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Rewatch Ruminations: 8 thoughts on Batman Begins

I went back and revisited Batman Begins a few days ago. This was my first time stepping into Christopher Nolan‘s Batman-verse since seeing The Dark Knight Rises in theater this summer. I’ve been of the opinion since then that TDKR, while very good, was the weakest of the series. A close call with Batman Begins though, so a rewatch of this first entry seemed in order. Overall, I think this was my third or fourth time seeing Batman Begins. I’ve always enjoyed it. Not even getting into the new ground it broke for superhero movies or the box office impact the trilogy would go on to have, it’s also an entertaining movie in its own right.

Here are a few thoughts that sprung to mind for me during this rewatch. Warning: There will be spoilers ahead.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 19 November, 2012 in Lists, Rewatch Ruminations

 

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Woes of organizing movies

There is no fully satisfactory way to organize a film collection. No system ever works without compromises, exceptions, workarounds, and/or annoying logic gaps.

Alphabetical? Sure, it makes sense in theory, but drawbacks quickly become apparent when you think about it. Does it really make sense to put Batman Begins and The Dark Knight far away from one another on the shelf? Surely they belong together. What about foreign films? Take The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, for instance. That’s its translated English title, and the name I mostly know it as. In its original French, it’s called Le scaphandre et le papillon, which could be said to be its real name. On the Swedish DVD case I have, it’s titled Fjärilen i glaskupan. So do I put it under D, S, or F?

In the past, I’ve toyed with the idea of organizing my collection according to my numerical ratings. The films I love would be showcased up front and center on my shelves, with unfavored films hidden away down at floor-level. This is another idea that sounds good organization-wise, as I tend to instinctively remember what scores I’ve given to various films. Unfortunately, this too has the undesirable side effect of splitting up franchises. Terminator 2: Judgment Day is for my money among the very best action films ever made. While I do think that Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines gets way more hate than it deserves, it’s certainly not on the same level as T2. But they still ought to stand side by side in my collection. Box sets further complicates the system. I can’t split up the Alien Quadrilogy box even if I wanted to.

Chronological order? Nah. What with me mostly having films from this side of the millenium border, it’s not all that useful. Besides, do I go with US, international, or Swedish release dates? Plus, you still have the franchise-splitting problem.

The system I’ve used for the past few years is based on genres. My shelf space is divided into sections that are assigned different types of film: Action, comedy, dramedy/black comedy, drama, romance, horror, thriller, documentary. Everything has its spot. The benefits of this system are plentifold. Franchises can be kept together – for the most part. I can say “Hmm, I’m in an action mood today” and go to the action section to pick out something suitable. I can micromanage to my liking within the subsets as well, such as bunching together musicals in the comedy section, J-horror in the horror section, Jason Statham in the action section, and so on.

Even this is not perfect, though. The aforementioned Alien Quadrilogy rears its xenomorph head again, for instance, with Alien arguably being horror while Aliens is more action-y. Where do I put my Coens set consisting of Blood Simple (thriller), The Big Lebowski (comedy) and Barton Fink (what the hell is Barton Fink anyway?) Exceptions also have to be made due to my sorting tendencies. I want to keep Kevin Smith‘s View Askew films together, for instance, but while Chasing Amy is more of a dramedy or off-beat romantic comedy, Clerks II is more straight-up comedy in my mind.

Plus, you have the often troublesome task of determining genres of individual films. Is Ghostbusters primarily an action movie or a comedy? Is Let the Right One In horror, thriller, or romance? Is Man on the Moon a comedy or a dramedy, or simply a drama that’s funny by proxy due to the subject matter? What genre is Rashomon? What genre is Inglourious Basterds?

Oragnizing is tricky indeed. Maybe John Cusack in High Fidelity has the right idea:

How do you organize your movie collection?

 
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Posted by on 15 November, 2012 in Discussions, Misc.

 

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An introduction to the Flickchart world of ranking films

A while ago, I found myself staring at my computer screen, furrowing my brow, tilting my head from one side to the other. Flickchart.com had just told me to choose between Blue Valentine and Before Sunset. Two movies I really love, and I had to put one above the other. Do I go with all the wonderful conversations that are the core of Before Sunset? Or the powerful contrast between hope and dismay found in Blue Valentine? Should I take into account that Blue Valentine stands on its own better, whereas Before Sunset relies on its predecessor Before Sunrise to achieve its full impact? Or should Before Sunset be credited for achieving so much despite only being two people talking for 80 minutes? Should I just go with my gut-feeling? Which one would I rather watch right then and there? Reaching a decision took me a good five minutes, I reckon.

There are those who say that making ranked lists of movies is a pointless endeavor. Films should be judged by their own merits and not just in context of others, they might argue. My take on it is that context is something we always use when thinking about films. I saw The Gold Rush back in July, which was not only my first Charlie Chaplin film but also my first ever silent comedy. Did I like it? Yeah, I did. It was funny and charming. But it was very different from the types of films I had seen before. It took a while for me to get into its groove. It seems likely that my opinion of it will shift when I get around to seeing more Chaplin films, more 1920s films, and more silent films. As it is, I can still evaluate The Gold Rush strictly as a comedy and determine if I like it better or worse than, say, There’s Something About Mary. But as I haven’t seen anything quite like it, I can’t compare it to movies that are more closely related to it. Still, every movie we see, no matter what kind, gives us some degree of context against which to judge every other movie.

We rank movies all the time. Every time you give a film a review score of 8/10, you’re ranking it above every film you’ve given a 7/10 and below every film you’ve given a 9/10. When you call a movie the best of the year, you’re ranking it above all the other ones you saw that year. The issue people have with ranking, then, seems to be one more of degree than of concept. Any rating scale allows for a varying amount of ties. That 8/10 movie gets deemed to be in the same tier as all the other 8/10 movies. Are they all exactly equally good? Of course not. But the numerical rating is just a shorthand. If you write reviews, you hope that people will read the full text to find out what you thought about the film, which aspects worked for you and which didn’t. The score is just a quick summary. But when you go beyond these steps on your review scale to rank films, things can get very detailed. Too detailed for some.

Saying that Casablanca is better than Sucker Punch may be easy enough, but is it better than Pulp Fiction? “Oh, I couldn’t say. They’re so different.” Well, Casablanca is different from Sucker Punch too, and that didn’t stop you from proclaiming it superior. “Yeah, well, I can’t choose between Casablanca and Pulp Fiction. They’re both great. Ranking movies is stupid anyway.” Except when it’s easy, it seems.

This fictional conversation partner might have a point, however. Distilling all discussion on film to “good” or “bad” – and by extension “better” or “worse” – is reductive. I talked about this briefly in the opening of my blog post Noble Failures, where I argued that even overall bad films, or films we don’t like, can have parts or qualities that are worth discussing. “Good” and “bad”, like review scores, are just the sum total of everything we think about a movie. A useful shortcut in many cases, but we should be careful not to boil it down to this sum all the time. It’s a trap worth avoiding even when going into the specifics. The movie was “good”. Why? It had a “good” story and “good” acting. Why was the story good? Why was the acting good?

But for the purpose of ranking movies, we need these shorthands. Once you take everything about a movie into account, from technical merits and emotional impact to story, acting, how much it speaks to you as a person and everything else, you end up with your opinion of the film. Making a ranked list then becomes a matter of weighing this overall opinion against the opinion you have of other movies. Is your opinion of X stronger than your opinion of Y? If yes, is it stronger than your opinion of Z? And so on. Compiling a ranked list is to make a series of choices between different movies.

This is where Flickchart comes in.

Flickchart, the brainchild of Nathan Chase and Jeremy Thompson, is a website that presents you with two movies. Pick the one you like best. Now you get two more films. Pick again. Repeat, repeat, repeat. If you get a film you haven’t watched, you mark it as unseen and get another one instead. Eventually, you get recurring movies in new match-ups. If you like Trainspotting better than Fargo, and then Batman Begins better than Trainspotting, that means you like Batman Begins better than Fargo too. As you go along ranking on Flickchart – which can be devilishly addicting – the site compiles a list based on all your choices: your all-time list, from the very best to the very worst. Eventually, you will spot things that don’t look right. The first movie you pick to win a match-up will end up at the top of your list, and if that one doesn’t show up in match-ups for a while, it will sit at #1. Maybe it doesn’t belong there. You can then look up that film and re-rank it. This will pit it against the film at the center of your list. Is it better? Then it gets pitted against the film a quarter from the top. The halving process continues until the film has been placed at its opimal spot on your list. You can then go back to ranking films at random again, or keep fine-tuning your list by re-ranking individual movies.

A typical Flickchart match-up. Notice how your top 20 list is always staring you in the face as you rank? This is why most Flickcharters are obsessed with keeping their top 20 nice and tidy.

Should you pick the films you consider your favorites, or the ones you think are the best? This is a hot debate topic among Flickcharters. Some like to focus on a film’s objective qualities. Others favor a subjective line of thinking, going strictly for the films they enjoy more. A third group thinks that good films and films they like are one and the same. Flickchart doesn’t force you into either way of thinking, but lets you create your list according to your own parameters.

Choosing between two films can be hard. I’ve already mentioned Blue Valentine vs Before Sunset. What about Back to the Future vs Raiders of the Lost Ark? Or The Empire Strikes Back vs The Shawshank Redemption? The Breakfast Club vs Groundhog Day? How about a more unorthodox battle, like The Devil Wears Prada vs Saw? It can be equally tricky to decide between two so-so films, such as Charlie’s Angels vs Dan in Real Life. And just which is worse: Street Fighter or Super Mario Bros? Flickchart doesn’t allow for ties; there’s no Skip button (reloading the page will bring up a new match-up, but that’s not in the spirit of things.) One must always choose.

When you get tired of ranking random films, you can employ some of Flickchart’s various filters. You can choose to rank only films from the 1970s, or specify it further to 1977. Maybe you just want to rank action movies. Or Pixar films. Or Best Picture Oscar winners. If you just want to get new stuff on your chart, you can use the Unranked filter and only be presented with films you haven’t ranked yet. And if fine-tuning the top 20 on your chart is what you want to do, you can restrict your match-ups to just those 20 films as well.

A snippet of Flickchart's global chart

Flickchart offers plenty of other features too. Every match-up has a discussion page where you can leave a comment on your reasoning for your choice and see what other users have had to say. Then there’s the global charts, where the win percentages of all films are compared against each other to produce a list of Flickchart’s favorite films. Here too you can use filters to get specific information. You can also get recommendations on the best films you haven’t seen of various types. If you’ve added other users as your friends, Flickchart allows you to combine the rankings of you and them to find out what your combined favorite films are, or what the best films neither of you have seen yet are. New features are added frequently; the Flickchart of today has more bells and whistles than the one I joined a few years ago, and more is always on the horizon. But the core essence of pitting one film against another remains the same.

Is Flickchart a useful tool for making ranked lists? It can be, but you have to work at it. If you just rank random movies, getting anything fully accurate will take a very long time as a lot will hinge on getting “the right” match-ups. If you use the re-rank feature diligently, you can get something good going. That said, I don’t tend to look at Flickchart when I make my Top 10 lists here on the blog. The main reason is that my Flickchart isn’t in perfect order. During my time as a Flickchart member, I’ve picked winners in over 14000 match-ups, but there are still oddities on my list. Some films are way higher or lower than what feels right. Plus, I’m very fickle. From discussions with fellow Flickcharters, I know there are people who feel there is a perfect order for the movies they’ve seen. I’m of the mindset that my opinions can sway daily. I might pick the black comedy of The War of the Roses over One Hour Photo one day, only to find that the latter’s creepy atmosphere speaks more to me the day after. Movies drift in and out of my top 20 with ease, whereas other users keep a tight lock on their top spots. Different strokes.

Why do I keep using Flickchart then? Primarily, because it’s fun. It’s fun to just think about random films I’ve seen and discover what it is I really like about them, and seeing my list change and transform is oddly satisfying. It can also be a source of revelations about my viewing preferences. I might file a movie away as a 3/5 after first seeing it, only to later realize that I keep choosing it over films I thought I liked more. There are also more general observations to be made. For instance, I’ve never considered romance to be one of my favorite movie genres, and yet my Flickchart top 20 has a pretty high amount of them, all films I truly adore. Apparently, I do love me some well-made romances after all.

As you might gleam, there are many aspects, features and uses when it comes to Flickchart. Some use it as their primary way of keeping track of films they’ve seen. Others employ it to calculate their accurate ranking list of movies. Others still, like me, see it as an entertaining time-killer. Either way, it’s a site well worth checking out. You might just learn something about yourself. It made me realize I had a new favorite movie a while ago.

So go to Flickchart and start ranking. If you do, feel free to add me as your Flickchart friend at my profile page there.

Oh, and for the record:

Blue Valentine > Before Sunset
Casablanca > Pulp Fiction
Back to the Future > Raiders of the Lost Ark
Shawshank Redemption > Empire Strikes Back
Groundhog Day > The Breakfast Club
Saw > The Devil Wears Prada
Dan in Real Life > Charlie’s Angels
Street Fighter > Super Mario Bros

 
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Posted by on 2 March, 2012 in Links

 

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How I ended up loving movies

How did you become a movie fan?

Maybe you always have been. Perhaps your family would watch plenty of films when you were a kid, thus setting you on a path that has continued through your teens and into adulthood to this day. You might not remember a time when you weren’t into movies. It has always been there.

Or maybe you were a casual watcher for a long time, until you saw that one awesome film that really opened your eyes. One movie to fall in love with that left you wanting more, and so you set out to discover other films hoping to find something to evoke similar feelings. That one great film was the starting point for you.

Neither of these scenarios fit me.

Police Academy

I’m not a life-long movie fan. That said, I certainly watched films when I was a kid. My family went to the cinema every now and then, but most of the movies I saw when growing up, I did on TV or VHS. I could watch the Police Academy films over and over. Same with the Wayne’s World movies, and The Lion King, and Home Alone. But film was never my main interest. I was always more into playing video games, reading boks and comics, and watching pro wrestling. Those were the things I would call my hobbies. Watching movies was just something I did ocassionally.

This casual level of interest continued into my teens. I would watch films at times, but never to any huge degree. When I was around 15 years of age in the late 90s came the boom of the internet, and now I had another thing to occupy my time with in addition to video games and fantasy novels. Even happening upon American Beauty in 2000 or 2001- a movie I fell in love with and which instantly became my new all-time favorite – was not enough to spark any big film interest in me.

More the opposite, in fact. My watching of movies went from casual to barely alive. Perhaps it was a combination of things. Subconsciously, I might have felt that nothing could ever compare to American Beauty. My interest in pro wrestling was also picking up again after a few years worth of sabbatical. More important I believe was the fact that my life was changing, though. In 2002 I graduated from gymnasiet – roughly the Swedish equivalent of high school in the US. Old friends drifted away, leaving less opportunity for random spur-of-the-moment films. And now I also had to worry about what to do with my life. I had some vague plans of going to university, but I wanted to take some time to work and make money first. Job hunting proved harder than I thought, and in the midst of all this, I spent more and more time online. Eventually I went to university for a few fruitless years and felt kind of… lost.

Then came World of Warcraft, and the less said about that the better.

I didn’t notice it at the time, but during this part of my life I hardly watched movies at all. I would spot a trailer at times that looked interesting, but didn’t see the film. Someone might mention how they just saw a great movie, and I’d just shrug and move on. An example: When a friend told me had bought Batman Begins on DVD, it was the first time I ever heard of the film. I just didn’t care about the world of movies. I had other things to spend my free time on.

Things changed in early 2008. I had gotten Transformers on DVD from my brother for Christmas (we both loved the toys when we were kids), and found myself with some other unseen movies lying around for some reason. World of Warcraft was starting to lose its grip on me at that point, so one weekend where I had nothing better to do, I sat down to do some movie watching. I saw 5 movies: Transformers, The Terminal, Hostel, The Butterfly Effect, and Captivity. In a typical story, you might expect me to have had an eye-opening experience with one or more of these. But I didn’t. True, I remain very fond of both The Terminal and The Butterfly Effect to this day, but they’re not amazing or anything. No, the noteworthy thing about these films isn’t the films themselves, but what they led me to do.

On that Sunday, February 10 2008, I went on an off-topic forum at a video game website I frequented and started a new thread, where I offered a few lines of summary on how I felt about these films. This wasn’t something I had any habit of doing, but random threads about whatever were commonplace on that message board. I didn’t put any thought into it. It was just something to talk about with people online. At first, nothing much came of it. Someone chimed in saying they hated Transformers, someone else expressed joy at my liking of The Butterfly Effect.

Then someone said “You should do Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind next!”

Huh? Eternal Sunshine of the what now? I’d never heard of it before but figured that Jim Carrey was usually good for a laugh or two, so I decided to check it out. I wrote a bit about it, and someone told me to watch Death Proof. The suggestions and recommendations kept pouring in. I found myself watching lots of movies. More than at any other point in my life. I had a lot of catching up to do. Not even counting all the films I hadn’t seen from before the millenium shift, I still had pretty much the entire past decade of films that had passed me by. There was so many great movies to take in. The mind-blowing Memento, the heart-melting Amélie, the blood-pumping Crank, and the eye-opening Adaptation, to name but a few. Sure, I saw plenty of underwhelming films as well, but they all helped me refine my tastes. And I went back further in time too, seeing some beloved films for the first time like The Princess Bride and One Flew Over Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and found they lived up to the hype.

I would talk with friends about flms I had seen as though they were fresh new discoveries when they were really old hat to them – I vividly remember a bemused look I got from a friend when I, in 2008, started talking about this unknown gem of a comedy called Anchorman. I would often go to my best friend’s place and bring a bunch of DVDs with me, both to revisit films I loved and to show them to him because by God, he just had to see this Sideways film!

There was no need for me to go to the cinema much, as there was so much to see on DVD whether bought, rented or borrowed. But every now and then I’d head to the theater with friends to see films like The Dark Knight (awesome) and Max Payne (terrible).

Maggie Gyllenhaal

I learned which people online liked the same films as me and prioritized their recommendations. But just following their suggestions wasn’t enough. When I discovered a new actor I really enjoyed, like a Jason Statham or a Maggie Gyllenhaal, I would look for more films starring them. I started paying attention to the people behind the camera too. After falling madly in love with Amélie, I had to see what else Jean-Pierre Jeunet was capable of. And whoa, wait; Seven, The Game and Fight Club are all directed by the same guy? Some dude named David Fincher? What else has he done?

I started reading blogs to further expand my horizons, and began keeping up with film news. I discovered the wonderful writing of Roger Ebert, James Berardinelli and other critics, reading them more to find new perspectives than to find out whether a movie was good or bad. I read books on film – Louis Giannetti‘s “Understanding Movies” had a big effect on my viewing experiences. I would use websites like Flickchart, Filmtipset, and ICheckMovies to keep track of the films I had seen. I started a blog of my own – the first of several – where I would talk at length about movies I watched. Twitter also became a great way to find new people with interesting opinions.

A peculiar thing is the divide that has sprung up between films I saw before and after my cinematic awakening. Films I adored back then still remain among my favorites: American Beauty, The Blues Brothers, Groundhog Day, Terminator 2 and more. Others I might be able to find faults in now, but they still live strong thanks to nostalgia; Interview with the Vampire for example is really pretty corny, but I can’t help but love it. I find it hard to compare movies from opposite sides of the divide, however. Even when they’re kind of similar, like Forrest Gump (seen before my awakening) and The Shawshank Redemption (seen after). I know I have different perspectives on these films, so comparisons feel unfair. Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between two great films and can love both equally.

Now, almost four years after that one weekend in February 2008, film is my biggest interest. My viewing pace might have slowed down a bit and fluctuates more, but I do tend to watch a couple of movies every week. And I still find time for my old interests as well. I play video games when I have something fun to play, I keep up with the world of pro wrestling, and I read books every evening – sometimes ones that have had good film adaptations. But movies is where my heart lies.

Considering the short time I’ve been a film fanatic, I sometimes feel inexperienced in the field. Many of you readers have been into the art form for much longer than my four years. The same goes for plenty of bloggers I read and people I follow on Twitter. I’ve also never studied film at college or anything. So I’m not the most well-versed or knowledgeable movie lover in the world, but there’s not much I can do to change that in the present. All I can do is to look towards the future and try to broaden my views in time. I’m still learning, still catching up, still hungry. My rental queue at Lovefilm currently consists of 863 films, and that’s not counting the prebooked ones that haven’t been released on DVD yet, or the ones they don’t have in their database which I keep track of at a different site. The total amount of films I know of that I want to see rises well over 1000. I’ve put up goals to pursue. I want to see films from more countries I’ve never seen films from before, until I’ve tagged every country in the world. I want to explore older movies more so I can find them less threatening. I want to see every movie that Jason Statham or Shannyn Sossamon have ever been in. I want to find that one Woody Allen movie that I’ll love and am sure is out there somewhere. I want to get around to watching highly acclaimed films I haven’t seen yet, like Goodfellas and Jaws (coincidentally, Roy Scheider died on the day my film interest took off.) I want to be a good Swede and finally see my first Ingmar Bergman movie. Most of all, I want to see more great films, whether they’re ones that live up to hype or unexpected surprises. I want to find movies to love as much as I love American Beauty, Amélie, and my current favorite Lost in Translation.

This is how I became a movie lover. The why still eludes me. The way it happened seems so random to me. Was that starting ground of a weekend really just a case of me not having anything better to do? Perhaps there’s more to it. If there is, it’s buried in either my subconsciousness or in the realm of forgotten memories. “It just happened” doesn’t make for much of a story to tell – although I suppose that didn’t stop me from writing these 2000+ words on it.

I still post on that forum where it all started. I make a comment on every movie I see, and have done so for the past four years. People don’t recommend films to me as often. Instead, they share their own thoughts on movies they’ve watched. At times, some even ask me for recommendations. I’ve become “that movie guy” over there. There are worse things one could be.

So how did you become a movie fan?

 
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Posted by on 20 January, 2012 in Misc.

 

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