Bleeder: Inspirations

(To check out my previous essay on the works of Nicolas Winding Refn click here: Pusher or Drive)

By 1999, the Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn had made a name for himself. His 1996 film, Pusher, was a worldwide success that catapulted him into the international arena, along with actors Mads Mikkelson and Kim Bodnia. As the first Danish gangster film it was an oddity, as an homage to American gangster films and American cinematic culture it was instantly popular in the U.S., one of the world’s largest film markets. As a first time feature made on shoe-string budget, the methods of its creation tied it in closely to the Danish Dogme 95 movement created by Danish film giants Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. Refn was on his way to becoming one amongst a small group of well-respected, profitable Danish filmmakers.

Although unarguably a great film, it was a concatenation of factors that led to Pusher becoming the phenomenon it was. So when Refn released Bleeder in 1999, his burgeoning public expected something like his first film. Another gangster picture. What they got was anything but. A film about a man bottling up his anger whilst living his own version of hell. A man pushed to the brink not by crime, but by domesticity and poverty and hopelessness. Needless to say, he lost some fans (although he certainly gained some in the process). But the film did poorly in the box office, as would his next picture, thereafter prompting Refn to later direct two sequels to Pusher to stay financially viable within the market.

Bleeder opens with a five vignettes of five of the six principal characters. They walk one by one down the street, their clothes, their aspect, their facade, and most importantly, the music accompanying each figure, all working together to provide quick characterization for each person. Lenny (Mikkelson) and glam, Leo (Bodnia) and punk (a cover of the Dead Boy’s Sonic Reducer), Louise and euro-pop, Louis and metal, and Lea and atmospheric music with a vaguely roots demeanor. Next we find the handheld camera panning and climbing and moving quickly throughout a VHS rental store over rows and rows of classic films and pornography, all to the soundtrack of a classical piece.

The unique use of music continues throughout the film alongside its pared down shooting style akin to the first film. In 1996, Lars von Trier released one of his highest acclaimed pictures to date in Breaking the Waves. That film used an exclusively glam soundtrack that heightened the emotions of moments in the film as well as showing the world von Trier’s musical interests within the context of an art film all in the attempt to continue the canonization of that musical period as classic and must-listen. And classic it is. In 1997, American filmmaker and proponent of the Dogme 95 movement, Harmony Korine, directed Gummo. His unique use of existing music paralleled von Trier’s approach on Breaking the Waves, but his eclecticism ran the gambit from roots music to heavy metal to ambient music and on and on. This move within the Dogme 95 movement to using existing music was a way to give power to auteurs who may not have the money to hire a composer for their soundtracks, and von Trier’s genre-focus and Korine’s eclecticism showcased their own specific interests in a way that made their films more personal. Likewise, Refn’s use of music reflects his own musical interests and showcases another way in which his work is influenced by the Dogme 95 movement.

However, Bleeder is an even more personal vision than either of those two films because of another important element: his depiction of the cinephile. Refn is, as are most great filmmakers in the modern period, a rabid filmgoer. We can see this in Pusher as Frank’s room is littered with movie posters of Taxi Driver, Scarface, and Bruce Lee, and he has a huge collection of VHS tapes as well. The influence of Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and The French Connection are obvious there as well as his interest in the French New Wave’s unique, inspired use of older film noir conventions in new, experimental ways. In Bleeder, he has Mads Mikkelson play Lenny, an cinephile who works at the local VHS rental store. After the film’s opening shots of endless beautiful vistas of rows upon rows of films in a library of shelves, a customer enters the store and asks Lenny if he can find him a particular kind of film. Lenny then begins to list off all of the genres that are represented on the lower-level of the store, your basic material.

He then tells the man that the director works are on the second floor and begins to list them all (an impressive acting feat of memorization). Because these directors are important inspirations for Refn, or at the very least among his top 100 filmmakers, I believe it to be instructive to list them all here too:

Fritz Lang, Sergio Leone, Martin Scorsese, Sergio Corbucci, George Romero, Lucio Fulci, Sam Peckinpah, Jean Rollin, Jacques Tourneur, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Jack Hill, Richard Fleischer, Werner Herzog, Paul Morrissey,  Ed Wood, John Waters, Seijun Suzuki, Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini, Alfred Hitchcock, Don Siegel, David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Bill Lustig, Ib Melchior, Orson Welles, Ishiro Honda, John Woo, Jackie Chan, Russ Meyer, Abel Ferrara, Joe D’Amato, Terrence Fisher, Tobe Hooper, H. G. Lewis, Umberto Lenzi, Quentin Tarantino, Akira Kurosawa, Franco Rossi, Roger Corman, Larry Cohen, Ruggero Deodato, Mario Bava, Jack Arnold, James Whale, David Lean, Frank Capra, Gillo Pontecorvo, Andrei Tarkovsky, Fred Zinnemann, Andrzej Wajda, Ettore Scola, Luchino Visconti, John Cassavettes, John Huston, Anthony Mann, Jean-Luc Godard, Howard Hawks, Francois Truffaut, Robert Wise, Jean-Pierre Melville, Lars von Trier, F. W. Murnau, Lindsay Anderson, Gianni Amelio, Elia Kazan, and Luis Bunuel.

Although well-versed in the works of what are considered to be classical filmmakers and the most powerful arthouse auteurs, Refn betrays a deep interest in horror films, and especially Italian ones, plus a foundation in the blacksploitation, the western, and sci-fi movies as well. Many of these directors are considered B-movie directors who worked within pulp genres. This list, though spoken offhand, shows why Refn is so popular today. In a postmodern age, the difference between high and low; between classic and dramatic and powerful and important and the other side which is pulp and fantasy and melodrama and secondary; in both literature and in film is a demarcation that has been totally dissolved. There are more great works of erotic fiction, horror, crime and murder mystery, and science fiction in the last fifty years than great works of dramatic fiction within a traditional paradigm. This shift allows Refn to use the crime genre and the horror genres to such great effect in Pusher and the Neon Demon, and to use elements of both in parts of Bleeder, and all without losing the audience. He is able to weave in new generic elements to create unique, novel stories and approaches to dramatic plots, but is reinforced with his knowledge of the old dramatic structures.

This fusion of high and low art to breathe life into auteur, arthouse cinema was much-needed in the 1990s with two decades of the blockbuster and the death of auteur cinema in the states and much of the world’s markets. And Refn’s ultra-reflexivity in depicting the cinephile in a film, plus his high referential qualities, all made his work work within a postmodern paradigm for our modern age. And Bleeder is a great example of how, in his early career, he brought all of these elements together to create a powerful new auteur package to present to audiences worldwide.

 

Cody Ward

[Next up: My second essay on Bleeder]

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Now Apocalymon (Digimon Adventure Episode 53)

(If you missed it, check out the previous essay HERE. To go back to the beginning of this series click HERE)

As Spiral Mountain dissolves after the defeat of its last Dark Master, Piedmon, the Digidestined begin falling downward as well. The terrain loses its aspect and becomes more and more alien and before too long, they are suspended in mid-air in what looks like the vacuum of space. Gennai appears once again on Izzy’s laptop and tells the group about a series of ancient runes he has recently discovered. They recount “a time long ago when a strange being appeared from behind the Wall of Fire and was angry.” It’s existence warped space and time and threatened the total collapse of the Digital World.

The original five Digidestined were summoned to defeat the evil and in the brink of time they succeeded, but not in destroying the greatest evil behind the Wall of Fire. During this scene, we see a flashback to a forgotten memory of the original five Digidestined in shadow who look, some obviously and others vaguely, like Tai, T.K., Sora, Izzy, and Matt. Then their shadowed DigiEggs hatch and reveal Digimon that appear to be Agumon, Patamon, Biyomon, Tentomon, and Gabumon. Although now, we as spectators and fans of the series know more about these original five Digidestined through events recounted in Digimon Adventure Tri, it is interesting to muse on what the show’s original creators had in mind for these characters and their initial backstories. Are Tai, T.K., Sora, Izzy, and Matt just clones of the original Digidestined? Is it just a coincidence based on lack of animating resources or laziness from the show’s creators who thought that viewers wouldn’t notice? Who could we even ask about it that might have a clue or a strong memory about the decision more than twenty years later?

Anyway, the runes also foretold of a great darkness that would blanket the Digital World and seems to be much like the spatial void the Digidestined are currently experiencing. Although the beast is symbolized by this vast eternal space, it also has a physical form. The Digidestined hear moaning in all directions and then a gargantuan Polyhedron appears before them and opens outward on all sides, revealing chain-blade weapons and the top half of a humanoid Digimon at the Polyhedron’s top.

The being reveals itself to be Apocalymon, a mutant Digimon whose Darkness Zone attack turns all things in its reach in pure Nothingness. This Nothingness philosophically symbolizes the wellspring of Being from which all beings ultimately rise forth and finally return to upon death. As the bringer of the void of Being from which children are born and the elderly return to as one returns home after a long journey, Apocalymon is something of a prophet of Nothingness, the Existential God of Martin Heidegger’s paradigm.

Every time that Digimon Digivolve into higher forms, there is a chance that their Digivolution process will fail and they will cease to exist. Further, a Digivolution failed in this manner may make that Digivolution chain “extinct” or inaccessible forever. The lost energy of these Digimon and these processes is registered in the void as pain, anguish, misery, ineptitude, weakness, and ultimately nothingness. Apocalymon is a Digimon formed by these failings who has harnessed their energy, but not by his own volition (he would choose nothingness and suicide before having to undergo any more pain), rather he gains their energy through some natural law of the Digital World. And although he is a being who has never experienced anything more than pain and anguish and misery, he really wants to shine and have fun but is constitutionally unable, as part of the facticity of his state of being. In other words, why does everyone else get the pizza when he gets the crusts!

His claws manifest the skills of the Dark Masters one by one. MetalSeadramon’s River of Power, Myotismon’s Crimson Lightning, and Mahinedramon’s Giga Cannon. He then captures the Digidestined Digimon and uses a reverse Digivolution power that reverts them all back to their Rookie forms (minus Gatomon who always returns to this Champion level form). His Death Claw attack then captures all of the Digimon and the Digidestined and destroys them, rending them apart and turning them into bits of data. In the process, their Crests are destroyed forever.

The gang now exist only as binary code within the Digital World’s coding veil. Izzy muses that they must be the only humans to have ever been digitally processed in this way. The others remember their friendships and reflect on their past abilities to overcome all forms of adversity. They reflect on their friendships and their quests and become more reconciled than ever to their callings as Digidestined. They recognize their growth while the Real World watches Apocalymon from afar and the parents of the Digidestined cheer on their children to come back and win the battle. With all the hopes of and dreams of humanity riding on them, and millions cheering them on, the Digidestined’ Digital Digivices begin to glow and they realize that the power to Digivolve is inside of themselves. The Binary Data Digimon Digivolve to Ultimate level and the whole group reconstitute themselves into physical forms, ready once again to face Apocalymon head on, but now stronger than ever before.

 

Just one episode to go for this recap essay series,

Ciao for now,

The Digidestined Cody

[Completed HERE]

Piedmon’s Last Jest (Digimon Adventure Episode 52)

(To check out part 51 click HERE. To go back to the beginning of this series click HERE)

All of the Digidestined, minus Mimi for the time being, are once again assembled in one place: the top of Spiral Mountain. WarGreymon and MetalGarurumon begin their battle with Piedmon who fights from afar using trickery and cunning. He seems momentarily beaten when he raises a white cloth. The Digidestined mistake this as a sign that he has given in and is throwing in the towel. Instead he tosses it toward WarGreymon and MetalGarurumon, the cloth grows in size and covers them trapping the two inside in the process, and finally they disappear. Tai and Matt approach, indignant and worried for their Digimon when Piedmon plays the same trick on them as well.

Moments later, Piedmon pulls four objects out of his pockets. He reveals four key-chain figurines representing the two Digimon and their Digidestined partners. As the others run into his manor in an attempt to find some tool or trick to beating Piedmon, Andromon holds him off and ultimately becomes a key-chain himself. Within the manor is a giant circus tent with a trapeze across a deep and perilous rocky chasm. To cross over to the next room, the Digidestined must jump across, literally making a leap of faith across an abyssal precipice. This signifies in an extreme form the entirety of the Digidestined struggle against the forces of confusion and angst embodied by the Dark Masters. Their leap is the move into an unjustified, but hopefully workable approach to life that challenges the abyss of meaninglessness and amorality.

As they make their way across, Joe, Tentomon, and Izzy are too late and Piedmon turns them into key-chains. This signifies the inevitable losses and attrition one must undergo in the process of fighting the truth in postmodern forces with pseudo-truths built upon faith, friendship, and the like. It is a difficult journey and as of now a few have escaped across the precipice unharmed but not yet in a strong enough position to challenge the forces they run from in a straightforward head-on manner. Next, Angewomon and Garudamon achieve these Ultimate Digivolutions and attack Piedmon, who turns them into key-chains, mere playthings for his enjoyment, once so powerful and now disarmed so readily through trickery akin to sophism or truths akin to deconstruction (take your pick).

Just Kari, T.K., Patamon, Sora, and Gomamon are left when Piedmon once again catches up to the group. Sora and Gomamon sacrifice themselves so that T.K., the only left with a Digimon partner unscathed, can go on and potentially defeat Piedmon. During the short altercation, T.K. manages to swipe his brother’s key-chain from Piedmon before continuing on his way toward a door at the end of a long corridor. T.K., Patamon, and Kari exit to find themselves on a balcony overhanging a cliff. They seem trapped when they notice a small basket with a rope within. But they have no time to use the rope for climbing down the manor’s walls, for the rope paradoxically ascends directly upward into the sky. T.K. and Kari begin climbing upward in a desperate attempt to escape Piedmon at any cost. This choice is odd, but reflects T.K.’s persistence and his ability to hope in the most hopeless of situations. As Piedmon cuts the rope and begins his trick to transform them into key-chains to complete his collection, the Crest of Hope glows for the first time.

Patamon who had previously Digivolved to Angemon and been defeated handily by Piedmon now has the energy from T.K. to Digivolve one step further and for the first time in the series he becomes the Ultimate-level MagnaAngemon. With eight shining wings and a powerful gate shield, the legendary sword Excalibur, and a powerful attack in the form of the Gate of Destiny, MagnaAngemon proves to be no pushover as he attacks Piedmon head-on, gains back the key-chains, and drives off the supposedly stronger Mega-level Dark Master. While Piedmon runs off to momentarily lick his wounds, MagnaAngemon uses his Magna Antidote to return all of the Digidestined and Digimon back into their normal forms.

Piedmon calls upon the last of minions, the gargoyle-ape Vilemon, who number into the hundreds. Just then, Mimi appears with Palmon, an army of Gekomon and Otamamon, Ogremon, Frigimon, Meramon, and Unimon. They quickly take care of Piedmon’s own larger army of Vilemon, the Digidestined Digimon Digivolve into their max levels and weaken Piedmon, and finally, MagnaAngemon traps Piedmon within his Gate of Destiny along with the last of the Vilemon who are destroyed and broken down into digital fragments within. It seems that hope even in the most hopeless of times is a virtue that bears fruit for the Digidestined.

Earlier in the episode, we saw Centaurumon and Gennai, who was piloting a Mekanorimon, standing in front of Wall of Fire and talking cryptically about a beast. Now, Gennai appears on Izzy’s computer screen whilst Spiral Mountain dissolves completely and tells the Digidestined some disconcerting news. The real enemy was not the Dark Masters, but the force that created them and ruled them: a being so powerful that its will warps the Digital World. Can the Digidestined take on this powerful multidimensional being?

 

Till next time,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

Pusher: Miscommunication

I asked for recommendations for genres or themes or directors to focus on for this month’s bi-weekly film essay focus. The Surrealist Junkie thought it would be cool to write some essays about the films of one of Europe’s greatest living directors: Nicolas Winding Refn. Most people are familiar with his films of the 2010s, and especially Drive and Bronson, but his earlier ones are harder to find in the states on home video release or streaming services. Because of this, I haven’t seen many of his earlier works and I suspect that many of you are in a similar situation. That said, this month I’ll start watching his earliest works to familiarize myself and you with Refn’s full body of work. So without further ado, let’s start this journey, in 1996.

In the mid-90s, Danish filmmaking was largely the provenance of one man: Lars von Trier. In the early eighties his work exploded upon the scene with The Element of Crime, a neo-noir arthouse film whose sepia-toned cinematography and phantasmagorical play of memory, fact, and fiction was then the most powerful auteur statement in the Danish cinema since Carl Dreyer’s work in the classical black and white period.  Von Trier’s other two experimental achievements in the E Trilogy included 1987s Epidemic and 1991s Europa, a now-classic piece of arthouse cinema and post-war paranoia since then largely unmatched. By 1995, von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg had created a new movement in European cinema that proved to be one of the most innovative approaches for years to come: Dogme 95, which sought to pare down cinema using handheld cameras and little to no special effects in an attempt to reclaim the cinema from the studios and give it back to the auteurs. To make people aware that access to costly equipment and editing and special effects software software were not necessary to make powerful, engrossing films.

In 1996, Nicolas Winding Refn wanted to become a filmmaker and wrote a script for a short film influenced by American crime films like Cassavettes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Scorsese’s Mean Streets, and Friedkin’s French Connection. He planned to create the short as part of his application to a film school, but the story grew over time until he decided he needed to make an independent feature instead. He managed to get a small budget and to cast one of Denmark’s biggest actors of the time in Kim Bodnia whose intensity in the resulting film helped to catapult Refn and actor Mads Mikkelson to stardom.

Although other Danish filmmakers had made crime films before (like von Trier’s Element of Crime), Pusher is considered the first Danish gangster film for its depictions of more than just noir conventions and its move into the dramatization of post-noir street-thug lives. The influence of American crime films is particularly apparent in the homage he pays to them in an important set in the film: the main character Frank’s bedroom. His room is full of posters showing stills from Taxi Driver and Scarface, and he has an extensive collection of VHS tapes. Again, the one displayed most prominently is Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese’s classic crime thriller/drama and meditation on street life angst and malaise.

Although not a Dogme 95 practitioner, and arguably forced into his methods through budgetary concerns rather than stylistic ones (though there are definite stylistic parallels to Mean Streets, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and the night scenes of Wim Wender’s film The American Friend), Refn used only handheld cameras on the shoot and no digital effects as far as I could tell to create a taut, emotionally powerful, effectively dramatic and gripping, auteuristic first feature. In this way, Pusher is a spiritual brother to the Dogme 95 movement and serves as an example of the Zeitgeist’s unconscious power over the direction of auteurs in Denmark in the mid to late nineties period.

The sound design of the film oscillates between atmospheric synthpads and swells, to emotionally-gripping piano pieces, and moments of intense silence where you could hear a pin drop. The cinematography ranges from gritty street scenes and dynamic action shots in cars, to daytime interiors with light-blasted windows ala Deakins, to nightclubs in blue and red neon. Finally, there are the scenes of life at night between Frank and Vic where the shots are so underexposed that emotions are more implied than shown and their inability to communicate effectively is palpable. Here the piano swells and the viewer becomes more than a voyeur. Instead one is transformed into a participant in the scene’s communicative disconnection and loneliness as the two fight with their own selves and each other’s guards to reach one another in a powerful moment not unlike the erotic scene between Deckard and Rachel in Blade Runner (the music and cinematography also stylistically parallel this scene)

Frank and Vic ultimately fail in this attempt at connection and thereby highlight a failure between all characters to communicate in the film. Frank and his friend and accomplice Tonny only interact on a superficial level through small-talk, talk about women, and drinking with one another. When Frank suspects that Tonny has ratted him to the cops over a drug heist they attempted to pull the previous day, Frank tracks him down and beats him, nearly to death. If they had ever communicated on a deeper level, breaking off their relationship so violently would have probably been much more difficult and Tonny may have been less likely to rat him out in the first place.

Frank and Vic often have casual sex and lead separate lives beyond their nighttime escapades. But where Frank wants the relationship to remain casual, she desperately wants a regular life or at least some pillar in her life to bring some normalcy into it. She is a high-class prostitute, or ‘champagne girl,’ who interests Frank as a person on an emotional level. But Frank can’t get past his feelings of jealousy that she must share herself with others and often expresses disgust when she attempts to kiss him. After Frank is busted by cops for possession of heroin and his luck has turned, it continues to turn over and over creating a downward spiral that has people all over the city after him. He decides to run away to Spain with Vic and they seem close to finally connecting with one another when he ruins the emotional opening and opportunity by deciding to go back to try and make amends with the drug dealer he has inadvertently double-crossed. He says he won’t go with her to Spain and that everything has been worked out, but crushes Vic’s heart in the process. In anger, she runs off with his money and leaves him alone in the heart of a city where damn near every low-life and hustler around, not to mention quite a few junkies, want him dead. Worse, the money he was going to give to the drug dealer, Milo, to assuage his anger and attempt to regain his favor and protection, is now gone and Frank is left with no options but to wait for death.

And all for a misunderstanding based on miscommunications. Not the wrong man of classical film noir, and by no means a morally innocent man, Frank is a predator and a lowlife. And maybe he deserves all of this. But as a viewer watching these events unfold, it sure doesn’t feel right. Not right at all.

 

Cody Ward

[Next up: Bleeder]

The Crest of Friendship (Digimon Adventure Episode 51)

(To check out the previous essay in this series click HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

This recap series aside for a moment, I’m super pumped up about today. The Digimon Tri: Confession DVD was just released to the North American market and a bunch of my friends and I have been weebing out. I’ve forced myself to wait to watch it until the English sub was finished so that I could watch and compare the sub and dub. Plus, I’ve got a soft spot for some of the original English voice actors. Look for my reviews and essays on Tri in the future.

Now, back to the episode. Tai, Izzy, and Kari are by Piedmon’s manor on top of Spiral Mountain and WarGreymon is fending off the last Dark Master, biding their time until the other Digidestined arrive to help out in the fight. Sora and T.K. are searching for Matt, whilst Joe does the same in an attempt to find himself in the process, and Mimi is travelling the Digital World gathering allies for the final confrontation. We haven’t seen Matt around for some time now and it seems about time for a progress update on his quest.

Gabumon and Matt have somehow ended up in a dark subterranean tunnel. Gabumon knows not how they got there and Matt doesn’t care as he’s fallen deeper and deeper into a depressive state. He believed that his purpose in life was to protect his brother, but now that T.K. has grown up and become self-sufficient Matt’s protection is no longer necessary. With his source of purpose undercut, the subliminal abyss of darkness and meaninglessness constantly waiting just below conscious awareness, assaults him full force and breaks his will. His eyes become darkened and he stops walking. A dark shadow that has been growing behind him moves toward him and is absorbed by Matt’s body. Internally, he is in a thick darkness, floating as if under a portentous sea at storm.

Matt muses on his past and tells Gabumon that when his parents split up he felt afraid to cry, to express his emotions in that moment. And he held back because he believed he had to stay strong for his brother. He felt alone in those moments and has had difficulty opening himself up to others ever since. Gabumon expresses his friendship and tells Matt it’s okay to cry. This elicits a realization in Matt that he was never really alone and that his friends and family care about him. This realization dissolves the black cloud hanging over his head as well as the dark tunnel they were trapped within.

Joe and Gomamon are nearby and immediately finds Matt and Gabumon. It seems that Joe’s quest to prove his reliability ends up with him being in the right place at the exact right time to find his friends. Joe gives the harmonica back to Matt who initially discarded it due to the emotional expressiveness it brought about for him. At the time, playing it only intensified and amplified the painful emotions he was feeling and deepened his depression, but now it has the potential to amplify his positive feelings and help him become a Digidestined deserving of the Crest of Friendship.

Next, Sora and T.K. find Matt’s boat. As they search for him and Gabumon by foot, a hole opens up beneath them and drags them below. It seems that Sora has also not fully resolved her own issues and insecurities. Her trap is self-loathing over not trying hard enough. It is true that she is on a mission to find Matt, but she believes deep down that there is not enough time to search the Digital World over, find him, and return him to the top of Spiral Mountain in time. If she can’t find Matt, she thinks that the world will end and that it will be her own fault. By taking all of this responsibility onto her own shoulders and dwelling on it, she has become mentally blocked. Luckily, T.K. finds Matt and Joe and the two of them are able to drag her out of her misery and move on toward the battle with Piedmon.

As the four arrive to the top of Spiral Mountain, they find that Tai has been pushing WarGreymon too hard. His armor is cracked and Tai himself has been thrown around a bit in the process as well. He has previously forbade Izzy and Kari from sending Tentomon and Gatomon to assist him in an attempt to conserve their energy for when Matt arrives. And although he was probably wrong for taking such a huge burden upon himself at the risk of injuring himself and his Digimon, he proved himself to be a good leader. Matt lands and his Crest of Friendship glows, emitting a powerful light that encloses WarGreymon and rehabilitates his form, thereby putting him back in tip top shape for the battle ahead. As Gabumon Warp Digivolves into MetalGarurumon, the Hey Digimon! Theme rings out and Digidestined children (minus Mimi) ready themselves to save the Digital World.

 

Ciao,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

 

Joe’s Battle (Digimon Adventure Episode 50)

(To check out the last essay click HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

With Machinedramon finished and his city dissolved back into the datastream, the focus broadens out once more to include the scope of actions of Mimi and Joe who have been busy since we last saw the two. It seems they have now found Frigimon and Meramon and added them to their team, which comes in handy come mealtimes when Frigimon can cool down drinks and Meramon can cook food, and just by touch! They were just about to enter Machinedramon’s city to face him head on when they saw it disappearing before their eyes. Now, they’ve set their sights for Spiral Mountain, but are focusing their energies on finding more allies in the process.

Joe goes through a number of trials in his mind throughout this episode. All of the Digimon go out to seek food for Mimi when she complains about being hungry. She charms them with her friendly demeanor and has become a Digidestined true to her Crest of Sincerity. The other Digimon state that she is charming and Gomamon agrees and asks Joe if he thinks so too. Joe appears embarrassed and nervous when he says he agrees, thereby playing at a hand hinted at all along: he likes Mimi.

Later, as the group find and enter the now gray and dilapidated remains of the once vibrant Primary Village, they hear a harmonica in the distance and run off to find its player, who they believe to be Matt. Instead, they find Elecmon upon the Digital Ocean playing the harmonica he found on the beach. The night before, he also saw a figure riding in a Swan boat across the waters. They quickly surmise that this was Matt. Meanwhile, Joe has been thinking back on his talk with his brother in the Real World and how he doesn’t want to be a doctor like his father prods him to be. He realizes that he must grow stronger and go on his own journey to confront Matt and learn what he has learned in order to grow stronger, be a good trainer, become as reliable as he thinks he must be to warrant his Crest, and ready himself for battle against the final Dark Master, Piedmon, and more difficult still, the inevitable difficulties of life back home once they return.

Joe goes with Ikkakumon across the waters to find Matt and begins his final journey of Digimon Adventure’s first series. He leaves Mimi behind with her entourage of powerful friends in the belief that they will ultimately meet again in the near future and both will grow stronger in the meantime. And now, she has one more ally in her group in the Primary Village’s diminutive guardian Elecmon!

Why did Matt discard his harmonica? Well, I don’t know just yet. However, he always played his harmonica when he was feeling down and out or bathing himself in self-loathing. Now that he is attempting to become stronger and more self-reliant, he has decided to throw off the instrument of self-loathing that did not necessarily cause his weaknesses of character, but certainly did not help him grow as a person. Not a commentary on the blues per se, which can be a freeing and cathartic music through its depictions of sorrow and seedy things, this at least expresses Matt’s interest in growing in any way possible.

T.K. and Kari have been building a Memorial Mound for the Numemon who gave their lives to protect the Digidestined, the same Numemon that Kari freed from their chains as slaves to WaruMonzaemon and felt a responsibility toward as their “Queen Kari” and friend. The group, including Tai, Sora, and Izzy, have somehow managed to end up in a large, dark canyon on top of Spiral Mountain. Andromon confirms this by allowing Izzy to access his database and the map of the Digital World cached therein. Worse yet, they are only miles away and in sight of Piedmon’s den of evil, but three of their members are off on their own journeys.

Piedmon sends the ero LadyDevimon Ultimate-level Digimon to battle the Digidestined. This last line of defense is Piedmon’s ultimate gatekeeper and guardian and she seems unbeatable for a moment, until that is Angewomon and MegaKabuterimon Digivolve into these Ultimate level forms and begin fending her off. During this time, Tai calls upon Sora and T.K. to go and to go quickly to find the other Digidestined and bring them to the top of Spiral Mountain for their final confrontation with Piedmon. They do so with Birdramon and Angemon whilst the battle with LadyDevimon continues.

Tai forbids Agumon from Digivolving in order to conserve his energy for the upcoming conflict with Piedmon. Izzy and Tai watch as the vixen Digimon LadyDevimon and Angewomon battle it out and even have a weird, somehow ero slap contest. This humorous event elicits a response by Izzy who states that he knows they shouldn’t be watching it, but he can’t take his eyes off of the battle! Lechery amongst all types I guess. LadyDevimon attacks with her dark claw and MegaKabuterimon blocks it with his hard carapace, breaking her hand in the process and allowing Angewomon to destroy her with her next attack.

The coast seems clear for a moment, until that is, Piedmon appears over the horizon and slowly approaches the Digidestined. Agumon Warp Digivolves into WarGreymon and readies himself to hold off Piedmon until the other Digidestined, and especially Matt, can appear and channel all their energies into the same direction.

 

Till next time,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

Sacred

During the past month I’ve been interning and working for a film company in Shelby, North Carolina called Electric Films. They’ve taught me a lot of making films in terms of camera operation and work with different rigs so far and soon I’ll be learning editing software and the intricacies of color correction and hopefully sound design too. Before I joined them, they had been working for about a year on a local, independent film as camera crew and editors. That film is Sacred.

Yesterday, the film had its first premiere in the director-producer-actor Brigham McNeely’s hometown of Morganton. We went out early and set up an Electric Films publicity section with poster and equipment, lighting rigs and director’s chairs and then I began to work with the Ronin-M steadicam to capture the flow of people into the theater complex for Marquee Cinemas, the packed house we achieved by strong community support, and the long procession of people down the corridor and toward the two rooms premiering the film simultaneously. Afterwards, I got to compose more shots with the steadicam and got some cool interviews with the cast and crew, as well as people who just enjoyed the movie and wanted to give feedback.

All in all, the premiere was a big success and we got a ton of good feedback. And the film was really for a low-budget feature that only had six days for the shoot. It’s premise is that there is a young man who grew up under rough conditions and has turned to boxing to vent his frustrations. His family and friends are Christians while he is doubtful about the idea of becoming one. They urge him to accept Christ as a way to feel reconciled to the world and alleviate his anger. The question is, will his spiritual struggle aid him in his upcoming boxing match against an undefeated fighter? And can it help him escape his difficult past?

Normally, I would give you more to go on than a premise and the backstory of the trailers, but as the film has only had it’s one premiere, a test showing if you will, and is still in the works for potential premieres in the hometowns of other cast and crew members, it hasn’t received its widest release as of yet. With that said, I plan to keep everyone updated on the film’s release schedule through occasional posts here and I hope that those within the vicinity of a release will consider coming out and seeing the film then!

 

Cody Ward

The Wind Rises: Destructive Art

(Check out the previous Ghibli essay HERE. And the first in this series HERE)

This year, I’ve seen eight Hayao Miyazaki films in theaters that I had never seen before. I had a chance to catch a 20th anniversary showing of Princess Mononoke, Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro for the 50th anniversary of Lupin’s character, and all six films in the Studio Ghibli fest that began six months ago with My Neighbor Totoro and ended this past Wednesday with Howl’s Moving Castle. But before this particularly eventful year for Studio Ghibli in the States, I had only seen one of their films in theaters: The Wind Rises.

The 2013 film was the only Miyazaki film I have been aware of upon its release as I was too young for any of his earlier pictures to show up on my radar. When The Wind Rises was released into American cinemas I drove an hour, with friends or by myself, to see the film in the closest arthouse cinema. I watched it twice subbed and twice dubbed and got a good feeling for the strengths of each version. I loved the fact that Neon Genesis Evangelion’s director Hideaki Anno was the voice actor for Jiro in the Japanese audio track. But I particularly enjoyed hearing the voice of Werner Herzog playing Castorp in the dub, as he is my second favorite German director of all time (only slightly behind Fritz Lang).

At the time I saw the film, I had had very film theatrical film experiences with powerful, arthouse level material. The Wind Rises challenged me intellectually with its theme of the aircraft engineer as an unwilling creator of destructive machines who merely wishes to bring to life visions of beauty aloft upon the skies above. The majesty of a Mitsubishi A6M Zero is elegant and birdlike, and natural but a manifestation of the dreams of flight of one Horikoshi Jiro who could never fly due to his myopia, his nearsightedness. Miyazaki has him dream as a child of meeting Giovanni Battista Caproni, the Gianni who innovated in the air with marvelous designs more dream than reality. Miyazaki’s Jiro is a young man with ambitions fueled by powerful dreams and an even more powerful shared dream of equivalence with Caproni in style and inventive power, though the younger Jiro has yet to prove himself. The film paints these dreamscapes in idyllic colors and verandas of pastoral Italian plains where the young Jiro resides in dream, but is ultimately unaware of whether he is the dreamer and Caproni the dreamed or vice versa.

For the airplane engineer of any worth, inventiveness comes from an artistic or creative urge to endow matter with a celestial form, and avian frame that not only takes into account the wonder of real fowl’s flights, but improves upon them. The machines are inevitably used for war, especially in this early period of aviation history when the world was moving toward the second of the great wars. For the engineer of planes, the kingdom of dreams is the idyllic wellspring of their ideas, but the harsh reality is that their kingdom becomes a land of the dead. This is an especially brutal truth for Jiro’s Zero, which becomes the plane of choice for the Japanese Air Force, and later, for notorious suicide bombing missions throughout the war.

The concept of flight has preoccupied Miyazaki for years. Nausicaa rides her glider and gains a certain youthful freedom in the process, but later channels her skills and abilities into fighting back against her enemies briefly before coming to her senses and realizing the negativity of what her freedom has wrought. The Castle in the Sky of his subsequent film is a floating wonder one can only reach through extreme courage and bravery and skill as an aviator, like Pazu’s father in the film who once captured a photograph of it after piercing the storm that guards its secrets. In Kiki’s Delivery Service, flight is a magical power that can be lost through bad faith and anxiety in the face of one’s duties and growing up in the world alone. And in Porco Rosso, flight is once again the last bastion of freedom from political actors and actions, but the fascism of the 30s and 40s and the ramping up of the war effort lead to the regulation of those seas where pirates and bounty hunters ran free and wild as one-time great war aces.

In The Wind Rises, we find all major aviators from Caproni to Junkers to Jiro all obsessed with the art form of airplane manufacture and engineering and functionality. They are all geniuses in their fields who innovated heavily and created beautiful machines that unfortunately became more and more destructive in the process. That there could be an art so cursed by destruction, a creative endeavor fueled by dreams that could entail so much death. The fire bombings of Tokyo and Dresden. The Blitzkrieg assaults on London. And now, unmanned drones that kill innocent civilians on a daily basis.

Caproni asks Jiro in their shared dreamspace whether he would have the pyramids built. Befuddled, Jiro has no real answer to the question he cannot understand. Then Caproni makes all else apparent. The pyramids are powerful statements validating and championing existence in the face of a meaningless plane of reality. They are testaments to human will and the triumph of the human spirit and Caproni believes that even though slaves toiled and many died in the process of their making, the death was worth it. Likewise, the planes are pyramids whose very existence and coming-into-being entail later use as destructive machines. But maybe, just maybe, there is still value in the beauty of a thing, even if that thing is a cracked tiger searching for human victims.

And even if there isn’t any beauty in it, there is a consuming power, a draw, to works of the spirit forged by the will and trained through craft and years of dedication and interest and obsession. And that is beautiful.

 

Cody Ward

[Next up: Isao Takahata’s first film Horus!

December Film Essays

In October of this year I began doing tri-weekly Horror film essays and got a lot of good feedback and had tons of fun in the process.

Last month, I wrote bi-weekly Sci-Fi film essays and had my best month ever for reads and feedback on WordPress.

As such, I’ve decided to continue to with a December film essay series and would like your help deciding what genre or type or film to cover. Film noir? Westerns? Romances? Art films? Jidaigeki? Films by a particular director or starring a specific actor? Give me your feedback and if I get enough substantive sorts of suggestions I’ll have something to go on!

I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Super 8

(This is the last sci-fi essay for November, but posted late and into the first day of December. to check out the previous essay click HERE)

Super 8 is J.J.  Abrams 2011 coming of age 70s retro film he directed under the guidance and inspiration of Producer Steven Spielberg. Spielberg was a huge influence on Abrams and his collective of young filmmaker friends as a teenager and young adult. And in fact, his influence on the group led Spielberg to ask the precocious youths to come out to his estate and work on restoring his own childhood films. Although they didn’t meet Spielberg at the time, he thanked Abrams and others years later for their help.

Now, the student has raised himself to the level of the master,  maybe not in auteur power, but insofar as he’s now a major blockbuster filmmaker in his own right with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars IX, and two of the new Stark Trek reboots completed under his directorial heading.

Abrams was highly influenced by Spielberg’s 70s sci-fi films Close Encounters of a Third Kind and E.T. when he approached creating this film. Especially important were the concepts of ordinary people enduring extraordinary circumstances of other-worldly proportions, broken families making it through difficult times or failing to survive, and most strikingly obvious, the 70s and 80s atmospheres with their own distinct music and culture and ways of living that seem so simple and idyllic to many young viewers today.

In Super 8, Charles Kaznyk is a pre-teen with aspirations to become a horror filmmaker. He writes scripts with his friends Joe Lamb (makeup artist) and Cary McCarthy (special effects and zombie), as well as the occasional actors Martin Read, Preston Scott, and Allie Dainard (Elle Fanning). Charles hopes to submit his current zombie film to a local film competition and is working hard to create what he believes to be a compelling drama at its core. But he will have some difficulty with this goal. While they are shooting a dramatic scene at a train station during the night, a truck drives onto the tracks and derails the train. They find that the man in the truck is a high school teacher of theirs who is still barely alive and warns them to escape quickly. They do so and just barely avoid a large group of Air Force personnel who were seemingly protecting the train.

The next day the town seems to be under control of these same forces who are searching for something. Like E.T., the plot revolves around a crash-landed extraterrestrial being who is being hunted by the military. This time the creature is vicious, large, and hyperintelligent. It wreaks havoc in town and does everything within its power to regain the materials needed to escape earth and those military personnel who had captured him in 1958 and have been experimenting on him ever since. Just as in E.T., the young protagonist of the film, Joe, is able to connect with the being on an emotional level. but this time his connection has far greater effects in the way of preventing the being from further harming townsfolk, destroying the town, and consuming human flesh.

The ubiquity of military forces, who have prior knowledge of alien existence and are hiding it from the people, mirrors the actions of the military in Close Encounters of a Third Kind. They have blockaded exit points from the town and are in total control of the city, even its de jure protectors, the police, to become its de facto preservers of order. The local police deputy is the Joe’s father, and when the creature captures the sheriff, he must take up the gauntlet and try his best to find out what is going on before its too late. all of the paranoia and state apparatuses of Close Encounters are showcased here in this film once again. And once again, the paranoia is justified.

Joe and Allie are the two main characters of the film, and both live in characteristically Spielbergian broken families. Joe’s mother died four years prior in an accident on the job. Allie’s father is an alcoholic and troublemaker whose wife left him years ago due to his problems and her inability to cope with them any longer. He worked with Joe’s mother at the plant and on the day when she died, he was supposed to work there, but called in sick whilst on a drinking bender. He should have been there that day and he should have died instead of Joe’s mother. These situations created a hatred in Joe’s father toward Allie’s father. Allie’s father feels such deep remorse for his actions and self-hatred that he can’t even stand seeing Joe because it reminds him of his past mistakes. Both fathers forbade their children from being friends with each other even though Joe and Allie really hit it off and are crushing hard for one another.

Over the course of the film’s events, friendships are forged in adversity and old hatreds dissolved into understanding and acceptance. The two fathers become reconciled once one admits past mistakes and the other recognizes the death as an accident. They work together to find their children and attempt to save them from the beast, but ultimately it is the children who save the parents, and the town, from further pain and destruction through their actions.

Super 8 is a pretty solid little film in a Spielberg vein that seems a perfect viewing fit for those who remember the Spielberg films of their own childhoods, as well as children and young adults today who need more in a blockbuster, emotionally-speaking, than mutants in tights who fight external evils. Unlike a superhero blockbuster, which is ultimately escapist in suggesting that the power to fight great evil lies only in others who already have power, or worse, in the state that they represent (like Captain America), Super 8 and films like it suggest that although weak, a little courage and camaraderie with others has a great potential for changing the world. I think people can gain something positive from Super 8 that has the ability to change them for the better, and as such, I highly recommend you check it out if you haven’t already.

 

Cody Ward

 

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