Posts Tagged ‘Godfather’

Actually, the real title is: “Is Violence in Movies Okay as Long as it Involves Good Guys like Soldiers, Superheroes, cops, etc.?” 

You can see why I decided to keep cut it down to a couple of words. When I was a kid, I lived on Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and Black Hawk Down. The only other movies I watched beside those involved dinosaurs. (Land Before Time and Jurassic Park marathon, anyone?) However, I wasn’t allowed to watch movies with gangsters until I was much older. When I was allowed to watch those types of movies, I was accompanied by my parents, and that too had a price to pay: a long lecture on why I shouldn’t be a criminal entitled, “Crime Doesn’t Pay.”

Why? Any ideas of mine to become a gangster or a con man were squashed whenever I watched movies like the Godfather, Goodfellas, or shows like the Sopranos or Breaking Bad. They are the single greatest testaments of why you shouldn’t become a criminal. Michael’s descent into the darkness after he is forced to take over the family business is reason enough for anyone to go “straight”. You can see it in his anguished reaction when his pregnant wife is killed. You can see it in the haunted stare he gives his wife in the closing scene.

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It sends a clear message. “You may have a mansion, but are you really ready to deal with losing everything you hold dear?” I have watched the Godfather over a dozen times, and I still ask myself that same question after each viewing. This question is also asked in Tv shows. In the past decade, we’ve experienced a growth in ‘prestige television’. The Birth of the Antihero technically began over fifty years ago with Alfred Hitchcock Presents, wherein he regularly made ‘good people’ do bad things. There was an episode called ‘Revenge’ where a woman is raped (implied, of course. This was the 50’s. Everything was implied), and when she and her husband are driving, she spots the rapist walking down the street. Her husband pulls over, and they kill him. They get back in the car, and drive away. A few minutes later, she points again, and says she’s spotted her rapist. 

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In that single episode of an anthology suspense series in the 50’s, it approached the subject of rape, psychological trauma, vigilantism, and of course, revenge. So, as you can see, we’ve had morally ambiguous characters for a very long time. I remember watching the Sopranos for the first time. My Dad was worried that I might resort to a life of crime because of it, but I simply kept asking myself the same question I asked during Godfather.

The thing that makes the Sopranos so addicting and visceral to watch is the fact that I would never do anything like it, and the realization that Tony Soprano never thought he was capable of doing it either. He’s unhappy with his family, his work, and more importantly, himself. There is a scene where Christopher (his nephew) talks about his trauma after killing someone, and Tony oh-so-subtly asks him if he ever feels depressed. His sideway glance at him says: “Did I do this?”

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Why is it okay for thousands to die in superhero movies (the best example right now is Man of Steel. I assumed by all the screaming and falling buildings that a couple thousand died there), but it’s deemed immoral for a gangster to kill a few people in a movie? Why are children allowed to watch Captain America kill hundreds with barely any effort (as long as there’s parental guidance), but watching Al Pacino shoot the man who tried to kill his Dad and a corrupt cop not allowed? Of course, there’s also a matter of sexual content in some of these movies, and also the amount of swearing. For years, Goodfellas had the most curses in film history. I think Django Unchained got the crown in 2012, but Scorsese stole it back with Wolf of Wall Street. 

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I hope someday there will be a PG-13 movie centered around a gangster. I’m not saying it’ll be any good, but the idea behind it will be more than enough. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier (my favorite superhero movie, by the way), no one talks about how Steve Rogers is a cold-blooded killer. It’s mentioned here and there, but our thoughts don’t dwell on the number of men he casually kills. Why? Because they’re bad, and he’s a superhero. 

I’m not asking Marvel to pull a DC, and force Chris Hemsworth to talk like someone kicked him in the throat over a dozen times. (In the eternal Marvel vs. DC debate, I’m with Marvel all the way.) I just think it would be interesting if people took a look at what they’re already allowed to get away with in PG-13 movies, and took it to a different level. There was talk about a Deadpool movie, and how it would be impossible to do a PG-13 version. I think they’re right, but if it’s acceptable to show a dinosaur munching on some random guy, why isn’t it acceptable to show a morally ambiguous character doing morally ambiguous things? (“How ambiguous!” the posters say.)

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In the first Hunger Games movie, they used shaky cam a lot to avoid getting slammed with an R-16 rating because of images portraying children killing other children. Ya know, usual PG-13 stuff. Why can’t we do that? I hate shaky cam, but it’s obviously possible to show that kind of stuff, so why hasn’t anyone tried it? As an experiment, it doesn’t have to be big budget. 

Here’s where the big divide between mainstream films and indie films come in. There seems to be this unspoken rule in indie films that they need  to have mature content. It’s as if the director and writer wants to make sure the viewer knows they’re watching an indie movie. “Okay, let’s show them changing clothes here, and talking about killing their estranged father. They’ll never mistake us for the new Avengers movie now!” 

Indie movies are supposed to be showing you something new and different from mainstream movies, but more and more mainstream movies are adopting an “indie” feel. The Wolf of Wall Street is a mainstream film based on its HUGE budget alone. But, its mature subject matter, morally ambiguous main character, and… well, everything in it shouldn’t be allowed. At this point, if indie movies truly want to be different, they should try a PG-13 movie with a hitman as a main character. It could be a failure, but indie movies are already risking a flop every time. It’s strange how they’ve fallen into their own little pattern, or their own safety net. I sometimes feel like you could take ten indie films, switch the actors and titles, and it’d still be the same. 

I grew up watching Saving Private Ryan. I wasn’t mature enough to understand a lot of the things in it, but the images have remained with me after ten years. I despise the idea of war because of it. I understand its necessity in certain situations, but as much as possible, I would avoid war like the plague. Because it is a plague. 

I think it’s time for people to understand that kids aren’t as impressionable as people think they are. I haven’t heard of a thousand kids jumping off skyscrapers to imitate Thor or Superman, so I think they’re smart enough not to copy Tony Montana in Scarface. 

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~Jian

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Let me clarify what I mean by old stuff. I mean stuff that’s about forty to fifty years in the past. That doesn’t make it bad. Not at all. It doesn’t make ‘old stuff’ ugly, or slow, or even old. Yeah, lost you there, didn’t I?

The thing is, there’s a way to get past being classified as an old thing. By the way, I don’t classify humans the same way I classify stuff like literature, movies, etc.

Ahem. Back to the main point, old stuff are quaint because of the simple fact that they are cooler in comparison to a lot of things. What do I mean? Take Strangers on a train, for example. Do you remember that scene

Scene from Strangers on a Train

 

There was actual tension in this scene. Will she die, or will she? Movies and literature nowadays are too blatant. There’s no subtlety, and people undermine the intelligence of most readers/viewers. Take the ending of the Dark Knight, for example. We could actually see what was happening. We could see that Batman was taking the fall to ‘protect’ Gotham.

And what do the writers (Nolan & Nolan) do? They have Gary Oldman condescend us by clarifying, “He’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs. So, we have to chase him, and uh… Put an ax to the bat signal… and we have to send some German shepherds… So, yup. That’s the ending, and we’ll see you in four years. Cool? All right, bye!”

You can’t tell me that you didn’t already know whatever Gary Oldman was saying. I recognize the “poetry” and “coolness” of his speech, but some things… are better left unsaid. It could have been introduced some other way, or they could have done nothing at all! We would have figured it out.

A fine example of not condescending your viewers would be the scene from Pulp Fiction where Butch escapes after his fight. You see, he secretly bet on himself, and won big. Now, he goes into a motel, and he talks with his partner. They don’t go, “Oh, Butch. I’m so glad you didn’t throw that fight, and that we’re super rich.”

“I know, wife, and now we are in a motel to avoid any hitmans that may seek to kill us.”

“Oh, Butch, hug me!”

Yeah. You see? That’s how it would’ve been ( not really ) if QT undermined us, and decided to clarify things. Real people don’t do that. Real people also ‘talk’ about random stuff. Like the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs where they’re talking about the meaning of Like A Virgin. Movies so rarely have good conversations… It’s sad, really.

Old movies did not undermine us like that. Did they? I mean the really GOOD ones. And movies nowadays don’t rely on shadows or shoes or anything anymore. They simply point the camera straight at the heroes, and have them read from the basic script of plot driven catch phrases.

 

Do you see that image? That was no doubt a way so none of the viewers would feel uncomfortable. Problem with a lot of old movies, America (and the world in general) was uptight about showing any graphic violence and are even hesitant of giving HINTS of sex. But still, that shot and angle… Awesome. It’s downright awesome.

The beginning of Strangers on a train is a close shot of the shoes of the two protagonists. I notice that the shoes in the beginning of the Sting are frighteningly familiar to the shoes in Strangers On a Train, and this may have been a slight nod to the good movie. You see? That’s what they’re missing nowadays. No hints, no suggestions… Not even good music!

Martin Scorsese, with his movie Mean Streets, was the first ever to simply play a rock song. It was BRILLIANT. Yet, at the same time, it was a sort of dawn of a less… musically interesting age of movies. For example, there was a scene in Sunset Boulevard where an angry Joe Gillis (William Holden) is climbing the stairs, but you can only see his shadow. With each step, music accompanies it, enhancing the effect of suspense and apprehension. Don’t know about you, but hearing Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones as someone climbs the stairs menacingly just doesn’t have the same effect.

 

I’m not saying you need an orchestra for every movie, but if you have a huge budget… Why not? Movies like the Dark Knight and Inception have their own orchestras. Movies like the Hobbit, as well. But, at the same time, it’s not the same. Is it?

Ahem. Remember in Inception where those loud booming sounds start playing? Yeah, that’s pretty much every twenty minutes of the entire movie, isn’t it? It was used awesomely, but there was no subtlety. A movie like Inception had a lot of moments for subtlety, and it was missed! We all know Hans Zimmer could have easily managed some subtle pieces, but.. It just wasn’t the norm, was it?

My point is, new movies should look back to old movies, and see what they did for lack of good special effects, with restrictions on how they film forced upon them. I mean. Of course, there are some movies that manage this. Take Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, for example. Do you remember the scene where Sam hears a couple of orcs climbing the stairs? He’s out of sight, and he starts growling. The orcs can only see his shadow, and he looks HUGE. They’re all quaking in their boots now. That was quite clever, if you ask me.

What do you think? Honestly, I like old movies, and I like new movies. Each has faults that aren’t really anyone’s faults, but that does not make them bad. But, new movies shouldn’t have as much difficulty as old movies. They have loads of material to look back on. Old movies barely had any movies to take cues from, and had to do a lot of risky moves to make them great. Some of which flat out failed. New movies no longer have to do that.

They would be able to pay homage to some great movies of the past, as well as give younger viewers something to write home about. Me… I didn’t like old movies much. I mean, come on. Special effects, please? But I’ve grown to like them a lot. Yet, the problem is that some old movies really do show their age, and while a lot of ’em are brilliant, the younger generation just doesn’t want a movie where you’re aware of its age the entire time.

Yes, we ‘preserve’ movies, but can anyone say for sure that people will actually watch them in fifty years unless they’re a HUGE fan of movies? No idea.

Hopefully, my nephews and nieces (since I probably won’t be having children. I’ll just be the cool Uncle) will still watch The Godfather, the Untouchables, Goodfellas, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind DESPITE their age. That’d be really cool.