Scene Analysis: Ghostbusters

Director: Ivan Reitman

Writers: Dank Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

Actors: Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and Sigourney Weaver

Context: Drs. Venkman, Spengler and Stantz are called to a library where a librarian has been terrified by what she claims is a supernatural specter. The trio of paranormal investigators try to locate the apparition.

Shot 1:

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The scene begins with a tracking shot, showing the men walk down stairs, highlighting how they are leaving the realm of the normal and descending into something wholly unknown to them. We follow along with them, part of the journey. The use of narrow tunnels around them illustrates that they are in a maze, seeking a minotaur more or less of which to combat (or in this case, discover).

Shot 2:

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The row of books at the center of the frame is unnatural since an audience is used to action happening just the right or left of center. The entire scene also emphasizes shadow to show how the characters are navigating into something mysterious, the light barely illuminating the mystery they are searching through.

Shot 3:

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The highlight of the slime shows that they are truly entering an unknown realm, something perverse around them. The motion of the slime dripping down further draws attention to its unnaturalness.

Shot 4:

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The characters are entering the new realm, drawn further into the mystery.

Shot 5:

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The characters examine the slime, unsure quite what to make of it, further being drawn in.

Shot 6:

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The medium shot brings the slime from the previous shot directly into contact with Venkman, eliminating any distance there had been before between the men and the unknown.

Shot 7:

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As the characters continue on their path, the tone is kept in check by Venkman, who treats the slime with disgust and humor. This keeps the story balanced between horror and comedy.

Shot 8:

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A staircase nearly falling down on the men as they continue highlights how much closer they are coming to danger. They are now near the minotaur in the maze and it is challenging them. (As a side note, this was not part of the original script and was a result of the bookcase actually falling down on its own during a take. The filmmakers wisely kept it in to add tension.)

Shot 9:

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The closer angle on Venkman and Stantz highlights how the characters realize they are very close now, and the stakes are higher.

Shot 10:

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This shot directly tracks with the men, following Spengler’s PKE meter, leading down the last leg of the path. We are now firmly with the trio, heading into danger, the PKE serving as a torch of sorts through the halls. By moving the camera so quickly, the viewer can sense the action ramping up.

Shot 11:

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The men come face to face with the minotaur, but the shot keeps the anticipation lingering for just a moment longer, showing that they’ve found it, but preventing us from seeing what it is, only their reactions. This makes whatever it is seem that much more terrifying just for a split second more.

Shot 12:

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We now glimpse the specter, a benign old woman. This counteracts our expectations which had been building, the audience assuming some sort of terrifying force. By portraying her so small in frame, her power seems diminished.

Shot 13:

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Spengler and Stantz stare on in amazement. They are positioned symmetrical in line with the bookcases behind them. It is also worth noting that there is a quiet gust of wind blowing across all three men at this time from some unknown source adding further to the unnatural nature of the encounter.

Shot 14:

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We move in closer to the ghost, admiring it as the scientists do. The wider hall indicates that we have indeed entered the center of the maze. This is what we were meant to find.

Shot 15:

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Stantz and Spengler continue to stand in wide-eyed disbelief. They are so completely taken in by what they see that they cannot even speak. This contradicts their earlier know-it-all attitude and leaves the audience wondering exactly the next shot.

Shot 16:

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Venkman finally asks the two men, “So, what do we do?”

Shot 17:

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Stantz and Spengler turn to each other, both with the same expression that the audience knows is, “I have no idea.” This shows the audience that despite their professionalism and enthusiasm, they are very much in the dark about what to do.

Shot 18:

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Venkman decides to take action, moving in the frame while the other two had remained frozen, indicating a need of action.

Shot 19:

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Venkman pulls Stantz towards him, drawing the other two into a need for action with him.

Shot 20:

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As the characters move behind a bookcase and out of frame, the viewer can see the library ghost turn and look at them. She is no longer just an object to them or the audience anymore, but an active participant in what is about to occur. The slowness of her movement is also eerie, and the fact that she does not participate further suggests that she is lurking, waiting for the right opportunity.

Shot 21:

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With Venkman’s back to the camera, the audience is placed in his shoes as he questions Stantz and Spengler on what to do. We, as an audience, watch the two squirm under pressure, trying to decide on a proper course of action. As they decide to make contact, their eyes turn to Venkman, the initiator of the action to come up with a plan, to break the barrier. This shows that not only are the men unsure what to do since they’ve found a ghost, they’re afraid to confront it, revealing a bit about their character (though this will be remedied later throughout the film as their characters are put through trials).

Shot 22:

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Venkman reacts to being singled out as the breaker-of-contact. He sighs in just the right way to show his disappointment in a humorous manner.

Shot 23:

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The characters go back to face the ghost.

Shot 24:

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We now stare at Venkman’s actions as he attempts to make contact. The shot is framed from the opposite point of view, our attention focused on Venkman, not the ghost, but we get a closer sense of the ghost whilst earlier we had stayed away. She appears as more a normal woman who just happens to be a ghost, diluting our expectations further as to what kind of power she possesses.

Shot 25:

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Spengler and Stantz busily take photographs and do readings, retreating into their happy place of research, not contact.

Shot 26:

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The close-up of Venkman asking where the ghost is from brings us back away from the ghost to the scientists. We are Venkman once again, not observing him.

Shot 27:

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Since we are back with the trio of scientists, the librarian ghost appears small again, but her actions of shushing Venkman quietly carry a great effect of creepiness. The sound reverberates longer than it should and her lack of personal connection with any of Venkman’s contact speaks to her otherworldliness.

Shot 28:

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Venkman’s face drops at the response, or lack thereof. The omnipresent strange glow and low wind continue to stay on him. This series of shots reflect a confrontation of sorts between the scientists and the ghost, setting them up as adversaries, the scientists trying to prod her and the ghost refusing to even contact.

Shot 29:

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The scientists go back in the corner again to discuss their strategy. Stantz takes charge, stating that he has a plan and leads the men back out and towards the ghost.

Shot 30:

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This is in contrast to the earlier shots showing the distance between the scientists and the ghost. That distance is now being closed as they move forward. The music growing louder shows how the confrontation is coming to a head.

Shot 31:

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The men present a unified front, arcing forward as if ready to pounce. Stantz talks with greater and greater anticipation, building suspense. As we move with them towards the ghost, all the previous buildup of the scene comes to light, the wandering through the halls, the discovering of clues of stacked books and slime, the discovery of the ghost and her utter disregard of them, all building to this moment of actual hero meeting beast. Stantz finally reveals his plan, which is strangely enough to shout, “Get her!” The lack of subtlety produces a burst of humor.

Shot 32:

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The utter terrifying transformation of the librarian ghost into a demon mixes that humor with horror, both feelings intertwined with the surge of surprise and reaction to the anticipation. By previously confounding our expectations about the nature of the ghost, going from demon who terrified librarian to quiet ghost to terrifying demon again, the ebbs and flows of the scientist’s journey allow easy emotional access for the audience to follow. By moving in closer to the demon than any previous shot had allowed as well, we are placed firmly in its domain.

Shot 33:

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Venkman, Stantz and Spengler scream in terror and retreat quickly, echoing the audience’s own reaction to the series of shots.

Conclusion:

The scene moves from the scientists trying to find paranormal activity to discovering it. Their experience in the library gives them greater knowledge that will be utilized when they confront other ghosts and ghouls throughout the film.

The Verdict Analysis

in-the-verdict

Director: Sidney Lumet

Writer: David Mamet

Cast: Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden and James Mason

Synopsis: Frank Galvin, a once-renowned lawyer down on his luck, has one last client with which he can cash in. Instead, he wages a court battle against the Catholic Church of Boston for a last chance at redemption for his very soul.

Protagonist:

Frank Galvin

Desire 1: To win the case of Deborah Ann Kaye

Desire 2: To redeem his soul

Forces of Antagonism: Alcoholism and fears of facing past demons, Laura and Concannon and Various Characters, the Church and the Law and the Medical Society and the Rich

Inciting Incident: Frank meets with Kevin and Sally Doneghy who present him with an easy case to make money.

Inciting Incident 2: Frank takes pictures of Deborah Ann Kaye, realizing that he can’t exploit her for his own gain and decides to fight for her.

Act One Climax: Frank refuses to take the Church’s offer.

Midpoint: Laura confronts Frank and tells him to stand up and be a man.

Act Two Climax: After being betrayed by Laura, Frank goes to court for one last stand.

Act Three Climax: Frank presents his renewed view of justice to the court and wins the case.

Themes:

  1. Redemption: Frank is haunted by his past, full of betrayal and a loss of a sense of justice. Confronted with a chance to redeem himself, he faces down his own failure to redeem himself.
  2. A Battle of Social Classes: The film takes great pains to show a distinction of economic classes, the poor who are struggling to get by (the Doneghys, the nurses) and the rich who reap all the benefits of a rigged system (Concannon, the Church, famous doctors). The plight of the poor is reflected in Frank, who was once rich, but is now a poor outsider.
  3. Finding Justice: In such a flawed world, where the rich achieve success and institutions (the law, the church, medicine) have failed so many, finding justice is hard to see. Emphasized by Frank’s speech at the end of the film, justice is inside each of us, we just need to find it in (as Frank does).

Scene Breakdown:

  1. Frank (0:00-1:40): Character Exposition

Action: Frank Galvin, a harsh shadow blocking his face, plays pinball, drinking a beer, a street desolate behind him.

  • By not showing Frank’s face, only his actions are illuminated; the actions of a drunk. The bright and empty street behind him shows him just how alone he is in the world.

 

  1. Frank (1:41-5:06): Character Exposition

Action 1: Frank brushes himself up, visiting a widow, looking for easy insurance case money. He leaves immediately after making his case. He crosses off another funeral from his list.

Action 2: Frank goes to another funeral searching for cases. The son of the deceased kicks him out. Frank walks alone down the winter street.

  • Frank’s actions further illustrate the despair of his situation. His clothes, though professional, are worn and tattered, illustrating a man who once held high esteem but has fallen on hard times.
  • His constant unease with what he is doing is evident in Paul Newman’s acting, Newman fidgeting, always looking down at the ground.
  • Finally being thrown out, the harsh cold of winter illustrates his being trapped in despair.

 

  1. Frank (5:07-6:32): Character Exposition

Action 1: Frank tells funny stories at a bar to a bunch of drunks, the best dressed guy in the joint, buying everyone drinks.

Action 2: He trashes his office in a fit of drunken self-loathing, tearing his walls empty.

  • The series of shots are shot straight on or at a high angle, illustrating Frank’s meagerness with the luxury of his office seemingly greater than him.
  • By emptying the walls of his frames and degrees, he exposes his soul, bare and empty.

 

  1. Frank, Mickey (6:33-9:30): Introduction of Main Plot- Introduction of Secondary Ally Character

Inciting Incident for Mickey: Desire- Protect Frank

Action 1: Mickey picks him up off the ground, noticing the disarray of his office.

Action 2: He reminds him of the Deborah Ann Kaye case coming up in ten days. He gives him an ultimatum to get his act together and solve this case.

  • Despite the disarray, Mickey helping Frank up and his lack of surprise illustrate that this is not an uncommon occurrence and that Mickey cares for Frank by continually lifting him up.
  • The scene takes place as a two-shot, Mickey in the light, and Frank in the dark. An open window between them illustrates the distance between the emotional state of both characters.
  • When the action cuts to medium shots between the characters, the light is harsh on both of them, but Frank appears a mess, blood dripping off his eyebrow, unshaven and messy while Mickey is clean shaven, his coat buttoned. This further highlights the differences between the characters.

 

  1. Kaye Case (9:31-15:42): Further Development of Main Plot- Supporting Characters Introduced

Inciting Incident for Frank: Desire- Win case and reclaim esteem

Action 1: Refreshed, Frank gets ready for the case.

Action 2: He visits the hospital, looking over his client, strapped up to a ventilator, the only thing keeping her alive. He sees that obviously he has a case worth winning.

Action 3: Frank comes back to his office to find Sally Doneghy waiting for him. He awkwardly welcomes her inside. He explains the situation to her, just how winnable the case is.

Action 4: Sally starts telling Frank about her sister and her children and the tragic situation.

Action 5: Sally’s husband, Kevin, enters. They talk about the cost and the need to move on from the painful situation.

  • Frank is the only thing in black in the hospital, sticking out like a sore thumb, obviously not a part of this world. This is further accentuated when a patient asks him to move off his bed.
  • The conversation with Sally begins in cutaways, but moves into a two-shot, Sally pleading with Frank. This highlights how the case is becoming closer to Frank, a morality to it that he can’t escape from, drawing him in.
  • When Kevin enters the scene, he and Sally are shot together, but Frank moves to sitting on his desk away from them, drawing a line from the situation he had been morally drawn to.

 

  1. Church (15:43-17:10): Introduction of Antagonizing Force

Inciting Incident for Church: Desire- Clean up case

Action 1: A lawyer outlines the biography of Frank Galvin to the bishop. He explains that Frank can’t go to court for fear he will lose. The bishop explains he doesn’t want the case in court either and will make an offer to Frank personally. The lawyer confirms to the bishop that they would win in trial anyway.

  • The lawyer and the bishop are shot in tracking shots, illustrating that they are moving quickly as their dialogue suggests, always in motion, trying to solve their issues with expediency. This is in stark contrast to the slow moving Frank.
  • As the lawyer and the bishop move, they are far in the background, leaving the audience to just them by their cold words and not their faces. This makes them appear bureaucratic and not empathetic, showing how they view their own negligence as a business transaction and not a moral issue.

 

  1. Kaye Case (17:11-19:35): Gaining Ally for Main Plot and Learning Details

Action 1: Frank searches out Dr. Gruber. They talk as they walk. Dr. Gruber explains to Frank that the doctors are indeed responsible for her death. They discuss the deposition and agree to meet later.

  • Frank and Dr. Gruber walk through a maze of staircases and walkways, sometimes hidden by columns, illustrating the difficult terrain morally Frank is passing. They walk into full frame for Dr. Gruber’s dramatic line of “The doctors killed her”, leaving no doubt about the truth amongst all the legal issues.
  • Frank is never given a close up in the entire scene. The only close up is given to Dr. Gruber when he states that he is giving the deposition, “to do the right thing. Isn’t that why you’re doing it?” The next shot is a long shot of Frank looking small, an answer to Dr. Gruber’s question pictorially. Frank then shouts ecstatically.

 

  1. Laura (19:36-21:09): Introduction of Love Interest

Laura Inciting Incident: Desire- Get to know Frank

Action 1: Frank approaches Laura at a bar, looking for apartments. He asks to buy her a drink, but she turns him down.

Action 2: On her way out, Laura tells him that she’s glad he had a good day.

  • Laura looking for apartments explains that she is low on money, foreshadowing the role her character will play.

 

9. Kaye Case (21:10-23:03): Illustrating Character’s State of Mind

Action 1: Frank talks on the phone to Sally, explaining how everything is going. He listens to her talk about how her sister is so unprotected. He tries to talk her out of thinking too emotionally while drinking and writing how much his cut could be.

  • The shot slowly moves in to focus on Frank. While Frank’s face had been hidden before in regards to the case, the viewer can now see Frank’s lack of caring and knows what he is doing is wrong.

 

10. Kaye Case (23:03-25:12): Inner Change of Character Towards New Goal

Frank Second Inciting Incident: Desire- Gain Justice for Deborah Ann Kaye

Action 1: Frank returns to the hospital. He starts taking pictures of the victim hooked to the ventilator.

Action 2: Frank stops as the pictures develop. He tells a nurse that he is her attorney.

  • The viewer watches Frank’s face change as he takes the photos of the poor woman. This is in harmony to the photographs taken as they slowly develop, illustrating things becoming clear to Frank. No longer is she a prop to get him his money, but a person whose life has been taken away.
  • Frank’s change is complete as he sits down on her level, something he had been unable to do previously. He tells the nurse nearby that he is her attorney, signifying a change in how he views the girl.

 

11. Kaye Case (25:12-29:22) Protagonist Commitment to Journey

Frank End of Act One: Committed to Trying Case

Action 1: Frank sits and listens to the bishop explain the good that St. Catherine’s does for the community. He presents the church’s offer.

Action 2: Frank explains that they’ve all been bought off to look the other way. He refuses to take their money.

  • The red in the environment, matching the red worn on the bishop’s head, illustrates that Frank is wholly in the bishop’s domain.
  • Frank is given a choice in a series of shots and the script takes careful measure to record everything that Frank had originally wanted: no court, a neat $70,000 for himself, a way to move on for the family. He chooses to not do what he wanted for moral reasons.
  • Frank turns down the money with the pictures he had taken in his hands, along with the church’s money. These figures in each hand represent the moral balance at stake for his character, the scales of the law that he claims to represent.
  • Frank is shot to be very small in the scene, showing a lack of power. It is interesting at this moment that this shows his greatest conviction of character, seeming to push beyond the pressures to take the money.

 

12. Kaye Case, Mickey and Frank (29:22-31:43) Establishing Bond with Ally

Mickey End of Act One: Mickey committed to seeing Frank to end of line

Action 1: Frank visits Mickey playing cards. He convinces him to hear him out.

Action 2: Mickey tries to convince Frank to change his mind. Frank refuses.

Action 3: Mickey points out that the Archdioceses’ lawyer is Ed Concannon, who he calls the prince of darkness, trying to get him to understand just how wrong things could go. Frank says he has to stand up for that girl.

Action 4: Frank tells Mickey he’s going to try the case and he needs his help. Mickey agrees to help.

  • Frank and Mickey’s conversation is now done in tracking shots, showing Frank moving in his agenda rather than trapped an alcoholic. We also see Frank’s face, connected with him on his journey as a hero.

 

13. Concannon (31:43-34:42) Introduction of Chief Antagonist

Concannon Inciting Incident and Act One: Concannon committed to besting Frank

Action 1: Concannon explains to his army of lawyers the situation regarding Frank. He explains the plan, including reviewing depositions and starting a goodwill tour for the doctors. He concludes with a plan to make it seem that Frank’s trial is an attack on the institution.

Action 2: The Archdioceses lawyers get their documents together.

  • The long boardroom in the scene illustrates how much more manpower the Archdiocese has in comparison to Frank and Mick, who operate just by themselves.

 

14. Frank and Mickey (34:42-35:59) Devising Strategy and Evaluating Enemy

Action 1: Frank and Mickey work at a long empty table. Mickey goes over the background of the doctors and their prestige. Frank states that as long as they have Dr. Gruber, they’ll be all right and begins to research cases that’ll help them.

  • As Mickey talks about the doctors and their history he calls them appearing as if God to a jury as he stands at the highest point of the frame, a reference to how mighty they’ll appear in testimony. He walks back down as he talks about the two of them and the camera pulls in, bringing us back to Earth, with Frank.

 

15. Laura (35:59-42:02) Committing to Emotional Attachment with Love Interest

Laura Act One Climax: Committed to Frank and his life

Action 1: Frank tells Mickey he’ll meet him tomorrow because he’s going to get laid.

Action 2: Frank goes to Laura. He asks her questions about her life. She reveals that her ex-husband was a lawyer. He gets her to tell him her name.

Action 3: He tells her he bets she came back to see him. She doesn’t confirm or deny it. He gets her to agree to dinner with him.

Action 4: Frank explains his philosophy on why he is a lawyer, that the weak need somebody to defend them. Courts exist to give the weak a chance at justice.

Action 5: Laura comes home with him. They kiss between drinks. She notices the picture of his ex-wife next to his bed and laughs it off.

  • The scene is all done in shot, reverse shot, showing them as a couple, bringing them together.
  • Laura is always looking around, peering at the things Frank is saying or his apartment. What could be interpreted as mindful glances of a potential lover are subtle clues that she is digging for something deeper. Her laugh at the ex-wife portrait is her first moment of genuineness, suggesting that all of their interaction before was a charade.

 

16. Kaye Case (42:02-47:05) Antagonistic Forces Begin Offensive

Action 1: Frank plays pinball, besting the game. He notices the time, realizes he is late and runs out of the bar.

Action 2: Frank enters into his meeting with the Judge and Concannon late. He tells Concannon they have met before, but Concannon obviously doesn’t remember it. The Judge pushes Frank to take the Archdiocese’s deal, as does Concannon.

Action 3: The Judge points out Frank’s past history, including his almost disbarment. Frank states that things can change, but the Judge tries to humor him into taking the deal. Frank refuses. The Judge leaves for court, then Concannon, leaving Frank alone.

  • Frank is seen multiple times playing a pinball machine. This ties in with his quote about the weak needing a chance at justice, not necessarily justice itself. The game is a metaphor of how some things are based on chance as well as dedication. His playing improves as he becomes more and more dedicated to the case (also evidenced by the shots continually becoming brighter), but it is still just a chance at winning. The cheerful beeping noises also reflect his recent “score” with Laura. The fact that he is late because of the game reflects how he is still not committed to the need to fully change his moral compass.
  • The Judge and Concannon represent a world of current order that Frank used to be a part of, but isn’t anymore. The Judge and Concannon are very open in their arms and gestures while Frank is closed and reserved. Frank is always given his own shot while the Judge and Concannon are looking at Frank and the audience over Frank’s shoulder. As the Judge makes his offer to “save” Frank from embarrassment, he offers first Concannon tea, showing their partnership, then Frank, showing he could rejoin their ranks by accepting the offer. At the end, Frank is totally alone.

 

17. Kaye Case (47:05-51:17) Complications with Past Allies

Action 1: Frank questions potential jurors. He is out of practice.

Action 2: Frank and Mickey discuss the case. Concannon is planting stories in the newspaper. He realizes he is late to meet Dr. Gruber.

Action 3: Kevin Doneghy finds Frank and punches him. He threatens Frank for ruining his life and not taking the offer.

Action 4: Frank tries to explain his reasoning to Kevin, saying he’ll get more money after court.

Action 5: Kevin states that lawyers are all alike and they will live his mistake.

  • The jury is framed through the audience’s point of view, putting us as the jury in terms of Frank’s performance. With his asking if the Jewish man had ever been at St. Catherine’s hospital, it shows a lack of preparedness.
  • After Kevin punches Frank, all the action takes place in medium shots so the audience can view the reactions of Frank and Kevin. This makes their interaction that much more powerful.

 

18. Kaye Case (51:18-55:48) Antagonistic Forces Take Control

Action 1: Frank tries to find Dr. Gruber, but he is nowhere to be found. He asks a nurse, but she states that he hasn’t been there all day.

Action 2: Frank looks Dr. Gruber’s home address up and visits his residence. He rings the doorbell. There is no answer. A woman informs him Dr. Gruber is in the Caribbean and won’t return for a week.

Action 3: Frank visits the Judge, seeking an extension to subpoena Dr. Gruber. The Judge closes the door in his face.

  • The scene takes place in the same location as the first scene with Dr. Gruber, but it is much darker, the shadows becoming ominous forewarnings of the force that Frank is fighting. Frank is shot entirely alone again.
  • The score kicks in as Frank realizes that he is out of his depth. It is especially eerie since this is one of its first uses.
  • Paul Newman gives a powerful reaction shot after he rings the doorbell. He turns into a close-up from the emptiness of the street in the previous shot as he realizes how he has been manipulated.

 

19. Laura (55:49-57:22) Explaining Protagonist History

Action 1: Mickey talks with Laura. He explains how Frank got into trouble in the past, how his boss tried to fix a case and he got stuck with the blame.

  • Though Mick and Laura are shot in the same booth as Frank and Laura’s date, the scene does not feel the same because of the angle of the shot, both characters shot in medium-wide rather than medium-close, making the scene less personal. Mickey also stares away for the most of the scene, lost in the past.

 

20. Kaye Case (57:23-1:02:37) Responding to Antagonist Attacks

Action 1: Frank, obviously desperate, talks to an operator. He gives her a number for the Archdiocese to call him.

Action 2: In his office, Frank answers the phone, trying to get the original offer of $210,000 back on the table. There is no luck.

Action 3: Frank explains the situation to Mickey. He gets started on a list to replace Dr. Gruber. Frank starts calling doctors.

  • Frank’s conversation on the phone with the Archdiocese features only his dialogue. This makes the force he is dealing with beyond human control, an unnatural force of nature more than a human being (this ties in with the pevious scenes of him running through the streets searching for any human figure). The viewer imagining what the other end of the call is like is worse than an actual representation.
  • The scene is shot in a long shot, showing just how meek Frank is. Frank and Mickey are also shot with the same window between them as their first scene, showing the distance in their standing. As Mickey is enlisted by Frank for help, he pulls closer to Frank, eliminating that distance.

 

21. Laura (1:02:38-1:03:16) Searching the Protagonist for Hope

Action 1: Laura tries to get Frank to relax.

  • Laura’s face is completely in shadow. This makes her seem more ethereal than an actual person, a force. This also pulls away emotional attachment to her.

 

22. Concannon (1:03:17-1:05:41) Antagonist’s Mounting Plans

Action 1: Concannon reviews the testimony of Dr. Towler. He instructs him on how to say his testimony and appear to a jury, speaking in short sentences and referring to the girl by her name. He is confrontational with the doctor, telling him to cut the bullshit.

Action 2: The doctor accuses Concannon of not knowing what it was like in the room, practically reliving the experience. Concannon laughs, knowing how that will play in court.

  • Showing the force of the lawyers of St. Catherine’s everything is bright, the shot is shown across a long table and there are many lawyers gathered.

 

23. Kaye Case (1:05:42-1:07:46) Protagonist’s Plans Flounder

Action 1: Frank waits at the train station for Dr. Thompson. He is shaken to see that he is unorthodox and black.

Action 2: Frank calls Mickey to see if he has found the nurse who won’t testify. He hasn’t.

 

24. Kaye Case (1:07:47-1:10:10) Flummoxed Protagonist Pushed to the Limit

Action 1: Frank visits the nurse, Maureen, who won’t testify in search of evidence for Deborah Ann Kaye, trying to figure out why there was a mistake in the operating room.

Action 2: He pushes the nurse, threatening to subpoena her, knowing that she won’t tell him the truth. She calls all lawyers whores and slams the door shut.

  • Frank is framed in the middle of the shot, the door to screen right and the wall to screen left, representing how boxed into a corner he is.

 

25. Concannon (1:10:11-1:11:14) Antagonist Gathering Confidence

Action 1: One of the lawyers tells Concannon how unqualified Dr. Thompson is.

 

26. Kaye Case (1:11:15-1:12:45) Protagonist and Ally Questioning Their Resolve

Action 1: Dr. Thompson tells Mickey his findings from the case. Mickey tries to get a rise out of Dr. Thompson.

Action 2: Mickey asks him what “code blue” is. Dr. Thompson doesn’t know, signifying his lack of expertise. Mickey and Frank share a glance.

  • Frank is framed sitting by while Mickey questions Dr. Thompson, always in the shadows. His apprehension regarding the testimony is evident by his mere presence, not getting involved.

 

27. Laura and Frank (1:12:16-1:16:17) Protagonist Challenged to the Core

Frank Midpoint: Frank now has to man up to survive in court, a quest that he has failed up to this point

Laura Midpoint: Laura moves beyond love interest to morality questioner, challenging Frank

Action 1: Frank tells Laura that they’re going to lose. He questions why he ever took the case to trial.

Action 2: Laura tries to get him to man up and face his problems. She accuses him of being a kid, a failure if he doesn’t start acting like a man.

Action 3: Frank ducks away into the bathroom to catch his breath. He begs her not to pressure him.

Action 4: Frank kisses Laura, asleep in bed.

  • Frank hides almost in the doorway, admitting defeat, while Laura, his conscience, looms large. This comparison shows a broken man. The opposite angle shows Laura, medium shot, against white drapes, making her appear more angelic, while Frank remains small in the doorway, surrounded by straight lines made by the bed, dressers and drawers, another symbol of him being boxed in.
  • There is a further crescendo of soundtrack as Laura digs into Frank.

 

28. Kaye Case (1:16:18-1:19:51) The Protagonist Enters the Arena of His Challenge

Action 1: Frank tells Sally he’s going to do the best he can for her and her sister. He enters court.

Action 2: Mickey tries to get Frank to lighten up. Frank doesn’t laugh. The Judge enters. Court begins

Action 3: Frank addresses the jury in his opening statement.

  • The court is presented as a wide expanse, completed with a multitude of different people. The brown furnishings glisten as if this were a mausoleum. The audience to court is framed primarily in darkness, taking our place as moviegoers, watching the action present between lawyers, judge and jury.
  • Frank’s opening statement features a tracking camera, along the back of the jury. This puts the viewer in the place of the jury, judging for themselves Frank’s performance and heart.

 

29.Kaye Case (1:19:52-1:26:19) Frank Confronts Minor Antagonist (Judge)

Action 1: A couple of lawyers discuss the case, indicating that they have a source working against Frank.

Action 2: Concannon questions Dr. Thompson. Concannon placates the court by admitting him as an expert witness.

Action 3: Frank begins to question Dr. Thompson. The Judge blurts out a question at the witness, seemingly taking over the court himself. Frank hastily retreats after the Judge’s question. Court is adjourned.

Action 4: The Judge, in his chambers, accuses Frank of needing to have been kicked out long ago. Frank finally stands up for himself, telling the Judge he only wants a fair share, and the Judge is losing the case for him. Frank is thrown out of chambers.

  • Thompson is framed very small, showing his lack of strength in the courtroom initially. As Concannon attacks him more and more, the shots becoming closer, showing the expressions of both men.
  • Frank is framed next to the jury, showing just who he is trying to influence.
  • The Judge is framed higher than everyone else, appearing large and formidable compared to the rest of the court. When questioning Dr. Thompson, he stands up, elevating himself even more.
  • As Frank yells at the Judge in his chambers, the Judge is seated with his back to the camera, diminishing in size and power while Frank stands over him, intimidating. This is the first instance of Frank doing what Laura had wanted of him: taking control.

 

30. Kaye Case (1:26:20-1:28:35) Protagonist, Driven by Pride, Damages Himself

Action 1: Frank tries to calm down Sally. He walks away as she cries.

Action 2: Frank questions Dr. Towler. He refuses to let him actually answer any of his questions, continually plowing onto another point. When Dr. Towler actually does answer, he contradicts Frank’s point and damages the case.

  • Seeing Concannon prep Dr. Towler earlier, the audience knows he is prone to giving in to pressure and waits from him to break as before, but instead he remains cool, showing how much he has been prepared.

 

31. Kaye Case (1:28:36-1:31:00) Rededication by Protagonist, Aided by Allies

Action 1: Frank and Mickey stand together, mulling over the damage to the case he’s made. Dr. Thompson says goodbye, saying that people have a great capacity to hear the truth.

Action 2: Frank tells Laura he has no idea what he’s going to do.

Action 3: Mickey rubs Frank’s shoulders, telling him there’ll be other cases. Frank states that this is the case.

  • Frank is positioned facing down, his back to Mickey, not even able to look him in the eye. Mickey’s displeasure is evident all over his expression. Mickey serves as a moral compass for Frank to attain to throughout the film, and this simple posture illustrates just how far Frank has fallen.
  • The snow covering the ground indicates how frozen and alone Frank is in his case.

 

32. Kaye Case, Concannon and Laura (1:31:01-1:32:41) An Ally and Love Interest Reveal Their True Nature

Laura Act Two Climax: Laura’s actions are revealed to be false

Concannon Act Two Climax: Concannon reveals just how far he is willing to go to beat Frank.

Action 1: Concannon gives Laura a check, revealing that she is the informant on the Kaye case. Concannon explains her own internal thinking, showing he understands what she is going through, but that it is necessary.

  • Concannon talks to a mysterious off-screen presence, setting up Laura’s reveal through a tracking shot. He gives her a glass of whiskey in the same manner that the Judge gave him, symbolizing that she is part of that system now.

 

33. Kaye Case (1:32:42-1:35:50) The Protagonist Gains New Insight and Direction

Action 1: Frank and Mickey go through the facts of the case again. Frank notices an interesting face about the admitting nurse and leaves the office.

Action 2: Frank visits Maureen Rooney again. He tricks her into believing that he has already talked with Kaitlin Costello, the admitting nurse, and learns her location.

  • Frank discovers the interesting tidbit about the admitting nurse framed against the diplomas hanging back up on his wall, showing that he has some achieved some of the prestige of his past.
  • Frank meets with Maureen in a church, offering a parallel of confronting one’s demands and seeking help with no other place to turn to.

 

34. Kaye Case (1:35:51-1:38:15) The Protagonist Runs Into a Pitfall

Action 1: Frank and Mickey try to find Kaitlin Costello. Laura sneaks around, looking for information to leak back to Concannon.

Action 2: After calling many Kaitlin Costellos, Frank is exhausted. He has no leads.

  • Frank’s exhaustion shows on his face as the camera starts with a wide shot, then moves in closer and closer to close up.

 

35. Kaye Case (1:38:16-1:44:01) The Protagonist Makes One Last Attempt at Chance for Success

Action 1: Frank wakes up after sleeping the night in his office. He finds a letter from the New England Telephone Office.

Action 2: Frank speaks to Kaitlin and boards a flight after her. As he calls Laura, Mickey finds the check from Concannon to her.

Action 3: Frank finds Kaitlin taking care of some children on a playground. He keeps up the charade of looking into the program for his nephew until she sees his plane ticket in his pocket. He asks if she’ll help him.

  • This scene involves a number of close ups on paper. From Frank finding the letter from the phone company to Mickey finding Laura’s check from Concannon to Kaitlin spotting Frank’s plane ticket, all little pieces of information relating to information hiding just below the service, everyone with secrets to hide.
  • Only when Frank stops lying to Kaitlin, as he has lied and manipulated all the other persons in the case, does he get true help in the situation. He stops being just a whore who doesn’t care about anyone, as Maureen had called him, and becomes an actual human being trying to do right by his client.

 

36. Laura (1:44:02-1:46:01) The Protagonist Faces Down Against Allies Turned Enemies and Emerges to Finish Quest

Mickey Act Two Climax: Mickey protects Frank even though it means hurting his heart.

Laura Act Three Climax: Laura, hated by herself and Frank, is tossed away.

Frank Act Two Climax: Frank, betrayed by the institutions and his job, must complete the last leg of his quest by himself.

Action 1: Mickey waits in the sidewalk for Frank. He takes him around the corner and tells him about Laura’s betrayal.

Action 2: Frank runs into the dark bar, the sunlight spreading in from the window nearby. He finds Laura and punches her. She tells the other men in the bar to leave him alone.

  • As Mickey tells Frank about Laura’s betrayal, the shot pulls back to an extreme long shot. We do not hear their actual conversation, but we are so in tune with the characters that we already know how it goes. Through the simple body language of Frank and Mickey, we see his reaction.
  • Rather than any actual confrontation, Frank and Laura simply stare at each other, Frank shocked, Laura guilty, their reactions evident simply through acting. The camera moves in to Laura, judging her as Frank does.

 

37. Kaye Case (1:46:02-1:59:12) The Protagonist Fulfills His Last Stand, But the Antagonizing Forces are Too Strong

Concannon Act Three Climax: Concannon uses every last trick in the book, defying his own morality, in a last attempt to win the case.

Action 1: Sitting on a plane, Frank tells Mickey that he doesn’t want a mistrial.

Action 2: Mickey brings Frank breakfast. Laura calls. Mickey lies that Frank isn’t there.

Action 3: Frank questions Dr. Towler again. He asks if he had administered an anesthetic one-hour beforehand, causing her to vomit in her mask, if that would make him negligent. He agrees that it would.

Action 4: Frank questions Kaitlin on the stand. Kaitlin testifies that Deborah had told her she had eaten on-hour prior to visiting and marked it down.

Action 5: Concannon questions Kaitlin on the stand, bullying her. Kaitlin tells him that she kept a copy of the original admittance form and relates how the doctor made her change the one on the from into a nine. Kaitlin runs out of the room.

Action 6: Concannon launches a series of changes to Kaitlin’s testimony, Frank fighting back, but the Judge sustaining. All of Kaitlin’s testimony is disallowed.

  • As opposed to the previous court scene, this takes place later in the day, the darker hues and colors, stronger shadows, representing the darkness that Frank has gone through.
  • The camera tracks Dr. Towler as he leaves the stand. As Kaitlin Price is called up, he turns straight to the camera, shocked. This gives the audience a glimmer of hope and understanding that he has indeed just lied on the stand.
  • Kaitlin is filmed in the center of the screen, a strand of light illuminating her face and hair, appearing angelic, a vision of truthfulness. Her virtue and fear at her surroundings immediately brings the audience emotionally to her side.
  • Concannon’s questioning of Kaitlin features him at a high angle, dwarfing over her, as if attacking. This presents him as fearsome, his tone registering the perfect balance of calm accusatory. As Kaitlin begins surprising him with her testimony, she pulls out his frame, leaving him on the defensive, highlighting his own reactions. Kaitlin then speaks directly to Dr. Towler, everything flashing back to four years, a conclusion to a scene the audience has never seen, but can perfectly imagine.
  • As Concannon rips apart Kaitlin’s testimony, the Judge is seen assuming his previous place as higher than other individuals, but Frank, with his objections, keeps rising up in the frame, trying to reach that peak of importance. Concannon grows larger in the frame. Frank however, is shown small in the frame, showing his lack of power.

 

38. Frank, Kaye Case (1:59:12-2:03:26)

Church Act One Climax: The bishop knows about the truth, but, wrapped in his self-importance, moves on.

Frank Act Three Climax: Frank lays bear everything he has learned during the case, the need for true justice in a world of corruption and the need to fight for it.

Action 1: The bishop talks with several of his lawyers. They all believe Kaitlin was telling the truth, but agree that legally the case is over.

Action 2: Frank addresses the jury. He states that if we are to have faith in justice, we need only to believe in ourselves and act with justice. He impassions the jury to believe in justice because at that moment, they are justice.

  • The scene is set later in the day to reveal the evening of the story and how things are coming to a close.
  • Frank explains the main themes of the film: the rich win while the poor lose, liars are everywhere and everyone becomes a victim. He reflects the same strong themes he had told Laura near the beginning of the story, trusting in the power of the truth.
  • The camera moves in on Frank as he delivers his closing statement, presenting us as the jury, and giving Frank the opportunity to present his changed self, the self of core beliefs that he had lost and regained.
  • As Frank had always been trying to reach Mickey’s stature of moral acceptance, Mickey pats Frank’s arm when he returns to his seat, signifying his acceptance.

 

39. Kaye Case (2:03:27-2:04:46)

Kaye Resolution: The case is won.

Action 1: The jury returns to deliver a verdict in favor of Deborah Ann Kaye. They ask for more allowance to be given than the suit asked for.

  • The camera follows the jury as they return to the courtroom, letting the audience finally actually see them, and in so doing, us.
  • As the verdict is read, the camera pans down from the loft of the Judge down to Frank, showing that Frank has now achieved the grandeur so long lost to him.
  • The scene cuts before the amount of reward is announced, showing that the true importance of the moment is not money, but the serving of the justice strived for by Frank.

 

40. Laura (2:04:47-2:06:47)

Laura Act Four Climax: Laura and Frank, free from the case, are unable to reconcile their differences in morality.

Action 1: Various people congratulate Frank as he leaves the courtoom. He looks out to see Laura in the distance. He walks past her. When he looks back, she is gone.

Action 2: Laura lies in bed, drunk, knocking a glass over. She calls Frank. Frank lets the phone ring as he sits in his office. He closes his eyes, immune to the noise.

  • Laura appears very small in frame, Frank dwarfing her, showing how small she has become while at the same time how great Frank now is.
  • Laura disappearing shows just how far he has moved on, Laura becoming a haunting image of regret and betrayal in his mind, no longer a person, but a ghost.
  • Frank’s office is now pristine. He is cleanly shaven, drinks coffee instead of booze, a picture of respectability. By closing his eyes, he moves past Laura and the corruption she represents.

 

Conclusion

The Verdict represents a search for justice in a world where the rich and powerful usually win. Frank seeks justice not from the court, but from higher powers, the ability to find justice in ourselves amongst all the pain of the world. The verdict of the trial is not an actual court case, but of Frank’s soul, to see if he has truly earned a place as a respectable man. As characters rise and fall around him, he finds  justice for his client, deprived of it by the very same people who deprived him of his reputation, through an appeal to our inner goodness.

 

 

 

 

 

Gotham Episode 1 Review

The-Gotham-TV-show-7

I never had high hopes for this show. From the previews, it appeared as if the program was having difficulties deciding just whose story it was: Bruce Wayne or James Gordon. After the premiere, I was still left wondering.

One gets the sense that it will be Gordon’s vehicle, but his story is far less interesting than that of Bruce Wayne’s. Simply, and to emphasize a point that the Joker has always spouted, Gotham is just not interesting without Batman. He’s the reason we care, his story is one that has lasted 75 years and without him, there’s just not a lot to be emotionally involved in.

The show also makes the mistake of trying to do too much too fast. Thrown into the show at random moments are cameos of Penguin, Riddler, Poison Ivy, Carmine Falcone and Catwoman. There’s no mystery, no intrigue of characters involved in the production, just an excuse to shove in as many references as possible. The result is not exciting, but dreary.

With so much being shoved into the plot, there’s no time for character development. Gordon is your stereotypical just-trying-to-do-the-right-thing-cop, the mobsters are thugs and everyone else barely has enough screen time to register. The characters are distant and caricatures because they are never given an opportunity to breathe and interact, always the next moment of available screen time given to another cameo, leaving the audience with no hero to root for.

On top of that, the writing is stiff when it could have revealed much more. After Gordon returns home to his wife at the end of the episode, his wife opens the door, exclaims, “Thank God you’re all right. I was so worried,” and embraces him. What could have been a moment that revealed true character (perhaps Gordon brushes her off to show that he is afraid of letting her into his world, perhaps Barbara initially cares for him and then berates him for getting involved with the wrong people), is instead treated with the most basic emotion that reveals no inner emotion or subtext. In essence, the entire show is just trying to get itself from moment to moment.

I’ve always believed that Batman could be an excellent television series (the 1960s version and animated version are proof of that), but with current television styles and tastes, a grittier, more character focused attempt, focusing on the relationship between Gordon and Bruce, perhaps on a network like HBO that allowed a truer show of violence, would better serve the story. This just seems like a poorly thought out marketing grab.

Calvary Review

Sometimes, concept is everything. The film begins in a confessional where the confessor tells a priest that he was raped and abused by a minister when he was a child, but can not seek revenge because the man is dead. He then tells the priest he will kill him in one week’s time because murdering an innocent priest will make waves. So begins only the opening repulsion of humanity that the film then spends the next two hours piling on.

In the film, Father James (Brendan Gleeson), facing down his own mortality, tries to look after his congregation of broken individuals ranging from Simon, (Isaach De Bankole) the woman beater, to Teresa (Marie-Josee Croze) the temptress, to the Writer (M. Emmet Walsh) the old suicidal depressive, to Michael Fitzgerald (Dylan Moran) the manic, drunken rich man to even his own fellow Father Leary (David Wilmot), the boring faker. It is hard to believe that out of the community, not one person is of any real decency, but apparently in this land, where people have been screwed over by the wealthy, the Church and themselves, nothing is wholesome. The only saving grace for Father James is his daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly), a formerly suicidal addict who is just getting onto her feet. Their relationship is the only glimmer of any hope.

To say that Calvary (2014) has a pessimistic view of humanity would not do the film justice; it has one of the most depressing views of civilization put to screen, and it does not even feature Nazis, barbarians or terrorists. What it does feature are lost souls, each damaged in different ways, either through sex or money or laziness. Some try to repent, most do not, but they all live in this Irish town with no hope. With Father James trying to make amends with his parish before his possible end in just one week’s time, he has to look each of these individuals in the eye, and try to find something, just one thing, to represent some good he brought to the world. To sit through this agony is tantamount to torture at times, and where the film asks us to question our own humanity and the legacy of our world through the horrible portrayals of a small town, the optimists will instead wonder how much longer the depression onscreen can last.

The strongest thing the film has going for it is its concept, one that could have be handled in so many different ways that would shed true light on mankind and how we leave our world. Director John Michael McDonagh instead leaves us with a bleak view of humanity’s incompetence with no rewarding attributes, one that needs to be washed away with a shower of happiness immediately after viewing.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

Even five years ago, the idea of a Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) film would have been ludicrous. They were B-list superheroes at best. Most people had never heard of them. But with Disney now determined to churn out a superhero film every few months to hold onto their current popularity for as long as they can, it was only a matter of time before something near the bottom of the barrel was given a $200 million budget just for an open summer timeslot. None of this is meant to disparage the fun film, but it is interesting to think about how we have reached a certain apex in superhero film fashion where a ragtag team of losers that includes a giant tree and a talking raccoon with a machine gun is now a major motion picture.

Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), begins the film as a rogue thief looking to make a profit until one of the items he snatches turns out to be an object with immense power that is coveted by an evil warlord, Ronan (Lee Pace). Through his adventure, he meets allies in Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Racoon (voice of Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voice of Vin Diesel). With each working through their own complex pasts involving betrayals and strange lab experiments and heartbreak, they learn to move on from their needs for money or power or revenge and work together to accomplish a greater good. If this sounds somewhat similar to The Avengers (2012), that’s because it is, but with more bizarre, sci-fi elements at play it does distinguish itself. In fact, if you pay close enough attention, you will also see striking similarities to Star Wars (1977) in character types and plot structure.

In difference to other superhero films (though this film barely qualifies in that genre and should be considered more of a sci-fi comedy), Guardians focuses more on humor and action than heart and emotion. The aliens and costumes are bizarre and colorful, the characters and species are plentiful and there are so many laws and devices and objects of immense power that it is difficult to keep track of what may be going on at any particular moment in terms of plot. The filmmakers, director and writer James Gunn and writer Nicole Perlman, understood this bizarre dynamic inherent in the comic book and instead of attempting to create a serious work with sci-fi elements embraced the lunacy of the team, working in jokes and gags that not only mock the characters, their world and the plot, but also the conventions of the superhero film in general (the team deciding to work together, nobody trusting each other, the epic conclusion just to name a few). The result is the world’s first multi-million dollar, superhero cult film.

While the film is nothing truly original, it is a lot of fun along the way, full of colorful images, humor and above all, memorable characters. Marvel and Disney have found a formula that works to produce upmost audience satisfaction, and while it is not earth-shattering art, it serves as enjoyable entertainment.

SPOILERS

The film opens with the death of Peter Quill’s mother, a moment seemingly out of place with the rest of the film. One assumes this was meant to serve as some sort of motivation for his character for the rest of the film, but this falls flat as aliens, magic stones and epic battles begin to overrule the plot. With its somber tone and with it being seemingly the only scene that requires no visual effects, it starts the film off on the wrong foot.

The film then transitions to Quill stealing artifacts and selling them on the black market and this is where things really take off. We learn about his character as he uses strange froglike creatures as microphones and converses with guards who have no idea who he is. This should have been the true start to the film and perhaps a mention that he was of earth and cherishes his music as a last remembrance of his mother would have worked stronger. The music is used very effectively throughout the film, not only highlighting the plot but also Quill’s attachment to Earth and to his mother while also representing his own renegade personality.

Many of the plot elements of Guardians of the Galaxy are confusing. If viewers were not familiar with previous Marvel installments, they may be completely lost in terms of who is who, who hates who, what are the different species and who has treaties with whom. In the end, the film ultimately decides that the plot doesn’t matter that much and focuses on the characters and their relationship with the MacGuffin (Hitchcock’s term for whatever the characters want- in this case a stone that can destroy worlds). Once it is established that this bad guy (Ronan) wants this object that will destroy innocent people and the Guardians have to stop him, the film becomes a very straightforward heroes must save the world(s) narrative and this serves the film better.

The true strength of the film relies on the characters and the actors portraying them. Quill is charismatic and cocksure if incompetent, Gamora is deadly and looking to redeem her past, Rocket Raccoon is immature and greedy, Drax is angry and vengeful and Groot is just fun to watch interact with the others since he can only say three words. Each of the actors (and animators in some cases) brings them to life with vitality that makes the audience understand them and empathize. Watching them interact is fun and keeps the action and humor flowing even when the plot stumbles along.

In the end, Marvel and Disney deliver exactly what you’d expect: laughs, action and strong characters. It seems that the formula for the Disney/Marvel movies has been pretty much set in stone now: flawed heroes who need to learn to work with others against stereotypical villains who are seeking an object that will cause great harm to others. In comparison to great films that we can compare to fine Italian culinary, Disney/Marvel has perfected the sit down family restaurant: filling, full of fun, but nothing particularly memorable or moving. This would be suitable for comic book films in general as popcorn fare until you compare these Disney/Marvel films with other superhero films such as The Dark Knight (2008) or X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) which seem to push the envelope on the emotional range of what superhero films can be. A little more emotional depth and boundary pushing would truly elevate films such as Guardians of the Galaxy further.

As the superhero film has progressed to an assembly line of various entries per year, Guardians represents a move towards the obscure as mainstream. One can only imagine with the multiple sequels, obscure franchises and hundreds of characters how long this current stretch of films can continue to generate revenue. History has taught us that superheroes have always gone through periods of death and rebirth, from the censorship of the 1950s with the Comics Code Authority to the Batman television show (1966-68) to Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) to Batman and Robin (1997) all crashing various waves of superhero popularity. Guardians of the Galaxy is not that crashing point, but it does represent a stretch towards a lack of ideas for Hollywood big-budget films. One hopes that studios recognize the need to change and adapt to superhero overuse and at least change some of the formulaic nature of these films before another crash hits us soon (I’m looking at you, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2015)). For now though, we can enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy as a fun, humorous adventure romp and rest assured that superheroes aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Boyhood Review

It takes a strong amount of dedication to film a project over 12 years with the same cast. What Richard Linklater has done here in Boyhood (2014) is nothing short of remarkable in a modern day sense with strict budgets, deadlines and churning out projects quickly the norm of today. He began in a world right after 9/11, full of paranoia, dominated in popular culture by Dragonball Z and Britney Spears, goes through the Harry Potter phenomenon and Game Boy and the insurgency of the Iraq War and finishes with the ascent of Barack Obama. Over such changing times and a world that has developed constantly, perhaps Linklater’s point is that some things in life are universal, including growing up, dealing with parents and discovering what you really want in life.

This journey is typified in the protagonist Mason, Ellar Coltrane, as he goes from literally a small child to a freshman in college. Along the way, he deals with his fluttering mother, Patricia Arquette, as she bounces from lover to husband, each one seemingly a drunk or an incompetent, his sister, Samantha, Lorelei Linklater, and her own journey, and his estranged father, Ethan Hawke, always trying to instill in him some guidelines and morals, often in unintentionally humorous ways. As each of them tries to raise Mason to be a good man and to make the best living for him while dealing with their own personal issues, Mason is finally able to see that growing up is not about achieving a perfect existence, but enjoying the right moments when they happen.

Mason goes through girlfriends, drugs, friends and fads, each changing with age and outlooks on life. Through each of them, he grows before our eyes, offering an interesting perspective on how not only things change as we age, but on how things changed over just the past few years. I imagine the film plays quite differently for the parents, empathizing with the older characters, and young adults, empathizing with the younger characters. Linklater attempts to create an understanding between both age sects, showing the perspective of each side and trying to allow understanding on all sides.

The film does however have faults in terms of pacing, excitement and character development. The film lights up when Ethan Hawke is onscreen, but fizzles when he is not, the story losing much of its humor and heart. At nearly three hours long, it is also stretching the boundaries of its necessity to continue. One cannot help but reason that perhaps a documentary would have been more dynamic approach at certain instances.

By attempting to create an all-encompassing picture of boyhood in the modern age, nothing really relevant happens in the lives of the characters. The film is more of a series of vignettes illustrating life lessons as gradual changes in age and circumstance affect Mason. The result is that the film maintains a very even tone and not much is risked emotionally throughout the story, the narrative teetering dangerously towards boring on several occasions. Indeed, without the charm of Ethan Hawke’s paternal character, the entire film may have been a snooze especially with its bloated run time.

Tying into this point, the film is told exclusively from the lives of reasonably well-off, family-oriented white people. Not that their lives are perfect, as is the message of the film, but by attempting to create a portrait for everyone of growing up, the far more difficult, and I dare say more interesting, lives of minorities, people without means or other socially relevant families are left disregarded. It is a disservice for Linklater to portray growing up as universal in this manner because his view is almost entirely of that of one social class.

Ultimately though, the film succeeds as a mostly engaging tale about growing up in modern society in the United States. What it lacks in excitement and strong plot points it makes up for in heart and understanding. An enjoyable if not world-changing experience.

 

24: Live Another Day Review

Jack Bauer was supposed to be gone long before this. He was an answer to post-9/11 fear and vengeance, an American hero for the modern age who kicked terrorist’s ass and made us feel safer because he was always willing to go the extra mile, always willing to sacrifice more for his country. Knowing that people like him existed led us to believe that we could be kept safe even as wars broke out all over the world and extremists multiplied where we never dared imagine. Jack was there every Monday night to save us.

As concerns about terrorism (still a very real worry) ebbed towards issues about secret covert actions and government surveillance, 24 failed to adjust to the times and the show was cancelled in 2010. There were rumors of a film, but things never seemed to quite get out off the ground. The country’s love of Jack Bauer though was insatiable. He had become a cultural icon, a mix of Superman, James Bond and Rambo. Even as times change, his appeal doesn’t, and 24: Live Another Day promised to reintegrate Jack into our changing times for at least one more outing, this time in a 12-part series instead of the full 24.

Jack, the always perfectly intense Kiefer Sutherland, stationed this time in London, is attempting to save President Heller, William Devane, from the terrorist Margot Al-Harazi, Michelle Fairley. Along the way, he is helped by his ever trusty sidekick Chloe, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and newcomer CIA agent Kate Morgan, Yvonne Strahovski. This being 24, the plot constantly changes as we transition from Al-Harazi’s daughter to Al-Harazi to drones to Edward Snowden doppelganger Adrian Cross and finally to one of our favorite villains from 24’s past, Cheng Zi. Played by Tzi Ma, he is the perfect villain to bring 24 full-circle, a bridge character connecting Jack, Audrey and President Heller and this version of 24 to previous seasons. His mere presence raises the stakes for the characters as they must confront years of torture and anger at his expense.

There were moments during the season when the show strayed too much towards familiar territory, principally the coordination with a CIA station that does not trust Jack Bauer and their ineptitude costing Jack valuable time. With eight seasons, one mini-movie and now one television short series, the writers may just feel that some things are routine with 24 no matter how overused they are and an inept bureaucracy, unyielding terrorist mastermind and less interesting subplots involving characters we’ve just met are some of them. I could poke and prod the subplots of Kate Morgan, President Heller, Mark Boudreau and Steve Navarro for being unoriginal and contrite in the face of the action going on, but they are simply standards for the 24 series to keep the pace moving. In a way, it is almost a compliment to Kiefer Sutherland and Mary Lynn Rajskub for being so intense and so involving that it makes everything else seem like a distraction. Perhaps in some future iteration of the show, we will be given some breathing room to just focus on Jack and Chloe principally. The show would be stronger for it.

What this season of 24 did manage to pull off was the transforming of current fears into the narrative. With Edward Snowden, the expansion of spying programs, the carrying out of covert wars in faraway regions and resentment towards the United States globally for perceived war crimes carrying news broadcasts and headlines in recent months, 24 was able to present these issues while still maintaining its original premise. Chloe, Adrian Cross and all of their hacker comrades are disillusioned with a government they see as carrying out actions outside of the public eye that are criminal. They are working to reveal U.S. secrets in order to gain some transparency from a government they feel has breached too far, leading up to Cross’ decision to release the override to the world. The protests of Londoners against drone strikes is reflected all over the world as more and more covert actions replace actual war activities. Margot Al-Harazi is as much a terrorist as she is also a symbol of the fears we share about new technology such as drones ending up in the hands of the wrong people. As causes spread and social media allows cells to connect all over the world, the advancements in war robotics and their spread is cause for concern for all citizens. One of the interesting things about 24 is that it merely presents the issue rather than comments on it. Chloe and Cross are never portrayed as villains or heroes for attempting to reveal government secrets until Cross’ actions endanger people. The protests against drones and the antipathy towards the American government are never resolved so much as insinuated that something must be done. Jack simply stops Al-Harazi rather than makes any declarative statement about what we need to do with our military robotics. The writers are wise to defer judgment to us rather than attempt to write it into the narrative.

The conclusion of 24: Live Another Day reveals heartbreakingly the true soul of the show and its appeal all these years later. If Kate had saved Audrey, Jack had stopped Cheng and prevented the Russians from kidnapping Chloe in order to save himself from being handed over, the season would have ended on a false note, full of too much hope for the world we currently live in. Jack doesn’t get happy endings no matter how hard we may wish him to. Audrey’s death elevated this final episode and the entire season from being just one last go around for Jack to a persistent reminder of what he represents, a man who has to endure pain and suffering to keep us safe. It is what makes his character so compelling to watch after 9/11, after wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, after covert drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Jack sacrifices everything, his wife, a relationship with his daughter, his sanity at times and even the respect of the government he protects, to keep us safe. In a world that scares us with new threats every day, an ever-changing environment of murderers and wars and destruction, knowing that there is someone out there who will give everything, literally everything, to keep us safe is comforting.

At the conclusion of the mini-series, President Heller is just waiting for his Alzheimer’s to advance so he can forget about his life, Kate turns in her badge and in so doing her honor after failing to keep the President’s daughter safe and Chloe is left in remorse after her best friend gives himself up for her. In a way, all of these characters have suffered so much that the audience can forgive them for just trying to move on with their lives. Jack, however, we know deep down, will still lay it on the line, sacrificing everything we hold dear to keep us safe. There is a line in season four where then Secretary of Defense Heller tells Audrey, “The world needs people like Jack.” This has summed up the show for all these years. Until we reach that apex where we are free from fear whether it be from terrorists, foreign governments or covert spies, we will need to believe in people like Jack Bauer. I hope that we get to see him again. He makes us sleep better at night.

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