Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Lady in the what?

Well obviously I’m off my game, because I let eight whole days go by without commenting on one of the most perplexing trailers I’ve ever seen in my life, which I stumbled across while browsing the Apple trailers site .

You may recall several months ago, when I posted about M. Night Shyamalan’s new film, Lady in the Water, which according to Variety “concerns a building super who finds a sea nymph in his apartment building's pool.”

Cut to eight months later, the teaser is out! I’m somewhat speechless after watching it, in particular because of the emphatically large titles which say:


I mean it’s ridiculous, and a little pretentious to boot.

The teaser is cut to this melodramatic sappy, soppy, string filled music, and the images are mostly of Giamatti’s character, Cleveland Heap, walking around and doing his job in a sad and somber fashion. I can’t help but scratch my head wondering if I am supposed to be scared, touched, or laughing out loud.

Paul Giamatti is a terrific actor and I really enjoy the work that he’s done, but this doesn’t seem like a typical choice for him. Sure it’s by a reputable studio, and its directed by a successful and talented guy, but what interest could this plot possibly hold for….anyone?

Further research on the official website reveals the following information about the story:

In Lady in the Water, a story originally conceived by Shyamalan for his children, a modest building manager named Cleveland Heep rescues a mysterious young woman from danger and discovers she is actually a narf, a character from a bedtime story who is trying to make the treacherous journey from our world back to hers. Cleveland and his fellow tenants start to realize that they are also characters in this bedtime story. As Cleveland falls deeper and deeper in love with this woman, he works together with the tenants to protect his fragile new friend from the deadly creatures that reside in this fable and are determined to prevent her from returning home.

I was sort of hoping it’d turn out to be a horrifying creature who posseses his body and makes him kill the innocent children that frolic in the pool. Or something like that. Overall it stinks of a love story, and I can hear the audiences guffawing already as Giamatti holds this sickly green but beautiful woman in his arms, weeping as she tells him she must sacrifice their love to save her people at the bottom of the pool.

The exterior shot of the camera in the pool where we see Giamatti in his cottage and we see something move in the water, but we don’t see just what it is, is admittedly disturbing. But other than that I really don’t know how this will play out. Why the bedtime story element? Will this be Splash all over again? M. Night, what’s happened? The idea of the characters becoming aware that they are but players in a story that is already written could be kind of interesting, but I think if not executed properly could become more of a source of confusion than anything else.

Still, no matter what M. Night does, I always respect his work. I haven’t disliked any of his films to date, though I’ve enjoyed some much more than others. All in all, I say this, it’s still a heck of a strange marketing campaign.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Monster House: Creepy Cool

Thanksgiving slouch being over, I think its time for me to get back on the saddle and post some mofo’n blogs.

I begin this Black Monday, with a link to the delightful Monster House teaser courtesy of the sweet apple High Def trailers .

The 3-D animated film was produced by Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, and directed and co-written by newbie Gil Kenan. I was immediately taken by the unique animation style which was atmospheric and spooky, melding perfectly with the film’s mysterious subject matter. The teaser is framed with the movie trailer (also known as the “in a world….”) guy’s voice, who narrarates throughout with a sort of storybook sensibility, dropping phrases like “every town has a legend…” and “every street has a story…” The movie has the tone of an urban legend or ghost story that kids tell one another scare each other. Did you hear the one about the kid who’s parents left for a long weekend? He was stuck with a mean babysitter, and when he snuck across the street he was eaten by this old house!

The teaser felt like it was cut for a horror movie, but one that was told from a kid’s perspective, the animation serving to accentuate the imaginative and exagerrated elements of a child’s mind. That opening shot of the quiet suburban street in autumn, with the orange leaves dancing in the air and the parents pulling out of the driveway in a station wagon felt like some curious fusion of Speilberg and John Carpenter films from the 80’s.

The animation, which was done by Sony Imageworks, has a really different look to it, distinct from Pixar and Dreamworks both. If Tim Burton’s stop motion characters and the toys from Toy Story bred together, these characters would be their children. To me they look like wooden dolls come to life, and I like that their design is not too realistic (like the kids in the cringe inducing Polar Express), but maintain an artistic style, as animation should.

Interestingly enough, I actually heard a rumor that at one point the script was going to be done as a live action film, but then the producers/studios decided against it. Though I think it would have been captivating in that format, I am equally intrigued by it as an animation piece. I already feel the tittering butterflies in my stomach as I await a new slate of summer movies. Superman Returns. Monster House. It may be a grand summer yet.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thanksgiving notwithstanding, at last, the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire review

The book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, as I’ve discussed in previous postings, is probably the best suited plot-wise for a feature film format. In addition to Harry warding off minions of the evil Lord Voldemort and dealing with his orphanhood and near celebrity status, there is also the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Contests and challenges generally work well within the structure of a feature film, because there is a clear goal from the outset. It also helps in breaking a bit of the monotony of the books and films, whereby each chapter depicts “another year” at Hogwarts. This fourth book is unique in that it depicts the Tri-Wizard tournament, where wizards and witches from all over the world compete for the Goblet of Fire through a series of challenges. But beyond this there are several new characters, (the different student competitors in the tournament), as well as new thematic elements brought on by the encroaching adolescence of Harry and friends. For all intents and purposes, this Harry Potter film should have been the strongest of the lot, but unfortunately I can’t say it is so.

From the moment the film started, its pace was at a breakneck speed. Harry’s eerie nightmare, was followed by a brief scene with Harry, Hermione and Ron at the Weasleys, that went right into a fun sequence with the port-key (an inanimate object that transports wizards hither and thither). Before you knew it the whole family was suddenly at the Quidditch world championships. There was a magical tent that appeared small on the outside but was gargantuan on the inside, amazing light up projection screens in the Quidditch stadium that showed the different players. It was exciting and impressive, but a lot of the interior shots and close-ups were dimly lit, and between the fast edits and the handheld camera work I found my eyes straining a little, as I tried to see what was going on. From the beginning I was agog at the visual FX work of the film, but felt luke-warm about the camera work.

The first three books in the Harry Potter series range approximately between three to four hundred pages, Goblet of fire is seven hundred and thirty four pages long. The filmmakers of the fourth installment had to deal with almost twice the material of the first three. Now maybe it’s just because I’ve read all the books, but I thought this film had a sort of frenetic and bloated feel that the other three didn’t have. There just seemed to be too much information to put into the movie to begin with.

The efforts of the filmmakers to get the film “going” were evident, as there was only a snippet of a scene in the Hogwarts Express, leading right to the exciting scene in the grand dining hall, where the visiting students who would also vie for the Goblet of Fire, were introduced via striking processions into the hall.

But through all of this…there was something missing. Never before had Hogwarts looked more like an ordinary boarding school. It looked dark and dreary, the magical ceiling in the dining hall was barely alluded to, there were no ghosts walking through walls or flying over head (where on earth was Nearly Headless Nick), the painting of the fat lady who guarded Griffindor house wasn’t around, and the stairways were not plastered in paintings with subjects that wandered in and out of the frames. People have commented that this film was the darkest of the Harry films yet, and it was dark, but I found more so in its lighting and dark wooden walls. The other films, even those led by Chris Columbus, had a pulsating sense of magic throughout them. In particular Alfonso Cuaron’s direction of the last film, Prisoner of Azkaban, really gave the Hogwarts school and grounds a personality of their own. The school was itself, a character in the film, and this was missing from Goblet of Fire. The magical atmosphere seemed diminished not only by the dreariness of the school, but also because there were less teacher demonstrations and student hijinx. Mad Eye Moody had a couple of funny moments with his wand in class, and the Weasley twins had a funny outcome with their aging potion, but all these moments felt squashed by the larger beast of the film. It was almost as if director Mike Newell wanted to ground Goblet of Fire in a sense of reality. But these are stories about magic and wizards and witches; Harry Potter isn’t meant for a gritty, and real tone.

Tone aside, I thought the action set pieces in this film were fantastic. If the Quidditch World Cup sequences were impressive, the three tasks that comprised the Tri-Wizard tournament were astounding. The first challenge involved the contestants battling off a dragon to snag the gold egg under its protection. Harry’s attempt at grabbing the egg, as he hid away from the dragon and conjured up a broom was intense and suspenseful. The dragon looked quite convincing, and was terrifying as it took flight up after Harry who fled on his broom. The sequence where Harry is clinging to the roof of a building and the dragon is clawing off the tiling next to him was inventively executed and looked terrific. Though we knew that Harry could never perish, he really just made it by the seat of his pants. In fact one of the ways I thought the film succeeded, was in creating a sense of how much Harry was in over his head with this tournament. The casting of the other tournament participants Cedric, Krum and Fleur was perfect. All three definitely looked not only older and bigger, but far more confident and capable than Harry himself, which added to the excitement of it all.

The underwater task, the second of the three, was probably my favorite action sequence of the film. The dark lake looked both freezing and foreboding, and all of the underwater shots looked terrific. The merpeople were just the right combination of graceful and terrifying and their surrounding landscape was a beautiful murky mysterious place. Harry’s struggle to free both Fleur’s sister and Ron was great, as was his tousle with the nasty squid that resided in the lake. It was fascinating to think that the right there in the confines of Hogwarts was an entire world that existed under the surface of the lake.

The third and final task, the hedge maze that contained the Goblet of Fire itself also had an eerie and fantastical design to it. I like the misty gray overhead shot of the sprawling massive dark hedges and the sense of claustrophobic panic brought on by the narrow and shrinking passageways that the contestants had to push through.

Then of course there was the final and ultimate face-off, where Harry had to face Voldemort in human form (portrayed by a noseless Ralph Fiennes). I thought Voldemort in his fetus like state before he was dropped into the bubbling cauldron looked terrifying, and once fully humanoid, Fiennes played him with the appropriate sinister touch. Though I already knew that Volde would strike Cedric Diggory down dead, the moment felt so sudden and passed over that it lacked half the impact it had in the book. I liked the moment where the spirits of Harry’s parents come back to help him fight off Voldemort, and the battling red and blue wands were quite reminiscent of a light saber tete a tete.

It is sad when Harry returns with Cedric’s body, and Cedric’s father mourns him as does the rest of the school population. But I can’t help but feel that his death would have been much more monumental if we’d had gotten a chance to see and learn more about Cedric’s character throughout the film. In fact, (I encourage someone to correct me if I’m wrong) as I recall, Cedric was actually a present and somewhat prominent character in the three books that preceded the Goblet of Fire. When he was killed by Voldemort in the fourth installment of the books, it was all the more shocking and sad. While I recognize its impossible for the film to recreate exactly the sentiment in the books, I thought they could have afforded more time with Cedric. Robert Pattison, the actor who played Cedric gave a fresh-faced, level headed courage to the roll and there were even some nice glimpses of a friendly camaraderie between Harry and Cedric, but I wish there had been more. Of course, therein lies the Harry Potter conundrum, (which can much largely be categorized as the book to screen conundrum) there simply isn’t enough time to fit in everything that needs to be fit in. And the fact that the Harry Potter readership is so wide and prevalent has in some ways made these movies into visual companions of the books, instead of cinematic interpretations. J.K. Rowling has been heavily involved in the films, making sure that they stay true to their source material. But because the stories can not be significantly reworked for the sake of cinematic structure and pacing, the result is films which mirror the book, but have vital chunks missing because of the limitations on length. Even Prisoner of Azkaban, which I thought was terrific, and the strongest of the films, left out some important things, namely, the bit of information that made Harry’s apparition as a white stag all the more relevant. There is no reveal (as there was in the book) that Harry’s father would transform into a stag, when he used his powers as an Animangus. Harry’s manifestation as a stag on the edge of the lake is all the more moving with the paternal connection.

Four films into the series, I think I’ve finally realized that these films may not be completely satisfying on their own if you have not read the books; and there is something flawed about that. I thought this movie had a lot of strong points. FX wise it looked amazing, it had exciting action in it, there were some cute moments of adolescent awkwardness with our main characters. But I think it lacked the mechanism to embellish itself properly, and tried to cram in various tidbits to a numbing effect. While Mike Newell, is an established and accomplished director, I don’t think his style was for me; I didn’t like the way he used the camera, and the choices he made with his production designers. There was something routine about a lot of scenes in the film, in particular those that weren’t driven by a larger action sequence. Overall it was a good film, and I recommend it to anyone looking for an enjoyable couple hours of adventure. But for me, it lacked the heart and visual motifs of Cuaron’s Azkaban. All in all I guess I wish this film had had a little more fire in its goblet.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Superman Returns

Hey folks,

I’m feeling a bit sleepy after my midnight screening last night of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at Grauman’s Chinese theatre in Hollywood. I’ll be posting a review of the new HP soon enough, but before I do I couldn’t resist doing a brief blog on the new Superman Returns teaser , which I saw yesterday on the big screen in front of Goblet of Fire.

I only have two words to say.

Holy Cow.

For however much I may make fun of Bryan Singer and his pompous proclivities, I was completely blown away by this teaser. More than any other imagery I’ve seen of Singer’s vision of Superman, this teaser just perfectly encapsulated everything that is great and moving about the Superman mythology.

Granted, a lot of what gave me goosebumps while watching the trailer were remnants of the ’78 Richard Donner film. The momentous John Williams score, the sound of Marlon Brando’s voice as Jor-El narrating the images that flashed before my eyes. Strictly speaking from a trailer perspective, I thought this teaser was incredibly well done. But it was even more than that. Beyond the elegant style of the editing, with the building music and timing of Jor-El’s words, were the images themselves. The Kent farmhouse, Clark learning to fly, Superman meeting Lois Lane, The Daily Planet, a gaggle of perfectly symmetrically placed agog pedestrians, Superman shooting out into space. These are striking, iconic, and beautiful images. I can’t deny it, Singer is a true visual artist.

Even the words that Jor-El speaks, while some might argue are overly sentimental, fit so perfectly with the rest of the teaser, and stir up the emotions that reminds us why we love Superman so much in the first place. He gives us hope.

“They can be a great people Kalel, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I sent them you, my only son.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Zathura: Zany, Zealous….Zilch

Sometimes I want to smack myself in the head every time I get my hopes up for a movie. It seems that the lower my expectations are for a film, the more I’ll enjoy it.

Example: Jarhead, zero expectations. Result? Actually enjoyed myself.

Zathura: Fairly excited to see. Result? Discontent & disappointment.

Now, maybe I was a fool to think that this movie had a chance in heck of being good to begin with. It is after all, a bizarre conceptual sequel to the 1995 Jumanji, with an unpredictable director (Jon Favreau) and for the most part, starred unknowns. I loved Jumanji. I didn’t see it in theatres, but I remember having my wisdom teeth out when I was about sixteen and watching it on VHS over and over again. It just had this wonderfully magical feel to it, and I felt that I was transported to a strange house constantly morphing more and more into a jungle, right along with the children in the film. Though fantastical in its notion, the story had a logical throughline that could be followed, and both the kids and the adult Alan Parrish, each had their own different emotional stakes that were to be vindicated in the course of the movie. The writers of Jumanji were also aware, that no matter how much the house changed and altered its state, it would be folly to have the entire film take place in the confines of that house, and so both in the beginning and in the end, they took the adventure into the outside world.

Zathura on the other hand had none of these things. There was a deadening singularity of theme and purpose in the film, and the entire story took place in that one house. Sure the house itself was moving around the blackness of space, but there wasn’t enough diversity of images to create a true sense of travel in the film.

Danny and Walter are two brothers who just can’t get along. Walter is a ten year old in fourth grade who loves Sports Center and Brett Favre. Danny is a tentative six year old, trying to break out of the “baby” role, who unintentionally antagonizes his brother and father, played by a weary Tim Robbins. Walter is good at sports, but bad at waiting his turn. Danny has no physical coordination, but has a knack for things that require an imagination. They both drive ‘Dad’ nuts with their squabbling on a Saturday afternoon, when he has to focus on an impromptu conference call for work. You can guess the rest from here. Dad has to run out of the house unexpectedly, and he leaves Walter and Danny to their own devices. They start fighting, and Danny is chased into the basement where he discovers a dusty old board game ‘Zathura: a space adventure”. No sooner do they start to play it, then they suddenly become transported into outer space where they must survive meteor showers, killer robots, and carnivorous aliens.

Both the script and the direction were clearly homages to an 80’s Spielberg sci-fi extravaganza, but unfortunately, try as they might, the filmmakers could not capture an iota of the magic that courses through the veins of Spielberg’s films. Everything felt so fake and forced. The starry midnight blue sky peeking through the windows in every scene felt like cheap drapery hung over the set. The relationship between the brothers was so unsubtle and underdeveloped. The first fifteen or so minutes of the film felt so mechanical, and “thesis” oriented: “Ok, now see, the brothers don’t get along…but by the end of the film, they WILL. Won’t that be nice?” Part of the problem was that the characters of the two boys felt so stock, so blah, so typical that there wasn’t any inherent source of conflict, (i.e., one was a piano virtuouso, the other a football star ---trite as that might be at least that would have been something), they were just two little boys who didn’t get along, due strongly in part to their age difference. To add to this yawn inducing family dynamic was an older sister, Lisa (played by Kristen Stewart, Jodi’s daughter in Panic Room). Lisa, who is asleep for the first third of the film, and cryogenically frozen for the second third, is a high schooler who couldn’t be less interested in her brothers or the games they might be playing. Her one M.O. is to get ready for her date that night, which she is terrified she might be late for. She doesn’t even realize that her family’s house is cavorting through outer space until about an hour into the movie. (More nonsense).

Then there’s the astronaut, (played by an amiable Dax Shepard) a spry guy, somewhere in his 20’s, who appears outside their house, summoned thither by the board game. While Walt and Danny are weary of him at first, they quickly realize that he will come in handy, with his knowledge of Zorgons (evil aliens) and his ability to protect them through the rest of the game. Lisa quickly becomes smitten with him and has no qualms about his presence either.

When Walt’s gets an elusive gold card during his turn, it tells him that a shooting star is about to pass by, and he should make a wish. The astronaut, who has witnessed first hand, the bad blood between Walt and his younger brother Danny, is terrified that Walt is going to wish Danny away. After Walt makes his wish, and we see he only wished for an autographed football, the astronaut confesses his fear to Walt. He admits that he too was once a player of Zathura when he was a young boy, and that like Walt, he played it with his little brother. Angry at his brother, for ‘messing things up,’ the astronaut wished that his brother had never been born. Sure enough, his brother vanished, but the astronaut was stuck in the game for eternity; there was no longer anyone to play through the rest of the game with him so that he could return home.

As if this wasn’t cheesy enough, about thirty minutes later, Walt pulls another shooting star card from the game, and what does he wish for? He wishes that the astronaut could get his brother back. White fuzzy light starts to swirl around the room and surround the astronaut, but what’s this? Where the astronaut’s brother should reappear, is another little boy who looks just like Danny. And as Walt looks about in confusion, we see the astronaut reverse age and become….Walt. The astronaut is Walt….or what would have happened to Walt if he had gone ahead and wished Danny out of existence. But try and follow the logic, --I dare you. If Walter is living in the present, playing the game with Danny in the here and now, how the hell is he also grown up and floating around in space, trapped in eternity for a poor decision he never made. Am I to believe they somehow intersected with a parallel universe while playing the game? It makes absolutely no sense, and it reminds me of the plot nonsense that went on in The Fog, where they attempted to justify a character as a person, as a ghost, etc. It is a methodology that I hereby proclaim as a ‘Fogism.’

Like a typical Fogism, there was little foreshadowing or allusion to the fact that the astronaut was actually Walt. No emotion laden moments were shared between them, no tip offs to the fact that they were the same person. It came out of nowhere, and it felt forced and artificial.

So Walt rights the wrong he never wronged. The astronaut is released from captivity (or rather Walt is). The whole family gets back to earth again, their house is restored to its original state and it’s as if nothing ever happened to begin with.

So what was the point of all of this? Is the final redemption simply that Walter and Danny are now as thick as thieves? That Walter now gets to tease Lisa for thinking that his older alter ego has pretty eyes? This movie was boring. It was unexciting, and unengaging. I think it certainly had potential to be more than it was, but the striking imagery of the uprooted house floating through space, and a clever concept was not enough to yank it out of the doldrums of pedestrian mediocrity. I was even willing to concede about half way through the film, that it was perhaps, just a kids’ film, and was supposed to be silly, goofy, fun. Maybe I’d have been more enthralled by it if I was sixteen years younger. But then I realized this wasn’t so, this genre was right up my alley. No, it wasn’t just its simplicity that aggravated me, it was its lack of embellishment and originality.

Thank God for Harry Potter. Goblet of Fire, here I come!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Sweet Short Burn of Firefly

Ok, so I realize I’m about three years behind the times here, but I just finished watching the complete season of Firefly on DVD this weekend, which I’ve been watching sporadically for the past few weeks. As I pointed out in a previous post I never saw the show when it was on the air, and haven’t had the occasion to park myself on my couch and watch it until now.

Well at last, those who know me and have been hounding me to see it for ages can gleefully point at me and yell, I told ya so! As they predicted I would, I fell in love with the show. But it wasn’t love at first sight. I found the pilot difficult to get through, and while I enjoyed the next couple episodes, it wasn’t until the fifth or sixth episode that I realized how much affection I had for Firefly and its characters. The show was not only conceptually unique, taking the fusion of the old west and the future to new heights, but hosted an eclectic mix of characters; it created a fascinating combination of people whose interactions were riveting. It’s the kind of show, where the plot is almost of secondary importance, because you're so enthralled with the characters, you’d be pleased to watch them eat corn flakes. Not to say, however, that there weren’t any good plots. The continuing storylines took some unexpected and exciting turns, and the episodic plots were always satisfying. The writing was never anything but smart, funny and astute, and at times nothing short of brilliant. The direction, the visual FX, the acting; all of Firefly’s elements were so strong that the show seemed to flow with the effortlessness and fluidity of Serenity itself. It is a rarity to find Television that has all of these different things going for it.

Though my adoration for Firefly was late in coming, my sadness at its past doom felt accelerated. A few minutes into the fourteenth and final episode, I couldn’t believe that it was actually the last new episode of Firefly I was ever going to have the pleasure of watching. There is a melancholy when shows are snatched away before their time, especially when there is such a promising future of unfulfilled adventures. Firefly burned short, but it burned bright. I do believe it has earned a place among the greatest science fiction TV shows of our time.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The New Yorker puts in her two cents on the LOST kill.

I assume that by now, any real fan of LOST has seen Wednesday night’s episode by now, or has at least heard about what happened.

If it’s still waiting for you on your TiVo, and you’ve managed to avoid the media blitz surrounding it, stop reading now.

Why Shannon?

For the greater part of last season, I was fairly indifferent to Shannon’s character. She often came across as a one-note and single dimensional, a spoiled, self-centered girly-girl, who was mean to her brother, er, step-brother. We occasionally got glimpses that she may have had more to her than the shallow ditz that she seemed. She did help translate the eerie radio tower transmission with her cursory knowledge of French, and worked with Sayid to decipher the map he had taken from the French woman. The show even tried to make her sympathetic by giving her an asthma attack, and developing a romance between her and Sayid. Some were scandalized by Boone’s flashback episode that revealed intimate details of his history with Shannon, but I wasn’t particularly shocked by the whole step-sibling trist; it’s been done before.

But then, a couple episodes shy of the first season’s finale, things started to get sort of interesting for Shannon. Boone died in a violent accident, and she was devastated. Not only that, but the ambiguous nature of “the accident” gave her cause to go out on a vendetta against Locke. Locke’s disappearence after bringing Boone to Jack, and overall cagey-ness about what they were doing in the Jungle, gave her rational justification to consider guilty. I liked that the writers/producers were making Shannon into a sort of dark, brooding figure who was potentially a loose cannon, i.e. when she went after Locke with the gun. There was also the touching moment, where Walt passed Vincent onto her, which I thought was a nice touch, and it seemed like finally after a season of sun-bathing and flirting, the show was ready to take her character to some interesting places. Boone’s death was just the sort of the thing that could really unhinge her. Wouldn’t it have been cool (I think) to have a derranged survivor on the island? If you ask me, even though its been forty eight days since the plane crash, people all seem a little too “chill” on the island.

In this season’s premiere, it seemed like we might get to watch Shannon’s inevitable spiral into insanity, when we got a glimpse of her hallucinations with Walt in the jungle. But let’s be honest, with everything going on in the hatch, no one, neither survivors nor veiwers, was paying much attention to what Shannon did or didn’t see. And so five episodes into the new season, without much of any progression with her character, there is a Shannon flashback episode. The flashbacks started out interesting enough, solidifying the fact that Shannon’s father was in the car that collided with Sarah’s SUV. (Sarah was the woman whom Jack operated on in the hosptial in the season’s first episode. It was implied that Shannon’s father died because Jack was giving Sarah immediate attention in order to save her.) Here we have another coincidence which seems bound to play out on the island, and in some interesting ways to boot. We also learn that Shannon’s past is a Cinderella story of sorts, with an evil step mother who takes all her father’s wealth as her own after his death. Shannon wasn’t always the gold digging leach she has been portrayed as, and once upon a time, she was an innocent sweet young girl, who was trying to make it on her own. I like the fact that they used this as an opportunity to bring Boone back, (despite the bizarro hairstyle he sported) and it was also compelling to see that there was a time, where they had more of a supportive sibling relationship with one another. Ok, so now we have something to work with. Shannon obviously underwent some hardening of the heart that will be revealed at some point down the line.

Except that it won’t, because she died.

My guess is that the writers were thinking, ‘let’s make make this character seems as sympathetic as possible, and then just when everyone is rooting for her, let’s kill her off.’ But I don’t think it worked.

First off, I’m not really buying the whole Sayid in love with her thing. After forty eight days isn’t it a little bit early in a relationship to say you’re in love with someone and you’re never going to leave them? I mean, that’s a month and a half after knowing someone, and they weren’t even involved for the first couple weeks. Maybe I was supposed to be moved by their passionate embrace in the pouring rain as they declared their undying love to each other. But I wasn’t.

Secondly, Shannon’s transformation from pure and innocent, to kniving wench is only intriguing and powerful if you get to see what caused it. While the death of her father was probably a large factor, it still didn’t change her enough to accept the money from Boone when he offered it. I think it’s a cheap shot to do such a one eighty on her character, try to pull the audience’s heart strings by showing us her past hardships, and then kill her.

I also think its sort of sloppy storytelling to kill off both Boone and Shannon, particularly so close together in the show’s timeline. There was untapped potential with both her character and storylines, and it seems like all of the time devoted to developing those were a waste. Because the problem, was that the show hadn’t sold us completely on Shannon yet, or at least they hand’t sold me. They had only begun to make her more interesting in the past several episodes, and so the death didn’t really hit me the way that a main character’s death should. I didn’t really care.

Now, there’s always the factor that the writers and producers were just trying to work around the fact that Maggie Grace wanted to leave the show for her burgeoning film career. Maybe they hadn’t planned to kill her off at all. Maybe they just had too. It’s also possible that they’re still somehow planning to pull out all the stops, and kill off Sawyer instead of or in addition to her. Seems unlikely though. Maybe I’m just jaded because I knew the spoiler weeks ago.

I am, however, very much looking forward to next week’s episode depicting the “other fourty eight days” of the survivors from the tail plane. Also a big Hallelujah for Michael, for finally putting the sticks to Anna, and demanding that she tell them what the heck they are all talking about re: the others. It was about damn time.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Spielberg: The Machine

Ok, is it just me, or does it seem like Steven Speilberg must sleep on average about only forty five minutes a night?

Not even an entire season after his summer blockbuster War of the Worlds, the trailer for Spielberg’s next feature, Munich, is up and running on the Apple Trailers site.

Munich, which has a release date of December 22nd, comes out almost exactly six months after War of the Worlds did. I mean, to quote Doc Bones, My God man, how is that even possible? The man is prolific to say the least.

Munich is set around the true events of the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, where several Israeli atheletes were slain by Palestinian militants. The film follows the story of the assasins, assembled by Israeli forces, who set out to kill those suspected in the murders of the athletes.

In the spirit of Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and Amistad, Speilberg once again sets aside his sci-fi hat and uses a straight dramatic form to explore the moral compromises and ambiguities embedded in warfare and social conflict. While I have the utmost respect for Spielberg as a filmmaker, truth be told, I generally prefer his genre work. I think Schindler’s List is inarguably a tremendous film, but I am not as big a fan of Saving Private Ryan, Amistad, (or even the Terminal and Catch me if You Can) as I am of his classics, like Jaws, Close Encounters, E.T., Jurassic Park, etc.

I saw this trailer on the big screen for the first time on Sunday, in front of Jarhead, and I was completely taken in by the language of the script, and the near poetic images of violence intercut with the desperate faces of the men involved in their grim project.

I think we’re looking at a big Oscar contender here, and if nothing else, another impressive film from Spielberg. I predict it may be his best drama since Schindler’s List.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The New Yorker has a very DRAMAtic weekend

As I patiently wait for Fall’s blockbuster releases like Zathura, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Narnia, and Kong, I found myself at the theatres this weekend going to see some of the more serious adult dramas out there right now.

North Country and Jarhead were both adapted from non-fictions books; North Country was based on “Class Action: The Story of Lois Jensen and the Landmark Case that Changed Sexual Harassment Law” by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy, and Jarhead was based on “Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles” by Anthony Swofford.

Besides the fact that both of these books have very long titles, they also both depict recent events that occurred in the late 80’s, early 90’s, and are meant to have specific resonance to modern American life on the whole. They are also primarily about the working class, the average American, and their struggle under the force of the larger global powers, be they corporations or government. Of course for all these similarities, there is also one major difference, North Country is a female driven story, and Jarhead a male one. And its not just that the main character in NC is a woman, and that Jarhead it’s a man, it’s that each film respectively explores the modern meaning and implications of each gender.

In North Country, we follow the story of Josey Aimes, played by Charlize Theron, a woman who is struggling to support herself and her two children, after leaving her husband for physical abuse. Josey moves back to her hometown, and realizes that the best job for her economically speaking, is working at the local mine, which is where her father also works. Of course, this is Minnesota circa 1989, and traditional gender roles are still pretty entrenched within day to day life. The flack that Josey recieves from her father when she first decides to get a job at the mine is a small hardship in comparison to the abuse that she and her fellow female co-workers face on a daily basis at the job. Despite a lack of solidarity among her female co-workers, after several disturbing encounters of sexual harassment, Josey decides to sue the mine, and its parent corporation. Woody Harrelson plays her pragmatic, former hockey star lawyer, who takes on the case more as a personal challenge than a personal cause.

North Country was directed by Nikki Caro, who’s other film was Whale Rider. Caro got some good performances out of her actors, not only with Theron, but also Frances McDormand, Sean Bean, Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins. The screenplay was written by Michael Seitzman, and spent time establishing and developing characters, though at times it strayed into the zone of a Lifetime Television for Women Original Presentation. Woody Harrelson’s dialogue in particular felt somewhat stilted and over the top especially in the courtroom scenes. But the movie felt like it was made by smart people, albeit smart people who were afraid of their studio coming down on them for being too radical. Josey’s children were an important part of the story and gave her motivation to find and keep the job at the mine. But I was slightly resentful that the film tried to make Josey’s story more palatable by reiterating that she was in a situation where she had no choice BUT to work at the mine, because she had no husband and was trying to be a good mother, as opposed to simply choosing the job because she wanted to do it.

Despite some of its choices, North Country redeemed itself by telling the story of a working class woman in today’s day and age, and addressing certain difficult issues from a female persepctive. While there are few female filmmakers, and few female driven stories there in Hollywood, there is an even smaller percentage of films set in the world of the blue collar woman. North Country is a place of gritty realism, where there are no knights in shining armor nor Platinum Visa’s to solve everyone’s problems (see Pretty Woman) North Country was fairly predictable, and even if you hadn’t read the book upon which it was loosely based, you had a pretty good sense of everything that would happen by the end. Even so, I thought it delivered in this arena, and made for an engaging drama.

For every estrogen laced minute of North Country, Jarhead represented the polar opposite in terms of narrative tone. This was a movie that pulsated with testostorone in every single celluloid frame it projected. Jarhead, a much more faithful adaptation to its source material than North Country, took a comedic and dramatic look at the implications of the marine corps and manhood in present day. Not a heck of a lot happens in this movie, and its no coincident that The Stranger by Albert Camus makes a cameo early on. The book is reading material for the protagonist, as he sits on the can faking a stomach flu with the help of some Ex-Lax. When we are first introduced to “Swoff”, we know very little about where he was, and where he would like to go, only that he somehow finds himself as an enlisted marine. “Swoff” has a sort of emptiness that is eager to be filled with anything, even military agenda.

There aren’t many surprises during the early boot camp scenes where Swoff recieves his training. His drill sargents are mean, the other members in his unit are crazy, and life in general….sucks (hence the tagline: “Welcome to the suck”). But when the regimen of highly trained snipers is called up among other units to report to Iraq for Operation Desert Shield, things start to get a little more interesting. The film, which was directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) looks terrific, and the lands of bleak desert and fiery sunsets are beautifully photographed. There is a sort of adolescent angst and cry for identity as these men try to figure out what their war is all about, and how it will be classified. They use Vietnam as their role model, since it is the conflict chronologically closest to them, and the marines watch Apocalypse Now with a hysteria, chanting and cheering as they hope to emulate what they are watching on screen. In another moment, when a helicopter passes above their head blaring a classic rock song of the 70’s a marine shouts “Can’t we get our own music for this war?!” When Operation Desert Shield finally becomes Operation Desert Storm, the film delves into deeper questions, brushing up not only against the familiar absurdity of war, but what it means to be a soldier at war and not kill anyone, and what it means to be a man without having fought in a war.

Jarhead also resonantes because this country has once again found itself engaged in a miliatary conflict on Iraq soil. The film is aware of this parallel, and the film almost serves as some ominous fable of foreshadowing of what was to come. Desert Storm was a small little war lost in obscurity, where casualities seemed minimal, and technology kept things smooth and clean. Not so with the current warring.

Though not particularly novel, Jarhead also tries to put a new spin on the sense of loss that men inevitably feel when they come home from the battlegrounds. The brainwashing, trauma, and unique and bizarre circumstances that these men encounter while in training and abroad, leave them forlorn when they return to the monotony of everyday life. Boredom as a marine is a given, but there is always the anticipatory sensations of when the next battle is going to be. A sense of constantly looking forward to an unknown impending event, be it seeing some action or finally being discharged and going home. But once at home, the boredom remains, but there is no promise that anything will come along to disrupt their routine of doldrums. But what happens when boredom is never fully excised overseas? Is banal day to day life only a welcome numbing agent, when you have seen all hell break loose? What if you never see all hell break loose? These are the sorts of questions that Jarhead asks.

Neither North Country nor Jarhead had monumental revelations or were cinema groundbreakers. But they both told a good story, and took the time to inflate their characters with detail and life and embellish upon the meanings that their lives held.
Though told through the eyes of a man and a woman respectively, they might not be different after all. All parties involved just seem to be searching for some steady ground.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Holy Giant Gorilla, The full length Kong Trailer is finally up!!

After all the bellyaching that I’ve done about the fact that the King Kong trailer has been sorely missing from the trailer rotation out there, it’s sort of amazing that I wasn’t aware the very instant when the trailer hit the Apple site, which, as it turns out, was yesterday afternoon.

At last, I was able to feast my eyes on two minutes and fifty seven seconds of footage of the film. While there was invariably several pieces and segments that were shown in the teaser, there was still some new stuff, ….but to be honest, not that much new stuff….

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I idolize Peter Jackson, andtruth be told, if this blog had been around a couple years back it would’ve been a virtual Lord of the Rings fan site. But as much as I’d like to gush over the new Kong trailer, the honest truth is that I feel a little bit underwhelmed.

I thought the teaser looked terrific. Not only was it cut and put together well, but the way it wove the storylines together was intriguing and captivating. I liked that it started out with Jack Black and Colin Hanks in the streets of old New York struggling to get their film off the ground. I liked that we see them finding their lead actress, and then embarking on a mysterious voyage towards their unlikely filming locale. The teaser builds on the sense of creepy eeriness that the cast and crew senses the moment they set foot on the island and heightens it when they (and we) heard that bloodcurdling savage roar. We are unsettled even more as we are introduced to the island’s natives with quick ominous cuts. We shiver at sight of the freaky looking little girl, who’s wrist rattles like a snake when she extends it. And the first time we see Kong open and widen his eyes in that close-up is unforgettable. The music they put the images to in the teaser worked well, and created tension and excitement throughout.

But these elements were somewhat lacking from the trailer. It squished the meandering adventurousness of the story and framed in the film’s unavoidable “Beauty and the Beast” theme. Those first couple of shots of Kong and Darrow in the street look pretty terrific FX wise, but I’m a little wary of the narration in the background which says:

“and lo the beast looked upon the face of beauty, and beauty stayed his hand and from that day forward, he was at one dead.”

Obviously a large part of King Kong is rooted in the whole beauty and the beast mythos. But the magic it has always held for me, is that it is also a tremendous story of adventure. The story has an interesting turn of events, and it unfolds like one of those Russian wooden dolls that has five smaller ones inside it; Kong leaves you unsure of where it will go next. I was always under the impression that one of the reasons why people panned the ’76 version so much, is because it got all sappy and focused too much on the Anne Darrow, Kong “romance”, highlighting the tenderness in certain scenes to the point of comedic effect. I suddenly got a horrible gut feeling while watching the trailer that this is where this movie might be going. The teaser alluded to a depth and importance of the relationships between the characters, the trailer, on the other hand, was going for all the Kong “grab” moments, I have never seen Naomi Watts looked distressed while in the air so many times in such quick succession. I suppose all this makes sense if you’re Universal and you’re trying to market one of the most well known creature movies of all time. But it also cheapens the movie to a certain extent.

But it wasn’t only the fact that the “Beauty and the Beast” theme was more prominent in this trailer. When I watched the teaser and trailer back to back, I really felt like the discrepency in quality was large. Simply speaking from the perspective of trailers in general, I thought this one was sloppily made. The slow-motion shots of the natives grabbing the crew looked silly, and the music that they used was less effective. I really did not care for the way they cut from the action in the jungle, to the Marquee, of Kong as eighth wonder of the world in New York City, and then proceeded to show him causing more mayhem there. There series of images screamed to me, “Come see King Kong, you’ll get to see him fight dinosaurs AND tear apart the big apple!” Since I think of Peter Jackson as being such a sophisticated filmaker and I am expecting his interpreation of the Kong story to be sophisticated as well, I was surprised as the lack of sophistication the trailer had. It is logical that the studio is trying to maximize their audience by playing it up as an action/adventure, but I wanted something that would show that the film would be much more than that. Just as the Lord of the Rings movies were much more than a series of silly fantasy battles.

It’s interesting actually, when I’ve gone back and watched all the trailers for the Lord of the Rings on the DVD’s, you can see that the first trailer for the first film Fellowship of the Ring, was not very good and had a very trite tone. However, the trailer for the Two Towers was far better and more artistically done. I imagine it had to do with the fact that once New Line saw that Jackson really knew what he was doing, they let him have free reign with the trailers. But why wouldn’t Universal do the same, now that his success and capability has been proven threefold?

I am going to chalk this one up to studio control issues. Though there’s always the possibility that it’s just me, as I’ve spoken with a couple other people who adored the trailer. Or maybe my feminist level is running a little higher than normal today, and I find myself irked by the whole damsel in distress thing. Wouldn’t it be a clever twist to actually make Anne Darrow wicked at heart, and have her vye for Kong’s death at the end instead of screaming at the bi-planes not to shoot?

But that I guess would be a different story altogether.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Star Wars & Brainiacs

In conjunction with the DVD release of Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith, yesterday Slate.com ran an article by Aidan Wasley, titled “Star Wars: Episodes I – IV, The greatest postmodern art film ever.”

The article give some analysis on the narrative presence and structure in the Star Wars saga, and finds some theoretical metaphors between the films’ plotting and post-modern ideals.

To me, the article read like a dry grad student essay, and I thought some of his analytical points felt a bit forced. But please, don’t let my pedestrian intellect prevent you from potentially enjoying the darn thing.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The New Yorker proclaims: "Kong Featurette, my eye, I want the trailer!"

Yesterday, a new King Kong special featurette , titled "A Look Inside," was posted onto the irreplacable Apple Trailers website in High Definition format. (Thank Goodness these new high def trailers are here. No more little quicktime windows the size of my G-shock watch screen, running trailers.)

The featurette weaves together inteview footage with Peter Jackson and other cast members along with some shots from the film, some of which were not included in the teaser. The featurette also shows some neat before and after, on certain FX sequences. We first see scenes in their pre-vizualition stage on the computer and/or with actors on a green screen, followed by their final product, once they have been rendered and digitized. I've seen these sorts of comparisons before, though there were a couple here, like the shot of Naomi Watts swinging on the vine, that I thought were very impressive. Scattered throughout the two and a half minute piece, were also a couple images that I believe were new to the public, including a shot of Kong jumping off the building to swat a plane that I was particularly partial to.

But not too much of it feels very novel, especially if you’ve been catching Jackson’s daily production dairies on Kongisking.net .

What I want to know is, where the hell is the full length trailer for this “jammie” (as we use to say in NYC circa 1990). I know I've complained about it before, but really, the damn thing should have been out months ago. Also, I don’t know what it's like in other parts of the country, but I haven’t seen any billboards or posters up for this movie anywhere in LA LA land. Is the studio dropping the ball on the marketing here? What’s going on? Where is my real Kong trailer?! They think they can stave us off with some featurette, but they can’t. I've also heard an alarming rumor that the film might be pushed to Memorial Day because the FX won’t be finished in time, though I haven't put much stock in it. For Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, (and possibly even Return of the King) Jackson and WETA were still working on the film in post-production up until two weeks before the film was released in theatres. At that time, there was also some heresay, insinuating that the films were going to be pushed, but as history was to prove, it was all faulty info. I have faith in Jackson and his people, though I suppose I wouldn’t be so worried if I had seen a full length trailer by now…

Well, here’s to hoping it's only 42 days and counting!

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