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.


Friday, July 12, 2013

A Rant for 3D

I have a lot to say about the current trend of 3D video.  As a home theater nerd, I have to have an opinion on it.  I have a basic understanding of the various ways 3D is displayed, both in theaters and in the home.  I know that if you purchase a 3D TV and glasses and enjoy the experience, you will still end up disappointed at the lack of available content, especially through cable/satellite providers.  I know that, wherever you watch it, 3D's glasses will limit the amount of light getting to your eye, thus detrimentally dimming the image.  Despite its shortcomings, I believe it is spectacular when done correctly.  3D Blu-rays look almost as good as a theatrical presentation (see Prometheus), and video games on the Playstation 3 and XBOX 360 are twice as cool in 3D (see Uncharted 3).

However, Hollywood is killing me.  3D is being treated like a gimmick, and it has to stop.  Here is the problem: movies are being shot in 2D and converted to 3D, without the proper care, in post-production.  The results, in live action movies, are always, always, underwhelming to embarrassing.  Basically, the trend of Hollywood doing this so that they can charge moviegoers more money started soon after Avatar, with this hunk of garbage.

Unfortunately, I went to see Zack Snyder's Man of Steel on opening night.  But let's not focus on that tragedy; the point was the 3D.  It was flat.  The post-conversion was garbage.  It was a waste of money, both for Warner Brothers and audiences.

I have only seen three films in theaters (Prometheus, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and Avatar) that blew me away with their sense of immersion, depth and tangibility thanks to 3D, and all of them were shot using James Cameron's 3D cameras.  Check out what he says if you don't believe me that post-converted blockbusters aren't up to par.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

We Shall Try to Find the Answers Together

Zack Snyder's Man of Steel just opened on June 14.  I've been looking forward to this movie for a year now (see two posts ago).

So what did I think; how is the first new Superman film since the divisive Bryan Singer project of 2006?

In short, not very good.  While Man of Steel has a ton of action and some of the most impressive special effects ever put in a movie, it lacks the heart of its predecessors.

After the break are my myriad thoughts about what Snyder got wrong.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

This is Not a Review of "Olympus Has Fallen"

I just saw the new Antoine Fuqua (Shooter) action flick, Olympus Has Fallen.  The movie is about a brutal terrorist takeover of the White House and one man's attempt to save the day.  I don't have any intention of really reviewing it here (click here for some adequate drubbings), but I would like to list a few complaints that the more thoughtful movie fan may agree with.

1. Insane contrivances.  The prologue has a cataclysmic car accident; no cause is ever given.  None of the president's secret service agents ever seem to wear kevlar...ever.  Breaches of security protocols at just the wrong time lead to the easiest White House takeover I've ever seen.

2. For crying out loud, if you're going to have this many A-listers in your film, tell me that in the dang advertising.  Performers that you can't believe are in this movie, in this movie: Ashley Judd, Dylan McDermott, Radha Mitchell, Angela Bassett.

3. The violence is too much and done in poor taste.  The terrorists shoot everything that moves in D.C. with pinpoint accuracy.  A few shots of innocent civilians running in terror would suffice; instead we get tons of close-ups of head-shot executions.

4. The Asian-looking terrorists, fighting for North Korea, are presumably Korean.  With names like Sam Medina, Malana Lea, and Kevin Moon, the people portraying them are not.  Hollywood gets it wrong again...because Americans are too stupid to know the difference, right?

In short, don't pay money to see this unless mindless, overly-violent action appeals to you.

...Holy crap, do you realize that Roland Emmerich has the exact same movie coming out in June?


Friday, February 15, 2013

Please Don't Give this an Oscar....

So, I saw Tom Hooper's Les Miserables, and I can't understand why anyone loves it.  Wait, no.  Say rather that I can't understand how anyone would want to see it more than once.

The problem is that the poster above is representative of the entire movie... If you want the experience of viewing the 2012 film in your home right now (without pirating a copy), just purchase the soundtrack on iTunes and play it while staring at this poster for 50 minutes.  The movie was made almost entirely of close-ups.

Just stop looking at Anne Hathaway about 1/4 through your experience.

Hooper has done the story a disservice by choosing such an awful visual style.  I don't know if anyone has had the necessary access to the film to try this, but someone needs to perform a quantitative study to see 1) what percentage of the film's total shots were close-ups, and 2)what percentage of the film's total running time was made up of close-ups.

Call me classical, call me old-fashioned, call me stupid, but I have always thought that visual techniques should have meaning.  Only in modern times have we so abused composition, camera movement, and editing that they are rendered meaningless.  But composition was the least abused until this high-profile mess.  When you shoot literally 60% (?) of a movie in close-up, the close-up becomes meaningless.  Whether the characters were happy, sad, loving, spiteful, singing, or silent, they were always filmed from three inches away.  And it was painful to watch.

As a man who made a musical, you would think Hooper would understand the importance of "composition."