Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

Second Age Reviews: Let the Right One In

I like foreign films. Not always, but as a rule they generally offer a unique perspective, if nothing else. Take the vampire movie genre for example. Stateside, vampires are huge right now, but in the wrong way due primarily to the success of the bafflingly popular Twilight series of books and movies, and thus most people trying to horn in on it's success are following the Twilight formula. The formula consists in broad strokes of mostly defanged vampires, sappy romance and poor writing, as well as a complete disregard for the general rules of the vampire mythos.

As such, in January when Daybreakers hit, movie geeks rallied very briefly around it, hoping that some success on it's part might bring the much maligned monsters out of the shadow of Twilight, but was not to be. What I guess they hadn't heard is that the Twilight phenomena never really landed over in Europe and thus when Sweden decided it wanted to make a vampire romance movie it was the quietly brilliant Let the Right One In, which thankfully has all the vampire rules intact.

The plot is based around the character of Oskar, a smart, quiet and bullied 12 year old. In the opening scenes, Eli (pronounce El-lee, not Ee-lie) a girl of about the same age moves in with her father next door to him and soon they are close friends, exchanging messages in morse code through the wall to each other. What the movie quickly reveals to us, though not so quickly to Oskar, is that she has a bad case of vampirism and after her father fails to bring her blood, she is forced to leave the safety of her home to search for it on her own. This kicks off the hardworking B-story, devoted to a man named Locke, who through coincidences, has most of the people he's cares about killed by Eli.

The part about the vampire rules being intact isn't an exaggeration either. Despite being mostly a romance and VERY slow building, the film is overall one of the most true to to the rules vampire stories since Buffy went off the air. Drinking blood and red eyes are both there and the film turns a beautifully literal version of “bursting in sunlight” and even a fantastically visual spin on the oft-forgotten “vampires can't enter unless invited.”

One of the most interesting parts about the movie is the characters. Far from the soulless bloodlust found in many modern vampires, Eli seems to want to resist her need for blood and comes close to showing regret after one murder. Oskar on the other hand is far from the shrinking violet human character. While he may be physically weak, hints at wanting bloody revenge against his bullies and obsession with violent news articles seem to paint him as not being entirely stable himself. Special mention also goes to Eli's father, a minor character by all accounts, but one who gets fully fleshed out in his mixed devotion to and fear of Eli in the short amount of screentime he has. All of this is held together by an admirably unique spin on the vampire romance and a fantastic overall screenplay.

Another notable thing, at least to film buffs, is the cinematography. Cinematography often gets ignored or outright neglected outside a Coen Brother film these days, but it finds a home amidst beautifully bleak simplicity, the kind we see in Fargo. The makeup guy is clearly giving a lot of care and attention, mostly into painting blood on people's faces and applying makeup to make Eli look constantly tired. But he gets to shine in one scene regarding a...unique way Eli's father used to avoid identification upon capture. I don't want to ruin it though, you have to see it to believe it.

As I was considering this film on the ride home, I tried to nail down a major flaw that I wanted to discuss. But really, I can't think of one. The actors are all well cast and doing a good job, the screenplay and story are wall-to-wall good, the characters are interesting, the cinematography is gorgeous, even the soundtrack is well written and placed. Some American audiences might complain that it's often slow paced, but I found that really gave the story time to breathe. Overall, it's a fantastic movie. What keeps it from the upper eschelance of films in general and foreign films in particular, is a broad lack of any higher ambition. It's not aiming to be a genre defining masterpiece like Seven Samurai or a triumph of artistry and storytelling like Pan's Labyrinth. It aims to be an exceptional entry into the dead in the water vampire franchise, a good story, well told with intelligent symbolism. And in that case, it succeeds admirably.

Oh, before I go technically, there is an American version of this film called Let Me In out in a couple weeks. I usually shy away from advocating for or against a film, but in this case I'd like to ask anyone who's reading this to please ignore it. I can't think of a single American adaptation of a foreign film that was worth a damn and this one looks particularly crappy. So if you have the option, please just...stay home, Netflix the original version. I virtually guarantee you'll get a better product. Alright. See you next time.

Next on Second Age Reviews: Evil Dead 2

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he'd really like to ignore the upcoming Buffy movie to.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Movie letters

Got tagged this morning, gotta say I love these things. Also, just in case I actually have a regular reader, I'm going to see Let the Right One In tonight, which means I saw Animal House a couple weeks ago and couldn't find a single relevant thing to say about it. So if you haven't seen it, go see it. Anywho, movie letters.

Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The
Blade Runner
Clockwork Orange, A
Dark Knight, The
Escape From New York
G.I. Jane
Killing, The
Man Who Knew Too Much, The
North By Northwest
O' Brother, Where Art Thou?
Pan's Labyrinth
Quest for Fire
Rebel Without a Cause
Seven Samurai
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Unbearable Lightness of Being
Village of the Damned
Warriors, The
X-files: Fight the Future
Young Frankenstein

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Really Wall Street 2? Really?

I haven't had cable most of my life. In fact, I only just got it in the place I'm living about oh...2-3 weeks ago, and I still don't watch much outside of The Daily Show, so I'm probably behind on this, but my point is valid. I remember, about a month ago asking a close friend of mine what music could possible be more trite and predictable to use in a trailer for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Hereafter referred to as Wall Street 2) than Sympathy for the Devil. He responded, with his usual wisdom with Lux Aeterna.


Seriously, when I first heard about it, I was unhappy and nothing I've seen since has done anything but make it worse. I don't think Oliver Stone is some great amazing filmmaker, he's an intellectual auteur in an age of the medium when both are frowned upon and he usually puts out solid product. But come on Oliver, I've seen JFK. I've seen W. and Platoon and The Doors. Hell I've seen the original Wall Street. I KNOW you're better than this.

(And because I know I'm going to catch hell if I don't say it: Yes I've seen Natural Born Killers but A) All the movies I've mentioned are similar, in some way, to Wall Street and B) I think it's overrated. Not bad, quite good in fact, but overrated.)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Support Stewart

2 things that struck me when writing up this post (okay, 3 if you count the thought that I really should be doing my homework but let's not). Firstly, that while when I started this blog, I promised myself it wouldn't be political, that was, how shall I say, a filthy lie. This blog is, in the end, about me and politics are completely intertwined with my day-to-day life. Not screaming at the top of my lungs political rallies politics, but thinking about politics and politicians. And watching Daily Show.

The second thing that struck me is that odds are, there is no one reading this blog. Seriously, I might as well be in my bedroom rambling to myself.

But if there is anyone reading this, I would like you to check this out:

Rally to Restore Sanity

It's headed by the Daily Show's Jon Stewart, it will be taking place on the National Mall on October 30th. It's exactly what it says on the tin, a heartfelt request that we all calm down a little bit. Left, right, middle, I don't care, even if you can't attend you should SUPPORT it. The rhetoric has gotten WAY out of control these last couple years, on both sides of the aisle so any attempt to calm us down is deeply appreciated.

Even if it is from a TV Comedian.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Adaptations of adult aimed comic books have generally had 2 levels of quality: Really good and really bad, with very little in between. On the really good side we have things like 300, Sin City and Kick-Ass. On the really bad side we have Watchmen, V for Vendetta and Wanted. So it's understandable that geeks of distinction are generally fairly nervous whenever a well reviewed adult aimed comic is made into a film, such as when we heard Shaun of the Dead director was doing a film version of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, though to be fair at the time I saw the movie, I'd only read the first 2 volumes. It's alright, since the result is pretty damn good.

The plot is devoted to the titular Scott Pilgrim, an almost-hipster geek living in Ontario. He's an interesting character, not least because he's actually something of a douchebag. He falls fast and hard for a girl named Ramona. Of course since the alternate world version of Ontario is running off video game rules and even a random guy like Scott is a full blown martial artist, it turns out Ramona has 7 evil exes that Scott has to battle in order to date her.

I should point out, in all honesty, that the fact that Pilgrim is a bit of a jackass is something that had to be accentuated for me. This is because, without going into detail, if I were informed tomorrow that Brian Lee O'malley (the writer of the comics, since I neglected to mention that) was a lifelong friend of mine and Scott had been based, in broad strokes, off my romantic history, I wouldn't be particularly surprised. Therefore Scott is, on a metaphorical level, me and to quote one of my favorite episodes of Futurama: “I can't stay mad at what is essentially me. I love me.”

That, by the by, is what makes Scott Pilgrim a worthwhile story, not only that the people in them seem like fully realized people (with maybe a couple more comedy screenwriters working for them, but meh) but also that, including the big video game action scenes, the film is a serious rumination on emotions and relations. Much of the action, especially in the 3rd act, is an active metaphor for character relations and their emotions. But then, that was there in the comic.

On the purely movie side of things, both the director and screenwriters are doing their job well. Cinematography works solidly, especially in large crowd sequences (I'm going to skip over Shaun of the Dead references to their fantastic crowd work) and the fight scenes are well done and exciting. On the acting side of things it's one of those ironic movies where the lead actor/s are doing the worst job. Not that Michael Cera (who I've hated in everything else, yes even movies I liked otherwise) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are doing a bad job. Just that the actors playing Scott's gay roommate Wallace, his slightly obsessive underage ex Knives Chau (no really) and his other ex the more-than-slightly tomboyish drummer Kim who seems to be channelling Janis Joplin by way of Joan Jett are doing better jobs.

The video-game vibe both and works and doesn't. While it forces everyone to cut down heavily on the subtly of the metaphors, it leads to some spectacular fight scenes. It's up for debate whether it turns off outsiders (I'm not an outsider, can't comment). What I CAN say is that with the video game references and their freedom to play fast-and-loose with plot and character motivation, the film is lining itself up for a cult classic, which usually has to happen organically. I can also say that as cult classics go it's aiming to be Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and ends up closer to The Big Lebowski (not as good as Lebowski but there you go.)

There are some issues, primarily centered around translation. Firstly, it was a mistake to try and fit all 7 evil exes into one movie was something of a mistake and as a result, the entire film feels rather rushed. There's a logical stopping point and a solid amount for a 'Matrix Reloaded-Revolution' style sequel which would give everyone more time to think and develop. There's also an overall problem with subtly and dialogue. To use an example from early on having Scott yell out during a dream “I'm so lonely,” might work fine in a comic, but in a movie it grates more than a little. Finally the metaphors get to be embarassingly unsubtle towards the end, but that's forgivable I guess.

At the end of the day, the movie Scott Pilgrim most resembles (in the recent past) is the underrated 2009 comedy The Men who Stare at Goats. It's not a classic or a phenomena waiting to happen. It's a nice story, well written that is both funny and exciting. It moves at a nice clip, never once gets boring and does not wear out it's welcome. It has some in jokes for us geeks and some intellectual commentary that is bubbling under the surface which adds some much needed thinking to it. Due to the massssively poor crop of movies this year, it might actually manage to worm it's way onto my top 10 of the year, though that would be less on its own merits and more due to the lack of quality of all the other things.

Alas I know this review comes too late. The film is almost out of theaters and nothing I can say or do can stop it from being a box office dud. Oh well, some good movies are (Ed Wood, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, etc.) But if it's still playing near you, I urge you to see it. Meanwhile, I'll be here drumming my fingers and waiting for December and True Grit. See you next time

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he should really try to see movies as they come out, rather than a month later.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Review: Machete

I have a great amount of respect for Robert Rodriguez's talents, though perhaps less for his attitude. He remains an original and intelligent action director in an age where good action movies are an increasingly endangered species. He occasionally seems to have a mild fear of success (example: He's yet to make Sin City 2) but he generally puts out good product. With that in mind, here's Machete.

Machete is based on fake trailer, the only one to make it on to either of the original Grindhouse DVD's, about Danny Trejo as Danny Trejo in a more heroic version of essentially every role he's had in evey Robert Rodriguez movie ever made. The character technically traces his origins to a minor-ish character in the original Spy Kids who was essentially in there for a joke. For my part, it's less why it took Mr. Rodriguez so long to give a character named after a brutal weapon his own movie and more why it took him so long to make Danny Trejo an action star, given that he's one of the most terrifying looking men working in Hollywood today.

But all that's irrelevant. The plot could be swiftly summed up as “Here is a gun, here is a bladed weapon, here are some people, KILL!” but that would be lazy on my part. Machete (pronounced Ma-Chet-te) is a Mexican super-cop who is betrayed by his commanding officer and left for dead. 3 years later he's a day laborer working on the Texas border who is hired to kill a racist senator but he is again betrayed and left for dead (people need to learn to not to do that). He goes on an epic quest of revenge and along the way slits up a lot of people.

The action scenes are gruesomely gory and delightfully inventive, which is generally the way you want it with an over the top actioner. The cinematography is used well but never really threatens to take over for the special effects as the big technical detail.

The acting goes up and down. Danny Trejo and Michelle Rodriguez are doing the best job, adding some much needed weight to what amount to the two main characters. On the villains side, Jeffery Fahey is doing alright with what amounts to a side character and Robert De Niro does well with the screentime he has. On the other hand, while it's nice to see Jessica Alba looking like Jessica Alba, she still really can't act, and Steven Segal as a Mexican Samurai Drug Lord (really) sounds funny on paper, it doesn't work as well in practice, especially since he's gained a lot of weight. Special mention goes to Lindsay Lohan as a character who's amusing, but fundamentally useless to the plot.

What I find most interesting about the film, at least from an intellectual curiosity perspective, is that while it has an ultimate excuse to have no brain or deeper purpose about it (it's based on an in-joke from an in-joke), it actually does have a point, primarily based around the immigration debate and the racism associated with it. All of it is executed with the subtly of a chainsaw and none of it's stuff that's never been said, but in what amounts to an otherwise mindless action movie, it's nice to have some intellect included.

It's far from a perfect movie. Apart from the aforementioned lack of any subtly, there's also some major script issues which result in a good portion of the dialogue being JUST this side of terrible. Also in embracing the “Grindhouse” feel they apparently slacked off on the editing, ending up in some just plain bad cuts and edits. And finally, someone in the advertising department needs to get fired as the fact that Michelle Rodriguez has an eyepatch and therefore survives being shot in the eye is technically a spoiler. Also, Lindsay Lohan is only dressed as a nun, much less holding a gun for like...20 seconds. So play down that angle.

At the end of the day, Machete is good fun. It's not particularly groundbreaking but as I'm continually reminded not everything needs to be. Look, you should grab what you can. So far the only actioners that have been worth a damn this summer have been Inception, Iron Man 2 and Scott Pilgrim (and maybe The American but I haven't seen that yet) and we're currently staring down an American adaptation of a Swedish film that was one of the only worthwhile Vampire movie in years and a 20-years-later Wall Street sequel starring SHIA LEBOUF. At this rate, the only movie that'll be worth a damn between now and True Grit/Tron Legacy will be the DVD of The Promise (anyone who knows what I'm on about, you're AWESOME!). Oh well. See ya next time.

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's staring to get pissed at Rodriguez for not getting on Sin City 2.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Box office mojo

The numbers are in for the box office this weekend. The American is in first, with generally terrible Takers in second and Machete in third. I normally don't give a flying shit about the box office, but in this case, Machete's box office might cause some pundits in the media to react...amusingly. Machete's controversial content, (review pending due to life, 1 sentence quality check: It's good, go see it) for context revolves almost entirely around the immigration debate and racism.

As I've said before, box office doesn't generally mean anything to quality. Scott Pilgrim (saw it this weekend, review also pending due to life, 1 sentence quality check: It's good, go see it) was better than the Expendables or Takers, but it's yet to recoup it's cost almost a month into it's run. It's also worth pointing out that movies involving Mr. Rodriguez generally do fairly well without ever topping the box office. After all Predators never made it above 3rd place, but it made 120 million off a 40 million budget.

As I said, it's merely in the interest of seeing how the talk show circuit reacts to this news, though given that it's an action movie, they might be content to ignore it. Just a warning though, any of you go with "The American doing better" proves something due to it's name... I'll do...yeah I got nothing.