I will say that at least one person walked out of the film screaming that it was disgusting, which was strange. This was made stranger by the fact that the "sex" scene that offended her wasn't even a real sex scene, but an odd masturbation scene, and the angry lady had sat through much weirder shit by that point. So this is a film that can really push people's buttons, apparently. Or, bore them to the point they fall asleep (the person in the aisle next to me.) So... yeah.
Cabin in the Woods was all it was rumored to be. I was charmed by it, and by the killer unicorn, and by the Japanese school girls with the happy frog. My only complain is re: the appearance of the Lovecraftian gods. THAT'S NOT WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE. The end.
A Separation -- the Iranian domestic drama that picked up the Oscar last year -- is definitely worth a watch if you like foreign films. It's an interesting slice-of-life in Iran. It's not a happy movie but it's not relentlessly tragic either.
That's it for now.
A Knight's Tale: The TV Series?
“'Battlestar Galactica' show runner Ron Moore is developing a TV series adaptation of Brian Helgeland's 2001 medieval romantic adventure flick "A Knight's Tale" for Sony Pictures.
The original film starred Heath Ledger as William Thatcher, a medieval peasant masquerading as a knight and competing in tournaments, along the way meeting real life figures like The Black Prince (James Purefoy) and poet Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany).
My analysis: *Could* be a good idea, at least for those of us who’d respond well to a medieval who’s-who with Queen songs and tournaments.
This could be fun, although my skepticism alarm is going off: All-Female "The Expendables" Planned
"Dutch Southern has come onboard to pen the estrogen-fuelled riff of the star-studded action franchise. Several prominent actresses affiliated with the action genre are already said to be in talks with the company."
"Said to be in talks," eh? Can I have more vague with that vagary? There's also the fact that I don't think the average Hollywood studio exec could think of a female action lead beyond Angelina Jolie. So we’ll see if this project pans out.
In cool YA adaptation news, the "Z for Zachariah" film is going ahead with Tobey Maguire. The big question is who the female lead will be. I'm hoping for an unknown actress.
In polar news, Matt Damon is making a “South Pole” (read – Scott & Amundsen) movie starring Casey Affleck. This does not sound like a good idea. No it does not. Not at all.
First of all, if there's a polar exploration movie that needs to be made, it's Endurance. Ships being crushed by ice, men being hunted by leopard seals, people jumping off mountains because they're going to freeze to death if they spend another minute at that altitude - *that's* a Hollywood polar movie.
Secondly, the Scott-Amundsen story has already been portrayed, fantastically, in the BBC's brutal The Last Place on Earth miniseries.
Thirdly, Casey Affleck? WHAT? No, no, no, no, NO.
Finally: Argo ending altered so as not to annoy Canadians.
The upshot: this is a good soundtrack album. Even on shuffle, the songs flow into each other with surprising coherence. And it's a rich mine for writers looking for "I'M IN A DYSTOPIA! WITH A BANJO!" music to play in the background as they write.
I'm also amused and rather touched to hear how many artists just really, really wanted to write HG filk. Rock on, nerdy dystopian banjo players. Rock on.
The Hunger Games is a film about a teenage girl struggling to negotiate relationships and gender roles in a hostile social environment. Along the way, trees explode, people die, and Lenny Kravitz proves the value of a good eyeliner.
You may have heard of it.
Anyway, the short version is: as an enthusiastic fan of the book, I thought the adaptation was awesome. As a film-goer I would give it a B+: it has strong acting and great direction in the opening 15 minutes, but suffers from the occasional bout of draggy pacing. It also wrestles with, and does not completely conquer, the challenge of transferring an intense first-person narrative into the 3rd person visuals of film.
But you know what? This is a very good adaptation of a rockin' novel. Hollywood seems to find that hard: for every Hunger Games there's twenty extremely annoying mutilations of The Dark is Rising (the horror! the horror!).
There was actually a moment about 50 minutes into the film - the first shot of the "Hunger Games studio" - when I thought, "In different hands, this is precisely the moment when things would start to suck." But the yawning pit of suckdom was avoided; goodness continued; and thus I could sleep peacefully at night and wake to face another day of ICFA with a soul lightened with the knowledge that Hunger Games had passed through the gates of film unscathed. Now:( SPOILERAMA! )
I'm off to ICFA later this week, where I hope to deliver a paper on Mieville, moderate some panels and hang out with some lovely people by the pool. Also, Hunger Games!
My soundtrack to the busy is the beautiful score of THE MISSION. And if you've never watched THE MISSION or listened to its soundtrack - OH MY GOD UNDER WHAT ROCK DO YOU DWELL?????!!!!
Alas, youtube doesn't have footage from the movie, but this clip features its waterfalls, minus the doomed Jesuit drifting to his death.
THE IRON LADY was the film J. EDGAR aspired to be: a clinical examination of a person who pursues, then loses, power. Like J.EDGAR, this film is not a political history. It's not out to educate you. Instead it wants to take a famous political figure and strip away their defensive shell, showing us what might drive a person to excel at the blood sport of politics. J. EDGAR did this clumsily; IRON LADY does it with skill and nuance.
Streep gave a fine performance, but I'd have rather Davis won for THE HELP. THE HELP was a fine movie, with a strong ensemble cast. It was hurt because it came out during the summer, and by the time the Oscar voting began it had faded in voters' memories.
HUGO was immensely overrated, imo. It looked lovely, and I loved its recreation of silent movie sets, but the story clunked. The pacing in the last third of the film was off, and events seemed to drag rather than fitting neatly together. I also have to say that I didn't engage with the main character. The actor (who will be donning the mantle of Ender Wiggin in ENDER'S GAME) was competent; but the character remained a surface to me. I think one of the problems may have been that it took so long for the film to reveal why Hugo was stealing clockwork, etc. If you keep a character opaque, you up the mystery but lose out in audience identification.
So anyway. Some folks seem to have loved HUGO. I wasn't one of them.
And that's it for me and the Oscars this year.
It's a movie about a construction worker, Curtis, who begins to notice strange things: birds flying in menacing formations; violent storms hovering in the distance. He also begins to experience awful nightmares in which a storm triggers violent behavior in those around him.
The son of a schizophrenic, Curtis knows only too well that his visions might signal the onset of mental illness. But he is torn between trying to shelter his wife and young daughter from his mental breakdown and trying to protect them from the apocalypse he fears may be approaching. So, while secretly seeking medical treatment, he also begins constructing an expensive storm shelter in the backyard. Predictably, his marriage and relationships are increasingly strained by his fearful behavior.
This is a horror movie about anxiety. It's about a person plagued by a vague sense of dread, who keeps shoring up defenses against Something Bad That Might Happen. The genius of the film is that it also infects the audience with this dread: watching Curtis negotiate loan payments, and watching his wife try to arrange an operation for their daughter, we feel a disaster approaching. But from what direction? Is mental illness the threat? Foreclosure? The bad economy? Or is it really the Apocalypse?
There's a lot of good stuff in this movie: the idea of the patriarchy in crisis; the devastation wrought by anxiety; the stealthy creep of the Todorovian fantastic into everyday life. Oh yes, and the script is strong and the performances excellent. I think SF folks will like it for its skillful use of apocalyptic creepiness; everyone else will appreciate it as the unnerving gem that it is.
(The trailer's here, though I think it's better to watch the movie cold.)
What else? Sony is planning an Assassin's Creed film, the new film version of Akira has finally been greenlit, and there are a bunch of interesting TV projects in the works: an adaptation of the Kapanese anime "Noir," and an adaptation of Karen Russell's Swamplandia!, which I hear is wonderful, but which I still haven't read. There's going to be an American adaptation of the UK show "Misfits." (Has anyone seen this one? It sounds like something up our collective street.)
In other news, I'm charmed by the description of Shia LeBeouf's new movie, A Giant:
The story follows a girl, broke and running from a series of bad relationships, who moves back home to reconnect with her brother. Instead she forms a relationship with a 20-foot-tall man-child (LaBeouf) who lives next door. Gil Kenan ("Monster House") will direct from a script he wrote.
I like movies that wear their quiet-but-high concept on their sleeve.
Proving that fantasy TV may be the new trend and that FOX is stepping forward to kill it, FOX has announced that it will be developing Lev Grossman's The Magicians as a tv show. (I haven't read this book yet. Any comments from those who have?)
In other tv trends: Reno 911! is returning on Netflix. This is also where the new Arrested Development episodes, if they ever get made, will probably appear. Smart move, Netflix, say I. Your first in a while.
So the new Pirates of the Carribean movie was... adequate.
It had a plot, at least. And beautiful locations. And Al Swearengen as Blackbeard.
It also had Johhny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, though Depp's peformance felt... forced.
"Forced" is how I'd sum up the movie, actually. It lacked the wild, lighthearted goofiness of the original. Instead it seemed like a very studied attempt to give the audience what it wants, from Captain Jack (with a strained-looking Depp trying to recapture the mannerisms of his former performance) to Adventure (with the blaring soundtrack desperately trying to convince us that This! Is! Thrilling!).
Cruz was working hard, but she and Depp had no chemistry. The only person who really seemed to cut loose and have fun was Geoffrey Rush, who clearly knew he had no reason to be in this movie.
Judging from my fellow-audience members' reaction, the movie's comic timing needed work. There were some great lines that the audience just didn't laugh at. I'm guessing the humor was either flying above their heads, or that it was being delivered too quickly, or that the scene was sending the wrong cues. There were a few pratfalls that got laughs, but overall I'd say the audience was... amused by the film. Not enthralled, and not ROTFL.
The film is loosely based on the Tim Powers novel On Stranger Tides. I haven't read the novel, but what I've heard about the plot suggests that its PotC adaptation both helped and hurt the movie. On one hand, it provided a Story, with some interesting mythological twists. On the other hand, the filmmakers were not about to let On Stranger Tides be its own beast. They wanted it to be a Pirates movie, and this led to a lot of yes, forcing the story into the pattern the filmmakers wanted.
That pattern doesn't quite work. There are too many characters working at cross-purposes, and their stories weren't developed enough for me to care about them. This was particularly evident in the climax, which felt "busy" rather than "exciting" to me.
But it wasn't a Bad Film. It was just an "eh..." film with some good lines and moments.
Last night I saw Priest, starring Paul Bettany as a mystically-powered vampire hunter in a Post-Apocalyptic Future (TM). I went in with low expectations and ended up enjoying it much more than other films of its ilk (I'm looking at you, Equilibrium).
For one thing, the cool-looking people in black could actually fight. No gun-fu nonsense here. More importantly, they could fight while riding their turbo-charged motorcycles.
Also, did I mention that the film features Paul Bettany and Maggie Q. as repressed lovers/Gothic-Catholic-warrior-priests fighting an army of decently-rendered CGI vampires led by Clint Eastwood's The Man With No Name? And that the plot is ripped off from John Ford's The Searchers, but with less horrible racism and more wire-fu? AND THAT THEY'RE RIDING TURBO-MOTORCYCLES?
The film definitely has its faults, starting with the fact it's a Bad Movie. The film has no interest in developing its characters or, you know, making any damn sense. But did anything in the previous paragraph sound like it was from a "Good Movie"? Let's move on.
What I do fault the film on is its dystopia, because it's obvious the evil overlords just weren't really trying. First, they decorated their dystopia with Pier One's Bladerunner-line furniture, and topped it off with some1984 slogan posters that they ordered online.
Sadly, they made the mistake of many first-time dystopia-builders and didn't ask whether this decor would actually work for them. Towering city-scapes of perpetual darkness might look cool, but in a world ravaged by sun-fearing vampires, blocking the sun from your cities has some drawbacks. Also, it makes no damn sense.
This might have been remedied if you had an actual Evil Overlord, but Christopher Plummer was obviously given the job for his menacing looks, and not because he's genuinely eeevel. The guy has no idea how to be a supervillain. For example, it apparently has never occurred to him to stop people from leaving the dystopia. At the very least, he needs better border control, because every time someone defies him they can stroll out of his city with ease.
Poor Christopher Plummer. He's like the George W. Bush of Dystopian Overlords.
Anyway. The movie is what it is. It's not worth seeing in theaters, but if you've already seen (I'm sorry) films like Equilibrium and that one about the cannibalistic Scots behind Hadrian's Wall, then it's unlikely that you'll suffer more brain damage from this experience.
And this one has turbo-motorcycles. Which people cover in explosives and then surf towards moving objects. While fighting.
Oh, Sucker Punch. Your visuals have so much potential. But to quote a fellow audience-member, "watching this film is like watching a video game you're not playing."
All I can do is shake my head and wonder what those visuals could do were they actually linked to a plot.
Your film, Mr. Snyder, is taking up space in this universe that rightfully belongs to another. Because of you, there's a Naoimi Novaks novel that's not being adapted; a steamwork-nazi anime that will never be filmed. A thousand kittens weep silent tears at Sucker Punch's wasted existence.
Part of me wants to revisit the specter of female exploitation you raise, Mr. Snyder. Not out of anger, but out of a sad urge to invest your film with meaning. Some kind of meaning. But given that your plot hangs together with the consistency of goop, I fear that I will only waste yet more minutes of my life trying to figure out what on earth your bordello fantasy is suggesting.
I will observe this: your ending hinted that you truly believe this film is empowering.
( SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER! )
AND ANOTHER THING.
( about that ending )
Oh well. At least it had some good tunes.
There's an adaptation of the YA fantasy series "The Last Apprentice" in the works, and Julianne Moore has been cast in it as an evil witch. I must admit, the DH description of the plot intrigued me more than the book jackets have. Has anyone read this series? Are they any good?
On the "I know this YA series is good" front, Jennifer Lawrence will star in The Hunger Games. Having admired her stone-cold performance in Winter's Bone, I think this is a good choice.
In other SF movie news, Gordon-Levitt will be playing Alberto Falcone in "The Dark Knight Rises," Kevin Costner will play Jonathan Kent in Superman (is that the kiss of death?), Aronofsky has dropped out of "Wolverine" (did someone adjust our timeline so that the reality pendulum is swinging back to "normal?"), the Sandman TV series was on, then off, and is now on again (supposedly); and Shia LaBoeuf will star in an adaptation of Joe Hill's Horns.
What else? There's an animated feature based on the Kahlil Gibran book "The Prophet" in the works; a new Mad Max film is due to start filming in January (again); Trent Reznor, fresh from his Social Network success, is in talks to score "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"; and Kevin Spacey is to play Francis Urquhart in the (God help us) upcoming House of Cards remake. Oh, and they're shifting the setting to the U.S. I think I'm just going to go and bang my head against a wall somewhere...
I finally saw The Kids Are All Right -- that's 9/10 Oscar movies down! -- and I was disappointed. The performances were strong, but the screenplay needed more work. I was particularly studying Annette Bening's performance because she's many critics' favorite as Best Actress and... I'm still rooting for Natalie Portman. I was trying to figure out why afterwards, and I realized that part of my reaction had to do with writing issues.
In Black Swan, Portman plays a simple but fully-realized character, and she brings that character to life. In The Kids Are All Right, Bening is playing a caricature for most of the film. She gets one scene in the movie where the script finally gives her character behaviors that don't "advance the plot" -- and that too is meant to advance the plot, by showing a pov character that Bening's character is more than two-dimensional. But then we're back to two dimensions again. Bening does the best she can to create a vivid character, but she's hampered by the script.
I've read a lot of analyses of these two movies that reverse my analysis. Many critics have major issues with Black Swan: the misogyny of its plotline annoys them. They claim horror movies don't require "real acting" because "all you have to do is look scared all the time." Lastly they sneer at Nina's character because she's so archetyically a "little girl lost."
The first criticism is overstated, and doesn't actually comment on the effectiveness of the film. The second isn't worth responding to. The third is interesting.
Yes, Nina's character is based in archetype. That's not a bad thing, particularly in a world that's ruled by archetypes, in which the character is explicitly told to step into the respective roles of virgin and whore. We get hints of particularity -- the character's alienation from her classmates, her thieving -- but as with all the characters, we are told very little about her. We have to be shown everything. All the little details -- the gamut of expressions that cross Portman's face -- build the character. To state the obvious: the actress has more visible work to do.
In TKAAR, the writers seem to confuse detail with characterization. We know that Bening's character is a wine-lover, that she likes male gay porn, that she met her lover when she was a resident, that she does x of this kind of operations and uses micro-surgery, that she thinks the organic movement is a bit woo-woo, that she hates motorcycles, that she's uptight and a perfectionist (the characters helpfully tell us this), that ...
There are a lot of details here. But for much of the movie we see her character do three things: nag, criticize, and make brief, absent-minded loving gestures. The first two are meant to drive her partner away, the last to help the audience understand why her partner stays with her. There are no loose threads, no details that aren't intended to move the plot forward (even the gay porn detail is included for plot reasons). There's also nothing that complicates the two-dimensional portrait of this woman as a loving but hypercritical "husband."
In Black Swan, on the other hand, scenes do more than one thing. The scene with the cake, for example: talk to some audience members and they see it as a scene revealing the character's anorexia; others see it as a film about the mother's controlling nature; others about the daughter's repressed desire to rebel; others about the mother's desire to punish the daughter for the success she didn't have... We're witness to fucked-up behavior, and it isn't clear how we are immediately supposed to interpret it.
Immediately before I saw TKAAR, I read an article about Tolkien's use of detail that argued that, while literary critics tend to love elaborate description, Tolkiens's avoidance of particularizing detail is more effective at getting the reader to immerse in the fictional world. I think in the case of these two films, the same is true of character. I believed more in the character I was told less about.
I was surprised by how little the film relied on flashbacks. When I heard the film mainly took place in the main character's head, I assumed that meant it would cut back and forth between The Rock and his childhood -- or something.
It doesn't. The closest film I've seen to it was The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which also used visual imagery to evoke mental states, but it also relied heavily on voiceover, which 127 Hours doesn't.
Anyway. It's a good film. It's worth seeing, and because of the gorgeous scenery, is probably better seen on the big screen. The Scene is not as tough to watch as you've heard.
I also checked out the animated Oscar films. I found Shaun Tan's The Lost Thing absolutely charming, but I think the award will probably go to The Gruffalo, which was the crowd favourite. Madagascar, carnet de voyage might take it as the outside artistic favourite.
So far my pick for best picture is The Social Network. I'd call it my generation's Citizen Kane, except it's funnier and lacks any references to sledges. It's smartly written, well acted, well directed and topical. It'd get my vote.
I also really enjoyed Black Swan. Natalie Portman turned in an excellent performance; great art direction and cinematography elevated it, and that Swan Lake tune was pretty darn catchy. I really admire the camera direction in the film: the tight handheld closeups of Portman's head as she walks, the you-are-there lurch of the camera when Portman gets lifted up. True, the story is straightforward, but that's not a sin here. The suspense comes in seeing how Nina's nightmare will unfold, and in trying to figure out what's real and what isn't in any given scene.
True Grit was a great crowd-pleasing tall tale of a movie, and I'm glad to see it's done well at the box office. I wouldn't be sad to see it win an award or two, but there are worthier contenders out there.
Winter's Bone is the opposite of a crowd-pleaser: it's a bleak, hillbilly-noir version of True Grit, only without the humor or the comforting stand-in patriarch. Jennifer Lawrence turns in a strong performance as a girl willing to do anything to find her father; John Hawkes is memorable as the dangerous uncle who warns her off her quest. If the words "bleak," "chilling" and "suspenseful" appeal to you, make sure to track this one down.
The King's Speech is a fine movie. Really. It's also a paint-by-numbers Oscar film that does its best to check off every box on the Extras-Winslet-Speech list. Colin Firth (Pride and Prejudice) plays a repressed Englishman who must overcome a physical challenge (read: speech impediment) to discover himself and fight Nazis. Geoffrey Rush (Shine) plays the eccentric genius who helps him. Everything ends upliftingly to stirring music. The only surprise is Helena Bonham Carter, who does turns in a sharp, lively-but-strong performance in a role she has not played a hundred times already.
Toy Story 3 is a worthy cap on the Toy Story trilogy, but it's not really a Best Picture contender. Inception was one of the most original summer blockbusters, but it does suffer from convoluted storytelling, thin characters, and the occasional loss of narrative focus. I want to see it win Best Sound, and it'll be neck and neck with TSN for best film score.
That's all I've seen so far. 3 more to go.