Harry Potter and the Great Gilliam Reference

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 has released, and it is the darkest turn yet for the Potter series. Harry has gone into hiding and can no longer make regular trips to the barbershop. It’s hell, and I don’t think I am spoiling anything when I say that the film does not end on a high note.

During Harry’s shaggy haired adventure, he and his pals have to make a rather dangerous trip to the recently overtaken Ministry of Magic. The Ministry is full of terrifying ladies in pink dresses, floating prison guards who bear more than a passing resemblance to common characterizations of Death, and references to the classic 1985 Terry Gilliam film, Brazil. It may have been entirely coincidental, but it seems that the Harry Potter director, David Yates, has made some intentional nods to Gilliam’s movie.

Brazil tells the tale of Sam Lowry, a man fighting against the beurocratic nightmare of his world. Everybody in Sam’s world is driven by policy, regardless of the implications. Things must be done a certain way, becasue that is how they are done. Also, it’s a bit whimsical. It all sounds remarkably similar to the Ministry of Magic. Referencing Brazil calls in a perfect metaphor for the nightmare of the Ministry following Voldemort’s re-appearance.

The references are quick, but they are there, and here’s proof.

The first referenced scene is difficult to encapsulate in still images, becasue it looks like nothing more than a small crowd. In motion though, there is a highly choreographed stream of ‘yes men’ following an all powerful executive as he spouts yes or no decisions to his devoted employees.

It passes by quickly in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, but you can see Pius Thicknesse, the newly appointed Minister of Magic, being followed by a similar stream of eager witches and wizards.

The final sequence of Brazil shows Robert De Niro quite literally succumbing to the evils of arbitrary paperwork, in what is likely the most bizarre death he has ever experienced in any film. He is overtaken by office filings, and becomes lost in the engulfing scuffle. It’s all an overt metaphor for the dangers of red tape, something Terry Gilliam has been wrestling with his whole career.

The Harry Potter similarity is simply one of happenstance. It’s a visually interesting attempt by Harry to block his pursuers. Within the Deathly Hallows film, it serves as no specific metaphor, but as a reference to Brazil, it further propels the idea that the Ministry has turned into the whimsical hell presented in Gilliam’s film.

As I mentioned earlier, these references could be totally coincidental. Yates may not have meant to specifically call out Brazil, but it is certainly an appropriate metaphor. It’s also worth nothing that when J.K. Rowling first began negotiations for turning her books into films, she requested that Terry Gilliam direct the first. The studio heads declined her request, but it all goes to show that Rowling always had a developed understanding for the artistic goals of her story. Gilliam may have delivered a very different, stranger Potter film, but it’s possible that it might have fallen right in line with the version of the books that Rowling wanted to see.

This was the first Potter film that J.K Rowling received a producer credit for, so this could all by a product of her influence, and her own likely appreciation for Gilliam’s work. All I know, is that she’s got good taste.

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Christopher Nolan is a modern day Alfred Hitchcock

I don’t know if the title of this article has ever been written before, but I would not be surprised to learn if I were not the first to commit it to text.

There are many modern filmmakers who are extremely talented, but Nolan continues to stand out because of his ability to work so well within the Hollywood system. He has been able to continuously and consistently produce excellent films both critically and financially, while making very few, if any, sacrifices to be in the Hollywood system. He has actually stated a preference toward large scale production and American film making, something scarcely heard from directors of the same caliber.

“...there's a very limited pool of finance in the UK. To be honest, it's a very clubby kind of place. In Hollywood there's a great openness, almost a voracious appetite for new people.” - Christoper Nolan

Christoher Nolan and Alfred Hitchcock share as many similarities in their film making ideas, as they don’t in their physical appearance, but they each started from very different places. Nolan began as most modern filmmakers do, by making an impression with a independent film. Nolan released Following in 1998 to great critical acclaim. Nolan financed the movie with $10 and a handshake*, but let the writing speak for itself and created a compelling noir mystery on almost no budget.

 

*Not the actual budget

He used Following as a commercial to help him gather investors to finance Memento, and from there went on to his first studio production, Insomnia with Robin Williams and Al Pacino. It only took two films under his belt to work with such respected actors, not a claim many directors can make.

“We've got a pretty serious claim on being the cheapest film ever made.” - Christoper Nolan on Following

Hitchcock only became actively interested in film after completing college and it took him years to make his way into a directors chair. He began by working on sets designing title cards for silent films. It was only when the director of the film, Always Tell Your Wife in 1923 became ill, that Hitchcock was able to step in and finish the project. He impressed the higher ups with his work, and was able to move on from there.

Both Nolan and Hitchcock are of European descent, and both were quick to come to America to work in the American film system. Both have been quoted as showing preference to the American style of film making, with higher budgets and higher production quality.

Nolan married his wife Emma Thomas in 1997. She has served as producer on all of his films, and is clearly a very important part of his collaborative process.

Hitchcock’s wife never held and credited roles, but he often considered her his greatest critic and an extremely important part of his collaborative process. When accepting the American Film Institute Life achievement award, Hitchcock had this to say about his wife, Alma Reville:

“I beg permission to mention by name only four people who have given me the most affection, appreciation, and encouragement, and constant collaboration. The first of the four is a film editor, the second is a scriptwriter, the third is the mother of my daughter Pat, and the fourth is as fine a cook as ever performed miracles in a domestic kitchen. And their names are Alma Reville.”
– Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock promoting his film, The Birds.

Perhaps the most obvious similarity between the two directors is their preferred genre. Hitchcock made mystery thrillers almost exclusively, and Nolan has certainly not strayed very far from the dark, noir-thriller-mystery genre. Nolan’s first film, Following, especially feels like it could fit comfortably in the stable of Hitchcock films. Themes of crime, conspiracy, mystery and just general dark stuff run rampant throughout all of the films from the two directors.

Hitchcock was an extremely detailed director taking much of his production timeframe to write and storyboard his films. He expressed disinterest in the actual shooting part of the movie, as he felt the writing, story-boarding and eventual editing as the actual film making parts of creating a movie. He considered working with the actors and shooting as nothing more than the collecting of parts to later form into a movie and once referred to actors, rather controversially, as cattle.

 

“There’s a point during production which you’re really almost doing a paint-by-numbers thing; you’re almost just fulfilling a set of creative obligations that you’ve set up for yourself in prep. So, even though some of it can be fun, and it’s where a lot of interesting and amazing things can happen, there’s a point where you just want to be done with it and get into the edit suite and mess around with what you’ve shot.” - Christopher Nolan

Nolan has expressed a similar standpoint on film-making. With The Dark Knight specifically he said he found the actually shooting be somewhat tedious.
He does not storyboard his films to the same extent as Hitchcock did, but that can be attributed to technology. Hitchcock had to rely on large cameras and cranes, so the opportunity for improvised set-ups and sudden changes were a luxury he could literally not afford. Nolan has stated that generally the only story-boarding he does is for action sequences. He does take time to work with his scripts extensively, though. His latest film, Inception is a script he has been working on for ten years.

Though both directors spend large amounts of time on the creating their films, one thing they try adamantly to hurry along is the actual film itself. Nolan likes to cross cut adjacent sequences, to build tension and hurry the pacing. He often will cut from one scene to another so quickly that he cuts off the last few syllables of character dialogue in order to hurry the film along. Hitchcock’s preference of film pacing and speed can be summed up rather succinctly in one brilliant quote.

“The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder”
– Hitchcock

Hitchcock making magic.

A final similarity between the two film makers, is audience perception. Hitchcock has now become an iconic film maker, and many of his films are rightfully considered cinematic masterpieces. At the time though, he was often disregarded as a sort of pop-film maker, intentionally appealing to the masses, and not very well respected by critics of the time. He was well loved, and successful, but criticized. He never won a best director Oscar in all of his years of directing. He did win a Best Picture Oscar for his first American film, Rebecca, but Hitchcock became so separated from the film between shooting and editing, that by the time it was released, he barely considered it his own. It had been far too manipulated by the studio heads.

Nolan has had a somewhat similar experience in a few regards. For one, he has not yet received any major accolades from the Oscars. It’s likely that this will change, but many feel that Nolan deserved at least a best picture nomination for The Dark Knight. The Oscars don’t seem to have much respect for the comic book film genre, which highlights another similarity.

Hitchcock brought an air of sophistication and seriousness to a genre that was often written off by critics as nothing more than audience pleasing drivel. Nolan is arguably the first director to pursue a comic book film with the same amount of thought and serious consideration as any noir thriller, or serious dramatic film.

Vertigo, 1958

Hitchcock suffered a career injury after the reception of Vertigo. People did not like the film, and it was difficult for him to recover. His last few films were made outside of America with smaller budgets, and though they were good films, they were never able to reach the financial or critical level of acclaim as some of his previous masterpieces. Now he is considered a brilliant auteur, and one of the most prolific and skilled film makers of the last few decades.

There is no telling what the future will hold for Nolan, but right now it is looking much brighter than any of the shadowy sets featured in his films. Early reception for Inception has been extremely positive, and the word masterpiece has been thrown around like a batarang. Nolan seems to be on the right track, and he seems to know what he is doing. I for one can’t wait to see whats to come.

Update
Author D. H. Schleicher posted a blog discussing the similarities between Nolan and director Fritz Lang that compliments this article very well. Click this link to learn even more about Nolan’s influences.

Alred Hitchcock sharing a cigar with a bird.

Christopher Nolan on the set of The Prestige.

A List of Facts about Pixar and Toy Story 3

An unrelated picture of Steve Jobs as Woody defending the iPhone 4, much Like Woody defends his plan in Toy Story 3. The moral of the story is that in the end, Woody was right.

– In the future when robots have taken over humanity and there is a small group of humans fighting the oppressive force, Toy Story 3 will be used as a test of human emotion. If someone can watch Toy Story 3 without crying, or at least showing some semblance of emotion, then they can be destroyed, as it is obvious this person is a robot trying to infiltrate the resistance. If time is short, the prologue of Up will be an acceptable alternative.

– If Ira Glass ever teams up with Pixar to make a film, no films will need to be released afterward as they will have undoubtedly crafted the perfect story. There are teams of agents throughout Hollywood holding daily meetings to make sure that this partnership is prevented.

– Toy Story 3 is the kind of movie that makes terrible movies look like crimes against humanity. It is also the kind of movie that makes good movies look like terrible movies.

– Pixar has always shown an ability to predict the course of human emotion and affect the audience in unexpected ways. Basically, they know what they’re doing. They did not for some reason though, have the foresight to realize that it is very difficult to wipe tears form your eyes while wearing 3D glasses.

John Ratzenberger and his mustache.

– The simple act of watching Woody run from one place to another as his arms and legs flail about maniacally, is hilarious. If Toy Story 3 had been a Dreamworks production, the entire film would have revolved around this action. Also, the end dance sequence shown alongside the credits would have encompassed anywhere from 55% to 70% of the film.

– Why other film companies have not adopted the practice of placing John Ratzenberger in every one of their films is beyond me. Clearly he is the secret to the success of Pixar.

Winnebago Man, an Exploration of the Future

I am absolutely intrigued by the trailer for the film Winnebago Man. The original Youtube clip is of course hilarious, and the movie looks like a good documentary, but the thing that intrigues me the most is the idea of how Youtube is affecting us as a culture. I hate the way that previous sentence sounds. It is absolutely dripping with pretentiousness, but I am genuinely fascinated by the effect that Youtube is having, and will continue to have, on us.

I have seen a few pictures of my father as a child and fewer pictures of him as a young adult and the same goes for my mother. I know about them, I know where they are from, I know where they spent their childhoods and have even spent a significant amount of times in those areas. My father played in a bluegrass band before I was born, and I have heard some of their recordings.  Before songs I can recognize my fathers voice in some of the pre-song banter and I can hear the sense of humor that I have come to emulate as the not-quite-but-pretend-to-sometimes-be adult that I am today. These are the only physical remnants that I as their child have of them before I was part of their lives. I don’t really know who they were before I was born, but I think (and possibly fear) that with the advent of Youtube and Facebook, my kids will be able to see who I was.

What the hell do the memories of my family have to do with Winnebago Man? Not much really, except that I feel like Winnebago Man is sort of the first exploration of this approaching phenomenon.

Winnebago Man was just trying to make a commercial for his Winnebago and despite his obvious years of spokesperson training, he was struggling and getting frustrated. Years ago, an event like this would have been lost in obscurity. Maybe a few, “remember that time” recountings would occur and would always end with, “you had to be there,” and then the conversation would move onto the latest and greatest Winnebago*.

It’s not a perfect example of recorded memory, this being a commercial and all, but the idea is present. A part of this man’s life was recorded, one that would not have normally been shared with the world, and now he is witnessing the effects.

With Youtube and the absurd amounts of cameras everywhere, memories are getting captured in real time, and being committed to an archive. My kids will be able to see who I was in motion, and they will be able to see how awesome I think I was, and how much of a loser they will know I really am.

I may just have to purge my Youtube account before my kids learn how to use Google. Fingers crossed they don’t find this blog.

*I assume Winnebago salesman, their family and friends discuss Winnebagos exclusively.

G.I. Joe Deserves All of Its Praise -or- Molded Plastic Supports Our Economy and Cultural Progression

The success of Transformers — and I am of course referring to the financial success and not the artistic integrity of the film — has inspired the powers at be to create a G.I. Joe movie. According to rottentomatoes.com, the film has amassed about $121 million, which is approximately $121 million more dollars than I can ever hope of having within my possession.

I will admit that I have not seen the film, but I do plan on watching the film a year or two after it’s TBS network premiere while flipping through channels until at least the first commercial break. I think it is fair for me to assume that the film is probably not very good. I do not blame the filmmakers though, I don’t even blame the source material cartoon — which in case you’re wondering, is as awesome as you remember it.

I have been contemplating this issue. Why did everyone spend so much money on G.I. Joe and Transformers? What is it about these films that drives people to empty their wallets into a popcorn bucket? And I believe I’ve figured it out. Molded plastic. People love molded plastic. Action figures, Tupperware, boobs. People spend lots of money on all of those things, $121 million to be exact, probably even more on boobs.

What will be the next molded plastic film or food container phenomenon? I have my money on a Rubik’s cube movie. That thing is basically just a wad a plastic cubes. They probably use little plastic cubes to melt and mold into action figures and boobs. They are going to hit up the multicolored pre-molded plastic source material. We should see a trailer pretty soon, and the popcorn will be served in a Rubik’s cube shaped popcorn tub. I can’t wait to see the first 15 minutes on TBS in five or six years.

Johnny Depp Needs Acting Lessons -or- Hiding Your Influence is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

While watching Steve Martin and Martin Short’s film “3 Amigos” recently, I realized that Johnny Depp’s characterization of Jack Sparrow was not quite as original as we thought. And no, I did not forget Chevy Chase. That guy is only considered funny because of his exceptional height and his ability to effectively portray a moron.

Exhibit A: Notice the sweet pirate shoes.
pirate shoes

Exhibit B: I have outlined here three specific similarities. Each is color coded. Red signifies pointless hair danglies, blue represents equally pointless hair braiding and green represents a love of red head bandannas. I considered pointing out the beard similarities, but then decided that I wouldn’t, even though I just did.
braid, hair thingy, bandanna

Exhibit C: Confusing waist scarf. Is it serving as a belt?
scarf

Exhibit D: The final exhibit is a love of alcohol. On the left we have Jack Sparrow looking forlorn over a lack of alcohol, and on the right we have Mexican Jack Sparrow looking pleased because of an abundance of alcohol.
rum

Undeniable proof that Johnny Depp is a hack.  What other characters has Depp stolen from classic Martin Short films?  Perhaps a wedding planner with a thick accent?  Or a lonely man with a miniature Dennis Quaid inside of him?  I propose that all reading this boycott all future Johnny Depp film releases.  I burden you readers with this responsibility because I still plan on going to see Johnny Depp’s films, becasue that dude is fucking awesome.