Aug 102015
 

jurassic worldThis movie was terribly enough written that I almost walked out. I didn’t, because blockbuster marathon, but when it was over I was actually angry.

Why is the mother always crying? Why does the opening goodbye scene between the teenagers happen? And if is going to happen, then why have the teenage girl disappear never to return and the teenage boy act like a creep with every girl he sees? Is the point to make his character an asshole? And why does it matter that the parents, who are completely incidental to everything, might be getting a divorce? So we can think “poor, crying kid” at least once before the monsters start chasing them? Do we need that moment to make up for their nastiness toward the aunt who gave them a free, round-trip VIP visit to her park (because she’s not been around, /sadface)? And on and on and on.

That may all sound picky but its just lazy writing. Consider this: there is a helicopter kept on site but no pilot. Why can’t the company guy who is the only person ever to fly it just be a pilot rather than a trainee? I mean you’re making these people up, so just make him a pilot. Yes, you lose the lame joke about the tough female lead being scared when she’s in the air (hahahahahahaha, oh god, that was hilarious right?), but that deletion would probably improve the script by forcing the writers to imagine a legitimate exchange between her and her boss. And get this: nothing says that that exchange couldn’t be (wait for it) … legitimately funny.

My guess is that whoever created this script started from required moments and set pieces and then worked backwards, creating narrative bits that would stitch them together. Same with characters. That’s fine. I have nothing against that process, and when it’s done right, I have huge respect for it. (I love well-done genre pieces.) But in this case everything seems so lazily done that nothing (and no one) can withstand being thought about or considered for even a moment.

Just a terrible movie from start to finish.

Mar 282015
 

Almost impossible to watch because I hate all of the characters except Glenn and Michonne. I end up rooting for the zombies, but they always lose.

It took more than a year to watch this season and I only finished because I heard that Merle was going to die. I don’t understand this show’s following.

Dec 062014
 

ONly Lovers Left AliveTwo hours of being cool and solitary, artistic and messy. I could watch Tilda Swinton read for hours. Really great beautiful night photography too.

The final scene is lit like a Hollywood movie and has a neon moon. It’s not the “diamond moon that makes music like a gong” because that’s their moon, the night people’s, not ours.

Throughout, the images rest upon the strong back of the soundtrack which fuses Detroit rock–noise and North African–lutes to create a near-perfect mood-piece.

Dec 062014
 

Dracula UntoldAn awkward but not terrible movie that, like Maleficent, sets out to humanize an iconic villain. Dracula here is both a family man and a Leader®. In practical terms this means that he is the kind of guy who protects his wife and son by defeating the entire Turkish army through force of will and scrappiness. It also means that after defeating the devil himself he chooses to become a minion of evil because his dying wife is worried about their kid and wants him to become a vampire so that he can make sure he is ok.

But whatever. It was the weeks leading up to Halloween. I was teaching gothic fiction to my students in an 18th and 19th century novel class. And the mood was right. Right enough to push me to read a couple monster books in preparation for the season. So all’s good.

Dec 052014
 

As per convention, I grabbed the next season of this show on a rainy day in the Fall at the end of a long week at work. I had no expectations and little hope that it would be any good, not after the disastrous fourth season. Boy was I wrong. It was fast, nimble and campy as hell. It may even have been better than season three, which is saying something.

So I’m back on the hook for the last two seasons.  Allan Ball is gone though, so I have no idea what to expect…

Oct 042014
 

GodzillaOnce, long long ago, I convinced my parents to take me to a Godzilla double-feature at the drive-in. They sat through the first one but midway through the second, they were fed up and drove around to the other screen to watch something else. I don’t remember what because I sat in the back seat watching watching Godzilla battle a mechanical dinosaur through the rear window. I couldn’t hear anything but it didn’t matter and it was great.

So I have history and low expectations and was more than open to whatever this new version wanted to do. But it just talks and talks about uninteresting people who seem completely incidental to what’s going on.

Pacific Rim hit the required note in a way this film didn’t.

Jan 102014
 

I remember watching horror films when I was young and enjoying them. Sharing a Lazy-Boy with my sisters, hiding behind a pillow when something was about to happen, jumping, screaming, and all of this in the afternoon because at night these movies were just too scary. But I can’t stand the genre now, especially the blunt mix of sex and violence. When the first girl was hacked up, I turned it off.

On a side note, I was drawn to Cabin in the Woods because I thought it would be fun to see Joss Whedon do an odd take on a horror film. I was wrong. I’m curious how much of this film he actually wrote.

Oct 302013
 

Pacific Rim and World War Z are the best blockbusters of last summer. Oddly enough, they were also the least well served by their trailers. I was eager to see neither of them, and yet, both were wonderful in unexpected ways.

So some thoughts:

Timelines
This movie musters narrative speed yet feels casual and roomy. The monsters arrive in the opening shots under voice-over. The story then jumps to the present, which is five years later. After a quick introductory fight scene, in which real stakes are established in the blink of an eye, the narrative jumps forward to a new present, again five or six years in the future, in which the action of the rest of the film will unspool. Combined, these leaps, establish multiple arcs: monsters arrive, seem defeated, but comeback; robots are created, kick ass, but soon are overwhelmed and crumble; boy earns glory, disappears after the loss of his brother in combat, but now comes back to save world. These micro-narratives are simple, cliche, but they are established quickly and elegantly. Together they lend scope and weight to the movie’s central events. Just as importantly, they leave the bulk of the film’s runtime for the final climactic days and hours to play out on the screen without feeling cramped or rushed.

Video Game as Narrative Logic
The movie operates as a sequence of boss fights. “Level 3 complete. Level 4 initiates in 3 hours!” There is even a mini-game–“Mortal Kombat!”–where the hero must earn his partner. This game logic provides a frame for the fight scenes that is distinct from the narrative. This allows the story to focus on other questions: Who are these people? How can they work together? What are the stakes they have on the table? Now, this film is no character study and it’s answers to all of these questions are generic and cliche. The movie is also not interested in ethical reflection. But there is a plot and this device keeps it from being derailed by moments of spectacle.

Narrative Modules
The emotions this movie plays with are simple, primal, but its range is quite wide. Discrete chunks of story are are used to create a gallery of  tones: the “fuck ya!” of a robot with a boat as a club; the “Haha, funny!” of a pendulum desk ornament set swinging by the battle; the Raiders of the Lost Ark-glee of watching the oriental fight masters (“they use the three armed style”!) wiped out by the monster equivalent of a gun pulled from a holster; the horror of watching people tied up in metal box and drowning; etc.  These discrete “modular” moments show a movie that wants to play around. This play is post-modern but doesn’t feel po-mo. Incidentally, the modular play with tone is matched by a modular variation on narrative genres. The most interesting of these is the deeply compressed but still satisfying story of the two scientists, a classically structured romance comedy. (I’m thinking of Cavell’s definition: two characters struggling to establish a conversation that we see will be profitable.)

Monster Madness as Narrative Speed
I loved that characters, monsters and robots were thrown away and expendable. People died. Roberts were torn apart. Monsters were vanquished. It kept the stakes real, the narrative overhead low. Even better: as the story proceeds, the number of characters that have to be kept track of decreases steadily. This speeds up the pacing without making things feel rushed.

Sensible Scale
Despite the digital effects, this movie is grounded in a mechanical world. These enormous machines operate in a physical space that translates down to and is comprehensible in relation to the human body. Over and over, the digital manifests in non-digital spaces as movements of or changes in people’s bodies. I’m thinking of the scenes of walking drivers, swinging arms, the sense that it is physically difficult to move the parts of these machines, the bloody noses, the bleeding eyes, the scars and slings. All of these establish a convincing connection between the out-sized robot and the ordinary human scales of the two lines of action. This connection was photographed on sets and not animated on a computer. People were crushed and drowned and it was shocking, the high altitude fall felt dangerous, and all of this because the incongruous narrative spaces cohered.

Legitimate Wastelands
It’s a small point, but this narrative establishes itself as occurring a few hours before the extinction of the human race. In this context, the massive destruction of city landscapes reads as sacrifice and makes sense. Everything can be destroyed, and humanity can still be saved. This is very different from the destruction in Man of Steel.

Final Comment
Most of what I’ve said relates to decisions made before filming even began and boils down to great writing. It’s the secret to a strong movie.

Oct 072013
 

I loved season three and had been waiting for a reason to drop the money for season four. When the shit hit the fan after the first few weeks of my semester, I thought “Bingo!” and clicked “buy,” and settled in for some quality time with dear sweet Pam and the lovely Eric. Alas, this was not to be.

Good things first. I liked the neat trick used to jump the timeline forward a year. The strict chronology of the first three seasons had gotten claustrophobic and the jump let in some much needed air. The Star Trek homage of the faerie world and the much needed death of major characters in the final episode were also much appreciated. Jessica also became cool enough that my vamp-love is now split three-ways, no small feat.

But…

If season three pushed all my favourite aspects of the show front-and-center and exaggerated them just enough in just the right way, season four took those same things and absolutely ruined them. Pam ruined. Eric ruined. Sookie ruined. Hoyt ruined. Jason more-or-less ruined. Sexy sex ruined. Gay camp ruined. Pretty much everything and everyone ruined.

Things were so bad that I binge viewed the second half of the season just to be done. I disliked it that badly. What a waste.