Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

Hope everyone has a fine New Year's tonight, I know I've been terrible this past week or so with my up keep, but I've been a bit under the weather. Regardless I wish you fine readers a healthy and happy new year, here's to another year of movies and TV, etc. for me to blog about!!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas and Happy Chaunnukah!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Twenty Four Hours of A Christmas Story

One of the best parts of the holiday in my opinion. The exec who ok'd this is a genius. If you don't understand what I'm talking about just turn to TBS.

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a Pirate’s life for the New Yorker!

If you ask me, the best part of going to see TCONTLTWATW, was that they ran the new teaser for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Believe it or not, sequel Dead Man’s Chest is due out this summer. I was a huge fan of the first Pirates, and I can’t believe it’s been three years since it came out, good lord! Thankfully Johnny Depp has agree to return as Jack Sparrow along with familiar faces Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly, and goofy sidekicks Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook (they play the two weird looking pirates). Bill Nighy will play this film’s villain Davy Jones, a crazy, creepy looking pirate, who’s part octopus, part lobster, and part human, (his beard of squirming tentacles is terrifyingly awesome). Once again, the entire film is set in the Caribbean, and there’s something that I find very appealing about a fantasy adventure whose backdrop is turquoise waters and white sandy beaches, as opposed to the snowy mountains and deep woods of Middle Earth or Narnia. Not that those locales don’t have their own charm, but the Caribbean certainly shakes things up a bit. I’m not sure what it was about the first Pirates that made it stand out for me from so many other big action adventure films, but it really hit on something. I think Johnny Depp at the helm of a movie like this is part of what makes it work so well; he just throws himself into the role whole heartedly and doesn’t care how ridiculous he might seem. While Geoffrey Rush was terrific in the first one, I have a feeling Bill Nighy will more than cut the mustard as the new pirate.

I recently read that director Gore Verbinski shot scenes for the third film, while shooting Dead Man’s Chest, so already there is a trilogy in site. While I can’t say I hold out hope for all three being solid, the second one definitely looks promising so far.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Baseball and Mordor

During this season of holiday cheer, I’d like to bestow upon you dear reader, a small gem.

It is a snippet of an instant messenger converstion between my brother and a friend of his regarding the news of Boston Red Sox golden boy, Johnny Damon, going to the New York Yankees. My brother is a Yankee fan, his friend a Sox fan, and well….I’ll let the excerpt speak for itself. Needless to say I think my spot as resident nerd in my family may be handed over to my little brother.

BROTHER: It’s like in Lord of the Rings, the gathering of the armies…

FRIEND: And the Yankees are the shire folk?

BROTHER: No that would be the Red Sox, because they’re ugly and stupid.

FRIEND: Shut up.

BROTHER: The Yankees are Gondor, --in the greatest city with a rich history. And now they will have the “return of the king” (i.e. another world championship) and there will be peace in Middle Earth (the tri-state area).
Besides Gondor has the coolest uniforms. (Yankee Pinstripes)

FRIEND: No. Red Sox nation is the last alliance of elves and men where all that is good in the world has united to defeat the Dark Lord (Steinbrenner) and his Black Riders (Jeter, A-Rod, Giambi, Matsui, Sheffield, Posada, Johnson, and Williams) and now the lord of the Nazgul the Fallen King (Damon)

BROTHER: Wait…but red sox would only count as “men”. Who are the Elves? And Minas Tirith is totally New York. But I guess I could Steinbrenner being the Dark Lord…

FRIEND: Hah! New York is Morder! New Jersey is Isengard!

BROTHER: LOL. Mordor is Red Sox Nation…an evil kingdom that tries to win the hearts of the people.

FRIEND: No. Boston is the last stronghold of men. If Boston falls, all of major league baseball falls with it…

Well folks, there is your dosage of nerdiness for the day. As for me, I’m pretty indifferent about the whole thing. Go NY Mets!!

Monday, December 19, 2005

The New Yorker FINALLY reviews King Kong

This review has been a little late in coming, in part because of the end of the year frenzy but also in part because I’ve been a bit flummoxed by the prospect of reviewing the Mighty Kong. It is a film so impressive, so gargantuan in scope, so revolutionary, it was difficult for me to imagine encapsulating my thoughts into a single blog. But I will try.

King Kong. Just those two words evoke so much. He is an icon, a myth, a Hollywood legend, a global phenomenon. People all over the world who are not too familiar with American cinema have heard of King Kong. The first edition in 1933 was completely revolutionary for its time. While people may scoff and titter nowadays at the special FX captured in the fuzzy black and white, it was and still remains a contextual feat of film making. It is therefore appropriate and somehow poetically just that the 2005 version directed by Peter Jackson is equally astounding and groundbreaking.

With a running time of almost three and a half hours, the film is almost too huge to dissect. The action takes place in four major chunks. First, there is the action in the Depression-era New York City and introduces Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), the starving but stalwart vaudeville actress and Carl Denahm (Jack Black), the tenacious film maker with stubborn resolve. We follow these two characters until they meet and together embark on a journey that will change both their lives forever. This is followed by a good chunk of action which takes place on the Venture –the rickety tugboat hauling the cast and crew of Dehnahm’s movie to their mysterious destination. The third part of the film takes place on “Skull Island,” an insane jungle with a unique ecosystem all its own (including dinosaurs and monstrous sized bugs among other things). The fourth and final part of the film brings us back to New York City for the grand finale. Despite the fact that most feature films are thought of as having a “three-act” structure, I felt as though Kong almost had four. While I realize that the first part in NYC and the travels on the venture are both supposed to be part of Act I, each locale had such a different feel and purpose on screen. I must say beyond the marvel of the FX that made the creatures on the island and Kong himself so miraculous to look at, the sets and locations themselves were jaw-droppingly impressive. The way that Jackson recreated the 30’s era New York City was astounding. Everything had an authentic finish to it, and it all looked and felt so real, and yet so magical at the same time. It was a New York City pulled out of a storybook.

These organic first scenes in New York, also played a crucial part in setting up Ann Darrow’s character, because she in someway embodied the many sides of the city. She had the glamour and the beauty, the grace and the poise, but also had the sadness and the despair. I really liked the time Jackson took to set up Darrow’s character. I liked that they made her a scrappy Vaudeville comedian as opposed to an engenue starlet type. I liked that they gave her an intellect, had her reading plays, and instilled in her desires deeper than simply wanting fame. Darrow was dedicated to her trade, but also desperate to survive. Yet she was not so desperate she would do anything, as she demonstrates when she walks away from the Burlesque house. Yet Darrow, like so many others in the film, get taken in by Denham’s cons and promises, because she herself, wishes to believe in the magnificent things he is telling her, and it is this want of hope that we see in the early moments of the film, that sell us on the fact she accepts to do the movie. I love the line where she says she’s in the business of making people laugh, rather than cry, and that the final push for her to do the film, comes from the fact that her favorite playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrian Brody) has written the film’s screenplay. Jackson and writers Phillipa Boyens and Fran Walsh did a good job of building up this tension with Darrow’s character, and showing how fate really made it inevitable for her to do anything that would veer her from the course of the Venture. In other words, the set up was great.

Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow was immediately likeable. I thought she really imbued the role with an element of charm and a clever mixture of vulnerability and bravery. I think Watts has always done solid work, and I think this role may be one of her most impressive yet, particularly when you think about how much emotional work she had to do in front of a blank green screen. (Though I suppose she did have Andy Serkis bopping around in a body glove –but who could keep a straight face through all of that?) Jack Black as Carl Denham was a bit of a harder sell. I think more than anything it was strange for me to see him in such a straight role, and to boot, a period piece. There was some surprised tittering among folks when word got out that Jackson had cast him in such a major role. But after having the movie, I think I understand why P.J. (Peter Jackson) did it. I think the film needed a true comedian in that role, who had a sense of comic timing and delivery to add humor and help with the pacing of the film. Comedy is not really an integral part of the King Kong story, so I think P.J. was wise to add it in the little places he did, such as casting Black and making Darrow vaudevillian. Overall I think it was a good move on Jackson’s part, and I was impressed by the way Black exhibited the maniacal, deluded components of Carl Denahm’s character, even if it did seem like he was pushing a bit too hard at times.
Adrian Brody was quite good as always, his character was a bit more abbreviated than I had expected. Nevertheless he brought his bookish and magnetic swagger to his role, as he always does, which has quite a winning effect. I also thought the supporting cast was really great –Jamie Bell, Colin Hanks, Evan Parke, Thomas Kretschmann, as members of the ships and film’s crews. Friends of mine balked at the fact that certain relationships, such as that of Hayes and Libby (the first mate and the young kid from Billy Elliot) did not have a real payoff. But I didn’t mind so much, and I enjoyed getting to know some of the other folk on the Venture. I’m not sure exactly how Andy Serkis’ performance was incorporated into the CG character this time around, but I did think that Kong was remarkably emotive and had a wonderfully realistic face, due in part as well to the inscrutable visual FX. (Serkis was also amusing as the squinty-eyed cook, Lumpy.) I didn’t think there were any real acting weaknesses in this film, and yet that is so atypical (though arguably essential) for a film of this nature. It’s vital to have actors, who can not only sell you on the fact they are being chased by a giant gorilla or a man-eating cockroach, but who can also ground their performances emotionally, and show through nuances here and there (at the hand of a talented director) that their characters are real and rounded, not just cardboard cutouts.

After the first hour or so of the film which set up the era, the characters and the story, we (by way of the Venture) finally arrive on Skull Island. This was my favorite part of the movie. The tempo picks up from the moment the Venture arrives on shore. I have a feeling that there was a decent amount of footage showing Denham trying to shoot some scenes of his film on the island that never made it into the final cut. Remember that moment from the teaser when Darrow screams on the shores of the island and a fierce roar echoes back through the craggy coves surrounding the water? Well it wasn’t actually in the film –in fact as soon as Denham and co. begin to walk through the deserted portion of the native’s settlement, they run into that creepy little girl (who we also saw in the trailer), and moments later all hell breaks loose. P.J. went all out with the look of the natives on the island. They looked more like zombies or creatures than humans, and though they were no match for the rifles of Captain Englehorn and his men, they were savage in their insistence to capture Darrow from the Venture. I thought the whole night time sequence when the natives came on board to grab Darrow was terrifying and suspenseful. P.J. segwayed nicely into the sacrifice scene where Darrow is presented to Kong as the men race off the ship to save her.

The island itself was just absolutely stupendous. Once day came and we could properly see the lush yet foreboding greenery of the place I was astounded by the beauty and mystery of the place. I thought the design team did an incredible job with it ---and that was only the beginning. Kong looked incredible. He felt like a real, living, breathing, warm creature. The designers, Serkis and P.J. did such a good job of melding the characteristics which make him both animal AND human. I thought the scenes where we could see true expression through his face and his body language, were terrifically believable and even mildly poignant. Kong’s face and eyes had such a range of motion, and his body was so limber, I truly forgot I was watching a creation of cold, mechanical, computers. It was true artistry. Kong was only one of the many wonders of the island. The dinosaurs were unbelievable, and I don’t care what anyone says, I didn’t think that they felt like a “rip-off” of Jurassic Park. The Brontosaur “tumble” as I have deemed it, was unbelievable. I could barely believe what I was watching when I was watching it. I felt like a five year old who was at the movies for the first time. Not only did the brontosauruses look so damn real, but the way that the action sequence played out was completely mind blowing. All the different bugs were horrifyingly real and cringe-inducing. I don’t think there was an audience member in the theatre who didn’t gasp out loud, when Darrow was pinned between the two centipedes. The enormous earth worms were pretty spectacular as well.

It was on the island of course –where Darrow and Kong met and they developed their relationship. Now, I’ve always thought the relationship between these two figures is a little awkward, a little strange and a little silly. I understand it is a retelling of beauty and the beast, but I think there is a part of the Kong myth that feels a bit antiquated, a bit flawed in its conception. There is an inherent objectification of women that bothers me about the story, always has. In the ’33 version, Darrow is a goddess on a pedestal to be worshipped and possessed. In ’76 she was a sex kitten who was a slave to her own sensuality. Finally in ’05, I felt like someone almost got Darrow right. Almost. For the most part on the island, I thought that once Darrow overcame the initial fear and distress of Kong shaking her about, she was able to win his favor, not so much with her feminine wiles, but with her comedic talents. As she made him laugh, and then they ran from dinosaurs and napped together, I thought to myself –O.K., this is no longer just a story of beast lusting after beauty, this is a story about friendship, companionship, and affection. I think a friend of mine put it best when he described Darrow and Kong’s relationship to one another, as that of an owner and a pet. Darrow was Kong’s pet, and she was his. I agree with this idea at the start of their relationship, when they are on the island, but I think there was a change between them when they reunited in New York City. The scene in Central Park on the ice was very romantic, and the whole set piece on top of the empire state building was the tearful goodbye between two lovers. There was a leap that Jackson, Boyens and Walsh made in the script that I had a bit of trouble following. On the island, up until they were separated, it seemed as if Darrow and Kong merely had a mutual admiration for one another, a mutual respect and friendly understanding, but suddenly in New York, it became a war torn love affair. I think I would have preferred to see the gentle friendship. Of course, I don’t know if Jackson could’ve give me that version even if he wanted to, because that’s not King Kong. After all, the last line of the film, as used in all three versions, “beauty killed the beast.” This is an inescapable theme of the film; the creature who is seduced by the beauty of a woman. I don’t happen to find this undertow palatable in the slightest, but it is a unavoidable. I thought that Jackson and his two writing partners really tried to make Darrow more spunky and strong, and downplayed her objectification, and to a certain extent they succeeded. But I think there’s only so much they could separate from that core element of the story.

Other than that, I really had no major complaints about this film. Some may feel it’s too long, and though it was certainly indulgent at times, I still loved watching every minute on screen. I saw a late show, and initially was worried about staying awake through the whole thing, but my eyes were glued to the screen, and my jaw slack with awe. What Jackson created with this movie was no short of a miracle. It is not only the quality of the FX, but the imagination with which he renders everything. This movie was exciting, enthralling and heart stopping. As far as a Kong remake goes, I think this is the best thing anyone could have ever put out. As far as an action-adventure-fantasy film goes, I think there are very few filmmakers out there who possess the prowess to make a story like this come to life so vividly.

But mark my words –one day I will make a film about a giant lady dolphin who takes a shine to a strapping, handsome, young lad.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


I can't believe it! It's finally here! In a few short moments I walk out my front door to go see the movie I've been waiting to see for the past two years! Though I have not read any actual reviews of the film, the "buzz" among critics is that it is an astounding feat of cinema. But should we expect any less from genius Peter Jackson? I think not.

And now.... to KONG!!!

(Peter & Friends)

Narnia: A Chronicle of Boredom

After sitting in a dark theatre for two hours and twenty five minutes (not including trailers mind you), I was able to come to my own conclusions about the much anticipated/lauded/maligned Chronicles of Narnia.


If ever there was a candidate to love this film, it would have been me. I was enthralled by the books when I read them years ago, and I love big Hollywood Special FX spectacles particularly in the fantasy genre.

What more could a girl ask for, right?

Wrong. For starters, the key element in my enjoyment of a movie resides in the characters. If I can’t get emotionally invested in what’s going on, on screen, I’d just as soon be watching a sports event between two teams I’ve never heard of. The lack of character development, chemistry between the actors, and general performances really hindered TCONTLTWATW (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe). People often point out how difficult it is to find young actors who can act. This film is a testament to that theory. The story revolves around the Pensieve children; in descending age they are Peter Susan, Edmond and Lucy. Peter is about fifteen, and Lucy is nine, the rest fall somewhere in between. Lucy, the youngest, probably had the most to do in the film. She had a sweet face and an endearing way about her, but even she came across awkwardly in some scenes, and the rest of the youngins’ did not fare better. Edmond, the sulky trouble maker, relayed his mopiness by mugging exaggerated frowns and stomping on the ground. Susan played responsible to the point of brittle and Peter was “valiant” to the point of obnoxiousness. These performances were lacking any of the subtleties that make performances good, and even if one was to say in their defense that they are young kids, I would point out that the young actors in the Harry Potter films do a far better job than the ones in TCONTLTWATW.

But it’s not really the poor children I blame. This is what happens when you put a director, who’s never done a live action film before behind a multi million dollar FX film. Director Andrew Adamson had only directed Shrek 1 & 2, and oh, “Shrek in the Swamp Karaoke Dance Pary”. (I’m not kidding ). Now Disney may have thought they were making the right move because Adamson had experience with digital animation and CGI, etc., but it seems to me what they really needed was a director who had experience drawing good work out of actors. For example, look at Warner Brother’s choice of Alfonso Cuaron to direct the third Harry Potter film, Prisoner of Azkaban. His last film had been an erotic drama in a foriegn language, and he had never done a big FX movie before. But it worked out really well because he knew how to work with actors and create nuances in their characters, (not to mention the fact he had actually done a live-action film before). As for the rest of the performances, I think the more seasoned actors did a bit better. Tilda Swinton did a solid job as the evil and frosty White Witch, but I also think she’s also great in everything. James McAvoy, an obscure Scottish actor did a nice job in bringing warmth and charisma to the quirky role of Mr. Tumnus. But nothing could really repair the lack of disunity that came across among the children.

The very first shot of the film is a spooky, murky, grim image of war planes flying over England, as another air raid begins. The Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy along with their mother, are fleeing to their bomb shelter in the middle of the night. Edmond, being the “naughty” boy he is, runs back to the house to grab a picture of dear old Father who has gone off to battle himself. Peter has to go in after him and drags him back to the shelter chastising him by yelling “why can’t you just do what you’re told.” (Needless to say this will be a running theme in the film.)
The next thing we know the children are being whisked away to the country on a train, so that they are not endangered by the constant bombing in the city. It’s amazing that for a movie which felt so interminable and draggy, the beginning still felt rushed and abrupt. Mrs. MacReady, a cranky housekeeper picks the kids up and brings them back to a mansion where Professor Kirke resides. (Just who these people are, and why the kids ended up at this particular house is completely unclear) The mansion is big and fancy and Mrs. MacReady is fussy, so no order of rambunctious playing is allowed. The kids are bored and sit around dejectedly. There are several scenes where Edmund says the wrong thing, and all the other kids yell at him for being a jerk. Thinking back on it I’m boggled by the scenes in the first act of the film. They managed to feel boring and obvious while doing very little to further along the characters, or the relationships between them. Everything felt like it was done in very broad strokes and there weren’t any intimate moments or small exchanges. It was like I was watching a play from the nosebleed seats and the people putting it on wanted to make sure all the gestures were big enough for me to see, despite the fact I couldn’t really tell what the hell was going on.

At long last Lucy unveils the magical wardrobe and stumbles into Narnia. Which brings me to my next point. While I liked the simple design of the lamppost in the middle of the forest that we see Lucy run to, there wasn’t much that felt magical to me about Narnia. In fact, Narnia felt a lot to me like New Zealand, which in turn made Narnia feel like a faded, jaded Middle Earth. The forest was just a forest. It didn’t look like there were any sort of digital FX added to the landscape, and it seemed really plain. Now maybe this was what Adamson was going for. He wanted the audience to feel that Narnia was desolate and bleak since the White Witch had come into power. But in other Fantasy films that depict wastelands, be they Lord of the Rings, Never Ending Story, Legend, etc., evil, scary, or dreary places, still have a certain fairy tale look to them. A certain stylization that makes them feel magical, and/or mysterious. I really thought Narnia was lacking a lot of this, and the outdoor sets often felt like the woods behind a well kept summer camp.

But back to the kids and the main plot. So Lucy falls upon Narnia and meets Mr. Tumnus, a friendly Fawn (part human, part goat) who invites her back to his home for tea, and then confesses he has tricked her and intends to turn her into the White Witch. The White Witch, who calls herself the Queen of Narnia demands that all humans found in the land be turned over to her stead, yet why, we don’t know quite yet. Lucy convinces Tumnus that he should do what is right and follow his heart, and he easily caves and rushes her back off to the wardrobe so that she can return to her world. Lucy tells her brothers and sister but they don’t believe her, until they actually stumble into Narnia themselves. Edmund meets the White Witch on his own and accidentally tells her that his sister has met Mr. Tumnus. When Lucy brings the rest of the gang to meet Tumnus, they find his home ransacked, along with a notice left by the witch saying he has been captured and is being held for high treason.

At this point in the film I was already feeling weary. The problem was I didn’t really care about any of it. I felt as though I knew very little about these kids, except for maybe some very general characteristics, and Mr. Tumnus was nice and all, but no one to go risk your life over. Certainly not after he almost turned Lucy in. I couldn’t really see why the kids wanted to stay there –Narnia was no Wonderland, and it didn’t seem very exciting.

Then came the talking animals. That’s right talking animals. Now, it has been a frightfully long time since I’ve read the books, and I remember that Aslan the lion spoke, but I didn’t remember the bevy of beavers, wolves and foxes chattering away. All of these characters were animated w/ CGI and at times looked good, at other times fake, but overall had the effect of making the film seem like a young kids movie. And when I say young kids movie, I mean one of those movies where the animals talk to each other like Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco. I didn’t much care for it.

Also I don’t recall the plot of the story in the book being that confusing. As put forth by the film adaptation, the children are fleeing from the White Witch because she wishes to capture them in order to…kill them? It seems some time ago a prophecy was declared which stated some hookey unclear message, that when four humans arrived in Narnia, they would join together with Aslan, the former King of Narnia, and overthrow the Witch and her regime. Just who Aslan is and where he came from is unclear. All that we know is that he is “on the move”. It’s also unclear if the Witch is human herself.

Now there has been a lot of critique regarding the film being a blatant bastion of Christianity, being that Aslan represents Jesus. Some people find this offensive and over the top. But that is not what bothers me about this film. Certainly I can understand that not everyone would want to go see a film that promoted Christianity, yet I still believe it is legitimate for a film to express a particular religious perspective. What I did find offensive, and even morally irresponsible, considering the way the film was marketed to children’s Sunday school groups etc., was the role that violence played. Now, I’m not one of these people who thinks violence in movies rots out children’s minds. But I do think there was a sinister context to the violence in TCONTLTWATW.

When Aslan is sacrificed by the White Witch, and word of this terrible news is brought back to the encampent of his followers, they take up arms and go to battle the Witch and her minions. To me the implications were that of a holy war, or crusade. I found the images particularly disturbing since Peter, the eldest of the Pensieve children, but still no more than fifteen or sixteen, led troops into battle. His sword of justice was slaying the “disbelievers” who follow the Witch instead of Aslan. Edmund, no more than twelve, had also donned armor and ridden into battle. Under normal circumstances, I would be complaining at the injustice of Susan and Lucy being left behind to mourn over Aslan’s corpse –their brothers getting to brandish weapons, while they are left to hug a dead stuffed animal. But in this case, I really didn’t think any of them should be fighting. Again, it’s been so long since I’ve read the book I can’t remember how much of this was in the book as well, but I think the filmakers made a strong choice to accentuate battling for one’s “faith”. No matter what one’s faith is, using it to justify violence is treading on dangerous territory, and the film didn’t even try to address the complex layers of this issue.

Were there neat things about this film? Sure. I though Aslan looked really great. I thought the wildcats running to attack each other on the battlefield looked cool. Tilda Swinton as the White Witch had good costumes. But overall it was a real snoozefest. Beyond that I just didn’t buy into anything that was going on, on screen. Edmund’s transformation from sad sulky embittered youth, to happy, nice courageous lad felt fake and force, and I didn’t feel as if any of the other children really underwent changes, besides “growing up” a bit. Other questions remain unresolved in my mind too. If Aslan is the true king, why were the kids crowned as the rulers of Narnia? I remember feeling like the book made sense as a child, but I found the movie had large gaps in logic. Also though I know I shouldn’t have, I kept comparing the film to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and frankly it came up very short. In LOTR: Return of the King, when Theoden gave a rallying speech in front of his Rohirim before battle, it felt passionate and emotional. But when Peter asked the Centaur next to him, if he was with him till the end, I asked myself who the hell he was talking to. LOTR just created such a sense of emtional urgency with its characters and the stakes at hand. I did not feel the same about TCONTLTWATW.

All in all, this film was a disappointment to me. I wonder how the next one will be, I know they’ve changed the order that one reads the books in school, but I wonder in what order they’ll be shot. Truth be told I always found Prince Caspian to be a little boring….

Thursday, December 08, 2005

X-Men 3: New Yorker says “Ooh la la!”

I’ve never been a big Brett Ratner fan, and, well truth be told, I’ve never even seen either of the Rush Hour movies, (they always seemed a trifle silly and never held much interest for me.) I thought Red Dragon had some intriguing moments, but overall was kind of bland and without a daring sense of creativity.

So when I heard Ratner was directing the third X-Men in place of douchey but incredibly talented Bryan Singer, I was disappointed. The X Men movies have been really strong comic book adaptations, with great casting, good story, and exciting action sequences. I really liked both the first and the second films. But I did think the first film was slightly better than the second, and when I heard about the regime change for the third film, I wasn’t holding my breath.

But I just saw the trailer for X-Men 3, and it completely knocked my socks off.

It looks, in a word, awesome. It’s great to see all the actors reprising their former roles. Patrick Stewart’s voice over adds a great gravitas to the whole thing, and the special FX are tremendous. The wings spreading from the “angel” in the clinic, the bridge being blown to bits, Wolverine chomping on the cigar, Dr. Gray returning as Phoenix, the student making the paper airplanes hover in the air without touching them… It’s just a really well done trailer with solid editing, great audio, and it makes the film look incredibly compelling.

Now this is what I call a teaser.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Trials and Tribulations of Narnia

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is released in theatres this Friday December 9th. Among anticipation for the first feature length adaptation of the children’s classic, there has also been criticism regarding the film’s subject matter.

Narnia has by many, always been considered the result of C.S. Lewis’ conversion from atheist to Christian. In fact, Lord of the Rings author, J.R.R. Tolkein and Lewis were friends and colleagues, and would debate the subject matter of fate often. It was Tolkein who played a large part in Lewis’ embracing of Christianity. (The Chicago Sun-Times actually just published a great article about Tolkein and Lewis.)

Because of the Christian allegorical elements of the C.S. Lewis works, Disney has reached out to churches across the country and even employed a Christian network marketing firm to help spawn enthusiasm for the among evangelical congregations. Some people find this behavior akin to religious propaganda and are abhorrently opposed both the film’s overt Christian elements, and Disney’s theologically driven campaign. I myself am a little perplexed about Disney’s marketing scheme, because while I realize that money is their ultimate goal, I think this is the kind of film that has such broad appeal, it doesn’t need to focus on just the Christian base.

However, some people have gotten beyond confusion into near rage. While visiting a friend’s blog , I came across an article published in the UK Guardian that irked me. The writer, Polly Toynbee, a self-proclaimed atheist, slams Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles, as well as the film, for its swooning Christian themes. The article rails upon the film for being so blatant in its religious messages, saying that the film’s only saving grace is that most children won’t be able to pick up on them anyway. While it makes some startling points about the connection between the sponsership of the film and the conservative religious right in this country, it also tears apart some of the foundations of Christianity itself. Since when did movie reviews become forums for religious analysis? Toynbee says it’s rude and inappropriate to parade around religious fervor in the way that Lewis’ books and now the film does. But isn’t it also rude and inappropriate to call a religion “repugnant” as Toynbee does at one point?

I just don’t understand what the big deal is. I read the books in school as a child, and despite the fact that I went to an Episcopalian school, the religious themes were only mentioned, and we primarily studied the book as we would any other work of children’s literature. I certainly didn’t love the books strictly because of or in spite of their Christian themes. I loved them because they were wonderfully fun and engaging books to read. I haven’t seen the movie yet, and I’m not sure just how obvious the religious iconography and symbolism is, but either way,does it matter? To a lesser extent, this film has had some of the hoopla that Passion of the Christ did. But I don’t understand why. (I didn’t understand with POTC either) Movies, are movies. They are made for different reasons, by different people, who believe different things. They are neither vehicles of salvation nor paths to damnation. At their best, they are works of art (ostensibly), that reflect the inner perepectives of those who worked on it.

I think people will go to see Chronicles of Narnia, and if it’s a well made film and an adept adaptation, be able to derive a variety of things out it. Children may love to see the books that they’ve read come to life on the big screen. Adults may feel a sense of nostalgia as they recall the first time they became familiar with the stories. People who haven’t read the books at all may enjoy it as simply a large fantastical spectacle, and still others may get a sense of spiritual inspiration from it.

Steven Spielberg does not do any director’s commentaries on his DVD’s. This is because, as rumor has it, he likes to leave his audience with a sense of personal interpretation. The best artists know that people may look at their work in a way they had never dreamed.

And so I say to the critics out there, griping about Narnia and its meanings, let the film stand for itself. The film might be good or bad, but theological agenda or not, it’s based on a beloved children’s fantasy that has been widely read since it’s publication. What I’m curious about is how artfully done the adaptation will be…

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Aeon Flux: Sci-Fi for the sake of itself

Clones, dystopias, women in tight leather doing acrobatics; they’ve all become staples of sci-fi over the years. In any give genre, certain conventions become so familiar and obvious, that the bulk of them begin to blend into one another, and they become somewhat indistinguishable. Such was the case with Aeon Flux. It was merely, just another sci-fi flick.

The first five minutes of the movie were both as lively and informative as a chapter in a textbook, and served to set up the entire film via narration done by Charlize Theron, as her character, Aeon.

Welcome to Bregna, it’s a “utopian” society where the remaining humans on earth live. Hundred of years prior, a terrible virus had almost knocked out the entire race, and probably would have, if not for Trevor Goodchild, a brilliant scientist who discovered a cure for the pestilence. But all is not as wonderfully idyllic as it might seem, besides the attractive and brightly garbed population, people have been known to disappear, and the entire city lives under a strict police state. Beyond that, citizens complain of trouble sleeping, and displaced memories. There is unrest brewing among the populus.

Then there are the Monicans, covert operatives who work under a bedraggled Fances McDormand, known to them only as the “Handler”. They are on a mission to discover “the truth” and take down Bregna’s government, run by the scientist Trevor with the help of his brother Oren, and a stoic group of advisors. How and when did these Monicans originate? Unclear. Equally unclear is the method by which they communicate with one another and access the Handler. At times it seems to be triggered by a chemical substance (implying a psychic encounter rather than a physical one….huh?) at other times, by their touching of a metal ball bearing implanted in their bodies.

Early on, in a hasty attempt to give Aeon’s character some motivation, we learn that her sister Una is killed by the police, when they mistake her for Aeon. Aeon’s voiceover after this event states, “I had a life, …now I just have a mission…” The “Handler” puts Aeon on a mission to assassinate Bregna’s mastermind, Treveor Goodchild. But when she gets her lucky break, something goes terribly awry; Aeon cannot bring herself to kill him, and finds herself magnetically drawn to him.

This movie was very boring, particularly in the first half hour. Aeon Flux is like many popular releases today; character development is a luxury it cannot afford. Certainly not with a mandated quota from the studio for a dizzying array of FX and T & A shots/sequences.

So many science fiction films, particularly those of recent years like The Matrix, The Island, and even A.I. are based around this general feeling of discontent that we in modern day society feel. That we are not ourselves, or we are not who we think we are; that we are nothing more than power sources for machinery, clones or robots. I think that these are both interesting and relavent ideas to explore, given the fast paced consumer culture we live in. Some of these films, like the Matrix, explore these themes successfully, others like The Island, less so. Unfortunately Aeon Flux falls into the latter category; it doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

Bregna’s big “secret” is that all the humans living within it’s walls are clones. The cure that Goodwin found for the virus inadvertently made all humans sterile. So to keep the human race alive, DNA was stored from that first generation of survivors and recycled into embryos which were then inserted into a surrogate mother’s womb. In essence people were living over and over again as different incarnations of themselves. This was also the reason for the memories that people experienced of things that had never happened to them. I think I understand the reason for the writers putting this in there. They wanted to convey that people were only meant to live once –that you can’t erase emotional content out of memory, that there is more to life than the scientific data and facts. But it also doesn’t make any sense. For a film that emphasized its scientific details on the methodology of cloning, it seemed senseless to also imply that memories were imprinted in DNA. It’s ridiculous. (Though this does explain why Aeon feels for Trevor Goodwin –they were husband and wife in their past lives).

What’s more is that the story’s solution to this conundrum is that magically, women in Bregna have started to become pregnant again without insemination, because “nature had found a way”. As much as I wanted to laugh out loud in the theatre about their blatant rip off of Jurassic Park (remember Jeff Goldblum’s little tirade?), I just rolled my eyes at the futility of the film’s clunky plot.

Absurdity abounds in this movie. For example Pete Postlethwaite’s character, “the Keeper” lives in a giant hot air balloon. He wears a dress and guards Bregna’s supply of human DNA, it also appears he has been alive for four hundred years…maybe. But as with so many other elements of this film, Postlethwaite’s character was bizarre for the sake of itself. He might of easily been a hologram of Charlie Chaplin singing Old Ang’s Eye everytime someone climbed into his balloon. Now I don’t mind absurdity, in fact sometimes I love it. But it seems to me that in the best contexts it has a greater purpose or meaning. Aeon Flux was just a conglomeration of familiar sci-fi images and themes that we’ve seen before. There were some interesting concepts, and striking visual elements, but it all felt so labored, not at all fluid, as it clunked along from one plot point to the next. It was a sci-fi mosaic without the big picture.

Aeon Flux reminded me of The Island, in that they both deal with the subject of human cloning in the future. But The Island, (as much as I disliked the film) had stronger, better founded commentary on the moral ambiguity of cloning. People had begun to clone out of a sense of frivolity and luxury. A terrifying, but nevertheless, logical future step in a society of materialistic perpetuity; added comfort at all costs. In Aeon Flux, the situation was different. Trevor Goodwin had saved the human race from the terrible virus, but extinction faced them nonetheless. He had no other choice but to clone humans, lest the human race go extinct. For centuries, he tried to find a cure for the sterility, and in the end, he did. As it turns out, Una, Aeon’s sister had been part of one of Trevor’s many test groups, and had gotten pregnant. This was the real reason that she had been killed. (That was another messy thing about the storyline, it had both Trevor Goodwin and Mother Nature solving the infertility problem at coincidentally the same time.) Oren, Trevor’s brother, wanted to live forever, and wanted to maintain the cloning status quo, which was clearly corrupt and perverse. But he was ultimately defeated by Aeon and Trevor at the end of the movie. In the end it was all a fairly straight forward throughline: cloning was needed to keep the human race alive, when it was no longer needed, it would be banned. Ta da! Maybe I’m just thick skulled, but I find it hard to argue against using cloning if the alternative is human extinction. So what exactly is the film’s argument about cloning?

I thought director Karyn Kosama made some interesting choices with her production designer and VFX guys. The sets and costumes were impressive, and while I can’t imagine the film had a very high budget the visual FX were not at all shabby. Some of the technology in the film looked cool and inventive, though explanations and elaboration on it was scant. I really liked the design of Trevor Goodchild’s living quarters, his bedroom area was like a tatami room, and a lever opened up the floor to reveal a retracting spiral staircase. His study was decorated in the style of a late nineteenth century British library with an Asian twist, and when another lever was moved, a stark white modern laboratory was revealed. It was cool stuff to look at. Pity there wasn’t much more of it in the film.

Monday, December 05, 2005

New Lost Theory

Ever since Lost first aired last season, there have been message boards upon message boards all over the internet attempting to theorize about the mysteries of the show. I've stumbled across some cool fan sites over the past year or so and read many a hypothesis ranging from the "purgatory theory" to the "alien experiment theory", each with their own interesting take.

But I have to say, THIS ONE is one of the more thorough, intelligent and unique ones thus far.

I like it. Take a peek folks.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Payoff

The new season of Television has finished up their November sweeps, and is settlling in for their holiday hiatus, after having aired about a third of their episodes for the season.

So why is it that I feel so unsatisfied with so much of what I’ve seen thus far? After an exciting September full of the promise of new seasons and new shows, my interest has dwindled and waned on various fronts. For one thing (though its probably a foregone conclusion to everyone else) Surface is officially off my list. After investing seven hours of my life attempting to force myself into liking the show, I finally threw my hands in the air under the duress of extreme boredom, there was simply nothing redeeming about to peek my interest week after week. Invasion which actually had a decent episode a couple of weeks ago plummeted back to its par for the course unbearablue uneventfulness this past Wedensday. The problem with Invasion, is one which I find plauges many shows these days.

In Invasion, that characters we follow are trying to make sense of the mysterious happenings in their town after a major hurricane has hit. Certain townspeople have had “experiences,” in which they became unconscious during the storm and were found the morning after disoriented and without a recollection of what happened to them. The obvious allusion is that these people are somehow different, that they have been influenced and/or abducted by some alien life form. The episode “The Cradle” which aired two weeks ago exactly, was compelling because at long last, some real details about what might have happened to these folk was finally revealed. One of the main characters who had an experience, Mariel, goes into the pond where she was found after the hurricane and sees her own body decomposing under the water. In the meantime her husband, the bizarre shifty Sheriff Underlay, has an intriguing conversation with a disturbed young woman who also had an “experience.” The young woman, who had just killed her mother in law and denied her baby, implied that even Underlay (a suspected pod person himself) couldn’t fathom what was happening to the town, or to his wife, and that “everyone was different”. At last I felt we were getting somewhere. People had been abducted, and their bodies replaced with new ones, and there were things that the ringleader sheriff could not control himself. It seemed that at long last the show was giving us a payoff. Sadly last week’s installment was another lackluster edition, failing to truly capitalize and give any movement to the ideas spawned by the previous episode.

But Invasion isn’t the only show out there which has yet to give any real payoffs this season, even the beloved Lost, has been a little lacking. There have been some big reveals, but each answer consistently brings on more and more new questions and mysteries. I have yet to feel like a single storyline (including those from last season) has come to a satisfying and complete climax. I’m all for mystery and fun and games, but after a while it feels tiresome. As much as I like the fact that they’ve introduced a new set of characters on the island, --the tail section survivors, I can’t help but feel like its a diversion from the main plot of the island that’s already been established. I’m glad that last week’s episode finally reunited all the remaining survivors; I want to see what the heck they’re going to do now. In the first season, we got to know the main characters, as they got to know each other. They explored the island, got a the lay of the land, and strategized how to get off the island. In some ways this season has cheated because they’ve started all over again with a new set of characters that needed their own exposition. (I actually think it would have been really interesting if they had devoted a lot more time to the tail section survivors, so we could have learned about their struggles over the course of a few episodes, rather than what was smashed together into one). But whether or not one finds the new survivors interesting, we still know so little about some of the major elements on the island. Where the hell has the monster been? The Polar Bears? Why the Quaraintine and what of the references by the French Woman of the “infection” and getting sick. Speaking of the French Lady, where has she been? Where’s Desmond? What will happen if the button isn’t pushed? Who are The Others? Where is Walt? Where do the numbers come from?

Questions abound and while I understand that these “secrets” can’t or shouldn’t all be answered at once, everything still seems incredibly foggy to me. The bizarre video by the Dharma Collective shed some light on what the island might be about, but even the particulars of the film are hard to make sense of in the context of everything else. I think the episodes still exhibit solid writing, directing and acting, but the storyline is dragging, enough of Rose hanging her laundry and Charlie having a sing-a-long, I want some action!

I still watch ER, and for the most part, each episode has its own little encapsulated storylines. West Wing is at least building to a presidential election, creating suspense as to who will be the winning candidate. I still keep Threshold on the TiVo, though it only occasionally skims the territory of good solid TV, wavering on decent most of the time. The problem with that show is that they’ve spilled all their beans at once. We already know there’s an alien invasion, and we know the government has a separate secret agency to fight it. Due to the intensive nature of their work, none of the Threshold team really has anytime for a personal life, so there ins’t really much drama to be had in that arena either.

How difficult can it be to set up a situation or an issue, that will eventually come to bear with drastic consequences or results?

Ironically enough, the one TV show out there right now that I find is able to successfully execute payoffs within its story structure is Deperate Housewives. This is a show that I mocked incessantly last season, because of its ridiculous characters and materialistic attitudes; in many ways it is an extented commercial for the life of a suburban housewife. There are still things about it that drive me crazy, --I think its characters can be more cartoonish then well rounded, and I can not abide Terri Hatcher; but objectively speaking, the show is actually cleverly crafted. It is able to consistently give the audience plot payoffs, without taking an obscenely long amount of time to do it and without revealing all of its secrets and mysteries. Like any soap opera, it sets plot points into motion that may carry on for episode after episode, but unlike certan daytime soaps which drag things out to an abysmal extent (parallel universe/island on Days of Our Lives anyone?) the writers/producers on Housewives have a good sense of timing. They know how long they can keep a mystery or cliffhanger going before interest wanes, and it looses its relavence. Time and time again they’ve provided closure and “answers” to different plot lines.

Which brings me to my nex thought. Am I just another stupid American glutton who needs to be spoon fed at every turn? Can I not enjoy a mystery for mystery’s sake and come up with my own answers and interpretations? It’s possible there is some truth to that, though I enjoy debating and discussing the meaning of film’s ambiguous ending or open ended conclusion. But this is television, and with television, if you watch a show regularly, you are really devoting a lot of time to it. You are investing yourself in the characters and the storylines, and I think its only fair that every now and again the creators reward their loyal fans with a payoff now and again. Because the casual viewer who’s flipping through the channel won’t necessarily care if they see Scully and Mulder kiss, or if an alien on Star Trek from two seasons ago reappears, but the fans will. Payoffs are what create enthusiasm for a show, what garners fervor. Fans like to know they are being appreciated. I find TV is a funny give and take that way, much more so than film. I think it’s more personal.

I wrote the bulk of this blog yesterday before seeing last night’s episode of LOST. I thought last night’s episode was quite strong, --creepy, great writing, and good acting (I love the new character, Echo). Finally I felt like we were starting to get somewhere with LOST, Jack and Kate making out in the jungle was a long time coming, and at long last we learned of Kate’s “secret”. There was more revealed about the film, though it did just create a whole other set of questions. Another incident? What were they talking about? And where the heck was Walt typing from? (If it was actually Walt.) Still, great episode.

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