Monday, December 9, 2013

Go Back to the Abyss Prepared for You

It's the holidays again, and the movie gods have decided that, for another three-year stretch, Middle-earth mania shall once again reign supreme next to jingling bells and wrapping paper.  On December 13, the next chapter comes out, which I have christened The Hobbit 2: The Middle One, officially (and less originally) titled The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

This is the second film in a bloated trilogy, a trilogy made up of nine hours of fluff unceremoniously ripped from a slim, 300-page children's book.  Almost nothing from the first film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), was actually in the book, and the characters have been changed from their iterations in the source material.  Both of these problems plagued the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003), and really were all that prevented it from earning the title of "masterpiece."  Returning writer/director Peter Jackson failed to realize this, (which probably has something to do with the distraction of the approximate $3 billion worldwide box office take for that trilogy) and returning co-writers Fran Wash and Philippa Boyens haven't changed their altering ways.  So the Hobbit trilogy, under the exact same leadership, is failing in the same ways The Lord of the Rings did.

But, good or bad or bloated or nonsensical, the Hobbit films should not exist in the first place.  New Line is ending at the start, telling a story with no stakes.  Everyone has already seen The Lord of the Rings, and nothing in The Hobbit matters nearly as much as the events of that previous trilogy.  The audience already knows that hero Bilbo (Martin Freeman) will survive The Hobbit, already knows that the magic ring he finds will turn out to be the evil, all-powerful One Ring, already knows that Bilbo's nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) will have to go on a successful quest to destroy it, already knows that wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) will lead the successful war against the true bad guy, the dark lord Sauron.

So the real reason these films are coming out is the money, not the story; these Tolkien adaptations make money, (again, over $1 billion worldwide for An Unexpected Journey) and - sadly - no studio is crazy enough to actually try to bring The Silmarillion to the big screen (article here).  So, we get three movies out of The Hobbit.  At the most, we should have had one, and it should have been released in 1999.

Review for Hobbit 2 coming soon here.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Another Disappointing Summer?

And so, another summer movie season has come and gone.  With August 9's Elysium, the 2013 season of blockbusters has officially ended.  I would argue that it was another disappointing summer.

My biggest emotional investment rested in Man of Steel (June 14), and that film was the biggest letdown of the year for me.  I cared less about Iron Man 3 (May 3), the kickoff movie of the season, and while I enjoyed it, it in no way distinguished itself from the dozens of comic book movies that have been made since 2000.  Star Trek Into Darkness (May 15), like its predecessor, was unnecessary and derivative.  The best blockbuster of the summer, for me, was Pacific Rim (July 12).

No, I didn't see every blockbuster this summer; I never do.  But I do catch up with them eventually.  And this trend of sloppy, shallow, horribly written movies with immaculate special effects doesn't change.  Think about the movies with the biggest hype from the last few years and consider how many of them were actually memorable for any reason other than effects.  Remember The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Battleship (2012), Green Lantern (2011), Pirates of the Caribbean 4 (2011), The A-Team (2010), Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)?

Thankfully, there were some great blockbusters sprinkled throughout these years (like Inception, 2010).  I acknowledge that, and if I am dismissing any of your favorite movies with my list above, comment and tell me why I am wrong.  But I have found so many of these action blockbusters to be worthless, a waste of money, not even worth $8 on Blu-ray to show off my home theater setup.

What do you think?  And how were the 2013 blockbusters that I missed?  Did The Wolverine (July 26) justify its own existence?  Was The Lone Ranger (July 3) as awful as it looked?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Buried Cinema: Jonathan Hensleigh's 'The Punisher'

I wrote an article a while back (and for no particular purpose) about The Punisher (2004), and I thought I would share it with you.  Please think of this as a defense of a movie that you can probably find for $5 in the bargain bin on DVD and for $7 on Blu-ray, a movie that has been buried by critics.  I don't think many people watched this in the right mindset; nor do I think that anyone besides fans of the comic books paid this any heed.

Reading my article a few years later, it's not half bad.  Read it after the break, and visit the links I will include after the article if you're interested.


Friday, August 2, 2013

You're Going to Kill Him for Me: Defending Zero Dark Thirty

I wrote an article for the Rant Pad a few months ago, explaining that Ridley Scott's Prometheus was my favorite movie of 2012.  I loved it, but the amount of problems with its script made it clear to me that it couldn't have actually been the best movie of the year, the most well-crafted.  And I wouldn't claim it as the best film of the year when I hadn't even seen most of the Oscar-nominated films for Best Picture.

Now that we are well into 2013, I would like to change my answer on both counts.  Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty is the best film I've seen in years.

My colleagues at Buried Cinema discussed Zero Dark Thirty on podcast 134, and their views were barely charitable at best.  None of them said that the movie belonged on their respective Top 10 lists.  I would like to defend the film largely as if I were present to respond on the podcast, but a general defense is also appropriate, in light of the amount of hate thrown at the film under shaky pretenses.

Zero Dark Thirty tells the story of the hunt for Osama bin Laden from the perspective of CIA analyst Maya (Jessica Chastain).  Through tough times in Pakistan and bureaucratic barriers, Maya never gives up on the chase, even when her favorite lead seems to fall dead.  The film leaves Maya behind at the climax, as the evidence, followed through to her conclusion, leads Seal Team Six into bin Laden's compound with a kill order.

On the podcast, there was a complaint about of a lack of emotional impact in everything leading up to the raid.  This is only true in the sense that this is not a drama about the effects of terrorism and war on individuals and families.  But the film's tie to reality, its most powerful aspect, is what provides the emotion for the audience during the first 90 minutes.  Bigelow recreates terrorist attacks from the past decade, presenting them from an angle other than what the news media has.  And so the viewer feels a sense of dread and anticipation when the titles pop up on screen: Khobar, May 29, 2004; London, July 7, 2005; Islamabad, September 20, 2008, and so on.  Also, our identification with Chastain's character affects us when her life is suddenly threatened or when she loses a friend to a terrorist bomb.

Buried Cinema also echoed the most common complaint leveled against Zero Dark Thirty, its morality.  This was presumably in reference to its depiction of torture used by CIA agents on terror suspects.  I can't even begin to cover the amount of hate thrown at Zero Dark Thirty because of the torture scenes it contains, but I would like to point out that one of the main catalysts for the controversy was this December 2012 article in the left wing UK newspaper The Guardian, in which Glenn Greenwald bashes the film without ever having seen it.

Watch the film (again).  At no point does Bigelow suggest that torture is a positive thing, or that torturing suspects will solve all of the United State's problems.  Yes, it is rough to watch, but it is supposed to be, and the torture Maya is involved in barely yields any clues.  The film's realism dictates that it show you what happened; it doesn't endorse a viewpoint on it.  The morality of that is beyond refute.

The whole film is intense, including the ending raid, which evokes the tone of a very tense action film.  The dark, grainy images of fully geared-up soldiers moving through the concrete compound, as unstoppable as a tide, are truly chilling.  At no point does Bigelow's style draw attention to itself.  She wisely avoids the shaky-cam, found-footage style that has Hollywood inducing motion sickness left and right these days.  Instead, her camera stays out of the way and puts the audience in the drama.  The cinematography by Greig Fraser, likewise, goes for realism rather than comment.

It has harrowing realism, stunning production values, and amazing performances.  I have never seen a film like Zero Dark Thirty.  And neither have you.  Think of it what you will, but think.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

This was a Really Good Idea

According to an IGN article here, an early version of the DualShock controller for the much anticipated Playstation 4 measured how much the player was sweating.  Yes, sweating.  It simply measured how wet your hands were.

As mind-bendingly useful as this feature no doubt would have been, the project was abandoned after a test with Patrick Ewing resulted in an overloaded controller blowing up.

The PS4 is due out this fall.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Enough Already

I understand that many movie goers can and do, in general, just relax and enjoy themselves no matter what film they are seeing.  I often envy them.  I guess I can't shut off my critical brain sometimes.

I say all this because I have been struck by the horrible quality of Hollywood's remakes over the last few years.  This post isn't expansive enough to lament the lack of originality in Hollywood overall; I won't even begin to cover how most big budget movies are sequels, remakes, or adaptations (and bad ones at that).

But I will briefly cover two recent offenders: Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and Zack Snyder's Man of Steel (2013).  I caught up with Amazing a year after its release, so I saw these two comic book adaptations for the first time within a month of each other.

There is no hope of Hollywood letting up on its deluge of comic movies; they simply make too much money.  I have accepted this, yet my appetite for all these super heroes on screen was satiated by, like, 2008.  The standard of quality for these blockbusters, particularly in the screenwriting, is just too low, and that is a double shame because all of these comics provide years and years of rich story material to adapt.

Amazing was widely recognized as a cash grab.  Sony pictures had to make another Spider-Man movie or lose the rights to the character.  But this movie didn't need to be made.  It was an origin story.  We just saw the same basic origin story 10 years ago, with Sam Raimi's Spider-Man (2002).  Everything from the spider bite, to discovering of powers, to young romance and Uncle Ben's death was all seen, only with different performers in front of the lens and an (arguably) different tone.  Spider-Man launched a trilogy that ended just five years before the remake.  I was amazed, pun intended, at how similar The Amazing Spider-Man was overall to its predecessor.

Superman: The Movie (1978) is one of my favorite films of all time.  Directed by Richard Donner, it tells the story of Superman's origin, including the destruction of his home world, his acquiring a job at the Daily Planet newspaper, his meeting love interest Lois Lane, and his discovering of his heritage and destiny.  Snyder's over-long and over-loud remake covers the same thing, only without any humor or subtlety.  Why did audiences need to see this?

(And in defense of Superman Returns [2006], that film was a love letter and a sequel, but it did not try to retell Superman's origin.)

Am I off base, here?  Did anyone else feel that they were watching the exact same movie over again, only weaker?

I am writing here now, too

It turns out I am not the only movie fan in Binghamton, NY.  My friends at weekly podcast Buried Cinema have their own slick, sister site for movie-related articles, which you should check out.

They have pursued me endlessly to write for them, and we just got the details of the contract worked out.  Not really.  Anyway, a lot of my posts here at Kind of a Movie Blog will also appear on the Rant Pad.

Thanks to Tom for setting this up.