Archive for the 'Movies' Category

05
Apr
10

George Lucas to bring laughter back into the lives of remaining Star Wars fans

A Star Wars sitcom? Yeeeeeeeeessssssssssssss!!!!!!!

Being a Star Wars fan over the last decade or so has become something of an ever-escalating exercise in masochism, and dear old Mr. Lucas is doling out the feel-bads on par with Ichi the Killer. In news that is both surprising for its inherent absurdity, and therefore not the least bit surprising at all, Lucasfilm is reportedly in talks to produce a Star Wars comedy series.

Evidently unhappy with the fact that people associated Star Wars with memorable characters and action/adventure after the original trilogy, Lucas is  endeavoring to add fart jokes and bad puns to the stilted dialogue, boring characters, nonsensical plot points, and overblown CGI spectacle that we now expect from a Star Wars project.

And really we have no one to blame but ourselves, clearly everyone’s been clamoring for fresh comedic content out of the Star Wars universe, Lucas is just giving us all what we so desperately craved. I mean, remember the Star Wars Christmas Special and how hilarious that was?! No. Of course you fucking don’t, because that shit was absolutely retarded.

The creator-fan dynamic here is beginning to feel very much akin to that episode of South Park where the cops break into George Lucas’ house and find him raping a Storm Trooper. And just so we’re all clear: in this scenario, you– the Star Wars fan and consumer– are the Storm Trooper, so good luck with that.

"You can plan this shit, George, but you can't put in on TV."

And for those of you holding out a hope that the show might somehow– by wink and by prayer– wind up being remotely good, I’m sorry, but you’re stupid and you’re wrong (but I love you!), because Lucasfilm is teaming with the ‘people’ (for lack of a better word, wait…’chuds?’) responsible for Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken for this project. That may come as great news to many (Robot Chicken does do well in the ratings; so does Two and a Half Men by the way), but it’s cringe-inducing news for those that still enjoy Star Wars and/or comedy, as this is the kind of jocund hi-jinks the Robot Chicken tandem have already inflicted on the Star Wars faithful:

Wacky!

As if the dry wit of the Robot Chicken gentlemen wasn’t enough, one of the writers from the exemplary Frank TV is also on board (sample this classic bit, remember it’s supposed to incite laughter, not murderous rage towards Frank Caliendo)! This idea couldn’t possibly get any better! Please tell us more, close-personal-friend-of-Wilmer-Valderama, Seth Green:

“The ‘Star Wars’ universe is so dense and rich; it’s crazy to think that there aren’t normal, mundane everyday problems in a world so well-defined. And it’s even crazier to think of what those problems might be, since it’s all set in a galaxy far, far away. What do these characters do when they’re not overthrowing Empires?”

Brilliant! Who the hell wants to see Han Solo frag Greedo in some seedy bar when you can watch them sip espressos together in a Death Star cafe and complain about their respective dates from the night before? I smell an Emmy! Exclamation Point!

For now let’s all just pray that this idea fizzles out in the development phase, or, barring that, that George Lucas doesn’t attain the rights to The Legend of Zelda and continue his quest to relieve himself all over my most cherished childhood memories.

There might be more at The Hollywood Reporter if you actually care about this shit. I’m gonna go put on my Millenium Falcon-themed onesy and weep gently into a tall glass of rye whiskey.


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01
Mar
10

Shutter Island forgets logic, no one seems to care

As the credits rolled on Shutter Island, I set my half-empty popcorn tub aside, stood up and stretched, and filed slowly out with the rest of the audience. There was far less chatter than one usually hears from a departing crowd and, I suspect, many were lost in contemplation, just as I was– running through the film in their mind, trying to process it and decide whether they had liked it or not. I’d watched the film with a friend and yet neither of us spoke, not until long after we’d reached the car and exited the parking lot. There are three types of films that breed such intense contemplation: excellent films, terrible films, and flawed films. Shutter Island falls into the latter, sadly unable to add up to the sum total of its parts.

It’s an entertaining film, that much is certain– a complex psychological thriller with excellent acting (if a bit over the top at times) and more than a few Hitchcockian overtones, including an emotionally-scarred leading man, a beautiful blonde femme fatale, some grandiose camera work and long swooping crane shots,  and a score reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann.
These aspects of the film are suggestive of one film in particular, Vertigo. Both films feature a world-class director-actor pairing: Alfred Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio here. And both feature a detective, crippled by traumatic past events and haunted by a dead lover, desperately seeking some kind of redemption while searching for a lost woman. In fact, I was so struck by the similarities that I went home and watched my copy of Vertigo again, and noticed Martin Scorsese thanked as a key player in the film’s restoration.

Clearly the two films share much in common, but while Vertigo has established itself as a masterful example of the psychological thriller– and, indeed, as one of the greatest films ever made– Shutter Island falls short. I couldn’t help but feeling somehow cheated by the film, much as I did after watching The Usual Suspects, not merely because I had been taken in by the twist ending, but because I couldn’t have helped being taken in. Part of the enjoyment of watching a mystery is joining the protagonist along the way– sifting through the clues, analyzing characters and dialogue, and drawing conclusions. The conclusion of The Usual Suspects renders any such efforts null by revealing that the entire plot has been fabricated by the dude from K-Pax (Yeah, it’s a spoiler, the movie is 15 years old, if you haven’t seen it yet you deserve to have the ending ruined), and while Shutter Island’s twist doesn’t reduce the preceding storyline to outright fiction, it may just as well have by featuring a plot twist so ridiculously illogical that any rational (read: non-retarded) audience member couldn’t possibly have seen it coming– or, rather, they may have seen it coming, but would have dismissed it out of hand because it’s so dangerously unlikely.

They got one thing right, Kevin Spacey probably is a murderer

Thus I was left with an unsettling feeling– wowed by the near flawless technical skills on display and frustrated by the fact that I had just spent 2 and a half hours trying to unravel the mysteries of a film which had tricked me by essentially ignoring logic and expecting me to do the same. If you’ve yet to see Shutter Island, this would be the part where you want to stop reading. Go see it, I’d still recommend it over nearly everything else out right now, even if the final twist has left me a bit baffled. If you’ve seen it, or don’t give a shit about me going in depth into pivotal plot points, read on.

Vertigo too features a rather surprising plot twist, the discovery that Madeline (Kim Novak) is not dead and is in fact now living as Judy. However, this twist arrives at about the halfway point of the film, and the audience is made privy to the fact that Judy and Madeline are one in the same  a mere five minutes after Judy appears onscreen. The focus of the film thus ceases to be the unraveling of a mystery and instead becomes the unraveling mental state of its protagonist, Scottie Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart). Hitchcock doesn’t bother with any “Surprise!  I gotcha bitches! ” moments and instead builds a simmering tension and suspense as Scottie’s fixation on transforming Judy into Madeline becomes increasingly disturbing and manic.

Now, let’s imagine if Shutter Island took a similar turn at its midway point. Would it hold together as a film in the same way Vertigo does? Resoundingly no. And why? Because the twist ending here is analogous to a magic trick– distracting the audience temporarily so we don’t notice the squished bird hidden under the table (watch that film, by the way, if you’d like to see an example of a twist ending that works, and works brilliantly). If the guise of the twist is removed, and Daniels is revealed as Laeddis early on, the film falls to pieces from a logical standpoint and any sort of suspension of disbelief becomes absolutely impossible.

Just so everyone knows the score

For example, the audience is expected to believe that an inmate at a mental asylum for the criminally insane is first, taken off the island, then given free rein to move about as he pleased, allowed to interview other patients about their deepest psychological issues, let into the administrator’s home without guard, and then made to sleep in the same quarters as hospital staff. Now let’s keep in mind that this man:

A.) Is a known murderer with multiple jarring traumatic incidents in his past (Including a visit to a Nazi death camp, watching a soldier slowly bleed to death, and discovering the murder of his three children by his deranged wife)
B.) Is an extremely violent individual with a bad temper
C.) Is a former detective with keen observational skills, a former soldier with combat training, and a remarkably intelligent individual
D. Is no longer taking his medications and thus has difficulty distinguishing between his violent and disturbing hallucinations and reality
E. Blows up a car at one point (although people in the film seem only moderately perturbed by it). In the real world this is an extremely dangerous thing to do and a good way to accidentally kill innocent people
F. Had, just weeks before, kicked the ass of a fellow patient (The man who saved Watchmen in another brilliant performance) who had simply called him by his actual name.
G. Is found, by a hospital staffer, beating and strangling a patient
H. Is directly quoted by Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), the chief psychiatrist and administrator of the island, as being “the most dangerous patient we have”

There is, at one point in the film, an assembly of doctors who express such concern at the mere possibility that some Ward C patients might escape (in the event of a power failure) that they suggest chaining the patients to the floor, despite the fact that this may cause them all to drown. We must therefore assume– if the very people charged with the patients’ care would put them in harm’s way to prevent their escape–  that these patients are so incredibly violent and dangerous that their escape would spell certain harm to the others on the island. How dangerous then, must Andrew Laeddis be if he is “the most dangerous” among them? And how the hell does it make even the tiniest bit of goddamn sense to let him loose to do as he pleases on the island?  Come On!

"Don't mention the plot holes"

This is just one of a number of lapses in logic that occur in the film. Hey, here’s a few more:

-In order for this “therapeutic roleplay” to work, literally everyone on the island must be in on it, including the patients. I still remember vividly how goddamn impossible it was to get my friend Fareed to say his lines properly in our high school video projects, and he was just a hyper teenager with too much sugar in his system, not a clinically-insane convicted killer.

-The note that reads ‘Rule of Four. Who is 67?’ is yet another problem. Rule of four is explained away at the end: Daniels is Laeddis, Rachel is Dolores. Okay, fine. The note is meant to serve as a nice bit of foreshadowing for us simple moviegoers, hinting that Daniels will end up as patient 67, which he sort of does since, as Dr. Cawley says, “The 67th patient is you, Andrew.” That’s all well and good, except that he isn’t: If Rachel Solando doesn’t exist then Laeddis is patient 66 and the note isn’t foreshadowing at all. It isn’t much of anything, really, it’s meaningless, just another crap McGuffin that makes no sense. Are we detecting a theme here?

-Lobotomies in the lighthouse? Seriously? I know lighthouses have taken on a sort of creepy connotation in the last few years– and the one here does look genuinely foreboding– but the logistics of performing complicated brain surgery (i.e. the small amount of space and the difficulty in transporting patients and equipment up and down narrow metal stairs, not to mention the fact that the goddamn thing is surrounded by 100 yards of water) all but preclude a lighthouse as a viable place to conduct lobotomies, or really any kind of operation, or even any kind of activity not directly associated with typical lighthouse duties. I mean, they really aren’t designed to house medical operation rooms. You know what are equipped for that kind of thing though? Fucking mental asylums!  Yarg.

Look out! It's got a gun!

The worst part is, these are all easy fixes:
-Armed guards are kept with Daniels at all times, which can be justified to him as being a rule of the island done for his protection. There, now he can’t harm anyone and the roleplay is slightly more believable
-Daniels interviews patients who act crazy, forget that they’ve been coached, and let slip that Solando doesn’t exist– but, hey, they’re crazy so why should he believe them anyway?
-Remove the note, it does nothing for the film
-The creepy lighthouse becomes creepy abandoned hospital wing that may or may not still be in use

That at least helps smooth out some of the more outlandish holes in the plot. Then you simply move the reveal to the 3/4 mark of the film– allowing the audience to know that Daniels is one of the patients, but leaving him still in the dark– and add in a real mystery for him to solve (a murder or an actual disappearance) once the fake Solando reappears. We then get to watch as Daniels, in a deteriorating mental state (still having hallucinations and trouble distinguishing between what is real and what is imagined), investigates both this actual mystery while continuing with the roleplay. As things come to a head, Daniels has his breakthrough and realizes he is Laeddis. We then watch as he continues on, struggling to solve the actual mystery with the knowledge that he is in fact a murderer. Finally, he solves the case and earns some semblance of redemption before regressing again back into Daniels. It’s not perfect, but I feel like it’s an improvement. And that shit took me five minutes. I have to think Marty Scorsese could’ve done better with months to work on it, the guy made Goodfellas for Christ’s sake.

And yet the plot holes remain, and thus the superficial similarities between Shutter Island and Vertigo remain just that, and instead of a masterpiece we’re left with a rather orthodox (albeit well-made) Hollywood thriller. And that’s fine if that’s what you’re after. Me, I’ll stick with Hitch.

28
Feb
10

Oscar Picks, Because My Opinion Matters

I can smell you

Best Picture

Nominees: Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air
Likely Winner: Avatar
Most Deserving: In a perfect world Up and The Hurt Locker would split the award, but if I have to pick one I give the slight edge to Up. It’s a near perfect film: it’s funny, clever, and infinitely entertaining. It has an original story, strong characterization, memorable and occasionally squirrel-related dialogue, phenomenal artwork, and boasts action scenes that, while far less grandiose than Avatar‘s, are perhaps the year’s best. Yeah, suck it, Final Destination 4.

Best Actor

Nominees: Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), George Clooney (Up in the Air), Colin Firth (A Single Man), Morgan Freeman (Invictus), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)
Editorial Note: It is beyond ridiculous that Sam Rockwell wasn’t nominated for his work in Moon. Boo-urns. The Academy is also going to have to start paying some attention to the voice acting work that’s being put into these Pixar films. Peter O’Toole was great in Ratatouille and Ed Asner is even better in Up.
Likely Winner: Jeff Bridges. There’s a lot of talk on reputable news sources like E! and also E-online about his “powerful” performance in Crazy Heart. I wouldn’t know, I didn’t see it because it looks absolutely god-awful, but it seems to me that if playing a drunken hillbilly has-been is all it takes to earn an Oscar then Nick Nolte should be racking those things up.
Most Deserving: George Clooney. If there were any justice in this world, Bridges would’ve won back in ‘99 (instead of Roberto Benigni, yarg) for The Big Lebowski and Clooney would take home the prize this year. He deserves it; partially for his understated performance as a self-contained businessman gradually reconnecting with those around him, and partially as a hold-over from his performance in Michael Clayton which unfortunately ran into the buzzsaw that was Daniel Day Lewis’ “I drink your milkshake!” awesomeness from There Will Be Blood. “I drink it up!!” I love that shit.

Best Actress

Nominees: Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side), Hellen Mirren (The Last Station), Carey Mulligan (An Education), Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia)
Likely Winner: Sandra Bullock.
Most Deserving: Gabourey Sidibe. Sidibe portrays Precious as a girl who is at times charming, hardened, whimsical, depressed, and resilient; a girl beaten down by some of life’s grimmest hardships who presses on, determined to provide her children with the love and support she never received, and give them the happy life that was denied her. On a completely unrelated note, I find it hard to believe that even an obese pregnant girl could consume an entire bucket of chicken on her walk to school. Just saying.

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Matt Damon (Invictus), Woody Harrelson (The Messenger), Christopher Plummer (The Last Station), Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones), Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
Editorial Note: They could probably even have nominated Sam Rockwell in this category for Moon (That’ll make sense if you’ve seen it, if not, you suck, go watch it). Tucci just played a creepy fat guy in a crap movie, there’s one of those every year. Remember this’un? Haha! Of course not. Give Rockwell his nomination, damn you!
Likely Winner and Most Deserving: Christoph Waltz. Without question.

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Penelope Cruz (Nine), Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air), Maggie Gyllenhaaaal (Crazy Heart), Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), Mo’nique (Precious)
Editorial Note: It would’ve been nice to see either Melanie Laurent or Diane Kruger nominated for Inglorious Basterds. I also thought Mariah Carey was really great in her limited role in Precious.
Likely Winner and Most Deserving: Mo’nique. Disgusting and Horrifying, she brings a brief moment of humanity to the role at the close of the film which is really what will win her this award. That said, I feel strongly that Penelope Cruz has a claim to the award simply on account of being so hot. To wit:

Cruz FTW

Best Animated Film

Nominees: Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog, The Secret of Kells, Up
Editorial Note: If The Secret of Kells isn’t the name of R.Kelly’s next album I’ll be very disappointed.
Likely Winner and Most Deserving: Up. 2009 was the best year for animated films I’ve ever seen (take that, whatever year Treasure Planet came out!). In fact, four of these films made my top ten list for last year (sorry Kells). And while I really love the weirdness/awesomeness that is Coraline, Up is clearly the best of this lot, as it is indeed the best of all the films of 2009. Funny how that works out.

Best Director

Nominees: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), James Cameron (Avatar), Lee Daniels (Precious), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)
Likely Winner and Most Deserving: Kathryn Bigelow. I’m guessing the Academy will bestow Avatar with Best Picture and toss Ms. Bigelow this award as a consolation prize (side note: I think Miz Bigelow would be a sweet female rapper name). But the jokes on them, she truly deserves to win this one after crafting the first great Iraq war film that is at times a taut and suspenseful thriller, a gripping action film, and a brilliant character study. Plus it takes the bold step of exploding Guy Pearce which, quite frankly, he had coming after this travesty.

Best Documentary

The Cove will win. It was one of the year’s best films, more engaging and suspenseful than most Hollywood thrillers. It will fascinate and shock and enrage you. An absolute must-see. And, if you just so happen to be a Japanese fisherman, stop it. You stop it right now, mister.

Best Foreign Language Film

Nominees: Ajami, The Milk of Sorrow, A Prophet, The Secret in their Eyes, The White Ribbon
Likely Winner and Most Deserving: A Prophet (or Un Propheeet, as my dear brother referred to it). I can see The White Ribbon winning, and I don’t think it would be undeserved as it is an excellent film, but A Prophet’s depiction of a young convict’s journey from (relative) innocence to experience is both jarring and captivating, and a perfect exemplar of why our penal system, as it is, doesn’t work. It deserved a Best Picture nomination.

I really don’t care enough about the other categories to do complete write-ups. The music to Up and Sherlock Holmes were both really excellent, so it would be nice to see one of those two won, and really Up should probably win if only for that brilliant montage of Carl and Ellie’s life together. And I’m pretty sure Harry Potter is up for best Art Direction, it would cool to see it get a win. Also District 9 is up for Best Adapted Screenplay, and that’s probably the category it has the best chance in so let’s hope they win that one. And there’s a hi-larious Wallace and Gromit short entitled A Matter of Loaf and Death that I would bet will win Best Animated Short. The other categories are of little interest me as they do not concern Penelope Cruz in any way, let’s all pretend they don’t exist in that case.

The Academy Awards are on ABC on March 7th at 8 ET. You should watch it. Or spend five hours on Chatroullete. Either way.

28
Feb
10

A Brief, Profanity-laden Argument Against the Oscars

Damn you, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences!

The Oscars are coming up and, if the past twenty-five years or so are any indication of what we can expect this go around, the voters will get things completely and utterly wrong (The English Patient? Really? Fuck you). To add to the fun, or to avoid repeating the embarrassment of not nominating the two best films of 2008 (not to mention the two best of 2006 as well), the academy has expanded the Best Picture category to include ten films; a move which has staved off Grammy-level ridiculousness by allowing in a number of surprising and excellent films but which, I fear, may ultimately only add to the cinephile’s pain when either the big, or the safe, or the infuriatingly undeserving takes home the statue once again.

Granted last year’s Best Picture winner, Slumdog Millionaire, was an excellent film, but I don’t believe it was legitimately the year’s best film– in fact, I’d say that only twice since 1980 has the Best Picture winner proven to be the best film of the year (in 1993 and 2008– and I think a strong case could be made instead for Reservoir Dogs and There Will Be Blood, but that’s an argument for another time). What does this tell us then? That rarely do the films chosen as Best Picture stand the test of time? That academy voters lack an innate sense of what makes a truly great and lasting film? That the Oscars are all style and no substance- merely another opportunity for the beautiful and wealthy to gather and congratulate themselves (and maybe laugh at Bjork’s awesome dress even though she looked super hot in it and she’s fifty times more talented than any of the retarded fashion experts critiquing it)? Perhaps, but that’s also just the cynical ravings of a blogger whose heart turned black the second Firefly was canceled.

More to the point, it tells us that there is an inherent problem in labeling one film as better than another, especially when you assemble a grouping of films with vastly disparate content and themes.

Take the 2002 Oscars for instance; what might be the criteria for deciding which film was best out of, say, these films: Memento, The Royal Tenenbaums, Artificial Intelligence: AI, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Monster’s Inc., Y Tu Mama Tambien, Donnie Darko, Mulholland Dr., Amelie, Gosford Park, Training Day, Waking Life, and Black Hawk Down. That’s a serious cinematic hodgepodge right there. It would be very difficult to pick just one film as best out of such a diverse grouping of excellent films (and keep in mind that Spirited Away was also released in 2001, just not in the U.S.). It should also be noted that only two of these films were nominated for Best Picture, and neither of those two won (though I would argue that all of these films are considerably better than the eventual winner, A Beautiful Mind).

Better than "Memento?!" Yeah fucking right.

So how do we fix this problem? Well, we don’t quite frankly, there’s no fixing it, even if we tried. The basic flaw is in the award system itself: determining what makes one film better than another is a very tricky, subjective business, and people that aren’t me are inherently wrong, it would seem. It’s a damn shame.

There’s also a very political aspect to the process, a fact which often leaves a small film with an intelligent plot and great acting (*ahem* Moon, for example) without a nomination, whereas a huge box office hit that may be big on spectacle and special effects but lacking any original story-telling or even halfway-decent acting and dialogue (let’s say Avatar), can wind up the Best Picture front-runner because of a big studio push. But hey, it is show business after all, and a film that had a lot of viewers at the box office is likely to have a lot of viewers tuning in to see if it wins Best Picture (Unless of course, like last year, you decide not to nominate two of the best and highest-grossing films of the year in favor of dreck like The Reader and Milk, which were buoyed only by good performances, but that’s neither here nor there).

And perhaps a vote isn’t the best method for determining Best Picture. I’m all for democracy, but it has been known to let us down on occasion (For instance, Allen Iverson was voted onto the All-Star team this year despite the fact that he clearly sucks now, and the less said about the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections the better). Maybe we could establish a complicated BCS-like system determined by an aggregate score of critical reviews, box office intake, and its number of Google hits and Youtube parody videos. Or maybe each year an impartial panel could be assembled to determine the winners (like the grand jury of your favorite pretentious film festival), that way those responsible can be tracked down and punished accordingly (I’m still upset about that Shakespeare in Love business).

That’s it. Those are my best ideas. I’m not much of a “solutions” person. It ultimately doesn’t matter though because people (i.e. me) will always find something to bitch about when it comes to the Oscars, or for that matter cinema in general. Although it might be nice to see a smaller scale award show for the serious film fan put on by a respected cinematic authority (Criterion maybe? Or the folks over at They Shoot Pictures). But that doesn’t seem even remotely likely. In any case, the Oscars aren’t perfect (Quick example: Mel Gibson has won more Best Director awards than Hitchcock, Welles, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Bergman, Chaplin, Lang, Altman, Murnau, and Hawks combined), but it’s the best we’ve got, and there’s a strange masochistic pleasure in lambasting the Academy for say, awarding Kramer vs. Kramer Best Picture over fucking Apocalypse Now. There’s just no living that shit down.

I’ll post my sure-to-be-wrong picks for the Oscar winners tomorrow.




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