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For the love of movies: The Past, Present, and Future of Cinema and what makes us fans (1 Viewer)

jayembee

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How would you classify Gene Hackman? Movie star or great movie actor? Both?
I would say "great movie actor". I've never thought of him as a "movie star".

Will Smith is another actor that I think qualified as a "movie star" earlier in his career, but I don't think he has as much cachet in that respect nowadays.
 

Walter Kittel

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OK, I'll give you Minority Report (and Blade Runner, too). But as you say, "one of the defining examples of SF" opens up SF for being many other things, and not just that. That's why SF has been so hard to define, because there are too many disparate ideas that are encompassed by the term.

As for Outland, yes, that was the complaint: that it was just High Noon in space, and therefore not really SF. The problem I have with that is that you can make the same argument that The Magnificent Seven isn't a really a Western because it's just Seven Samurai set in the American West.

To be honest it has been way too long since I've seen Seven Samurai to really comment upon it, but I am pretty familiar with The Magnificent Seven. Maybe both films are adventures in different settings. I do believe that different genres can be defined in different ways. Westerns are defined to a large degree by their settings and era (including costuming, level of technology, etc.); I'd argue more than some genres such as romance or comedy for instance. For me, this makes The Magnificent Seven clearly a Western whereas Seven Samurai does not share the same setting which makes it something else. For me, SF is defined more in conceptual terms vs. settings; although that is not a hard and fast rule as I agree that SF is a slippery genre.

Just some thoughts on the subject.

- Walter.
 

Joe Wong

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Yes, I've seen that argument elsewhere. People who say, well, Star Wars has spaceships and robots and ray-guns, but it also has princesses and wizards and swordfights, which are fantasy tropes not SF tropes, so it's fantasy and not science fiction. My response to that is that yes, Star Wars has princesses and wizards and swordfights, but it also has spaceships and robots and ray-guns, which are SF tropes not fantasy tropes, so it's science fiction and not fantasy.

It's actually both. Many staples of the genre are. Robert Heinlein, who's pretty much thought of as the standard for "hard" science fiction, wrote Glory Road, which is an amazing mash-up of SF and fantasy. Space Opera is a form of SF that has had a rich and established tradition in the field since Hugo Gernsback invented the term "science fiction" (well, actually, he invented the term "scientification", but a rose by any other name...) Military SF is also a part of that tradition, eg. Heinlein's Starship Troopers. And SF/police procedurals as well, such as the Asimov novel you mention, and its sequel, and a whole host of other novels and short stories I could name.

When it comes to genre fiction, the fundamental opposition comes down to the religious argument about whether they should be inclusionary or exclusionary. I go for inclusionary, as the word "genre" comes from the same root as "general" and "generic", and as such bends toward linking things by commonalities than by differences.

Defining films and novels by genre is always fascinating to me because many do combine tropes from 2 or more genres. Often one genre dominates and that’s where it’s put under.

A great example is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which by and large is an adventure film, but contains more humor than many so-called comedies!

Going back to SF: I see your point with SW having spaceships and robots so it’s SF as well as fantasy. I think, for me, SF has a higher bar, since its foundation is science. There should be some plausible theory or conjecture or scientific idea that’s the basis. Maybe this is more hard SF, like you said, rather than space opera. When SW tried to bring in midichlorians as a bit of “science” it was criticized for changing the understanding of the Force!

Then we segue to the setting. I agree with Walter that the setting is a big part of how Westerns are defined. Though, for SF, merely being set in space shouldn’t necessarily qualify as SF. Eg. Alien has a SF element (new alien species with interesting biology) but also a lot of horror. The space setting shouldn’t define it as SF. The sequel, Aliens, has probably less SF, some horror, but mostly action. The space setting, I think, is even less of a contributor to a definition of Aliens as SF.

Fascinating discussion all around!
 

Walter Kittel

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BTW, before someone points out the apparent contradiction in my previous two posts... :)

A) Outland is a Western set in space.
B) Westerns are largely defined by the settings and era.

I think Outland, due to its strong story resemblance to High Noon, overrides considerations of settings and technology. Additionally there really aren't many SF concepts present in the film, with perhaps the exception of the manipulation of the miners via a dangerous drug.

- Walter.
 

JohnRice

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This Sci-Fi thing has been an argument for a long time. I tend to think of it this way.

Movies (stories in general, really) can be boiled down to have three prime aspects. These are...

Theme: The engine that drives the story.
Setting: Just like it sounds, where, when, etc the story takes place.
Style: ANY style can be incorporated into ANY theme or setting.

For instance, Blade Runner, which is usually a point of argument, in my book has both a Sci-Fi theme and setting, and a Noir style.

Unforgiven has both a Western theme and setting, and I'd argue it also has a Noir style.

In general, Star Wars movies have a fantasy theme, with a Sci-Fi setting and an action style.

Back to the Future has a comedy theme and a Sci-Fi setting. What's the style? I don't know, is it also comedy?

Then you have really interesting ones. Take Never Let Me Go, for instance. The setting and style are definitely historical drama, since it takes place entirely in the past. The unusual thing is the theme is distinctly Sci-Fi, in that the engine that drives the story is most definitely based in Science Fiction.

Arrival, one of the best Sci-Fi movies of all time, in my book, has a standard drama setting, and I'm not certain how to describe the style, but the engine driving the story (the theme) is hard core Science Fiction.
 

JohnRice

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After more thought, I think Unforgiven really isn’t a western in theme. It’s really more of a morality play in the setting of a western.

I’m not sure western is a theme. Usually it’s a setting, because what is the theme of a western?
 

Walter Kittel

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I tend to think of Westerns more in terms of aesthetics vs. themes. The themes of exploration and settlement tend to be associated with the Western. Of course this is often associated with films exploring historical (non American West) or SF genres; so it isn't unique to the Western. The power of the individual (usually very self reliant) is often explored which eventually morphed into the anti-heroes of the '60s. This usually takes the form of a gun fighter, but it can even be a lawyer or a retired Sea Captain. :)

One of the most thematically rich Westerns ever made explored the transference of power from the individual to the corporation as American society developed in Once Upon A Time In The West. This was encapsulated in the scene with Frank and Morton -

Morton: How does it feel setting behind that desk, Frank?
Frank: Its almost like holding a gun... Only much more powerful.

Revenge is another theme that is strongly associated with the Western genre, but once again not a defining attribute. We see that play out in the film I just referenced and it is a driving element in Unforgiven.

There are a lot of stories that one can tell in the Western genre, but it still seems to boil down to a time and place. There are a few exceptions to the American West in the genre including two that come to mind - 2014's Dark Valley and 2006's The Proposition.

- Walter.
 

JohnRice

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There are a lot of stories that one can tell in the Western genre, but it still seems to boil down to a time and place. There are a few exceptions to the American West in the genre including two that come to mind - 2014's Dark Valley and 2006's The Proposition.

- Walter.
An interesting thing is The Proposition and A History of Violence are largely the same story with much the same moral, told in very different ways
 

jayembee

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But Westerns also have a..."feel" or "tone" that can transcend the setting of time and place. People tend to think that a Western must take place in the American West (usually defined as West of the Mississippi) and in the 1800s. But the aforementioned The Proposition takes place in Australia. As does Quigley Down Under, and other films. But I think if someone sat down in front of their TV, turned on one of the movie channels, and landed in the middle of either of those films, they'd believe they were watching a Western.

Brian Garfield, in his book Western Films, includes a number of films that take place outside of the American West and the 19th Century, but that he (and others) considers Westerns. Bad Day at Black Rock -- completely aside from having a stereotypically Western-sounding title -- takes place in the post-War 1940s, and yet feels exactly like a run-of-the-mill Western.

And there are a number of films he includes that take place East of the Mississippi and in the 18th Century that tend to be thought of as Westerns. The Last of the Mohicans is set in upper Eastern New York during the French and Indian War. Daniel Boone stories take place largely in Kentucky during the American Colonial/Revolutionary period. And so on. The fictional Natty Bumppo and real-life Daniel Boone are the heroes of frontier stories. And Westerns are, at heart, also just a sub-group of the Frontier genre. But because the Western has become such an American cultural ideation that they've become the tail wagging the dog, and Eastern Frontier stories have been subsumed into the Western genre.
 

Reggie W

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@Reggie W you were talking about Tarantino. In one way, I kind of feel like he's the 14 year old boy's idea of brilliant, but I just received and watched the new 4K release of True Romance and was thinking of the screen-churning scenes. Of course, the Walken/Hopper scene always gets the attention, but there's the great Slater/Oldman one and what about that brutal scene with James Gandolfini and Patricia Arquette? I mean, that's historic. I'm only scratching the surface.

I think what makes Tarantino stand out are the fact that he loves dialogue, this is kind of dying or perhaps even dead aspect of pictures today, he loves actors and so writes for them, he is a film geek, and his movies are about movies as much as they are about anything else.

He has never really been into originality as that is not his thing. His writing can cut both ways, in that it can be glorious in the way he gives actors interesting things to say and a lot to say in most cases, but it can also be really self absorbed and goofy.

His primary focus throughout his career has been revenge, which he really has done too much of. I suspect he wanted to be for revenge what Hitchcock was to suspense.

His love for filmmaking is pretty wonderful and I wish he would have tried some other things over his career. The are some brilliant parts in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood that showed him doing things he had not really done before and that was great. He did build a brand and like Wes Anderson kind of stuck with it. I really enjoy his work though and mainly because he makes the big moments in all of his pictures the opposite of what would be the big moments in most of today's pictures.

The parts of Tarantino films you remember are his dialogue scenes. There is a massive action scene toward the end of Django Unchained but I don't think about that or remember that scene, I remember the characters and what they said. This is the thing about Tarantino I really love. He writes characters and dialogue that stick with you.

Some people claim the best Tarantino picture is True Romance and they say that because they think Tony Scott did a better job directing a Tarantino script than Tarantino ever did. Personally, I don't agree with that but maybe True Romance was Scott's best picture...that could be argued I think.
 

cinemel1

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I had my annual screening for myself of 1776. It’s the new 4K UHD release. I enjoy it every time. I saw the original Broadway production with the same cast all those years ago. Jack Warner didn’t want to make the same mistake he made with Audrey Hepburn instead of Julie Andrews playing Eliza Doolittle. It all worked out. Audrey was delightful in the Eliza role, in spite of the dubbing of Marnie Nixon’s voice. No dubbing was necessary in 1776. The only major role change from the show was Martha Jefferson. The restoration of the complete film with Cool Cool Considerate Men is just about perfect. Video and stereo surround is also excellent. Today I’ll watch the UHD 4K of True Romance.
 

Reggie W

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Unfortunately, I think alot of QT fans and non-fans fixate on the violence, the cursing and tough guy-ism in his movies and can ignore the actual great work he's done. It's sorta like how every dumb asshole I've ever known loves Fight Club because of the fighting or bitch tits, etc. and seem to entirely miss the points about society that the movie makes.

In all the film conversations I have had, I have never really had a conversation about Fight Club. I need to watch it again but I mean all that struck me about the picture was the social commentary it was making and that it was a really intelligent picture from a very creative filmmaker.

I've always thought of Tarantino as a dialogue guy. A guy that approaches everything he does from the aspect of writing a memorable character that is going to say something you are going to remember.

I have never thought about the action scenes in his films. I think they are fine but to me this is not what he is all about. I think of nothing but scenes with his characters talking, fully engaged with each other and lighting up the screen because of it.
 

Reggie W

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One niche which I found that movies has largely been deficient, is science fiction. Take away all the spaceships, future tech, ray guns, etc .... what you have left over is mostly a lousy police/military procedural action movie.

This is completely independent of whether there are any proficient actors, directors etc .... (Both past and present, and likely into the near future too).


I found reading classic sci-fi books are much better in the storytelling aspect, than movies.

I think the problem you are touching upon here is that over the last 25-30 years the idea of making everything part action film became more and more popular. So, you are right, they don't really want to make science fiction pictures that are about ideas, it has to be just about a science fiction setting where an action film can take place. They have done it with every genre though, not just science fiction.
 

Reggie W

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It depends on what you mean when you say "science fiction".

Spaceships, future tech, ray guns, etc. are staples of what has been called "science fiction" since the earliest days of the genre. Especially in the "classic sci-fi books".

For several decades, I've seen people argue that "Star Wars isn't science fiction, it's just fantasy pretending to be science fiction". And yet, just a few months after the original SW film was released, in a panel about SF movies at that year's World SF Convention, SF Grandmaster Jack Williamson (author of such classic SF as The Humanoids, and the Legion of Space series) said, "Star Wars is exactly the kind of science fiction I've been reading and writing for the last 50 years."

Star Wars really is a mix of genres, which worked really well, and I think the science fiction world embraced it because it was such a boost in popularity for the genre.

The thing Star Wars did wonderfully was the world building. It sucked you right into that "universe" in such a beautiful way. I do think that kind of world building was what science fiction authors aspired to do.
 

JohnRice

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I think the problem you are touching upon here is that over the last 25-30 years the idea of making everything part action film became more and more popular. So, you are right, they don't really want to make science fiction pictures that are about ideas, it has to be just about a science fiction setting where an action film can take place. They have done it with every genre though, not just science fiction.
I completely disagree that "they don't really want to make science fiction pictures that are about ideas". The existence of one thing doesn't eliminate the existence of another. There is no doubt that a LOT of supposedly Sci-Fi movies are just action or horror wrapped in a Sci-Fi cloak. However, I contend there is no lack of genuine, intelligent, Sci-Fi being made as well. I can probably name at least ten truly outstanding, true Sci-Fi movies made in the last four or five years. I'd argue that's more than at most points in history. In fact, I can list several movies made in the last ten years that I consider to be among the greatest Sci-Fi movies ever made.
 

Reggie W

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I'm actually a little baffled by your ongoing obsession with this topic. To me, the "golden days" of the movie star were more restricting than anything, for some reasons you spelled out.

Yeah, there are stars who can get a movie made, both talented actors and not. Increasingly not. Who can get a movie made? Tom Hanks, Clint Eastwood, but also Jennifer Lawrence. Probably Scarlett Johansson. Then there are ones like Dwayne Johnson, and John Cena seems to be getting there as well as Chris Pratt. I could not possibly give less of a shit about their star power.

Hackman, great actor and I expect there was a day when he could get a movie made. In the Popeye Doyle days, but who was the driving force for Unforgiven? Eastwood or Hackman?

So, it really comes out of the period I grew up in. In the 1970s there was a list of actors that, all were excellent actors, but were also movie stars. I think guys like Hoffman, Pacino, Hackman, De Niro and Duvall were all guys that could carry a picture and were some of names they would go down when casting that would, in fact, get a picture made.

Yes, they were different than older "movie stars' like Cary Grant, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart that what people basically wanted was for them to just be the same person just in a different picture. People paid to see how Cary Grant or John Wayne would get out of this one. They did not have to change up their acting nor bury themselves in the part because that was not at all what people were looking for from them.

However, with the rise of Brando, method acting, and the style of 1970s filmmaking, actors were asked to lose themselves in the role. It was much more intense. Pacino is a different person entirely in The Godfather films and something like Dog Day Afternoon and you are not thinking as much watching him about it being Pacino....you are lost in the character. This is in part because the writing was so brilliant in films of this period as well, so the actors were asked to do a lot more.

Where the acting of a Cary Grant or John Wayne was really more like brand building, giving you the same guy in a different movie, actors like Hoffman, Pacino, De Niro, Hackman, name your actor from that timeframe, were building their career performance by performance based on how much different those performances were.

These actors were movie stars but they were not building that stardom on being the same guy again and again...it was the opposite of that. Hoffman in The Graduate is not Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy is not Hoffman in Kramer vs Kramer, is not Hoffman in Marathon Man, is not Hoffman in Tootsie.

Quite honestly, no actor today is going to be asked to or attempt a run like that.

The more common casting thing now is "Get me a Chris!" does not matter which one Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, Chris Hemsworth...they will all deliver the same performance no matter which one you cast because you are going to ask them all to do the same thing.

The "movie star" thing I am really talking about are the movie stars of that 1970s period that were great actors, building their careers by vanishing into performance after performance, and their name attached to a film could get any kind of film made...because people would pay to see one of these actors disappear into a part.

Who are the actors known for doing that now? Daniel Day Lewis, sure and he is retired, probably Phoenix, there are other actors that want to try this but there are not a lot of pictures getting made that ask them to try it.

It is part of the reason I praise Nic Cage, he will do or try anything and does. Sure people will say he is over the top at times but the guy goes for it.

In truth, I blame the actors less than the just generally bad writing or general lack of writing that asks much from the actors.
 

Reggie W

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Hackman, great actor and I expect there was a day when he could get a movie made. In the Popeye Doyle days, but who was the driving force for Unforgiven? Eastwood or Hackman?

Love Hackman. Yes, great actor and during the 1970s-1980s his name could get a movie made. He had a good two decade run for that.

Unforgiven is Eastwood's picture but Hackman is tremendous in it and probably is the standout character. The picture kind of pivots around the Hackman character.
 

JohnRice

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So, it really comes out of the period I grew up in. In the 1970s there was a list of actors that, all were excellent actors, but were also movie stars. I think guys like Hoffman, Pacino, Hackman, De Niro and Duvall were all guys that could carry a picture and were some of names they would go down when casting that would, in fact, get a picture made.

Yes, they were different than older "movie stars' like Cary Grant, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart that what people basically wanted was for them to just be the same person just in a different picture. People paid to see how Cary Grant or John Wayne would get out of this one. They did not have to change up their acting nor bury themselves in the part because that was not at all what people were looking for from them.

However, with the rise of Brando, method acting, and the style of 1970s filmmaking, actors were asked to lose themselves in the role. It was much more intense. Pacino is a different person entirely in The Godfather films and something like Dog Day Afternoon and you are not thinking as much watching him about it being Pacino....you are lost in the character. This is in part because the writing was so brilliant in films of this period as well, so the actors were asked to do a lot more.

Where the acting of a Cary Grant or John Wayne was really more like brand building, giving you the same guy in a different movie, actors like Hoffman, Pacino, De Niro, Hackman, name your actor from that timeframe, were building their career performance by performance based on how much different those performances were.

These actors were movie stars but they were not building that stardom on being the same guy again and again...it was the opposite of that. Hoffman in The Graduate is not Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy is not Hoffman in Kramer vs Kramer, is not Hoffman in Marathon Man, is not Hoffman in Tootsie.

Quite honestly, no actor today is going to be asked to or attempt a run like that.

The more common casting thing now is "Get me a Chris!" does not matter which one Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, Chris Hemsworth...they will all deliver the same performance no matter which one you cast because you are going to ask them all to do the same thing.

The "movie star" thing I am really talking about are the movie stars of that 1970s period that were great actors, building their careers by vanishing into performance after performance, and their name attached to a film could get any kind of film made...because people would pay to see one of these actors disappear into a part.

Who are the actors known for doing that now? Daniel Day Lewis, sure and he is retired, probably Phoenix, there are other actors that want to try this but there are not a lot of pictures getting made that ask them to try it.

It is part of the reason I praise Nic Cage, he will do or try anything and does. Sure people will say he is over the top at times but the guy goes for it.

In truth, I blame the actors less than the just generally bad writing or general lack of writing that asks much from the actors.
Things change. There is good and bad in both. Henry Fonda famously had to commit to years of crap in order to star in The Grapes of Wrath.

Despite the legitimacy of the things you say, I find no shortage of great, inventive films to watch. No more Daniel Day Lewis? OK, I give you Anya Taylor Joy. Talk about a truly awesome and varied string of films. You want someone with star power and acting skill, I give you Tom Hardy.
 

JohnRice

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Unforgiven is Eastwood's picture but Hackman is tremendous in it and probably is the standout character. The picture kind of pivots around the Hackman character.
Yes, Eastwood got the movie made, but Hackman makes the movie.
 

Reggie W

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I completely disagree that "they don't really want to make science fiction pictures that are about ideas". The existence of one thing doesn't eliminate the existence of another. There is no doubt that a LOT of supposedly Sci-Fi movies are just action or horror wrapped in a Sci-Fi cloak. However, I contend there is no lack of genuine, intelligent, Sci-Fi being made as well. I can probably name at least ten truly outstanding, true Sci-Fi movies made in the last four or five years. I'd argue that's more than at most points in history. In fact, I can list several movies made in the last ten years that I consider to be among the greatest Sci-Fi movies ever made.

Sure, I am a huge sci-fi fan and I do think we have gotten some excellent sci-fi pictures. I do think you should list some because I want to know if I have missed any, ha!

I am a big Alex Garland fan, he is certainly about ideas more than creating action. I did love Arrival, I loved Ad Astra, I won't say they don't still make some excellent sci-fi.

My point was toward the big budget stuff, which tends to always have to be mostly an action film.

So, I am not saying they don't make good sci-fi now, they do and I would also say you could make the argument that some of the greatest sci-fi pictures have been made in the more recent past.

I would break it down like this, huge budget tends to mean you have to have a heavy dose of action and often comedy. Basically, it is part of attempting to have very wide appeal. The idea that you do not bore people by giving them a lot of action and throw them a few laughs while you are at it.

On smaller films, driven not by budget but by the director/writer, then you get to do different things because you don't have the albatross of that massive budget.
 

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