Friday, March 16, 2012

Off The Rez: from story to film- a good choice or a bad one?

    Sherman Alexie, author of Off the Rez, writes a story about the journey of two friends, Victor and Thomas as they set off to fetch Victor's dad's ashes.  The film adaptation "Smoke Signals" follows a similar story line, with added exposition and more character development. Overall, however, I feel as though adapting this story into a film was not a good choice.

    Take a not very well written story, make it into a film, and you will inevitably find it nearly impossible for the movie to somehow be good.  I know I'm being a bit upfront about my opinion, but seriously: a story about two Indian used-to-be friends going on a "view changing" journey to fetch the ashes of Victor's shunned alcoholic father just fails to enlighten us and eradicate from within ourselves the stereotypes of what it means to be Indian.  One may bring up the counter-argument that this story tackles racial stereotypes by placing these two Indian boys into a situation that any American could possibly get themselves into / easily understand (having a love one whom you have not talked to in a very long time pass away.)  However, this argument fails because within the story these Indian stereotypes are clearly accentuated within the characters: odd, seemingly anti-social, not understanding, storytellers.

    The film version's story pushes the bad story elements up a notch (yeah, didn't think that could be possibly, now did ya?) For instance, we have this one scene where we see these two Indian girls who are crazily and cluelessly driving a car backwards.
1) This seems random.
2) This seems stupid- thus accentuating the stereotype of Indian's cluelessness of Western society.
3) Why?
Another instance is the scene where Victor converts odd Thomas into a "real" Indian.  What is that, you may be asking? Well, according to the movie, a "real" Indian is a stereotypical one.  Not only does this movie showcase stereotypes, but it applies it to the characters outlooks on themselves, thus creating a never ending cycle that results in the stereotypes becoming reality.

    On top of a badly written story, the film applies some poorly done cinematic forms of storytelling.  The film does a horrid job of trying to add more meaning in by using on the nose symbols.  First thing that pops into your head when I say: Indian? Did you think 'long hair'?  Well, I did.  And yes, so did this film. In the film we have Victor go through a mindset shift, causing him to cut off all of his hair (and in doing so, give himself a very.... stylish hair cut...)  This was just so obvious of a symbol that I couldn't help but face-palm upon the realization that this film actually contained such easy going material.  On a more technical note, the film uses lots of montage sequences, flashbacks, and cross dissolves.  I don't need to go into depth about any of this because it was just all done in such a manner that it seemed cheesy and unnatural.

    I feel kind of bad for giving such negative feedback about this film adaptation... so, let me provide you with something positive.  The film does a decent job at transitioning between Victor at a yonger age, to Victor at an older age.  In the film this is shown by having Victor walk through a door, switching from a shot of him now, to a shot of him as a young boy.  It was pretty well done.

    Not often do I flat out dislike a movie and/or story, but in this case I find it quite obvious that "Off the Rez" and "Smoke Signals" are just too over rated.  Watch it and you decide.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

American Splendor: From Comics to Movie

"I want to write literature that pushes people into their lives rather than helping them escape...I think the so-called average person often exhibits a great deal of heroism getting through an ordinary day, and yet the reading public takes this heroism for granted."
-Harvey Pekar

The much acclaimed comic series "American Splendor" follows the average-man character of Harvey Pekar and spreads light upon how facing everyday struggles can amount to [almost] a form of heroism.  

Let's say were in math class and we are using the law of syllogism (if A = B and B = C, then A must = C). Well, Self Reflexive Nature = Reality; Reality = Heroism; Therefore Self Reflexive Nature = Heroism.

Self Reflexive Nature = Reality
The comics effectively capture the essence of an average man by having the actual average man-character write about himself. It is, in a sense, an odd loop-- almost Inception-like (but instead of it being a dream within a dream, it is a comic writer within his very own comic; catch my drift?) Well, you see, in the film we take this whole self-reflexive nature to a whole nother level. Now, my friends, we have a film within a film about an actor casted to play the role of a comic writer who writes comics about himself.  Seems like a mouthful, so let's break this down into it's pieces.  Throughout the film we cut back to the "documenary footage," which is in a sense: reality.  We have the flesh and blood Harvey Pekar standing side by side with the actor playing himself.  Now, what I have just described to you is a clear parallel to the style taken on by the comics-- they are both self reflexive, thus showing the reality of his world.  

Reality = Heroism
Within this very reality, in both the comics and the movie we follow Harvey Pekar through his everyday routines, conflicts, and sometimes trivial concerns.  In one comic (also put into the film) we listen to Harvey rant on about how there is more than one Harvey Pekar in his phone book.  He begins to question the legitimacy of who he is and the meaning of life.  Another comic follows Harvey through his average weekend-- nothing special, but to the point and real.  In the film (and also comics) there is a section dedicated to Harvey's fight against cancer.  All in all, the comics tackle down every little story that makes up his life, despite how simple and insignificant they may seem.  But, you see, the magic of making his life into a comic book (and have it later adapted to film) is that significance is placed upon the everyday ordeal of a simple man like Harvey.  This medium brings our attention to whatever we choose to show, therefore creating new meaning.  Harvey becomes a hero because we allow ourselves to realize that his simple struggles (and sometimes large ones; e.g.: the fight against cancer), are real and are big in his life.  

Self Reflexive Nature = Heroism
So: this conclusion can now be drawn because we see that it is the medium of having Harvey's life placed within a comic and then Hollywoodized onto film that causes Harvey to become a hero.  No, the comics do not glorify him, nor do they put him in a superman suit.  However, the comics, in their nature, subconsciously bring us to a realm where we know we are about to spectate upon something big.  Harvey Pekar? Not so big.  But through these comics he becomes big.  And through the film adaptation he becomes even greater.  He becomes a hero. 

Harvey Pekar is simple, average, and seemingly not a hero.  He has created himself to be a hero through his comics.  The films further that point.  I hope my "math" helps you see how!