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. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

As the Wind blows-Abandoning Wind as a carrier

As noted in earlier posts, finding a carrier in Canada is difficult given the plans change constantly. In reaction the explosion of smartphone use, carriers have moved away from a UBB like model for calls and texts to a similar model around data use. Calls and texts are now flat rate plans with unlimited use, and data rates are predatory and capped both in use and expense.

I have been using Wind in Alberta for year and it has been at best a mixed experience. Coverage and network speed (3G) are abysmal and embarrassing. Value and price are exceptional with unlimited data, calls and texts. I was betting on Wind being purchased by a bigger player (Videotron) or a new entrant that would immediately expand infrastructure investment and expansion. 

I bet wrong.

Now I am searching for the least exploitative LTE plan I can Bring My Own Device and not pay and arm and a leg.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Rise up, gather 'round: Def Leppard Live

Nostalgia is a powerful thing and currently the most dominant cultural currency. All forms of media are mined for reboots, sequels, prequels, to feed our middle-age need to revisit what we loved as children/teens and rock'n'roll is no different.