Archive | October 2013

The Legacy of Michael Myers

With Halloween only a few days away, I have been watching classic horror films for the past week and I recently saw one of my favorite horror films, John Carpenter’s Halloween.  While watching, I had just realized Halloween is the movie that revolutionized the film industry and pioneered the modern horror film.

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In terms of horror films, there seem to be two different eras: before Halloween and after Halloween.  Scary movies before were characteristic of those centralizing around castles or tombs with figures such as Dracula, the Wolfman, or Frankenstein.  These films often took place in places overseas and had a romantic subplot to go along with it.  The situations in which the characters were placed in were of pure fiction and the horror was more in the monster’s appearance rather than the experience of watching the movie.  The person that started to push away from these cliché and overused themes was Alfred Hitchcock.  With movies like Psycho and The Birds, he brought the horror genre out of the realm of fictional, fantasy characters and into a more modern setting.  However, the real push would begin when John Carpenter would create the first modern horror film in 1978, Halloween.

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At the time, John Carpenter was a film student graduate who was looking for his first major project and suddenly he ran into the idea of a movie about a babysitter killer.  This idea eventually evolved into what we would consider a modern slasher flick today, a man going around and murdering teenagers.  The film would have to have a budget of $300,000 and would have to feature new-coming actors in as well, like the novice Jamie Lee Curtis.  The film would revolve around a masked stranger, a real human being, not a vampire or a monster but a flesh and bones human being.  Carpenter purposely left out information regarding this figure, Michael Myers, to depict how he had no motive and to let the audience’s imagination run wild.  The premise of the story is that in 1963 a young boy, Michael Myers, murders his sister on Halloween night and is then kept in a mental institution.  The night before Halloween many years later when he is an adult, Michael escapes from the institution and finds his way back to his hometown, Haddonfield, Illinois.  Now a changed town, the unsuspecting town of Haddonfield is taken by surprise when on Halloween night he goes on a killing spree despite his former physician warning the authorities.

Carpenter’s focus in the film was to let the audience’s imagination do the work and to build up the suspense throughout the entire film.  This explains why so little is known about the masked Michael Myers despite what landed him in the mental institution.  The audience has to create their own perception of Michael Myers, using only his body language and his actions to build off of.  In addition, surprisingly there is little to no blood seen throughout the film, there is literally no gore.  However, the audience doesn’t even notice this as they are the ones who fill in the blood and the gore while the movie goes on.  Another important element to the terror invoked by the film is how revolutionary it is as far as how it drops the situation, as in it is all very normal.

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Carpenter sets up the story to where it is very believable as if it could happen in the average American town to the average person.  His characters are actually played by teenagers and they speak like teenagers, this was never really done well before in film.  The idea that it could happen to anyone in the real world brought the fear outside of just the realm of cinema.   For filming, many new techniques had to be utilized such as the single unbroken panning shot and using dimming lighting to show Michael Myer’s face in the background, as if your eyes are adjusting to the darkness.  The creativity and innovative ideas used were only costume possible if they entire crew worked together, which they did.  Due to the low budget, everybody was doing each other’s job (in fact 5 people wore the Myer’s costume).  Carpenter refused to have the film edited and filmed with the best quality possible and being a perfectionist he ended up doing most of the work himself in the editing room.  The last component of fear was the score, the chilling and deceivingly simple piano melody.   This score’s simple and repetitive progression only increases the tension and is what added the ambiance to the film.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFSDR1iJrZ4

If you haven’t seen Halloween I highly suggest watching it, not only for its contribution to film but also for the film itself.  It is a wonderful horror film for the tension it builds and for the masked villain, Michael Myers.  His body language and how he is shown in the movie is so eerie and creepy, as if he has no soul and just wanders.

-Carlos

Music and Emotion: Drake

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       I believe music is a universal language, a medium in which artists can convey their emotions. Music has unlimited potential as every note, instrumental, beat, and vocal tells a story.  I listen to various types of music:  rock, pop, r&b, and hip-hop/rap to name a few.  However, today I will be focusing more on the last two with one of my favorite artists, Drake.

I know there are many who groan and say, “Oh, Drake is so mainstream!  All he raps about is YOLO and other typical rap stuff.  He never started from the bottom,” and to those individuals I would like to apologize for them not having heard Drake’s music in entirety.    I have been a fan of Drake since around 2008, when he first started making music but was the definition of an underground artist.  People only knew him from his days of playing Jimmy Brooks on the show Degrassi: The Next Generation.  Little did everybody know that he was an aspiring musician at the time and desperately wanted to escape his role on TV for the chance to make his music dreams come true.  Granted, he had to support his family, as his mom was ill and his dad lived in Memphis while he lived in Toronto (his parents divorced when he was 6).  By no means am I saying Drake had it harder than other rappers like Eminem, I am just simply stating the conditions he grew up in.  Drake had no clout when he started to make music as his reputation was just that of a Canadian teen actor.  However, Drake didn’t see it like that and he continued to try and make music.  He released two mixtapes (a free collection of songs distributed through the internet), Room for Improvement and Comeback Season, in 2006 and 2007 respectively.  Those who listened to his music at the first glimpse at a new type of hip-hop/rap which infused r&b.  This new “genre” mixed rap and melody together along with new beats/instrumentals which created a much more introspective experience.  Drake rapped about his struggles and about life in general, while being completely open and honest.  His life would change in the year of 2008, being discovered by Lil Wayne.

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      In 2008, Lil Wayne happened to get a hold of some of Drake’s music and he fell in love with it.  At the time, Drake was in the process of making his third mixtape, So Far Gone.  It released in 2009,  in my opinion it is the best of all his mixtapes as it is the most introspective and has calming instrumentals.  The cover of the mixtape was symbolic to how he keeps climbing and reaching to obtain his goals and that perhaps they were out of his reach but he would still try desperately.  In fact, this mixtape was so well received and critically acclaimed that it got him a Grammy Nomination.  That’s right, his mixtape got him two Grammy nominations, and Drake was suddenly put into the spotlight.  Lil Wayne then signed him to Young Money and now Drake had a record deal, proceeding to release his first album, Thank Me Later.   Now more in the limelight, Drake continued to make songs that were uniquely him, integrating introspective lyrics into a sing-song rap style.  His love songs quickly got him the reputation of being a sensitive, soft rapper which would later shape his music (this album would get him more Grammy nominations).  In 2011, after his smash hit album he released his sophomore album, Take Care.  This album pushed Drake to overtake Jay-Z in the charts as Drake became the artist with the most #1 hits in the Hip-Hop/R&B charts.  His second album would also give him his first Grammy for Rap Album of the Year.  At this point in his career he has two 2x Platinum albums and 1 platinum mixtape and he would proceed to make his third album.  Nothing Was the Same came out on September 24th of this year and is already platinum, selling over 600,000 albums the first week.  This creation was heavily influenced by his producer since day one, 40.  It has been interesting to see how Drake’s music has grown and how he has grown as an artist.  Even his cover art for Nothing Was the Same shows his introspective nature, his present self stares into his younger self  and he sees where he started from.

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      Drake’s music is something I can relate to deeply, because he speaks of life and the human experience.  His songs about relationships and interacting with people are profound and deep.  Sure, he does have some more typical rap songs but those are the mainstream radio songs that are overplayed.  The fact these songs are the radio immediately give people the wrong misconception of his music and as a fan it is really frustrating.  Drake is the type of artist that wears his heart on his sleeve and on his journey to fame he has not changed as a person.  He puts his family first and makes sure that the people who helped along the way get as much of the credit as he does.   His music was a gamble, before him a rapper who also sung was unheard of.  Especially in an era where rappers are from the projects and shy away from the topics of love and other emotional aspects of life.  The vocals and lyrics in his songs are full of emotion and the piano clad instrumental only enhances that effect.  His experimentation with sound and creativity and how he has shared it has landed him to be the rapper to bring true hip/hop back to the time where rap was about life and deeper matters.

-Carlos

“The World is Yours”

At the moment, I am enjoying the wonders of Shakespeare’s classic Othello and have heard Iago, the villain, shows Shakespeare’s brilliance.  In the opening scene, Iago says how in this world there are two kinds of people: those who work hard for their bosses to just please them and those who pretend to be dedicated to pleasing their masters but really look out for their own well-being to advance themselves.   Iago claims those that only work for their masters have no soul and should be punished for being naive.  Thus, he says he is of the latter and those are respectable men.  Upon reading this dialogue, I immediately recalled the story of the young, ambitious Cuban immigrant in the movie Scarface, Tony Montana.

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     For those of you who have not seen Scarface, it details the story of Tony Montana, a Cuban immigrant who travels to Miami to start a new life.  He starts off as a humble dishwasher but is suddenly introduced to the underground crime wave of Miami one night.  Immediately after being given orders for his first job, Tony refers to the same idea Iago does and he makes it clear that he is on the same side as Iago.  In this criminal empire, Tony “Started From the Bottom” and after completing all of his task the boss was thoroughly impressed by Tony’s dedication.  The boss invites Tony to meet him and he is introduced to the wealth of power his boss possesses and what his world seems to offer.  Over time, the boss seems to take Tony under his wing and Tony quickly overtakes his boss’ former right hand man, the guy who first gave Tony his orders.  Tony then precedes to work for the boss but the entire time he is only looking after himself.  Through this opportunity, Tony is learning the ropes of running an empire and is figuring out a way how to make it his.  He is motivated by wanting to crush all of those who made him feel inferior and put him down.  One day he looks up into the Miami skyline and sees a blimp with the motto: The World is Yours.  He then spends the rest of the film struggling with the concept of power while juggling his priorities.

The concepts of betrayal, manipulation, jealousy, power, and authority strike powerfully in both Othello and Scarface.  Throughout the entire movie, Tony looks out for himself, even while pretending to please his superiors, and is convinced nothing can stop him in his pursuit.  He manipulates those around him while seeming innocent and warps his situation to benefit his agenda.  Eventually, Tony betrays his boss and takes over the empire and makes it his.  In Othello, Iago is the right hand man of the general Othello and he seeks to betray his master by seeking retribution.  Iago believes Othello slept with his wife, so Iago creates a scheme to get Othello’s wife, Desdemona, to sleep with his friend Roderigo.  Throughout the movie, Tony tries to undermine and question his boss’reputation and leadership by making him look bad.  In both stories, Iago and Tony do not think highly of authority as they both indirectly and directly question their authorities.  Without giving away the latter half of Scarface, a majority of the film is focused on Tony struggling to balance his obsession with power with the rest of his life.  He has to balance his huge empire with family, friends, and other business.  Early on, Tony is much more like-able as the audience admires his dedication and ambition to make his life something more than just an immigrant.  In addition, both Tony and Iago care about their reputation as people and care about more as time goes on.  However, over time darkness takes over and he gets corrupted by the opportunity in front of him.  Tony Montana is a perfect example of the anti-hero.  This then arises the question, will Iago be corrupted by what he is trying to do and will he fall?  It will be interesting to see how Othello will play out.

-Carlos

Struggle

Innovation is something that doesn’t just come out of no where, ideas do but real innovation doesn’t.  What sets innovation apart is that it’s the process of taking an idea and making it happen.  As I have heard time and time again: coming up with ideas is easy but bringing them to life is the difficult part.  In the context of the film industry, Pixar is a perfect example of how creativity can yield an idea worth taking the extra mile and making it happen through perseverance.

     Pixar Animation Studios is the brainchild of John Lasseter and his team, in the early Lucasfilm animation department,  and they wanted to propel animation to what they think it could be.  They saw it is a new medium for expression and something that was undervalued at the time.  The creators of what would be Pixar wanted to expand animation and experiment with it through the use of computer software.  They desperately sought funds to get their project off of the ground and after many denials they eventually ran into Steve Jobs.  Jobs would fund Pixar and also gave them access to whatever technology they needed.  Pixar nearly lost everything and Jobs kept investing money to try and save the company.  In fact, Pixar would get its name from one of the computers they developed.  The idea that computer generated animation would cut production costs fascinated Pixar and it also intrigued buyers of their computers and software, such as Disney.  Walt Disney Animation Studios was looking to computer animation and eventually made a $26 million dollar deal with Pixar for three films.    Before this deal, Pixar was lucky enough to create a few commercials for companies like Tropicana.  One of Pixar’s earliest ideas for their partner was about toys, yes Toy Story.

     While pitching the idea for Toy Story, Disney had specific mandates it wanted Pixar to adhere to, mainly that it would be a little edgier so it could appeal to more than just kids.  Pixar, trying its best to please its bigger brother, followed these directions and the resulting film was a disaster.  Aside from landing Tom Hanks and Tim Allen to voice Woody and Buzz, the movie was not what Pixar envisioned for their idea and Disney wanted to stop all production of it.  However, Lasseter decided to just make the movie how he originally wanted to and ignored all of Disney’s prior advice.  The resulting movie is now the beautiful masterpiece we call Toy Story.  It was a a milestone in animation as it was the first computer generated animated feature film.  Animators in the industry gave a lot of heat to Pixar because they felt threatened that their jobs as animators (those who drew by hand) were in danger.  However, Toy Story was a huge commercial success and only strengthened the partnership between Disney and Pixar.  Pixar allowed Disney to distribute touching tales to captivate fans and also new merchandising opportunities.  After the overwhelming success of their first movie, Pixar was given full artistic license with their next project, A Bug’s Life.  The pressure was on Pixar to deliver with yet another commercial hit and they did not disappoint.  The rest was history as Pixar continued to deliver hit after hit with the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters Inc, the Incredibles, Finding Nemo, the Cars franchise, Up,  Ratatouille, Wall-E, and Brave.  Here is a tribute video to Pixar:

-Carlos