Showing posts with label cinematological. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cinematological. Show all posts

Monday, September 19, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

Oddly small in scope, Beyond plays like an enormously expensive episode of TOS. Character relationships and interactions are well established by this third film the newest Star Trek movie incarnation and the cast appear to be having a blast.  Essentially the story of Chris Pine’s Kirk meandering through a trifle of a plot while accompanied by Simon Pegg, Karl Urban et al, Beyond falls into Trek tropes by destroying the Enterprise (again) and stranded the crew on an alien world (again).
Pegg’s co-written script has a deep love and understanding of Star Trek, and director Justin Lin executes with the same physics bending flare he brought to the Fast & Furious franchise. Strangely paced and replete with stakes less set pieces, Beyond takes half of its running time to really hit its stride, leaping (spoiler) off-world and into a fantastic sequence set to the Beastie Boy’s Sabotage. The movie never really recovers as it races towards the climax, reducing scope from stellar to two guys punching each other.
Star Trek: Beyond is vastly superior to Into Darkness but does not have the pure emotional momentum of 2009’s Star Trek.

Friday, September 16, 2016

X-men: Apocalypse

XM:A is an example of a talented filmmaker sleepwalking through making a film. Vastly inferior to his previous X-film, Days of Future Past, director Bryan Singer has a created a film with such impossible ridiculous stakes, that audience by-in is unfathomable. Re-introducing characters established in the original X-men as teenagers in the 80’s is an interesting choice, undermined by the use of Apocalypse as the film’s big bad. Apocalypse as played by Oscar Isaac, is a portentous blowhard that can absorb and use any mutant power, begging the question why he needs to recruit any other mutant. Angel, Storm & l Magneto are brought into the fold, to reap vast swaths of global destruction, including an incredibly disrespectful sequence where Magneto, inspired by Apocalypse, destroys Auschwitz.
Jennifer Lawrence joins Michael Fassbender in looking bored to tears as they work through the last movie of their deal. James McAvoy tries his hardest while spending most of the movie doing nothing and even a Hugh Jackman cameo as Weapon X does little to spice up the films bloated running time.
Ponderous and boring, XM:A dutifully trudges through plot towards its climax, never building to anything exciting or meaningful, and burdened with sub-par VFX, particularly in the opening sequences. With Jackman retiring from Wolverine with his next (and last) solo outing, XM:A unintentionally makes a good argument for this X-men universe to actually end.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane

Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Michelle, a young woman who drives (or is driven) off the road only to awaken underground, in a prepper nightmare. John Goodman’s Howard, with an unnerving calm, tells her that the world has ended and she is underground in his bunker alongside Emmett, (John Gallagher Jr.)

Goodman, in a startlingly intense and deep performance as Howard, brings real pathos and gravitas to the film, giving it a swirling pit of simmering dread. Winstead’s Michelle is no victim. Clever, resourceful and brave but desperate, she maneuvers in between Howard’s kind but menacing bulk and Emmett’s aw-shucks low key affability, trying to discern what is real or not.
10 Cloverfield Lane builds relentlessly, ratcheting tension, until the audience’s nerves are stretched like piano strings waiting to be plucked. It is a masterwork of craft and vision given the vast majority of the film takes place in 3 rooms with 3 people, until the climax.  
The ending of 10 Cloverfield Lane has to be seen to be believed and will be incredibly divisive as it essentially is the beginning of a completely different movie. Despite the massive shift in tone, this movie is spectacular and one of the best of 2016.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Pandemic is a take on found footage as well as a take on first person narrative (a la Hardcore Henry) that betrays its own premise from the start. Rachel Nichols is Lauren, a highly value CDC doctor who has arrived at one of the last remaining American strongholds during a zombie outbreak. Lauren is to be the fourth on a team of a Soldier, A Driver, and a Navigator that are sent out into the wasteland to recover survivors amongst the infected, who have 5 levels of disease. Level 1, we are told, is treatable; Level 5 is a ravenous mindless running cannibal.
Mekhi Phifer is Gunner, Alfie Allen is Wheeler and Missi Pyle is Denise. I will leave it to you to figure out their jobs.
Strangely empty of tension, Pandemic explores well-worn territory of civilization in collapse, and the veneer of humanity stripped away. Unable to explore character other than in broad archetypes, Pandemic fails to make much use of its format, but instead stages scenes within the perspective of each characters convenient helmet camera much as one would without the first person convention. The characters don’t act like people so we are never really in their shoes nor ever really in jeopardy.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Suicide Squad

Beset with a troubled production and legendarily troubled reshoots, Suicide Squad had the unfortunate timing to be in production when the disastrous Batman Vs Superman was released to a critical drubbing and underwhelmed audiences. Suicide Squad as released is an incoherent mess that while not as blatant in its reshoots as the most recent Fantastic Four, still stinks of studio interference. Scenes introducing characters are repeated within minutes of each other and the film has a staccato pace that lurches from moment to moment of empty action.
The framework of the film gives glimpses of a larger work that delved deeper into the backstories of the characters, but in the final piece, the character moments are bite-sized chunks that allude poorly to whatever conflict may exist.  Punctuated with gratuitous and brief bits of tired licensed music such as “Born on the Bayou” and “Sympathy for the Devil” Suicide Squad feels like an attempt to capture the experience of Guardians of the Galaxy with no understanding why those decisions were made appropriately in that film.  
Make no mistake this is Margot Robbie and Will Smith’s movie, with each of their respective characters stealing the show whenever they are on screen. Robbie’s Harley Quinn is a sparkling gem of madness and spousal abuse where Smith’s Deadshot is a sociopath trying to do right by his daughter (which is an oxymoron). Each brings their full charm and intensity to the films, giving it far more life than it deserves. Viola Davis (Amanda Waller) and Jay Hernandez (Diablo) also standout as Waller proves to be as sociopathic as the Suicide Squad, and Diablo reveals a truly tragic backstory that makes him a reluctant hero. Jared Leto is an insignificant and impotent Joker, attempting to make hay of the role defined by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger and failing to do so. Leto’s Joker is occasional comic relief that exists only to further muddy an already inexplicable plot.
Suicide Squad is a mildly entertaining mess made from the threads of a likely more interesting movie and an embarrassing step down in quality for director David Ayers.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

The Lonely Island presents their first movie with Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Structured as a behind the scenes documentary of a Bieber-alike Conner4Real (Andy Samberg) and his former band The Style Boyz, Popstar has endless cameos from the hip hop and rap community talking about the impact The Style Boyz has had on pop culture. A glossy take on modern pop music and the inherent ridiculousness of massive egos and enormous money, Popstar skewers the modern industry delightfully, but relies heavily on the audience’s knowledge of the battles behind the scenes. 

Out of context vignettes parodying TMZ are dropped into the film and as a non-American who has never seen TMZ, left me cold. The film is earnest in its attempt to create empathetic characters within the madness on Conner4Real on tour but is light on laugh out loud moments, save for a wedding proposal gone wrong and a groupie scene flipped on its head. Those standout moments and the expertly crafted pop parody “Fuck Bin Laden” are the highlights of an ambitious but mediocre film.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Nice Guys

Structured like Chinatown, but overflowing with the blackest humor, The Nice Guys bookends nicely with Shane Black’s other noire film KissKissBangBang, but is not as good. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe become entwined in a sex, drugs, and violence murder mystery set in smoggy ‘70’s Los Angeles. Violence and exploitation of women is a central theme of the film and while in step with the exploitation films of the era, is presented in such a grimy, sleazy way, it turns The Nice Guys into an instant relic of a bygone time.

Crowe effortlessly falls into the role of a world-weary paunchy enforcer who wishes he was a better man, even while choking men to death. Gosling sheds his laconic/stoic standby and is a lit fuse as a cynical huckster P.I. and he crackles as he stumbles comically through every scene. Violent and raunchy, The Nice Guys culminates in a rushed climax to a unearned conspiracy that while historically true, is played for laughs almost directly to camera. The Nice Guys is an entertaining misstep that demands an appreciation for the seedy side of show business.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016)

Hampered by an overly doting embrace of the original Ghostbusters and structured as a series of vignettes, Ghostbusters (2016) is an entertaining if slight movie. Crafted by Bridesmaid's Paul Feig, and starring four of the funniest women in show business as the titular heroes, the film fails to be more than setups and punchlines for mediocre one-off jokes. I finished the film entertained though feeling an ‘R” rated cut must exist and like Feig’s other improv heavy outings, would be better for it. Ghostbusters (2016) seems constrained as it attempts to tell a coherent story with meaningful characters.

Chris Hemsworth shines in his scene stealing receptionist Kevin, clearly delighted to play comic relief instead of hero and Kate McKinnon embraces the on-the-spectrum intensity and joy of Holtzmann. Melissa McCarthy and Krisitin Wiig are handcuffed by playing essentially the same character with different ticks, with both Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates as well-meaning women. Leslie Jones sparkles as Patty Tolan, amateur NYC historian and general sass machine with a heart of gold. 

Without any inherent conflict between the main characters, Ghostbusters (2016) loses the rapport of the original and lacks any dynamic range of drama. Unfortunately, huge swaths of connective tissue appear to be missing or cut for time as the movie lurches from set piece to set piece, missing the nuanced control of films like Spy or The Heat. Ghostbusters (2016) plays like a fans collection of ideas inspired by the original film without a story to hold the pieces together.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Mechanical Failure: Plotting and Batman V Superman (Spoilers) part 1

Screenwriting is a very specific art form that rewards brevity and clarity. Character and plot revolve around each other in a push-pull that at its very best results in an organic story told about believable people.

Batman V Superman is not that movie. It is the most mechanical inorganic film I have seen in years and serves as a great example of  how not to plot a story.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Why I spoiled Star Wars:The Force Awakens For Myself (Spoilers)

At the drive through window my wife said she honestly didn't understand why I was so upset and had been for a couple days.

"They aren't real" she said, adding  "no offense".

In 1983 12 year old me sat with his family on the same night at the same time as we always had and tuned into the broadcast of the finale of M*A*S*H.  As Hawkeye was carried aloft in a final helicopter ride and saw B.J.'s last "Goodbye" spelled out in rock I sobbed. My mother asked me what was wrong and my father (I am sure) said something derisive about "being too sensitive". I told them I didn't want "them" to go. "They" were my friends and we were saying goodbye.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Surviving The Star Wars Marathon

I was awake when my alarm went off at 3 am. I had planned and prepared the night before, anxious about a great many things. I worried about the weather for the 30 min drive on a frozen highway. I worried about not sweating myself into a swamp of feet and armpits. I worried that my stepson would fall asleep or get high or fuck off with the friend that had invited himself along. I worried that there would be idiots with enough money time and cruelty to troll the event.

I worried that The Force Awakens was going to break my heart.

The boy can often be casually cruel in his words and actions. This morning he was excited and all in. He didn't snap in tired anger from lack of sleep as he often does. He appeared to understand how important this was to me.

My relationship with the Star Wars films is like everyone else's. I saw Star Wars for the first time at drive-in in the back of a green and white Oldsmobile, clutching a pillow and wearing yellow footy Hulk pajamas. It was likely one of the first films I had ever seen outside of my home. I was 7. I already loved comic books (especially the hulk) and The Muppet's but Star Wars was like a spinal tap directly into my dreams. I would chase that dream for years, enjoying knock-offs like The Black Hole. I was devastated when my father attempted and failed to tape a behind the scenes special during a network broadcast of Star Wars in the early 80's on a coffee table sized vcr. I had the blessing then of not even knowing a sequel was being planned until I heard about it at school or saw a tv commercial and badgered my parents into seeing The Empire Strikes Back. In 1983 I saw a double feature in the lead up to Return of the Jedi (still called Revenge of the Jedi in the trailer ahead of the feature). I loved the Marvel comics.

I had (unnecessarily) packed extra socks and shirts for us. Deodorant, toothpaste and toothbrushes. It was vital to me that during this sold out shared experience we not impede anyone else's experience as I hoped they would not impede mine.

I over prepared because it was the only thing I could do.

We arrived and in the periscope I shot I look exhausted already. I ate nachos for breakfast as we settled in for The Phantom Menace. I worried about stretching the collectors cup of Coke and my bottle of water as long as possible in order to minimize bathroom breaks.

The Phantom Menace is a long slow movie. The sold out audience began a pattern that would seem Pavlovian 18 hours later. Cheer for the Lucasfilm logo. Cheer for the Fox fanfare. Cheer for the Star Wars logo. Take pictures of the crawl. Cheer for each lead characters appearance. Cheer and applaud the director's credit. Repeat 6 more times.

Unintentional laughter happened a lot in The Phantom Menace. Most people today like to say they hated it in 1999. They didn't and if you are honest with yourself neither did you. You were either too young to have critical thought about a new Star Wars movie or you were too excited by the thought of a new Star Wars movie to be critical.

It was a presentation of the extended edition of TPM which doused my dream that this was Disney's chance to bring the theatrical editions back in style. The Special Editions it would likely be.

The big screen changes perspective dramatically and can dilate time. Groundbreaking special effects in 1999 look like texture-less shiny boxes of color. Creatures look worse. Animation is amplified and exaggerated to ridiculous effect. The end land battle of TPM is rightfully derided as a cartoon.

I had long held the belief that Attack of the Clones was the worst of the Prequels. It's not, TPM is. On that massive screen TPM drags and shudders from one sequence to the next, shining only in the pod race and during the final lightsaber fight. Attack Of The Clones has many flaws, but pacing is not one of them. AOTC leaps off the screen back to back to TPM. 

The 10 minute break between films was challenging every time as there was always a line-up for something. It also would prove not to be enough time for my eyes and brain to slow back down as the prequels speed up. 

AOTC literally explodes out of the gate, still thudding along on clumsy exposition between action sequences but with slightly more shading in characters and visuals. The look of the films changed from bright and bold to shadowed contrast but virtually abandoned physical locations save Tattonine. The first time I saw AOTC is was a nascent digital projector and you could make out the individual pixels. I wondered what a 2002 movie captured at 1080p and not on 35mm film would look like upscaled to modern projection standards. It looked a little soft but was far from the worst experience of the day.

Unintended laughter percolated throughout AOTC with it's horribly clumsy attempt at romance. In retrospect it reminded me that the man who made this film was so far away from his first love and so clearly had THINGS HE WANTED TO SAY about politics and democracy that it was a miracle AOTC had any fun in it at all. It established a whiny yelly Anakin Skywalker and the seeds of his fall, something that would finally bear fruit 13 years later in the character of Kylo Ren. It had cool light saber stuff. It was over quickly.

Revenge Of The Sith polished and refined the pacing of AOTC, and abandoned locations completely. The film looks and feels set-bound despite the scale, but the effects are spectacular and have aged well in the last 10 years. Anakin's turn feels more organic and less forced in a theater with an audience but still played to some laughter. The final lightsaber battle was punishing on my eyes and brain, fluttering red and blue blades sparking and swiping almost to incomprehension. Anakin's lightsaber was swept up by a victorious Obi Wan and a thrill swept through me. The path to the Force Awakens had begun.

We had hit the halfway point at noon. Daylight gleamed through the front of the complex. We had arrived in the dark, we would leave in the dark. I was starving but I would not miss a minute of the original Star Wars on the big screen, something I had waited nearly 20 years to see again. The boy and his friend had done periscopes between each film and now shared their thoughts on the prequels and expectations of the Original Trilogy (TLDR; they loved the fight at the end of Sith)

Within a few minutes my hopes sank as weird color correction, sky replacements and brutal edge enhancement around 3P0 in an early shot betrayed this as the Special Edition. Unintentional laughter fell away as the intended humor of the film played beautifully. Internet memes about whiny Luke were playing out in real time for a mixed age audience stretching from 8 to 65. Han Solo and Chewie were cheered in anticipation of the film we had come to see. Star Wars cascaded into a blur of cinematic joy, carrying an all-in audience. The seat next to me finally filled with a single middle aged man who had come to see the OT.

Watched in sequence, the Star Wars films speed up and meld, becoming a delirious delight. Halfway through we were exhausted but exhilarated. The visual punishment of the Prequels was soothed by the late 70's early 80's aesthetic of the Original Trilogy, especially Empire. Would you believed that nearly 40 years into my fandom I never noticed the sideburns in Star Wars and Empire until this viewing? Empire is a gorgeous beautifully crafted film marred only by the very dated EFX forced on it by the Special Edition, which are more of a time stamp than haircuts could ever be.

The boys thought the light saber fights and efx were lame and I only hated them a little.

When Return of the Jedi started the air in the room had begun to fill with anticipation and joy. We laughed and cheered despite Jedi having the worst presentation. Several sequences were completely out of focus, or had focus so soft it was near imperceptible what the focal point was intended to be. A women behind me dressed as an Ewok, but having never seen Jedi on the big screen kept saying "so cute SO CUTE".

As Jedi ended to rapturous applause the theater managers entered, scrambled and panicking to let us all know that, yes The Force Awakens would be in 3D and yes they would hand out glasses. 14 hours early they had told me it was in 2D. I would have preferred it that way.

As we waited I turned to the young men who sat next to the boy throughout the marathon. They were fans. I had glanced at them on and off as they leaned in during the films, deeply engrosses. They were also chatty.

I told them that we are all having a good time but I needed a favor, that I wasn't trying to ruin their good time, but I needed them to be quiet for the last movie.

They agreed and they were.

We watched the Force Awakens and afterwards, I decided never to do this again. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

The death of a form

I finally watched Heaven's Gate on blu-ray. It was a transformative and emotional experience outside of the narrative and meta-narrative of the film. There has been swaths of text and video about the rise and fall of Heaven's Gate as the once greatest bomb in film history and it's role in destroying United Artists as a studio.

This is a set not a town. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I do not believe in contractions: True Grit (2010)

True Grit is a modern western in the truest sense, with dialogue completely devoid of contractions and dirty, worn people and places belying the mystique of the era. Brutal violence is laden with the blackest of comedy as only the Coen brothers can, tonally teetering without losing balance.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A road less travelled: Rubber

A refreshingly quirky French film, Rubber explores exploitation and art with a self-referencing film about a killer telekinetic tire. Shot in a startling digital style that affects an intentional homage to the long-lens, short focus look of tilt-shifting, Rubber has a gorgeous palette of desert colors sharply captured.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Blast From the Past-Adventures in Post Production

Nearly 10 years ago I torpedoed a mediocre career as an director's assistant by posting info to a message about the post-production process. I see it as an interesting look back given A)the people I worked for never though to ask for an NDA B)Leaks and info hemorrhage from film productions more now than it ever has.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

At the Edge of Mediorce: Twilight

At my teen step-daughter's behest I finally waded deep into the morass of Twilight. Having seen just enough of the film to fully embrace mocking it, she felt I was doing the material a disservice by not reading the book and thus I have read the book.

Strangely enough, the bat-shit insane synopsis I also read of the fourth book makes me want read it more than the material itself.

Author Stephanie Meyers quickly catches the voice of a petulant teen, as heroine Bella moves to north-western U.S. to enable to her mother to tour with a new beau. Martyring herself early allows Bella to morosely meander her way through her new school in a tiny town. Her father, the town sheriff is kind, in a bland, cardboard, set-dressing way. Once ensconced in a cocoon of teenage self-pity, Bella stumbles across a dashing enigmatic classmate, Edward, who immediately catches her eye, though he rebuffs her.

Tangled, tortured romance ensues for a short time but slides into a glorious perfection. It is in fact, so perfect, that a literal deus ex machina walks out of the woods to force conflict into the idyllic relationship.

Twilight is a near perfect tween romance, exploring a chaste yet passionate first love, the oxy-moronic bad boy who poses no threat to the girl. Competently plotted and written, it captures the inner monologue of the stereotypical teen without venturing into revealing depth or purpose. Shallow and meandering, it pales in comparison to other works in the pre-teen/teen fantasy genre, especially when compared to the sparse but lyrical prose of a J.K Rowling.

I had hoped that by reading Twilight I would be given insight into the mind of teenage girl, instead of I was given insight into the manufacture of a book attractive to the mind of a teenage girl.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

District 9

District 9 is a fiercely original take on a familiar story; a bumbling bureaucrat who has lost touch with his basic human decency is forced to re-examine his priorities when thrust into a situation out of his control.

Set in South Africa, Sharlto Copley plays Wikus Van De Merwe, a mid-level manager for the local branch of the MNU, the world’s second largest weapons manufacturer. Framed in a documentary style narrative, the film reveals that twenty years prior a massive alien vessel came to rest over Johannesburg, seemingly inoperative. Humanity makes first contact by breaching the vessel only to find a million insect-like drones, nicknamed “prawns”, starving in the cavernous interior. The aliens are ferried to the ground and setup in a fenced off refugee area, which degenerates over decades to a shanty town and slum. The aliens have little or no initiative or direction and are left to struggle for survival in the shanty town as humanity’s baser natures come to the fore.

The MNU use the Alien for research and experimentation, attempting to find a way to use the genetically coded weapons in human hands, thus opening a new era of arms race. During a bureaucratic and political effort to evict the Aliens from the shanty town and into a self-described concentration camp, Wikus displays his absolute lack of empathy for the “prawns”, going so far as to demonstrate for the cameras how the population is “controlled”. A shack full of eggs is casually set ablaze and Wikus describes the explosive ruptures of the egg-sacs boiling as sounding like “popcorn”.

Bumbling and oblivious to the danger that surrounds him, he infects himself accidentally with a solution that serves a dual purpose: fuel to allow contact with the dormant mother ship above, and a transgenetic mutation, combining prawn and human DNA.

In a rapid fire 30 minute opening sequence, the film introduces all of the players, sets the stakes and sends the intentionally unlikeable main character on his road to self-discovery. It is elegant, frenetic narrative that propels the viewer into the story and leaves them gasping for breath.

The relentless pace of the film is supported by a powerful performance of Sharlto Copley, an unknown who brings a stumblingly humanity to his character. Initially desperate to stop the transformation within and thereby return to his ordinary life, Wikus is shoved violently towards a greater humanity. Faced with becoming a living weapon, he explodes into a panicked escape, bent on self-preservation. Only by hiding in District 9 is he able to shake the immediate pursuit of his tormentor, and therein he finds answers in an alien named Christopher Johnson. Finding they have mutual purposes, they join forces to retrieve the fluid which can allow the aliens to leave and also provide Wikus with a cure. The CG character work on Johnson is spectacular. A performance of body language and subtitled clicks, the moments as personal as the mourning of a lost friend, to the overwhelming stillness of unimaginable grief for a species, demonstrate a depth of character many human actors lack.

Wearing its influences proudly, District 9 references a host of films, such as Robocop, The Fly, and Alien Nation, though it never panders nor pays “homage” by directly lifting from those films. Rather it infers, as it tells its own story, weaving in multiple social-political subtexts into the narrative. Real world issues such as abortion, genocide, social strata, corporate homogeny, as well at the current flow of refugees (unwanted) into South Africa add to the verisimilitude of the film, rooting it in an immediately believable universe.

Shot in high-definition digital on RED cameras, the film has a clarity when projected digitally that is startling. Not prone to any of the strobing or artifacting that has plagued earlier digital cameras, a variety of lighting and movement styles are used to great effect. The aforementioned documentary framing device is shot on the shoulder or on sticks to great effect, measuring the typical talking heads interview style. Later in the film, traditional film technique consisting of both deep focus and long lens shots pepper the visuals and the native digital format allows for seamless integration of CG effects and character work.

Left open for a sequel, District 9 overcomes it pedantic script and sometimes hackneyed dialogue through sheer propulsive narrative, subtle subtext and powerful performance. Made for pocket change next to the blockbuster movies of the summer, District 9 parlays the true power of emergent cinema, in telling a small story writ large.

Friday, August 29, 2008


Another in the string of comic book movies released this summer, Hellboy 2 had my interested piqued the moment I heard it had begun shooting. I loved the first film, not only for its fidelity to the source material but also for the wonderful, stylized world that it created. It was a story of loss, redemption and unrequited love that had a deeply human center to all of its characters, no matter how bizarre their outer appearance.

Hellboy 2 begins with the same cast and a much higher budget, but strangely does nothing to reintroduce these characters and their inter-personal relationships. Much of the angst the created the conflict of the first film has been replaced with a theme of undying love and devotion, wound in and around a convoluted plot of the man-made versus the natural, or in this case, the magical.

The sub-titular “Golden Army” is introduced in a magnificent prologue, told as a bedtime story to an adolescent Hellboy. Much like the CGI Hellboy “baby” in the first film, this attempt to show Hellboy at a more innocent time in his growth is off-putting at best and il-conceived. However, the entirely CG rendered fable is stylized to remind of Harryhausen stop-motion and works wonderfully, setting up the main conflict in the plot and the threat of the Golden Army. Unfortunately the film never pays off the setup satisfyingly.

Essentially, an ages old war between the land of faire (elves, trolls, dwarves) lead to the initial decimation of faire. The Elven king had the dwarves create the golden army, and it laid waste to the human population. Overwrought with guilt, the elven king agreed to a peace accord with humanity, and locked away the army, with man promising to stay in the cities and leave the forests to the faire.

Centuries pass, and mankind continues to expand and encroach on nature, destroying in order to develop. The agreement has long been lost to human memory and the son of the immortal faire king challenges for the thrown, in order to begin the war anew.

This is the over-reaching driving force of the film, stopping the golden army. Unfortunately it is burdened by many themes that are strong enough to be the main plot. Hellboy seeks to step from the shadows and gain acceptance in the human world, driving a wedge between him and his girlfriend Liz. She considers them all freaks, though she is the only one that looks human, and wishes her love and acceptance were enough for him. This Liz is a radically different character from the introverted, conflicted woman afraid of herself to a powerful pro-active ass-kicker. The change is so radical it is as if Selma Blair is playing an entirely different character and it feels shoe-horned into the plot. A second prevailing theme is the fall of nature against humanity, and how that all that is special and magical about the world is being exterminated, that the dreams and nightmares of man are being expunged. Again this in and off itself is a theme that could have drive then entire movie, but this mishmash of purpose leads to some spectacular set-pieces but a drunken staggered pacing and lack of clarity.

The climax undercuts the symbolism of man against nature as it takes place in the ancient forge where the golden army, creature of metal gears and pipes, driven by magic (and apparently geo-thermics) lie dormant. Nature embraces technology in order to prevail over man as the army is activated.

Unfortunately the massive spectacle hinted at in the prologue is left mostly off-screen as the army is briefly battled, but then ignored as the final battle will be between Hellboy and the Prince for control of the army. The ending is essentially a literal deus ex machina.

One can only anticipate a longer director’s cut to be released on DVD as this film feels like it has been truncated, but in all the wrong places.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Cult of Filmmaking:Scientology and "The Profit"

"The Profit" is an independent film that has been attempting to seek distribution for the last six years, as documented on its webpage . If first heard of the film from as another its ongoing reports on the protests of the web-group anonymous vs. the Church of Scientology.

The film is ostensibly fiction, the story of a sci-fi writer who creates a religion in order to bilk suckers of their money.

Monday, September 10, 2007

DVD review: Stranger than Fiction

Who hasn’t thought, at least once, that the events of their lives are being penned by some anonymous author, and are beyond our control? This conceit is the very basis of faith and religion and is the focal point of the film as Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) literally meets his maker.
Directed by the inestimably overrated French filmmaker Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball), the film manages to be the perfect vehicle for his penchant for literalizing subtext (ie. Flash cuts of a bird freed from a cage during Halle Berry’s sex scenes in Monster’s Ball). Visualizing the OCD Harold’s inner view of the world with an Apple style “GUI” overlay, one is immediately drawn into his point of view. Previously unaware that his life is being orchestrated by an author who has writer’s block (Emma Thompson), Harold is shocked when he begins hearing her voice narrating his life. Ferrell does an admirable job of walking a line between his trademark manic intensity and the utter stillness of man who can only function inside the mediocrity of routine.
The film is jam-packed with fantastic performances and quietly shows how a person, when forced outside their comfort zone (and in this case, faced with their impending doom) re-arranges their priorities to truly seek out happiness. Unfortunately the film fails to live up to its own subtext of destiny, and the lack of control in the face of a greater power’s whims. Harold confronts his “maker” (though one wonders at what point in his life she claimed authorship on him, as she has only been writing this particular book for a short span of Harold’s life, which begs the question of what power lies in name), forcing Emma Thompson into an ethical dilemma. Only by completing her book with Harold’s death will the work have any meaning, as it is often referred to as her “masterpiece”; Harold himself reads the unfinished manuscript and is touched by it enough to go to his death willingly. By completing the book, typing the words of Harold’s death, she will condemn him, but by having met Harold in the flesh, no longer a character but a person, she is unable to bring herself to do it. She reasons “that any man willingly to knowingly face his own death to save another person is someone you want to keep alive”. While noble it renders her work of art merely mediocre, thus rendering Harold’s life as well as the film mediocre. The hubris of the screenwriter and the director in they are telling the story of telling the store of creating a masterpiece is extraordinary, but had they the courage to finalize the act that would render it a masterpiece, they condemn their own work to mediocrity. In the words of Dustin Hoffman when reading the finished work “It’s just okay”.
That said, this is easily Marc Forster’s best work and if he can learn to leave subtext as subtext I look forward to his next film.