Monday, January 31, 2011

TV Talk: Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead

I don't usually cover television here at the Blogorium. From time to time, particularly over the summer, I toyed with the idea, but in the end I always seem to focus on cinema instead. This is not to say I don't watch TV - I still dabble with episodic series, although my faith in the medium dropped off sharply after the final episode of Lost. Trusted friends have been nudging me in the direction of Justified, Mad Men, Battlestar Galactica, The Wire, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead in varying degrees, and I feel caught up enough on the final two to weigh in on what will indubitably be a rare excursion into TV Talk.

(Warning: There will be spoilers ahead)

Let's start with AMC's Breaking Bad, of which the first two seasons are available on DVD and Blu-Ray (and how I saw seasons two, and one, respectively). While I am a fan of the mis-adventures of Walter White (aka "Heisenberg") (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), and the inversion of Weeds' "suburbanite has life changing event that leads them to make / sell drugs" plot, I haven't fallen in love with the show as others seem to.

I appreciate the use of science as more than just the "hook" to bring Walter into the world of cooking crystal meth, and the plot twists and turns surrounding the supporting characters - in particular, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) - keep the show interesting, the series suffers from a repetitive pattern: Walter and Jesse bake some crystal meth, they meet a variation on psycho dealer/competitor/kingpin, said psychopath dies, Jesse and Walter argue, separate for three or four episodes, then something happens that draws one or the other back in and they reluctantly decide to work together. Rinse, repeat.

That is, for better for worse, the first two seasons. Any secondary character introduced is almost certainly doomed to die or go to jail (Jesse's cohorts, Krysten Ritter's Jane Margolis, Tuco, Krazy 8, Danny Trejo's Tortuga), and with the exception of Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) - who I've been assured lives through season Three - there's barely any point investing in new characters introduced on Breaking Bad. There is a great deal to enjoy in the writing of the show, and the execution is often striking, but I'm slightly hesitant about jumping into the third season - if and when it arrives on DVD / Blu-Ray - unless Breaking Bad achieves some sense of heretofore nonexistent stability.

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I noticed that much of the enthusiasm for AMC's new series The Walking Dead waned halfway through the first season's six episode run, with a number of people who had expressed interest opting to sit out the series for the time being. For an ongoing series about a post-zombie-apocalyptic show to drop off that many hardcore horror fans seemed a bit disheartening. To be honest, I neglected to watch The Walking Dead as it aired, although for differing reasons than a lack of interest. Two years ago (or so), I sat down and read the first four volumes of Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard's ongoing series of the same name, and as a result, I worried I might be too far ahead of the show. When interviews with the show's creator / executive producer Frank Darabont (who also wrote several episodes and directed the pilot) indicated that Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and company wouldn't reach the prison until the end of season Two, I decided to record, but not watch, season One while it aired.

Earlier this month, I sat down and (no pun intended) devoured the first few episodes, followed by the final two the next day, and I was pleasantly surprised. I understand why people are a little disappointed - The Walking Dead is, in comic form, a story of the effect of post-zombie infestation told in small doses over a long period of time, during which things happen slowly, and deliberately so. One might describe the issues as mundane, fixated on human drama with the periodic zombie attack. So far, the show has upped the zombie quotient a bit more (the Atlanta stuff is pretty close, actually), but the pace isn't radically different.

Accordingly, I can see why people are getting a little bored by all the interpersonal bickering, love triangles, and lack of gut munching. That said, the series managed to distinguish characters a bit more (one of the problems I had in the second and third volumes was telling who was who apart), and there have been a few curveballs introduced to keep fans of the comic interested in this adaptation - the CDC episodes that close out season one, including Noah Emmerich's Dr. Edwin Jenner, are nowhere to be found in the first few volumes, and I'm almost positive the episode "Vatos" isn't based on anything in the first six issues, nor are T-Dog and the Dixon brothers.

For audiences with waning interest, may I suggest you stick around for season two - without spoiling too much, and even in the event of further deviations from source material, I can say with certainty that The Walking Dead does have a number of things going for it. For one, nearly every major cast member is expendable, in a way that few other series have even considered to this point. New characters frequently enter the narrative, although The Walking Dead differs from Breaking Bad in that it is often difficult to surmise which ones will be around and which ones won't. The "walker" attack on the quarry shelter was an indicator of this, but if the show is in any way faithful to the comic, there's more mayhem and unpredictability to come if the series continues.


That does it for the inaugural edition of TV Talk. Tomorrow I'll be back with another edition of Retro Reviews, where the Cap'n is going to address a fallacy involving unnecessary sequels from 2010...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Trailer They Are, the Harder They Sunday


The Saddest Music in the World


The 27th Day


Butch and Sundance: The Early Days


The Journey of Natty Gann


Thunder and Lightning


Wild Guitar


Persona

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Tidbits

Following up on last night's re-review, I'd like to add one more thread to the conversation about cult cinema. The "midnight movie" isn't exactly dead; while it is true that the advent of VCRs functionally killed Drive-Ins and seriously crippled the need for midnight cinema, in the years since Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream, a concerted effort exists in cities across the U.S. to bring back the experience - as the oft-mentioned Best Worst Movie covers in reference to Troll 2. One could argue that The Rocky Horror Picture Show itself disproves the myth that "midnight movies" ever died in the first place. For as long as I've been alive, The Rialto screened (and screens) Rocky Horror every Friday at midnight, and it sells out every week. Its presence on Glee edged the film further into "mainstream," but its unabated presence as a "midnight movie" throughout the country.

Speaking of the Glee episode, one would be tempted to say that the "everything old is new again" maxim is reaching a breaking point when the ultimate "midnight movie" gets a glee club treatment, I would like to point out that this is not dissimilar to the Elgin and the Orson Welles Theatre trotting out Reefer Madness and Freaks to exploit their "camp" value for a new generation in the 1970s.

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Despite the fact that nobody is going to pay the Cap'n for mentioning this (which is, in its own way, my disclaimer for what follows), fans of the Criterion Collection with limited budgets may be happy to learn that over a hundred titles are available on Netflix's "Watch It Now" streaming service. While you won't get the supplements, it is a much cheaper way to see Children of Paradise, Man Bites Dog, Tokyo Drifter, Cronos, The Battle of Algiers, Onibaba, Night and the City, Jules and Jim, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Ikiru, Pandora's Box, The Spirit of the Beehive, La Strada, Solaris, Elevator to the Gallows, General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait, The Hit, Shadows, and The Passion of Joan of Arc.

I mention this because the aggregate prices for just the films listed above is around $700 without tax, whereas you can watch unlimited streaming for $7.99 a month. Again, I'm not getting kick backs from anybody, but it's worth putting out there to frugal cinephiles or Criterion fans. Think of it as a way to buffer your knowledge of the collection without killing your wallet - something that weighs heavily on my mind right now.

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Finally, I just want to say "How cool is this?"


A friend of the Blogorium picked this up for me at a thrift store, and because I thrive on discovering things I didn't know, learning that the Criterion Collection also existed on VHS, in addition to Laserdisc, DVD, and now Blu-Ray.



What I find very intriguing as a Criterion fanatic is that according to the information on the back and the number on the Spine, The Third Man is number 5. A cursory search online is coming up with virtually no information on Criterion's VHS output (their site no longer lists the Laserdiscs, which included Taxi Driver and The Magnificent Ambersons), so if any readers out there finds something, I would greatly appreciate more insight into this heretofore unknown facet of the collection.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blogorium ( re-)Review: Midnight Movies

I'm opting to call this a re-review in that the Cap'n "sort of" reviewed Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream almost two years ago. At the time I wrote the following blurb:

I've also been watching Midnight Movies, which is so far a fun documentary about the birth of the "midnight" cult film phenomenon. It begins with Jodorowsky's El Topo (the first "midnight movie"), and also covers Night of the Living Dead, Pink Flamingos, The Harder They Come, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Eraserhead, with shout outs to Reefer Madness and Bambi Meets Godzilla, among other movies that played at the Elgin in New York and the Orson Welles theatre in L.A*.

The directors are all involved and it's half about how the films came to be and half interviews with theatre owners, distributors, critics, and fans. Interesting tidbit: Roger Ebert gave
Night of the Living Dead a harsh review because he watched it with parents who brought their children to the show. Just let that simmer a little bit, and imagine the review you might write after seeing the reactions he did.

I'm not done yet but they've just transitioned from Rocky Horror to Eraserhead, and it's particularly interesting to hear the overlap with people involved. Richard O'Brien talking about watching Eraserhead is almost as interesting as John Waters talking about seeing NotLD first run at a drive-in in Baltimore. For that, this is a definite "must see".

For the most part, this covers my impressions of watching the doc again - as I did last night - but as my motto is increasingly becoming "do your homework before you write a review," it seemed apropos to fill in the considerable gaps in that initial write-up.

The documentary is a condensation of J. Hoberman and Johnathan Rosenbaum's book Midnight Movies, which understandably has more room to work with in order to properly cultivate the inception, release, and second life as a late night attraction (Rosenbaum and Hoberman appear in interviews). While the film adaptation attempts to distill the book, sacrifices are made in order to make the transition: much of the opening history of cult and exploitation films are dropped in order to focus specifically on the period between El Topo (1970) and Eraserhead (1976), centering around Ben Barenholtz's Elgin and Larry Jackson's programming at the Orson Welles Cinema. The depth of coverage for the films vary, but the six central "midnight movies" are El Topo, Night of the Living Dead, Pink Flamingos, The Harder They Come, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Eraserhead.

Midnight Movies is a Starz production, which is not to disparage the work of writer / director Stuart Samuel or co-writer Victor Kushmaniuk, but I've noticed a trend with Starz related documentaries: they attempt to cover a considerable amount of information in a minute amount of time (Midnight Movies is 88 minutes long). In this instance, the film covers six films, plus an intro and outro in less than 90 minutes, leaving roughly 15 minutes per film, which needs to cover the making of the film, its entrance into the "midnight movie" circuit, and its lasting cultural impact.

Not all of the films get that, either; Night of the Living Dead's "making of" portion is considerably less in-depth compared to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and is more focused on the social forces at work surrounding Romero's seminal "zombie" picture than the film itself. Romero's segment is topped off by a cynical comment that the film had no copyright and could therefore make money for any distributor who had a print (with text overlays of grosses for Night of the Living Dead in various territories), while the fact that Night's creators saw none of the revenue is left out.

Larry Jackson (who programmed the Orson Welles Cinema) suggests that his choices in "midnight movies" were based on "ironic" movie going casts a dubious shadow over Reefer Madness, Bambi Meets Godzilla, and makes his advocating of The Harder They Come slightly confounding. Jackson appears to be a genuine fan of the film, but the rationale behind midnight programming at the Welles seems counter-intuitive to the Jamaican made, reggae infused crime drama. The Harder They Come actually feels the least explored of the six subjects, with more time devoted to its distribution than the film itself.

Because I had not finished the film when writing about it, I also neglected to mention the more interesting connection between Eraserhead and John Waters: while promoting Desperate Living, Waters was so enthusiastic about Lynch's debut that he devoted most of the interviews to talking up Eraserhead rather than his third feature. The fact that many of these directors intersected thanks to the "midnight movie" phenomenon is in and of itself a component of the documentary worth watching.

While I understand the point that Midnight Movies: from the Margin to the Mainstream makes, the title can be taken two ways, neither of which I completely agree with: the documentary asserts that the subversive elements of "midnight movies" has become the mainstream, and accordingly their impact is dulled by a tendency towards hyper-irony in modern cinema (this is the central reason Roger Ebert appears in the film, albeit in an extremely limited capacity). The other argument one could make is that the "midnight movies" covered in the film have become mainstream in their own way, particularly as their respective directors elevated in stature.

The arguments bleed together in some ways: I strongly suspect that mainstream audiences have never seen The Harder They Come, Eraserhead, Pink Flamingos, or El Topo. They may have some inkling that Eraserhead and Pink Flamingos exist, but it is incredibly unlikely that simply because David Lynch moved on to make The Elephant Man - the film's primary evidence of the "mainstreaming" of the margin - that the cult films have extended as far as Samuel would like us to believe. Waters makes the point that the subject matter of his films hasn't changed, but culture changed to accept the "freaks" he showcases. This is fair, but the argument is not universal across the doc's subjects: Jodorowsky, Henzell, and Romero (to a degree) are still relatively outside of the "mainstream," and while Lynch occasionally taps into the cultural zeitgeist (Twin Peaks), his idiosyncratic filmmaking often scares off the audiences Samuel assumes have come to accept "midnight" culture. I also find the argument that Jaws and Star Wars are "midnight movies" that went mainstream a bit specious - it suggests that there was no precedent for these kinds of film before the "midnight movie" era.

Waters also makes a salient point about the death of "midnight movies": the advent of VHS functionally rendered the midnight experience moot by giving audiences greater access to "cult" films, coupled with the ability to do everything they would do at a late-night theatre in the comfort (and safety) of their own home. In a sense laziness, rather than a shift of values, killed the "midnight movie" (as well as the Drive-In, although that's something I prefer to save for another time).

Accordingly, Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream is a cinematic Hors d'oeuvre, a taste of "cult" cinema that covers six major films in the history of the midnight movement to a relatively satisfying degree. It functions as a primer, designed to interest you in the individual histories of the films covered, and while I may not concur with the assertion it reaches, with the limited running time, it packs in enough valuable morsels of trivia** that film fans will leave the film hungry for more information.



* The Orson Welles Cinema is not in Los Angeles, but Cambridge, Massachusetts.
** George Romero openly refutes a misleading rumor featured in Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue, which is also suggested in Midnight Movies before he corrects it: that Duane Jones was a deliberate casting choice to comment on race relations in the 1960s. Nightmares edits Romero interview footage to suggest that WAS the case, where he directly corrects the misconception in Midnight Movies.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And the Video Daily Double Nominees Are...

Before the Cap'n makes with the videos, it is fair to point out that Academy Award nominations were announced on Monday. Likewise, the Golden Raspberry (Razzies) nominations were also announced, and not to toot my own horn, but looking at the list the movies are nothing but punching bags. They conveniently overlook some horrible films this year for no apparent reason, other than to pick on easy targets. Congratulations, Razzies: you're both obvious and lazy this year.

As per last week's article, I am not going to make any guesses about Oscar nominations, because who knows? I'd honestly forgotten that Best Picture was still a ten horse race, but there are several films on there I'm fond of, even if I don't agree that Toy Story 3 was anywhere near one of the "best pictures" of 2010.

What I will mention is how fascinating the Documentary nomination for Exit Through the Gift Shop is, because there's almost no chance Banksy would show up for the ceremony, accept his (or her) award. That being said, I'm quite keen on finding out what does happen if the film wins, as it was one of my favorite films of the year.

At any rate, let's move on to those videos, eh?


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Our first video is rather short, but it tickled me to no end, and I expect fans of James Bond and Gaijin will concur.


Our second video makes up for the brevity of the first; this is a sixteen minute fan film based around the Fallout series of games, and I thought it was clever in a number of ways.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Retro Review: Dazed and Confused


(personal disclaimer from the Cap'n: I first saw Dazed and Confused in high school, and owned a used VHS copy because a friend of mine - a dubious gentleman to say the least - forgot to return the rental copy for months thanks to, shall we say, chemical influences. I have, over the ensuing decade plus [nearly decadeS] watched the film at least once a year, for reasons that will be clearer on the other end of this retro review.)


It would be easy (and a little cheap) to dismiss Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused as "just another stoner movie." The argument for that missive is there, and on a surface level (particularly from its marketing by Universal), readily available for pointing out: the psychedelic artwork on the poster, the half-there smiley face accompanying the art, the ubiquitous nature of its "groovy" soundtrack in the early 90s, or the fact that most of the characters in Dazed are at least casual drug users.

When Dazed and Confused arrived on home video in early 1994, marijuana enthusiasts in high school and college around the U.S. embraced the character of Slater, a half-cognizant advocate of all things hemp, as their spokesperson. With Cheech and Chong before them and Half Baked, How High, and Pineapple Express to follow, it's no wonder that people who haven't seen the film simply assume Dazed and Confused is one long pot joke, and the fully baked audience that continues to embrace this "one note" reading of the film doesn't help. My question, however, is what do they make of the rest of Dazed and Confused, when getting high isn't a central plot point - you know, most of the movie?

The truth is that Linklater's film is written off because of surface level readings by people who might be shocked to discover that Dazed and Confused is also about rites of passage, conformity, and the universal feeling that anything has to be better than right here and right now. That teenage malaise accounts for the backbone of the picture, and Dazed and Confused has more in common with Lucas' American Graffiti than it does Still Smokin'.

Dazed and Confused takes place in one day - May 28th, 1976* - the last day of school at Robert E. Lee High School (home of the Fighting Rebels) and focuses on a cross section of rising seniors, introduced in an efficient montage: we meet the stoners, the jocks, the womanizers, the nerds, and the "mean girls" to borrow a phrase from a later film. Each shot introduces some kind of business that pays off later in the film (pay attention to the tarp in Pink's truck). Linklater introduces us to so many characters during the film that to introduce them all (many of whom are actors that would be famous after the film) would triple the length of this review. For the purposes of keeping it short, allow me to focus on Randall "Pink" Floyd (Jason London), Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins), Sabrina Davis (Christin Hinojosa), and Jodi Kramer (Michelle Burke).

"Pink" and Jodi represent the rising seniors as Lee High School, and Mitch and Sabrina the rising freshmen from a nearby middle school. As is tradition in the Austin of Linklater's Dazed, rising seniors "haze" the incoming freshmen: boys are giving a "lick" with home-made paddles, and girls are given an elaborate, humiliating series of tasks, including pacifiers, food condiments, car washes, and forced "proposals" to the student spectators nearby. The leaders of each hazing are perhaps a little overzealous: Benny O'Donnell (Cole Hauser) and Darla Marks (Parker Posey) relish the opportunity to belittle as they were, while the rest of the seniors play along but seem to feel ambivalent about the situation.

If "Pink" is our entry point into senior life, Mitch is the alternative: the kid who would be nobody save for a request by his sister to "go easy on him." As the surrogate for Linklater, the younger Kramer gets more of the story devoted to him than Sabrina, although they follow similar rites of passage through the film: both are "taken in" by their older counterpart, and join in for an evening of joy-riding, partying, and gentle ribbing as the "new kid." When Mitch - a pitcher for the local youth league - falls under Floyd's protection, he becomes a de facto member of the gang, although his presence allows for additional "tests" including buying beer, smashing mailboxes, and coded drug talk ("Are you cool man?").

Floyd, on the other hand, has his own test to pass: the football team is forcing players to sign a waiver promising a drug and alcohol free season next year, and "Pink" disagrees on principle. Rather than play the simple "rebellious" card, Linklater gives Floyd a series of arguments for and against signing the pledge (which just doesn't seem to go away): on the one hand, it's equated to "Neo-McCarthy-ism" and conformity, but the other players question his loyalty to the team and to them by refusing solidarity and embracing the easy-going perks of being a sports star. That Floyd doesn't come to a conclusion by the end of the film regarding his future as quarterback allows Linklater to avoid easy answers to less clear-cut problems.

Much of Dazed and Confused takes place between the collapse of one party and the forming of another at a nearby Moon Tower. Here the film most resembles a 70s take on the 1960s of American Graffiti, following different sets of intersecting groups as they drive from one place to another, restlessly looking for something "exciting" to do in their "boring" home town. This is, I suspect, where Dazed and Confused resonates with most audiences beyond a simple "drug" theme: the idea that even these kids, who seem so much cooler than we ever hoped to be at that age, feel confined in their environment. Drugs are an escape, a leisurely way of dealing with teenage angst, but most of them at one point or another in the film opine that the decade / location / social circle they are locked in as lacking somehow.

In a line often assumed to just be a cheap joke, Cynthia Dunn (Marissa Ribisi) says "Maybe the 80s will be like radical or something. I figure we'll be in our 20s and it cant' get worse," after referring to the 50s as a drag, the 60s as a major cultural movements, and the 70s "obviously" being a disappointment. It's easy to look at the line now and say "oh, ha ha, the 80s were so lame" but Cynthia's statement is a counterpoint to an earlier when she, Tony (Anthony Rapp) and Mike (Adam Goldberg) are discussing their stilted lifestyle and she says "if we are all gonna die anyway shouldn't we be enjoying ourselves now? You know, I'd like to quit thinking of the present, like right now, as some minor insignificant preamble to something else." The two statements, taken in total, underline the teenage attitude: on the one hand, everything sucks and will for the time being, but that's all the more cause to live it up, to escape. Things don't end so well for Mike when he decides to seize his moment with greaser Clint Bruno (Nicky Katt), but the attempt is more admirable than retreating into a drug induced haze.

Dazed and Confused is structured like Linklater's debut, Slacker, but with a more coherent narrative through line. He still wanders from character to character, sometimes with what appears to be no reason, but for the most part all of the major characters - and a few of the minor ones - have an arc in the film. Ironically, the two characters without any discernible "beginning, middle, and end" are its two most iconic: Rory Cochrane's Ron Slater and Matthew McConaughey's David Wooderson**. Both exist in different forms of arrested development: Slater is a perpetual "weed casualty," espousing on the relative merits of marijuana and generally regarded as harmless by his friends. Wooderson is a perpetual man-child, the type of guy who graduated years ago but who still hangs out with the high school students because he feels cool. Oh, and because of the most quoted line of a very quotable film: "That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age."

Appropriately, while most of the characters learn something or grow in some way, Dazed and Confused doesn't necessarily end, per se. Mitch and Sabrina go home, a little wiser to what's coming; Darla makes a drunken ass of herself; Mike picks the wrong fight; "Pink," Simone (Joey Lauren Adams), and Slater hop in Wooderson's muscle car and hit the highway to buy Aerosmith tickets. Their future is unclear, as are many at that age. Where Dazed and Confused actually resonates isn't in the frequent, mostly inconsequential joint and bong hits, but on another level, one its detractors can't or won't consider - it's easier to "just say 'No'."



* Appropriately, Linklater's setting provides for audiences - theoretically, the youngest you can be to see an "R" rated film is seventeen - characters the same age they are when viewing, a ploy that only increased during the film's successful secondary run in home video.
** It's tempting to add Ben Affleck's Fred O'Bannion to the list: his one note character - a senior who deliberately failed in order to continue hazing rising freshmen - doesn't learn or mature much throughout Dazed and Confused, but O'Bannion does play a role in the narrative through-line of Mitch's friends, and his comeuppance is the bridge from the "bar" sequence to the "Moon Tower" party.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Four Reasons Tron Legacy is Silly Movie

Recently, I had the opportunity to see Tron Legacy again on the big screen. I politely declined, as in the ensuing weeks since seeing what I can only describe as a "bad" movie, the Cap'n has had time to really think about just how inane some of the decisions were. Of these, I think only one or two of them appeared in my original review - which I stand by - so here are four moments / elements / plot points that nudge Tron Legacy from "meh" to "really?"

1. Logic Gaffes That are Baffling When You Think About Them - In my earlier, I credited Tron Legacy with simply continuing concepts from Tron without feeling the need to reiterate them. There are some really important ones - what the laser in Flynn's office does, who Alan is, Flynn's arcade, why Flynn would bring Tron into his new grid or the "now that is a big door" joke that nobody caught when I saw it. The creative team didn't feel the need to explain what a Recognizer was, and rather than re-explain the I/O Tower, they tied its purpose into the specific story at hand. This is all fine and well, but they also made a really stupid, obvious mistake - a mistake so obvious that you simply overlook it both times - that is groan inducing.

In Tron, the story establishes that "water" (for lack of a better term) provides energy to overworked programs. There's a whole scene devoted to it where Tron, Flynn, and Ram find a "data stream" and use their identity discs to collect "water" and drink it (look, I'm not going to pretend that Tron doesn't have some silly elements too). In Tron Legacy, Flynn appears to be drinking something that looks suspiciously like the "water" during the dinner scene, so it seems to be a logical extension of the first film, another component of the "world" of Tron that doesn't bear repeating.

That is, until Sam Flynn returns to the Grid, and it's raining. Raining energy. Let that sink in. And if that's not enough, Gem - one of the "sirens" that fits Sam into his Grid outfit - is wandering around in a raincoat with an umbrella. Why? I suppose because it's a good excuse to put Beau Garrett in a plastic raincoat and borrow imagery from Blade Runner (more on borrowed - or stolen - imagery in a moment). So, aesthetic decision aside, why exactly does this happen? Why is their "rain" on the Grid? What purpose would that serve, exactly?

But we're not done with the water yet: the second time it happens, you're so overwhelmed by the shameless theft from Star Wars, you probably didn't stop to think that Tron, who makes a last-minute shift back to good, falls into the Grid's equivalent of an OCEAN, guaranteeing he's not "dead," even if that wasn't evident in the first place (see #4). It's one thing not to need to explain something from the first film, but to then to forget the ramifications of including elements randomly for people who HAVE seen Tron is just asinine.

Beyond that, let's just for a moment consider what would happen if CLU had succeeded in his plan, bringing hundreds (or thousands) of programs into the real world. Is the fact that Quorra an ISO the reason she could come through? Because she was some hybrid of programming and DNA? That's not something I think anyone wanted to get into, but if CLU (who is completely a program) came through with his army, what makes them so invincible? Their weapons are energy based, and the discs give off "heat," as is evidenced from the extreme close-ups when Sam is forced to fight. How exactly would that translate in the real world? Is it simply assumed that light discs are going to return to their owners (which, by the way, are their identity discs) before somebody shoots them? The programs only know what they've been encoded with, and would be at a massive disadvantage outside of the confines of the Grid.

2. The Star Wars Ripoffs - One could argue the "chicken or the egg" point for a few lifts here - CLU's guards do look like Imperial Guards, but then again their appearance and energy staffs are consistent with the original Tron, which was released a year before Return of the Jedi (where the Emperor's Guards first appeared). I'm even willing to overlook the Hero's Journey elements because Star Wars and Tron Legacy are copping from Joseph Campbell equally.

What I can't let slide is the Millenium Falcon / Tie-Fighter shoot-out lifted almost directly during the "chase" flight to the I/O tower. Sam hoots and hollers like Luke Skywalker, comes very close to saying the exact same lines - to the point I expected to hear Kevin Flynn say "Great kid, don't get cocky - man!" or something to that effect.

Considering that Tron also "borrowed" concepts from Star Wars, let's move to a newer kid on the block that also borrowed from and is copied wholesale for Tron Legacy...


3. The Matrix Ripoffs - One of the chief complaints about Flynn's presence in the End of Line club is that when he appears, he doesn't demonstrate his "User" powers more. Trust me, that's actually for the best, considering how similar Tron Legacy is to another high profile sequel, The Matrix Reloaded.

I don't know if anybody else noticed this, as the sequels to The Matrix have largely been forgotten, but the central plot point to The Matrix Reloaded, even more than Neo discovering his "destiny" was Agent Smith infiltrating the real world by escaping the Matrix. Does that sound familiar to anybody? Like, maybe exactly what CLU is trying to do in Tron Legacy? And wait, wasn't the idea that Agent Smith, like CLU, had some desire to wipe out humanity because of their "imperfections"? Oh right, it was.

Give credit where credit's due and let's at least suggest that the computer world of Tron was in some way an influence on the Wachowski's version of a virtual reality, but that doesn't really give Tron Legacy carte blanche to lift the villain's master plan wholesale and drop it into your sequel. As mentioned in point #1, the logic doesn't even hold up in Tron Legacy: at least in The Matrix Reloaded (and continues into Revolutions) Agent Smith has to "infect" an avatar in the Matrix in order to "possess" him in the real world. There's a logic, albeit a wonky one, at work there.

In Tron Legacy, they borrow the concept, but never bother to think out how a virtual representation of a program could assume tangible form outside of the machine. It doesn't really matter that Tron Legacy is ripping off a bad sequel to a not-that-great-in-the-first-place-movie, because the parallels are so obvious that people are still asking why Flynn didn't "go all Neo" in the Grid.


4. The Film Exists in Service of Sequels, and Nothing Else - Tron Legacy is kind of a continuation of Tron, but it makes a critical mistake in assuming that leaving important details out or simply not addressing plot points is okay because there's going to be a Tron 3. Oh, you didn't know that? Well, Disney did - they're including a series of teasers for the next Tron sequel on the Blu-Ray for Tron Legacy.

In some cases, you can tease sequels or leave certain plot threads hanging in order to drum up interest in another film, but it can backfire, particularly if your audience isn't aware that more films are coming. It failed miserably with The Golden Compass, for example, because the poor box office prevented the other His Dark Materials novels from being adapted, leaving viewers with a film that does nothing BUT set up plot points for films that don't and won't exist. Assuming that there will be a Tron 3 is not enough of a rationale to introduce plot points that seem out of place or wholly irrelevant in Tron Legacy.

For example, let's look at Cillian Murphy's Edward Dillinger II, a glorified, uncredited, cameo that seems to serve no purpose whatsoever in Tron Legacy except to a) identify that David Warner's Ed Dillinger has a son and b) tease Cillian Murphy being in Tron 3, a movie nobody knows for certain is coming going into T:L. That's not the only open ended, seemingly pointless development in Legacy, however: including the character of Tron, to the point that it's abundantly clear that Tron is Rinzler well before Kevin Flynn says it out loud, is essentially a tease.

Tron "dying" after turning back to good is about as believable as saying that Kevin Flynn actually died killing CLU. The suggestion of the former ensures the inevitability of the latter, particularly in light that Disney has already begun work on Tron 3, with footage that implies Flynn is alive, that the Dillinger family planned Sam's trip to the Grid, and that Ram's "User" is behind the "Flynn Lives" campaign, something Alan knew about all along. Quite a few balls to leave in the air for a film that didn't have much to offer in the way of a plot in the first place.

So Tron Legacy is a silly movie, bordering on stupid in some ways: it borrows heavily from two very well known series, it takes advantage of not explaining things in order to make arbitrary choices we're expected not to notice, and all of this is in service of another movie, one no one was assured was coming, let alone were aware was possible. Could Tron Legacy simply be the "difficult second album" that allows for a better third film? It's possible, but there needs to be a demonstration that all of the thought going into this teased third film actually makes sense given the sequel we had to sit through to get there. Lazy writing isn't going to cut it next time.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Very Cronenbergian Trailer Sunday


They Came from Within (Shivers)


Rabid (Rage)


Fast Company


The Brood


Scanners


Videodrome


The Dead Zone


The Fly


Dead Ringers


Naked Lunch


M. Butterfly


Crash


eXistenZ


Spider


A History of Violence


Eastern Promises

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cap'n Howdy Presents Handy Answers to Your Questions


Today I thought I'd throw a bone to visitors that happen across the Blogorium via Google, Bing, or one of those other search engines that I've forgotten about (seriously, Ask.com is still out there?). This is also a way to address the many strange queries, subjects, and searches that bring folks here, in the hopes that this entry will be a handy portal to other essays, where I may not directly address your questions.

In case regular readers weren't aware, the Cap'n gets a bunch of one-time visitors, often coming in based on the oddest of criteria, so I'll share that with you as well.

Are the Coen brothers auteurs? - this question pops up more often than any other, in various forms, because I posted an essay from my final in a Theories of Authorship: The Coen Brothers to the Blogorium (found here). For people looking for more information on Joel and Ethan Coen, I also posted a series of other essays on The Ladykillers, Forever Young Film Preservation, A Serious Man, Barton Fink, Doppelgangers, Incongruities, Social Commentary, The Man Who Wasn't There, The Hudsucker Proxy, Music in their films, Influences of Film Noir, No Country for Old Men, Uncertainty, Re-adaptations, True Grit and the "other" Coen brothers.
What is the source of Hamlet's melancholy? - Apparently, high school students have trouble with Hamlet, and go to the internet to find answers. Sometimes, they end up at one of the Hamlet Week posts. In Hamlet's own words (from Act II, scene 2):

HAMLET
I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation
prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king
and queen moult no feather. I have of late--but
wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so.

Now, astute readers will note that Hamlet is toying with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, upon realizing they were sent for by Claudius and Gertrude, and that his "wherefore I know not" is a ruse. He is principally irritated because of this:

HAMLET
O, that this too too solid flesh would melt

Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on't! ah fie! 'tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this!
But two months dead: nay, not so much, not two:
So excellent a king; that was, to this,
Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth!
Must I remember? why, she would hang on him,
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on: and yet, within a month--
Let me not think on't--Frailty, thy name is woman!--
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she follow'd my poor father's body,
Like Niobe, all tears:--why she, even she--
O, God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason,
Would have mourn'd longer--married with my uncle,
My father's brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules: within a month:
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
She married. O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not nor it cannot come to good:
But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue.

I will not explain what it means, high school students, but if you have the slightest idea what's going on in Hamlet, this should sufficiently answer your question.


What is different in The Other Guys unrated? - One visitor was referred to my review of The Other Guys, which clearly didn't help out, as it was a review of the theatrical version. The answer to your question is "not much": there are about 9 extra minutes worth of footage, including a car chase fist fight, another Hoitz argument with an ex, a more specific monologue about corporate greed, and a new stinger at the end of the credits. The big difference is that the dialogue is considerably filthier, with most of the "tame" versions of cursing replaced with their vulgar counterparts.

Did Anton really shit on Joaquin Phoenix? - No. According to IMDB: "the 'feces' was [sic] actually a combination of humus and coffee grounds. The mixture was inserted into a tube that was taped onto Antony Langdon's (Anton) back that went down to his butt." As the review and supplemental materials on the disc assert, nearly everything in I'm Still Here was manufactured through camera trickery.

No Country for Old Men hotel scene. - I see that I was not the only person who was skeptical with the assertion that Anton Chigurh was, and then magically was not, in the hotel room before Sheriff Ed Tom Bell walked in. The sequence analysis, which goes (nearly) shot by shot can be found here.

Now, some of the really weird ones.

Expendables Stallone cap. - It took me forever to realize that "cap" was in reference to "screencap" and accordingly I had no idea why so many people were looking for "____ cap" and being sent to the Blogorium. There's not a lot I can do about this, as it's simply an unfortunate side effect of using the slang term "Cap'n." Sorry.

"cop knows how to use his dark side for good" - Another reference to The Other Guys, from Ice-T's narration, one that I suspect is a reference to the Showtime series Dexter - the narrator suggests that the cop in question should move to Miami, where Dexter is set and that is a rough approximation of the show's concept.

Alicia Marek - Alicia Marek plays Jeff Fahey's wife and Lindsay Lohan's mother in Machete, and spends the second half of the film naked. Because I mentioned her by name in the review - along with the rest of the cast - anyone looking for naked photos is invariably cock-blocked by an actual review of the film. I'm not sorry for that.

Slutty renaissance - My absolute favorite way that someone found the review of Satan's Little Helper. I'm almost positive it wasn't what they were looking for - unless you weren't looking for an actual "slutty renaissance" - but it does match my description of Katheryn Winnick's costume for most of the film.

Tron XXX Parody - An unfortunate combination of recent reviews for Tron Legacy and a Video Daily Double post about The Simpsons: A XXX Parody led some poor guy to the Blogorium. Alas, such a thing is real, is being made, and is titled "Pron."

Grandfather Granddaughter Porn - No. Just, No. I don't know why this sent anyone to Blogorium (thanks, Turkish Google search engine!), but you won't find that here. I don't know where you would find it, I'm not going to help you find it, so yeah... good luck with that, pal.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Curious Case of David Cronenberg

I have a pet theory; it's based on discussions over the years, one about certain directors and their bodies of work, but invariably I've noticed one trend consistent with one film maker / auteur / visionary (if you will): David Cronenberg. More than any other director I can think of, Cronenberg's films elicit a visceral reaction from their audience, and I happen to know several fans of his films - what this says about them (or me) is the subject of another discussion - and as time goes by, while in discourse about the Canadian, body-fixated, sometimes horror but not really, always shifting in subject matter, one consistent thread is visible.

There is one film for every person that doesn't "work" of Cronenberg's. The fascinating intangible in that for each of them, the film is different. One person hates Spider; another finds Videodrome's ending too "over-the-top"; yet another was underwhelmed by A History of Violence. For me, the clinical, dispassionate tone of Crash loses me every time. I have several ideas that may account for this theory, but let's look at the strongest case I can discern based on Cronenberg's oeuvre.

While almost all of Cronenberg's work deals with the body in some form or fashion - particularly with changes in the body and the abject horror / fascination that accompanies the changes, his approach varies considerably from film to film. Some are explicit: the mutant STD of Shivers, the transplanted / transformation in Rabid, whereas others are subtle in their approach - the schizophrenia of Dennis "Spider" Clegg, the visions of The Dead Zone, or the gender fluidity of M. Butterfly. Then there are the films that split the difference and hybridize the body with technology - identical twins and their custom gynecological devices in Dead Ringers, the literal "plugging in" of eXistenZ, and the auto-fetishism of Crash. Some are almost parodic in their bluntness: Videodrome's "New Flesh," or The Fly's Brundle metamorphosis. His work with Viggo Mortensen fixated on the idea of men who are not what they seem, who have undergone radical physical (Eastern Promises) or psychological (A History of Violence) changes in order to "fit in" or "start fresh."

Cronenberg also has a habit of adapting the "unfilmable," most famously by semi-translating William S. Burroughs Naked Lunch, but many would argue that J.G. Ballard's Crash was equally difficult to translate from novel to motion picture. He is a filmmaker who divides his time between original concepts and adaptations: including A Dangerous Method and Cosmopolis (Cronenberg's next two films) - 10 adaptations (one of which is a remake of The Fly), 5 original works, and two films written by someone else (Eastern Promises and Fast Company).

In total, this is a wildly varying body of work, from low budget shockers with graphic violence to quiet character studies to hallucinatory visits to the Interzone. There is certainly room for his fans to find a movie that doesn't "fit" or simply disengages them from the experience, but we need to take a step further. Is it a visceral response that turns them off? Not always - in the case of Spider, at least two people I know don't feel that the film is consistent with Cronenberg's thematic trends, whereas others - including, in the interest of full disclosure, myself - find the film to be a bridge from his literal body explorations to the figurative echoes in his recent work.

At time, I wonder if the emotionally distant approach evident in many - if not most - of David Cronenberg's films occasionally registers with his fans when it normally might not. Naked Lunch's mixture of biography and adaptation is, on first viewing, virtually impenetrable. Crash has no character with which to "enter" the story; James and Catherine Ballard (James Spader and Deborah Kara Unger) are wholly inaccessible throughout the film, even during the supposed "awakening" of James to the car crashing fetish. Naomi Watts' Anna is the entry point to Eastern Promises, but quickly vanishes into the background so that the stoic, reserved Nikolia (Mortensen)'s admittedly more intriguing story takes precedence.

The Fly comes the closest to to having two sympathetic, relatable characters: Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) and Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), but the films graphic, disgusting transformation sequences building towards Brundlefly keeps conventional audiences at a distance. However, The Fly is the only film I've never heard listed as anyone's "least favorite." Some point to eXistenZ, a few Dead Ringers, and Naked Lunch is mentioned as one of the less viewed films. Th availability of They Came from Within / Shivers, Rage / Rabid, and The Brood limits their exposure to fans. And then there's Fast Company, a movie I suspect might alter the theory slightly, if only more people knew it existed or had any interest in watching the film. Cronenberg's curious side-trip into the world of stock car racing, devoid of almost anything fans would recognize as "Cronenberg-ian," remains for hardcore fans and completists only, which actually applies to the audience addressed in this essay.

In any event, it seems that for every David Cronenberg fan, one film simply doesn't fit in / "work" / "do it." If the reason(s) aren't apparent or consistent from fan to fan, I feel comfortable in asserting that the theory itself is consistent. It also seems to be at least partially unique to Cronenberg; with many other "cult" directors, one finds a considerably more varied approach towards their filmography, with "ups" and "downs" not tied to one specific film - a trend that is trickier with Cronenberg (and some would argue, David Lynch) as the varied output is nevertheless tonally and thematically consistent.

As a final note, I turn the exploration to you: is this true? Is there one David Cronenberg film that means less to you than others? Why do you feel that is?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Don't freak out, today's Video Daily Double knows where we are...

Greetings, readers; welcome to another edition of Video Daily Double, wherein the Cap'n scours the internet (okay, YouTube) to find film-related clips for your entertainment.

I'm going to have to start calling this a Video Daily Triple if this keeps up, but in the interest of following up yesterday's review, here's a taste of Murder by Death:



On to the official VDD clips...

---

Our first video answers the question "Are we still in Kansas?" as many times as possible.


Our second video is a bit of a sequel to the Nicolas Cage freaks out video from a month or so ago. This time our subject is Leonardo DiCaprio.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Retro Review: Murder by Death

Welcome to Retro Reviews, a new column designed to replace From the Vaults. These reviews will deal with films that the Cap'n saw years ago, has seen with some regularity, or simply wanted to review outside of the "current" film scene. Depending on the film, I may attempt reviewing these "older" cinematic offerings by replicating my initial experience, but more than often, I will simply try to review the films as though the Cap'n of today traveled back in time and saw them fresh.

I cannot pinpoint precisely when I first saw Neil Simon and Robert Moore's Murder by Death, although it was indubitably on VHS: my father had a habit of taping films he had a fondness for in the early days of VCRs. Like many films that flew over my head - including Blade Runner, Animal House and, oddly, Disorganized Crime - Murder by Death amused me, although the young Cap'n was woefully bereft of any understanding who Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, or Earl Derr Biggers where, let alone their signature mystery protagonists.

The film, adapted by Simon from his own play, is a send-up of mystery novels, using parodies of the genre's most famous characters: Sam Spade, Nick and Nora Charles, Miss Marples, Monsieur Poirot, and Charlie Chan*. Moore and Simon assembled a "who's who" cast to portray their caricatures: Elsa Lanchester (The Bride of Frankenstein, Mary Poppins) as Jessica Marbles, Peter Sellers (Doctor Strangelove, A Shot in the Dark) as Sidney Wang, David Niven (Wuthering Heights, The Guns of Navarone) and Maggie Smith (Othello, Clash of the Titans) as Dick and Dora Charleston, James Coco (Man of La Mancha, The Wild Party) as Milo Perrier, and Peter Falk (The Princess Bride, Wings of Desire) as Sam Diamond.

Additionally, their companions include Eileen Brennan (The Sting, The Last Picture Show), Richard Narita (Dallas, Drop Dead Gorgeous), Estelle Winwood (Camelot, The Producers), and James Cromwell (L.A. Confidential, The Green Mile), and the host of their murder "party" is Truman Capote, with Alec Guinness (Kind Hearts and Coronets, Lawrence of Arabia) and Nancy Walker (Girl Crazy, Rhoda) as the domestics.

Marbles, Perrier, Diamond, Wang and his son, and the Charlestons are invited to the estate of Lionel Twain (Capote) for purposes unknown. Immediately, they face assassination attempts, staged rain, artificially rickety bridges, a screaming doorbell (Fay Wray's from King Kong, to be exact), the blind butler Bensonmum (Guinness) and the deaf-mute Yetta (Walker). During dinner, Twain appears in a psychedelic fashion and demeans the detectives (and by proxy, their respective creators), accusing them of being frauds. He challenges them to put their reputations on the line by solving a murder that will happen that night to someone in the dining room. Before the night is over, the detectives deal with a dead, naked butler, a maid that may actually be a mannequin, and Twain - the victim of his own mystery? Are things what they seem, and can the aloof sleuths work together to leave 22 Twain in one piece?

I won't linger on the machinations of Murder by Death's plot: the mystery is deliberately nonsensical, designed to offer clues that go nowhere, opening up plot threads Simon has no interest whatsoever in tying up. The film also functions nicely as an entry into the "old dark house" sub-genre, and one might argue that Twain's wager is reminiscent of The House on Haunted Hill. Two lingering images stick with me from a childhood encounter with Murder by Death: the opening credits, which consist with a pair of gloved hands opening a storage chest, revealing a pop-up diorama of the cast, drawn by Charles Addams, accompanied by a slightly playful, possibly menacing score by Dave Grusin. The second, without risking anything, is the moment following the final "twist" in the film, where the actual culprit laughs hysterically, fading to black during a blood-curdling, maniacal howl. I'm not sure if it was supposed to be chilling, but to this day it rings in my brain, inducing shudders.

Robert Moore and David M. Walsh's over-lit cinematography gives Murder by Death a "made-for-TV" aesthetic (one not served well by half a cast's pedigree in television) but Simon's script keeps the film moving at a brisk pace with wit to spare. While I may not have known the nuances of the great detectives, I could appreciate the actors I recognized (Guinness, Sellers, Falk, Smith, and Niven) and enjoyed the witty, erudite banter between the characters. The script relies heavily on wordplay, and over the years I came to appreciate the ways that Simon manages to pay homage to the source material while criticizing their shortcomings - Twain's final speech, pointing out the cheap tactics used to keep audiences in the dark, stands out particularly. Guinness manages to sell a gag as ridiculous as putting a blind butler with a deaf-mute maid together, and while Falk's quasi-Bogart impersonation leans towards broad, Brennan's Miss Skeffington pulls him back.

Do you need to know The Thin Man, The Maltese Falcon, Murder on the Orient Express, The Mirror Crack'd, or The Chinese Parrot? My suggestion would be that its advantageous to have some idea who Hercule Poirot, Sam Spade, Charlie Chan, Miss Marple, and the Charles couple are, but as a film, Murder by Death is successful to the uninitiated. Its stature in "spoofs" or "parodies" tends to be overshadowed by the better known Clue, but for my money the former is funnier, snappier, and better performed than the latter. It remains one of my favorite underrated comedies, one I'm continually surprised to discover that not only people have missed, but were unaware the film existed in the first place.



* While they did appear in an earlier incarnation of the film, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson were deleted from the closing moments of the story.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Thoughts on "Awards Season"

Without fail, someone will ask me this week if I watched The Golden Globes on Sunday. The answer it, as it always has been, "No." Certainly, the dubious nature of the Globes is a motivating factor, I generally only watch The Academy Awards and try avoid the other shows whenever possible. When I was younger, the Cap'n was obsessed with analyzing, micro-scrutinizing, and trying to predict who would win and why.

Consider it the early phase of film fandom. In college, our cadre of "film geeks" spent hours debating the structure of nominations, the order of award ceremonies, etc. Long, ridiculous rationales about "so-and-so won last year so there's a better chance of such and such and this would make for the better meta-narrative surrounding this award-" it's enough to drive one mad. So I stopped following all of the SGA, DGA, BAFTA, Critic's Choice, Golden Globe, all of them. I limit myself to the Oscars, and I stopped trying to predict who would win two or three years ago*.

Part of this was the slow, creeping realization that if I can't honestly compare films that have almost nothing in common (let's say, for good measure, Inception and The Social Network, or even True Grit) but all made the "favorites" list of 2010, how was I going to predict the decisions of members of the Academy? As I grow older, I find ways to "rank" films I enjoyed the most, but that's certainly not a reflection of their box office prowess or entertainment value at first viewing - which is a little unfair, as your relationship to a film changes with time. I developed a system to avoid falling into a relativistic conundrum of "well, they're all good and all different so what does it matter?" Then again, when I do "year end" recaps, I make it clear they are subjective determinations, not the consensus opinion of writers, directors, producers, actors, critics, et al.

For example: I have MacGruber on my list of favorites, as well as Piranha. One of them is well regarded, but won't me showing up on any award show lists. The other was forgotten almost immediately after release and is broadly regarded - largely by people who never saw it - as "another bad SNL movie." Piranha, which proudly included its Rotten Tomatoes "Certified Fresh" stamp on DVD and Blu-Ray ads, won't be mentioned anywhere in the next few months (save for one exception below), a fact the cast opted to lampoon in a "For Your Consideration" video on Funny or Die. MacGruber, on the other hand, has probably one chance of making it to the podium.

This brings me to the one "award" worth looking into over the next few weeks: The Golden Raspberry or, as most people hear of it, the Razzie. Razzies are traditionally handed out to what I would refer to as "punching bag" movies: high profile films with well known actors that failed miserably and that no one saw but largely assumed were terrible anyway - films like Battlefield Earth, Freddy Got Fingered, I Know Who Killed Me, Gigli, Leonard Part 6, and Batman and Robin. Easy targets, not much imagination involved in making fun of them.

By most rationales, there are a few movies from this year that qualify for that, but MacGruber fell on its face pretty hard, making it a prime "punching bag," if only anyone remembered the movie existed. Unsurprisingly, it didn't make the short-list - this year's Razzie nominations aren't out yet - which isn't a shock to me. As I said, it has to be high profile enough that anyone can immediately hear the title and say "oh, that's a BAD movie."

Let's look at the short-list, which contains not many huge surprises, but seems to be missing some high profile, poorly received, under-performing films. The films in contention to be nominated "Worst Picture" are:

The Bounty Hunter
Clash of the Titans
The Expendables
Grown Ups
Jonah Hex
Killers
The Last Airbender
Little Fockers
Sex and the City 2
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Vampires Suck
Yogi Bear

Per usual, this is a list of movies nobody will defend, save for the vocal contingent who are going to be very surprised to see The Expendables up here (more on that in a second). There are two films that jump right out at me that fit the Golden Raspberry M.O.: Tron Legacy (not well received by critics and has yet to recoup its budget, by a long shot) and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (which vanished from theatres a month after release). Throw in Kick-Ass if you like, but the reason it isn't on the list is the same reason The Expendables IS but Predators ISN'T: people won't immediately identify the film. Predators has the exact same rationale for inclusion as The Expendables (the same could be said for Machete) - but not the marquee recognition.

Tron Legacy could, it seems, end up in their new "Worst Eye-Gouging Misuse of 3D" category, where it would tangle with Resident Evil Afterlife, The Last Airbender and, apparently, Piranha 3D. See, the cheap and easy solution is to ignore that audiences liked the film, critics liked the film, and the studio was so happy with the response that they gave a sequel the green light before Piranha opened. It's easier to say "it's a 3D horror movie with gratuitous nudity, so it must be terrible." Scott Pilgrim, despite having all of the normal criteria for "Razzie" consideration - huge marketing push, well known star, director on the rise, colossal failure in connecting with audiences - won't make the list because, well, it's not a cheap punchline.

At this juncture, I realize that the Cap'n has essentially made my point about why "Awards Season" is impossible to predict, even with an award that caters to the easiest possible joke about value judgments in film. With that, it would perhaps behoove me to stop here.

* I'm almost positive the first and last time I printed out "nomination" sheets was when No Country for Old Men won Best Picture, much to the chagrin of There Will Be Blood fans.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Trailer Sunday for All Tastes


The Mechanic


Fires on the Plain


Coma


Lola


Salon Kitty


Atlantis, the Lost Continent


The World, the Flesh and the Devil

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Confessions of a Supplement Junkie

If there are any trends to follow at Cap'n Howdy's Blogorium, the most apparent to readers is my interest in waiting to review films until after they reach DVD or Blu Ray. Ironically, I almost never discuss the chief component of why I tend to wait: the supplemental features. The Blogorium is - not atypically - slanted towards reviewing the films in question, rather than the "special features," but I'll level with you and admit that the Cap'n spends almost as much time researching the facets going into making the finished product.

Its primary purpose is to provide readers with as much contextual information as possible: no work of art - the term being used in its broadest definition - exists in a vacuum, and I find the most erroneous reviews share one thing in common: the blogger / critic / historian failed to factor or properly recognize one or two very important pieces of information*. It is my abiding creed to "always do the homework" before presenting something to an audience. If I can't, I try to acquaint readers with the fact that there are mitigating factors.

For example, watch any of the extras on I'm Still Here and the conceit of the film is immediately apparent. Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck make no attempt to disguise I'm Still Here as "reality," and Affleck's commentary track is a step by step illumination of how they created a faux-verisimilitude using clever editing tricks, ADR, and capitalizing on the expectation of audiences that the presented film as a genuine "document" of Phoenix's downfall. One might assume that this would diminish I'm Still Here, but I found myself admiring their versatility in using what we assume to be true in the narrative's favor**. Similarly, the expansive background material covering Scott Pilgrim vs. the World's creation only increased my admiration of Edgar Wright's abilities.

Alas, I can't merely hang my hat on the "know your subject / impart to your audience" excuse; in the last two days, I spent the bulk of my time watching "making of" documentaries: The Social Network's "How Did They Ever Make a Movie of Facebook?", Piranha's "Don't Scream, Just Swim," and An American Werewolf in London's "Beware the Moon." For inquisitive readers, that amounts to 318 minutes worth of "supplement." (The Piranha "making of" documentary is actually forty minutes longer than the film).

Rather than short EPK featurettes, I prefer lengthier documentaries with some meat on their bones, ones willing to go beyond "it was great to work with blah blah blah" designed to sell a film you already own. Increasingly, filmmakers are pushing to include comprehensive "behind-the-scenes" pieces on the discs themselves, and often they hold up with separately released films like Hearts of Darkness or Burden of Dreams. I'm also not opposed to longer interviews, roundtables, or critical assessments - all central to films in the Criterion collection, a company I am unabashedly a follower of.

The problem for you, the reader, is that the time I spend putting together background information on films often inhibits my "reviewing" time. I am reticent to review supplements or Blu Rays, largely because there are many fine DVD review sites that already do that. I sincerely doubt audiences that frequent the Blogorium care about the Cap'n consistently reporting on "image quality" of Blu Rays, and I'm not targeting this blog at consumers, so I would feel like the Cap'n is trying to sell a product rather than direct you towards a movie. But I do soak up supplements. Regularly. So if I'm a little slow to get a new piece out, don't think it's because I don't want to, but because I'm (at times) focused on catching up or learning something I didn't know about films previously covered.





* For example, lauding a film because your favorite writers were credited for a draft of the film that in no way represents what you saw, as was the case with an overly effusive Jonah Hex review I read last year.
** I also realized there's an invisible - but evident when pointed out - camera trick in Phoenix's opening monologue that masks two separate takes.