Sunday, August 30, 2015

3 Short Paragraphs: What We Do in the Shadows

2014, Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi (Flight of the Conchords) -- download

Yeah, Taika was the "Pieface" character in the Green Lantern movie. Imagine taking that resume entry to your grave.

Taika and Jemaine are part of the creative force behind the TV show Flight of the Conchords; Taika is not the other half of the comedy duo, but has worked with Jemaine in The Humorbeasts. Its not surprising the New Zealand comedy is small and intertwining. This movie, for example, pairs the two playing vampires living together. Yep, a group of differently aged vampires all doing the roommate thing for convenience and safety. But you know how well roommates get on after a time.

The movie is done mockumentary style, with Taika's Viago, an effete Anne Ricean vampire, trying to hold it together with the other three, while protecting the documentary team. Jemaine is Vladislav, the Dracula analog but not as sexually alluring & scary as he used to be. Deacon is the youngest of the lot, and the dick roommate. And Petyr is 8000 years old, gone all nosferatu in his old age.

Who does the dishes? Who cleans up the bodies? Who gets the blood? What do they do on weekends? How do they interact with the local werewolf bro pack? These are the comedic elements exposed to somewhat success. The movie does well to cover the one liners and standup punchlines early on, so they can drop into a story -- what happens when their Renfield brings her ex over to be food, but he ends up being made into a new vampire. So, new roomie. The comedy is subdued, very non-American, very much clinging to sketch comedy TV roots. Things never really go anywhere, but in enough direction to remind you, "Oh yeah, documentary crew."

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Fantastic Four

2015, Josh Trank (Chronicle) -- cinema

Goshdarnnits, why do a bunch of bro's have to come into my theatre, sit directly in front of me and kill my quiet, enjoyable viewing of one. Texting, talking and laughing at each other's jokes, I almost got up and walked to demand my money back. But, as it turns out, even if they had been more civilized, I doubt I would have enjoyed the movie.

Yeah, Fantastic Four was a terrible movie. And not terribly bad but still fun. Just terrible. More so than I expected.

This movie has been getting a bad rap since Trank came on board. He did Chronicle back in 2012, and by my writing of it back then (dude, do some editing) you would think I didn't enjoy it. What I didn't enjoy were the characters; shallow, selfish and typical of today's commenting generation. No thinking, all action --- the kids, not the movie. They brought him in because he did "gritty superhero" well, but no, he really didn't. There is nothing fully "gritty" (whatever that means) about Chronicle, but for the fact it drops the trappings of the superhero genre, most obviously, the heroics.  But I did enjoy how he did the movie, the layout, the pacing and the run to the Akira style finish line. I had hope he would be allowed to do something very non-Marvel Studios, and definitely non-DC with this franchise.

After the middling lack of success of the other Fantastic Four movies, he was asked to make the characters a little darker, a little more grounded, and to draw just a little on the Marvel Ultimate universe, which did so well in Avengers. That quickly drew the ire of the fanbase. But really, when can you not draw the ire of some segment of the fanbase. Rabid fanboys (a cross gender term) are so very very tiring in their desire to have everything according to how they believe it should be. I am sure 1970s Fantastic Four fans hate Ultimate Universe and current prime universe fans find the old stuff boring. They will never be happy and the Internet is not happy unless they are complaining.

But then darker things started to come out of the reporting world, leveraged by today's social media. Trank was a tyrant, Trank was having issues with executives and resisting re-writes, the cast didn't like him. Not sure if I trust the earlier, and why wouldn't they resist the latter; that's Hollywood norm? And he wrecked a rented house? Sounds like Trank had issues across the board no matter how he interacted with the cast & crew. While being a jerk doesn't necessarily mean you make a bad movie, it sure sounds like it contributed.

The primary problem I have with this movie is the pacing and dialogue. There seem to be no real conversations, just line after line after line after line. Its all short sentences and exclamations. Nobody ever seems to really say anything to anyone else. There is no sincerity in any of their interactions, but for some heartfelt pleading from Franklin Storm. And its never really ever a story. Its just an introduction of characters, and conflict.

The plot seems riddled with "what the?" elements. For example, Reed Richards is a kid genius developing a teleportation machine in his garage. Through middle school all the way to high school he is working on it. But the teaching staff thinks he is an idiot. How can a supra-genius level theoretical physicist and engineer not get the top grades, not be seen as a shining star in his school? Someone would catch that. But no, useless conflict for the sake of it. High school science fair with nine year olds presenting beside him.

He is picked out of high school and sent on a scholarship to the Franklin Foundation. Scholarship; but one that barely seems to have any education to it, just a slaved assignment to work on their teleportation machine. There are so many times when the plot could have been served by some small details, to lead us gently from one scene to the next. Connecting threads. Reed might be really good at assembling junk in his garage, but apparently can magically carry that skill to bigger, more complicated equipment. He seems to have no engineering staff and does the welding himself. Seriously, why the fuck would he be welding pieces of metal together instead of working on the delicate machinery and algorithms that will make this machine transport matter from one place to another?!? For that matter, why the fuck is Sue Storm (whose only exposure to what her genius really is, is comments on pattern recognition) assigned to sew together the space suits?!?! She's a fucking genius, make some use of her!! Film creators have to step back and see the acts they are creating, and the follow up shooting fills in some details. That seemed to have been ignored here.

The dark, gritty part of the movie is supposed to come from the post-Get Powers act, where they turn Ben Grimm into a killing machine and are training Sue & Johnny to be the same. Reed has run/slithered away to Panama, and when we are supposed to understand it was so he could study what happened to them, to find a "cure". But we are never shown any emotional conflict on his part, for abandoning his friends, especially his best friend Ben. None of this would not have happened if drunk Reed hadn't teleported the gang into another universe on a whim. There should be some sort of emotion from Reed regarding this, but honestly, its because the stringing together of lines and scenes never allow for it. Try and explain it away with some references to Reed being an emotionally crippled genius somewhere on The Spectrum, but the actual movie doesn't support that.

Do I know whether to blame Trank or the second and third unit directors brought in later to reshoot and add and splice together the final film?  I have no clue. I am not skilled enough in Hollywood nuances to catch it, but I suspect both. We are left with a movie that has refraining to care about the characters, not even deeming to care about the Big Event that happens. There are little in the way of heroics, little in the way of emotional development and nothing likable to hold onto.

I am desperately trying to remember any scene that appealed to me, anything I enjoyed. The effects are serviceable, the camera work is acceptable. Ben Grimm looks good but damn, they should have given him pants -- he ain't no Donald Duck.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Superheroic Sequels, Remakes, Firsties and Failures

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - 2014, d. Mark Webb
Avengers: Age of Ultron - 2015, d. Joss Whedon

(Rewatch) Iron Man 2 - 2010, d. Jon Favreau
(Rewatch) The Incredible Hulk - 2008, d. Louis Leterrier
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - 2014, d. Jonathan Liebsman
Ant-Man - 2015, d. Peyton Reed
The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? - 2015, d. John Schnepp

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It's not that sequels can't be good, but it's a sequel's ability to capitalize upon what made the first film successful without sacrificing story, character or artistic expression that seems to be inherently tricky.  Not that I have anything other than a distant observer's impression of how films are made in the Hollywood system, but it seems that studio heads and producers always like to think of themselves as being the smartest people in the room, and also that whatever successes they have had they attribute to their savvy know-how and little to do with the actual talented directors, writers, actors and craftspeople involved.  As such sequels seem to get green lit with "more of these things from last time, plus whatever else is hot right now" attitude, rarely with any sense that aspects of cinema generally only work in context, not in a vacuum.

Batman Returns, Tim Burton's follow-up to the first superhero blockbuster in a decade, set an abhorrent precedent for what a sequel should be, creating a template that's continually mimicked but never properly understood.  By introducing two super-villains and centering the film on them, almost every sequel in the genre that has followed since (starting with Batman Forever) had done the same: more villains, more heroes, more big name casting, more, more, more, without ever truly understanding that it's actually having a story to tell that makes the endeavor worthwhile.  (A story is told in the documentary The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened in which Tim Burton, in preparing for Batman Returns, expressed a strong dislike for superhero films.  When asked then why he was making a sequel, he replied that he wanted to apply the lessons learned and knowledge he'd gained from doing the first one to a film and do it right.  Batman Returns feels so much more like a Tim Burton film as a result).  The most notorious offenders in this light are probably Spider-Man 3 and Batman and Robin but they're far from the only bad ones.

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is perhaps the most egregious example in the genre in modern day.  Not only are studios trying to make their films bigger while still using a 20-year-old outdated reference point they don't truly understand in doing so, but now they're under pressure to replicate Marvel's success of building a cinematic universe that spans multiple successful franchises while being loosely bound together.  The Amazing Spider-Man was itself an attempt to run away from the mistakes of the very recent past by starting again fresh, but it's like whatever lessons Sony had though they had learned were forgotten completely under the weight of having to keep up with the Marvel studios Joneses. If The Amazing Spider Man 2 is watchable at all, it's because it utterly coasts on the charming relationship between Emma Watson and Andrew Garfield, which heralds back to Mark Webb's original success as the indie-rom-com director of 500 Days of Summer.

Everything else in the film is an overwrought, convoluted mess (the poster above kind of sets the tone, don't it?).  A storyline set up from the first film, involving Peter Parker's parents and their disappearance, is revisited in the lengthy opening action sequence aboard an airplane that forgets to remind you in any way that this is a movie about Spider-Man, a guy who slings webs and crawls on walls.  The film then, busily, introduces Paul Giamatti as a Russian Gangster who Spider-Man stops, Jamie Foxx as a nebbish Oscorp employee Spider-Man saves, and some wholly unnecessary conflict in Peter and Gwen's relationship after the death of her dad in the last movie (the least of which being Peter's post-traumatic stress which he never deals with).  There's lots of hiding around Aunt May shenanigans, Peter delving into the mystery of his dad's disappearance, and the sudden reappearance of Harry Osborne and Peter's best friend from childhood (/Peter's best friend from the previous film series, for shorthand).  

Foxx is actually quite engaging as Max Dillon, even if he is quite literally playing a character straight out of Revenge of the Nerds.  If the film had focused on him as its sole villain and how he intersects with Peter's life, it would have made for a nice point-counterpoint between Peter as a well-socialized nerd-with-a-girlfriend and Max's I-make-people-wholly-uncomfortable-when-I'm-around-type nerd, pitting them as two similar people who make such different choices.  But Max, despite being the headline villain, is a minor part of the film.  Harry Osborne and his unscrupulous search for a cure for himself (the cure his father failed to find) winds up making him, and Oscorp as a whole, the central villain (there are articles online about how everything, literally, in this film revolves around Oscorp).

The film juggles it's seemingly dozens of plot threads with little success in any of them, exhausting the audience in the process (despite --or because of-- their incredible chemistry, the on-again-off-again Peter and Gwen story is its most aggravating).  By the time the big, equally overstuffed climax occurs (why do these films always seem to end with a big, visually cluttered cgi mess of an action sequence?), leading to yet another death on Peter's conscience, the film seems to have lost any sense of clarity on the journey its young hero is supposed to take.  All the while the film is setting up more and more Oscorp-created super villains (including Giamatti in a giant, mechanical rhinoceros suit of armor) for both sequels and spin-offs, not realizing that it's "more is more" drove the whole franchise aground.  

Despite making $700million plus worldwide, critical reaction was punishing and the audience reaction was a resounding "we're good thanks".  Such a brutal reception has driven Sony to it's third reboot of the character in less than a decade, and turning to Marvel studios to help them do it right.

But is that the right thing to do?

Marvel Studios has produced two phases of cinematic universe-building consisting of  a dozen films over an incredible 7-year span, and creating some of the biggest blockbusters ever in the offing.  But if you look there are some missteps and mistakes, with Avengers: Age of Ultron being the latest example.

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Coming out of the massive success of the first Avengers, one would think Joss Whedon would have had carte blanche to do what he wanted with the franchise.  Being a supreme geek, creator of fan-favourite (legion-following) television shows, and an expert juggler of action, comedy, drama and character, particularly in an ensemble setting, he proved with the Avengers what every Buffy, Angel and Firefly fan has known for two decades: he's talented and he gets it, so it would make sense that Marvel would just let him cut loose with a second Avengers.  But, as noted in my preamble, the studio and executives always know best, and their influence on the end result has created a mediocre picture where another massive blockbuster should have been.

Now, I'm a couple months removed from Age of Ultron and I only managed one viewing in the theatre despite wanting to see it again, so writing this "review" I have to couch it with the context of hazy memories.  When I see a big nerd film like Age of Ultron -- where the news and rumours movie sites have been dissecting trailers and reporting on all manner of conjecture and hearsay and fan theories -- the first viewing is always a result of measuring the film against what I've been told to expect.  In such regard, where I was looking to it to set up another 5 years of Marvel films, it was a failure, both in what it actually did manage to set up and what it didn't dare to do.

Age of Ultron isn't an awful film, it's actually a quite exciting and enjoyable one, but it features some choice moments of Marvel Cinematic Universe bloat that interfere with it being a great film like the first one.  Most notoriously is the executive interference mandating non-sequitur scenes which exist solely to set up future movies.  Where a Whedon-driven sequence with Ulysses Klaw adds some international James Bondian excitement that further deepens the MCU and also happens to insinuate some elements for a forthcoming Black Panther feature, it's also a useful part of the movie, providing Ultron with an indestructible body that becomes the Maguffin for the second act.   Likewise, Whedon was certainly made aware of the plans for a Civil War sequel for Captain America, and he delivers some beautifully executed sequences putting Cap and Iron Man verbally at odds with each other that will prove prescient to the uninformed upon Civil War's release. However, there's also a studio-mandated sequence where Thor goes off on his own to wade in a hot spring and have some visions which have a story-stunting effect on the film, truly killing the pacing and confounding audiences everywhere.  There's little to no purpose of this scene in the movie, beyond setting up the third Thor installment (more than a year in advance).  

Whedon has written comics and has certainly read his fair share.  He understands the shared-universe conceit intrinsically and negotiates not just the events of one prior movie but a half dozen while still understanding the bigger picture going forward.  The producers trusted him to do so, but only to an extent, and then you can tell they started forcing things upon him which he didn't believe in as a writer or director, and the film suffers for it.

On the one hand Age of Ultron is utterly over-stuffed with too many characters to give them all their due.  Suffering the most are the newest characters, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, who have the unfortunate circumstance of not being established characters already.  With the film bringing almost all the major players (minus the noted absences of Jane Foster and Pepper Potts, and the no-place-for-him Loki) back together, anyone new beyond the central villain, is getting the short shrift.  Even the established characters at times feel slighted by the edit as is (knowing there was an earlier edit of the film running an hour longer doesn't help the film feel like it's missing scenes any less), but Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has a funny adversarial relationship with Hawkeye but has nothing more meaningful in the way of characterization than that.  Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) doesn't get much more than a pep talk.  What's more, they're supposed to be Eastern European which leads the actors to have uneven, awkward accents which help none (not to forget that X-Men: Days of Future Past had its own Quicksilver who was showcased in the film's standout sequence, something this film didn't even deign to try and top...it seemed to concede the better Quicksilver to Fox)

Much has been said of Black Widow's speech revealing her past, and the horrors she faced as a trainee in the Russian spy program, leading up to her being rendered sterile so that family wouldn't interfere with her espionage priorities.  There was a notable outcry damning the scene, but in a film that features parenting as a heavy narrative thrust (a major point is Tony Stark's role as father to Ultron), exploring this side of Widow is largely problematic because there are no other female characters on the team to represent anything else.  If that scene shows any weakness in the character, it's a vulnerability she's willing to present only to a person she loves. But also, remember, this in a scene where her romantic partner was showing his vulnerability as a byproduct of science-gone-wrong.  In a film where Widow needs to placate the Hulk in order to keep him from going out of control, Natasha once more needs to placate the man in order to keep him from just walking out (but it didn't work ultimately).  Many, many fans did not like the Black Widow/Bruce/Hulk relationship in the film (because it's one that's never existed in the comics, and fans are like that) but I thought the end result was quite fascinating, unexpected, and showed something intriguing in both of them.  My personal thought was that given how intensely her first encounter with the Hulk shook her in the first Avengers movie, she made a play for a relationship with Bruce as a means of taking control of her own fear.

Age of Ultron is not as direly messed up a sequel as so many other superhero films, but it's the first product of the Marvel Studios design that requires full buy-into the Marvel Studios design.  If you've not invested in at least some of the MCU up until now, and aren't ready to get excited about what's to come, this movie will make little sense or be of little interest.  Where one could step into The Avengers or even Captain America: Winter Soldier and be tremendously entertained, you have to want to see Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Thor and the Hulk together as your driving thrust to see the picture.  You have to want to see multiple new heroes come on the screen (and I didn't even talk about Vision).  You have to want to be teased for more films down the pipe.  You have to care about all these maguffins that will form the Infinity Gauntlet and give a crap about what it all means.  I'm a huge big comic nerd and this is long been my dream of how films should be, but now that films are like this, they're perhaps a bit too much inside their own little world to be completely accessible.  A film should be entertaining on it's own, and Age of Ultron is, but only too a point.  It seems like a slippery slope these films are going down, becoming accessible only for those who have poured over the whole back catalog multiple times and get the set up and pay off that's happening.

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Taking a step back, there's Marvel Studios biggest mess, Iron Man 2, which makes Age of Ultron look like Citizen Kane.  That's a tad hyperbolic.  A more apt comparison, if Iron Man is the Godfather, Iron Man 3 would be the Godfather 2 while Iron Man 2 would be the Godfather 3

This is textbook sequel-gone-wrong, still looking at the Batman Returns model of "more more more".  There's two new villains, taking a suddenly hot commodity, Mickey Rourke (coming off his career reviving The Wrestler) and putting him in a central role as Ivan Vanko, aka Whiplash, a Russian gangster/inventor whose father got cheated by Tony Stark's father and now he's looking for revenge.  Meanwhile Sam Rockwell plays a corporate head who is not as smart or talented as Tony Stark and suffers in his shadow.  Using every angle possible (including bringing in Whiplash) he steals Tony's technology, and threatens to commoditize it, not realizing how determined or resourceful his new partner is.

Rourke's Vanko is a scenery chewing nutball who makes for an interesting incidental character at best.  It would seem that Vanko was non-existent or only a minor character in the initial draft of the film but bolstered tremendously when Rourke was wooed aboard.  There's a comedic bent to the entire picture (much like the first one) but Rourke plays everything so sternly, even his weirdness is more intimidating than amusing, completely out of place.  Rockwell nails the tone perfectly and was likely intended to be the main villain, but seems unintentionally overshadowed here.  Too much time is spent on Vanko, and it's Tony Stark that suffers for it.

The story gives Stark two plots too many.  There's a heavy-handed living-up-to-his-father's-legacy story that finds him resurrecting the Stark Expo (an exhibit for great minds), which also has a hidden mystery from Howard Stark to be discovered (just like Amazing Spider-Man 2, a mystery from dad!).  He's also struggling to keep the American military at bay as the political system (including an unexpected cameo from Garry Shandling) attempts to force him to relish his technology, and then there's his massive ego which seems to be getting in his way of actually doing the good he wants to do.  And then there's a whole lot of business with S.H.I.E.L.D. for the sole purpose of seeding the Marvel Cinematic Universe leading into The Avengers, which puts Black Widow into the picture (not an unwelcome presence, but an unnecessary one thoroughly).  Not to mention Tony and Pepper exploring whether their relationship actually works, and also his friendship with Rhodey is strained because of Rhodey's military commitments.

Unlike Age of Ultron, which endeavors to have only one plot (with a couple of thematic through-lines and related character-driven sub-plots), Iron Man 2 has too many plots and too many sub-plots pulling Tony Stark in multiple directions.  Abandoning the Howard Stark mystery would have slimmed the film down a fair bit, as would have trimming the Vanko role to something smaller and scaling back or eliminating S.H.I.E.L.D. altogether.  It's actually not badly done, it's just overdone, overstuffed sometimes to the point of tedium.  It unfortunately sunk Jon Favreau's involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (he did reprise his role as Happy Hogan in Iron Man 3 so there was obviously no ill will in the separation), which is too bad, considering as how he practically launched the thing from his shoulders.  Iron Man 2 seemed like it was guided by the studio into its unfortunate shape, a lesson they learned for a time, but seem perilously close to repeating.

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The second film from Marvel Studios was a rapid relaunch of their Hulk franchise after both a critical and audience drubbing of the Ang Lee rendition earlier in the decade (I still quite like it, though I know I'm a very small minority).  After the success of Iron Man and the very popular post-credits sequence with Sam Jackson as Nick Fury intoning a bigger universe to come, Marvel quickly made sure that this new Hulk feature would start building their new cinematic universe, making reference to Captain America, and featuring its own post-credits sequence that found Tony Stark stumping for the Avengers initiative.  Though changing some of the details of the Hulk's origin (making it a part of an attempt at recreating the super-soldier serum that gave Captain America his abilities), the film doesn't outright negate the Ang Lee movie.  Though all the actors are different, the film picks up in a way that could ostensibly follow the events of the first movie (Bruce is on the run, Ross is on the hunt, Betty has moved on). 

Whether it was the fact that audiences had been so recently burned by a Hulk movie, or that Ed Norton wasn't exactly the action hero people could get behind, or because the Hulk of the film frankly looked like a Rob Liefeld illustration come to CGI life, or because the film unironically looked to the 1970's TV series for inspiration, it remains the most modest performer of the MCU movies thus far.  The fact that Norton and the Marvel producers didn't see eye-to-eye on the future direction of the character led to him dropping out of the Avengers (replaced with the warmer, more charming Mark Ruffalo) quickly made The Incredible Hulk an outlier, and until recently, abandoned as part of the MCU (it was recently announced that William Hurt would reprise his role as General "Thunderbolt" Ross in Civil War). 

My thoughts upon rewatching the film haven't changed since I first saw it.  The opening act, which follows Bruce as he tries to escape the military and his past, by hiding out in Rio, is great, leading to a terrific chase sequence through the streets of Rio after they discover his location. The leader of the squad is Emil Blonsky (a terrifically miscast Tim Roth) who agrees to undergo a new super-soldier trial (extracted from Banner) in order to go toe-to-to with the monster.  The middle act works well as drama and romance as it finds Bruce returning home, at first avoiding Betty (who's shacking up with Modern Family's Ty Burrell in the role of psychiatrist Leonard Samson), but then requiring her help.  The military, as they do, track him down and Blonsky gets to test out his new strength against the Hulk, only to find he's lacking.  The Hulk flees with Betty, and Bruce is back on the run, but with company this time.  They track down the anonymous scientist that had been helping Bruce try to figure out a cure for himself, only to once more be found out by the military and Blonsky, further mutated as the Abomination starts to wreck New York.  This leads to an exceptionally tedious, unimaginative, poorly rendered animated fight between two behemoths on Yonge Street in Toronto (failing poorly as an imitation of Harlem) that just drags on.  This third act fight is such a bore that it kills the film almost in its entirety.


I want to like this movie more than I do.  I think \Norton is genuinely interesting as Bruce Banner, and conveys his struggle in a unique way.  Although I actually find the references charming, I still think it was a bad decision commercially to look to a television show from over two decades past as a means to revitalize a stalled franchise (particularly after Schumacher tried the same thing to less success).  The influence of the Bixby/Ferrigno TV show slows the film down and really makes the human character the focus, where I think audiences wanted more Hulk Smash (especially coming out of the Ang Lee film).  Why else did people love him in The Avengers so much?  I still wonder what a sequel with Tim Blake Nelson as the mutated, big-headed Leader would look like.  

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While The Incredible Hulk was a quasi-reboot/quasi-sequel, the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie was a full-on re-imagining.  Or at least that was was was rumoured ahead of the film's release with certain reports stating the Turtles would be aliens, rather than mutants.  Things got out of control especially once the insanely awkward new appearance of the Turtles was leaked.  Monstrous, hulking 7-feet tall turtles with noses, and overly-ornate samurai-inspired armor and decorations over their shells, these were not faithful representations of a much beloved franchise.  Plus putting the often oversexualized Megan Fox in the role of April O'Neil seemed immediately demeaning to the character, and rumors that beloved character actor William Fichtner would be playing Shredder (a Japanese character in the comics and cartoon), had the fanbase old and new writing off the film.

It's well established I'm not a big fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but I've seen my fair share of comics, cartoons and motion pictures that I know what's up with them.  So, that said, this wasn't altogether that dishonest a representation of them, with only a few exceptions.

The Turtles act pretty much in character as we've come to know them. Leonardo is the one who respects Splinter's teachings the most and thus acts as the de-facto leader, though his brothers don't see him as such for much of the film.  The petty bickering of the Turtles remains.  Donatello is the smart, nerdy, tech-geek of the group, while Raphael is the angry rebel.  Mikey is, as always, the dumb one, the partier, the goofball.  The archetypes are fully at play here, in fact they're utterly relied upon as there is little to no characterization or character development happening here.  This film depends on advance awareness of who these characters are in order to care about them, because their relationship dynamics and individual personalities don't shine through all that much.

Fox does a respectable job as April (even if she does start the film out doing a news report puff piece on a trampoline), and she is the central figure of the film.  The film does that Hollywood thing where it needs to create a throughline for all the characters stories and it ties the origins of the Turtles to her (they were like her pets at one point, though they lived in a lab run by her father and Ficthner's character).  April is eyed and ogled by the Turtles, and her cameraman/driver (played by Will Arnett) has a deep crush on her, but despite the character objectification I don't recall the camera actively objectifying her (not like Bay's Transformers did anyway).


Fichtner turns out to be an associate of the Shredder's, working on a plan to release a disease upon the populace so that they can cash in off the cure.  There's an inkling that the writers wanted to inject some sort of commentary here, but either didn't commit or were told to abandon.  It's a kids movie afterall, and it does play like one.  My daughter is a big Turtles fan and she quite enjoyed it (though, like everyone, she wasn't entirely sold on the look of the characters).  It's bright and colorful (unlike the 90's film version which piggybacked off the shadows-and-neon aesthetic drawn from Tim Burton's Batman) with a few decent action set pieces and it's largely inoffensive, heck it's even mildly enjoyable if not exactly memorable.  It definitely could have been a lot worse.  (I hope the sequel goes for broke and does the Kraang invasion, as it's really the Turtles story everyone's been waiting to see on the big screen).

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Ant-Man as a character was surely not high on anyone's list of comic book superheroes needing big-screen translation.  He's a C-list character (despite being an Avenger) at best, he's never held his own highly successful comic, at least three different people have held the mantle, and the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym, has a troubled publication history of spousal abuse, insanity, and numerous superhero guises.  If anything was getting cinephiles excited about the idea of the film during the decade it was in development, it was the fact that Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim) was the man at the helm, writing and directing it.  

Wright makes smart, savvy, funny, unique movies that are blockbuster concepts executed in an avant garde fashion (and on respectable budgets).  He started Ant-Man before Marvel Studios was the record-breaking blockbuster machine it is today, so for a long time it felt like it could very much be the first big-time Edgar Wright film, one that played with the Marvel Universe but didn't feel so much a product of the usual Hollywood system.

Well, as is so well known, Wright left the project, after such a lengthy development, deep into pre-production.  He had already cast Paul Rudd in the lead role (Rudd's an unlikely heroic figure, and known primarily for his comedic sensibilities, so it was telling already as to what kind of film it would be), and his departure came after reports of numerous rewrites and studio demands changing the nature of the story he wanted to tell.  The cinephile response was doom and gloom, the Marvel Studios machine had finally gone off the rails, and the film without Wright at the helm would be a trainwreck (no, not the Judd Apatow film that also opened the same day).


New director Peyton Reed (a noted comedy director for TV and film) came on board quickly and Adam McKay (Anchorman director and co-writer) was brought in for re-writes, which seemed to indicate that Marvel was looking for its first action-comedy, and though the desire to see Wright's vision come to fruition still dominated the conversation, things weren't perhaps as dire as initially thought. 

Well, turns out, Ant-Man is pretty great.  As I watched the film I could see Edgar Wright's hand at play (he and Joe Cornish still get screenplay and producer credit) but it feels like a Marvel bastardization (meant in the nicest way possible) of a Wright film.  The obvious changes made stand out, the ones that tie Ant-Man into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.  They're fun, but they're distractions, asides almost, that impact the flow of the film's story.  They make it feel like a Marvel film, which is honestly great, but it's also quite apparent that a full on Edgar Wright film would have stood out from the pack, and perhaps not in a complimentary way (if Wright had made it his way in 2009, between Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk, it probably would have felt more at home). 

The plot of Ant-Man is two-fold: first there's the heist, as Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) enlists ex-convict Scott Lang to help break into his own technology company he was forced out of and sabotage or eliminate the particle shrinking technology they're on the cusp of mastering...using particle shrinking technology Pym created decades before.  Second, there's the story of redemption for both characters, particularly in the eyes of their respective daughters.  Hank's daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) feels like she was abandoned by her father after her mother disappeared, while Scott doesn't want to be a criminal in his young daughter's eyes.  Where I think the tone of this, a Marvel movie, differs from what would have been Wrights movie is the thrust of turning Scott Lang into a superhero. I suspect Wright would have settled for just "hero" where here Reed and the Marvel Studios producers seem intent on making him Avengers-worthy (a showdown between Scott and Anthony Mackie's The Falcon from Captain America: Winter Soldier on the new Avengers facility grounds certainly works hard to prove this point).

As a heist movie, it's decent.  As a superhero movie, it's alright.  As an action movie it's okay.  As a comedy, it's fine.  But put all together it's really great, tremendously enjoyable.  It doesn't do anything so good that it overshadows everything else, it all just works quite well together.  The casting is tremendous, Rudd's Lang isn't particularly tough or overly special.  He's smart enough, has a particular skill-set, and is a little fearless.  Rudd provides the comedic chops, but also the emotional weight as well that you believe he's really ready to what needs to be done so that his daughter (and, well, everyone, including himself, can be respected).  Douglas, whom I've never been much of a fan of, honestly seems to be having fun in this film.  His Hank Pym is often cold, with a hint of rage and an equal hint of sadness just underneath.  Douglas has screen gravitas which gives the impression of great intellect without having to frequently demonstrate it (in actions or words).  He fills the mentor role well.  I loved Lily as Hope Van Dyne.  She played the duplicitous role, exceptionally well, working with the villain, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), while secretly working for Hank, though still harboring deep resentment for her father.  She wants so desperately to wear the Ant-Man suit, and probably could any time she wanted to, but doesn't because she's hoping to rebuild her relationship with her father, not damage it further.  Michael Pena is wonderful as the chief comic relief as Scott's fast-talking, highly excitable, surprisingly competent colleague-in-crime.  The film manages to navigate him as a funny character without making him pathetic or a joke.  Even Stoll, as the bad guy who ousted Hank from his own company, who seeks to use Hank's daughter against him, who seeks to uncover dangerous technology Hank intentionally hid away for profit, still has a narrative drive.  He's still stinging from Hank rejecting him as a pupil after mentoring him for some time.  Though spiting Hank's wishes to keep the technology buried, he still seeks to impress.

The film deals with my all-time favourite superhero concept, that of legacy.  It gives brilliant glimpses of Hank Pym in action back in the 1980's and deals with the weight of his actions from a prior era.  The element of legacy stems more from Hope than it does from Scott.  Her desire to take on the role, to be a part of her father's history seems very important, whereas Scott wants to respect it (as much out of respect to Hank as out of respect to a seething Hope).  The film also sees Scott pushing the capabilities of the suit even further than Hank was willing to go (part of the superhero legacy is to surpass the mentor).  Even Darren Cross is part of Hank's legacy, just an unwelcome one.  I love the sense of history the film has to build instead of being yet another origin story, and that it weaves into existing and builds new Marvel Cinematic Universe history is both fun and exciting.  There's all that, plus it heavily and knowingly manipulates its audience with more than a few sentimental father-daughter moments, all of which I absolutely loved and responded to (for obvious reasons).

I have little doubt that Wright would have made a better overall standalone film, however it wouldn't have been the same franchise-starting, universe-complimenting film this is.  In what was as big a gamble as Guardians of the Galaxy and possibly even bigger potential disaster given the behind-the-scenes activities, Ant-Man sort of restored my faith in Marvel Studios ability to produce the hell out of a movie.  Though interference in the creative process to satisfy the needs of another project can prove problematic (Age of Ultron), Marvel has shown that when you combine the right talent who can work with the system, that it works rather well.  (I suspect the big test will be Guardians of the Galaxy 2).

---

Producer and studio interference happens with almost everyone but the most elite of filmmakers.  It comes from people who become successful off the backs of other people's creativity and vision egotistically thinking that it's their influence that resulted in success.  Producers get to be in that enviable position of having money and thus having say, satisfying a creative itch without really having to do any of the work to see it to fruition.  The Kickstarter-funded documentary The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? isn't meant as an exposee of this behaviour and yet it quite clearly highlights why some movies are really truly awful in the face of strong creative vision, or never even get made at all.  The amount of hands at play in a major studio film, particularly one that features a tentpole, iconic character, would naturally be numerous, but this documentary really expounds upon how much of a collaborative effort it is, and just how hard it is to get a film of this scope made.

Director John Schnepp proves a passionate narrator and solid interviewer for the film.  Through his successful Kickstarter campaign, he managed to draw enough attention to land key figures in the film's production as interview subjects, including producer Jon Peters, director Tim Burton, various screenwriters, studio heads, and various effects talent.  With his own collection of memorabilia and new access to test videos, photographs, concept art and more, the documentary does an excellent job of giving the viewer a feel for what might have been, and not just for the end product, but what it could have been at different stages, from a joke to a nightmare to ultimately something that would have actually wound up resembling something recognizable as Superman.

What marvels me most about this documentary is how few people involved in the project have any reverence for the source material.  Unabashed fanboy Kevin Smith wrote the first two drafts, admittedly as fanfic, which were thrown out when Burton came aboard.  Burton himself expresses little connection to the character, which led to him really wanting to explore the alien and alienation that Superman and Clark must feel.  It was obvious producer Peters, in securing the rights to Superman, was less interested in doing the character justice than just making money off the big red S.  His take on the character was to strip Superman of so much of his iconic nature, such that at the onset his desire seemed to be making a Superman movie in name only.

As Schnepp peels back the layers, focusing in at first on the long publicly available imagery that has long made the endeavor the ridicule of message boards, he start to unveil some intriguing concepts and ideas that are both direct-from-the-page as well as new ideas that would have made wonderful visuals (Christopher Walken as Brainiac was the first such reveal to make me lament the film's loss).  Even without much history with the character, Burton doubtlessly had passion for the project, and a definite vision of what he was hoping to accomplish. The costume test footage with Nic Cage slowly reveals that despite not being an obvious choice, he had a definite take on the character (and we know Cage is a massive Superman fan, so he was likely ecstatic to take on the role), particularly pulling a Clark Kent who would have been far more awkward and nerdy (he likened him to being one of the San Diego Comic Con nerds) than any past.  There's no real insight into Sandra Bullock as Lois Lane or Chris Rock as Jimmy Olson (both as startlingly miscast as Cage, at first blush) but Kevin Spacey was revealed as being the first choice for Lex Luthor (and wound up playing him in Bryan Singer's Superman Returns).

By the time the film was pulled, Warner Brothers had been on a tremendous losing streak at the box office, they had sunk tens of millions into pre-production and never felt comfortable with the Superman film before them.  But Schnepp makes a strong case that what was lost would have been at the very least an interesting Superman movie, if not necessarily a successful one. 

The documentary itself feels under-produced, hindered by limited budget and even more limited experience.  Schnepp manages to tell a wonderful story through his interviews, even if they don't necessarily look great: camera positions are awkward, second-camera transitions are often jarring, and Schnepp is too often in frame (this isn't about him or his journey so he doesn't need to be so present).  There are live action and animated sequences, both which look terrible, but in a charming way.  They adequately capture an idea, sequence or effect without over-selling or under-representing what the final product might have been.  It gives the viewer just enough to let the image escape into the imagination and embolden it.

It is without a doubt a worthy documentary. Clearly everyone interviewed still has, over 15 years later, distinctive memories, hurt feelings, strong emotions and fondness for what they were attempting to create.  Had this been a documentary where only Schnepp's passion was conveyed and the creative team behind it was less enthusiastic, it would be a failure, but it's quite the opposite.  Intriguing, delightful, insightful and fun.  A genuinely good watch.




 

3 Short Paragraphs: Jurassic World

2015, Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guranteed) -- cinema

I am not sure why but I really wanted to see Jurassic World in the theatres, most likely because I just needed a big, dumb summer blockbuster that I had nothing invested in. And that is exactly what I got. It was made with gobs of money, is big, spectacular with great lead actors but not a lot of intelligence in the writing. In fact, the lack of intelligence amongst the leaders of the park sort of reflects the low common denominator intent of the creators -- do whatever you have to make us money. And it shows, because in the long run, a few weeks after seeing it, there is nothing lasting in my recollection about the movie, as with all great popcorn movies.

Well, almost nothing. My thrill in watching the utter ridiculous nature of Bryce Dallas-Howard's defiantly high heel wearing character was immense. To explain. Bryce plays Clare Dearing, the park's operational manager, in pristine white business suits, eyes always glued to her smart phone and a complete awareness and understanding of every aspect of the park. Well, at least those parts that the company that owns the park lets her in on. She is a control freak, completely focused on maintaining her place, her role in the running of the park. She sacrifices all to the park, even her relationship with her sister, as she drops her nephews off with her assistant instead of bonding with them personally. Her shoes become the symbol of this. Clare's power comes from being in control of the park; when she loses this, she clings to her last vestige, a pair of expensive high heel shoes.

Even when the perfect park becomes a death trap, and the genetically engineered, brand new, even nastier, teethier dinosaur starts rampaging and eating people left and right, Clare barely roles up her sleeves. Its a joke in the movie, but for the audience as well. She gets progressively dirtier, fleeing from the monsters, fighting the monsters (and saving the Male Lead, Chris Pratt) but never gives up the shoes. I saw it as tongue in cheek defiance. But the outrage machine saw it as a slight on women. More offensive to me was the death of her assistant, who did nothing but stay loyal to Clare's ideal, and was rewarded by being swallowed whole.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

3 Short Paragraphs: Transit

2012, Antonio Negret -- netflix

I refuse to start a new category for this blog, where I purposely watch and reflect upon Straight to VOD movies. I will end up doing enough of that unintentionally, when that mood strikes on Netflix. That mood where you swing through your My List twice going, "Not in the mood, nah, too heavy, too stupid, nah, not tonight..." Then you start browsing the site's terrible categorization, created just to force you to watch stuff it says is in your wheelhouse but usually is just meant to increase their numbers in some arcane formula you cannot hope to understand.

It has Jim Caviesel, whom I have liked long before Person of Interest and not just because I stood behind him in EB Games while he bought a World of Warcraft strategy book, back in the day when WOW meant something. It also has James Frain, that British guy who is in everything but whose name you cannot put to the face, until you see him and go, "Oh he's THAT guy." Also, he likes to play intense bad guys, but when you first see him on screen, you just cannot take that pudgy smooshy face seriously as a bad guy, until he talks. Then, yep, scary. So, Jim is the dad, the good guy and James is the criminal, the bad guy.

Family on vacation trying to reconnect gets mixed up in the Evil Plan of some homicidal bank robbers. Their destinies become entwined when they both get stopped at a roadblock, and the Bad Guys hide their stuff in the Good Guy's car. Dear cops running road blocks -- if you cannot identify the Bad Guys by sight, look for the people wearing only black and driving a matt black muscle car. Pretty good chance they are the Bad Guys. Jim has to defend his family from said Bad Guys, which apparently is the only way his family will trust him again, after his stint in jail for white collar crime. Terrible movie which disappointed Marmy immensely because it set the third act in a gator infested bayou and NO ONE WAS EATEN BY GATORS !  Poo.

Pretty good poster, in a early 2000s grungy way I still appreciate.

3 Short Paragraphs: Terminator Genisys

2015, Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) -- cinema

This is one of those summer blockbusters that hyped us up the wazoo and then came & went without much of a bother. No nightcap and it did not call us back. Not quite the schadenfreudian bomb that Fantastic Four was, but they were pretty close in the numbers. I guess people were just happy to see it, or not, and then let it fade away. Too bad, because it was a bit of fun and definitely good fodder for the 'ow the paradoxes (paradoxi?) hurt my head' crowd.

I am not sure I consider this a reboot, considering it acknowledges that previous movies happened, but since we connected the new lense flare Star Trek to the others but still consider it a reboot, why not. It also does redo the opening sequence of the original movie, with new actors and situations, so yeah OK kind of rebootish. But anyway, the premise is that someone sends an original terminator model back to 1973 to protect a young Sarah Connor from another Skynet attempt on her life. So, by the time the original time-sending plot kicks off, with Kyle Reese going back to protect Sarah at John Connor's orders, the old terminator (now called Pops) is there with a newer model Sarah, all trained and prepared for the coming war. Also, Pops killed his original model, the one that steals Bill Paxton's clothes. Sooo, its the liquid metal model that shows up to kill Sarah and Kyle.  Is your head hurting yet? Multiple models, multiple movies all blending into one new time travel mind fuck of a movie.

But the real movie, the one that always has to take place roughly around our time is that the terminator gang (sarah, pops and kyle) all head forward to 2017, to stop the now current launch of the OS Genisys, which becomes Skynet. Did Microsoft know they were also doing a clock counting down release of Windows 10 around the same time as a world ending Skynet? Tee hee. My favourite bit of the movie is that they McGyver together a time machine to get from 1984 to 2012, but Pops is damaged and his metal is showing. So, instead of time travel, he just hangs for 34 years until they arrive. As soon as they arrive, they have to deal with a new new terminator, self healing, part human and completely anti-humanity. And he works for MS, I mean Cyberdyne -- still alive and now making phone & PC OSes. Fight, stab, shoot, crash boom and the world is saved. For now.

Bonus Paragraph Full of Spoiler: The new terminator model is John Connor, absorbed and rebuilt by Skynet himself, who has allowed the destruction of his base, so he can pretend to be Doctor Who and attack John just as Reese goes back in time. Never trust a Time Lord. Also, JK Simmons plays the Lance Henrickson analog but is also a cop who is saved by them in 1984 but not completely surprised to see them exactly the same, in 2017. Hee!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

xBox One: Dead Rising 3

So, I have already exhausted the key games I wanted to play in this system -- well, at least the ones that are not still at full price.  Dead Rising 3 was the last game I played, the first game I saw on the system and the quickest played.

The rather repetitive element of pondering that I bring up in video games, the rather lackadaisical approach to violence games have, doesn't accurately apply here. Sure, there is an immense amount, a rather ludicrous abundance of violent destruction of your enemies here in this game. But they are zombies, so it doesn't matter, right? They are already dead so you are not killing anyone. OK right? Not really, but more on that later.

The Dead Rising series is an open world, sandbox type of third person game set during zombie outbreaks. The first was set in a mall, because Dawn of the Dead made that the perfect place to run around beating on zombies and dressing up in stolen clothes. The second takes place in the downtown of a Las Vegas analog. I have the game on PC but never completed it. You see, all the games have a timer counting down concept, with the first two being very tight to the clock. Its hard to be entirely immersed in a world when you are forever rushing to beat one clock or another, and often failing, and then picking up again from a save.  The third game sort of removed that, allowing for many more hours of just running around smooshing zombies for the fun of it.

Yeah, the fun of it. This is really a beat em up game, a game where you punch, shoot, chop and explode mass amounts of zombies. You take damage but can quickly heal, eating snacks and downing smart drinks. The game is really about the rush of being overrun by a crowd of dozens or hundreds of zombies and fighting your way out. It takes the horror premise, the one that has always left zombie fiction seeping into my nightmares, and flips it on it side, allowing you to always get out. And in the most dramatic ways possible. There is nothing like feeling you get taking down 200+ zombies with a sledge hammer that has grenades attached to its head.

That. How you kill the zombies is as much the fun. In all the games, you construct weird, wonderful and bizarre weapons out of random junk. Combine the head of a dragon costume with some prop katanas and a car battery to make an outfit that shoots lightning while slicing & dicing z's. Add a chainsaw to  the end of a broom for a nasty polearm. Fireworks, machine guns, teddy bears, umbrellas, shopping carts, video game consoles, etc all combine to make dozens and dozens of fantastical and not at all serious items. This game also did it with vehicles, but entirely too tamely.

I am not sure  how many zombies I had destroyed after I got the 10,000 Achievement. They are not alive, so there is none of that back of the brain nagging about how sociopathic you are, but they were alive. These were people so there is still that creeping horror when you see thousands of zombies milling about in the parking lot of a mall, that the world has lost all these people. Must have been the same feeling soldiers go when they peeked out from a foxhole after a particularly brutal artillery barrage, to look upon a field of the fallen. Yes, I occasionally got introspective about smashing zombies with meat cleavers. Then I went back to it, because, by Tooten, I had a city to save.

I don't need to mention much about the story. You are Nick, an automechanic, trapped in the LA analog, who has to help his friends escape the city before the government nukes it to deal with the latest outbreak. Along the way there are government conspiracies and betrayals. But who cares, I got me some zombies to take down.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Rewatch: Galaxy Quest

1999, Dean Parisot (Master of Sex, Justified) -- Netflix

This movie has a fonder place in my brain than in my reality. In my mind's eye, it's a perfect movie, a playup on fandom and classic science fiction TV series that may or may not age well. In reality, it also hasn't aged so well. But damn, it is still a lot of fun.

So, Galaxy Quest was a TV show in the late 70s, early 80s science fiction show about the crew of the NSEA Protector. No, not really, but in the movie. Eighteen years later, the cast travels the Cons peddling their fading fame to the fans. Most of the cast hates it, having done nothing significant since. Tim Allen, who played the Kirkian captain, seems to have done well for himself (based on his house) but is as much seated in the past as the fans. And then the Thermians show up; real aliens in need of real help, but without a comprehension of fiction. Thus they assume Galaxy Quest was historical information and the crew just needs a new ship to save the Thermians from an evil reptilian enemy.

I guess the Thermians are also not very observative or they might have noticed Earth's technology level ain't that hot. But the ones on the fake ship made real are the last of their race, so maybe they aren't very focused. Among the aliens is Enrico Collantoni, pre-Person of Interest, Missi Pyle and Jedd Rees, who is distracting me in the trailers for Deadpool, as I expect him to have his weird alien accent.

The cast/crew includes Sigourney Weaver (forgive me, but I don't buy her as the hot blonde female lead; just because she ruled as Ripley doesn't make her this show's Tasha Yar), Alan Rickman (who spends much of the movie sealed under his alien prosthesis head piece), Tony Shalhoub (never sure if he was a stoner or just heavily on antidepressants) and Sam Rockwell (token redshirt).

For some reason Tim Allen never gets around to explaining to the Thermians that he is a fictional character, until it becomes far too late. Once the Thermians realize their naive mistake, they are lost. So, as in all great Hollywood traditions, the crew decides to step up and play the charade for real. The villain is in on the joke, knowing the Thermians made a grand mistake, and is just as surprised when these washed up actors go up against him.

Like many comedies based on miscommunication, you are supposed to go along with the ideas, ignoring the plot holes. Multiple viewings lends to noticing them more. But I still love the execution of the story, from the playup on Star Trek -- Tim Allen's shirt doesn't take long to be torn off and the encounter happens on a planet full of "Star Trek rocks", to the frustration of the cast -- Sigourney's character only lines always repeat whatever the computer is saying, and Alan Rickman,  the Spock analog, just hates hates hates the fans. Amusingly enough, the movie is old enough that the special effects look as dated as the show they are referencing back to.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

3+1 Short Paragraphs: Whiplash

2014, Damien Chazelle -- netflix

In the midst of all the drek and pop culture I have been watching, I needed something I knew to be good, something unexpected, something unlike my usual fare. It wasn't the buzz, which I hadn't heard at all, it wasn't the director or writer. It was JK Simmons a little bit but mostly it was Graig's review. Like him, I have no interest in jazz drumming, or better said, I have so little interest, a movie about it could not attract me. But an intense movie about a mental conflict between two strong personalities is possibly in my wheelhouse.  It was. But not entirely so.

We love JK Simmons, from his creepy intense leader of the aryan brotherhood in Oz to his intelligent and friendly doctor in Law & Order. Hell, we even like him in those stupid insurance commercials. And he made a decent J Jonah Jameson. Intensity seems to be something people expect from him, and here we get it in spades. He plays Terence Fletcher, a renowned conductor and instructor at the Shaffer Conservatory in NYC. Miles Teller is Andrew, a promising first year student who Fletcher catches practicing. Despite Fletcher's fearsome reputation, he takes a liking to Andrew and brings him into the fold of his own jazz band and class. To say things are intense between the two is understating it by a thousand fold.

Fletcher is an ass, an abusive, horrible excuse for a human being but excused by the school because he creates such brilliance. Or so the setup leads us to believe. I don't believe we are given any examples. Andrew wants to be the next Buddy Rich, and Fletcher sees it in him, but only if he completely breaks the kid down and rebuilds him in his own image. For his own part, Andrew is also a bit of an ass, dismissive of his ever faithful father and even dumps a cute girl so he can practice until his hands bleed. Does Andrew become the beloved disciple of the harsh but brilliant instructor? No, he breaks. Horribly.

This move does assume a certain amount of understanding and fondness for jazz in the viewer. I found the music all about skill and little about heart. I also could not subscribe to this very American ideal of being the next example of perfection, above everything else. Its something I have an issue with, of late. What is wrong with "merely" being good? Why be the best of the best? There has to be a place in the world for mediocrity. But the acting, there is nothing mediocre in the acting. I could watch JK Simmons scream at people for an hour & a half.  Teller, who I am not that fond of in general, is damn good as Andrew, really playing off Simmons for the entire movie. Go watch, you will not regret.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

One Episode: The Leaks in the TV Plumbing

One Episode is the segment where we edit the opening italicized paragraph, and talk about shows we have watched one episode of (and sometimes more, and sometimes less). This has nothing to do with quality but a desire to see everything that was *cough* leaked.

Lucifer -- Fox
Blindspot -- NBC
Minority Report -- Fox

OK, full disclosure. I am not all that familiar with Lucifer the comic book. It came out right around the time I was having Vertigo comics withdrawal.  The comic was a spinoff of the story from The Sandman where Lucifer Morningstar, The Fallen and King of Hell, left Hell and offered the keys to the kingdom to Morpheus, Lord of Dreams. In the comic Lucifer runs a piano bar, and that was pretty much all I knew about it.

In the TV show, Lucifer runs a swanky, decadent nightclub in LA with his demon sidekick Maze. It doesn't take long for the premise to kick in, when a pop diva he is fond of is gunned down in his company. Lucifer is immortal and unharmed and pitches in to help the investigation. Thus, we get 'she's an LA detective and he's the Ex-King of Hell, and together they fight crime' !! Amusingly enough, that formula is the basis of two of my favourite shows of the last decade -- Castle and Forever.

I loved this pilot, and mainly due to the way Tom Ellis (Merlin, The Fades) plays Lucifer. In character, he is comparable to a GBF (gay best friend; charming, catty and has the best lines) combined with a raving heterosexual cad. Wilde-ean was how Marmy described him. But the best aspect is how he does not hide who he is, from anyone. "You don't get this immortal thing, do you?" he asks Detective Dancer, played by Lauren German (Chicago Fire, Hawaii Five-O) after she witnesses him getting shot, to no effect. To round out the two of them working together, some mysterious force doesn't let his carnal rufie power (kinda creepy, but he is The Devil after all) work on her.

It was fun, and I don't know the comic, so it doesn't affect me whether it was accurate or not.

Meanwhile Blindspot held an immense amount of 'meh' for me.

You've probably seen the trailer -- bag found in Times Square, the Square is cleared with bomb squad approaching, when the bag unzips itself and out steps Sif/Jane Doe (Jaimie Alexander, Thor) naked and covered in tattoos. Some nefarious group/person has covered her in arcane tattoos but wiped her memory entirely. She has procedural memory, just no life memory. As Exposition Character explains, "she knows what music is, but has no idea who The Beatles are." Also, she has the name of a high profile FBI agent prominently displayed on her back.

Jaimie Alexander does a good job of playing the trauma this young woman is going through. Scared, lost and utterly confused. The law enforcement agencies are not treating her nicely, as I guess we now accept their unilateral post-911 powers blindly, but the guy with his name on her back makes a connection. Meanwhile mysterious beardy guy shows up in the background.

The premise kicks in when she reads some Chinese that is written behind her ear. That leads them to a terror plot by a disgruntled Chinese national. She is allowed to tag along, probably because the entirety of the FBI and HLS don't have Chinese translators (*insert sarcastic frowny*) and ends up displaying martial arts superpowers, as well as translating for High Profile FBI Guy. And she has flashbacks to being trained by beardy guy. She saves the day.

That was what I didn't like. They dump the hidden agenda far too quickly. They should have milked the utter mystery for all its worth. But now we know there is a conspiracy, created or controlled by beardy guy, that took a very capable woman (Jane Doe) and turned her into a no-memory crime fighting force. Kind of ruined it for me.

Meh.

Finally, we have Minority Report, which I knew was going to be bad, but luckily its only Canadian SciFi TV bad, not bad bad. As you know, I love the movie, but was not sure how they would lift one of the precogs from their idyllic island house back to Toronto... ahem, Washington DC. The fact the series is so obviously Toronto, despite blankets of CGI everywhere, is kind of distractingly fun.

So Precog Kid is older now and curious about the world. He comes back to the city and has been attempting to stop crime, like the PreCrime Division used to. But he only gets part of the vision and has been failing at his crime fighting ambitions. I believe he says over a hundred people have been murdered because he is lacking. But then he runs into a Perky Young Detective (as you can gather from this whole post, I rarely recall names of new show characters) and helps her solve a crime; kind of.

Surprisingly there is a lot more depth here than in either of the two other shows. Perky Young Detective lives with her mom and baby brother. She also has the usual department tension with Wilmer Valderrama and Precog Kid will definitely give her a step up on crime fighting. And Precog Kid's twin brother is out there, trying to make contact. And something is going on with all the released criminals, that were put on the street when the Precime Division shut down. There is a lot of the world the writers want to play with, I am just not sure if their writing chops are up to it. Or maybe it was the director.  Not sure.

I will watch it when it starts and see where it goes.

But one thing I am loving is the CG. You know I loved the CG from the movie, and they are having even more fun expanding on the world it built.  This world is less dark, more on the colour of the screens everywhere and the social media gone wild, that the Tom Cruise movie wouldn't have predicted. If one thing about the world bothered me, is that they kept on dragging out visual cues from the movie. We did not need to see a fight on fire escapes, nor did we need to see his face gone melty. And the replacement of the jet packs with stupid cable driven backpacks was plain ludicrous. Just run with the fun stuff, and abandon all the other props please.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Pair of Yawns


Speaking of yawns (yay, a new label) I wasn't even going to put up posts about these movies, as I was wandering out of the viewing room as much as I was watching. They just did not keep my attention at all. But since they both had pretty much the same effect, and since I am having "fun" with StoVonD movies, why not roll them into one post?

Possession (2008, Joel Bergvall, Simon Sandquist, Netflix) is a remake of a South Korean film, and it really shows. So, no its not The Possession, which we (we? since when did I start talking about myself in the third person?) already reviewed. Its not the 1981 weird Sam Neill one and no, its not the sexy Gwyneth Paltrow one from 2002. This one has Sarah Michelle Gellar, because she has unfortunately been classified by the B-horror watchers as a good choice for Asian remakes, and a really really out of place Lee Pace.

When I said, "it shows", I was speaking to the aspect of Korean cinema that is so heavily focused on the melodrama around family tragedies. The horror of many South Korean (horror) films (I cannot speak for North, but I would love a chance to, should anyone know any sources) is often embedded with familial situations. When the ties that bind, are strained or broken, with some supernatural twists, more emotional weight is supposed to be carried. That is not absent in our own western horror, but it so much more defined here.

Gellar loses her husband (Michael Landes) in a head on collision with his own brother, played by Pace. There was already tension between the three, as Pace is the recent ex-con and has always been a creep to Gellar. That was the part I couldn't buy -- Pace just doesn't play the marble mouthed bad boy very well; he's just a bit too elegant sounding & pretty to pull it off. Anywayz, both are in comas, but Pace awakens with the memories and mannerisms of his brother. Cue spooky music; he's possessed !

But the brother isn't dead. He's still in a coma. And even with that argument against possession intact, Gellar still ends up fully accepting Pace as her new (but criminal hot bod) bed partner and they resurrect the relationship that was previously falling apart.

Walk out of the room a few times and you lose the thread, only to return to have Gellar discovering some elements that makes her doubt her previous "my husband's soul is in his brother's body" convictions -- like the love letters that say word for word, what Pace was saying in his brother's "memories".  Oh no, I slept with my icky brother in law !! From there it just falls apart but continues with some hints there is still some possessed type connection between the two. It was almost like the director(s)  had spent so much time developing spooky they have a connection elements that they didn't want to give them up, even after it was proven to all be the long con.

Bleah.

Meanwhile, we have Honeymoon (2014, Leigh Janiak, Netflix) a creepy movie about another type of possession set in the scary environs of rural Ontario.  Rose Leslie (Ygritte from Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadaway (Dr Frankenstein in Penny Dreadful) are a newly married couple driving from Brooklyn to her family's getaway place in Canada. You have to assume its Ontario, and we also assumed she must be Canadian to have a summer place on a lake, in Ontario.

So, first --- that elephant. I get that Dominic West and Ruth Wilson are both Brits playing Americans in The Affair, but both of them are already known for acting with gravitas, and not in their own accents. But Leslie and Treadaway are relatively unknown, so why not just cast some Americans or Canadians? Either way, they did a decent North American accent. What I didn't buy was that they were in love.

You know those scenes, in other movies,  where couple pretend to be married and act all over the top, lovey dovey buts it's obvious they are faking?  That is what all their interactions felt like in this movie. No. Chemistry. I thought the secret that made this a horror movie was that she was actually a person/monster/thing that lured people to the lovely lakeside cottage to eat them; that the marriage was a sham.

But that never is explained or played out. The "loving" couple start having immediate issues, when he notices her acting weird. Oh wait, that was only after he found her naked in the woods in the middle of the night covered in mucus. Nothing weird there; take some Tylenol and go back to bed. From acting weird to acting not quite his wife, he starts to question their marriage.

In the end (oh puh-leese, you are worried about spoilers?) she is a kind of monster but we never know if she had been all along (Gir's voice) or it happened after the naked mucus incident. I think she had the worm gestating in her all the time, but that is still just icky. Icky worm... inside her. With claws.  Eww. But maybe I missed something wandering out of the room.

In the end end, I still never bought that Treadaway loved her. He goes from lovey dovey to suspicion to downright stick-his-hands-rudely-there in less than two days. Just a wee bit mad, he goes. And yet, sobres up only after he yanks the clawed worm thing out of her there. THAT is the point I would have been running off into the night screaming like a loon (and he knows what they sound like, because it's a Canadian lakeside cottage) but no, he wants to know more. What happened to his wife? Where is she? Monologue to him please.

Aliens, possession, probing, metamorphosis, death etc.

Yawn.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

3 Short Paragraphs: Lake Mungo

2008, Joel Anderson -- download

This is a 'shocking reveal' kind of movie so I cannot talk about it without being spoilerish.

A mockumentary, billed as a ghost story, is how the marketing of Lake Mungo worked. But really, the movie is more about the onion skins of a family's life, as the death of a daughter from accidental drowning during a family vacation, reveals much more than they ever care to know. Its not just a simple ghost story, told through interviews and video camera footage. But it's also not a very scary one.

The slow reveal is decently done. We learn of the effect the daughter's death has on the family and their neighbourhood. The son acts out, making fake videos of his ghostly sister, because the mother feels there is a presence here. The dad distances himself. The mother cannot let go. Friends and neighbours mourn with them. After the ghost videos are proven to be fake, the family discovers something else in the footage leading to a horrible secret kept by the late daughter. And from there, we just keep on getting reveal after reveal, until we are back to... a haunting.

I don't watch a lot of documentaries, and the mockumentary style of this movie typified the ones I dislike. So much of it had me wondering, "what the fuck is wrong with this family?" The way they handle their daughter's death is so fraught with confusion and self-centeredness, I could not help feel it was a little too real for a ghost story. Or maybe it was just self indulgence on the film maker's part?  As for the scary, I benefited a bit from not knowing a thing about the movie, as Marmy discovered it via the collective opinion of the Internet. I had no clue where it was going to go. There were some possibilities of fear, but really only if you are one of those people who get a fright from the fake ghost hunting shows of cable channels past. I just found it long, and drawn out and ... boring.