Friday, September 30, 2011

A rant and request

Part of the description of this site is that it includes rants, but I try to refrain from doing it too often, because just rambling is an easy trap to fall into, and I'd like to avoid that particular trap. However, this is an opinion blog, and oh boy do I have an opinion to share at this juncture. So if you want to avoid this particular rant, don't follow the cut, kay?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Missed Graphic Novels

I've long argued in favor of the artistic and literary merit of the graphic novel medium, although when I do so for the uninitiated, I USUALLY yield the balance of my time explaining the difference between comic books and graphic novels. However as with all mediums I am interested in getting my readers to enrich their lives by suggesting things you might not have heard of otherwise (you wait, I will eventually do a Missed Music) I figured I'd throw a few obscure graphic novel titles your way in the hopes that you might seek them out.

Y: The Last Man

I have never read a graphic novel that unseated the two best graphic novels I've ever read (The Sandman and Watchmen, respectively) from their seats, but I tell you, Y: The Last Man came as close as anything ever did.

The story is neatly encapsulated in it's title: An unexplained event kills all the male mammals on Earth, except an escape artist named Yorick (his sister is named Hero, which should make all you Shakespeare nuts giggle) and a capuchin named Ampersand. Together with a genetic scientist named Dr. Allison Mann and a government agent named 355 (that's three fifty five) they embark on a journey to find what caused the plague and figure out how to clone enough men to save the human race.

I know, I know, all of that sounds like there isn't much of a story in there, but there is and WHAT a story. Like all good sci-fi, the story looks deep inside it's post-apocalyptic setting to the intense humanity at it's center. Real and intelligent musings on the nature of the world and it's characters can make Y: The Last Man deeply affecting and often gut wrenching. It really is one of the best graphic novels ever published, so if you haven't read it, I recommend it even if you're not a fan of graphic novels.

Locke and Key

Best described as the result of HP Lovecraft and Stephen King having a kid and it being raised by Wes Craven (which is appropriate as it's written by Stephen King's son), this one is devoted to a family who moves across the country after the father of the family is murdered in a horrible accident, apparently not realizing that moving to a town called Lovecraft is probably the worst decision you could make under those circumstances.

From there it's a unique haunted house story, with fantastic art and a sensibility based in the darker aspects of the human soul. In many ways it's a closer cousin to Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left than Hellraiser, but that's only true to a point. If you've ever felt the need to seek out horror in mediums other than film, Locke and Key is a great place to start.

Also, quick side note: This one was tied for the list with an obscure series called Fall of Cthulu, but won out because you need an absurdly deep knowledge of Lovecraftian mythos to even begin to get into Fall. Still, if you have that grounding, it's unique and interesting, so if you thought that last sentence describes you, give it a glance.

Atomic Robo

Written by Brian Clevenger, late of 8-Bit Theater (which is STILL my favorite webcomic of all time), this one is essentially a science based, humorous cousin to BRPD (better known as Hellboy thanks to the movie). The story is devoted to a robot built by Nikola Tesla and his various adventures fighting everything from Rasputin, to Nazi Scientists to literal Lovecraftian horrors. I really can't describe it too well beyond that (comedy is hard to describe), except to say that the number of historical jokes borders on the absurd and it's well written and characterized (and regularly hysterically funny). This one can be kind of hard to track down, but trust me it's worth the effort.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Happy 60th Mark

It's Mark Hamill's 60th Birthday, which is strange because I never thought of him as that old. Okay yeah, New Hope was over 30 years ago at this point, but still. Anyway, I could go on a long rant about how much Star Wars means to me, but frankly you don't want to hear it and I don't want to write it. So rather than try and write it out, I'll put it as simply as I can:

Happy Birthday Mark.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review: Moneyball

Moneyball, in a bold move, is a baseball movie where none of the main characters actually play baseball. Instead it focuses on the more rarely seen aspect of building a team through trading and buying, and while this sounds suspiciously similar to the route taken by the ill fated Two For The Money (does anyone remember that film?) it manages to pull it off spectacularly.

The story itself is concerned with Billy Beane, a former ballplayer turned General Manager of the incredibly poor Oakland Athletics, who is trying to put together a good team on a tight budget. While on a trip to try and recruit new players he meets an assistant who has a different way of looking at teams and hires him, hoping to put together a cheap team based on talented players that, for one reason or another, no one wants.

This being at heart a sports movie, it's obviously not about big intellectual ideas or important events, or anything like that and as such three things have to be in play: The structure and technique have to be well done, the acting has to be good and the story has to be engaging. The story itself is quite engaging, as taking an overdone story from an alternate angle once again proves to be the best way to spice up an overdone story. Which isn't to say that the story itself doesn't have more than a few twists itself, especially as the third act hits and a BIG chunk of the audience expectations gets upended (although those familiar with the actual story will probably see it coming).

The acting is, naturally excellent. It's primarily Brad Pitt's show and he owns it completely both in the rare big shouty scenes and in the quieter scenes that require much more subtle acting. It interests me that the main character is a former ballplayer who's own career reads and is presented, almost like a deconstruction of the myth that's been built up around baseball, but who still manages to find the romance as he puts it, in baseball. Pitt's performance is one of the best of his career, finding the humanity at the center of a bitter and lonely man he's inhabiting.

Of the supporting cast, Jonah Hill is getting the most attention and it's well deserved (has he EVER been good in anything else?) His performance is subtle and quiet, made up mostly of nervous ticks and half stumbling through his lines, but he works excellently across from Pitt, their conflicting personalties allowing both of them to grow as characters, which is what the best supporting characters always do. Phillip Seymour Hoffman does a great job in a relatively minor role and I would be remiss not to mention to mention newcomer (or recent-comer anyway, I've never seen her in anything) Kerris Dorsey as Beane's daughter (unroll your eyes, I'm getting to that).

What shocks me is how well the screenplay and direction works, and how it turns expectations on it's head. The director's last movie was Capote, another excellent biopic that took Hoffman to his well deserved Oscar and the experience shows with good use of long shots and judicious editing. The screenplay was written by Aaron Sorkin (late of The Social Network) and Steven Zaillian (of Schindler's List) and is well written and structured. It manages to not only use the conventions of the genre to great effect, but also bring hidden depths to aspects that don't usually get them. To wit, Beane's daughter isn't a one dimensional tool to humanize her father (even good movies occasionally do this, looking your way The Fighter) but a real person with her own character and even what resembles an arc. It's subtle, but tiny touches like that help turn a good film into a great one.

The math isn't hard on this one guys. Oscar season is just starting and every critic in the world is already telling you to go see this one. So let me join them in telling you that this is one of the best movies to open wide in a LONG while and an easy contender for one of the best films of the year. So go out to see it so you can tell all your friends to go out to see it too.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's really surprised that Pitt never gave a big speech. Aren't all sports movie required to have a big speech by law?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Second Age Reviews: They Live

John Carpenter, at least when he's on form (and YES we're back on John Carpenter) usually makes movies that fit into one of two categories: SHOCKINGLY solid horror films (The Thing, Halloween, The Fog, Prince of Darkness etc.) and silly, but well made, action/comedies. And while They Live is firmly in the latter category, if you can ignore some leaps in logic, a few plot and character turns that don't make a whole huge amount of sense and a JARRING shift in tone near the end, it's a silly action/comedy that works incredibly well in all the moments that count. Which is all you can ask from a movie like this anyway.

The plot is concerned with a man named...actually I don't know, I don't think they ever say his name. Oh well, he's played by 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper, and he's a homeless manual laborer who wanders into a shanty town near a suspicious Church. Quickly he finds out the Church is involved in an underground movement trying to reveal that certain members of high society, government and business are actual invading aliens, keeping us all calm with subliminal messages in...well everything, reading things like 'Obey,' 'Consume' and my personal favorite 'Marry and Reproduce.'

As stated earlier, the movie is profoundly silly. The script is unsubtle, the dialogue full of action movie cliches (this is the movie to originate 'I've come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass.') and but it all keeps a consistent tone (for the most part) so it works. Roddy is well suited for his role as he is a great physical presence, if not a particularly skilled actor, and veteran 'other guy' actor Keith David does a good job as the main characters sidekick.

The action scenes are...well essentially as silly as the movie. Notably there is one of the longest fistfight in movie history in this movie and although the fight itself is quite well choreographed and impressive, it's hard to move past how silly and inane their reason for fighting is. Most of the rest of the action scenes are extended 'run, shoot, run, shoot' sections, that thankfully end before they can wear out their welcome.

The special effects...could stand to be better. Now don't get me wrong, they're by no means terrible, especially for a 1988 movie, but while the makeup job on the aliens is mostly good, the actual masks they wear are pretty unconvincing and the lip movements don't synch up at all with the dialogue.

There are more things I could complain about, like how the plot is resolved through a MASSIVE deus ex machina or how the pacing kind of breaks down around the middle, but that's all irrelevant. What you need to know is that They Live is a B-Movie, a silly junky distraction. But it's a well made and enjoyable one and that's all you can ask of a B-Movie really. So if you need a movie for party night or want something silly to enjoy you could do a lot worse than They Live.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wonders why the villains are using the PKE Meters from Ghostbusters as communicators.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wicked through and through

I'm terribly sorry about the relative lack of content here. Life has been conspiring to keep me from seeing movies or coming up with interesting rants (The Magic/Okcupid thing essentially died before I could gather my thoughts on it in any meaningful way). But since I'm still getting readers, I feel I should give all of you insight into an odd aspect of myself:

I'm going to see Wicked tonight, in the city naturally. This will be my third time seeing it. I am not exceptionally into musical theater (okay, not HUGELY into, but I do like it) but something about Wicked keeps me coming back. There's the way that it defies the law that musicals have to have thin plots, or the fact that the music is fucking amazing, or even just the fact that I identify with the main character (gee, I identify with a bitter, caustic, sarcastic, socially isolated, unattractive, political idealist. How strange).

I've never been entirely able to identify what precisely attracts me about Wicked because, as much as I love the book, it's never resonated with me as much as the musical, even as people who know me fairly well tell me that the book seems to be much more on my wave length (I don't know if that says something about me or them). And it's true, I do usually prefer my stories darker or more depressing, which Wicked the musical certainly is not. I never even got that much into the Oz books or movies (for the record I've read 3 Oz books, Wizard, Patchwork Girl and Ozma) but something about both the book and musical of Wicked defies that. I get into the book and more so into the musical. And my lack of desire to adapt the book has more to do with the fact that it's a pain in the ass adaptation than it's content. I reread it since I wrote my article on difficult adaptations and I'd forgotten how much of it is completely without incident.

I dunno where I'm going with that. I'm certainly not going to review Wicked but I might write some adaptation thoughts/notes, maybe even post some of my conceptual script (I do this fairly often: I first wrote some concept adaptation notes back when I saw it in 2004 and have been editing them on and off for years now.) Very few people have ever gotten a look into how I write and since I'm planning on doing NaNoWriMo this year (look it up) I figured it was time to break that specific barrier. And, naturally, I must say that if any of you haven't seen Wicked and live someplace where you might have the opportunity, definately make that effort. Love it or...well I've never met anyone who hated it, so love it or merely like it, there's nothing quite like it.

After all, you're never gonna be able to get tickets to see Book of Mormon.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Review: Red State

Holy SHIT does this suck.

This one is gonna be quick, because I don't like to review films I didn't see in theaters and it's not technically IN theaters yet (it's On-Demand) but I feel the need to review it anyway, if only to keep some of you from seeing it.

Who here knows, or cares, that once respected director Kevin Smith has been on a long slow downslide into shittiness ever since his masterpiece Dogma? No one? Didn't think so. he didn't have his 4 hour, 2 part film about a guy who starts hockey fights to protect the more important players coming out soon (no really, it's called Hit Somebody) I'd say Red State would be the nadir (excepting possibly Cop Out, but I haven't seen Cop Out and never will). Red State is, technically a horror film about a Fred Phelps (look him up) style Preacher, and while there's probably a solid premise in that, it's so heavily mishandled it looks like a student film. And not even a C Student at that.

The script is overly talkative, even by Kevin Smith standards and feels overwritten, again even by Kevin Smith standards. The direction is overdone and incompetent, but at least stylish and interesting (in many ways the only interesting aspect of the film, aside from the premise, is the visual style). But it's also completely wasted as it's not the LEAST bit scary or engaging. And that's not even mentioning the fact that at the halfway point it careens into a laughably terrible attempt at an action movie, and the shift in tone is so intensely jarring that it'd be impossible for a good movie to recover, ESPECIALLY since it seems to switch sides about who we should be rooting for.

The acting is mostly bad, save for John Goodman in a fairly basic version of his Big Lebowski personality, with nearly 0 interest, and Michael Parks intense performance as the insane preacher. Melissa Leo's character is crying out for some subtle acting to accentuate Parks' insanity, but decides to overact and sucks her entire character, and a good amount of the movie, with her. No one else is even worth mentioning, as they're all essentially playing stock characters.

Lacking any menace, scares, depth or excitement, all it can do is lumber slowly and incompetently towards it's inhumanly stupid ending. What a shame. With a better director and a solid script editor you probably could have had a great film on your hands, but the same could probably be said of The Room. Skip it.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's trying to remember enough of Jersey Girl to decide if it's worse than this.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Second Age Reviews: A Clockwork Orange

This is a rare opportunity for me. Not only is A Clockwork Orange a Stanley Kubrick film (and therefore the first film I've gotten to review by my idol) but it's probably the best film that I've ever reviewed here. Because while 2001: A Space Odyssey is still my favorite Kubrick, I'd rate A Clockwork Orange ahead of Full Metal Jacket, The Shining and even Dr. Strangelove. And given that Dr. Strangelove is my favorite comedy of all time, that's high praise indeed.

The story is concerned with Alex, a young hooligan (sorry droog) growing up in a dystopian London. He is, and this is key to understanding the story, a completely unrepentant sociopath. Throughout the film he commits assault, theft, rape, murder, all without provocation or justification or even hope of benefit. When a member of his gang suggests that they take more profitable ventures he attacks them, clearly telling us that he's committing these acts essentially for kicks. No surprise, eventually he is caught and thrown in jail, and while the results of him being in jail are near-legendary, I won't spoil them.

This is another thing that must be understood to 'get' this film: As brilliant as it is, I don't enjoy a minute of it. There are many films that are brilliant but physically painful to watch, from No Country For Old Men to Irreversible, but A Clockwork Orange is one of the first examples I ever watched. The sheer visceral horror I get from watching it easily confirms it as a brilliant work of art.

The character of Alex is one of the most interesting aspects of the film, an incredible mix of good screenplay and fantastic acting from Malcolm McDowell. The film presents itself entirely from his point of view, including voiceover, but never once lets us forget what a monstrous person he is. Indeed, one of the primary changes from the book seems to make every single thing Alex endures a karmic punishment for something he inflicts on someone else.

Of course the best known aspect of the incredible direction in this film is it's unique and distinctive use of classical music. Alex's only even borderline redeeming characteristic is his love of classical music, in particular Beethoven, and the soundtrack pushes Alex's love of classical music to it's theoretical limit, but it never feels shoehorned in or utilized anything other than perfectly.

That's always been the thing about Stanley Kubrick films: This level of directorial influence over the film would feel like over-direction for anyone else but he handles the films so perfectly and fearlessly that you can't even imagine them any other way. Imagine someone not quite as sure of himself or not quite as talented trying to do the intense direction and unique style of The Shining and you just cringe thinking about it. And in Clockwork he does not disappoint, employing rapid fire editing, tight camera shots, fast and intesne use of music and the strange effect of Alex's disconcertingly familiar narration (he repeatedly refers to the audience as his friends, even his only friends) to create the unique and vicious creature that this film is.

Of course, even with the amazing screenplay and the incredible direction, if the actors weren't up to snuff, it would still fall apart. But everyone, and I do mean everyone, puts in a great performance, from Malcolm McDowell in a chillingly toned down turn as Alex, to characters who barely get any lines. Of note is Patrick Magee in a small role that becomes vitally important towards the end.

Look, I might be a little biased in favor of this film, but since you come here for my opinion, in my humble opinion A Clockwork Orange is a full on masterpiece, and well worth your time and attention, if you can stomach the content.

Alas, this is the end of an era. What with my financial situation and my relocation to New York City for school, I will no longer be able to attend every movie at the Avon. I will still be attending the odd one, and reviewing them when I do, but due to me being unable to know when those are, there will no longer be a Next Time on Second Age Reviews. Yes I know it's not the most popular section on this blog, but still I thought my loyal reader(s) might want to know. So...yeah. Now you know.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he still can't listen to Singing in the Rain.