SQOG - the Sasquatch Blog

****All the posts below are bigtime SPOILERS if you haven't seen, read, or heard the entertainment I am talking about. Look at the post heading for the day and decide if you want to be spoiled on that topic or not.****

June 2011 posts

 

-Friday, July 29th, 2011: COMICS - Astonishing X-Men #1: Gifted

Peter & KittyI read a couple comics regularly, but I would never call myself a huge comic fan. I read WALKING DEAD, BUFFY, and KICK-ASS, but I just usually find that comics straddle that uncanny valley between books and television. When I am reading a really good and evocative comic, I just feel so depressed that it can’t be live-action. That being said, my first foray into comics a few years was the 4-part ASTONISHING X-MEN run written by Joss Whedon. As I’ve said before, I’ll follow Whedon into any medium in which he chooses to dabble. So even though I had no previous knowledge of the X-Men canon, other than the films (3 had been released at that point), I started buying up ASTONISHING X-MEN and was surprised at how much fun I enjoyed the Whedon run.

The first part of Whedon’s X-Men run is called GIFTED, and it seems like that really crappy 3rd X-Man movie directed by Brett Ratner liberally borrowed the mutant cure plotline from this comic. I’m sure no one is surprised by the fact that Whedon chose Kitty Pryde as his main character. She is a pretty young girl with the superpower of being able to pass through any solid material. Since this character has been around for about 50 years, it is clear that she is something of a model for the strong female leads that Whedon has created throughout his career. It seems only fitting that Whedon payback one of his inspirations by writing Kitty a whole new empowering story. The story did a good job of catching me up, Magneto nearly destroyed Manhattan, so humanity is pretty freaked out by mutant-kind right now. Apparently there has also just been some major mutant genocide on an island called Genosha where Colossus had died, and Kitty was just now returning from a long leave of absence. A lot of this info is dumped in a confrontational scene between Cyclops and Nick Fury halfway through the comic. It’s a great example of a creative use of exposition. Yes, it’s a background info dump, but Whedon uses this argument to show how both Cyclops and Fury have strong positions and that the difference between right and wrong/good and evil is just a point of view. I liked how the infamous Whedon dialogue is still present in the X-Men world (Kitty: Wolverine is ‘eslewhere’? Beast: Meaning we’ve narrowed it down to ‘else’). People might complain that Kitty just sounds like a Buffy-clone, but I think it adds a great amount of charm to the interactions between this dysfunctional group of superheroes. And wow, Whedon does not skimp on plunging right into the myriad problems in this merry band. Cyclops fights Wolverine. Beast fights Wolverine. Though my favorite bits are the well-written taunts between Kitty and Emma Frost (Emma: Thank you Kitty, for showing up late. Kitty(looking at Emma’s plunging neckline): Sorry, I was busy remembering to put on all my clothes.), they bounce off each other fantastically. I also like that Whedon’s character-building applies to this part’s big bad, Ord. Yeah, he is awful and bad, but he is frequently funny, frustrated, and has a bit of a tragic back-story. That kind of building is just so much more interesting than some moustache-twirling villain.

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that my favorite parts of comics are the silent cinematic scenes, when the panels reveal something that doesn’t require annoying word bubbles or extensive explanatory dialogue. These creative moments are the ones that halfway convince skeptics that comics might be a legit art form. The big reveal of GIFTED is that Colossus (Peter), the guy who can turn into metal, is still alive and has been experimented on by the big bad, Ord. Apparently, there used to be a romance between Kitty and Peter. Under fire by guards, Kitty opens a vault and Peter steps out of the shadows, in full metal Colossus form. There is a wonderful set of panels here where Kitty stares up at Peter, speechless, while bullets phase through her and ping off him. In the next panel, Peter moves/phases through Kitty to fight the guards. In the last panel, Kitty reaches up and sadly touches her chest, right where Peter just phased through. It’s a tender moment that gets across how strongly Kitty feels for Peter, and how painful it was to think he had died. All that emotion expressed by a single comic panel, just fantastic.

The artwork by John Cassaday here is clear, colorful, and most importantly in my opinion, uncluttered. He sometimes takes artistic license, drawing a panel more emotionally than realistically, but I like that Cassaday never pushes that too far. I loved the moment where Colossus is revealed to the X-men, their wide-eyed looks of shock and Ord hesitantly asking if the dragon is behind him. There is a certain panel, when Colossus is beating up Ord, that visualizes all of Peter’s pain and rage. He is slamming both fists down on Ord, screaming, metal neck tendons straining, and wow, what a depiction of pure animal rage. It’s terrifying to see Peter this out of control, but lovely to see this so strongly drawn. I also like that big full panel when Colossus throws Wolverine in the air. Seeing Wolverine’s ears forced back by the wind shear really sells the velocity at which Wolverine is hurtling. Marvel has converted GIFTED into a motion comic and the first of six chapters is free. You can find the other ones on Netflix Instant or Itunes. I say they are definitely worth checking out, there is a certain thrill seeing Whedon’s story play out with music, sound effects, and voices. They get Wolverine’s voice right, but the voice acting for Kitty and Emma Frost is alarmingly bad. It is amazing to me that Joss Whedon’s ferocious creativity so seamlessly transfers to other mediums. For the next 3 Fridays, I will take a look at his remaining 3 ASTONISHING X-MEN chapters because damn, this man is a one engaging and talented writer.

 

 

 

-Thursday, July 28th, 2011: PAN'S LABYRINTH - del Toro & His Monsters

Tree PanWow, just saw PAN’S LABYRINTH again in quality Blu-ray HD and was again blown away with the images and the story told by Guillermo del Toro. This movie is really up there for me, with its dark depiction of fairytales and its even danker portrayal of evil in the real world. I forgot how shocking the violence is in the real world scenes, especially when it’s committed in stunningly beautiful woodland shots with dandelion seeds floating through the frame. Shocking, like when the Captain caves in the face of a young man by repeatedly hitting him in the face with a bottle. Or just the casual brutality practiced by soldiers on both sides, that even if an enemy is down, they always shoot him again in the head just to make sure. And I think it is a fascinating choice to place Ofelia’s fantasy world right next to the bloody fighting of the Spanish Civil War, much as del Toro did in his previous excellent Spanish language film, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE. But even with all this violence in PL, there is a beautiful story being told about a little girl trying to find a way to escape the horrors of her life. I like how it never really matters in the story if what Ofelia sees is real or not (even though by the end, seeing Ofelia through the POV of the Captain, it is clear that Ofelia’s fantasy world is not real), if she found a happier place by the end, what does it matter? And even though it is a tragic and horrific ending, I like how del Toro explains his ending, quoting Soren Kierkegaard saying, “The tryant’s reign ends with death, but the martyr’s reign starts with death.Del Toro goes on to explain that PL is about living forever by choosing how you die. Some have argued that all the violence and the death of Ofelia is used as exploitation, a cheap means to shock the audience, but I disagree. If you look back at our cultural fairytales, they are mostly terrifyingly brutal stories meant to frighten and teach. Del Toro’s film is a reminder of the old kind of stories, a time when death and horror were much more intimately entwined in everyday life.

Del Toro is a monster maker, and PAN’S LABYRINTH gives him the opportunity to come up with one of his greatest monster creations; The Pale Man. Brought to creaky life by the talented Doug Jones, The Pale Man is one of the most terrifying monsters I have ever seen on screen. His skin is sallow and saggy, sloughing (still hate that word) of his bones and collecting in sagging bags at his joints. Those long sharp nails are stained red, presumably from the blood of all the children he has eaten. And that image, when he raises his hands to his head in order to see out the eyes in his palms is simultaneously beautiful and horrifying. Oh man, at 3:20, when he is staggering in creepy zombie-like shuffle behind an unaware Ofelia; that gets me shuddering every time. This is the deranged stuff of nightmares here, and it makes me so glad that I am not privy to the nightmares that del Toro must have. He continued to showcase monsters in his gleeful HELLBOY 2, even though his tooth fairies and especially the Angel of Death owe a lot to the designs he already had created for PAN’S LABYRINTH. But I feel like you can see del Toro’s dark tales hand in so many features these days. It’s hard to look at that wonderful animated fable in HARRY POTTER 7 and not see the echoes of the animated puppet sequence in HELLBOY 2. It’s not hard to see why Peter Jackson initially chose del Toro as his successor on THE HOBBIT. Once again I was swept up in Ofelia’s tragic story the other night, it’s amazing how much of a classic PAN’S LABYRINTH already feels like, as if it has always been here.

 

 

 

-Wednesday, July 27th, 2011: SUMMER MOVIES - Green Lantern

That freakin' mask...Ugh, it’s like the creative team behind GREEN LANTERN looked at everything learned in the last decade about cinematic comic book adaptations and just threw it all out the freaking window. Come on guys! I was really excited when I heard that Martin Campbell would be handling GL. This guy has been responsible for some of the most fun franchise launches in recent memory. He made the breezy blend of action and class in Bond’s CASINO ROYALE look effortless when QUANTUM OF SOLACE proved how easy it is to get that balance wrong. Campbell also helmed the fun GOLDENEYE and the marvelously entertaining MASK OF ZORRO. So what the hell went wrong? The failure of GL has been analyzed by a dozen far more incisive commentators than me and I agree with a lot of what they say. The movie spends too much time on earth when the most fascinating things happen off-world. The suit is a mess of CGI, very fake-looking, and the less said about the CGI mask on Reynolds’ face that sometimes moves of its own free will, the better. And haven’t we learned from FANTASTIC 4 and SPIDERMAN 3, the big bad enemy of a major summer blockbuster can not be a faceless blob or cloud of smoke. Your villain needs personality and hubris, and I was stunned that the big villain in GREEN LANTERN was a CGI’d cloud of space smoke. Look at past movies for god’s sake, at random, how about STAR TREK 2: THE WRATH OF KHAN. Khan is considered to be one of the most iconic screen villains in cinema history yet the simple fact is that Khan and Kirk never meet face-to-face. But the sheer combative charisma exuded by the lead actors is so compelling that you never even notice. ST2 was filmed on a small budget and they didn’t have the money for a Kirk/Khan showdown. GL had all the money in the world and they decided to go with a non-speaking pissed-off rain cloud as the main villain. I liked the action when it finally got going; there was just no sense of scope or personal stake in the final fight.

I enjoyed Ryan Reynolds as ‘Hal Jordan.’ Despite the fact that his storyline was a TOP GUN rip-off, he cut back on his smarmier tendencies, and when he was called to get serious and respect the canon of the comic, Reynolds more than delivered. But the film could never decide on a tone. There were jokey scenes, followed by serious ones, followed by scenes with some dodgy CGI, followed by Peter Sarsgaard grotesquely writhing in pain, apparently acting in a different movie. Couldn’t Sarsgaard’s creepy-ass character be eliminated in order for a proper-length training session with Kilowog or an articulate history lesson with Tomar-Re? I really don’t know that much about the GREEN LANTERN mythos, but when there was so much cool canonical stuff out there on Oa, why were we back on earth listening to Reynolds mope about being a superhero and watching him chase after the listless Blake Lively character? I’d imagine the studio execs got scared. When you are aiming for 4-quadrant entertainment, there is very little room to accommodate uniqueness. I can concede that there were still some moments that worked. I loved how frantically Hal Jordan raced to try and free the dying alien in his spaceship. That was instantaneous heroism and I liked that. Reynolds’ reciting of the oath as he is being pummeled by Parallax was a great moment of overwhelming will, I really loved how intensely Reynolds delivered the oath. But a few moments don’t make a whole film. Look, I wasn’t expecting the world with this film, but I just never thought that a movie about super heroes, a crazy galactic peacekeeping corps, and bright green constructs could be so familiar and dull.

I rented the most recent DC animated superhero DVD the other day, GREEN LANTERN: EMERALD KNIGHTS. And even though it was an anthology story, which is never my favorite kinds of movie, there were scenes of scope, tragedy, terror, and heroism that far exceeded any scene in the live-action GL. Just look at the terrifying start to the film, that woman’s scream of pain is scarier than anything I’ve seen in a cartoon in a long time. Check out how epic this action is. Or see how a GL ring transformation moment can be something that inspires awe. In the first story of the anthology, we learn about the first green lanterns and how they defeated a fleet of millions of ships. The action beats in that story were emotional and huge, exactly the kind of scale that belongs in the live-action version. I understand that it is easier and cheaper to accomplish things in cartoon form, but if that is so, why is the score to the animated flick so much better than the actual movie? I’ll stop harping, I really will. But learning about the GL mythos this summer really made me want to see this world done justice. It sounds like we will be getting a live-action sequel and I couldn’t be more excited. I get so tired of origin stories, and now that Hal and the green lanterns have been introduced, maybe they can really go balls to the wall in a full-out space epic. If the last teaser (which comes out of nowhere by the way) is any hint, we might be getting a cinematic depiction of the Sinestro Corps War, and that my friends, would be a legendary GREEN LANTERN film.

 

 

 

-Tuesday, July 26th, 2011: BREAKING BAD - Jesse Pinkman

Lost JesseIt is so fantastic having BREAKING BAD back. This show is still the most consistently fascinating and brilliant show currently on television and the 4th season has certainly started out with a bang. It’s funny when I look at episode recaps, because if you look at the actual plot of most of the episodes, not much actually happens. The writers spend a lot time building tension throughout the season and usually release it through a big cathartically violent moment. The great thing is that you never know when that action release is going to come. The creator of BREAKING BAD is a guy named Vince Gilligan, who was best known as the writer of some of the best X-FILES episodes, like ‘Jose Chung’. His writing style was very unique; a playful and witty tone that lightened some very dark material. It is so fulfilling to see such a talented writer retain his creative talents when promoted to showrunner for a successful television series, because that is exactly what Gilligan has done with BREAKING BAD. AMC has given him license to explore anything he wants at this point. He can go from Hitchcockian moments of tension and terror, like with Gus and the box cutter earlier this season, to moments of layered levity, Skylar and her car wash missions, to soul-crushing depression, Jesse’s tailspin. That all these moments work in a single show is nothing short of astounding. I enjoy this genre smashup, and I am still so impressed with how the show still finds time for little moments. The other week, Skylar took a very hard negotiating stance with the owner of the car wash. She explains her bargainaing tactics with Walt, insisting that the car wash owner will call her back, despite the fact that she has demanded that the owner accept her reduced offer. Now, many fans can’t stand Skylar and her controlling nature these days. I do understand their criticism, but I also feel a whole lot of sympathy for the situation Walt has forced her into. Even though Skylar talks a big game with Walt, as soon as he leaves the room, Skylar nervously frets by the phone, hoping the owner will call back. It’s this little moment of doubt that Gilligan inserts for her character that humanizes Skylar. She isn’t some confident, controlling shrew, Skylar is scared, flying by the seat of her pants, and trying to hold things together for the sake of her family.

But if there was an all-star for the first few episodes of this season, it would have to be last year’s Emmy winner, Aaron Paul as ‘Jesse Pinkman’. He proves why he won that Emmy with some truly stunning acting work over the last couple of weeks. Jesse has mostly been the bumbling gangsta fool to Walt's cold scientist. But after having murdered Gale in last season’s finale, Jesse has become a totally compelling personality, completely unable to deal with his guilt and his pain. He is numb, turning his home into a hell pit and falling back into drug addiction so that he can be forced to feel something. There is one tremendous moment in the first episode this year where Jesse reacts to Gus slitting the throat of his own subordinate to teach a lesson to Walt and Jesse. Take a look at the long shot of Jesse’s face at 1:35 in this very bloody clip (for some reason there is another show inserted into the middle of this clip, just move past it!) I can’t quite make sense of what is on Jesse’s face, it’s intense and hungry and engaged, but I can’t figure it out. I believe that this is the moment when Jesse realizes that he is beyond saving. After being forced to kill and witnessing a bloody murder all in one day, Jesse knows that his end will be coming soon and he just doesn’t care anymore. He throws himself into an endless home party, culminating in this stunning shot of Jesse pressed up against a pounding music speaker, trying to beat the images of death and murder out of his head with pure sonic attack. Aaron Paul is stepping up his game this season, really selling his character’s descent into nihilism and emptiness. Between the acting class being put on by Bryan Cranston’s increasingly desperate ‘Walter White’ and Aaron Paul’s disintegrating Jesse, there are even more reasons to watch this show. I can’t wait to see where this show will go in the next few weeks, because if there is one thing that BREAKING BAD doesn’t do well, its predictability.

 

 

 

-Monday, July 25th, 2011: SDCC - Best Moments

Happy Nerdy ChuckComic-Con just continues to exponentially gain influence in the entertainment world, it’s kind of amazing. Would anyone have imagined a few short years ago that this little nerd gathering would attract the likes of Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg? It’s hard to believe how these big summer tent-pole movies are living and dying by their Comic-Con buzz, god forbid a movie have a bad showing here. As film and television have started to geek it up by jumping full bore into superheroes and fantasy, the Comic-Con has become mainstream. As someone so succinctly called the convention this year: Sundance Clusterf--- 2: San Diego. But really, what full-blooded American man who hit puberty around RETURN OF THE JEDI wouldn’t want to spend time in a convention hall with this many ladies in costume? I’m going to have to go next year. But looking past all the crazy costumes and the hype, sometimes there are some really pure moments in these film and television panels. And a true magical moment is hard to come by in huge stinky rooms filled with hardcore fans who are always a bit disappointed that the actors aren’t exactly like their on-screen characters. Most actors who come into the panels are unnerved by the pure need and desire poured out by these fans, and the Q&As can become awkward affairs. Every now and then an actor truly gets it. Either they are a geek themselves or they are so passionate about a project that they have more in common with the fans than the actual filmmakers. There were a couple great examples of this from past years. I would point to the great chemistry shared between NPH, Nathan Fillion, and Joss Whedon on the DR HORRIBLE panel a few years back. These are such laid-back cats, they clearly just enjoy being in each other’s company and creating something that people love. Also of note was the GREEN LANTERN panel last year when Ryan Reynolds emotionally sold the Oath to a small kid in the audience. No matter what you think of the movie, it was a spine-tingling moment that showcased an actor taking his superhero role seriously. Though, what kind of shirt was Blake Lively wearing, yowza!

This year, there were a couple emotional instances that really captured the audience. At the SPIDERMAN panel, Peter Parker himself, Andrew Garfield, showed up in full geek spider costume to ask the panel a question. It was a funny moment and the passion with which he talked about what an honor it was to portray this character was palpable. I am still not behind this SPIDERMAN reboot, it really feels unnecessary. That DOOM-like trailer did nothing for me, even though I like the actors. Sure, SPIDERMAN 3 was a mess, but it still made a fortune. Why can’t we do another sequel with a different creative team instead of going backwards for another damn origin story? Plus, it looks like they are trying to make this new one ‘gritty’, like a BATMAN clone, and I think that is the totally wrong approach for the universe of SPIDERMAN. We’ll see, maybe they’ll win me over somehow. Another great moment at the 2011 SDCC was the CHUCK panel. CHUCK is a light and goofy fun show with a good heart that has spent its entire existence on the cusp of cancellation. The one thing that has always saved it has been the support of its fans. Almost single-handedly a couple years ago, CHUCK fans got the Subway food chain to sponsor the show, giving CHUCK enough cash to convince the network to keep it alive. With a guaranteed final season of 13 episodes at NBC, the CHUCK crew got a very rare chance to say goodbye to its fans. Zachary Levi, ‘Chuck’ himself, got choked up when he tried to express his gratitude to the fan base and it’s just wonderful to watch him struggle through his emotions. Levi has always been a nerd, this is his kind of place, and he is clearly humbled by the love and support that random fans have given his show to allow it to end with grace and finality. This is what these conventions are all about, fostering a relationship between the actors and their fans. And when an actor really commits to that relationship, it can speak to the hopes and dreams of all those attendees. I know what it’s like to geek out over a show, to begin to look at its world with envy and wonder, dreaming that the sets and characters may actually be out there somewhere. And even though Comic-Con reveals the wizard behind the curtain for these shows, the connection can be kept alive by a creative team who is as engaged and giddy as their audience. Plus, thanks to the coverage at Comic-Con, we now have this fantastically awesome film that blends beloved actors from FIREFLY/TRUE BLOOD/GAME OF THRONES to look forward to. Can’t wait!

 

 

 

-Friday, July 22nd, 2011: FACEBOMB - Friday Hilarity

MoustacheOK, this post really has nothing to do with this Tiger Woods picture from the 2011 Masters, and it’s a Friday, so I’m really not in an analytical mood. Yes, it’s a cool pic and it must have really sucked for the camera guy. But almost more memorable than Tiger and an errant ball is that random dude on the right side of the picture with the big cigar, red wig, and fake moustache. People were totally confused by this guy, and rightly so. This was the Masters, the big daddy of all golf tournaments, so it is exceedingly rare to find someone there dressed like they were an extra in HAPPY GILMORE. Apparently he was dressing as this guy, Spanish golfer Miguel Angel Jimenez, another golfer who was playing in the Masters. Whatever he was doing, this mustached fan is a pretty good example of a Facebomb. As I understand it (and I don’t know this already because I’m an old man at 31), a facebomb is when someone in the background of a normal picture completely steals all the attention by doing something ridiculous.

Like I said, not a very serious post today. Anyways, I came across this facebomb site today and I couldn’t stop laughing. And man, you’ve got to cycle through all those pictures, because each one gets better. It’s kinda disgusting, but that casual manner in which that kid pukes in ‘The Puke Bomb’ hockey pic had me crying. Then, for the animal lovers out there, is there anything cuter than ‘The Kitty Bomb’ and the pissed off cat in the back? But without a doubt, the highlight of the entire facebombing movement in modern culture has to be ‘The Blubber Bomb’. Who among us hasn’t wanted to totally break up a group pool picture of a bunch of happy, beautiful, drunk people?! So let’s give some credit to this whale of a man for propelling his body mass, ‘Free Willie’-style, into frame just in time. That man is a hero. OK, that’s it, I’m fried, I’m out, have a great weekend y’all.

 

 

 

-Thursday, July 21st, 2011: SUMMER MOVIES - HP7.5

The Rickstar!Now that’s how you do a tense, wonderful summer blockbuster, what a fantastic film! The concluding chapter of the entire Harry Potter series, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HOLLOWS: PART 2, nails the landing, easily beating out AZKABAN as the best film in the series, and providing a cathartic and epic finale. I’ve written about this series before, mostly about the misuse of the adult cast, but this movie does so many things right, I think it shows how much stronger the last few films could have been. It entirely justifies the decision to split the 7th book into two films, I shudder to think how rushed the Battle of Hogwarts would have become if there had been one movie. I was excited, thrilled, touched, and more than once moved by the acting and the artistic flourishes David Yates was able to fit into his final HP film. And after working through seven movies of very little screen time, Maggie Smith, Ralph Fiennes, and Alan Rickman show us why they are regarded as highly as they are, and Neville Longbottom shows us that he totally deserves a spinoff.

Let’s start at the top, what a fantastic cold open to the movie. That slow push in on Hogwarts with the whispy Dementors ominously circling. A clearly pained Snape overseeing the children marching into the school. A wordless couple shots with a soft, almost LOTR-like woman’s voice mournfully singing over it all. We are in the shit here, and that quick opening sequence reminds us of that. The first half of the film does a masterful job of building the tension. I loved the little touches here; like the weariness of that albino dragon, the fantastically intuitive camera angles, or the terrifying image of a confused Voldemort wandering barefoot through the blood of slain goblins. I thought it was a wonderful idea to start the battle so early, with Snape being ejected from the school very early on in the proceedings. Maggie Smith does some wonderful work here. She hits all the notes, from her brave mother-like jump in front of Harry and her brash wand work, to her trusting protection of Harry and her glee at awakening the stone soldiers. This is more than she has had to do in the last 5 movies combined. Everyone gets to have their moment. Ron and Hermione’s bold journey down to the Chamber of Secrets was inspired and resulted in a pure adrenalized kiss that was 7 years in the making. Neville becoming a man, taunting the Death Eaters and slashing that snake with all the bravado of Errol Flynn. I do wish we had seen more of him in the last few films, his heroic stance and rousing speech here seem to come from nowhere. But let’s get to Rickman.

Wow, I thought Snape’s story was revealed in a beautiful manner, all thanks to a superlative Alan Rickman. His death-by-snake scene was brutal, yet artfully hidden behind the boathouse’s frosty windows. How he pleaded for Harry to look at him so that he could see Lilly’s eyes again was amazing. His discovery of Lilly’s body was stunning, and I was struck here by the simple fact that Snape was so in love with Lilly that his patronus, a reflection of a wand-user’s spirit, became Lilly’s doe patronus. What a beautiful way to show that Snape’s soul has always belonged to Lilly. And it explains his hatred/love of Harry Potter. My sister pointed out to me what a torturous concept that was. That in Harry’s face, Snape could see the eyes of his beloved in the body of his hated rival, James Potter. What a terrible image to see in school every day of his life. Rickman nailed all of this, and brought true heart to his magnificent storyline. I love this letter he posted to JK Rowling the other day, what a true class act Rickman is!

All said about the awesomeness above, I had my issues. I thought they completely missed the ball on Mrs. Weasley’s Ripley-like destruction of Bellatrix. It happened off on the side of the main hall and it was awkwardly staged, with a lot of people just standing around. It had already been established that one of the Weasley twins had been murdered. Why not take 2 seconds to show that Bellatrix murdered the twin and was after the rest of the Weasley clan. Show Mrs. Weasley in a vengeful rage, blindly racing after her, saving Ginny, but getting hurt, growling out her big line from a place of pain and maternal fight. In terms of morality, this would have been a stretch, but let’s be honest, the moral code of character conduct in this series is all over the map. Couldn’t this scene have been a different, more successful reflection of Lilly’s protection of baby Harry? Oh well. And in the book, I had a huge problem with the disposal of Lupin and Tonks. I loved Harry’s story with Lupin and to not even show how they died was a disgrace to the character. I thought the movie did better. We still have no idea how they died, but that was redeemed by the moment in the Forest, when Harry looks forlornly at Lupin and apologizes that Lupin’s son will grow up without his parents. I loved that moment. Not only did it show how hard Harry was hit by Lupin’s death, it also made me love Harry more than I ever had before. Even at the door of his own death, Harry is capable of mercy and empathy. What a freakin’ hero!

The final fight was awesome; I have always loved how Voldemort is defeated by a technicality. It is a logical way to get Harry out of killing Voldemort and also explains how such a powerful and knowledgeable wizard could lose to a boy. My favorite fight in this series is still that inventive balletic Dumbledore/Voldemort face-off in #5 (crazy-gleeful Voldemort face at 1:45 used to give me nightmares) but the final showdown does just fine. And I though the epilogue was perfect. I think it was an appropriate blend of old-age makeup too. We certainly wouldn’t have wanted the roles recast with older actors, and too much makeup would have been silly. I’ve always loved the dialogue about how Snape was a hero, and I think it essential to really end the series. If we had ended right after the battle, someone might have cheated in the future and scavenged a film together about Voldemort’s return. That epilogue really ends things, telling us that this is the definitive finale. We have grown up with these characters over the last 10 years, and it really has been amazing that we have seen Daniel, Rupert, and Emma become adults right in front of our eyes. It adds so much emotion to see the characters mirror the real actors; they really do have the most expensive home videos of all time to show their kids one day! Amazingly, it’s all finally over. Evil has been defeated and good has survived to rebuild the world in a better light. Box office records have fallen, children have grown into adults, and a remarkable 8 film series that has not once dropped the ball, has closed. Harry Potter will be greatly missed, but in the end, all is well.

 

 

 

-Wednesday, July 20th, 2011: STEPHEN KING - Lisey's Story

Magic ShovelLove or hate him, you have to give Stephen King credit for being one of the most crazy prolific writers out there and for his ability, especially in the aftermath of his near-death car accident, to mine his own insecurities for story material. Since his accident, King has been writing more emotional material, and also some incisive passages about the hell that immobility can be for a person. And don’t traumatized artists often produce the best work? We all have heartbreak, but we usually are terrible at expressing our emotions. When a talented songwriter goes through a tough time, they have the tools to write about their human trauma in a way that audiences identify with. In the same way, King has the talent to put into achingly familiar words his feelings of frustration, abandonment, and fear. He also has a wicked sense of humor. I’ve only written pieces of his book about the craft of writing, but the passages I’ve read are full of wit, honesty, and detail. And having personally dealt with the tough battle that any filmmaker endures to acquire book copyrights for a film, I admire the crap out of Stephen King for promising that the rights to all his short stories will always be available to young filmmakers for the price of $1. It’s a hell of an awesome boon to filmmakers, and is a great example of his charitable side.

I like my books with a hint of the supernatural in them, so some of King’s material is right up my alley. I’ve talked about my childhood before, how at times it seemed like I was scared of everything damn thing that twitched in the night. But instead of being scared by King’s killer clown epic IT, I really enjoyed the sense of brotherhood and camaraderie that King depicted between the main group of kids. Like STAND BY ME, it was a bond that was very well explored and unexpectedly moving when the kids banded back together to defeat that damn clown when they were adults. Not to say there aren’t awful parts of that book, really, the less said about that weird-ass child orgy that happens in the sewers, the better. I understand what King was trying to go for, but he just didn’t pull it off and it comes off as straight-up perverted. But like I was saying, the warmth of the kids’ friendship really pulled me in and kept me from being scared of that clown. Then that crappy IT tv movie came out, and even though it was an awful adaptation, Tim Curry’s depiction of Pennywise the Clown was terrifying! A banished childhood fear came rushing right back in.

King’s film adaptations have been hit-or-miss, but check out this site for some of the most hilariously terrible film clips you can imagine. Pay special attention to the ‘Death by Soda Can’ clip at the bottom of the page. How much worse is that soda can death knowing that that King directed this terrible scene! And come on, how terrifying can a laundry machine be? Even if it somehow escapes from the Laundromat and lurches down the streets, I would imagine that a big hunk of metal could only hop after you so fast. It seems that a slow limp would be able to outpace The Mangler. Though when you can put winners like STAND BY ME or THE SHINING or IMDB’s current #1 greatest movie of all time, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION in King’s list of film adaptations, it’s much easier to discount the failures.

At this point, I have read a ton of King books and short stories. They mostly serve as quick airplane reads. His DARK TOWER series is too straight up fantasy for me, but of his novels, I have especially liked THE STAND, DESPERATION, and a short story he wrote about a woman driving a fast car through a primal Maine forest. But for some reason, his recent novel, LISEY’S STORY, hit me harder than anything he has ever written. There is still a supernatural side to the novel, but I thought the book did a tremendous job of showing the daily pain and torment that a widowed woman goes through. Even though her husband died 2 years before the story takes place, Lisey still turns around sometimes, expecting her husband to be there. Even after 2 years, old jokes and stupid minutiae creep up on her and threaten to break her down. It is an intimate study of how a partnership continues past death and I found Lisey’s journey enormously compelling. The supernatural components add flavor, especially for me in a particularly personal and creepy way. I tend to dream a lot, and while sometimes the dreams can be weirdly pleasant, such as the smoking British narrating monkey that appeared in my dreams for awhile when I was 12, I usually have nightmares. Especially when I was younger, I would have nightmares with recurring demons that I could remember in exquisite detail when I woke. For awhile, a specter that I called ‘Slough Boy’ would haunt me. I’ve always hated the word ‘slough’. It’s a dirty, quick, and sharp word that for some reason brings to my mind gristle, pigs, knives, and the disgusting image of flesh sloughing off bone and muscle. Slough Boy was a man whose skin was always sloughing off, you could tell he was near by the sound of his skin hitting the ground. He wasn’t fast, but he would always follow me, just standing silently at the edge of my dreams, across a street, at the back of an auditorium, in the deep end of a swimming pool, his presence an unsettling threat that one night, he might come closer. Well, in LISEY’S STORY, King describes a supernatural threat, ‘The Long Boy,’ a terrifying beast with “an endless piebald side.” Reading the story, it felt like Slough Boy had somehow gotten into the novel I was reading. King writes that The Long Boy could sometimes stare at people in the ‘real’ world through shards of glass or panes of a window, always just out of the corner of your eye. Even though Slough Boy dreams are far behind me, there were a couple sleepless nights in my place where I wasn’t particularly keen on staring at the windows. Ugh, enough about my terrors. Suffice to say, between the personal demon connection and the heartfelt exploration of loss, I hold up LISEY’S STORY as King’s most accomplished novel to date. The novel scares me, and maybe part of that baser emotional connection leaves me open to the emotional paths he explores.

 

 

-Tuesday, July 19th, 2011: SIX FEET UNDER - Killer Promo

SFU GangI never got into SIX FEET UNDER and I’m a little ashamed to admit that I probably never will. From everything I heard, it was a tragic, morbidly funny drama that moved at a snail’s pace. I know people who were huge fans and others who had tried it and given up in frustration. To me, it sounds like a lot of work, and I am not that willing to subject myself to a show that deals so intimately with death and depression. Still, SFU was a critic’s darling and one of the first shows to garner HBO the massive awards accolades that they now consistently enjoy. And wow, remember that stellar cast? Peter Krause, who is doing such great work on PARENTHOOD. Michael C. Hall before DEXTER. James Cromwell, Lauren Ambrose, Rachel Griffiths, Ben Foster, Richard Jenkins, . . . the list goes on. All of them top tier actors working under Alan Ball at the (arguable) top of his game. I’ll admit that I am one of those that passionately dislike the writing on AMERICAN BEAUTY, but I can’t argue that Ball is a talented showrunner. And way back in the day, I used to work with Frances Conroy. I was an assistant for her agent, and I used to talk to her on the phone a ton. One time I was at a benefit in LA, long after I quit that job and I saw Frannie across the room. I went up to her and introduced myself, not expecting her to remember an assistant's voice. Surprisingly, she threw her arms around me, sat me down, and we excitedly caught up on some gossip. It was totally unexpected, and because of that, I'll forever be a Frances Conroy fan. Maybe I should gove this show a chance...

But moving on, I remember seeing this promo, set to Nina Simone’s impossibly sexy ‘I Feel Good,’ for SFU’s 4th season back in the day and I still think it is fantastic. This little short really redefines what a promo is supposed to be in an artistic and extremely compelling fashion. What is a good promo supposed to do? It needs to tease, to hint at epic events to come while reminding you of why you love the show in the first place. A good promo also needs to invite in new viewers by promising an interesting world that doesn’t require an audience member to watch all 4 previous seasons. The SFU promo is deceptively simple. It boils down to just having the actors walking around a grocery store, doing strange things and sometimes singing with the song. It’s ballsy and borderline cheesy, but it is also sexy, mysterious, and evocative. Not to get too sidetracked here, but one of the many reasons that I love the musical episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER is because the music actually contributes to the plots of the season instead of bringing all the storylines to a screeching halt so the audience can admire the dancing and singing. The SFU promo is very similar. It would be easy to just do a cutesy video of the cast dancing around a grocery store, but they ended up doing so much more. The video shows us a key trait for each character, and then gives us some foreshadowing of what is to come. We can see that Frances Conroy’s character is still haunted by the memory of her dead husband in the freezer, despite being with a new man. The joy with which Lauren Ambrose skates around the store and bursts out the line about “Freedom,” shows us that she will be trying something new in the coming season. While Ambrose’s character may be looking forward, Krause’s character seems to be looking back, visions of his younger, happier self dancing around him. And I love how it ends, with Rachel Griffiths’ character looking in on the family dinner from the cold outside, then fading away into the parking lot. All with that dark crow flitting above like death’s harbinger. Even though I know nearly nothing about the plotlines of SFU, this promo makes me want to dive in and learn more. It stokes the imagination, without overwhelming the audience with complicated detail. It makes me feel that even if I started watching the show at the 4th season, I would be able to easily follow along with all the plots and characters. You don’t see many of these tremendously creative promos anymore for television shows, usually they are just compilations clips of upcoming episodes set to a trendy song with a hefty voiceover. It was a pleasure to come across this video the other day, and I hope its like isn’t dead and forgotten. And who knows, maybe I'll give SIX FEET UNDER a shot, a full 6 years after it ended. I hear it has a stunning series finale.

 

 

 

-Monday, July 18th, 2011: REMAKES - 'Let Me In' vs. 'Let The Right One In'

Tyler Stout posterI still don’t know what to think about the idea of a direct remake. The best recent example of this is LET ME IN, the 2010 American remake of the 2008 Swedish vampire film, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. I enjoyed the Swedish film, it’s a quiet and kind of touching horror film about a little girl vampire who befriends the boy next door. I love the stark and bindingly bright landscapes of the Swedish snow, and the relationship that develops between the two kids is well done. It also has an amazingly creative climax, shot in one long take underwater where the vampire girl takes out her blood lust on some bullies who have been terrorizing the little boy. I wouldn’t call that pool scene subtle, but it certainly gets your imagination going, fearfully picturing the carnage happening above the water. I also always liked that the one boy who didn’t bully the boy was spared; it made it seem that maybe the boy and the vampire weren’t as evil as we thought. The creepiest part of the Swedish film is what it says about the little boy. In the early-goings, this boy is so ostracized from other kids that he imagines that he is a serial killer. I’m not sure if the film is saying that the boy always had the capacity for evil or not, because he is certainly headed down that road, assuming he will soon be murdering others to feed his girlfriend.

I can’t quite decide whether the American remake is a failure or not. The director, Matt Reeves, creates a stunningly beautiful color palette of fluorescent whites and sickly yellows in the New Mexican snow. I thought the acting by Kodi Smit-McPhee as the boy, Owen, and especially Chloe Moretz as the vampire girl, Abby, was stunningly well done. Moretz got a lot of attention a few years back for playing the foul-mouthed assassin ‘Hit Girl’ in KICKASS. In LET ME IN, she is asked to go so much deeper. Check out this deleted scene where she shows the Owen how she was turned into a vampire. There is so much adult sorrow in Moretz’s face, as if she truly were an ancient being stuck in a 12-year old’s body. The remake also brought up some interesting sexual questions regarding vampires. Abby is cared for by an old man who kills for her and brings her blood. We later see an old faded picture that shows the old man as a young boy with the forever young Abby, a sign of the long future that awaits Owen if he falls in love with Abby. So it begs the question, does the old man still have sex with the girl he fell in love with? A vampire forever stuck in a 12-year old’s body? Creepy. In the Swedish film, this issue was never brought up because the vampire ‘girl’ turned out to be a castrated boy who, for some reason, looks like a girl. I never really got that part. I was disappointed by how much CGI was used for the attack scenes in the American version. Ugh, it just looks so obviously fake, it leaches away all the drama of the scene to know that Abby transforms into a computer generated image in order to feast on blood. I was also curious as to how the American version would do the pool scene finale. It wasn’t nearly as interesting, there are editing cuts and it is very clear that all the bullies are dead. I liked that one touch of mercy in the original film, the one bully left alive, and I would have liked to see that mimicked here.

The Swedish version is a beautiful film, why was there a need to do an English remake 2 years later? Yes, the American version has a stronger relationship between the two kids, but that is mostly because the kid actors are so much better. The talented director, Matt Reeves, claims that he just wanted to expose this story to a larger audience, but I don’t buy that. No matter how beautiful Reeves’ version may be, I don’t think it justifies a remake so shortly after the original was made. I honestly can’t think of any other case where this has happened. The Swedish GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO films were made for television, so I can understand why David Fincher would want to bring a big-screen aesthetic to the trilogy. The SPIDERMAN remake is a reboot, so even though I have my issues with that, it is not the same thing. Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of PSYCHO in 1998 would be the closest scenario, but that remake was an appalling and insulting film. I mean really, Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates?! Just because Van Sant throws in weird flash cuts of cows, beetles and boars, doesn’t mean he has an original slant on PSYCHO. It was terrible, almost like a parody, where LET ME IN by itself is a beautiful film. It just suffers from having just been done. I’m sure I would think differently if I had never heard of the Swedish film before. But even if I hadn’t, if I had liked LET ME IN, then heard that it was a near replica of a 2-year old Swedish film, I still would have been disappointed. Yep, I’ve decided, unless a director has something truly fresh and interesting to say, these direct remakes of good foreign films are a waste of time. But I have to give one quick shout-out to my old costume designer on the short western film I did years back, THE SUNKEN WARRIOR. She did the costume designing on LET ME IN and I thought she did a great job recreating an 80s look, especially with Owen’s awesomely pathetic puffy silver coat. This is also the woman responsible for creating the bear costume in SUPER TROOPERS. Damn fine work on both jobs, Melissa!

 

 

 

-Friday, July 15th, 2011: SEASON FINALES - Treme

Antoine blowin' TitleWell, I finally made it through another season of fantastic music and plotlines that only occasionally feel like going anywhere. I’ve talked about the strangeness of TREME before, but it is still so confusing to me how I can keep being charmed by a show that moves so glacially, with very little that actually happens. It feels like the audience just stops by these people’s lives every Sunday night, just to see how they are coping with life in post-Katrina New Orleans. This finale was uplifting and touching precisely because it started to pay-off our long relationship with these characters. I’m not usually moved by this show, I find most of the New Orleans love to be over-the-top and off-putting, but damn if a couple moments got me tonight.

First, we had a wonderful moment between LaDonna and her husband, Larry. For 2 seasons, Larry has moped in the background, always upset that LaDonna continues to operate her bar in New Orleans instead of moving to Baton Rouge to live with him and their family. LaDonna was attacked and raped in that bar early this season and she has been listless and passionless while struggling through her recovery. Her lethargy finally comes to a head when she is dealing with the incompetence of NOLA law. Watch this scene and look at Larry’s quiet half-smile in the background. It’s damn unfortunate, but this stupid clip ends too early and misses the best part of the scene. Larry goes on to talk about how that fiery woman he saw in the office was the woman he married and how he finally figured out that she needs NOLA and the bar for her to truly be the woman he loves. He says these things so happily and confidently, LaDonna is just floored. They get in the elevator and just as the door closes, LaDonna rushes into Larry’s arms. What a perfect moment of character epiphany, one that feels so satisfying exactly because so little usually happens in this show. The actress who plays ‘LaDonna,’ Khandi Alexander, has been getting a lot of awards buzz for her performance this year. I don’t quite agree, I think she plays specific scenes very well, but she often goes over-the-top and I can feel the actress acting. It’s hard for me to explain, I love some of the vulnerability she displayed in the aftermath of the rape, but other times, I felt like she hit loud obvious notes. Still, I like her a lot better than that damn John Goodman character.

In the last TREME post, I talked about how much I like Kim Dickens as the chef, ‘Janette.’ She is starting off on new paths that seem fraught with peril, for example, she just started sleeping with her sous-chef. But she had a fantastic moment when she was quietly riding the newly opened New Orleans tram line with tears in her eyes. The season ended with Davis at the radio station, having being kicked out of his own band, playing a beautiful Louis Armstrong song as we panned over the other characters. Some happy, other not, all moving on to the next thing, struggling, surviving, and living with the rest. We also pan over shots of New Orleans, with parts still in shambles, Louis crooning over the soundtrack about how to soldier on even though the horizon is bleak. The song ends and Davis emerges from a dark corner of the studio, teary-eyed and moved. And I was too, these people’s journeys are just that powerful. TREME is doing its own thing, telling stories in a pace and manner unfamiliar to network television. I love certain characters on the show, and am annoyed by others, but the rhythm and music of this show weave a web of interest and emotion. I’m entangled, but far from upset by the laid-back, but musically boisterous 2nd season finale of this show.

 

-Thursday, July 14th, 2011: BRAVE - Women

HeroineI’m way late in writing about the teaser for Pixar’s BRAVE, but I am finally getting back around to it. I love this. Even though it’s short, just a minute long, the teaser sells the world that we will be transported to next summer. It courts adults and children alike; whoever’s voice does the narration strikes the perfect balance between a happy Disney narration and that ‘voice of dread’ that narrates most adult trailers. At first glance, this seems to be an out-n-out action film, the likes which PIXAR hasn’t really done since THE INCREDIBLES. There seems to be elements of fantasy here too in the form of some kind of blue fairy flitting around in the woods. The images look fantastic and you can already tell that this film will have a dense and spectacular sound mix that informs you of its world. I love that tracking camera that moves around the heroine as she lines up an arrow to shoot at that giant of a bear. It’s another big stylistic departure for a company that has experimented with films about silent robots and French rats. Which brings us to the most surprising element about the teaser for BRAVE; the lead character is a girl!

I don’t mean that last comment to come off as misogynistic, the simple fact is that in the 16-odd years that Pixar has been bringing highly acclaimed animated features to the screen, they have never before depicted a female protagonist. That kind of blows my mind. Pixar is considered to be a step above any other company in the entertainment industry. The care and detail with which they craft their stories is legendary. They have always done a wonderful job of creating interesting and moral characters that are funny and amusing without ever being preachy. Their films are loved by children and adults alike. So why has Pixar never made a conscious decision to provide their fans with a lead female role model? I guess one can point out that it smacks of reverse sexism to demand that Pixar create a story with a strong lead female character, but when a company has operated for that long in the kid-friendly animation world, it becomes an issue. Disney has never had problems creating female leads from Snow White to Ariel to Tiana from 2009’s PRINCESS AND THE FROG. And why has there never been some kind of serious commentary about Pixar’s output? Does the quality and the almost universal praise for Pixar films somehow shame certain commentators from leveling any social criticism? What does that say about how easily contained and handled our critical opinions can become? What does that say about me, that I didn’t even notice this gender bias until it was pointed out by a critic?

When it comes to issues of gender representation in entertainment, I always like to refer to the man, Joss Whedon, the creator of a few female-centered shows like BUFFY or DOLLHOUSE. He represents an organization called EQUALITY NOW which tries to tackle the issue of gender equality in our society. He gave a speech a couple years back that gains more and more power as the years pass. He talks about how, in interviews, he always gets the same outdated question, “Why do you always write these strong women characters?” Whedon spends the rest of his speech answering that question again and again. But I really love his last answer, “Because you are still asking me that question.” Look, I’m not trying to blast Pixar here, they are a fantastic and dedicated company, run by moral and ethically sound executives. I’m sure they have perfectly good reasons for waiting this long to put a girl front and center in their movies. But as the shining example of children’s entertainment, isn’t there a responsibility for Pixar to portray lead heroes of both genders to our youth? I’m glad they are finally doing a film with a female protagonist; I'm just disappointed that it has taken this long.

 

 

 

-Wednesday, July 13th, 2011: ICONIC PICS - First/Last Shuttle Launch

Time LapseThe space shuttle has been retired, and so ends the dreams of manned space flight by so many kids in America. Growing up in the 80s, the only real memories I have of NASA and space travel is of the Challenger explosion in 1986. For me, that was one of those events that you’ll never forget where you were, like the JKF assassination for earlier generations and 9/11 for all of us. I was 5 years old in Sister Paula’s 2nd grade class at St. Nicholas Catholic School in Los Altos, CA. We were all watching the launch on TV, in fact I think most schools were watching this because it was the first time that a teacher, Christa McAuliffe, was going into space. I remember the launch, then some kid in our class asking Sister Paula what that flame was on the side of the shuttle. Then the whole damn thing just exploded. I was just a kid; I had no comprehension that things like this happened on live TV. It was so hard for my little brain to comprehend that I had just watched 7 people die in flames. I don’t remember much afterwards, but it was one of those formative experiences. One of those first times you realize that adults don’t know everything, that they are still capable of making mistakes.

The picture above is about happier memories. The left picture is of a father-and-son in 1981 at the launch of the first space shuttle Columbia. The right picture was taken this month, 30 years later, of the same father-and-son at the final space shuttle launch of Atlantis. I love the sense of nostalgia it evokes, for the space program and for youth in general. It reminds me of the excitement I used to feel regarding space travel. I grew up on Capt. Picard cruising through space in a starship, exploring the vastness and visiting alien worlds. Our own space program seemed kind of simplistic compared to the awesomeness of that STAR TREK future. Then I saw THE RIGHT STUFF, a great film about the early days of space travel and the raucous men who conquered the skies. Then I saw APOLLO 13, a movie which did a fantastic job of depicting how NASA works and the wonder that agency inspired in a nation. I loved the images of all those nerdy guys, sweaty and overweight, doing math and coming up with creative solutions to the problems facing their astronauts. It felt so rare to see these heroic figures that looked like schlubs but were actually more intelligent than most of us can imagine. And the pure wonder of space travel, the power of that launch, and the enormous chutzpah our species had to hurl ourselves into a hostile void in order to explore, captures so much of humanity’s drive. Science aside, we are strapping a bunch of scientists to a humongous freaking rocket and thrusting them into space. It is just so dangerous and ballsy, I think it inspires us, evoking our history of expansion and dreams. It’s sad to see a chapter of our history end. I’m not sure what the next step in space travel is, with our economic problems threatening to overwhelm our country, space exploration is low down the list of priorities. It would seem to be such a shame if we were to give up on NASA space exploration just because the economic mood doesn’t strike. Privatized space exploration scares the crap out of me. If we go down that route, I doubt it will be too long before we see a giant McDonald’s sign gracing the surface of the moon above us. I know it would require massive funding, but with food becoming scarcer for an exponentially growing world population, isn’t it short-sighted to be ending our space shuttle programs? Bigger problems than I am prepared to deal with at the moment, I just wanted to point out a picture that made me remember how cool NASA’s exploration of the fringes of space used to be.

 

 

 

-Tuesday, July 12th, 2011: SUMMER MOVIES - T3

OPBetter. At least better than the last one. Maybe that isn’t the highest of praise, but at least TRANSFORMERS 3 had a plot that one could follow. After that excellent Super Bowl teaser, I knew I needed to see this one big, with all the bells and whistles, in Digital IMAX 3D. Take my word for it, that IMAX screen is mind-blowing! It was a packed midnight screening, so we had to sit a little too close to the screen. Whenever they had to put up a title that identified a scene’s location, we would actually have to swivel our heads to read the text in the lower left portion of the screen. It was pretty damn awesome. I’m still not a 3D fan, I just don’t think it’s worth all that extra money to see added layers, but I am a huge fan of the IMAX experience. So much fun if it’s a loud and explosive summer action film!

It was a fun flick, I’m not sure I have a whole ton to write about it. I liked the idea of Sam out looking for a job. Even if it seems ridiculous that a kid who has helped save the world twice would not be either locked away in a government safe house or given a cushy job as a transformer-liaison. I got a kick out of John Malkovich playing weird, though the Ken Jeong stuff just got really strange, and not in a good way. The special effects were spectacular, the best being the 3D shot of Carly’s butt walking up the stairs. Seriously. Megan-who?? Sorry Megan Fox, I take that back. Anyone who sits on a motorcycle like this, doesn’t deserve to be kicked out of these fetish action film. But apparently if you publicly call your boss Hitler, you don't get to come back for Part 3. Go figure. I was actually surprised, they gave Rosie Huntington-Whiteley a good deal of material to perform with and she did a fine job with it. I liked Sam’s insecurity regarding his girlfriend, because in reality, there is no freaking way a girl like that would be with Sam Witwicky. This isn’t on the level of KNOCKED UP fantasy couples, but its pretty close. I thought the best character this time around was Turturro’s crazy Russian bodyguard played by Alan Tudyk. He was quiet, but had a hilarious scene when he flashed back to his violent mobster past. It could be that I am just such a huge fan of Tudyk, it’s always a pleasure seeing a FIRELFY alum on the screen again.

To be honest, I thought the special effects let me down a bit this time. Don’t get me wrong, the staging of the whole Battle of Chicago was tremendous and epic in scope, I think my eyes just start getting tired of the complexity of the transformers. There are so many metal pieces and shards to these characters that when they are put against the background of metal buildings, there is just an overload of visual information. I feel like my eyes give up trying to see each little piece and glaze over. I think that’s why I thought the best action in this film was the highway scene where the mayhem was played out in front of uniformly grey concrete and a blue sky. Similarly in the first two TRANSFORMERS films, I always thought the arid desert action sequences worked best from a CGI standpoint. Still, there is no doubt that all of that big-time budget is onscreen in the effects. Despite some of the humongous logic leaps taken to get to the Battle of Chicago, I loved some of the plotlines that happened in that hour-long finale. How great was it to finally see the human military NEST team actually show of some of their tactics and get to take out transformers without any help from Optimus Prime? And how cool and totally unnecessary was that skydiving sequence? Or the collapsing building where Sam and his team fell out one side of the skyscraper only to fall back in the other side? But then how the hell is it possible that Optimus Prime can slay 7 transformers in a one single awesome tracking shot, but then be completely foiled and knocked out of commission by a couple crane wires?? Very odd. Look, this movie was exactly what I wanted; loud, full of top-shelf CGI action, with a cute girl in the mix. I want jaw-dropping effects and the Chicago sequence certainly gave me plenty of that. Shooting in 3D slowed down Bay’s rapid-fire editing style and allowed us to stay with shots for a touch longer, which was a wonderful change of pace for Bay. T3 just didn’t bring anything more to the table I guess, which is why I don’t sound more enthusiastic. Am I just turning into a summer film spoiled brat, demanding too much from silly blockbusters? Clearly, that’s a topic for another day.

 

 

 

-Monday, July 11th, 2011: Music: BON IVER - 'Skinny Love'

Love this posterThere were some times last year that weren’t so good for me. Company woes, creative blocks, and a general emptiness seeped into my life one day while I wasn’t looking. I felt stunted, trapped, and lonely. One day, I was watching CHUCK and they used a new song I hadn’t heard before to heighten the emotion in a scene between Chuck and Sarah. I looked it up online and started getting into Bon Iver, the band created by Justin Vernon. Now, I’m not huge into all the songs on his first album, For Emma, Forever Ago, I think they can start to get a little bit repetitive. But even the most derivative songs have such an appealing simplicity to them that it’s hard not to be caught up in the touching melodies. I started looking into the guy and found out that he made the entire album by himself in a cabin in the northwoods of Wisconsin where he had fled to after a bad band and girlfriend breakup. My grandparents have a cabin in the northwoods of Wisconsin, and I know how lonely, yet creatively inspiring those spare places can be. At a tough time, it was inspiring to see someone who had gone into hiding in a familiar place after a rough patch, and emerged with a beautiful album. Vernon did something interesting with his music, which was to create the melodies first, then allow the music to stir his feelings and eventually evoke the lyrics that he wanted to express. I find this fascinating. I’m embarrassed to say that I experience music primarily through melody and rhythm, I rarely listen to lyrics. Even if I memorize a song, I never really listen to what I am singing. Sad, I know. Which is why it was nice to hear that an artist had tried another method of songwriting: allowing the beat to awaken the words.

I think that the song that plays in the CHUCK scene, Skinny Love, is Bon Iver’s best song by far. Where most of the songs in this album are mournful to the extreme, this song is almost playful. It is still quiet and melancholic, but that 2-kick guitar lick helps the song maintain a wonderful rhythm. And Vernon sounds so passionate here, like he is simultaneously angry and tender. It’s a release to hear him this way, full and powerful through the chorus. I particularly love that high voice at 3:25, sailing in exultation over the beautiful notes.

It sounds odd, but his voice reminds me of Navajo chants I used to hear when I worked on the Gallup reservation back in high school. Throaty, high, and powerful. There is a short story by the Native American writer, Sherman Alexie, called “What You Pawn I Will Redeem”, during this tough time that really inspired me to write again. It’s a small story about a poor Spokane Indian boy who tries to get his grandmother’s ceremonial outfit back from a pawn shop. There is some wonderful humor, some fantastically touching passages about the Aleut Indians, and a general outlook that reveals mercy and kindness in the world. I really latched on to it. I wanted to write a short film based on the story, but unfortunately discovered that the rights are all locked up. Oh well, I just felt like I could see the story on screen, all laid out in front of me. Nathan Fillion as the cop, Mark Boone Junior as the pawn shop guy. There are still times I can’t get that image of the final scene of the story out of my head. The boy dancing through the street in his grandmother’s regalia, the moment of joy which I thought would be perfectly accompanied by Bon Iver’s Skinny Love. Obviously, it didn’t work out, but that song still drags feelings out of me and anything that can take me from memories of my grandparents in Wisconsin to the people I met in Gallup, is a song that I won’t ever let go of.

 

 

 

-Friday, July 8th, 2011: ID4Fest, Worst Car Crash - Meet Joe Black

SimpOur final entry in the 4th of July SQOG testosterone fest is about car crashes, specifically the worst car crash put on film. Someday, I’m sure I will tackle the topic of Best car crash in film, but that is an enormous question, requiring much research and mulling. But the other day, I found this clip of Brad Pitt being hit by multiple cars in MEET JOE BLACK, and wow, I just had to put this in here. Is this just hilarious or what?! Like, what were they thinking in staging this scene? Granted, MEET JOE BLACK is already a terrible movie. Watching 2 hours of a wooden Brad Pitt speaking in a monotone appeals to some demographic that I am just not a part of. But this is laughable. It is clear the filmmakers are trying to go for an instance of random and shocking violence, but the use of early-stage CGI to animate Pitt’s flailing body is a terrible idea. He looks like a bouncing deflated balloon. And why does he need to be hit by 2 cars, is that really necessary to sell the shock? And look at the piece of luggage lying on the left side of the screen. It’s so fake that you can see the fuzzy render lines around it. And perhaps the perfect capper to this sequence is the reaction by the bystander in the middle. Protect the head, then keep walking! That’s really all I have to say about this. It’s an example of how excited people were in the late 90s to use CGI in movies, when they really should have resisted. I can totally see how this happened, how a studio convinced the director to trust their fledgling digital post house to create a grisly and realistic car crash that would elicit the sympathies of the audience. Instead, we just laughed. And laughter is always a good ending for 4th of July week. Hope everyone had a great holiday!

 

 

 

-Thursday, July 7th, 2011: ID4Fest, Best Punch - The Abyss

Abyss Catfish has the BeardContinuing our 4th of July, 3-day celebration of things manly and American, we move to the best punch in film history. This is very tough category, there have obviously been so many fantastic punches in cinema, it’s very hard to have a definitive favorite. But there was one particular punch that I saw when I was younger that sticks in my mind as the best punch ever. It’s from the James Cameron movie, THE ABYSS, a film about deep sea drillers who discover aliens. I remember being so impressed with the scope of this film, it piles up great action set pieces one after another until you are just overwhelmed. THE ABYSS pushes so hard on the fears of drowning and claustrophobia, that even if you aren’t prone to those particular phobias, you still feel the anxiety. The cool moments just pile up. Just think of that terrifying scene where Ed Harris (‘Bud’) is fighting his own rig in the form of the automatic doors that close to prevent flooding, and the only thing that saves him from drowning is his wedding ring. Or just when that scene seems to be over, the surface crane inevitably starts dragging the rig into the abyss. Or Coffey’s madness, or Lindsey’s drowning, or the insane idea of ‘breathable water’. What a terrific action movie this is! So at one point Lt. Coffey, the Navy Seal going mad due to pressure psychosis, is preparing to send off a nuke to kill the underwater aliens. He is played by Cameron favorite Michael Biehn, in a terrifically underrated performance. Anyways, Bud swims underneath the rig, with no oxygen, so he can creep up on Coffey. And just as Harris is about to bean Coffey with a lead pipe, he instead goes for the gun in Coffey’s belt. This goes badly and Coffey beats the crap out of Bud. Then, just as Coffey is about to put Bud out of his misery, Catfish, this huge hairy behemoth driller dude appears behind Coffey. He calls out “Hey!” then when Coffey whips around, Catfish heaves a truck-sized fist straight into Coffey’s face. *Sorry for the shortness of the clip, it’s all I could find, but the impact is so much better when you see the whole scene!

Now, what really sells this punch is the reaction to the punch. Cameron switches to slow-mo as Coffey flies into the air, back-flopping into the rig’s moon-pool. Biehn does a terrific job in selling the neck-snapping impact as he flies into the air. The Bud/Coffey fight is so brutal, that this one flashy punch feels like pure release. I remember cheering loudly at the screen and letting out a hoot of appreciation for the pure awesomeness on display. THE ABYSS is mostly remembered for being the first film with a CGI model in the form of the water tentacle. It is also know for Ed Harris’s bug-nuts performance. But I’ll always appreciate this movie for the Punch to end all punches. Thank you Cameron. Thank you Catfish.

 

 

 

-Wednesday, July 6th, 2011: ID4Fest, Best Kick - Enter the Dragon

Kick AssOkay, this is 4th of July week here, so this week, the entries are going to be short, and all about what America cinema does best: Fights and car crashes. The week is slow, I’m only at work for three days, so we are going for a quick 3-day, 1 entry, best/worst-of list. Yep, this is just about as far from profound as I can get. So let’s get started! I was flipping through channels the other night and came across ENTER THE DRAGON. Without a doubt in my mind, ENTER THE DRAGON has the best kick in all of film history. I knew that already, but it had been awhile since I saw Bruce Lee in action, so I stayed up late watching the movie just to make sure that this truly was the best kick ever. I needn’t have stayed up so late. It is the best kick ever. Turn your volume up and take a look at this clip, at 1:50.

Tell me that isn’t the most awesomest kick ever seen!! First off, see this whole movie because ETD has everything. Bruce Lee at his best, afro’d samurai warriors, mirrors, and giant claw hands! But look at the build-up right before the kick. That patented Bruce Lee ‘O’-face. You know a beating be coming! I’ve seen this clip a bajillion times, and I am still not sure what they did here to accomplish just how damn fast the bad guy exits Screen Right. It’s possible that the bad guy was replaced by a mannequin for that kick and there are guys with wires to yank the mannequin quickly out of frame. Maybe the film is slightly sped-up to increase the impact. Or who knows, maybe Bruce Lee just kicked the poor stunt guy so hard that he flew off camera that fast. I’m sure it has to be some kind of film trick, because a kick that devastating would surely have decapitated someone. Let us all please stop for a moment and give some appreciation to Robert Lin, the sound editor of this film. Sure, that kick looks badass, but it wouldn’t be as perfect as it is without that WHAAAA-KUUUUUSH impact sound effect! Bruce Lee’s kick sounds just as awesome as it looks. Honestly, everything I know about Bruce Lee, I got from DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY, one of the most purely enjoyable movies I have ever seen (and certain to be a sqog topic one of these days). But from everything I read or heard, Bruce Lee is the real deal. So, combine a real-life martial arts master with a fantastic action director and sound guy, and this is what you get. The single best, most outrageously awesome kick in film history.