While Snowmageddon, Part One raged around us here on the east coast, the amazing and talented William Bibbiani granted me an email interview. Now, as Snowpocalypse 2010, Part Deux, creeps up (a new snow is currently falling hard outside the window to settle lightly on the two-plus feet already on the ground), I give you, fair blog readers, William’s brilliant responses to my somewhat cheap questions. Read ’em and weep.
William, why do you find the medium of film fascinating? What made you want to write criticism?
Your first question cuts me to the quick, Julia Rhodes. It’s more difficult to explain why you love something than why you don’t… an issue I think most film critics have encountered at some point or another. When I was a very little kid, I didn’t quite grasp the mechanics of film production. All of these stories from Mrs. Miniver to “The Wonder Years” were obviously just happening in some alternate universe that just happens to be connected to the family TV or in a movie theater. It didn’t take long for me to develop an understanding of the complexities of film production, but when it I did there was absolutely no way that I could devote my life to anything else. Any medium with this kind of power had to be studied. For better or worse, I can’t stop writing about the successes of the art form, and I’ll never stop calling filmmakers out when they add to its failures. Criticism is an underappreciated art form in and of itself, but there’s an element of artistic and, thanks to the ubiquitous nature of the form, cultural commentary that always keeps me coming back to the critical medium and viewing it as a vital aspect of the entertainment industry.
What’s a trope or particular shot that makes you roll your eyes? Any particular film techniques you feel are underused or overused?
I knew a screenwriter once who would defend to the death the old, “Guy waits for a bus in a long shot, then the bus drives up in front of him, pauses and then drives away, revealing that he stayed in town” cliché. His argument was that it was a cinematic way to illustrate a suspenseful choice, and that to date no one had really come up with a better way to do it. So I’m sympathetic when it comes to these kinds of tropes, but bullet time may be one of the most useless cinematic inventions in modern times. Its primary function is to slow down exciting moments in time to show off how cool they are really, really slowly, which creates fundamental pacing problems and usually just evokes distractingly vivid memories of The Matrix. Luckily, it’s not used very often anymore in favor of CGI sequences that allow more options for camera speed and movement, which I find to be an improvement from a storytelling perspective even if the special effects are often distractingly fake. I’m also not a particular fan of 3D, although that’s probably a subject for another time.
I hate this question because for me, it changes on a weekly basis, but what is your current favorite movie? What would you say your favorite of all time is? And why?
I also hate this question. You may have noticed that I didn’t ask you this question, but hey, I’ll bite. Like any crazed film fanatic I’ve got a pretty long list of films that, on any particular day, might be described as “my favorite film ever, ever.” This includes, but is not exclusive to, Strangers on a Train, Big Trouble in Little China, Barry Lyndon, The Last of the Mohicans, Amadeus, Evil Dead 2, Rob Roy, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Blues Brothers, Kill!, Run Man Run and Re-Animator. Of course, these are movies that connect to me on an emotional level, and not necessarily films that I would declare “the best” that I have ever seen. (Although some of them are that too.)
Today I’m going to declare Princess Mononoke my favorite film, although that’s probably because I was listening to the soundtrack on the way to work. It’s a beautiful film with incredible animation that came along at a time when I was bemoaning the lack of good fantasy filmmaking. There was a brief boom in the 1980’s with great or at least above-par movies like Legend and Dragonslayer, but in the 1990’s the best we had was probably Dragonheart, which had good ideas but mostly just sucked. Princess Mononoke was expertly crafted and even had a great English-language script/dub (getting Neil Gaiman to adapt certainly helped), and wasn’t about insipid Hollywood nonsense like saving the princess or defeating the poorly characterized bad guy. All the characters in Mononoke are complex individuals who believe that they’re doing the right thing, and the message isn’t that any of them are better or worse than the other, or even that they should all get along, but that they should try not to be blinded by any kind of hatred. Clever stuff and, as a bonus, it introduced me to the work of Hayao Miyazaki, who hasn’t disappointed me since.
What director’s or actor’s work gets you really excited? By that I mean whose movies will you go out of your way to see, no matter what?
I was introduced to the work of Japanese director Satoshi Kon through his first feature Perfect Blue, a film that I can only describe as Luis Bunuel directing a Dario Argento screenplay in Japanese animation, and the very first anime film I was able to see in a theater. It’s a mind-blowing horror movie that I’ve seen many times since, and every single film he’s directed after it has convinced me that he just might be the finest director alive, particularly his TV series “Paranoia Agent,” which anyone reading this who hasn’t seen it needs to make their first priority from here on out. I will see anything Satoshi Kon directs, although I am disappointed that he doesn’t work as often I’d like. When it comes to actors, I’ll see anything that either Rutger Hauer or Tatsuya Nakadai appears in.
You asked me why horror film creates such an avid, fanatic audience (I’ve been trying for years to attend horror conventions to meet my idols). Why do you think you love horror, and why is it so polarizing?
I did ask you that question, and your response resembles my own sentiments to an almost disturbing degree so I’m going to try not to cover all of the same material. Horror is my favorite film genre. I even love the way that it breaks down in little itty-bitty genres, from gialli to underwater-Nazi-zombie movies, each with their own rules and stylistic traits. I love the way that its sole purpose is to engage the audience emotionally. If a drama doesn’t work on an intellectual level then it’s usually concerned a “bad movie,” but all a horror movie needs to do is elicit an emotional response, be it fear, surprise, disgust or sexual discomfort. Even if the majority of a horror film is intensely problematic, horror fans will still embrace it so long as there is some aspect of the film they can latch on to. Sure, Final Destination 2 isn’t a conventionally good movie, but it gets by on the sheer exhilarating and demented glee generated by anticipating its Rube Goldberg-styled kills, and then watching them unfold in unexpected and horrifically gory ways.
Horror fans want to love these movies and that boundless optimism is infectious. I think that people who don’t appreciate horror often fail to understand that we’re not desensitized, or unaware that many horror films lack a certain degree of narrative complexity. Horror fans seek out emotional experiences, and are often more likely to connect with filmmakers on a personal level than fans who prefer courtroom dramas or romantic comedies. People who don’t appreciate horror are usually casual film fans, and casual observers usually stare in disbelief at fanatics… a fact that I am confronted with as I type this, listening as I am to the bizarre screams of football fans in the surrounding apartments screaming about some “superb bowl.”
What is your dream job? What do you want to be when you grow up, so to speak?
First of all, thank you for telling me that I have a lot of growing up to do. Ah… to be young! When I was a kid and dreaming of entering the entertainment industry I didn’t have the access that Spielberg, Jackson or Raimi did to filmmaking equipment, so I spent all of my time writing screenplays and film criticism. I’m finally making strides in getting paid to do each of these things, so I’m pretty close to living my dream right now, actually.
What’s your biggest film pet peeve? i.e. deus ex machina, characters calmly striding toward the camera as the world explodes behind them, etc.
While the overused “protagonist has multiple personalities” and the “protagonist was dead the whole time” twist endings certainly qualify as pet peeves, the thing I’d like to place a 10 year moratorium on is killing a character off-screen, and then bringing them back again as a “twist.” Does anyone still fall for this predictable malarkey? Film is a visual medium. If something interesting happens then a good filmmaker will show it, and a significant character dying always qualifies as something important enough to show on screen. The only reason not to film it is because they didn’t really die, and I think audiences as a whole have caught on to this. Maybe the only thing worse is the rare occasion in which filmmakers kill a character off-screen and they don’t come back, which is just disrespectful to both the victim and to the audience. I have yet to forgive anyone for any aspect of X-Men 3, but whoever decided to kill Cyclops off-screen has a special place on my poo list for the disregard they obviously have for the character.
Out of all the film series you’ve seen, which is your favorite? For what series have you waited in two hour lines for the midnight showings?
Whoever it was who said “sequels suck” never saw the Zatoichi or Babycart movies. There were five Babycart movies (also called “Lone Wolf & Cub” in the United States), and over 25 Zatoichi movies, not even including the very good remake and a 1974 television series. And somehow, all of these movies are at least pretty good, and many of them are genuinely great films. In both series, the best film of the bunch wasn’t even the first: Babycart in the Land of Demons (4th in the series) and Zatoichi’s Cane Sword (15th in the series), to my mind, stand alongside Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Seven Samurai, Kill! and Sword of Doom as some of the best samurai movies ever filmed. In response to the second question, I’ll always wait in line for any comic book movie that looks even halfway decent. I’ll see you in line for Iron Man 2.
What movie do you hate while everyone else loves it? Likewise, what movie do you adore while everyone else trashes on it?
Million Dollar Baby and Crash both piss me off to no end. There’s some good work being done in each film, but Paul Haggis’s screenplays are melodramatic, structurally flawed and suffer from inherently problematic premises. He can actually write some damned good scripts – Letters from Iwo Jima and Casino Royale are both accomplishments he should be proud of – but I’ll never understand why these two particular films, with their naïve approach to race relations and embarrassingly blunt sentimentality, managed to steal people’s hearts while better films went unheralded. Better films like Michael Mann’s Miami Vice, which left the audience I saw the film with saying things like, “Well, it’s obviously not as good as Bad Boys 2!” That stung. Michael Mann’s stylish and contemplative approach to the cop action genre certainly wasn’t the rollercoaster ride the trailers made it out to be, but it was a smart, well-acted and compelling drama that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Of course there are many other critically-lauded films that I despise, and other panned films that I love, but for whatever reason these are the ones that come to mind first.
What is the most iconic film quote you can think of?
“Here’s looking at you, kid.”
Yeah… That’ll do nicely.
Runner-Up: “But I wanted to go to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!!!”
Shut the hell up, Luke.
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