Sunday, March 24, 2013

Happy Easter/Bunny/Passover/March-Pattern Insanity

We're taking a week off to hunt rabbit eggs or to celebrate Easter/Passover/Kwanzaster. :)

While we're away, we're tossing the floor open to you. Tell us what's on your mind!

Click Here To Read Article/Comments at CommentaramaPolitics
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Friday, March 22, 2013

Film Friday: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

Ok, so why am I reviewing this film? Am I going to tell you that this film is actually a hidden gem? Hardly. Have I found some moment of deep meaning within it? Nope. What I have found, however, is a film with some really interesting elements that just get horribly misused because the film lacks focus. That makes this film worth discussing.

Pirates of the Caribbean. Hmm. What can we say about Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise? Well, the first film was actually quite brilliant. What appeared to be nothing more than another lazy summer blockbuster provided one of the tightest and most original stories in years. It included amazing effects, great sets, tremendous writing with moments of intense cleverness, and fantastic acting. It was such a strong movie that it spawned a franchise that has run much longer than the sequels deserve.

Then came Pirates of the Caribbean II: Dead Man’s Chest. Nothing about this film worked and it proved irredeemable except as a gateway to the third film, Pirates of the Caribbean III: At World’s End, which came close to recapturing the glory of the first film except for one giant caveat: At World’s End’s story was tight and interesting and original, the acting was good, and the visuals were fantastic, but every single scene in that film ran one line of dialog too long. For whatever reason, the filmmakers tried to throw a moment of comedy at the end of each scene, like Lucas did with Anakin in Phantom Menace ("oopsies"), and in the process turned brilliant scenes stupid. Moreover, they stupidly handed over the last forty minutes to the special effects nerds and told them to bore people to death. Lop off the CGI ending and the pointless attempts at humor, and this would have been a truly inspired film. In fact, I’m so sure of this that I keep meaning to one day edit the movie myself to achieve this.
With that backdrop, we now come to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Based on the strength of I and III, I wanted to like this film, but that really wasn’t possible. Indeed, the first time through, the film simply makes no sense. The characters go from one location to another for no apparent reason except to give the appearance of motion before meeting for the ending. Elements gets tossed into the film in ways which seem meaningless. For example, the Spanish get introduced seemingly out of the blue and then they vanish. They do reappear near the end, but they don’t really add anything to the plot before they disappear again. Geoffrey Rush is brought back as Barbossa (a huge plus as he makes these films) but then he gets sequestered from the plot. And so on.

The dialog too felt like nonsense. It felt formless and like the actors were reading to the scene rather than speaking from their characters. The only character who had any consistent definition was Blackbeard (Ian McShane). The sets felt unoriginal as well, and the stirring visuals were missing this time. Also, there just didn’t seem to be much originality in the story.
Upon further viewing, I began to notice something interesting. Within the film, there are all the elements for a great film. You have Barbossa, who is just a joy to watch. You have the confrontational relationship between the missionary and Blackbeard, which is quite deep, quite philosophical and quite interesting. They also have theological debates wrapped up tightly in single lines of dialog. The relationship between the missionary and the mermaid is interesting too on many levels, as is the relationship between Penelope Cruz and her father Blackbeard, which is complex and nuanced and ultimately comes down to an impossible choice of whether a daughter should sacrifice herself to save the life of her father, even if he is evil. The Spanish are interesting too. They were the world’s superpower of the era and seeing them interact (or not interact) with the other characters provides a fascinating perspective. It’s a bit like watching characters fight with each other as the US Army does its thing in the background.

So that all sounds pretty good, but then there’s the catch. Despite the presence of some smart elements, the film fails to employ them properly. Indeed, the film doesn’t seem to have any idea how to use them at all. It’s like this film was created by asking five or six very bright writers to come up with plots, and then a moron was asked to condense their plots and form them into one film. And in the end, you could literally toss out 90% of the film without changing the plot. That’s horrible writing. Consider this:
The film never bothers to explain the nature of the relationship between the missionary and Blackbeard or why Blackbeard tolerates him. Why should Blackbeard even keep this disrespectful man alive, much less let him roam freely? The film doesn’t tell us, nor does it really present this as something to consider. What is the point to Barbossa? He could have been removed entirely from the film without anyone noticing as all he really does is travel to the end of the film and then give Blackbeard a wound he could have gotten from anyone (or even touching a poisonous plant). Why are the Spanish in this film? Yes, they are presented as the reason the British enter the race to find the fountain of youth, but why even bother with this plot contrivance? It would have made more sense to race Barbossa against Depp or perhaps Barbossa and Depp against the Spanish or Blackbeard. Tossing in the British added nothing and made the Spanish seem pointless, especially as they serve no purpose in the film – even at the ending, when they destroy the fountain of youth, they fail to do so, which makes them meaningless to the plot as the other characters could have taken their time getting there. In effect, the way the Spanish are treated in this film would be like making a bar fight movie where the US Marine Corps swoops into the bar, searches it and leaves again. That may make for an interesting moment in the film, but it adds nothing to the story itself.
The only bit of intelligence which does develop meaning on screen is the relationship between Cruz and Blackbeard, but therein lie several problems. First, this means that the main emotional impact of the film is between characters who are new to the story. This devalues Barbossa and Depp, who are the main characters. Secondly, the film is so obsessed with making sure that Depp gets to ham it up in each scene that the emotional impact is constantly being undermined by the juggling clown dancing across the screen. Third, this subplot has no relationship to most of the film. Indeed, the need for Cruz to save her father doesn’t even arise until the final minutes of the film and little before that hinted that this would be the point to the film.

In effect, what you get in On Stranger Tides is a film that includes many excellent elements, but none of which get fleshed out, none of which get tied into the film and none of which are necessary for the plot. Even the title is meaningless as it gives no sense of what the movie is about. Compare this to the prior films, which were driven by very specific storylines that arose quickly, motivated each of the characters toward confrontation, and drove the film relentlessly toward a conclusion. Nothing like that can be found here – this is just some stuff that happens until it ends.

It fascinates me that in an age of manufactured films where art gives way to formula that someone could have gotten the formula so wrong in this instance. It makes me wonder what they were thinking?
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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bond-arama: No. 0021 Licence to Kill (1989)

We continue our ranking of the Bond films with Licence to Kill. This film stinks. It’s a Miami Vice episode without the drama, the tension, or the style. It also lacks any sense of grandeur and offers nothing that would please a traditional Bond fan. That’s why it ranks No. 0021 of 0023 on our countdown.

Plot Quality: The film opens with Felix Leiter and our Mr. Bond arresting a drug lord named Sanchez (Robert Davi) whom the DEA has been after. Why the CIA is involved isn’t really explained. To add drama, they interrupt Felix’s wedding to make the arrest. Shortly thereafter, Felix gets maimed when the drug lord escapes and feeds Felix to a shark. Bond wants revenge, so he resigns and flees to Latin America against orders to kill Sanchez. Once there, he tricks Sanchez into taking him in like a lost puppy, then he kills Sanchez in a moderate-speed tanker truck chase.

That’s it.
The details don’t add much either. Bond is being chased by the Secret Service for resigning and escaping their grasp, so he teams up with a woman (Carey Lowell) who is a CIA informant and pretends to be an out-of-work assassin. Of course, the Secret Service captures him right away. . . and then Sanchez helps him escape because that makes the plot work. Bond then discovers that Sanchez has hidden his operation as a meditation retreat run by televangelist Professor Joe Butcher (Wayne Fricken Newton). This ultimately has nothing to do with the plot, what there is of it. Once Bond finds Sanchez they play a silly cat and mouse game and then end the film in a gas tanker truck chase which is packed with “uh. . . why didn’t he just ___” moments. That’s always a horrible sign.

All in all, the plot is beyond stale and little of it makes sense. The film billed itself as being “torn from the headlines” for its drug-revenge plot, but that idea had already been done two years before in similar ways by films like Lethal Weapon, RoboCop and Beverly Hills Cop II. Moreover, a lot of the characters’ actions aren’t things people would do in the real world. Bond is out-of-character throughout. There is no drama as there’s no sense that anything unexpected will happen. The bad guy and his scheme are uninteresting, and it’s impossible to care about Bond’s desire for revenge. Not to mention, there are no iconic moments and not a single memorable quote.

Bond Quality: This is the second and last Timothy Dalton Bond film and, honestly, two was too many. James Bond is a special character because he perfectly mixes sophistication, style and conscience-less brute force. Dalton was too huffy and curt to have style, too average and too self-conscious to be sophisticated, and this film proved he couldn’t do brute force either.
In fact, this film was a deliberate attempt to make Bond more “real” by making the violence shocking to audiences. Yet, the violence presented is no more realistic nor more brutal than we were seeing on average cop shows already. And, in making it more “real,” they stripped away the grandeur which Bond needs. He was no longer the suave superspy doing amazing feats of daring, he was just a whiny cop who sometimes shot people in self-defense. And when you compare the supposedly brutal Dalton Bond of this film with something like Craig’s Bond in Quantum of Solace, the claim that this film involves a brutal James Bond is laughable.

Further, to create the supposed brutality, they gave Bond this motive about Felix Leiter being maimed by the bad guy, but even putting aside the fact that James Bond isn’t supposed to lose his cool even when he seeks revenge, Dalton played this all wrong. He didn’t summon an inner-rage so much as an inner-pissiness, and he comes across more like someone upset at a waiter than someone upset about their friend being killed. Not to mention the ending scene is horrible where Felix laughs off his own maiming. If Felix doesn’t care, why should we?

The Bond Girls: Bond is pretty asexual in this, so it’s fitting that he got a totally forgettable Bond Girl – Carey Lowell as Pam Bouvier. She’s a pilot and a CIA informant with short hair and a total lack of mystery. There is no chemistry between them either. There’s also Talisa Soto as Sanchez’s girlfriend Lupe. There’s not really much to say about her.

Villain Quality: Finally, we come to the villain: Franz Sanchez. Even the name is pathetic. Sanchez is supposedly modeled on Kananga from Live and Let Die, but they must be from different mothers because I don’t see the resemblance. Unlike Kananga, he has no cool double-life, no cool sidekicks, no cool base of operations, and he doesn’t know Jane Seymour. There’s also nothing unique about him. Sanchez is blandly described as a powerful Latin American drug lord the DEA has been after for years. Yawn. The Miami Vice boys round those fellows up every week. And he is meant to suggest Manuel Noriega, who defines the term “petty tyrant.”

Sanchez is played by Robert Davi, whose acting career never rose above bit parts. He does ok here as a standard drug dealer, but there’s nothing to make you see him as anything special. His base of operations, for some reasons, involves using Wayne Newton as an evangelist as a front, but it’s never clear why this matters. His henchmen are just thugs, including Benicio del Toro who is not the least bit intimidating.
Even worse, Sanchez’s scheme is stunningly weak. He’s just trying to find a way to smuggle cocaine to other countries by dissolving it in gasoline. Big deal. If he succeeds, nothing changes in the world. Nor is this very interesting, it amounts to little more than one of a million unoriginal smuggling methods. This does not a Bond villain make. Moreover, to give you a sense of how lost the writers were on this one, there is a scene where Sanchez’s financial advisor spits out the scheme to a group of visiting Japanese tourists Asian drug kingpins, and the scheme is mindboggling in its ability to use an incredible amount of buzzwords without producing any actual meaning, like when he hands these drug kingpins a “demographic report, breaking down each of your territories by age and socioeconomic group” to prove to them that there is indeed a market for illegal narcotics in Asia. Who knew? Seriously, this is pitiful.


This film had a plot that would have been rejected by Miami Vice for being too bland, an out-of-character Bond played by an actor who lacked all the required elements to be a quality Bond, a villain without a plan other than competing with FedEx, no real Bond girl, and nothing else to commend it. There isn’t even a memorable quote. Hence, it sits at No. 0021 on our list. Not coincidentally, it is also the lowest grossing Bond film.
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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Toon-arama: The Secret of Kells (2009)

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day being right around the corner, let’s take a trip to the Emerald Isle. Or rather, since I can’t afford plane tickets for all of you, let’s bring Ireland here. The Secret of Kells is not only set in Ireland, but was produced by a promising young Irish animation studio—so it’s Irish all-around. The film is a beautiful and unique work of traditional animation, which alone makes it worth seeing. The story is quite charming, as well, though there is one incredibly glaring omission, which I will get to.

** spoiler alert **

The film is based on the real-life Book of Kells, a 9th c. manuscript Gospel considered the finest work of medieval Irish illumination and a national treasure. In homage to the Insular style of its inspiration, the film takes on a deliberately 2-dimensional look, dense with detail. Scroll-work, vines and knots curl around highly stylized yet sparsely drawn characters. Celtic crosses, triquetra, spirals and circles are slipped into nearly every background. Each frame explodes with vivid color giving each location its own unique palette. Taking the artwork a step beyond the middle ages, every ornate detail is in constant cartoon motion. But words hardly do justice, so take a look at these:
The narrative, a fictionalized origin of the Book of Kells is refreshing in that it is simple without being simplistic. It follows Brendan, a young orphan who is growing up in Kells monastery. His attentions are torn between pleasing his watchful uncle, the Abbot, whose only concern is building a huge wall to protect the abbey from the approaching Northmen, and learning the art and craft of manuscript from the monks who regale him with tales of the Book of Iona, a masterwork of generations of master illuminators. The balance is upset when Aidan, the only survivor of the of the Northmen’s raid on Iona, arrives with the renowned Book.

Aidan immediately enlists Brendan to help complete the Book. This leads Brendan to a series of adventures, both in the scriptorium under the master illuminator’s tutelage, and beyond the abbey walls, where he encounters the fairy Aisling and confronts the pagan god Crom-Cruach. When the Abbot learns of Brendan’s actions, he forbids him from working with Aidan or leaving the abbey. But Brendan’s preoccupation with finishing the Book is as great as his uncle’s fixation on finishing the wall. Meanwhile, the Northmen are continually approaching...
The storytelling is excellent. The rule “show, don’t tell” is strictly adhered to. And just like the visuals, the plot is loaded with intricate details that contribute to the narrative. For instance, it is revealed that the Abbot was once an illuminator himself, before he became fixated on building the wall, giving a bit of pathos to the otherwise stern character. Other visual elements reinforce the themes of the story, such as Aiden and the Abbots oversized hands which emphasize the handiwork that defines both characters. One particularly intriguing visual element involves the cat, Pangur Ban, who has one blue eye and one green eye, but I’ll leave that to the viewer to interpret.
There is, however, one thing that is starkly absent from the film. For a story set in a monastery and about monks who are transcribing the Gospels, the script rather deftly dances around the issue of Christianity. Not that it is bereft of religion. The characters speak about sacred texts, prayer, miracles, and “turning darkness into light,” but they never get very specific. I’m not suggesting that the film needs to proselytize in any way, but it does seem peculiar that men of faith should speak of it in continually vague terms.

On the other hand, it could also be that the Christian elements were kept vague out of respect. The pagan elements of the film are so literal that making the Christian aspects more overt might be seen as equating the two. In other words, we have a no-win situation. Regardless, it is absolutely worth watching and there is no reason not to. Not only is it a scant 75 minutes, it’s available through all three major streaming services: Hulu (free), Netflix, and Amazon. So give it a look and share your thoughts.
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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Questionable Star Wars vol. 11

The tour guide says the Star Wars universe is crawling with cool and fascinating places you can visit, from the inside of space worms to the inside of the Sarlak.

Question: "What is the coolest planet/city in the series?"

Scott's Answer: I love a big city so I will go with Coruscant. I only wish we had been able to explore more of it in the films. There are no doubt many different parts - some good, some bad - not to mention public transit, recreational areas, and various other amenities you'd expect to find in a bustling metropolis. Incidentally, there's no media presence. ( did a story on this, asking if the characters in the films ever read!)

Andrew's Answer: There is only one right answer to this question. . . sorry Scott: BESPIN. Yeah, Bespin rocks. Bespin was just amazing. It was beautiful and felt so real and I cannot imagine how amazing it would be to live among the clouds. :)
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Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Great (film) Debates vol. 75

Every once in a while, a film includes music. Sometimes... it's not bad.

What film/scene had the best use of music?

Panelist: BevfromNYC

Okay, it is a toss-up between “Jaws” and “The Exorcist”. Both still evoke terror every time I hear them. “Tubular Bells” just sends shivers down my spine and I still can’t sleep to this day when I hear it or see scenes from the movie.

And “Jaws”? Who can forget that “ba-dump……ba-dump……ba-dump, ba-dump, ba-dump, ba-dump” of the first scenes in “Jaws”. Even swimming in a lake where there will NEVER be a shark attack, I get nervous being in neck deep water. I just hear the music going through my head…

Panelist: AndrewPrice

The opening title sequence to Reservoir Dogs done to "Little Green Bag": LINK. This is uber-cool and has been parodied may times. It also defines what you will get in Tarantino's films from hereon out.

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

Right now, at the head of my list is the use of "On Raglin Road" in the death scene of Brendan Gleeson at the Bell Tower (In Bruges) It's poignancy is breathtaking. The song, imho one of the most beautiful love ballads of all time, it uses the words from a poem (Dark Haired Miriam Ran Away) by famed Irish poet Patrick Kavenaugh and sets them to a traditional 19th century Gaelic melody Fainne Geal du Lae, (Dawning of the Day.) I have seen it performed a cappella in an Irish bar, and it is haunting. The poem is about Dr.Hilda Moriarty who spurned Kavenaugh for the father of Irish actor Daragh O'Malley (Sgt. Harper.) This powerful scene is incredibly well acted by Gleeson, and made all the more powerful by the music. From the same film, the use of Franz Schubert's Der Leiermann (the organ grinder) from his famous song cycle Winterreisse is also amazing. It is used in the scene where Gleeson drags Colin Ferrell along to see famous paintings and is picture perfect for that moment.

Classical soundtracks are the best, and none are better than Kubrick's. 2001 A Space Odyssey uses the music of Richard (Also sprach Zaratrustra) and Johann Strauss (Blue Danube Waltz) to perfection. Then there is Barry Lyndon (back to Schubert again!) with the famous piano trio in E Flat.. Finally, though, for the western genre, the theme from The Big Country (Jerome Moross) is as memorable and effective as it gets.

Panelist: ScottDS

At the end of the day, I don't think any movie uses music as effectively as Jaws. John Williams' iconic score more or less helped save the movie - Spielberg couldn't use the mechanical shark as much as he would've liked so he depended on the music to add suspense where none would otherwise exist.

Panelist: T-Rav

Two answers, both a tip of the hat to Ridley Scott. For an overall film, I really like the musical score for Gladiator, which really hits all the right notes at all the right times, especially in the finale. As for a specific scene, though, I’d have to go with the climactic point in Blade Runner where Roy saves Deckard’s life. Something about the music there sends a chill down my spine every time I watch.

Comments? Thoughts?
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Friday, March 15, 2013

Open Thread. . . and Pimping Opportunity

Sadly, I was unable to complete my homework this week... then my dog ate my computer... plus, I'll be out most of the day. So there will be no film discussion (no refunds). Instead, I'm throwing the floor open to you. Your mission is to sell us on some movie you think we should all see. And if you can't think of one, then make one up. Tell us what you would like to see made into a film.
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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Questionable Bond No. 2

Almost as famous as the Bond villains are the Bond theme songs. For the most part, they’ve been great. . . but sometimes they’ve been not so great.

Question: "Name the best and the worst Bond theme song."

Andrew's Answer: I like almost every one of the theme songs, but to me, the best was Live and Let Die. That's just epic. It fits the series perfectly. The worst would be License to Kill, an eminently forgettable song sung by Gladys Knight. I can't even remember it most days.

Scott's Answer: Favorite is probably a toss-up between Goldfinger performed by Shirley Bassey and Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang performed by Dionne Warwick which was the original theme for Thunderball but dropped at the last minute. You can actually hear parts of it in John Barry's score. I'm also a fan of k.d. lang's "Surrender" which was the original theme for Tomorrow Never Dies but was moved to the end credits just before the film's release. Worst song would be "Die Another Day" by Madonna which is a shame since, while the film isn't that good, the title sequence itself is awesome. Even the song starts off okay but when Madonna and the Auto-Tune come in, forget it!
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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Smart Thinking, Mr. Scott!

I am a big believer in breaking the mold and trying new things, especially when it comes to films and television. But Hollywood isn’t really into doing things differently. One of the things I mentioned sometime back was that the networks should use their cable channels as a testing ground for programs and then bring the best performers to the networks. Well, they aren’t doing that, but get this. . .

Ridley Scott, perhaps you’ve heard of him, has entered into a partnership with something called the Machinima network. I’ve actually never heard of them before, so here’s their website: LINK. They appear to be a web-based content distribution group.

Under this partnership, Scott is looking to produce a series of 12 science fiction “shorts” which will be shown on Machinima. That in and of itself is kind of cool because (1) the world needs more sci-fi and (2) Scott’s got a great track record of providing it. Even better, Scott’s got access to 80 rather famous directors in his company and the word is that several of them will be involved. So this could be some good stuff.

But now it gets better. This is where someone stepped out of the box.

According to Scott, the idea is to take the short(s) that generate the most positive responses and turn those into series! This is brilliant! This is essentially a show of pilots. What’s more it’s guaranteed to get the target audience watching the pilot because they’re going to tune in each week looking for the latest and greatest ideas in science fiction. Honestly, this is the sort of thing Hollywood should be doing all the time. . . but they don’t because they lack the creativity to come with even simple, obvious ideas like this.

Now, there are a couple potential downsides here. For one thing, I’ve often felt that one of the problems science fiction films face is that shows like the 1990s Outer Limits really plundered the genre of ideas (and misused them) and made it hard for filmmakers to come up with original ideas for films. This series may make that problem worse. Also, it’s possible that what works in a “short” won’t work in a series. Indeed, if I recall correctly, the Masters of Horror series in the 2000s, resulted in pretty much nothing memorable and nothing that anyone translated into a series or film – though I don’t think anyone was thinking that would lead to anything.

Still, all in all, I think this is a great idea. I’m happy to see that there will soon be more science fiction. There really is a shortage of genuine science fiction these days. And I wonder if an idea like this might not have prevented most of the garbage the networks have specialized in when it comes to science fiction over the past couple decades. In that regard, Scott is at least saying all the right things. He talked about this being “a tremendous opportunity for pushing the creative boundaries for both our filmmakers and the audience,” which are words network people usually can’t say without giggling, but which should be music to the ears of sci-fi fans everywhere. Also, they are targeting males between the ages of 18-34, which means this stuff shouldn’t be very soapy or like most of what you see on the Syfy channel, which apparently targets women.

I’m hopeful.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Questionable Star Wars vol. 10

They were the Guardians of the Old Republic until a young Jedi named Walter hunted them all down and sent them into early retirement with extreme prejudice.

Question: "Who was your favorite Jedi other than Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan?"

Andrew's Answer: Struggling... struggling... struggling. You know, I liked old Yoda, but I really don’t like CGI Yoda. And the only other one you really got to know was Samuel L. Jackson. Think about that, three films about the Old Republic and you never really get to know any of the Jedi? Could this be part of the problem with the films? Anyway, I’m going with Old Yoda. Help me Liam Neeson, you're our only hope.

Scott's Answer: I'll just go ahead and say Mace Windu because, while I know a few names, I'm not really familiar with any of the other Jedi characters. Samuel L. Jackson is a great actor but one wonders what kind of performance he might've given if he had a different director. Honorable mention goes to Aayla Secura, mainly because she's hot. [smile] (She wasn't even played by an actress; Amy Allen was a production assistant at ILM who was in the right place at the right time!)
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Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Great (film) Debates vol. 74

People love animals. Hollywood loves animals. Let's fill films with animals!

What is your favorite “animal” film?

Panelist: T-Rav

I didn’t pay much attention to Finding Nemo the first time I watched it, but after watching it again, I thought it was one of Pixar’s best movies. It’s funny and poignant at the same time, and it’s something both kids and adults can enjoy. Also, it’s one of the few roles in which I can tolerate Ellen DeGeneres. (What? I find her annoyingly cheerful.)

Panelist: BevfromNYC

I really loved all of the Disney nature documentaries where they’d film animals “in the wild” and someone would narrate a “story” about the animal families.

Panelist: AndrewPrice

Outside of cartoons, I am not a fan of animals in films at all, especially cutesy animals, especially cutesy animals the way Hollywood uses them. Sure, sometimes you get a Yeti or a Cujo, but most often you end up with a dog in a sweater or a monkey with toilet paper in his mouth. Ug. I really want to say Scooby Doo, but he's animated, or Gromit, but he's claymation. So I'm going with Ace Ventura. That was a riot. :)

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

My Dog Skip. Still have a moist eye after watching it. Seabiscuit and Secretariat are tied for second. From my extreme youth, Lady & the Tramp (think Peggy Lee singing "he's a Tramp, but I love him.").

Panelist: ScottDS

20 years ago, I would've said any number of things: Free Willy, All Dogs Go to Heaven, Beethoven, etc. As it stands, I really don't have - hey, wait a second... sharks are animals, right? Then my answer would be Jaws. That's it. Whew, that was easy!

Comments? Thoughts?
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Friday, March 8, 2013

Film Friday: Highlander (1986)

Highlander failed at the box office, making only $12 million worldwide on a $19 million investment, but it quickly found a cult following. This cult following was strong enough to spawn sequels and a television series. It’s never been clear why some films become cult classics, but I wonder if this film might not hold the answer?

** spoiler alert **
The Plot
Highlander stars Christopher Lambert as Connor MacLeod, an immortal born in the 16th century Scottish Highlands. MacLeod is part of a group of immortals who are fighting each other to win some amazing power. To win this power, they need to be the last immortal left alive; immortals can only be killed by being decapitated. Interestingly, whenever one immortal kills another, he gains the knowledge and strength of that immortal.
The story flips back and forth between 1986 and various time periods in history where significant events happened to MacLeod. For example, we see him discover his immortality when he survives a mortal wound and he gets chased out of his village because his people think he’s made a deal with Satan. We see him trained by Sean Connery (Ramirez), who plays an Egyptian immortal masquerading as a Spaniard. We also see MacLeod’s first wife grow old and die. Each flashback gives us insight into his character.

In the 1986 storyline, we see MacLeod become a suspect in the decapitation murders of several people in New York City. What’s happening is that the final few immortals are being drawn together in New York (by something called “the quickening”) to fight to the death. . . “There can be only one!” The main bad guy is the Kurgan (Clancy Brown). The Kurgan is the strongest of the immortals and is evil to the core. He’s tried to kill MacLeod in the past, but never quite managed it. Now, he and MacLeod will fight with the fate of mankind hanging in the balance.
Too Smart For General Audiences?
It’s hard to tell what causes a film to become a cult classic. The general idea is that these are bad films which somehow offer something quirky which resonates with a certain segment of the population. But I wonder if that’s correct. I wonder if the truth isn’t that these films actually offer a combination of originality (perhaps too much originality for the general public) and a movie that is too smart for general audiences?

For most audiences, Highlander probably came across like this: “That’s not how they did Back to the Future.” The film stock is grainy. The sets and costumes are not grand. The lead actor is an unknown French-American actor Christopher Lambert (whose English is not great) even though Sean Connery could have been cast. And the story flips back and forth without explanation for quite some time. . . a plot device guaranteed to confuse the simps.

But if you look deeper, you see something different. First, the grainy quality of the film sets this film apart visually. It gives it a gritty, visceral feeling which makes the film unlike anything else out at the time. This sets the mood and keeps the film from feeling like a low-budget science fiction film – it’s also helped the film avoid feeling dated. Add to this an awesome soundtrack by Queen, high quality effects (sparingly used), and excellently choreographed sword fights, and you get a truly high quality film. . . but you have to be willing to look past the “this isn’t what films should look like” mentality of the general public.

Secondly, the acting is actually quite good. I would venture to say that this is Connery’s best role in a long time at this point in his career, and he fits the lively yet violent Ramirez perfectly. . . he would not have fit MacLeod. Lambert also fits the role perfectly because his accent gives him an outsider quality which is essential to set him apart from the other actors who are playing mortals. It makes him feel different, which is something Connery in the lead would not have done. And Clancy Brown is just all kinds of awesome, as always.
Where this film really pays off, however, is in the writing. The story is ingenious in many ways. It involves immortality, which is always a draw because everyone likes to think about living forever. It doesn’t actually involve time travel, but the film gives the feel of time travel by drifting back and forth between the past and the present and making them feel connected. The film also adds the idea of a contest to the death, which is always popular with audiences. This is a very smart combination of elements to get people to think about a film after they leave the theater. Moreover, the film is intelligent in how it reveals itself. This isn’t a film which rushes to tell the audience what is going on. For the first half hour, the film flips back and forth between 1986 and the past with little explanation. All the audience knows is that this man lives in both periods and there seems to be some society of sword fighters in modern New York City. It isn’t until Connery explains to MacLeod who he is that the audience is told what is happening. And even then, the story is still revealed through clues rather than a single moment of exposition. This is similar to films like those of Nolan or something like The Usual Suspects, something unheard of in 1986. To the contrary, most 1980s films would have a character (like Doc Brown in Back to the Future) explain the story right at the beginning of the film.

The film is well written too. There is a real economy of words, which makes the story tighter. Think of the line, “There can be only one!” This line encapsulates the entire contest between the immortals and it short circuits the need for pages of discussion to explain what is going on. It gives the audience a perfect understanding with a minimum of words and those words are like a catchphrase which the audience can adopt. Another example is MacLeod describing Ramirez as “you Spanish peacock.” Lesser writers would have used lines of dialog to try to create the same image of someone beholden to pomp. Even the bit characters work this way, like the hot dog vendor who asks the cops, while reading the paper, “What does ‘baffled’ mean? [laughs] What does ‘incompetent’ mean?” This is brilliant writing. Without this character even being part of the on-going discussion between the cops, and without any more than these two lines, this character explains to the audience that state of the police investigation. Again, entire scenes of discussion get condensed into two seemingly throwaway lines.
But therein lies the catch.

When I first published my books, I discovered a bit of a mystery. The overwhelming e-mails and reviews I got for the books were extremely positive. But mixed in were a series of people who really hated the books. And the criticisms they all gave made no sense to me. Specifically, they complained that the books “said nothing” about the characters’ motivations. Well, this is completely wrong. So I investigated. It turns out that a big chunk of the general public has been programmed to expect exposition. To them, unless the narrator says, “Bill was unhappy,” then they have no way to know if Bill is unhappy even if the character is described as frowning and even if another character says in the dialog, “Why are you unhappy?” Since discovering this, I’ve seen a similar issue in films, such as with Speed Racer. A big chunk of the audience simply is not able to understand context or to translate dialog into “the missing” exposition. Thus, the fact that Speed is haunted by the death of his brother is not something these people understand, because no character actually tells them, “Speed is haunted by the death of his brother,” even though it’s obvious throughout the film.

I think the same thing happened here. This film runs for about thirty minutes before you are told MacLeod is immortal, forty minutes before you are told who the Kurgan is (even though you’ve been watching his story), about an hour before the connection between New York City and the events in Scotland is made clear, and 98 minutes before you are told what the power is they are seeking. Even then, few of these things are spelled out in long single bursts of exposition. Thus, to understand this film, you need to actually think about everything you see and understand it from the dialog and the behavior of the characters. That doesn’t work with general audiences.

I am now wondering if this isn’t the difference between cult classics and other films. Perhaps, the reason cult classics are ignored by audiences in the first place, and then are strongly loved by the people who “get them,” is this issue. Perhaps, these are films general audiences simple can’t understand because they lack the generic exposition those audiences require? So a cult classic isn’t a bad film that finds a quirky audience, it’s actually a good film which the general public simply couldn’t understand.

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bond-arama: No. 0022 A View To A Kill (1985)

A View To A Kill is like three movies rammed together, and none of them are good. The first is a silly excuse to base-jump the Eiffel Tower. The second is a pointless game of cat and mouse between Bond and a crooked horse breeder. The third is a pedantic police chase. Add in an effete Bond, a litigant for a Bond girl, and a weak villain, and this movie just fails all around. That’s why this is Number 0022 of 0023 on our countdown.

Plot Quality: A View To A Kill comes in three parts. The first involves Bond witnessing the assassination of a French private detective. Unfortunately, silliness knows no bounds here. For example, rather than meeting Bond somewhere secure, the detective meets Bond at a restaurant atop the Eiffel Tower. Why? Because it will look cool when his assassin dives off the Tower and parachutes to the ground. Naturally, Bond gives chase and the scene further embarrasses the film as Bond ends up splitting the crappy car he car-jacks in half and somehow manages to drive around Paris in only the front half of a car as people do desperately unfunny double-takes.
With this silliness out of the way, Bond travels to France to observe Max Zorin (Christopher Walken), a wealthy horse breeder and owner of Zorin Industries. Bond’s purpose is to learn how a microchip made by Zorin Industries could end up in the Soviet Union, but the film kind of forgets this. Instead, Bond investigates how Zorin can breed horses no one is supposed to be able to breed. To help him with this, he adopts the see-through alias of St. John (pronounced "Sin-Jin") Smythe, a wealthy fool, and brings along Sir Godfrey Tibbett (Patrick Macnee), a horse expert, as his chauffeur.

This part of the film comes closest to being a Bond film, so long as you don’t think about it. For one thing, while Bond sneaks around in traditional Bond style, he’s actually skipped his assignment to investigate the horses – Zorin uses drugs to cheat. That makes this entire part of the film irrelevant to the plot. He also decides that a woman must be a plot point for no apparent reason. Her name is Sutton and Zorin is trying to buy her business and there is literally no way Bond should see her as relevant to his mission. Bond seduces Zorin’s henchwoman May Day (Grace Jones) to avoid detection, and Zorin goes along with it even though he knows Bond’s true identity. May Day then kills Sir Godfrey in one of those “how did he not look in the backseat” kind of murders when they could have just shot him, and Zorin tries to kill Bond when he could just ship him home in disgrace. Finally, this part of the film end without a transition.
The final part of the film is utter nonsense. First you meet Bond’s irrelevant CIA contact. He’s a Chinese nerd who sells fish at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf as a cover. But there’s no reason whatsoever for him to need a cover. And he ultimately does nothing before he gets killed. Bond meets Sutton too and the sparks do not fly. They decide to break into San Francisco City Hall at night, even though Sutton apparently can get what they want during the day. Incredibly, Zorin shows up just then and frames them for murder and arson, which forces Bond and Sutton to flee the cops on an old fire engine. A painful, generic, incompetent chase scene ensues with lots of zany crashy cop car fun. Bond and Sutton then go to Zorin’s mine, where Bond cracks wise about “women” blech and their high heels, before Zorin shoots his employees to prove he’s insane. We now know Zorin’s diabolical plan. He intends to cause an earthquake by flooding the mine with seawater. This will flood Silicon Valley, which will allow a group of foreigners to take over the microchip market. Soon, everything in the world will be made in China!! Mwoo ha ha! Oh, wait. Anyway, after they escape the mine, Bond chases Zorin, who is on a blimp floating over San Francisco, and kills him in a fight on top of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Bond Quality: Where to begin? This was Roger Moore’s final Bond film and, to put it bluntly, he was too old. His age was already becoming a problem in For Your Eyes Only and here it was just too much. Ironically, age itself wasn’t even the problem – Liam Neeson (60) is older than Moore (57) was and yet he plays kick-ass heroes. The problem was that Moore seemed old because he comes across like a British pensioner. He walks, he doesn’t run, and he walks gingerly. He waits his turn to speak, he doesn’t dominate the conversation. He avoids physical fights, choosing instead to let the women and children around him fight instead. And his snarky one-liners come across as pissy rather than tough because he never earns them. Essentially, he walks through the film like a snotty British tourist.

The Bond Girl(s): The Bond girls are kind of hard to like in this one. On the one hand, you have Grace Jones as May Day. She’s butch. She’s unattractive. Her acting is horrible. In fact, she’s basically reprising her role as Zula from Conan the Destroyer. And while she does have some chemistry with Christopher Walken, she has no chemistry with Bond even when he’s trying to seduce her.

The main Bond girl is Tanya Roberts as Stacey Sutton. Roberts is a never-was and the character she plays suffers from some serious flaws. For one thing, it’s hard to care about her “plight.” She’s the granddaughter of an oil tycoon whose company is being taken over by Zorin, and when we first meet her, Zorin is offering her a huge check worth more money that any of us will see in our lifetimes. That is problematic because it makes it hard to see her as a victim, especially when she claims to be poor. There is no chemistry whatsoever between her and Bond either. Again, he is too old for her and acts more like a father tagging along on his daughter’s adventure.
Her manner doesn’t fit a Bond girl either. Most Bond girls are fiery with a strong independent streak, which then gives way to Bond’s charm. They typically want revenge for something and the only thing holding them back is Bond’s need to solve his case. Sutton isn’t like that. She acts like someone trying to build a legal case, someone who sees James Bond as the lawyer who agreed to help her. That makes her a client more than an object of desire.

Villain Quality: A View To A Kill goes really wrong here too. Christopher Walken wasn’t the first choice (David Bowie was), but he does a decent job given what he’s been handed. The problem is he’s been handed garbage. First, unlike every other Bond villain, he’s not evil because he chooses to be, he’s evil because he’s the product of a genetic experiment which makes him psychotic. Further, we are told the KGB gave Zorin his money and his power, which means he never earned his own villainy and we have no reason to see him as a worthy challenger for Bond. He’s basically a crazy monkey on a string who just cut the string.

Further, his scheme is horrible. For one thing, even though he’s psychotic, the scheme itself isn’t psychotic. . . he just wants to get rich. So his scheme doesn’t tie in with the reason he’s a villain. That would be like Goldfinger’s plan being to steal cars. Also, Zorin is already filthy rich, so why do this? The writers then muddy this further by suggesting that his scheme to destroy Silicon Valley was somehow a KGB operation which the KGB no longer wants him to do. But this information doesn’t connect to the film. It’s basically the writers hoping that the audience will latch onto this bit of information and infer a backstory where there is none. Also, if the KGB really wanted to stop him, as claimed at one point in the film, why not just kill him? There is no way a couple henchmen could stop the KGB from killing Zorin or dragging him back to Moscow if they wanted. Drowning Silicon Valley is a great idea, but failing to give Zorin a reason to do it and tossing in a contradictory KGB angle ruins it.
Zorin is also one of those villains with too much access to knowledge, like how his computer spots Bond as 007 or how he knows to go to San Francisco City Hall at the right time to catch Bond breaking in. Yet, at the same time, he keeps getting a case of the stupids, like when he needlessly shoots his henchmen to prove he’s psychotic. And if Sutton is such a problem for him, which is never clear, why doesn’t he just kill her? All in all, his behavior seems too random on the one hand, but too much exactly-what-the-plot-needs on the other.


This was a poor finish for Roger Moore, who really should have retired four years earlier. I suspect many of the problems of this film, like the lackluster stunts and the lack of chemistry with the Bond girls, is related to Moore seeming rather frail at this point. But even beyond that, this film keeps undercutting itself by never thinking through why any of the characters would actually do the things they are doing. Combine that with a villain who is little more than a petulant puppet, and you end up with one of the worst Bond films. That’s why this film is No. 0022 of 0023.
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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hittin' the Links

Today we reintroduce the “links” articles. In these articles, I’ll talk about one of Scott’s links in detail and then Scott will provide brief blurbs on some others. Sadly for Scott, I’m going to do something with the link he gave me that he did not expect: I’m getting political. :( The link in question (LINK) is an interview of Pixar’s Brad Bird, and I want to talk about what the Republicans can learn from Bird.

Worshiping The Past or Intimidated By The Past?: Bird describes Disney as “a classic Cadillac Phaeton that had been left out in the rain. It was this amazing machine that was beautiful but old and getting a little decrepit. . . [their] movies were still well executed, if uninspired.” He then ads that the problem with Disney was that:
The company’s thought process was not, “We have all this amazing machinery—how do we use it to make exciting things? We could go to Mars in this rocket ship!” It was, “We don’t understand Walt Disney at all. We don’t understand what he did. Let’s not screw it up. Let’s just preserve this rocket ship; going somewhere new in it might damage it.”
Substitute “Ronald Reagan” and tell me that doesn’t describe conservatives perfectly. Conservatives live in Reagan’s shadow, afraid to do anything he didn’t. We need to break free of this mindset and step out of his shadow.

Beating Complacency: One of the biggest flaws in conservatism today is this head-in-the-sand mindset by which conservatives assure themselves that everything will get better if they just keep doing what they’ve always done. Bird said it was the repudiation of this attitude which attracted him to Pixar:
[I was told], “The only thing we’re afraid of is complacency—feeling like we have it all figured out. We want you to come shake things up. ... For a company that has had nothing but success to invite a guy who had just come off a failure and say, “Go ahead, mess with our heads, shake it up”...
Even in good times, companies or political parties need to constantly fight against complacency. They need to be constantly evolving and looking for ways to improve, to make things better. This has been the biggest failing of conservatism for two decades now. . . it’s stagnated.

How To Fix Things: The Republican Party is famous for picking silverbacks as leaders. It always looks to its most senior members to set the agenda. That’s a horrible idea, especially when the current plan isn’t working. We act like GM in a Pixar world. Said Bird of how he shook things up when making The Incredibles:
I said, “Give us the black sheep. I want artists who are frustrated. I want the ones who have another way of doing things that nobody’s listening to.”
Almost every dying company that has ever turned itself around (and most of the best companies who stay on top) do this. They look for the people who have the ideas that the establishment thinks can’t be done. Conservatives need to learn to accept this and to stop hoping the establishment (Rush and Hannity and Boehner and Heritage Foundation) will stumble upon the next great idea. . . they are too comfortable to think like that. In fact, consider this from Bird as well: “The best leaders are somewhat subversive, because they see something a different way.” Who would you say are our subversive leaders?

Teambuilding: Finally, to make a successful film, Bird says you need teamwork with everyone’s “creativity [working together] in a harmonious way. ... Otherwise, it’s like you have an orchestra where everybody’s playing their own music. Each individual piece might be beautiful, but together they’re crazy.” This describes conservatism. Look at how none of the radio talkers work together and how Breitbart and Daily Caller compete rather than coordinate. Conservatism needs to learn the art of teamwork. Dozens of individuals suffering from groupthink is not teamwork.

In that regard, we need to learn to build up our people. Bird notes that Disney in its heyday and Pixar both have “Universities” to encourage their employees to “learn outside of their areas, which makes them more complete.” Most of the best companies do this do. Unfortunately, conservatives rarely do this. There should be policy shops in each area of expertise, public speaking programs, marketing/communications programs, etc. There is no excuse for any party member (Tea or Republicans) not to be fully trained in these things. Bird also notes that they designed the building specifically to force people to keep running into each other. Once again, the message is to come together as a team. It’s time conservatives became a village rather than a series of forts.


Now here are more links you might want to check out, courtesy of Scott:

The price of foreign funding

The teen romp 21 and Over is nowhere near my radar but, apparently, it was partly financed by Chinese money and the filmmakers were required to cut an alternate version of the film specifically for Chinese audiences... I hope I'm not the only one who has a problem with this! While the American version is a simple tale of youthful rebellion (with the requisite T&A), the Chinese version is a more wholesome story about the west's hedonistic ways. The filmmakers even had to shoot new material in China specifically for this version. While show business is above all a "business," this doesn't bode well for anyone: filmmaker or audience member.

The two stages of Hollywood soul crushing

Meet Daniel Wilson, author of How to Survive a Robot Uprising and Robopocalypse, both of which were going to be turned into movies at one point. Several years later and it still hasn't happened yet. Wilson details the high highs and the low lows and the long process involved in simply getting the chance to maybe make a movie one day. Truthfully, it's a miracle any movie gets made, let alone a good one!

A radical idea for the new Star Wars trilogy

The author is this article suggests that Disney remake the prequels. Of course they won't, but it's a pretty interesting idea nevertheless. I don't agree with all the ideas suggested here but no other movies have been analyzed to death as much as the prequel trilogy and the raw material is there - all it takes is someone who knows what to do with them.

15 thrillers from the 70s you may not know

In the midst of Vietnam, Watergate, ad infinitum, Hollywood managed to crank out some great thrillers, which reflected then-current fears and anxieties about our country and the people running it. Of the ones mentioned in this article, I can say the following: Black Sunday is badass, Executive Action would NEVER get made today, Twilight's Last Gleaming is good but not as incendiary as I expected, The Anderson Tapes is okay, and The China Syndrome is, for better or worse, a classic. The rest I need to see.

A look back at the penultimate Marx Brothers movie

1946's A Night in Casablanca is not a great movie but it's not bad. Not bad at all. It's really not a parody of Casablanca, despite Warner Brothers' concerns and Groucho's caustic letters to the WB brass. Once again, Groucho plays a hotel manager, Harpo is a valet for a sadistic bully (played by veteran Marx Brothers villain Sig Ruman), and there's a love story, a couple of songs, the usual. Not a classic but still worth watching. There's one exchange I love when Groucho's date tells him she wants champagne and when the waiter shows up, Groucho says, "Get this lady a cheese sandwich. Charge it to her!"
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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Questionable Jones No. 6

Some films are simply better than others. Yep. It's not even a matter of taste, it's a matter of right and wrong. . . moral and immoral.

Question: "Rank the movies from best to worst."

Scott's Answer: Duh! Raiders is #1, followed by Doom and Crusade tied for #2, then Romancing the Stone, then The Rocketeer, then National Treasure, then The Mummy, and then Crystal Skull. [grin]

Andrew's Answer: Scott is a clever man and I lament the fact I didn't think of what he did. :( So I'll just go with a straight up ranking. Raiders of the Lost Ark is heads and shoulders above the rest. I reluctantly list Lost Crusade next, despite misgivings I have about the film. Next comes Temple of Doom, which is admitted getting better in hindsight. Finally, Crystal Skull, which is just so hard to like.
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Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Great (film) Debates vol. 73

Stupid is as stupid does, but stupid can also be pretty darn funny.

What is your favorite “stupid” comedy?

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

Probably Animal House followed by Christmas Vacation. "It's so nice to be back here at the Death Delayed Club. We'd like to do a little song called Shama, Lama Ding Dong. So here 'tis." - Otis Knight.

Panelist: T-Rav

Scary Movie 4. I haven’t seen the first three, but I was aware of them, and for me, number four came just prior to the point at which those spoof movies became really ham-fisted and ridiculous. Plus, anything which makes fun of Tom Cruise gets points from me.

Panelist: BevfromNYC

Okay, I just love stupid, mindless comedies, though I can’t think of single one right now.

Panelist: AndrewPrice

Stupid and I aren't great friends, but I'll go with Dodgeball which was a lot of fun. Alternatively, I'm going with the entire Scary Movie franchise.

Panelist: ScottDS

Trapped in Paradise, starring Nicolas Cage (at his crazy best), Jon Lovitz, and Dana Carvey. It tells the story of the Firpo brothers – restaurateur Bill and his two idiot brothers, Dave and Alvin – who rob a bank on Christmas Eve in the town of Paradise, PA. Due to a snowstorm, they find themselves stranded and treated wonderfully by the townsfolk, including the bank manager and his family. The cast includes some familiar faces, including a hilariously deadpan Richard Jenkins as a harried FBI agent.

Comments? Thoughts?
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Friday, March 1, 2013

Guest Review: 2012 (2009)

by ScottDS

What better way to ring in the new year (and, uh, the new month) than by discussing a movie made four years ago that has now been rendered obsolete? Yes, we’ll be looking at Roland Emmerich’s disaster movie to end all disaster movies: 2012. The short version of the review is this: “F--- this movie.” For the longer version, please... read on. [smile]

First, allow me to quote from Roger Ebert’s infamous review of North. I feel it’s more than appropriate here:
“I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.”
Now that we’ve got that out of the way... 2012 speculates that the Mayan calendar is correct and that Earth will experience a cataclysm in late 2012. Apparently, “the neutrinos coming from the sun have mutated into a new kind of nuclear particle.” Yes, that’s a line from the film. The neutrinos are emanating from a large solar flare and are causing the temperature of the Earth’s core to rapidly increase. Geologist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) brings this information to White House Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt), who then informs President Thomas Wilson (played by Danny Glover, and NOT Back to the Future actor Thomas F. Wilson). Wilson and other world leaders initiate a project to ensure mankind’s survival, including the construction of huge “arks” in Tibet, along with the stowing away of valuable works of art and other treasures. Tickets are offered to the richest people on the planet for a cool billion euros.
While on a camping trip in Yellowstone with his kids, failed sci-fi writer-slash-limo driver Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) encounters a conspiracy theorist (Woody Harrelson at his stoner best) who tells him about the 2012 phenomenon. Jackson and his kids return to LA just as the s--- starts hitting the fan. They manage to escape as the city falls apart around them, with Jackson’s ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet) and Kate’s boyfriend Gordon (Thomas McCarthy) in tow. After they learn about the arks, they land in Las Vegas and secure transport with Jackson’s boss Yuri, a Russian billionaire, and Yuri’s trophy girlfriend. They arrive in China and stow away on one of the arks. After waaay too much chaos and carnage, along with CGI earthquakes, floods, and tsunamis, the arks make it to the Cape of Good Hope and the world begins again.

After watching this film for the first time, my reaction was similar to that of an online reviewer who labeled it “cinematic waterboarding.” Let’s start with Roland Emmerich. He co-wrote and directed Independence Day, a fun movie that still has its fans (I’m one of them). Now... imagine if: a.) Independence Day was longer and even more technically and scientifically incoherent, b.) the scenes of destruction featured not only big special effects but tiny CGI people screaming and falling to their deaths, c.) included about three or four more sequences of destruction, each one more mind-numbing than the last, and d.) they killed off Jeff Goldblum’s father for no reason at all.
2012 is a sadistic movie and it doesn’t know when to stop. Where one or two shots of a building crumbling to the ground might do, this movie gives us seven or eight such shots, all longer than they should be, and all with people fleeing for their lives. Jackson and his family escape LA during an Earth crust displacement via limousine, which must have the best suspension system devised by man. To be fair, it’s entertaining to watch once, but it really is like playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (Fault), except you’re not playing – you’re watching your friend play. And he’s better than you. And he won’t give up the controller! It becomes overwhelming after awhile. Sure, we get some perfunctory character scenes that help provide breathing room, but with this movie, the disasters are so frequent, you can set your watch to them. Tech stuff is mostly top-notch, though this is one film where it’s obvious that what we’re seeing is fake, simply because there’s so much of it!!

The acting is fine for what this movie is. It’s nice to see John Cusack playing an everyman again. Ejiofor (who played the villain in Serenity) is too good for this movie – he’s just so gosh darn earnest and truthful. But he’s good and you root for him, because we like earnest and truthful people and we want them to succeed. Platt is good as the Chief of Staff and, when compared to most bureaucratic villains in movies like this, his character gets a little more to work with. (I mean, he’s no Robert Wagner in Airport ’79!) In addition to the mayhem, there’s even a slight subplot involving political subterfuge and Harrelson’s character mentions the mysterious deaths of scientists who wanted to reveal the truth before the governments of the world were ready to do so. It’s much ado about nothing and it just adds to the already-exorbitant running time. Oh, and the film also introduces us to Ejiofor’s character’s dad, only to kill him off three scenes later! (Oddly, the Blu-Ray includes an alternate ending where the guy lives – I guess this was deemed “too optimistic” for theater audiences.)
There are also supporting turns by the lovely Thandie Newton as the President’s daughter and love interest for Ejiofor, Star Trek: Enterprise actor John Billingsley (too good for the material, per usual) as a scientist, and Stephen McHattie (Pontypool and one of the best Trek episodes ever made) as an ark captain. Glover is okay as the president but not as good as Morgan Freeman was in Deep Impact. One critic pointed out that, while we obviously have no problem electing a black president, we’d never elect one with Glover’s lisp! [smile] Lastly, there’s Thomas McCarthy as Gordon, Cusack’s ex-wife’s boyfriend. Usually in pop culture, the boyfriend/stepfather/etc. is a total dick. But not here – he’s a good man and the kids like him. So the movie has to go ahead and kill him off... in the worst way possible! The ark’s boarding gate jams and Gordon is crushed to death by the gears!
Unfortunately, I’m going to have to get “ugly American” for a minute. This film appears to be a symptom of Hollywood’s increasing reliance on the foreign market. We’re introduced to characters from other countries, who speak in subtitles, played by actors we have no familiarity with. As a result, there’s no distinction or priority – some of these characters show up later and it’s like, “Oh, I didn’t know the monk in Tibet was gonna be important!” That sort of thing. The first ten minutes are a little disorienting the first time you see it. Who are these people? What are they doing? I can appreciate the mystery, not to mention the need to keep disaster preparations of this magnitude under wraps, but there’s a dissonance on display and in a movie where there’s enough insanity to come, you kinda want to comfort your audience at the beginning, so they’re prepared for later.

What happened, Mr. Emmerich? You used to be a human being! Independence Day was a fun, summer popcorn flick with a host of likable characters and a well-paced story. This movie, on the other hand, is a perpetuum mobile and I hate it.

“Kind of galling when you realize that nutbags with cardboard signs had it right the whole time.”
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