Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Anti-Critic Manifesto: The Flaw of Rating Systems

In a late night bout on Twitter I laid out over 21 posts the reasoning of why I call myself an Anti-Critic. I'm still looking for how best to cleanly put everything in words. Consider this a work in progress.

I take as self-evident that the viewing experience of any film is subjective.

Anything from mood to filmic knowledge effects how a movie is perceived. Expectation plays perhaps the biggest role. The woman suing the maker's of critically acclaimed 'Drive' is a perfect example.

Any rating system is a representation of a person's experience of a film. A rating effectively represents a person's emotional viewing experience as concrete mathematical data. This is fine if there is an accompanying context supplied, but these numbers are effectively meaningless on their own. What a 7/10 means to one person is entire different to another because in a very real way everyone is judging on a different scale and in the context of their own unique live experience. As such data collected and represented without context is fundamentally untrustworthy. Worse, rather than simply reflecting the mass trends of opinion and experience this can actually shape it. "You actually LIKED 'Transformer 2'?! What kind of idiot are you?" "What do you mean you hated 'Citizen Kane'? That's the greatest movie ever made!"

If objectivity can't be found through the collected opinions of the masses it must be found on the individual level, but in order to do that it must be acknowledged that all opinions are weighted equally. That a trained eye is judging a film on different criteria than that of an untrained eye, but that both are equally validity.

By extension the weighing of opinion is weighted with every person's opinion being exactly '1'; that is that the opinion of one person is valid exclusively to that person. Those opinions may resonate with many others, but they will never be exactly the same.

The furthest extension of the equal weight concept is that the later opinions of someone don't invalidate an earlier opinion.

The downside of this is a limitation of the reach and validity of a rating. That rating effectively only applies to the person giving the rating as it's a representation only of their own emotional viewing experience and will never translate perfectly to someone else's. So to reach a sort of universally valid 'truth', a new kind of approach needs to be employed. An approach that is unaffected by the personal opinion of the person using said approach. And it certainly is possible; to say "This movie sucks!" is very different than to say "I didn't like this movie!"*. Finding that approach was the goal of the TCAC undertaking.

And that, my friends, is why I'm called the Anti-Critic.

*For those curious, "This movie sucks!" ties in opinion into a judgement of quality where "I didn't like this movie!" is an acknowledgement of the person's subjective view point; it still allows for the seeming contradiction that said movie may well be the most finely crafted in history.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

FORMSPRING: UNDER-RATED ACTOR

Another day, another post. I'm entertained! Are you? I hope so.

Oh, and the very prolific Joshua the Anarchist has a blog you should check out: http://joshuatheanarchist.blogspot.com/. He's been a big supporter of Trenchcoat projects, and none of the Formspring entries from this last week would be here without his questions.


JOSHUATHEANARCHIST asked: In your opinion, who's the most under-rated actor?

My first instinct would be Bruce Campbell.

Through Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness he became a massive cult icon. Since then, though, he’s been restricted to television, b-movies, and cameos. The problem with Campbell is that he’s neither starred in any truly good movies since Army nor has he, and here’s the big kicker, really stood out in the non-Ash roles he’s had. Voice acting excluded, I’ve never seen past BRUCE CAMPBELL in the role.

It really leads me to believe that I don’t want to see Bruce Campbell in more on-screen roles, I want to see Bruce Campbell as Ash as directed by Sam Raimi in more on-screen roles.

And I might’ve gone for Kristen Stewart for her underplayed role as Bella but despite massive amount of hate she’s received, it’s hard to call Kristen Stewart under-appreciated with the career she’s having.

Eh, screw it; These are the actors I want to see more of:
-Fred Ward because he’s basically Charles Bronson with a sense of humor.
-Paul Sorvino because he’s god-damned Paul Sorvino.
-Ted Raimi because it makes me smile just to look at him.
-Any actor who’s ever played ‘Q’ because whether Trek or Bond I can’t think of any actor in a ‘Q’ role ever being less than awesome.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

FORMSPRING: SADDEST MOVIE?

Ever cry after waking up? Is that residual sadness from having left a happy place? Is it a little of your soul leaking out of your eyes? Or am I just grasping at straws here a bit?

Yeah, probably that last one.

Here's Josh again with the third of the four questions he asked.

JOSHUATHEANARCHIST asked - What movie made you cry the hardest?
I get emotionally invested in some of the weirdest films. Motion pictures that would be greeted with dismissal or scorn by the majority of my peers will sometimes tug at my heartstrings. 'Freddy Got Fingered' I can least account for.

Forget "You had me at 'Hello'.", I actually got a lump in my throat over "All I want to do is suck your cock!". Ironic, of course, because that particular scene was intended as mockery of those types of moments.

Hey, I didn't say I could explain it.

But as far as the most emotionally devastating, I’ll have to go with a documentary by the name of 'Dear Zachary: A Letter to a son About his Father'.

'Dear Zachary' is set up as a video account to the son about his father who was killed before Zachary was born. Here’s the kicker, though; the prime suspect in the murder is the man’s fiance. Worse still, the man’s parents are put in the position of having to keep a civil relationship with the woman who most likely killed their only son in order to have a presence in their grandchild’s life.

It’s a documentary with no pretense of objectivity; the film is by a childhood friend of the victim who used the process of making the film to work through his grief. Despite that, the final impression is one of optimism.

So yeah... my knees nearly buckled out from under me while watching this film.

Oh, and unlike 'Freddy Got Fingered', this is a film I'd actually recommend. Highly.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

FORMSPRING: DREAM CROSSOVER?

Ladies and gentlemen, the continuing misappropriation of the Formspring medium as an excuse to write impromptu articles about subjects which already interest me! Trust me, it's not as pretentious as it sounds.

JOSHUATHEANARCHIST asked -
What is your dream crossover?


Crossovers are hard to do right even assuming the right intellectual properties. There have been some brilliant examples of successful crossovers to be sure, but it’s always a balancing act. So first let's look at three examples of crossovers which I consider to be successful and why they work.

CROSSOVER SUCCESS STORY #1 – FREDDY VS. JASON
Because of the significance of these respective franchises and their respective roles in 1980’s Slasher-Horror, it seems like a no-brainer to do a cross-over between these two characters, but this was a project that languished for over a decade in development hell. The biggest challenge, of course, was how in the holy f*ck do you get an undead mindless killing machine and a non-physical child killer together in the same movie... and make it feel like a natural addition to both series?!

The solution was quite eloquent: symmetry through fear imagery. Freddy’s afraid of fire, the writers figure, because he burned to death. Jason of water. After that they simply structured the film around three fights between Freddy and Jason (one in the dream realm, one with Freddy possessing someone, and the final with Freddy manifested in the real world). Suddenly they had a solid little movie that worked as a gloriously sleazy tribute to both franchises.

CROSSOVER SUCCESS STORY #2 – SEVEN-PER-CENT SOLUTION
Sigmund Freud meets Sherlock Holmes. The idea is so ludicrously awesome. It shouldn’t gel together, but it does. Again the question; how can these two seemingly contradictive powerhouses of deductive reasoning, one of criminology and one of the mind, be placed into the same world?

The crazy glue that joined these two was cocaine. The increasingly neurotic and paranoid master detective was addicted. Unlike today, Cocaine in the late 1800s was thought of as no more harmful than Asprin and there actually are references in the Doyle stories of Mr. Holmes indulging in the substance. For the purposes of the story Freud opposed the drug and comes to treat Holmes in the story.

And it wouldn’t be a proper Sherlock Holmes yarn without a mystery; that mystery becomes a part of the good doctor’s treatment.

As a side note; the author also has writing credits on Star Trek II and VI, considered the best of the film series and my personal favourites as well.

CROSSOVER SUCCESS STORY #3 – BATMAN: DEAD END
And finally a fan-made film from a few years ago which features a crossover between Batman and the Predator franchise (with touches of Alien thrown in for good measure). This time there’s little attempt to give story to bridge the two characters and franchises (Why are there Xenomorphs in Gotham? How did they get there?); the film just faces Batman against a Predator. This approach can only work in a short film, but it absolutely works.

Going into it further, Predators have been characterized as being a warlike race which respected the strength of a warrior above all else. Batman certainly fits that warrior bill, so I guess even in something like this there needs to be some kind of logical connection underlying the crossover.

The tone, the story, the worlds and continuities need to be able to mesh cleanly as well. The narrative after all needs to feel like the perfect balance between the two universes. David Suzuki and Jane Goodall would work more cleanly in a fictionalized story more cleanly for this reason than Tarzan and John Lennon.

But enough stalling; my ideal crossover would be Hannibal the Cannibal and Austin Powers!

...Well, it's better than 'Sherlock Holmes meets Jurassic Park'.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

FORMSPRING: FAVORITE SPACE OPERA?

Hey all! Trenchie here again with something different. I'll be re-posting the better responses from my Formspring account here. The goal is to post a new response every couple of days. Let me know what you think!

JOSHUATHEANARCHIST asked - What's your favorite space opera?
That's a very narrow genre with not a lot of entries to draw from. Less than that even as I'd contest many of those labeled as such. Even Star Trek doesn't really fit until some of the later series. And the reverse is true of Star Wars' later-day Prequel Trilogy, which it could be argued are closer to Political Thrillers than Space Operas.

But even then, there's some excellent examples to be found. I'll freely admit to a soft spot for Titan A.E., and both Wrath of Kahn and Undiscovered Country are damn good movies by any standard.

In the end though, I'm going to have to come back to Star Wars. It's easy to forget in the current climate of Lucas-hate just how much the original film and the two which followed changed the cinematic game. The editing choice in New Hope to craft around the rhythm of the story rather than to match pace with the actors' performances is a style which still informs editing choices on modern spectacle pieces. The sound design by Ben Burtt pushed the idea that sound should be as important as the visuals (not the first and not the only, but absolutely among the movement's key players). John Williams' score set a precedent still followed today. The special effects and merchandising too changed their respective disciplines.

In a very real way modern American moviemaking as we recognize it started with Star Wars. Watching with an eye to all that, it's absolutely breathtaking to see the mastery of craft present in those films.

I can't honestly say the same about any other Space Opera.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

This Post Could Get Me Arrested

Recently an American was arrested at the Canadian border on charges of possession of child pornography. Now, in no uncertain words, the sexual exploitation of any child is despicable. I have no sympathy with peddlers of child pornography and less for those who participate in it's creation.

But this is different.

The child pornography in question was a digital copy of an undisclosed Manga (Japanese comic book).

And let's make this perfectly clear, the material in his possession is legal under the laws of the man's home country. This is because of the definition of child pornography differs between our two countries.

In the States child pornography is defined as being the product and record of child abuse. By definition the material can only involve real children because an artistic rendering of fictional characters, no matter how explicit, has no underlying crime or victims.

In Canada child pornography is defined as being the depiction of nudity or sexuality in anyone under 18 years of age. This depiction can be in any form whether it be photograph, painting, or illustration. Conceivably even ASCII art under theoretical extremes.

So, oh country of mine, how far does this go?

One of the seminal pieces of graphic literature in the 20th century is the Sandman series. The character of Delirium is depicted as being grade school age and often wears clothes that expose her bare chest. Is that considered child pornography?

Osamu Tezuka's Ode To Kirihito, widely considered to be the first medical thriller in manga and certainly influential, is filled with explicit female nudity. Because of the artistic style and because age often is not mentioned, someone could easily identify the illustrations as being of minors.

Oh, but let's go further, what about nude baby pictures? Illustrated medical books? Sex Education highschool textbooks?

But I think the above examples are going to be pretty safe. Let's step towards the grey area, shall we?

Let's look at Lost Girls.

Alan Moore is basically THE creative powerhouse in the world of graphic literature. Chances are that if you're even a passive fan of graphic novels, you're aware of his name and his impact on the medium.

Lost Girls is something Mr. Moore himself describes as being pornography. To be clear however, his stated intent in defining the work in such a way is not to belittle the content but to elevate what adult material can be. For those not aware, the story of Lost Girls follows Dorothy Gale, Wendy Darling and Alice meeting and sharing the sexual exploits of their younger (most certainly underage) years in retellings of their respective familiar tales.

The work contrasts their sexual exploits with the growing violence of the oncoming first world war. Much like Lady Chatterly's Lover, which set a passionate affair between an upper class married woman and a servant against a backdrop of class struggles, Lost Girls has a much richer thematic tapestry than it's plot summary would suggest.

To say that such a work has no literary value is absurd, yet I've little doubt this book would fall under Canada's definition of child pornography.

The reality is that sexuallity isn't something that just switches on at eighteen. And a person's sexual awakening is usually one of the most powerful and profound events in their lives. A first lover may stay in your mind longer than any other. The first dance, the first kiss, the first moment of shared intimacy; these are rites of passage that resonate with everyone regardless of ethicity or background. And often it's against the background of those profoundly affecting events that the strongest stories are told.

It's for that very reason that this report disturbs me.

If as a society we're unwilling to tolerate exploration of something so fundamentally human in art and graphic storytelling, then what does that say about us?

Yes, Japan is known for some pretty messed up stuff particularly in the depiction of sexuality. Yet, ironically, images of explicit sexual activities and frontal nudity were banned well into the 1980s. And rather than leading an increase, a late 1990s study found a marked decrease in sex crime across all demographics since the that ban was lifted. To quote: It is certainly clear from our data and analysis that a massive increase in available pornography in Japan has been correlated with a dramatic decrease in sexual crimes and most so among youngsters as ... victims.

But there's more at stake here, I think; if we're not willing to take a stand for the freedom of artistic expression when it challenges something we may not agree with then what right do we have to do so when it happens to be something that DOES matter to us?

Until next time, I'm the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic... and I need a shower after this.

ONE FINAL THOUGHT
In most of North America the legal age of consent is 16. Two teenagers can legally get together and screw each other's brains out on their sweet sixteen party, but God help that same couple if they engage in 'sexting'; even between a legally consenting couple, possessing a photo of a lover's exposed underage breast is a felony.

ILLUSTRATION BY BETH WAGNER

Saturday, June 18, 2011

An Interview

I'm working on something kind of cool that's eating up my time right now, so no new article this week. Instead, well, somebody interviewed me! If you follow the facebook page, this'll be nothing new, but for those who don't; enjoy!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Spoon Feeding Canadian Nationality

ON CANADIAN CINEMA
I love films. There's little I enjoy more than curling up with a decent movie and spending an evening swept away by a film-maker's skillful execution of a story. Very frequently I'll find myself on the opposite side of popular opinion on a movie (particularly genre entries, for some reason).

The much maligned Freddy's Dead is among my favorites of the series. Up there too is Aliens Vs. Predator. Extreme examples, of course, but I stand by them.

And conversely there are a few things which irritate me to no end that go by unnoticed by most others.

Chief among these is something I'm going to call Mandated Nationality. I won't be so conceited as to say this only happens in Canada, but it's the occurrences in Canadian productions which irk me.

Mandated Nationality happens when a Canadian film's financing depends on government grants. See, in order to qualify for these Grants, productions need to prove how Canadian they are. Influence from this ranges from requiring a percentage of key positions being Canadian to the numbers of Canadian flags needing to appear.

In the States, the process to make a movie goes like this: a producer pitches a story to people with money and convinces them to invest based on the strength of that story. It could be about a Tibeten spiritual leader, or an Indian revolutionary, or even a Russian submarine and it'd have a genuine chance of selling.*

I understand it. Honest.

Films from Canada have to compete directly with films from Hollywood. Add to the mix our lower budgets, smaller population, and shared language and it's little wonder the vast majority of Canadian films don't even break even, let alone make a profit.

So with profit realistically taken out of the equation, the motivation for funding films for organizations becomes about 'preserving cultural identity'. Or 'exploring the Canadian experience'. That translates to ensuring the stories that are told are Canadian stories; often filled to the gills with Canadian iconography.

But here's the thing; Canadians aren't interested in CANADIAN stories, they're interested in HUMAN stories.

Time for examples.

CASE STUDY - 'BON COP, BAD COP'
The idea of having a Quebec cop and an Ontario cop forced to work together is actually a clever idea. The situation is both uniquely Canadian, yet stems from human interaction. It allows the film to have a lot of interesting undercurrents related to the political and social differences between English and French Canadian cultures.

But then... the villain.

For those who haven't seen this film I'm not going to spoil it, but the villain and much of the plot revolves around something so ridiculous that it could only have come out of a bunch of people going "How can we make this movie about Ontario and Quebec detectives MORE Canadian?".

An otherwise fun film.

CASE STUDY - 'SCORE'
Hockey. The Musical. Ugh...

Bubble gum songs (with no lyricist) and a plot straight out of the 1950's musical era. This seems more of a joke of what a Canadian musical would be than a real movie, but it's played straight.

This is the only film on this list I have not seen.

CASE STUDY - 'ONE WEEK'
This is a story about a man who goes on a road trip across the country after learning he had cancer and the lives he touches on his journey.

Well, in theory.

The issue I have with this film, directed by Michael McGowan (who was also behind Score), is that the character arc doesn't ring true to me. Ultimately he's running away from his problems, and beyond deciding to undergo treatment he doesn't fundamentally change.

A better way to put it is that the whole story feels shoe-horned in as an excuse to show as many Canadian landmarks as possible. And what qualifies as a Canadian landmark? A really big chair, some statues and the Stanley Cup. It doesn't really compare with Mount Rushmore as far as iconography goes.

This movie too I'll admit to being overly harsh on. The whole thing is scored with some great tunes, it's inventive, and the narration is reminiscent of Pushing Daisies or Amalie. It is actually really enjoyable.

None of that changes how much it pisses me off, of course.

CLOSING THOUGHTS
The truly ironic thing is that these movies make such an effort to be Canadian that they end up representing little more than a steriotype of the country; they offer empty platitudes rather than saying anything new or meaningful about the Canadian experience.

It's not like movies about Canadians can't be good. Both Shake Hands With The Devil and Scott Pilgrim trump any doubts about either the variety or quality potential of our stories.

And Canadian films don't consist exclusively of Bureaucratic compromizes. Despite the hurdles, the Canadian arthouse scene is actually considered one of the most exciting in the world right now. Directors like Atom Egoyan, Guy Madden, and Deepa Metha are continuing to win near universal accolades.

And the mainstream is certainly not without quality productions, either. Films like Suck, Pachendale, and A Simple Curve are proof enough of that.

In other words, it can be done.

Until next time, I'm the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic.

NOTE: It needs to be mentioned that this article is strictly refering to English speaking Canada. Quebec has a thriving and self-contained film industry. That's a topic for another day.

*Kundun, Gandhi, and K19: The Widowmaker respectively.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Westboro Babtist Church

At this point, I think everyone is at least somewhat familiar with the controversial Westboro Babtist Church. For those who don't know them by name, you know those people holding multiple billboards reading "GOD HATES FAGS" and "THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS"? Them.

According to wikipedia the church, which is very small I might add, spents upwards of $200,000 on travel expences in their cross-continent protesting quest at the highest profile events they can muster.

Honestly, I have a grudging respect for how effective they are at viral marketting. They've gotten millions of dollars of 'free' exposure on the news, had multiple high-profile documentaries made about them, and have become a household name to many lgbt rights activists.

The church, though it qualifies as a non-profit organization under US law, has landed on several lists of known hate organizations.

Which makes it all the more surprising when little over a week ago the Knights of the Southern Cross, a Virginian chapter of the notorious Klu Klux Klan, showed up to counter-protest the WBC's latest attention grab at the funeral of a US soldier. The organizer of the KKK's presence, a veteran himself, felt the WBC's protests at soldier funerals were deeply disrespectful.

More surprising is that the Westboro Babtist Church, which has labeled Barack Obama the Anti-Christ and have compared jewish people en mass to Nazis, claim to have nothing against people of other race. In fact, the churches founder, Fred Phelps, reportedly was involved in the civil rights movement of the '60s.

Remember when it was easy to tell who the bad guys were?

Until next time, I'm the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thoughts and Musings on a Post-Apocalyptic Japan

This is the first real post I've made since the tragic events in Japan. It seems like something straight out of a joke George Carlin once made about disasters: "I always hope... (the disaster) will grow into bigger and bigger proportions and get completely out of control.". Japan's record breaking earthquake created a massive tsunami and let directly to what may just be the worst nuclear meltdown in history. Not to mention the misinformation and corruption accusations.

There's cruel irony that all this is happening to a country that not only had the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but whose cinema seems to come back again and again to the destruction of society.

They created Godzilla, a creature created in nuclear tests. Godzilla, even in the incarnations where he's on humanity's side, never fails to levels cities on his every visit. The King of the Monsters is far from the only monster, of course. From Kaiju to Sentai there are entire genres centered around forces destroying Japan.

Not to mention that seemingly a third of all anime takes place after a good part of the world has been destroyed and rebuilt. Akira. Neon Genesis Evangelion. Wolf's Rain. You could probably list a dozen more without breaking a sweat.

Those repeated themes are no coincidence. Japan fought the second world war on the losing side. The aftermath of which saw the existing Japanese culture shaken to it's core. They rebuilt from the ground up.

That sounds pretty post-apocalyptic to me.

Compare that to the United States, whose cinema frequently employs stories of the common man triumphing against great adversity. This in a country that earned its independence in a hard won victory against the better equipped and more experienced British army.

Repeated themes and motifs in a culture's film and art is not unique to Japan or America, of course. Spain's cinema frequently has death playing a large role in people's lives, and not in a negative way. Canada's films frequently explore the nature of communication. Many Russian filmmakers contrast restraint against chaos, echoing the aftermath of Communism.

I'm simplifying, but the fact remains that massive cultural events shape cinema and art. It's one of the ways people can digest and process cultural shifts. And Japan is in the midst of one hell of a cultural shift right now.

There's nothing that should belittle the challenges ahead for the people of Japan, but this will pass. And once the dust settles, it'll be time for the artists and filmmakers of the country to explore the meaning of life in the new Japan.

The Carlin-joke disaster is coming to it's conclusion, finally. Soon comes the time for Japan to rebuild again. What shape will it be, this time? What shape will it's art take?

My prayers to those still suffering in Japan. My thoughts to the future.

Until next time, I'm the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic.

UPDATE: This is Long Overdue

I have been, frankly, irresponsible with this blog. My intent was always was to use this as a place where I could share my thoughts and musings on film, not to have it sit idle for months at a time. And not just as a place to post the videos I do. It's not fair to anyone who took the time to subscribe.

The Trenchcoat video series has been on a bit of a hiatus since September while I worked on revamping it, but that has seen delay after delay and is actually going to be further delayed until August due to the loss of the location.

I have tried to continue to be active on facebook and twitter, but that doesn't excuse the lack of activity here.

Recently I joined the modern age with a Blackberry. With it I've found I've been using social networking more, and, as a result, I've been finding I again have things to express about film. But neither Facebook nor Twitter was made for waxing philosophical. Though I may continue to use both as a scrapbook for ideas, this will be where they should be fully-formed.

So I'm going to try this again.

Most future entries will be via Blackberry, which means shorter and with fewer pictures, but it should also mean more frequent. So fingers crossed.

Until next time, I'm the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Trenchcoat Anti-Critic Presents: Riverdale Behind the Scenes - Day One

Hey guys! I had the chance to get on set of a massively popular viral video, Riverdale (a mock trailer). More videos coming soon from that, but for the time being I'm proud to present to you guys the behind the scenes of this great video!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

KITCHEN LOGIC: Integrity

Ladies and gentlemen, a little something I've been working on for a while.



KITCHEN LOGIC (kich-uhn law-jick)
definition

1. That moment when you're preparing dinner and you suddenly realize that Indiana Jones could never have survived falling out of a plane in an inflatable dingy.

2. The podcast where high brow meets anarchy.

This Episode's Hosts:
-Kyle Kallgren
-Joshua Bell
-BD MacDonald

With Very Special Thanks to:
-Karen Demsko for additional voice work
-Gustavo Rodriguez for generously supplying music