Archive | July, 2013

5 Things More Interesting Than Robots Fighting in Pacific Rim

19 Jul

The general consensus is Pacific Rim is no Grown Ups 2, but, thankfully, it also isn’t Grown Ups 2. Here’s what I know for sure after watching the movie: There are giant robots fighting giant monsters in the loudest possible way. The film doesn’t shut the door on Del Toro as genius filmmaker, but it also isn’t kicking it down either. He’s bought himself another round, there’s a reprise from a verdict once again.  Unless he’s got another Pan’s Labyrinth in the pipeline that will be so good people will go back and give this film a second chance, I’m willing to bet that history will not be kind to this movie.  These 5 things glossed over at the cost of more giant robots v. monsters action would nudge Pacific Rim’s auteur director toward the cinematic wizards:

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5. The mind melding – Sharing a mind with someone is incredible. This single plot device would single-handedly put an end to all marriage counseling, divorce rates, and, to be fair, probably marriages as well, would drop to zero. Yet, there was really no extra room in the movie for anything more than some choreographed walking and one barely necessary flashback.

4. Speaking of choreographed walking, that would’ve been a nice visual reference point for all of the overstimulation of every single robot fight. Even when it was simple one on one combat, I completely lost track of everything that was happening. But seeing the actors dancing together while their suits lit up in unison might have at least given me a clue how the battle was shaping up. Plus, I’m always a fan of watching people play Dance Dance Revolution at the mall.

3. More kids – this is where Del Toro shines the most; putting kids in great situations and then getting great performances out of them. I think he dropped out of The Hobbit after realizing the dwarves and hobbits weren’t children at all. The kid’s scene was the best realized scene in the movie, unfortunately it was barely necessary in the scope of robots punching and wading in megatropolis’ harbors.

SOWP_Pan's_Labyrinth

2. Creature Establishing shots – The other thing Del Toro is crack at is creature design. He and his team do a great job of bringing imagination to the screen. But if you asked me what one of these creatures looked like all I could respond with would be, “They had like glowing eyes and Alien meets Avatar tongues and one of them had like a shark head or something. Oh, and one spit electric acid.”  The monster money shot in Pan’s Labyrinth was set up perfectly because there was some good study time of the monster before it was set in motion. Not in this film, the fight scenes were just loud noises and bright colors.

1. More of the opening montage – There was so much gold in the opening exposition scenes that it may have raised the expectations too high. The first monster, pilot heroes, crazy Asian talk shows and the utter destruction the beasts caused. Overall, this just shows the limitations of blockbusters when compared to long form television shows. The world created in this film was interesting enough for a series, but with all money spent on loud noises and punchy robots this whole world was mortgaged for two-hours in an air-conditioned theater.

-C.Charles

The Ender of Controversies

13 Jul

I have been looking forward to the upcoming movie Ender’s Game, released on November 1st but there’s already controversy over this movie and it’s a real buzz kill. Some back-story on the subject; Ender’s Game was a book written by Orson Scott Card and published in 1985. About 2 decades later I read it and thought it was a great little sci-fi book. Written in kid friendly language, it still dealt with darker more mature subject matter and exceeded my expectations. I even read the next three sequels and… meh, you can leave those out. Lacking the qualities of the first novel they tell a different story altogether. Anyway there had been multiple attempts to get Ender’s Game the movie made during this time and it just couldn’t come together. Wolfgang Petersen even came pretty close a few years ago. Then the Young Adult genre really took off and rumors began to circulate that this YA sci-fi movie was finally getting made for real. About a year ago I decided to re-read the book to get freshened up for the movie. I appreciated it even more the second time. My mind was made up, they’d already sold one movie ticket. Then the bad ass looking trailer came out and reaffirmed my decision.

Meanwhile the author Orson Scott Card had been getting attention because he’d been speaking out against same sex marriage and spouting all kinds of other bigoted rhetoric including “gays should be rounded into camps”. One of the affects this had was to spur a movement called Skip Ender’s Game. Boycott the movie so this homophobic old man doesn’t get money. Reacting to that, OSC basically claimed if you’re tolerant enough to accept gays then you ought to be tolerant enough to accept my intolerance. I’m summarizing all of this because that is not what I want to talk about. A search will turn up gobs about this controversy. But like I said it’s a buzz kill. But from now on any person expecting my tolerance of their intolerance will be accused of “playing the Orson Scott Card”.

My dilemma is should someone’s creative product suffer based on the sins of its creator? This is an old question, Euripides of ancient Greece said “Judge a tree from a fruit, not from its leaves”. Seen this way an author’s fruit is their books, evaluate their product and ignore their personal beliefs. I took this stance with Paula Deen, before her racially insensitive comments were news I believed long ago that she should be taken off the air. Because her recipes to make diabetes fuel sent the wrong message to the public. If a tree’s fruit is deep fried stuffing on a stick, plant a better tree there. However I handled Chick-fil-a differently. They’ve got the tastiest fast food chicken out there and I’d buy it twice a month. But when people called for a boycott because the Chick-fil-a C.E.O. made homophobic statements I didn’t just judge that tree based only on its succulent chicken fruit. I decided not to give them money and haven’t indulged in a 12 count nugget meal in over 10 months.
I do miss the days when everything wasn’t political, chicken was just lunch and a movie was just thumbs up or down.

So how to approach Ender’s Game? I completely understand not wanting to give OSC any of your money because of his stance on homosexuals. Especially considering that being an open Mormon some of the money he tithes to that church will probably go to campaigns against legalizing same sex marriages in whatever state puts it on their ballot. Where the book is concerned get it for free from the library, I did and highly recommend anyone else do the same. It is an intriguing sci-fi book presented simply without a hint of prejudice. The movie has other factors to consider. Hundreds of people went into making this movie, does their work warrant prejudging because of one ignorant man? I feel it doesn’t. Also I can’t find any evidence that OSC will get money based on movie sales. Maybe the rights were bought for a flat sum in which case he’s already gotten all the money he’s going to get from the movie. Additionally promoting a boycott might have the opposite effect, Chick-fil-a got more sales for a while because people and conservative politicians made such a big deal about it.

But my big gripe about all this is it’s just unfair to the movie. I really need to see a good spectacle in space movie, they’re few and far between. Look at the trailer again, doesn’t it have such potential? All this negativity about a movie that’s still over 3 months away has nothing to do with the actors, or because people didn’t like the book, or whatever. But because of reasons that have nothing to do with the actual movie. It deserves to flop if the filmmakers failed to deliver a good cinematic experience. It shouldn’t bomb because of the ignorant ratings of the old man who wrote it 30 years ago. So here’s my plan. I’m going to a matinee showing, it’s cheaper, so minimizes what money OSC might get. More importantly I’m making a contribution in the amount of that ticket price to a pro LGBT organization this might not balance things out perfectly but I’ll have a cleaner conscience. Wait a minute… if I apply this charitable strategy to Chick-fil-a I can enjoy their 12 piece nugget meal again. I gotta go it’s past my lunch time.

Carl Wells

A Stupid Opinion About Documentaries Written Poorly

8 Jul

There was a time when I thought all cinema was created equally. I thought because I wanted to be a filmmaker so much, that every film was made with this idealistic passion I just assumed came with the job. Then I started watching documentaries, and I realized passion wasn’t required for the field of nonfiction films, but massive egos were absolutely a requirement.

I believe it started with Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine. The film had very successful return for the modest budget and with DVD sales, the film became a bona fide blockbuster of small budget films. Which then caused a flood of feature-length documentaries to invade the art houses and smaller venue theaters. Films that could be produced on a shoestring budget would draw returns from all of the people claiming film was an intellectual activity. Put a “cause” documentary with any type of social agenda into a theater and people were guilted into seeing it. But cinema, no matter how French it was, was never a serious intellectual activity. That’s what was so great about it though, if you liked watching films with subtitles or laughed at a Woody Allen joke about Camus, it gave the appearance of being educated while actually being entertained. Then theatrical documentaries came along and made going to the movies homework. But the homework isn’t even homework, it’s busy work designed to separate people from their dollars by playing to their social guilt instead of their desire to be entertained. At least with Michael Moore and documentaries like Super Size Me, they were having a good time while putting their message forth. Unlike the most manipulative and despicable documentaries are those joyless lot of films that beat their drums so hard they may have relegated independent film to a life far far removed from anything that could be considered a theatrical run.

The prime example of this is these types of films are the documentaries ordered in bulk by middle school libraries. They provide no new information, string together already published information with visual images and leave any notion objectivity at the door of the editing suit. Films like The Corporation, The Inconvenient Truth, The Eleventh Hour or, really, any film about global warming, have completely sullied the good name of documentaries for me. They aren’t good documentaries and they horrible examples of cinema. They are arrogant and irresponsible made by egoist with messiah complexes. Watching these kind of documentaries is just like inviting a Jehovah’s Witness into your home for a discussion over some lemonade, with the only difference being the documentary doesn’t even pretend to listen to your opinions. These “Cause” documentaries are the most manipulative aspects about moving images stretched out into tools of propaganda.

I place part of blame for the current dystopian tent-pole, megaplex, franchise, death-rattle of cinema on the theatrical documentary boom of the early to mid-aughts. Everyone wants to show that they care, but they want to be entertained more. Just like every selfish executive in the 2000’s the immediate profits were too blinding to look at the long-term effects, so they traded some short-term gains on guilting people into caring for a future sequels to comic book movies and remakes and reboots instead of entertaining original films. Documentaries are partly responsible for handing the keys of Tinseltown over to the fanboys. In the meantime, the “intellectual” entertainment of choice has moved to the small screen, hopefully, quality original independent films will follow.

 -C. Charles

Celebrate the 4th With a Bad Movie it’s the American Way.

3 Jul

There are a couple weekends that are highly coveted slots for movies to be released in Theaters. Memorial Day is the usual first big hyped blockbuster weekend with school years ending it’s the perceived start of summer. So there’s a lot of reasons people will buy tickets for your movie. You can usually find a movie with some sort of patriotic or military theme to it. Thanksgiving is also a pretty bankable release date to try and catch all the black Friday crowds or at least some of the poor husbands and kids who’d do just about anything to avoid being dragged to another store. They sit in theaters to escape. The middle weekend of December is the last big movie release date of the year. It has the added strategic advantage of making a movie fresh for Oscar voters and theaters will still be screening that movie for people who want to see what the Oscar buzz is all about.

But there is one weekend bigger then all of them. This weekend, Fourth of July Weekend! Because for some unexplained quirk in the cosmos when people see a movie on this weekend they either won’t know or won’t care that this movie is crap. This is the time when your movie is the most invincible to bad reviews. Critics may rant all they want about what a waste of time and money it is but nobody cares. If a movie has special effects and known actors and a grossly inflated advertising campaign it gets a free pass to suck on Independence Day.

In fact let’s look at Independence Day as a classic example. In 1996 the nearest movie theatre to me was about 32 miles away. My best friend and I were going to see ID4 on the first day on the biggest screen within a 50 mile radius come Hell or high water. We goaded someone to drive us and drop us off at the theater 30 minutes before showtime, the matinee we planned to see was already sold out with a line going down the sidewalk, we got tickets for the show after that and proceeded to the back of the line. Two and half hours later when we were finally watching the movie start I already loved it. In hindsight it is obvious to see all the flaws with ID4 that would normally make me file it as “bad”.

But at the time it was the biggest movie of the year and it wallowed in money and most people even today have a positive opinion about it, enough to warrant a sequel apparently. Even me (but I don’t want a sequel) and not in an ironic way like when you like a movie because of how bad it is, I still think this movie is classic 90’s entertainment.

Could this movie have gotten away with being released any other time of year? Well it takes place on July 4th so no. But all these movies were released on fourth of July weekend too; Men in Black 1 & 2, Armageddon, Wild Wild West, T3, Transformers 1, 2 & 3, and The Amazing Spider man. They all made gobs of cash and were accepted by audiences but were utter garbage (side note: I’d become immune to the July 4th good movie spell by the time MIB came out). If these movies were released any other weekend they wouldn’t have been such blockbusters depending how far away from July 4th they came out. The public’s tolerance for bullshit on film is at its highest so movies are made to just be big and pretty, not good. Then they’re marketed ad nauseam. Big pretty bad movies can flop any other time of year, but something makes July 4th auspicious. I’m not going to say it’s because Cancer is the Zodiac sign for cinema but I do have a theory. By the way Astrology is DONKEY SHIT! It is a proven fact, deal with it. Seventeen years ago ID4 wasn’t a movie I wanted to see it was an event to participate in, a goal to be accomplished. I think this mindset is a factor, the public is exposed to so much hype about the spectacle that is The Lone Ranger. Every time you see an ad the date is there subtly reminding you of the holiday. It becomes linked so when July 4th gets here the movie is part of the actual expected holiday celebration along with binge drinking and explosives. So we brave the traffic, the lines, the rug rats, the $7 soda, the wretched movie trailers and finally after all that we get to be a part of the great American Independence day tradition. Watching an embodiment of everything wrong with the Hollywood process. But after all that when you see it you feel like you’ve achieved something. So Happy Fourth Of July to all you overachievers out there. Thanks’ to all of you Disney and Dreamworks will be laughing all the way to the bank… undeservedly….AGAIN.

Carl Wells

Thoughts about NBA Free Agency Written Poorly

1 Jul

The banks have gotten a horrible wrap recently for showing the worst side of capitalism, but I think they get a free pass when we really get down to it. Yeah, banks exploit people, but at least they’re exploiting a vice. They make money hand over fist from playing on people’s greed, but all sports exploit hope. I love the NBA, I don’t love basketball in way that would warrant even touching a basketball in the last five years, but I love the NBA. There are people who love the NBA for the basketball, but I am not one of them. I fully admit that watching the games is not nearly as interesting as following the NBA, and nothing is more interesting to me than the last week of June and the first week of July, which respectively hold the NBA Draft and the beginning of NBA free agency. To enjoy both of these events you can have zero knowledge of the terms “traveling,” “box and one” or “post-up-iso” mean. They are the moments where the fan bonds with their team, and the NBA gets a foothold to separate suckers like me from our money and mountains of personal time.

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These three weeks of summer are the equivalent of the money shot used in tent-pole trailers right before the credit screen flashes up.  Joseph Gordon Levitt defying gravity while fighting his way across the walls of hallway is the same thing as LeBron taking his talents to South Beach.  This year Dwight Howard’s endless odyssey is going to be the same thing as giant robot using an oil tanker as a baseball bat. Over the years I had a hundred and one stupid opinions about why I enjoy the NBA offseason so much, and why I think it is so entertaining. None of them hold water, but in my mind players moving teams or being drafted and becoming instant millionaires overnight is enthralling. I follow all the guys breaking the news on the twitter and play out each rumored trade to all possible ends. And if my time was worth anything the NBA would make a shit-ton of money when they aren’t even playing games. There is the least amount of resistance between  dreaming your team could win it all in the early part of summer and actually playing for the championship trophy, which conveniently just ended a few weeks ago. So, with the memories of celebration still fresh on in the mind, I tell myself that name that David Stern is going to call for my team is going to be the one that will finally help us (cause of course, I am part of the team’s family and we’re gaining a new brother) hoist the trophy and lead the victory parade next summer.

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Fans line up to openly pay to show their devotion, and I am surely one. This winter I laughed when I saw Silver Linings Playbook at the family’s devotion to the Eagles, but if there was a GoPro camera set up on my work computer over the last two weeks it would be a textbook example compulsion and obsession. At least that dysfunctional family cared about the games. The thing is sports are not entertaining. Let me say it again: Sports are not entertaining. It’s mild escapism at best, and a strong proof being caught in arrested development at worst. The interesting drama rarely takes place on the court since the athletes’ abilities are so far beyond what people interact with every day, and the defensive schemes and plays are so advanced that even breaking down one play would take the same amount of time it would take to play a pick-up game and run it back a few times. The children’s games all professional sports are based on have smarted themselves right out children’s realm of appreciation.  Now the only way to enjoy basketball is the same way women love reading tabloids. I follow the NBA, but only for the stories, and it is rare that the stories I’m interested in actually sync up with the what’s happening on the court.  I hope my team gets better and I hope teams I hate makes stupid moves. I know the fate of the team is determined on the court, but what is so fascinating about these three weeks is that every move could potentially cause the team to go 82-0.

-C. Charles