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cbrachyrhynchos: (Default)
I've figured out why the new Smufs creep me out, it's because seeing them on screen, I expect them to turn into this:

cbrachyrhynchos: (Default)
After my earlier gripe that Marvel ComicsMedia retconned the sexuality of their most visible and consistently published bisexual anti-hero in order to give Magneto a girlfriend, a fair number of people objected by saying arguing that it was necessary to create a streamlined narrative in response, I'll give you Dr. Who, Episode 6.7, "A Good Man Goes to War."

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So, doing the family movie thing and X-Men: First Class seemed to be the best of a series of weak offerings. Generally, I'm a big fan of treating movies as movies and not as extensions of the comics, but that's generally based on the fact that Burton, Nolan, and del Toro have done a great job of getting a dramatic payoff out of dramatic license.

The character of Mystique gets the worst treatment in my opinion. The writers take one of the best anti-heroes in the X-Men canon, a woman who was writing her own manifestos, in a long-term lesbian relationship, and the (albeit problematic) mother of another superhero, and reduce her to the role of Charles' sister and Magneto's girlfriend. But the movie fails to offer any dramatic payoff other than a paint-by-numbers, seduction-by-politics plot. The transformation is arguably necessary to the constraints of a two-hour movie. Emma Frost and Pixie get similar treatment.

It's tempting to see this as an example of the institutional sexism of the Big Two, whose creative directors are both on the record of approving no new cinema projects with female protagonists.

Which I might accept if the movie offered a dramatic payoff. But the development of the central tragedy was weak and unsatisfying, with a conclusion that pix points out treats everyone like idiots.

Source Code

Apr. 5th, 2011 05:08 pm
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This is one of those movies that's almost impossible to write about without providing spoilers, so I'll just stick to the concept that's given in the first 15 minutes. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up disoriented on a commuter train outside of Chicago opposite a woman named Christina who calls him Sean. He's in the wrong place, the wrong time, and the wrong body. Shortly after figuring this out, he's killed by a bomb.

He wakes up again disoriented in a dark and cold capsule where his handler Captain Goodwin and project director Rutledge explains he's part of a project to get information from the quantum-blah-blah-blah memories of a dead victim of the bomb. The bomb, as Rutledge explains, was a warning for a big dirty bomb that will be detonated in downtown Chicago and the bomber must be on the train.

And without further ado, he's sent back into the simulated memories, the "source code," to relive those eight minutes and find the identity of the bomber. It is, a slightly more sinister variation on the show Quantum Leap that had the protagonist jump into historic figures to right wrongs. Or as Laura said, "Groundhog Day was funnier."

The strength of Source Code isn't really with the paint-by-numbers terrorist/thriller plot, which delivers one of the least exciting antagonists. It's with the use of this quantum-blah-blah-blah plot device to explore death, dying, free will, medical ethics, and a lukewarm romance plot that only becomes believable with the revelation that Christina was already trying to get Sean's attention before Colter took over.

And on that ground, Groundhog Day does it better, as does Nolan's Inception. Where the movie is weak for me is that it tries a bit too hard to answer most of its questions. But it's not a bad movie and probably smarter than the upcoming Catholics vs. Vampires 3-D epic.

Oh, and after a few films with a highly stylized color palette it's nice to see one that's more subtle and realistic. Although the train seemed impossibly clean and tidy to me.

Previews: Three-D Musketeers: Pure candy, I might go to see it if only to see a character fight in an 18th-century dress.

The Beaver: Combines an actor I hate, with a director I respect, on a topic that's been routinely mistreated by screenwriters.

Dead Snow

Feb. 25th, 2011 02:31 pm
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Dead Snow is another movie that gets praise for me for delivering exactly what it advertises on the tin: shallow young adults vs. Nazi zombies. The action is improbable, especially when it stops entirely for an explicit homage to Evil Dead. Comically gory though.
cbrachyrhynchos: (Default)
We went to see The King's Speech over the weekend. I don't know if this one is quite as deep as True Grit but it was still extremely good and I'm often a bit critical of history movies. Primarily the movie focuses on the developing relationship between Prince Albert who would become King George VI (Colin Firth) and his speech therapist Logue (Geoffrey Rush) who helped the Prince overcome a stammer.

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True Grit

Jan. 20th, 2011 11:28 am
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Been thinking a lot about this over the last few weeks. While I'm not certain I'd call it the best Coen Brothers movie or the best western I'd still rank it as an amazingly good film. This review calls it an honestly religious film, which I can sort of see but come to different conclusions.

A central theme of many Coen Brothers films is that there is a flawed nobility and grace in imperfect lives. It goes all the way back to the screwball comedy Raising Arizona where Hi and Ed get into trouble reaching for something their lives are not ready for and the happy ending returns them to the trailer in the desert. It's also what makes No Country for Old Men a tragedy. The runner is killed. The killer is thrust into doubt, first by failure and then by encountering someone who won't play his game, and the sheriff is forced into retirement without closing the case.

Cogburn, Maddie, and surprisingly, Lucky Ned Pepper are the heroes of the Coen's screenplay, not because they always do the right thing, but because they act according to their natures. LaBoeuf is something of a self-conscious fool, and Tom Cheney is an indecisive villain who kills as much from doubt and fear as greed.

The addition of the epilogue is something I'm still mulling over. I think it's ultimately a good thing to make the point that the true grit that Maddie and Cogburn demonstrate on the trail doesn't lead to happiness in the more civilized culture of the closed frontier. And in part, it helps to counter the cinematic and literary cliche that the events change both the characters and the world they live in. Cogburn is still a violent drunk, and Maddie grows up into a society that's less indulgent of sharp-tongued and willful women than it is of precocious teens.

Ultimately one of the things that makes the Coen's vision of True Grit work is that it's firmly Maddie's story rather than Rooster's. That's a wonderful thing because many of the more recent attempts to expand the role of women in westerns have relied on anachronistic gender-switching or the prostitute with a heart of gold. Granted, the western is a revisionist art form in many ways and I love The Quick and the Dead to death, but Maddie is a much needed character.
cbrachyrhynchos: (Default)
I went to see Tron: Legacy over the weekend. Before I start bashing, the bright spot in this is that the movie looks great and sounds great. It works if you try to ignore the plot and treat it as a music video for a Daft Punk soundtrack that expands on the work of electronic music pioneers Gorgio Moroder and Wendy Carlos.

Now, on to the bashing...

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A movie that offers truth in advertising, dishing up every cliche you can think of when you put cowboys and ninjas into the same script.
cbrachyrhynchos: (Default)
Failing to complete one story? Start another one based on a dream!

Ended up watching several episodes of Pawn Stars between naps. Most cognitively disturbing thing after the cut.

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Ugh. I'll agree with Ebert. Films not directed for 3D usually fail as 3D. And that's on top of the way that episodes I-III were cinematic failures to start with.


Sep. 21st, 2010 10:39 am
cbrachyrhynchos: (Default)
Dr. Who’s Pandorica, Pandora music service, Pandorum, hrm, a pattern in my life?

Pandorum reminds me that my taxonomy of space opera protagonists is incomplete. You have the Kirks who visit a new star system with every episode. You have the Methuselahs who survive interstellar travel by living for centuries. And Pandorum brings us the Sleeping Beauties who spend the entire time in stasis or something.

In this case, our protagonists wake up after generations to find themselves in a George Romero movie, with hordes of flesh-eating cannibals running around and eating the crew members who are unlucky enough to randomly revived. From there, the movie delivers moderate value as a vehicle for oggly moggly post-apocalypse zombie/cannibal action fun. It's all derivative and cannibalized.

Overlaying this is a lot of mumble jumble about “Pandorum,” which is basically Heart of Darkness in science fiction trappings. However, the prospect that stress and moral isolation has left everyone crazy comes too late and too little to make much of a difference.
cbrachyrhynchos: (Default)
Inception is one of those movies I'm reluctant to talk about for fear of spoiling it. It especially worked for me having just read my first Philip K. Dick headtrip. It's one of those movies that leave me thinking, "yeah, but what about..." days later.

Toy Story 3 was good, the short that appeared before it, Night and Day was incredible. But I've always felt that Pixar seems to do better in short-form films. Toy Story 3 was a nice film but piled on the sentiment a bit too thick. When the characters jump right from one morally charged dilemma to another, I long for Miayazaki's wonderful pauses in the action just to take in the scenery.

Up and coming: The trailers mostly underwhelmed me. RED: Retired Extremely Dangerous interests me because you have a gun-packing Helen Mirren (almost as good as a homicidal Julie Andrews) along with John Malkovitch chewing the scenery. Tron: Legacy also looks good to me.

Eden Log

Feb. 1st, 2010 12:11 pm
cbrachyrhynchos: (Default)
I'll just spoil it. Eden Log is a film that combines "soylent green is people" with a Philip K. Dick, "I am the bad guy" twist. The murky cave sequences and washed-out color palette would be an interesting stylistic choice if we were not left wondering what the heck was on the screen. All key elements of the film have been done much, much better elsewhere.
cbrachyrhynchos: (Default)
Finally got to see Dr. Parnassus, unfortunately we had a bad print and shared are viewing with The Blob in the corner of our screen. I'll agree with reviewers that it's a bit long on eye-candy and a bit short on plot. The death of Heath Ledger forced Gilliam to continue making the movie with Johnny Dep, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell taking the title role. And unlike the Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There which had a half-dozen actors playing different aspects of Dylan's life, the character of Tony never crystalized for me, or the phantasmagoric worlds through the mirror. Tom Waits and Christopher Plummer do excellent jobs, as did Lily Cole and Verne Troyer.

And in regards to the previews, do we really need another movie about an underachieving white guy cracking jokes about generational differences?

So, 2012

Nov. 16th, 2009 10:26 am
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I'm trying to decided if Roland Emmerich's profoundly silly disaster movies end up supporting or undermining the wacky theories they are tied to. His previous effort after all was based on a book co-authored by conspiracy-radio guru Art Bell, and Whitney Streiber, the guy who popularized the concept of alien buggery. The Day After Tomorrow makes more sense when you realize it's a divinely revealed text from Streiber's Master of the Key.

But, 2012 is an extremely silly film, pulling out all the disaster-movie cliches and padding them out with CGI shots of buildings falling inexplicably sideways into people. The opening minutes of the film give us obvious foreshadowing as a toy boat in a puddle is capsized by a passing car. Then we have the requisite handwavium as particle physicists discuss how neutrinos from a solar storm are heating up the Earth's core like a microwave.

The rest of the film follows by rote. You have the strained family unit anchored by John Cusack and Amanda Peet, the smart problem-solver played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oliver Platt as the gritty realist, and Danny Glover as the President and moral center of the story. Some of the best moments have Woody Harrelson as the gonzo pickle-munching prophet of doom. And of course, a whole cast of stereotypes that serve no purpose other than to die on-screen deaths: the adulterers, the materialistic stepfather, the selfish capitalist.

What separates this from the classics is the cast of millions of computer-generated faces that get crushed, roasted, exploded, and drowned. It's a movie that lives and dies by the Rule of Cool and doesn't make a lick of sense otherwise. It's a movie that skimps on human drama and character in favor of car chases through collapsing buildings and slow-motion explosions of Yellowstone.

It's a film that strikes me as half-assed in many respects. A chunk of the film takes place in Chinese-occupied Tibet, while giving a handwave to the issues of occupation and declining to give the aging Buddhist lama a proper name. The Russians or Ukrainians (the film isn't clear which) are greedy and newly rich. The African-American jazz man still has a room just off the kitchen.

But hey, as long as we have aircraft carriers crashing into Washington, DC, it's all cool.
cbrachyrhynchos: (Default)
Because I'm a glutton for punishment, I put Flash Gordon on the netflix list. Conan the Barbarian is something I watch on a regular basis for the thrill of watching the future Governator of California act stoned and punch out a camel. But in many ways Flash Gordon is a prototype for Conan featuring:
  • An obsession with pulp science fiction ubermenschen
  • Absurdly lurid set design
  • An overabundance of women in diaphanous harem wear
  • Casting dictated by having a bunch of people just look good on screen
  • A plot that doesn't make a lick of sense
  • Bombastic music
The magic of Dino De Laurentis is that you never can quite separate the intentional camp from the crap.  It's always hard to tell when Richard O'Brien makes an appearance. It's got Queen on the soundtrack, Oompa Loompas in Ming's court, a painfully garish color palette, and Max Von Sydow on the throne. It's got a climax in which a phallic rocket crashes into a hole. And it's hilarious. 

cbrachyrhynchos: (Default)
About 5 or 6 years ago, I attended a klezmer show presented by a campus Jewish organization which, among other comic skits, put God in the center of a divorce trial as an abusive and neglectful spouse. Since then the theological puzzle of the creator's relationship with its creation has been something of a philosophical sudoku of mine. It's something I find safe to indulge in now and then as I don't believe in a creator and have no vested interest in the outcome. But it's something that pops into my head in regards to Shane Acker's 9.

The story centers around nine sentient ragdolls and is an expansion of Acker's original 11-minute short that won him an Academy nomination. The dolls are survivors of an apocalypse, along with more malevolent mechanical monstrosities that hunt them down. The extended film starts as a mystery yarn as 9, the last to awaken, discovers his place in the universe, but becomes something more of a classic science fiction adventure story. But along the way it's a creation myth that evokes Genesis, Exodus, and the golem legend.

Although a lot of reviews criticize it for being a rehash of Terminator (and a dozen other stories of humanity threatened by science gone one step too far), but I really think that 9 explores the issue of philosophical responsibility of creator to created in a way that those stories do not. The conundrum in the Terminator stories centers on how do you avoid inventing what would replace us, where the moral conflict of 9 centers on how do you give your creations moral sensibility. And from the view of the ragdolls, how do you act as moral agents in a world where your gods are dead and were flawed to start with?  In the end, the protagonist 9 is a Moses figure who has his burning-bush moment and leads his people out of fear, but it's a considerably more complex presentation of that story compared to, as an example, Tron.

But the whole thing wouldn't work at all if it were not brilliantly realized on a technical level. The character animation and voice talent is brilliant and flawless, balanced against truly creepy monsters that are evocative of Jann Svankmajer and the Brothers Quay. The whole realization of the world the characters inhabit is incredibly detailed, and the choice to have an extended introduction without dialogue pulls you into the more horrifying aspects of the setting. It's a brilliant animated film, and a great science fiction film.


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