Monday, July 22, 2013
There were all kinds of nerd-bombs unloaded upon a frothing populace of fanboys (and fangirls) last weekend, but the two biggest, megaton revelations came via Marvel/Disney, and DC/Warner Bros.
On the DC end, it was revealed that the follow-up to this year's mega-hit, MAN OF STEEL, will be a crossover film between Batman and Superman. It was also heavily implied that they may have a bit of a tiff. (Though the film itself will definitely NOT be an adaptation of Frank Miller's classic comic, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.)
That's the good news. The bad news, for me anyway, is that it's from the creative team behind Man Of Steel. That film had some impressive destruction on display, but plenty of highly questionable writing and directing choices. In addition to being really, really, boring.
And it's not going to be the Nolan Universe Batman. So who would be the perfect man behind the cowl? My buddy Pete recommend Byung-hun Lee; I could dig that. WB might be hesitant following the box-office disaster that was The Lone Ranger, but I think Armie Hammer would be great.
Ok; some pretty big shit, no? Marvel responded in kind with their little revelation about the second Avengers film. Instead of focusing on Thanos, as had originally been suspected, it seems the big bad will be the perennial Avengers comic villain Ultron.
I like the change-up. It seems natural that the Avengers will face off with Thanos eventually, seeing as how he threw down the gauntlet in film one, but maybe they're waiting for part three to roll out the intergalactic big bad. And if, as suspected, Tony Stark ends up being Ultron's creator (in a slight change from his comic book origins), that would tie in neatly with Stark's cinematic arc and centralized role on the team.
Meanwhile, in unrelated news, I'm just hoping for some more Pacific Rim. My favorite film of the year so far has been floundering at the domestic box office, but foreign sales have been promising. I need a sequel to that awesome shit! C'mon Tokyo, check it out!
Friday, July 19, 2013
ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013)
Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm
SYNOPSIS - Julian (Gosling) is an American expat, living in exile with his brother, with whom he manages a Muay Thai Boxing ring. When said brother gets himself killed after doing something very, very, bad, Julian is visited by his terrifying gangster mother (Thomas), who demands vengeance for the death of her favorite son. Local cop Lieutenant Chang (Pansringarm), an equally vengeful man, with a predilection for dismemberment, is the only thing that stands in her path, leaving Julian caught in the crossfire.
BREAKDOWN - Nicholas Winding Refn again teams with a near-mute Ryan Gosling to sneak a bizarro, art house homage to Jodorowsky into mainstream theaters, under the guise of a "thrill ride" Trojan horse. This time, the parallels to good ol' Alejandro are slightly more direct, with a strong emphasis on body mutilation, religious iconography, and Freudian (barely) subtext.
Friday, July 8, 2011
Michael Bay's films are much like the actresses he gets to star in them; beautiful, yet completely vapid. As such, as if on a date, I often find myself torn between lust and boredom. Which feeling won out this round?
It's a lusty movie, if ever there was one. Shit blows up, people get thrown, and chaos reigns. "Chaotic" is what Mr. Bay does best, and when he's most truly in his element. This doesn't reach the grandiose, madcap heights of the previous film, Revenge Of The Fallen (my favorite of the series so far), but the insanity is unleashed from frame one in an only slightly more focused capacity.
The set-up, involving the Apollo 11 landing being retconned to an alien first contact, is good old-fashioned goofy fun (and, I'm guessing, a Spielberg suggestion) that acts as solid track for this locomotive. It doesn't all make sense, of course, but that's completely beside the point.
Supporting actors John Malkovich, John Turturro, Alan Tudyk and Frances McDormand all seem to be game for the proceedings, and seemingly given carte blanche to fuck around. (I love imagining that, due to McDormand's presence, her husband, director Joel Coen, will be obligated to see this.) I'd love to see a spin-off franchise starring Turturro and Tudyk as the world's most ridiculous secret agents, but their little moments here will likely be the most that I get. Shia is fine, as usual, in the lead, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is, um. . . present?
Peter Cullen returns as the robot John Wayne, Optimus Prime. Anybody else notice that in the film series, Optimus is kind of a petty asshole? He continues the trend in this film, cold-circuitedly murdering unarmed, wounded opponents, and lying to his friends for virtually no reason. Leonard Nimoy joins the cast as the voice of Sentinel Prime. (See if you can count the number of Star Trek references in the film. I caught at least five.)
If one were to try to figure out the subtext of the whole film, I guess it could maybe be seen as an argument against withdrawal of US troops from the Middle East; and, by extension, an increase in our country's global influence. As Optimus says several times throughout the film, the Autobots love freedom, and the Decepticons love. . . "Not Freedom", I guess. The Decepticons hate the electoral college.
I decided to see it in IMAX 3D format, which was quite the experience. Is it necessary? No; although, being a movie where the spectacle is almost EVERYTHING, I would say that if you're going to see it, go ahead and see it in the theater. The 3D was superb, possibly the best I've seen yet, and the scope of the Chicago battle scenes work well on a big-ass screen, but I think it would work just as well in a regular theater.
The use of 3D had another positive side-effect -- it forced Michael Bay to slow the fuck down with his camera-work and editing. The guy has a good eye, and it was nice to be able to linger on some of the shots for longer than his usual millisecond.
As in a good dream, I'm immersed in sensual experience; but as dawn arrives, it drifts away like vapor.
Monday, July 4, 2011
My planned reading material for summer vacation this year was early Conan the Barbarian stories by Robert E Howard - I like my beach material to be pulpy, sweaty, and uber-testosteroned (Just like I take my coffee). Instead, I found myself sidetracked by an old friend - the comic series 100 BULLETS, which I had started years ago, but never got around to finishing after making it halfway through.
I'm glad that I waited. Running for exactly one hundred issues between 1999 and 2009, the series teases out information in such a slow, deliberate fashion that the suspense would've probably killed me. There are also so many twists, turns, and divergent storylines that it would've been difficult for me to follow had I read it over a long period of time.
It would be giving too much away to go into great detail about the plot of the series. The setup is this: We meet Dizzy Cordova, a Chicago-based ex-gang banger, just as she's being released from prison. She still grieves over the death of husband and little boy, who were killed in a drive-by shooting while she was incarcerated. On the L home to her mother's house, she meets a mysterious man named Agent Graves. Graves informs her that despite her belief that her family was killed in retaliation by a rival gang, they were actually gunned down by two police officers. He gives her an attache case containing irrefutable evidence confirming this fact, and something else; An "untraceable" gun, and a set of one-hundred bullets. Will Dizzy use this information, and "magic" weapon, to extract vengeance? Or has she truly left her violent past behind?
The series expands much farther beyond this, as you might imagine, but continues to revolve around a series of morality tales. Tests of character, for those not so easily classified as "Good" or "Bad". We meet various characters from different cities, different ethnic backgrounds - but all sharing an interlocking culture whose very foundation is formed from theft and violence. Graves is one part Rod Serling, one part Crypt Keeper; setting stories in motion, then cooly watching the fates weave their webs.
Since comic books are a ghettoized medium, I guess it has to be said - No, you don't have to be a "comic book reader" to enjoy this series. While the story is operatically heightened, you won't find anyone flying around in a cape and tights. It's ultimately a mixture of a few different styles of writing that blend well together. You've got the social commentary, and attention to regional dialect, of a Mark Twain or Charles Dickens; the twisted criminal plots, down on their luck characters, and love of pun-filled wordplay similar to authors such as Jim Thompson, Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett; the conspiracy-filled works of authors Robert Shea, Richard Condon and Neal Stephenson; and the spy/action/adventure stories of Ian Fleming and John le Carre. It sounds like something potentially overbearing, but it turns out that there's a little something for everyone in that heady mix.
Essentially, if you like sex, violence, and rock 'n' rock, this is a series for you. Not all of the questions are answered in the end, but unlike with the show Lost, all of the important ones are, and it doesn't end up painting itself into a corner. It's that rare work of art that not only thoroughly entertains, but leaves you with a slightly different perspective on the world around you.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
It's all about the music.
Sure, you have your usual David Simon (The Wire, Generation Kill) elements: A diverse cast of colorful characters; an exploration of social injustices being perpetrated on the "lower classes"; and a city that serves not only as setting, but as a protagonist/antagonist in its own right. But what you'll find yourself doing after watching any individual episode will be singing the chorus to "Ghost of a Chance". . . or perhaps "My Indian Red". This is the portrait of a city bonded by music. Despite the divisions between people in Post-Katrina New Orleans - Black or White; Rich or Poor; Indian or Cop - everyone, but EVERYONE, knows the lyrics to all of the local standards.
The story arcs of the diverse characters share one common bond: it's about people learning to deal with the cards that fate hands you. About being able to cope with loss. Sometimes that's as trivial as losing a DJ job that you could care less about, and other times it's about the search for a brother who was lost in the system. As David Simon once said, "There's no room for hope on The Wire.", but in Treme it's all about hope, despite the odds.
Everything about this show is as excellent as anticipated. I leave it feeling informed, entertained, and moved (Yes, you will be crying!). A slight caveat is that it might do more for big fans of New Orleans Jazz than it did for me; While the "real people" cameos in The Wire were smoothly integrated into the narrative, here they're about as subtle as Vincent Price showing up on the Muppet Show (with a slightly different Kermit).
Friday, June 24, 2011
I'm an American male of Irish ancestry.
Knowing only that, what could you tell about me?
Grasping at straws in the dark, you might guess that I'm a drinker, a fighter, and a person prone to melancholy (Socially; Occasionally; and who isn't?). What you wouldn't be able to guess from just knowing my tribal heritage is that I'm a film nerd, I hate coleslaw, and that I possess a bright yellow bag with the words "Let's Be Eco-Friendly!" printed on the side.
In other words: Ancestry tells you a lot, but not much that's important and unique. Genre - being the classification of film and literature into categories like Horror, Action, Romance, etc - functions in a similar fashion: It's a helpful shorthand for knowing the broad strokes about a film - but who cares about the broad strokes? The devil, and the fun, is all in the details.
Am I advocating the expulsion of Genre categories from Netflix Instant? Nah. If people are looking to get scared, it makes sense to look in the Horror section first and foremost. This is a plea for filmmakers and film connoisseurs to think outside the pre-packaged boxes.
What's the harm in Genre? Well, staying on Horror for a moment, let me ask you this: Why is the acting in Horror films so often terrible? Give up? The answer is, mainly, that we, as a culture, EXPECT the acting in Horror films to be terrible. Once, long ago, people were trying to make so-called Horror Films that were actually, genuinely good - but they were made fast, cheap, and often by first-time directors. As such, a template was formed - "Horror Films will henceforth be shitty because that's what we're used to now". Occasionally, a director will make a good film that's designed to scare the pants off of people - such as The Exorcist or Silence Of The Lambs - but these efforts are so few and far between that they're either referred to as "transcending" the genre, or labeled as a different genre altogether (Lambs was referred to as a "Thriller", very pointedly).
So, in the creation of a film, the writer/director/studio labels it as "Horror", and either subconsciously or intentionally gives it a set of parameters in which to play. Conversely, the viewer comes to the finished product with certain expectations. Horror has become a ghettoized genre, and films attempting to frighten an audience aren't often given a fair shake on either end of the creative process.
Let me tell you something else about myself - I'm also of English and German heritage. Probably a lot of other stuff, too. Whether through crossbreeding or just influence, there aren't a lot of "pure" cultures left anymore - everyone has influenced everyone else. Likewise, movies aren't often just one thing. Evil Dead 2 is classified as a Horror film - but it's also really funny. Is it more of a Horror Film than a Comedy? Does Rock beat Scissors, so to speak?
Maybe people can see past their pre-conceptions, but I've recently realized that I have difficulty with it. Despite my experience, or perhaps because of it, I EXPECT a Horror film to be a certain way, and I EXPECT a Romantic Comedy to be another way.
Maybe it's completely naive, but I'd like to believe that films, like people, can define themselves. I'm not simply Irish-American, English-American or German-American. . . I am Phil Dean, the Alpha and Omega of myself. I, like all people. . . like all movies. . . take bits and pieces of influence from everything that I've seen, touched, heard and experienced. To say that I'm a Man is true. To say that I'm American is true. Even to be as specific as to call me a Movie Nerd would be true, but it doesn't define everything about me.
To contradict the words of Tyler Durden - I am a unique snowflake, and so is everyone else. It stands to reason that our works should be equally varied.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
If you had told me that there was a new film directed by Woody Allen, starring Owen Wilson, that was actually really good, I would've said you were crazy. Yet. . . here we are, the roles reversed, with myself as the crier and you, dear reader, as the disbelieving consumer.
It's not a movie for everyone, to be certain - I would hope, at this point, you wouldn't be expecting anthropomorphic robots and explosions from the Woodster - but it's charming, evenly paced, and the kind of straight-forward feel-good movie that leaves me floating.
Owen plays a successful screenwriter who aspires to be a novelist, traveling in Paris with his bride to be (Rachel McAdams), and her disapproving parents. While McAdams and family galumph through the city as the traditional Ugly Americans (led, in part, by McAdam's old friend, and onetime love interest Michael Sheen, in a hilariously douchey role), Wilson finds an intimate connection with all the beauty and history surrounding him. Quite literally, in fact. . . One night, while wandering through the city's street, he ends up at a party hosted by the Lost Generation. Before he even knows what's happening, he's drinking champagne with the Fitzgeralds, being threatened by Hemingway, and having his rough draft reviewed by Gertrude Stein. Caught between two worlds - the modern at daytime, and the roaring twenties at night - he finds inspiration and a renewed sense of purpose.
You're not going to find anything new here - you've seen this type of story before, and you know exactly where it's going. And, to be frank, the "cameos" play out like porn for lit nerds. But the cast is extremely game; the city, and photography, are gorgeous (thanks to master DP Darius Khondji); and there's a sense of romance and joie de vivre seeping out of every frame. Its not a groundbreaking work of life-altering art - but who cares? It's fun, and I love it more every time I think about it.