curtain completely, revealing just how gay the action film really is.
By Jason Haggstrom, January 30, 2013
In my recent takedown of The King's Speech, I focused largely on director Tom Hooper's overbearing use of "short-siding" (i.e., framing a shot so a character looks and speaks towards the edge of the frame that they are most closely positioned rather than across the length of the frame to where their partner in conversation will appear after the next cut).
As with any artistic choice available to a director, short-siding is not inherently evil. But by making it the default mode of framing in The King's Speech, Hooper turned it into a mere gimmick—conspicuous, but never compelling. When used sparingly and with intelligence in a richly designed scene, the short-sided shot becomes a component to help convey apprehension and conflict. When used well, you may not even notice that short-siding was ever used at all.
Below are but two recent examples where short-siding was used by a director to great effect.
By Jason Haggstrom, December 31, 2012
Oh, lord. Here we go again. Somebody, please stop the ride. I think I'm going to throw up.
If you've spent anytime in a movie theatre over the last few months, you've no doubt been subjected to the trailer for the latest film adaptation of Les Misérables. Repeatedly. And although Anne Hathaway's vocal performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" that plays over the teaser is truly breathtaking (without a doubt the greatest "Holy shit!" moment I had at the movies this year), the images themselves are a canted, shaky, fish-eyed mess. The biggest question for me during this year's run of awards-contending films has not been "When will I find the time for all these movies?," but "Can I really stomach another Tom Hooper film, even if it is guaranteed to contain that performance?" I've never been to France, but if Hooper's vision of Les Misérables is to be believed, it's a place where visitors should always be on the lookout for the nearest handrail in order to avoid losing both their balance and their lunch.
By Jason Haggstrom, October 31, 2012
I admit it. Like so many millions, I am a Star Wars geek. Having been born right smack dab in the middle of the 1970s, it was pretty hard to not fall in love with the franchise in my formative years. My very earliest memories are populated by Luke Skywalker action figures, and toy versions of the most beautiful spaceships ever designed.
To say that the series had an impact on my life, and my love for cinema, would be a massive understatement. When my two young kids asked me to detail just how Chicken Run was made, I involved them in the creation of a short stop motion film starring R2-D2 so they could (hopefully) learn by doing. In anticipation of Revenge of the Sith, I composed a tongue-in-cheek limerick about Obi-Wan Kenobi where each of the six stanzas referred to one of the films. Just this past weekend, I attended a Halloween event at a military aircraft museum because I really wanted to get my taken with an amazing, fan-made replica of R2-D2 that was onsite (well, I also really wanted to see the planes...). And I didn't just go way out of my way to make it to each of the last three Star Wars films on opening night, my best friend actually flew across the country so that we could share in the experience together (both the excitement, and the disappointments). Yes, I am a Star Wars geek.
As both a Star Wars geek and a cinephile, my mind has been consumed by a single question since yesterday's announcement that Disney had bought Lucasfilm and would be producing a new trilogy of Star Wars films beginning in 2015. That question? With George Lucas (thankfully) out of the picture, who will be hired to direct? Here is my wish list:
By Jason Haggstrom, October 31, 2012
It's October, and with the changes of Autumn come fall colors. Between the descending leaves and the presence of pumpkins, we're accustomed to seeing plenty of orange and yellow at this time of year. But the Halloween season brings forth another, less natural combination of colors. It's a union of colors that resonates with me more than any other. It's that luscious pairing of purple & green.
I have the distinct memory of seeing Disney's Sleeping Beauty in the theatre as a kid. IMDb lists Sleeping Beauty as being re-released in September of 1979 (it's original run was in 1959), which would have made me 3½. Seeing that film for the first time, and in such a magnificent setting, was a formative experience.
By Jason Haggstrom, June 8, 2012
In the thirty years since its release, Alien has become a film of hot debate amongst film theorists. Academic analyses of the film draw attention to many differing themes that lead to feminist, Marxist, psychoanalytic, and other readings. But these theories exist in a vacuum of their own space, playing to each author's pet theories rather than looking to analyze the film from the screen and then out. Most critiques, academic and otherwise, ultimately conclude that Alien is a feminist film because of its representation of the workplace as a home to equality and a place where traditional gender roles have been obliterated. But there's something else lingering under the surface: fear. Not the fear of the devouring Alien, but a fear and anxiety of a future where the equalizing of the sexes might lead to the blending of sexual biology as well. What is ultimately revealed by Alien is the anxiety of men during the era of second-wave feminism in which the film was produced.
By Jason Haggstrom, March 31, 2012
I know what you're thinking. Last year for April Fools I doctored up the infamous joke ending of Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest in order to make it just a taaaad more obvious. Y'know, for the people that only felt the rush of wind as the original joke sailed right over their heads. So you might be expecting that this post will be a joke too, right? Well, here's the thing: last year was somewhat of an anomaly. I'm not really a big April Fools kinda guy. But just because this isn't an April Fool (hey, it's only March 31st!) that doesn't mean that this post won't have funny bits. And, yeah, I might even doctor up another video so stick around 'til the end.
By Jason Haggstrom, March 25, 2012
Frank Ockenfels 3 has once again produced a series of gorgeous character portraits ahead of AMC's new season of Mad Men. Like the portraits he did for season four, these images are dramatic works of art that capture some of the characters and themes from the show and its upcoming season. After a year and a half hiatus, it's nice to finally see these characters again. Below are some of my favorites.
By Jason Haggstrom, February 26, 2012
There's been a lot of buzz lately about The Artist, especially with tonight's Academy Awards looming. But the conversation hasn't just been about the merits of the film on the whole, but also about its appropriation of one of the most famous musical cues to ever be attached to a film. That piece would be Bernard Herrmann's "Scene d'Amour" from Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 masterpiece, Vertigo. Is its use in The Artist intended as a loving homage as The Artist's director, Michel Hazanavicius, claims? And if The Artist takes home an Oscar for Best Original Score, can we really say that at least some of the credit doesn't belong to the now-deceased Bernard Herrmann for the music he created for a different film entirely? [Update: The Artist just won for Best Original Score.]
By Jason Haggstrom, February 25, 2012
The films of Pixar are heavily populated with references to movies of the past, to the films most beloved by the studio's many writer/directors. Consider WALL-E's villainous robot AUTO whose devilish red-eye brings to mind ; or The Incredibles' hilarious Edna as a ; or even A Bug's Life whose entire plot—a defenseless village hires warriors to protect itself from bandits—is lifted right out of Seven Samurai. Most of these homages are created as comedy. They're cinematic in-jokes for the initiated, connections that simply make one smile. But Pixar's films are far greater than the sum of their homages. Most often they are great films, the kind that reveal hidden nuances with each additional viewing. Toy Story 2 is one such film.