My 100 favourite films. Entry #40: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
directed by Sergio Leone
starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach
country: Italy
genre: Western

Visuals:10
Writing: 6
Everyday watchability: 7

Reality in film (as in all art forms) is an illusion. Everything you see was created, and as such films can only be so real. Since film is literally the most true-to-life method with which to depict life, many people assume that when it does depict events from life, that they are meant to depict reality. In truth, however, they are only meant to depict their own reality.

Within each film is a world. That world may look very similar to ours (dramas, comedies) or that world may look very different (science fiction, fantasy). When films seem to depict that world that is similar to our own, we have expectations as to how that world will work. Things that happen outside of this cause us to label the film as unrealistic lose our willing suspension of disbelief. Even in fantasy films, there is a certain level of belief in how the system works and limits to what can and can't be done. In the Lord of the Rings films, for example, if an elf were to suddenly teleport, I wouldn't "believe it," despite the fact that I'm seeing many fantastical things. That would fall outside the scope of reasonable occurrences even in that world.

You may wonder what exactly this has to do with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but this film takes filmic reality to such an extreme that you almost don't even realize how "unrealistic" it is. The film revels in this. A main plot point is that Clint Eastwood's character can shoot a hangman's rope clean-through from hundreds of feet away. In another scene, a character digs up a grave, then looks up to see a noose hanging in front of him, despite the fact that there's no way he could have missed someone taking the time to set up a noose not ten feet away. The reality created the film is so enveloping and complete that, as you watch, you believe that a man could cut a wooden in target in half with a single bullet. And it's great. It's freeing. With "realism" thrown to the window, the movie is free for amazing setpieces, beautiful shots, and brilliant edits, where our knowledge of the film's world is changed with a simple cut.










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The Thin Man DVD cover rough

I know that it's been quite some time since I've posted anything, so I apologize for the interlude. In the hope of staying limber (as far as designing goes), I've been working on a couple of personal projects. One of them is a series of DVD covers for the Thin Man film series. It started out with me doodling his character in Illustrator. I thought it looked good, but I needed an application so I threw him on a DVD cover.

Then I got the idea of doing the whole series. I've done two so far, neither of which are complete. (You'll notice that in the first image he's wearing two different shoes and the "AFTER" in the right is merely temporary.)

I've also been seeing a lot of hand-drawn lettering recently and was inspired to do some myself. The type that reads "The Thin Man" is hand-drawn by me, scanned, and traced in Illustrator, where I adjusted the line weight and shape. Like, I said, lots of work still to be done, but I'm pleased with how it's turning out.


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My 100 favourite films. Entry #39: Drive.

Drive (2011)
directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks
country: USA
genre: Thriller

Visuals: 9
Writing: 6
Everyday watchability: 7

The text of this post is adapted from a response I wrote in an online forum to the question, "If I like Drive, what else will I like?" I feel that placing Drive in the pantheon of film history helps explain what makes it great. 

I believe that Drive belongs to a class of film that hasn't been popular in the mainstream for quite some time. There has been a general trend in film for the past 30 years toward movies that are more spectacular in nature and much less subtle with things like character motivations.

In the 1960s in America, films were going through a huge change. More and more, films were being made by directors who had much greater control over the film's look and feel. Furthermore, with the end of the Hayes production code, which required films adhere to a certain moral standard, films were more commonly being made about darker subjects and with characters of more questionable moral character. The climate was finally right for the birth of the anti-hero. John Ford's The Searchers (1956) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) both feature a protagonist filled with inner conflict and outer hatred, portrayed surprisingly adeptly by John Wayne both times. The Searchers is more colorful and somewhat preoccupied with scenic vistas, but the beginnings of the character archetype are very much there.

In Japan, Akira Kurosawa was making films like Yojimbo (1961), Sanjuro (1962) and High and Low (1963). Kurosawa had an almost craftsmanlike way of making films, where simplicity ruled over expressionism. His characters were often those of ambiguous morality (and greatly influenced by the works of Ford), displayed simply in front of the camera for the audience to unravel.
French neo-noir films like Le Samoura├» (1967) and Le Cercle Rouge (1970) tell their stories in a very straightforward style with characters that are nearly deadpan, but there’s a still a hint of depth and human warmth to them.

These paved the way for a character like Bullitt (1968) who is by most standards a person of upstanding moral character, but with more depth than commonly seen in movie cops. He shares a kinship with The Driver in that he’s quiet, confident, and understated but quite deep. Bullitt almost definitely gave some inspiration to Dirty Harry (1971) and The French Connection (1971), with characters and style that is much more animated than Drive, but with definite thematic similarities. Furthermore, Bullitt and The French Connection both feature classic card chases shown in a distinctly simple style, without the grandiosity of car chases to come in later years. Drive’s driving sequences owe a great deal to these.

This may seem an odd jump, but Taxi Driver (1976) is very much in league with these films. Scorsese took the antihero idea to the extreme, with a main character who is clearly very disturbed, but who also spouts some truth in his insanity. His character has some similarities to Gosling's, particularly in the scene where he just stares at a pimp without any apparent concern.

This was probably about the time that the antihero essentially became a caricature of itself, with Dirty Harry getting more and more grizzled in The Enforcer (1976) and Sudden Impact (1983). We weren’t really brought back around until Lethal Weapon (1987) and shortly after, Die Hard (1988), an excellent and surprisingly human film.

I’ve mostly talked action movies because that’s where a lot of this was happening. As film moved into the 1990s, audiences wanted everything bigger, including its heroes. Heroes were larger than life, with action stars being amazingly smooth and indestructible. I think people have gradually been getting burned out by this. Those heroes from the 60s and 70s (like Bullitt, Popeye Doyle of The French Connection and even John McClane from Die Hard) had some serious flaws and were far from invincible).

In the 2000s, movies such as Last Life in the Universe (2003) told humanist stories about people with a dark past, but people that were good. It was a simply told movie, much like Drive. Junebug (2005) probably has the closest stylistic similarity to Drive, telling the story oh-so-calmly. Characters, emotions and feelings are never fully explained, but we get a great sense of who these people are. Ryan Gosling’s performance in Half Nelson (2006) earned him a well-deserved Oscar nomination, and it’s another story told straight-ahead with characters of complexity.

Drive is, I think and hope, part of a trend to move toward more complex characters who don’t telegraph their complexity. It’s a depth that we can see unfold (very) slowly over the course of the film. Most of the questions we have about the driver are left unanswered, but the exercise of filling in the gaps is enjoyable and interesting.






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Creating a Game: Part II.

Man oh man has it been a while since my last post. A fair amount has happened in these past couple of months: I was up for a job, I played lots of board games and I've worked on some side projects.

Last you heard from me, I was working on a game about time travel. Well that game is on the back burner now, as I started investing a lot of time working on an entirely different game. In this game, players play as scouts from warring kingdoms on a planet soon to be destroyed. Their goal is to earn as many tickets as they can for the ship heading offworld before disaster strikes.

The board consists of a single tile in the center surrounded by six tiles placed on the board at random. Along the outside is the comet marker which tracks the progress of the comet as it moves every round.

During their turn, players move about the board, buy cards or money to add to their deck and play action cards from their hand. I've playtested it with some friends, and while it's quite fun to play, it still needs some work to make it fairhanded and even. It's been a blast to work on; designing games is something to which I'm entirely new, but am enjoying immensely.



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Creating a Game: Part I.

Recently, I was hanging out with my friend and colleague Daniel Soucy and we were discussing the idea of doing a project together. There were no jobs we currently needed help with, so we decided to make a job for ourselves. In our discussion, we decided we wanted to design a board game.

So we sat down and started bouncing ideas off each other for what our board game would be about. Never ones to take the easy road, we decided on a time travel theme. The idea of mucking about in the timeline was pretty fun. Over the past few months, we've honed the structure of the game: you play a delivery boy making deliveries of ridiculous things around the timeline in order to pay off student debt. To do so, you must alter the Prosperity of those eras using what we call Influence cards. I'd go into a deeper explanation of the game mechanics, but it would just melt your brain.

I've made mockups of a number of cards. We still have a fair number of cards to make, but once they're done, we'll begin playtesting to see if the basic mechanics of the game work. Also created was a timeline mockup. Enjoy!






The game board showing the 12 different Eras.
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Movies in three frames.

I've taken to this thing where you try to convey a film using only three frames (not my own invention). It's rather fun and an interesting experiment. You can find more movies and variations here. I hope you enjoy. Beware: spoilers abound.

Pi
The Godfather
Primer



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