Wednesday, September 28, 2005

New Yorker’s shameful confession, saw second episode of Surface!!

I know I should know better. But I just can’t help myself. I mean pilots are often rocky, and episodes can pick up from there right? Well, maybe deep down I didn’t really think that would be the case with Surface, but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least try to support a hugely promoted new sci-fi show. I think of it this way….even if Surface is, how should we say, “not good” –if it gets good ratings, more and more sci-fi shows will continue to be greenlit and some of those will be bound to be good, right?

But try as I might, after a scant second episode (which felt like it was about thirty eight minutes long without the commercials), I could still not get into it. It’s not that I believe the actors on the show lack any talent….it's more so that they do not seem very committed to thier roles. Maybe its the directing, I'm not sure. The moments these characters have on the show vacilate from hammy to flat, though to their credit, the wooden over the top dialogue doesn’t do much for them...

I found myself playing a fun little game as I slogged through the show (with the help of TiVo of course…)

I tried to match up each character on Surface, with their counterpart on Lost.

Lookeee here:

Laura, the main character in Surface is the Kate of the show. They’re both young, pretty, brunettes, rough around the edges, and they don’t like to take no for an answer. Of course Laura, to our knowledge hasn’t committed any felonies. And Kate probably wouldn’t make much of an oceanographer, but they definitely both have an explorer's streak in them, and won't let any one boss them around. But Evangeline Lilly adds a charming spunk to Kate, that Lake Bell does not demonstrate.

Here we have Jay R. Ferguson, portraying Richard Connelly. Like Sawyer he’s from the south, and there’s a tough “redneck” sensibility to him. I don’t really buy Rich, the way I buy Sawyer. Rich's efforts to be a rebel badass backfire into making him look like a foolhardy yokel. He also doesn't seem to pull off that layered sense of character the way Sawyer does. We recognize there is pain underneath his anger -- and yes we know Rich is bummed out about loosing his brother, but it doesn't carry the weight that Sawyer's orhanage does. Also, Sawyer would never have married that woman… and kids?

Leighton Meester plays Savannah Bennett. She is the snotty older sister of Miles, who has hatched and nurtured the baby sea creature in his very own home. (don’t ask). Like Shannon, she thinks she’s the hottest thing to walk the earth since Helen of Troy. She’s also spoiled, and can’t stop bossing her brother around. Unlike Lost’s step sibling loophole however, I think Savannah and Miles relationship will remain platonic. Also with Shannon, we’ve been able to see she’s actually human under her tanned superficial shell, I doubt Savannah will get as much of an arc.

Now you try to tell me that if Rade Serbedzija who plays Dr. Aleksander Cirko shaved all the hair off of his face and head that he wouldn’t look a heck of a lot like Locke. Dr. Cirko may be a man of science, but he obviously has a large amount of passion and faith regarding the sea creatures that are appearing out of nowhere. Like Locke he understands that there is unknown phenomenon that surrounds our reality. They do both loosely fit that “crazy old guy” role though. But again, Locke has so much more depth going on with his character. His character is much more nuanced.

So there you have it. Now you know what was going through my mind last night as I watched the show.

On a side note, in a moment that took me completely by surprise, the last shot of the episode blew me away. The final scene was on a boat out around Australia, where some folk were fishing for shark. One of the guys on board thinks he’s got something, and reels in his bait fast. When he pulls in his rod out of the water he finds a huge head of a great white that has been severed from its body. We then cut to an overhead shot of the boat where we see a gigantic shadow looming underneath it. The giant creature rises up and breaks through the surface of the water, its huge gaping mouth closing around the boat in an instant. I have to say it was pretty awesome and also reminiscent of the space slug that swallows the Millenium Falcon in Empire.

UFO Airports ?

Every now and again a story comes a long to remind me that there are individuals, far nerdier and crazier than I.

Such was the article that caught my eye this morning on .

I'm sensing a definite possibility for a movie ---or at least a documentary.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Corpse Bride - beautiful, but a tad cold.

It’s been a big year for Tim Burton. First was his summer release of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which critics deemed his best work of the past decade, and then this fall’s Corpse Bride, his first Stop-Motion aminated feature since Nightmare before Christmas. Contrary to popular belief, Tim Burton did not actually direct The Nightmare Before Christmas. He produced the film and conceived the characters and some of the story, but Henry Selick, a visual FX and animation guru, who also directed Monkey Bone and James and the Giant Peach.

One can’t help but compare The Nightmare Before Christmas to The Corpse Bride, because they are both stop motion animation, which is a rarity these days, and both generated from the insanely imaginitive mind of Tim Burton. The Nightmare Before Christmas is amazing, not only because of how detailed and unique the animation looks, but also because the story is marvelously unique. The idea of Halloween and Christmas clashing together is brillant. Jack Skellington, in his own way, is a profound and fleshed out character, one with whom we can relate too. He finds himself feeling bored and jaded with the world that he lives in; he is tired of the part he’s had to play his entire life. His accidental journey to the North Pole (Christmas Land) only fuels his already burning desire to take on a new identity, and spawns his mission to become “Santy Claws.” Nightmare is particularly touching, I think, because it deals with the subject, that try as we might, we cannot always change who we innately are.

There are a lot of storyline elements, and different characters in Nightmare. There is the love story between Sally and Jack. There is the abduction of Santa Claus and the ominous Oogie Boogie. The songs composed (and performed) by Danny Elfman serve to raise the level of Nightmare to magical hieghts. Elfman savvily fused sounds from traditonal Christams music with creepy Halloweenesque motifs to create something that was (and still is) unlike anything that has ever been done.

Like Nightmare, The Corpse Bride used the stop motion technique, but it modernized it by using digital photography, instead of film-dependent cameras. Burton also officially directed Corpse Bride, (with some help from animator Mike Johnson) in addition to producing it.

The look of Corpse Bride, is without a doubt, absolutely amazing. The design of the characters, and the landscapes that they populated, were stunning and stylized to a perfect pitch. Burton’s love and talent for drawing and animation are never lost in his films, but never are they more accentuated than in his stop motion pieces. Burton’s magic lies in his ability to meld the dark with the light, to sketch out grotesque scenes and somehow infuse them with humor and sentimentality. The dark creations of his mind are as spooky as they are beautiful, and Corpse Bride is no exception. I loved the way all the main characters looked –Victor and Victoria had a wonderful pristine Victorian pallor, and perfect, doll like dimensions. Both of their parents were severely drawn, comically exaggerated figures with the most specified of mannerisms, they were great. But of course the most striking of all was The Corpse Bride herself. A cross between the green alien dancer from original series Star Trek, and the Bride of Frankenstien, she was both stunning and eerie, sexy but gruesome. Her facial features and body type were an exaggeration of a Hollywood starlet, and stood out in contrast to her partially decayed flesh that allowed her ribs and teeth to poke through at certain spots.

The screenplay of the film was written by John August, Pamela Pettler and Caroline Thompson. August also wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and like Charlie, I thought Corpse Bride’s story was streamlined - but to the point of simplism. I really liked Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and I liked the concept of the Corpse Bride, but there was something about the execution of both stories, particularly in the resolution that left me sort of thinking ….is that it? The ending of Corpse Bride was so neat and tidy. Victor and Victoria are married, and the Corpse Bride is set free from her curse so that she may …..ascend to heaven?

But let me back up a bit. At the start of the film we learn that Victor who comes from a nouveau riche family of fish mongers, is set to marry Victoria, a daughter of an aristocratic family who has run out of money. Neither has met the other, and both feel nerves and trepidation about the big day. I liked the set up of the marriage, and thought the contrast between the two families was great. Instead of becoming the story of the typical arranged marriage where the bride and groom have little affection for one another, this story explored a different possibility. What if the members of a bethrothed marriage actually liked each other?

Victoria, a timid romantic, is immediately taken by Victor’s piano playing, and the two share a tender moment, that is made even sweeter by the fact that they are meetin one another for the first time. But just as they’re beginning to realize that their arranged marriage might be the hand of fate ushering them along to their rightful destinies, they are bustled off to a tedious wedding rehearsal.

After numerous attempts at memorizing his wedding vows, Victor becomes so frustrated and mortified that he runs out of Victoria’s house and into the snow covered woods, where he doggedly recites his complicated vows until they come to him naturally. The only problem is, --as he’s practicing each step of his wedding ceremony, he places the ring the nub of a knarled wooden tree, in place of Victoria’s finger. Unwittingly this is how he awakens, The Corpse Bride.

Victor finds himself swept away to the underworld, bound to the Corpse Bride by the wedding vows he recited in the forest. It’s not long before he learns of the tragic fate that befell The Corpse Bride. Of course it would’ve been nice if we could have gotten a better idea of exactly what her story was. One of the large numbers in the film, the song that tells the story of the unlucky bride is barely recognizable.

The lyrics come off sounding sort of like this:

Let me tell you a story about -----muffle, muffle, muffle
‘cause don’t you know you can’t ---muffle, muffle, muffle
and if you ever ---muffle, muflle, muffle
you’ve got to ---muffle, muffle, muffle


ya, ya, ya, ya, ya,
ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya

I thought there was a possibility that the sound could have been off in my theatre, but I’ve spoken to some other friends who saw it elsewhere, and they complained of the same difficulties. Now I absolutely adore Danny Elfman, I think he’s done some incredible work, and I am very fond of his scores as well as his songs (like those in Nightmare and Charlie), but Corpse Bride was definitely not his best work. I’m not sure if he worked on Charlie and Corpse directly back to back, but it certainly felt that way. Some of the skeleton songs were a little too reminiscent of the oompa loompa songs that I heard just a couple months prior. “Tears to shed” is probably my favorite of the songs in the film, a melancholy ballad sung by the Corpse Bride about how though she might be dead, her heart can still be broken. I thought this number was especially memorable by her two little sidekicks, a maggot and black widow spider, who sang with her.

But back to the plotting of the film. Once the setup has been established, the rest is very straightforward. Victor must find a way to get back to the living so that he can marry Victoria. But things are complicated when Victoria’s parents thrust a new suitor on her, the strange and suspicious looking Lord Barkis. When Victor hears about Victoria’s marriage, he misunderstands her intentions, and begins to become enchanted by the alluring corpse bride. Of course we learn that Lord Barkis has evil intentions and intends to murder Victoria for her money….just as he did with the Corpse Bride. All is saved at the end of the day when the corpse bride backs out of her wedding to Victor, and he is able to marry Victoria. The potion that was to kill Victor and allow him to be with the Corpse Bride, is instead consumed by Lord Barkis, who promptly dies and gets his just deserts when he is ambushed by a group of angry dead folk. The Corpse Bride’s curse has somehow been reversed by Barkis’ death, and she is now “freed” and her body is diffused into the night air by a startlingly beautiful flurry of butterflies.

But something slightly intangible was missing from this film. There was a missing element that prevented me from becoming engaged in Corpse Bride the way I was with Nightmare. I think part of it was that The Corpse Bride needed to develop its characters a bit more. In Nightmare, we got a sense of what Jack wanted, what his passions were, and what his inner most thoughts were. Victor was much more vague and ambiguous. We learned that he had artistic abilities, he could sketch and play the piano. But we didn’t even know what his profession was. We get a pretty good sense of Victoria’s relationship with her parents, but its unclear what Victor’s is with his ---he says at one point to the C bride, that his parents were never really approving of anything he’s ever done. But there isn’t really an indication elsewhere in the film that he had an antagonistic repor with his mother and father. Even the love story between Victor and Victoria felt a bit forced. They interacted with one another so little, and it was a bit of a stretch to believe that they were as devoted to each other as the story made it seem. I wish there had been more scenes like that two that centered around Victor and the piano. In both cases, the music he plays is the source of connection with both of these women (Victoria and the C bride). Victoria admires is, and the Corpse Bride participates. These scenes were windows into the essence of these characters.

It is difficult for me to pin point exactly what was missing from The Corpse Bride. I think ultimately, it could have used some extra layers in its character and story to give it more depth. It was a visually impressive feat, but did not have the sort of same unique and thematically resonant story that Nightmare did. Perhaps if we had been able to spend a little more time with the characters ---if they had been allowed to express themselves more, and perhaps if the story had not been so streamlined, it might have been more than just a lovely looking, entertainingly dark, fairy tale.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in swamps…..

VENOM. Was anyone aware of the fact that this movie had a wide release last weekend?! Or so Yahoo! Movies tells me. There’s a slight possibility that I might have heard of this movie, somewhere before. At least it seems familiar. Although that could also be because the trailer which I just saw for this Fall Dimension release, resonates with all the stale stereotypes of your typical creature feature.

Creature movies are a quirky little sub-genre. Usually part science fiction and part horror, these types of films run the gammet from silly B-movie fun to classy pyschological thrillers. Alien, Them!, The Thing, Lake Placid, Alligator, Jaws, Arachnaphobia, Birds, The Creature of the Black Lagoon, and that’s just for starters. The list goes on and on, but what is strking to me is the variance in style and execution. Now many people would look at Birds or Jaws and say, those are film classics –those ARE NOT creature films. But technically speaking, they are. The central plot revolves around people under seige from a creature. Creature attacks unknowning victims, protagonist discovers what the creature is about, the protagonist flees from the creature, and then eventually faces them in order to destroy them. Of course what differentiates the good, from the bad, and the ugly, is being able to create an underlying story and journey for the characters who are running and battling for their life. Even the creature flicks which are goofy and silly ---like The Blob for instance, can be perfectly entertaing if they keep some levity, and have a self-awareness about the tone they are achieving.

It doesn’t look like Venom falls into either the good or the so bad its good category. It looks just….bad. An old voodoo curse is somehow kept in a suitcase for years, but when it is opened, an evil force is unleahsed which turns a man into a killer snake humanoid monster. A bunch of scared cute teens scream and run around on cue.

Ta da!

Many people roll their eyes at creature movies, --I do not. (Who’s excited for Snakes on a Plane? Me! Me!) They can be good or at least entertaining when there’s some thought put behind them. I almost fell asleep when I was watching the Venom trailer. Been There, Done that. See for yourself .

Thursday, September 22, 2005

LOST hatches Storyline for Second Season

Well after exactly a hundred and nineteen days, one hour and thirty seven minutes, I picked up LOST after one anxious summer.

The Opening. Wow. I thought it was brillant. Following this man in his morning routine. They kept the man’s face hidden, his physique was similar to Sawyer’s but not explicitly so. As he cleaned, showered, exercised, it was unclear who and what you were watching. These were the things that crossed my mind. A much younger Locke (think circa late 70’s), Sawyer? A new character/survivor who was about to be introduced on the island? When the alarm in his home began to go off, and we saw him jump into action, I wasn’t sure what was happening. Then when the camera pulled back to reveal that he was in some sort of a bunker ---only to continue zooming up the very top of the opening of the Hatch, I was beside myself. I bolted upright from my couch in disbelief.

Holy ****.

As the camera surfaced to the top of the Hatch were Jack, Locke, Kate and Hurley were, I was pleased to see the show was picking up precisely where it left off, over there months ago. They didn’t cheat or cut to the next morning. It was as if we hadn’t missed a single beat. I thought they were pretty successful in recreating the sense of urgency that permeated the season finale. The characters had to find a place to hide, they had to get away from The Others. I liked that they reiterated the conflict between Jack and Locke. As the title of the episode indicated, Man of Science, Man of Faith, it is clear that this is going to be the big theme of the season. This theme of facts verses faith is not that original in and of itself (Hey, it was the theme of X Files), but the context and setting is very much unique, and allows this conflict to play out in a fashion that will be fascinating to watch.

I thought Jack’s flashback scenes were interesting as well. We had already learned last season, that Jack married Sarah, and that she had had a terrible car accident. We knew through pieces of their dialogue with one another that he had performed a miraculous surgery on her that allowed her to walk again. I liked the fact that they jumped around in the timeline, and even found a place to put in a small moment with Jack and his father. I imagine the writers chose to include the origin of Jack and Sarah’s relationship because they were also trying to up the ante for when we find out why Jack ends up getting a divorce. Besides further establishing Jack’s relationship with his wife to be, it seems the true key scene here was the conversation Jack had in the deserted stadium with the Scottish stranger, Desmond. (On a brief aside, I really like that they chose to set the scene there, for the first few seconds of that zoomed out shot with all the seats, I couldn’t even quite figure out what I was looking at. It was a nice visual element that fit in perfectly with the body of the episode and the show on a whole, which is to say….Just what the hell am I looking at?!) I thought the scene with Jack and Desmond played well, and the dialogue was able to convey the emotion of the moment without feeling forced or faux. I found myself thinking, is this guy(Desmond) an angel? It seems that only fate could have brought him to tell Jack that at that moment that he can save Sarah if he simply allows himself to be a “Man of Faith”. It seems unlikely that there would be no connection between Jack meeting Desmond and then finding out that (contrary to his appraisal of her surgery), Sarah was not paralyzed as he had feared.

Of course, I wasn’t expecting the damn guy to turn up later in the Hatch like he did. My curiosity has been peeked as to how will it all be justified. The equipment that Desmond had down there looked fifteen, twenty years old. But it was only a few years prior that Jack had had that encounter with him. The possibilities and explanations seem endless. Was Jack lured to the island by Desmond? Had Desmond been keeping watch over Jack this entire time? Is Desmond running the island with the technology that he has set up down there? How long has he been there and who is he? Was he quarantined down there (as the lid of the Hatch said on the inside) because he has some sort of disease? Is that why he was shooting himself up with some sort of drugs in the beginning? Or maybe he was exposed to something dangerous or unidentified? I find myself repeating over and over again the few phrases he shared with Jack when he met him. He said “I’m training.” “For a race around the world.”

I could honestly keep specualting on the page for hours, but I won’t. The bottom line is, I enjoyed the season premiere immensely. I continued to be drawn in by the personal moments between the characters, and it kept me completely on the edge of my seat during the moments of suspense and surprise.

Weaknesses? I thought the stuff with the other survivors felt a little strained. Charlie yelling about there being no others, and Jack coming back to give the crowd a pep talk was clearly just filler to keep the episode rolling. Because of the way that the show has been structured up until this point, the writers must create a delicate balance between reminding the audience, that yes, there are about twenty five other survivors other than the people who we’ve been introduced to as named characters. They have to leave that blank slate of unknown survivors, so that they have some flexibility with the cast, but the then risk creating that feeling like we’re watching a bunch of extras stand around. I’ve always thought they’ve been able to pull it off well, but for some reason last night it just felt a little awkward to me. Probably because I was so wrapped up in getting back to the action with Kate, Locke and the Hatch. (I nearly bit my nails clear off as Lock was belaying her down through the opening.) I’ve talked to a couple people who didn’t like Shannon seeing a vision of Walt in the woods, but I actually found it creepy. Especially since he seemed to be whispering but you couldn’t hear a thing he was saying. But honestly overall, I feel confident is saying that this show is really the best thing on network TV. Maybe even on TV right now, period.

Yes folks. Here we are. Another season of LOST, and boy am I ready….

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Surface breaches fall TV line-up; Outlook not hopeful

It’s no secret that this year, network TV schedules are being pummeled with a bevy of new science fiction shows. Riding off the swell of LOST’s success, it seems all the big guns are trying to galvanize the sci-fi fans out there with their own takes on the genre. CBS has Threshold, which premiered last Friday night, much to my dismay, instead of this upcoming Friday as I had thought –so I’m already behind the ball on that one, having missed the two hour pilot. To be honest I know very little about that one, but I know it involves aliens and that good old TNG vet, Brent Spiner is in it, which makes me a bit fond of it already. I’m hoping I won’t be too far behind when I pick it up this week. ABC has Invasion, which they have cleverly slotted right after LOST, and I’m curious to see what its all about. Oddly enough, of all the shows out there that sound most like a ripoff of LOST, Invasion is it –and it seems strange ABC would do that to itself. The show is about a small isolated town in Florida that experiences strange occurances after a Hurricane hits.

Last night, after much hype and many promos, NBC aired their premiere of Surface. Contrary to my friends who had poo-poo’d the show after merely seeing the posters on buses, and twenty second promos, I was ready to give it a chance.
Of course, it didn’t take me long, (I think it was about eight minutes in fact) for me to give a call to a fellow geek and admit to him that I was beginning to fall in line with his predicitons for the show.

Where do I begin? Let’s see. Overview. Overall, Surface, was not good. In fact ridiculous is the word that really keeps popping up in my head as I recall certain pieces of dialoge and ill concieved FX. The opening of the show was typical for the genre. A bunch of kids, screwing around on a boat, one of them “water boarding” (this millenium’s version of water skiing). The kids decide to play a joke on their friend and leave him stranded in the water with his board for a bit. The kid, Miles, who is bobbing about notices something “fishy” in the water, and has some sort of encounter with a “sea monster”. It was here when I first took notice of their approach with their special FX. There is a brief shot where they show something (like a cross between a mermaid and the Creature from the Black Lagoon) take a duck dive off a bouy. You couldn’t really tell what the hell it was ---which is fine, because I understand the fact that they don’t want to show the creature in their first episode. But instead of just showing a quick flash and then the movement in the water and on the bouy, they showed a fuzzy grey blob. Fuzzy gray blobs aren’t particularly scary ---and I took issue with the fact that later on in the episode when two other characters are diving near an oil rig, they show an ENORMOUS fuzzy gray blob representative of the huge monster that approaches the divers. It seems that the more mystery the show creators wanted to create –the fuzzier everything went, soft focus in the cameras, sloppy cuts. What should have been made to look like dives into the ocean, looked more like dives into giant seas of lint.

Surface introduces you to a myraid of characters in a very short time. There are the punk kids in North Carolina (where Miles has a close encounter of the blurry kind), and then there’s Dr. Cirko, a hammy Would-Be Eurotrash scientist with a swishy walk and dire predictions. We meet Laura Daughtery, the ostensible lead of the show, who portrays a young oceanographer and mother with a passion for her work. There’s Rich, a good ole boy from the South and a professional oil rig diver, who is celebrating his birthday with his little brother and colleague. Bored or confused yet? I know I was… Besides these “main characters” there are also little snippets with characters whom we know or care nothing about, like generic military personnel and fisherman in Belize.

Surface doesn’t seem to make any bones about the fact that its plot revolves around sea monsters. It doesn’t try to shroud their existence with odd occurences in the ocean, building to a slow reveal later on in the season. No, within the the first fifteen minutes of the show, it is clear the characters are dealing with some sort of bizarre life form that lives in the ocean. Though the episode actually has a reference or two to the Lochness Monster and actually uses the phrase “sea monster” it seems completely unaware of the campy and silly sort of tone that this subject matter inevitably brings to the show. For a series that seems to be taking itself entirely seriously, there are few moments of levity or self-awareness in the episode. But beyond the show’s trouble in setting its tone, the most alarming element about it was its characters ---or lack there of. The young teen Miles (played by Carter Jenkins), who was probably my favorite character on the show, was probably the most relatable of all the characters –and even saying that is a bit of a stretch –but the writers did make a bit of an effort to establish his home and school life, though just why he becomes so interested with marine life is unclear. Rich Connellly, played by Jay R. Ferguson, is not given much to do in this episode, as half of his time is spent either under water or in a decompression tank ---but for a guy who is supposed to be one of the main characters of the show, I’d like to see a little more out of him then some rebel yells, and beer tricks. And as for Laura Daughtery, played by Lake Bell (who seems like a perfectly lovely person), I really wasn’t buying it. I didn’t buy her performance as either a mother OR a scientist. She seemed to young and too earthy, and lacked a convinction of passion for her work, that I guess she was supposed to be portraying, but didn’t really come through. There didn’t seem to be any foundations laid for any real dynamic between the characters thus far, except for maybe some antagonism between Laura and Dr. Cirko –but that all felt very cartoonish.

The other thing is, based on the trailer at the end of the episode where they show what will happen on the “upcoming weeks” of Surface, it seems like they’re giving up the ghost far too soon. They reveal government conspiracy, a new and unusual life form that continues to crop up everywhere, but where does it all lead to? This is the sort of show that makes me wonder ----did the creators really think about where they might go with this if the show actually lasted more than a few episodes? I had a hard time seeing any sort of potential for longevity with this show.

I’m not writing it off completely of course. I have it in my TiVo Season Passes for now. I’ll give it a couple more weeks to see where it goes. My hopes aren’t too high for it though. I’m hoping Invasion and Threshold will be better.

Well, here’s to hoping….

Monday, September 19, 2005

EMMY Vindication: LOST doesn't LOSE

I'd like to give a shout out and congratulations to LOST for taking home the Emmy for best drama, and best directing last night. It was nice that both Naveen Andrews and Terry O'Quinn were nominated for best supporting actor, and I think O'Quinn does a phenomenal job on the show, but I can't complain too much about William Shatner taking home the prize. (How insanely bizarre was his rendition of the Star Trek theme song with the professional opera singer? I did love the footage of Original Series flashing in the background though...)

LOST creators, J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof and Jeffrey Lieber must be thrilled at this honor and I am thrilled for them. Silly as it might sound when TV and movies that I respect and love are honored in venues like these, it feels like a personal victory for me. In the same way that people root for their favorite sports teams, and laugh and cry with their wins and losses, --I too get a little emotionally swept up in the successes of those that I admire. Sure winning isn't everything, and awards don't always reward those who deserve it. But no one can deny the excitement of looking at your "home team" or in my case favorite writer or director, as they hold up a golden trophy.

I really do think LOST is one of the more unique shows to come out of TV in a while. When its at its best, I think it eclipses anything I've seen on TV in the last five or six years. It espouses the ideals of science fiction at its best. Fusing together mysterious and extraordinary elements (polar bears, invisible monsters, pirate ships washed ashore) with an intriguing cast of characters whose secrets have been slowly revealed to us. It creates dramatic and moving human moments interwoven thematically with exciting adventures. What more could you ask from a TV show??

I hope that this show continues to grow, and that its success only emboldens its creators to push new creative limits. As the new season picks up this Wednesday, I look forward to discovering more about the secrets of the island, the survivors....and maybe, just maybe...a little bit of the mysteries within ourselves.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Holy Hogwarts! The Goblet of Fire Trailer has landed.

After the terrific teaser that came out this spring for Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, I didn't think that I could get anymore excited for the release of the fourth film in this series.

But of course, I was wrong. The full length trailer came out yesterday, and as is typical of me, I have sat and marveled in front of my computer screen, having watched it several times at this point.

In terms of my favorite books in the Harry Potter series, it has always been a toss up for me between the third book, The Prisoner of Azkaban, and the fourth book, The Goblet of fire. The third film was my favorite of the series by far, and from everything that I've seen of the fourth film, I have a feeling that a dilemma of favorites will arise as it did with the books.

The Harry Potter films have had to deal with the challenging fact that each of the books has the same setting for the majority of the story - the Hogwarts School of witchcraft and wizardry. In most other trilogies or series that I can think of, the locale always changes, whether we're talking about going from the Shire to Mordor in LOTR, or India to Venice in the Indiana Jones movies. The Harry Potter films have had to struggle against becoming monotonous and boring because they don't get the luxury of moving locations. They must bring forth new visual interpretations each time of the same surroundings. That's why I think its actually fortunate that after the second film, Chris Columbus stepped aside, and the producers decided to have a different director for each film. Though I've only seen one film from a another director (Alfonso Cuaron) so far, I think it will continue to breath new life and creativity into the series. (By the way, I think Chris Columbus gets a bad rap, I think he did a lot with starting the series, and I am happy to know he remains a producer on all the films).

The good thing about the story of Goblet of Fire, is that much of it revolves around the Tri-Wizard tournament, whose competitive events, allowed one to get yet another view of the land and property surrounding Hogwarts. I think the new film will benefit from this a lot, and continue to spin the series into new and interesting places. I think the visuals look fantastic, I love the shot of the ship bounding through the water, the red capes swirling as the students dance around the ice and snow laden hall, and the low angle of the enormous looming grandfather clock on the side of the school. The more I think about it, the more I just love the idea of these different directors coming in and having to use certain production design elements and characters that have already been in place, but being able to add their own takes on things, and touches as well. Director Mike Newell has a diverse body of work under his belt, having directed romantic comedies like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pushing Tin, and Mona Lisa Smile, as well as the darker Donnie Brasco and some work for BBC TV productions. He wouldn't have been my first guess as to who would have been chosen to direct this film, but then again neither was Alfonso Cuaron and his installment turned out fantastically. As I said before, what I've seen looks great so far, and I'm both curious and eager to see Newell's take on the series and the characters in their entirety.

Uh, can we say light saber much?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

In Memoriam

Robert Wise 1914 - 2005

As I lay in bed this morning listening to my alarm clock radio crackle with the sounds of NPR, I was very saddened to hear that film director Robert Wise, passed away last night.

Wise is probably best known for directing West Side Story and The Sound of Music, but he worked on a wide variety of other films in his life, spanning over four decades. I had a friend in college who teased me saying Robert Wise was my director made in heaven, because not only did he do musicals, but he did SCI_FI as well! Wise directed the first feature length Star Trek film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as well the 1950's classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still, which I believe is one of the smartest, best sci-fi pictures of that era.

No genre was too daunting for Wise, he tackled Horror, directing the original '63 version of The Haunting, and Film Noir (The House of Telegraph Hill). In fact when reviewing his resume , there doesn't seem to be any genre from which he strayed, having done Comedy and Drama as well.

Wise had the sort of amazing start to his career that typifies our romanticized vision of the early golden days of Hollywood. A college drop out, he moved here to pursue his dreams, and got his first job carting reels of film around RKO studios. A staff editor took Wise under his wing, and taught him the craft of editing. After only a couple years, Wise found himself working with Orson Welles, editing Citizen Kane, and later The Magnificent Ambersons.

I have an enormous amount of respect for Robert Wise, not only because I think he did wonderfully creative work, and was a very talented director, but because he refused to let himself be pigeonholed by an industry that loves to categorize. Wise faced critics along the way who said his varied choice of projects just reflected a lack of artistic style, but Wise protested, insisting he enjoyed putting his own spin on the conventions of whatever genre he was working within. I admire this streak of independent spirit, his creative passions knew no boundries.

Thank you Robert. For leaving behind a legacy of films for us to treasure. You will not be forgotten.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Legalese & Lucifer: The New Yorker finds The Exorcism of Emily Rose a mixed bag

Like many other Americans this weekend, I went to see the Exorcism of Emily Rose. The trailer for this film was one of the scariest I'd seen in a long time. In fact I remember when it first started making the rounds, I would hear people joking about how the trailer for Emily Rose was scarier than any moment in the whole film of Dark Water. (The Trailer was running in front of Dark Water)

The trailer is undeniably creepy; the sound design, with the demonic rattling laughter in stereo, peoples' eyes dissolve into holes of dripping black soot, and the terrible agonized facial contortions of possessed Emily Rose were enough to make anyone jump in their seat. For a minute there it seemed like TEOEM (The Exorcism of Emiliy Rose) was going to be the best "devil" movie since The Exorcist.

But like many other movies these days, TEOEM did not exactly deliver on what it advertised. I imagine anyone who saw that trailer was going in a damn scary horror movie. But that's not what it was. In theory, what TEOEM strove to accomplish was interesting; a fusing of the courtroom drama and horror genres. While I always applaud film maker's efforts to try something new or unusual and defy genre conventions, the film's execution did not allow for the most creative or unique outcome of the story.

The actual events that took place upon which this movie is based, occurred in the 1970's. As far as i can remember the film never once stated what date it was, but somehow managed to capture a 70's feel, while seemingly taking place in the present. Laura Linney wore finely tailored modern suits instead of outlandish bell bottoms and peasant blouses, and her associate had a cell phone, but her apartment was decorated in 70's furniture and her alarm clock looked like an antique of a couple decades ago. These subtle nods in both the production design and the costuming that made it a bit ambiguous as to when it was taking place, and added an interesting touch. In fact the entire film looked good, it was shoot adroitly, and the lighting was cool, contributing to that whole 70's affect with mod-ish color schemes in the background incorporating mauve and aqua backlighting. Emily's transformation was quite disturbing, and the visual effects that were implemented blended in nice with her performance, and were not over the top. Performances all around were good. I thought Laura Linney did solid work as always, as did Tom Wilkinson, despite the barriers of his role.

In many ways, TEOEM was like a dolled up version of a compelling Law and Order episode. While I don't much follow Law and Order anymore, I was a big fan of the show in its early years. An elemental part of that series (or at least what it used to be) was that each episode primarily revolved around whatever criminal case was at hand. There weren't really many episodes that focused on the individual characters, and certainly not in terms of their personal lives. It had a sort of cold, removed feeling to it --which worked perfectly with the crime genre. But because you got to watch the characters week in and week out, one was able, over time, to develop a sense of what kind of people the main characters were, and appreicate those small moments exchange between the series regulars. This made the show truly worthwhile.

The problem with TEOEM was that in many ways it mirrored the tone and format of a TV cop/law drama. When the movie begins, we are quickly introduced to Laura Linney's character, Erin Bruner, a tough cookie criminal defense lawyer, who is still riding off the high of a recent victory. As she savors her martini at a posh bar full of professionals, her boss approaches Erin and tells her about the Emily Rose case. Father Moore (played by Tom Wilkinson) is a Catholic priest who has been accused of negligent homicide, the DA stating the case that he was responsible for Emily Rose's death. The archdiocese of the Catholic church is all up in a tizzy because they don't want bad publicity from the trial about one of their own performing a demonic exorcism. Erin and her boss come to an agreement that if takes and wins the case on behalf of Father Moore, then she will be offered a partnership at her law firm.

But instead of spending much time developing either Erin or Father Moore's character --the film jumps pretty quickly to requisite exposition, some of which felt a bit labored and procedural. Shortly after the scene at the bar, Erin meets Father Moore in his jail cell, who comes off sounding like a crazy old coot with his talk about demons and the dark side. She doesn't seem particularly disturbed by his talk of the supernatural and tells him outright that the only reason she took this case was because if she won it she would make partner. At this point in the film we have established that Erin Bruner is a tough as nails hard ass lawyer who is a workaholic, with potentially alcoholic tendencies. Father Moore is a humble but resolute man who refuses to agree to a plea bargin because of his commitment to telling Emily Rose's story the way it was meant to be told, (his innocence in the case appears to be a secondary issue). In addition to Erin and Moore, we get a small glimpse to Emily's past life, when Erin makes a stop at the Rose home. There, she learns from Emily's mother what a nice, religious, young girl she was. Emily had been attending a University, where she was studying to be a teacher, for only a short while, before her "possession" began.

But while we learn all these things about the three main characters, within the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the movie, around whom the film revolves, we don't really ever learn much more. The story of Emily Rose is told throughout the progression of Father Moore's trial. People's testimonies turn into flashbacks that depict what happened to Emily. Interspersed between the courtroom scenes and the flashbacks are investigative scenes where Erin is questioning potential witnesses or doing work on the case. Overall there are very few scenes spent on the actual characters in this film. Most everything just seems to be done for the sake of the plot. But a plot without rich and fleshed out characters isn't very compelling. In particular, since TEOEM was not a traditional horror film, and could not get by on the merits of scares and gore alone, there needed to be some sort of emotional lynchpin, that exists in all successful dramas to drive it.

According to the DA, Father Moore was on trial because he convinced Emily to discontinue her medical treatment for her mental and physical state, and instead focus on a path of religious and spiritual healing that would rid her of these demons. The DA argued that Emily suffered from epilespy and psychosis, and could have lived and improved from her ailments if she continued on her course of medications. Throughout the trial, both Father Moore and Erin kept iterating how much Moore cared for Emily, and how he was with her until the final hour. But we did not see any of this. In fact Father Moore's character on the whole struck me as fairly stock and generic. The film was obviously trying to portray him in a positive light, but so truly little about him was exposed throughout the course of the film. How can the audience root for someone that they don't know? Never once in the film did he talk about his own personal feelings or thoughts, save for his singular desire to tell "Emily's Story". Nothing else seemed to matter much to him. While he embodies the charitable, humble and selfless qualities that one would expect from a man of the cloth, I wanted to know about Moore's personal relationship with God. I wanted to know about how scared he was when he saw "the dark figure" of the devil appear to him when he became involved in helping Emily. I want to know more about his possible feelings of failure that he might have had about not being able to perform a successful exorcism on Emily. Unfortunately we don't get to see any of this. The only scene that we do get to see between Father Moore and Emily are when she is completely under the control of the demons, lashing out violently at him. Particularly, because of the ultimate message of the film, I think it would have been beneficial for the film to include scenes where Father Moore and Emily interact when she is herself.

I feel somewhat similarly about Laura Linney's character, Erin Bruner, there were a couple of neat moments in the film that painted detail into her narrative portrait, but I thought they could have gone even further in developing her character.

We know that Erin is a lawyer who throws herself into her work, yet on the first couple days of trial she seems ill prepared in the courtroom. There were snippets shown of Erin's cursory note taking, seeming more interested in sipping her wine and staring off into space. These moments (for instance), could have been used to build upon the idea that perhaps she was actually a slacker despite her apparent hard earned success. But it didn't. There are also couple of tense sequences that take place in Erin's apartment when she wakes up at 3 AM (apparently also known as the devil's witching hour) which were suspenseful and creepy, but could have been used more to show how Erin's mentality was shifting. Erin's character starts out in the film as an agnostic who doesn't really believe anything unless it has a solid foundation of proof and evidence under it --but she ends up as someone who believes in the power of the faith and the possibility of the unknown. While I think this was a perfectly logical arc for this character in this film (hey, at least she had an arc unlike Father Moore), her transition from a woman of little faith to a believer seemed abrupt. There is a scene in the film where her and Father Moore are sitting in his jail cell. Moore asks her if she remembers him warning her about the "dark forces" that surround this case. She nods at him with the sort of look as if to say "right...dark forces...whatever you say...". But then her mood suddenly changes and she moves over to sit on the cot with him for an earnest heart to heart. What she tells him, I actually found to be very poignant, and it was probably one of my favorite moments of the film. She begins telling Father Moore about something that happened to her the other day, and as she tells him, the film shows a flashback of the incident, where she is walking in the snow and cold and finds a locket on the ground. The locket that she finds has her exact three initials on it. Erin tells Father Moore, that she felt as if it were beyond a coincidence and it felt like a sign to her, that she was exactly where she was supposed to be in her life at that moment. There was something about that idea that I really liked and struck me. I thought this scene captured the essence of the film, but I wish it hadn't been book ended so sloppily, and had been given time to breath instead of having it shuffled along by the constant (and at times tedious) pace of the film. There was another moment too where Erin is at her favorite bar, and she sees some disturbing developments on the evening news. The man that she had defended in her most recent case, who she had gotten acquitted of murder charges, had just been arrested for killing a couple. We see in her face for a moment, Erin's "own demons" that haunt her --and the moral conflict that follows her line of work. I really wish that the film had cultivated more moments like these, because when a film can intertwine and connect the thematic underpinnings of characters emotional moments, it really goes to the next level.

The mantra of the film seemed to revolve around telling the true story of what happened to Emily. (It is also the official tagline of the film) But in the end, I don't think anything that shocking or astounding was revealed. Father Moore specifically says at one point that not only does he wish to share the details of Emily's experience with the world, but also to specifically explain why this happened to Emily. But at the end of the day I didn't feel satisfied with the answer to why she was.

Towards the very end of the film Erin brings into evidence a letter that Emily had written to Father Moore the day after he performed the failed exorcism. In this letter, Emily writes of a vision that she had, where she fell out of her possessed body, and her whole spirit communed with the Virgin Mother. Emily was told by Mary that she could leave her earthly body behind and cast off her suffering as her spirit went to heaven. Or she could stay in her body, and ride out the pain, and in this way prove to people that demons do exist --and that if demons exist, then so does God. Emily chose to sacrifice herself so that all could see that the Spiritual world is very real and not imaginary. While I can buy a certain amount of the fact that Emily was just an innocent who was chosen at random, as either a work of God (or the devil), I wanted to see at least a little speculation about why it was her who was so specifically targeted. They talked about her going in and out of herself while she struggled with these possessions, but almost every single scene with her in it, was her either being tortured by the demons, or being controlled by them. I would have liked to see more scenes of Emily as herself, witnessing her and her faith. Naturally, it was horrible to watch her being ravaged by the demons, but it would have been even more powerful if we knew more about the person she truly was.

I kept waiting for some huge twist or secret to be unraveled in this film. I suppose the big "reveal" was that Emily was taken to prove to the world that God exists --but that seems almost too grand in scope to really comprehend or relate too. I also felt the film was in part deflated at the end because of the strange verdict settled on by the jury in the case. I don't know what the actual verdict was that the Catholic priest received in real life, but the jury finding Father Moore guilty and then recommending time served as a sentence was a little too pat and neat. At the very end we learn that Father Moore must leave his parish, and Erin will leave her law firm, each of them to begin a new phase in life's journey. But I felt a little underwhelmed by the journey that I had just seen on screen. Because after all is said and done this film is a drama about spirituality and personal faith, personal being the key word. But you can't have a film about those things without getting a real sense of the people that you are watching on screen; I mean really getting a sense of their spirit and soul --not just a brief glimpse here and there. I think this film had potential, but ultimately I think its resonance was diminished by a lack of "human" moments with its central characters. When you only have two hours to present your story, you can't afford to play the cold shoulder too much with your audience ---like some TV can.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

In Memoriam....

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Ah, Terry Gilliam, my poor Terry Gilliam

I saw The Brothers Grimm a couple days ago, and to my chagrin, it was not as muddled and painful as I feared it would be. It was worse.

Another one of Gilliam's productions which had become mired in Hollywood red tape and bad luck, this project has been kicking around for a while. I think the worst part of watching this movie is that hints of true Gilliam humor and sensibility were detectable, but were smothered by poor editing, an inconsistent script, and lack of funds.

The plot of the film is fairly simple (or is it?) --two brothers, Jake and Will Grimm (played respectively by Heath Ledger and Matt Damon) travel from town to town in Europe, making their fortune by swindling people. With a little help from "Team Grimm", (a couple of traveling performers) they manufacture ghosts, ghouls, and witches to frighten townspeople, only so they can then swoop in and save the day, --for a modest monetary fee of course. Early on the brothers are kidnapped by the French Army, (who occupy Germany at the time --its the late 1700's) and forced to discover and destryo the supernatural force causing unrest in a small German village.

Part of the problem with this film resides in the desire to cram in too many storylines and ideas, which resulted in a lack of thematic clarity. Is this a historical film about the politics of the late eighteenth century and the brash mindless and chaos of occupation? A remark on how different European cultures were often thrust together for comic effect? Or is it a fairy tale about a village terrorized by a monstrous and vein Queen? Perhaps a story about two brothers who learn that witches really do exist, and that true love can conquer all?

To begin with, there are too many bad guys. One of the villains in the film is French General Delatombe, portrayed by an old Gilliam veteran, Johnathan Pryce. Delatombe had little tolerance for the German food he was served to eat, and even less for the German people under his control. His right hand man, Cavaldi, played by the ham-alicious Peter Stormare, was an Italian with a bad toupe that was forced to serve in the French military. Though Cavaldi eventually changes his loyalties at the very end of the film(though exactly why, remains unclear), both he and Delatombe serve to provide a dramatic conflict to main protagonists: Brothers Grimm. Gilliam has often poked fun at government and politics in his films(namely Brazil), but if he was trying to make any statement here, it became muddied and mindless in the translation. There were several sequences in the film where we see the French storming the German Village, holding villages hostage, and torturing them. One can't help but scratch their head and ask why or at the very least, what is the importance of this? Particularly, why the French should care so much about the girl being kidnapped in the German village in the first place. The reason that they wanted to quell general discontent, and therefore can only rely on the Brothers Grimm to help them with their ghostly problem, doesn't fly. The movie vacillates between scenes with the French and the primary story regarding the mystery of the forest and the creature that lives in it and kidnaps the young girls who live in the village. There is the creature/wolf in the woods, the Mirror Queen ( played by Monica Belluci and is only in the film for about ten minutes), The French General, and his mercenary lieutenant, a crazy Italian. Perhaps if the story was about the Brothers Grimm, and focused on their work as con artists, and somehow juxtaposed this with the geopolitical climate of the time that would be one thing. If it was just a fantasy fairy tell without a grounding in European history, that followed the adventures of the Brothers Grimm as they fought against the forces of evil that would be another. But the melding of these two concepts....

One of the many plotlines in the film revolved around the female romantic lead, Angelika, (played by unknown Lena Headey). Angelika wins the heart of Jake (Heath Ledger), yet engages with Jack in Beatrice and Benedict type discourse. A resident in the German village, her two young sisters and father had vanished in the last few months, victims of the forest. While Headey did the best she could given the circumstances, her character was a mess if ever one was written. One minute she was in a masculine Davy Crockett getup, skinning rabbits, and refusing to help the Bros Grimm through the forest, --the next she was a damsel in distress in a white nightgown begging for their help. There seemed to be only these two extremes at the hand of screenwriter Ehren Kruger, who I now believe to be is a hack screenwriter who did one good movie, instead of a good screenwriter who's done a couple stinkers. This year has not been a good one for him between The Ring 2, The Skeleton Key, and now Brothers Grimm. Yikes. While it seemed like Kruger wanted to create a love triangle between Angelika and the Brothers Grimm, there were not enough small moments between her and each of the boys to sell us on the fact she might actually like both of them, for different reasons. The way it came across she just seemed happy and ready to kiss whoever was around, with indifference riding high on her list of motivations.

Now, I love watching film about the supernatural and the improbable, and naturally in these genre pieces you get ideas and concepts that on their own might seem ridiculous, but within the constraints of the film, work, because the writer and director create a world in which it is believable that this could/would happen. Sci-fi, Fantasy, and Horror films that create rules and logic within the framework of their story are far better than those that don't. Brothers Grimm was a prime example of a garbled inconsistencies, that channeled at times the ill begotten Van Helsing. In addition to the socio-political havoc going on inside the village, there are the bevy of plot elements generated from the forest and the mysterious Mirror Queen. There is the wolf like creature that is absconding with the villages young girls. The wolf, it seems, also has the power to shape-shift into different things, including a swarm of insects, that posess a horse at one point, and a tar baby that is supposed to invoke the gingerbread man. Of course, its not clear that it is the wolf transforming into all these things --it could also be the general evil spawned by the Queen's spirit. Oh, and that's another thing, is the Queen alive or dead? What is the deal with her curse? We learn at some point that the Mirror Queen was a vain and beautiful woman who hid away in the tower in the forest as the plague ravaged those around her. That is of course until disease touches her, and her flesh rots away. But does she die? It's unclear. We see her five hundred year old corpse laying on her bed. Apparently she has been able to conjure up a spell that gives her eternal life. But not eternal youth. So she seeks to capture twelve young girls, whose blood she can drink so she can complete the spell to regain her former beauty. But things only get more complicated from here -- there seems to be more involved then just the blood, she also needs to kiss someone, and apparently the twelves girls don't need to all be twelve little girls because Angelika (a grown woman) is used at the end to complete her spell. Turns out Angelika's MIA father was the wolf creature all along, enslaved to the Mirror Queen by some sort of enchanted metal badge. Oh its all just a big mess.

To me one of the most surprising things about the movie was the lack of visuals. Gilliam at his best, is a director who works closely with his production designers and cinematographers to conceive completely stylized and minutely detailed worlds. Brothers Grimm looked predominantly slapdash, in both the way it was shot and the way it looked. The primary reason for this appeared to be budgetary restrictions, and it is well known that the production did have trouble with its financial backing from the beginning, being dropped by MGM, and reigned in by the Weinstein's at Dimension. The film switched cinematographers half way through and I got a strong sense that they did a lot of reshoots as well. Sure there were some cool effects or shots scattered in the mix. They did some neat things with the Mirror Queen who appeared old and decrepit in person, but had a young and sumptuous reflection in the mirror. Portions of scenes were played out in the mirror while characters watched unmoving from the other side, and in the end when the mirror is shattered we see her fractions of her image on every little fragment. However, overall, the film lacked Gilliams' original touch. I suppose the idea is that the German village was meant to be bleak and blah, and it was, but it lacked any sort of unique style, or dark gothic elements that it could have had. The forest just looked It should have been more ominous than it was, and it could have benefitted from some digital enhancements to create a fuller landscape. What visual FX were in the film, were pretty mediocre. The original Brothers Grimm tales are often dark and gruesome, and the film should have had a look that reflected their sinister imagination, but sadly it did not.

I felt bad for the actors in this film. There were many talented folk in the cast, and it seemed as though everyone was trying to have fun and do their best. Damon brought a light hearted trampiness to his role, and Ledger endearingly cast aside his stud status to play Jake Grimm as a scruffy bespectacled scholar. Though going over the top at times, Peter Stormare had some funny moments in the depths of his ridiculous character, as did Jonathan Pryce. Mackenzie Crook, of Office fame, had a small supporting role that he did the best he could with, but overall was wildly underused. It seemed to me like most of the performances in this film suffered from poor editing, and a lacking script.

I find myself wondering what went wrong with this film. The director was there. The cast was there. The concept was there. The Brothers Grimm crafted some of the most imaginative and well known fairy tales ever. A film based around their adventures, and how they came to be writers is quite intriguing. Seems like a big part of the problem came from the execution of the story and the way it was all put together. Among one of the many inconsistencies that the film had, were the attempts to sloppily weave in elements found in actual Brother's Grimm fairy tales. It had Little Red Riding Hood, and the Mirror Queen was both a precursor to the vein witch of Snow White and Rapunzel, but the script also veered off into other stories which the Grimm did not even write, like The Gingerbread Man, as well as general fairy tale tropes like the magical power of a kiss of true love. It would have been really interesting to see the fully realized potential of a film that cleverly wove together many Grimm tales, instead of just having a couple obvious markers thrown in for good measure.

I think this is just one of those films that got off on the wrong foot and probably never found the right one. If only some brave figure could have lifted the curse off this production by giving it a big smooch or battling a great dragon. I guess even famous and talented directors need a knight in shining armor every once in a while.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Into the West: Space, the final Frontier

This weekend, I finally decided to bite the bullet, and make my way through TNT’s miniseries Into The West, which aired earlier this summer. This twelve hour western themed mini-series depicts, in broad strokes, the development of the American West throughout the nineteenth century (approx. from 1814-1880’s). Among its many interwoven stories, it follows primarily two stories: the legacy of an extended family of settlers, The Wheelers, and a tribe of Laconte Native Americans. Now twelve hours is a really long time to invest into something, and I’ll confess upfront that I haven’t watched the final two hour installment yet, and I gainfully employed the TiVo fast forward button on more than one occasion. I TiVoed Into the West, primarily because Steven Spielberg was the executive producer on it, and I watch anything he touches. But besides Spielberg’s involvement, there is a part of me that has a definite soft spot for westerns. My grandfather was a huge fan of the genre, and I remember watching many of the older classics with him – High Noon, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Stage Coach, Red River, Four Faces West, Duel in the Sun, and my personal favorite, The Searchers.

Into The West suffered a bit from some of the problems that has plagued many of these recent TV miniseries. There are an overwhelming amount of characters and storylines, some of which end up fading away, without ever being resolved or finding resolution. With these massive stories, continuity becomes a problem when there is not enough time to flesh out each individual character and story. In particular, Into The West made an annoying casting choice to “age up” certain characters as the miniseries progressed. So most characters had at least two, if not three, different actors portraying them throughout the duration of the series. But despite these weaknesses, I found enough redeeming elements to stick with it through its many hours. The fact that the storylines grew out of the same families, made them more manageable to follow. While at times I found myself wishing for a genealogy tree of the Wheelers, it was easier to draw clear connections between a lot of these characters, simply because you knew who they were related to and what their origins were. The creators of the miniseries did achieve some poignant moments and striking symmetry between some of the characters. They succeeded in keeping the romantic elements of the old west, without actually romanticizing. It was shot to show the beauty of the west, and the main characters possessed that “pioneering” spirit, but the series also showed the brutality of it – all the racism, sexism, greed and violence that was rampant in the west. Despite all of the injustice and the cruelty, the thematic undercurrent maintained a burning spark of hope and possibility. I think this is what I liked most about it. I was reminded not only of how fond I am of a good Western, but of all the parallels between the Western and the Science Fiction genres.

One of the things that Into the West succeeded in establishing was the burgeoning multiculturalism of the “old west”. There were the English speaking settlers who had already been Americans for a couple of generations. There were the Native Americans, with different tribal groups scattered all over the continental U.S. There were the African Americans who had somehow escaped slavery and were seeking out new livelihoods. There were the Spaniards who controlled Mexico and California. There were the Chinese Americans who had emigrated to the west coast, and helped build the Union Pacific railroad. There were so many different languages and cultural customs thrown into the mix together, I’m sure any one of those groups would have loved to get their hands on a universal translator. Everyone had a great deal of fear and resentment harbored against these other “alien” people, on all sides of the map. The cultural gaps between these groups were so great at times they might as well have been from other planets.

If you’re out west and something happens to your horse, then you’re…well….screwed. Without a horse to pull your wagon or ride, you’re left stranded and vulnerable –unable to get anywhere, and left open to the dangers of the wilderness. A cowboy builds a special relationship with his horse, in many ways, it is his best friend and companion –his partner. In space, a man’s space ship is like his horse – Han Solo wouldn’t go anywhere without his Millennium Falcon if he could help it. He counted on his ship to bring him to safety, and get him through battle, like an old reliable horse.

Depending on which fictional sci-fi universe you’re residing in, the political situation may be anywhere from highly volatile, to fairly stable. But no matter where you are, you can always count on some planet in far outer rims of the universe to which the standard laws and rules do not apply. In essence –the old west. Even as American settlers began to spread widely throughout the western part of North America, there always seemed to be pockets of the west that were not under the jurisdiction of the United States government. Places where other nations were in control, or where, perhaps, no one was in control at all.

The glory of the old west resided in the vastness of space that surrounded you as you rode out onto the plains and into the sunset. The mountains, the rivers, the forests and the deserts, all seemed endlessly expansive and enveloping. Much like ….space, the final frontier. Of course, history tells us how the Old West ended up. We now have every inch of this country pretty much mapped out. We can punch in an address anywhere in the U.S. into Google Maps and look at a satellite photo of the location. With the exception of our national parks, and some lightly populated areas here and there, we do not have much wilderness left in our country. It seems as though, the entire globe lacks the sense of mystery and unknown that it once had. The number of unexplored and unmapped havens are small and shrinking all the time.

So it seems only natural that space would be our next step. And for the past four decades or so we have breached into that next arena of exploration. Like the figurative old west, in outer space, there are no boundries –only wide open space. In farthest reaches of our imagination we ponder, unbridled, what adventure we might find tucked away in the most remote corners of the universe.

I follow the space program somewhat closely. I watched the successful launch of Discovery in late July and keep tabs on the Mars Rover. It’s also no secret that I have a deep love of science fiction stories. I think that’s why I feel an affection for the western. Whether I’m watching Captain Kirk command the enterprise off into the depths of space, or John Wayne ride off into the sunset of a vast dusty desert, I am filled with a sense of excitement and possibility.

Not only is space, my current day version of the west, but it is a chance to correct all the wrongs that were made in the bloody battles of manifest destiny. In space we can idealize the way that things would go down with heightened knowledge, intelligence and technology. But besides learning from history and the mistakes that were made, I think that mentally speaking –we all need a “west”. A distant foreign locale, an undiscovered country, for which we can imagine, and explore. How boring would it be, if we held a complete and finite understanding of all space and time as we knew it? Without something to foster the yearnings of adventure and exploration our spirits would be dampened. At least I know mine would.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The New Yorker Wraps Up the Summer

And so it is....

September 1st. Not the official end of summer (which is September 21st) but in my mind once August trickles by the party is over.

I suppose we still have Labor Day Weekend ahead of us, to cram in the last minute beach and pool time, or if you're me, your last gluttony of the Hollywood summer fare.

I still need to see The Brothers Grimm and The Cave --but other than that, I've basically seen every major summer release that I wanted to see. Not much comes out this weekend. There's the Constant Gardner, directed by Fernando Meirelles, who gained global notoriety with his 2003 release City of God. Though embarassingly enough, I still haven't seen that film, I always hear amazing things about it. I'm sure The Constant Gardner is adeptly crafted, but the trailer strikes me as one of those films where you know what is going to happen at the end of the movie within the first five minutes. Part of this might be the fault of the trailer, which seems to expose a great deal of the plot.

There's also The Transporter 2, but I never saw the first Transporter, so I don't have much incentive to see that either.

Somehow I can't help wonder to myself where the summer has gone? Seems like only yesterday I was blogging about my favorite time of year in movies, and yet quicker than you can say, a large popcorn, redvines and a pepsi, its passed me by. Well there were some big names this summer. Most monumentally was Star Wars of course, Revenge of the Sith, with the weight of Atlas on its shoulders, a remarkable work of visual achievement threaded with stark emotionalism but unable to clear up some thematically muddy elements . I really do still feel the same way I did after seeing the movie...Thank God its all over. Yes its sad, but those characters in a galaxy far, far, away needed to be laid to rest. I enjoyed it, and though flawed, it did not disappoint me,-- but thank God Lucas has to move on.

Chris Nolan's Batman was an awesome comic book blowout. To resuscitate the Batman franchise after such a torturous demise was no small feat. I still can't say that he eclipsed Tim Burton's work, but he certainly created an entire new mythical landscape of his own. One with emotion and darkness and daring. It was fantastic.

Ah yes Tim Burton, ironic that the same summer his trademark franchise got a huge makeover, he makes his best film in over a decade. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had some story problems no doubt, and there were some awkward scenes in the third act. But overall I thought it was Burton shining at his best, alot of deliciously dark, loopy, and as always artfully designed stuff. No one could ever really compete with Gene Wilder's Wonka, but overall I think the new film surpassed the old one, and I think Depp put in a great performance.

As for War of the Worlds, well, I really enjoyed it for what it was. In my mind Spielberg remains a master at being able to engage his audience at whatever he decides to show them. From the moment the cloudy skies began to swarm over the New Jersey neighborhood, till the credits began to roll up the screen, I was completely captivated.

Let's see, what else was there... Sky High? Thought it was great. Fantastic Four? Awful. Skeleton Key? Totally average. Red Eye? Completely forgettable. Dark Water? For me Dark Water was a (if inconsistent) homage to the days of pyschological thrillers gone by. Though I never reviewed them on the site, I thought Wedding Crashers and 40 Year Old Virgin were entertaining and funny, I just wish they had both cut out some of the mushiness.

Some people hanker for the fall season all year, because its "award show" season. But I love the time of year when movies about space cowboys, chocolate factories, aliens, and men who dress up as bats can come out all within days of each other. The upcoming weeks have some interesting fair though. The trailer for The Exorcism of Emily Rose is in and of itself scarier than any horror movie I've seen in awhile. I'm even intrigued by Cry Wolf, whose trailer shows a killer cleverly using AOL instant messenger to their advantage (that one was a long time coming if you ask me). Further out on the horizon is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe --both of which keep my hopes buoyed.

LOST is also returning, which I find myself very excited for --I hope the series producers don't think we're going to forget about finding out what's in that hatch! There are also are a bevy of new sci-fi/supernatural oriented shows airing on all of the major networks.

I have most of season two of Battlestar Galactica sitting on my TiVo, pending my viewing of season one (the first season comes out on DVD in a couple weeks.) So I have things to look forward to, TV and film to get excited about. I guess there's just a part of me that feels a little bit somber. Maybe its just the traditional end of summer blues. Maybe its all the tragic events of this past week. I just can't help but feeling like we could all use a little cheering up right now. And if you ask me nothing can do it better than a classic summer movie.

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