Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hobbit, Schmobbit

Artwork by John Howe

Sorry to disappoint all of you The Lord of the Rings movie nerds, but I didn't particularly like them very much. They failed to be faithful to the source material when it counted, but the money rained from the sky every time one was released, so now New Line is hard at work on two prequels based on The Hobbit. The first is called The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and it is due for release in late 2012. Now I know returning writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson did a kick-butt job the last time, but can someone please explain the casting to me???!!! What the $#!& is the Necromancer doing in this movie, played by Benedict... Cumberbatch? Are you kidding me?! That's not even a name! Where is this, Eriador? $@&&*#@$ it all! And who is this Elijah Wood guy, playing the as-yet-unborn Frodo Baggins?

The book that should be turned into a movie is Tolkien's posthumous masterpiece, The Silmarillion (1977). This is the most epic of his works, and it deals primarily with the First Age of the world. It involves the creation of Arda, the births of the Elves and Men, and their battles against the first Dark Lord, Morgoth. Sure it is entirely unfilmable, but that is what they said about The Lord of the Rings, remember?

There are battles in this story that literally reshaped the earth with their sound and fury. They make the Battle of the Pellenor Fields look like a pillow fight.

Thus he came alone to Angband's gates, and he sounded his horn, and smote once more upon the brazen doors, and challenged Morgoth to come forth to single combat. And Morgoth came.


Binghamton Flooding 2011: Bad for Social Life, Great for Netflix

Well, those of you who pay attention to the news probably heard that areas of upstate New York have gotten hit with extreme flooding again. This just happened five years ago, so between this and the local Quizno's closing, the question does remain: why do any of us still live here?

See pictures here.

In any case, I was among the blessed; I kept my electricity and media services the entire time. So, what to do with myself, stuck alone in my apartment for days? I tried Netflix on the PS3, my first time ever! Sure I haven't seen my girlfriend in five days, but at least I'm catching up on classics I missed originally!

A sample of films I have seen in the past few days on Watch It Now:

Die Hard 2 (1990)
Point of No Return (1993)
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)

Oh, I love you, Shannon!


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Movie Review: Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins

At one point in Japanese director Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins, the character of Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) makes a remarkable statement. When asked to plot the assassination of a cruel lord, which in effect would guarantee the end of his own life, Shinzaemon responds not with a "why me?" or a "no way," but instead stammers, "How fate smiles on me." The chance to perform a good deed and die a noble death is a blessing to him. This illustrates the character of one of the great men of this film, and the audience's admiration for its 13 heroes is much greater than their admiration for Miike's overlong, climactic battle.

Miike is the most famous of modern Japanese directors here in the West, but he has only achieved this status through shock value; his movies such as Ichi the Killer (2001) and Audition (1999) are exploitative and stomach-turning in their violence. 13 Assassins is easily the best and most watchable film I have ever seen of Miike's, but it is still in danger of drowning in its own blood.

The film has a simple plot, divided into three segments. First, Shinzaemon is approached to kill the evil Naritsuga (Goro Inagaki), and we witness the lord's misdeeds in flashback. Second, Shinzaemon gathers 11 other faithful samurai to join his new cause (the thirteenth warrior joins up later). Finally, after some brief travel, Miike slices his film into a 50-minute battle, with more action than I have ever seen in an uninterrupted sequence. I can't be sure, but I believe this easily sets the body count record for a samurai film, as 200 soldiers square off against our heroes.

Miike still fails to show restraint as a filmmaker, and this awesome action movie suffers for it. The final battle is too long, as one bloody, telephoto shot full of bodies and swords and mud rolls into the next. The events become very difficult to differentiate. The battle is actually less effective than those in Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954) because Kurosawa's film does not drag the action out until it has lost all impact and become formulaic; Kurosawa also set the standard for chaotic, close-range battle footage shot with long lenses in Samurai. To Miike's credit, the rape of a married woman by Lord Naritsuga is left off-screen, but shots of Naritsuga's mutilated-- but living-- sex-slave recall Miike's inability to make a movie that doesn't offend.

13 Assassins looks spectacular and benefits from wonderful performances, and I even liked it enough to consider a Blu-ray purchase, but overall it doesn't live up to the standards for meaningful but entertaining samurai films set by the Kurosawas and Goshas of yesteryear. It tries so hard that it bleeds out right off the edges of the screen.