Archive for the ‘Movies’Category

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman was the lifeline DC needed to pull itself out of its overly-grim, emo-dark, humorless mess. DC had a distinct character problem; nobody cared about any of them. DC had a story and plot problem. The list of DC universe “issues” are, frankly, too numerous to name. Wonder Woman is what the DC universe needed. Desperately.

A quote: “To conquer others is to know power. To conquer yourself is to know the way.”

(That’s from a Xena episode, btw, google it.)

DC ham-fistedly tried to conquer its audience by hitting it over the head again and again with special effects, on-cue manipulative (and clumsy) flashback character-building, fight scene piled upon bigger stakes fight scenes. In the end, DC was getting in its own way. Wonder Woman takes one huge, important step toward flying right again.

**Minimal spoilers. If you saw BvS, you will know some small tidbits below**

Gal Gadot and Chris Pine

Gal Gadot is perfectly cast. She is a mixture of tough, vulnerable, passionate, naïve, and determined. Her ability to emote soundlessly made WW extremely accessible, which is strange given that one of the biggest problems with bringing WW to the screen is making a demi-god relatable. Her performance (and the writing) reaches into the parts of us all who want suffering and war to end with a voice that is clear as a bell.

Chris Pine is a perfect counterpart. The story risked the usual male pearl-clutching of, “Now, little lady, let the big man show you how it’s done. OH! My STARS! You just held your own in a fight and whooped ass! Why, heavens! I just don’t know what to do about a wimmins doing such things!”

Instead, it was: “Holy shit. You just deflected some bullets, saved my life, and proceeded to drop a gang of thugs trying to mug us. Hmmm! Well, what else ya got?” He saw her as an asset and he wasn’t the sexist dolt who ignored all she brought to the table.

The Film Itself

As far as the film itself. I felt like the first two acts were as close to perfect as a superhero/action movie could be. (Minus a few nitpicky minor cringey moments about the sword not “going with your outfit” which were completely unnecessary. Again, nitpicky.)

Act 1 with the Amazons set the tone: this is a fantasy. We’re in a world where Zeus and Aries and Amazons exist. You buy in and you do it quickly. See, that’s the key to WW. It’s where WW succeeded and most of the rest of the DC films failed. You bought into it all. You wanted to buy in, and, most importantly, you were rewarded for doing so. In Man of Steel, I went in wide-eyed and innocent. Superman was one of my favorite comic book characters. I grew up with Christopher Reeve. It was magic to me. And Man of Steel took my freely-given “buy in,” hurled it to the ground and stomped on it. That film punished me for wanting to buy in. That film was created from trusted source material—material I had given my whole heart to as a child—and doused in the hellfire of Zach Snyder’s suck-i-tude.

I don’t need to explain my thoughts on Batman versus Superman.

WW gave me hope again. I bought in to the film in small, careful steps:

  • Okay, the story of this island is interesting.
  • Hmmm, young Diana is fun.
  • Amazons training. Yeah, that’s …. Pretty remarkable.
  • First battle scene. Okay, that was… a…m…aaaa….z…ing….
  • Wow. I can do this. I can give my 10-year-old geek over to this film. I feel it. I can do it. Yes, YES!

And that’s how it went through act 2, where I watched what I assume was Somme in WW1 and felt tears on my cheeks. I know. Read into that what you will. I skimmed a few articles this week about why women were crying during these battle scenes and shrugged it off. Until I wasn’t shrugging anymore. Because holy shit. What did I just see her do? And not only that, but her reasons for doing so were there and they were believable and they spoke to the part of any human being who has simply….had…. enough. I bought into that moment too. Some will not buy into it, but I did. And, again, I was rewarded for doing so. Maybe it was that 10-year-old girl inside me who needed to cry. I’m glad she did.

Act three. In any other film, I might have said, “Hmmm, I’m not sure that ending was earned.” On its own, no, I don’t think it was. But, I do think the first two acts did enough stellar work to nudge that final act over the finish line. It’s hard to explain other than to say with the first two battles as outstanding as they were, the third and final battle sequence(s) seemed to suffer from needing to outdo itself. And outdo itself again. And bigger, faster, crazier effects. Add in a Marvel-flaw in that the villains weren’t exactly well-fleshed out or fully-realized, and, the info-dump’esque–“Here is my plan and what I have been doing all along, AND let me pile on some villain motivation for you . . . last minute of course!” deal. And it’s hard to wade through all of that. It was muddled. As I said, on its own? Not earned. 1st and 2nd acts taken into consideration? Yes. It’s like Russell Crowe winning an Oscar for Gladiator when he was overlooked in L.A. Confidential, passed over for The Insider, and the academy was like, “Oh! Gladiator… well, sure. Okay.”

Now, don’t get me wrong: Act 3 had amazing moments. Pay-offs. It had what BvS and Man of Steel did not have: a reason to invest as a viewer and a reason to give a shit.

Final Thoughts.

I’ve seen some mad whining by assholes on the internet that feel the film is only getting positive reviews because, “Affirmative action, YO!” or, that people are focusing hardcore on a female lead and female director and, “Who knows if it’s really good because the SJWs are all GURRRLL POWAHHH!” And to those people: politely go fuck yourselves.

Where this film rises in terms of feminism is in how it addresses a female superhero. Sure, you have the dumb-ass remarks about a sword not “going with that outfit,” because one of the writers probably thought it would make a cute/sassy catch-phrase. What surprised me was the lack of, “Oh my GOD THAT IS A WOMAN DOING STUFF” there was in the film.

The amazons kicked ass. It simply was. These women were everything I thought amazons should be. Robin Wright. Great hells. And women they hired who looked exactly like women who trained their entire lives to battle SHOULD look. And not a single comment about it. As I said: it simply was.

Perhaps it was that Amazon foundation that lent itself to the rest of the film. Gadot portrayed a woman who knew exactly what she was capable of. There was no debate. It made sense to her and, by default, to us. Looking back, I don’t recall thinking, “Wow, this female superhero is so awesome.” I remember thinking, “This is the best superhero ever.” The gender kind of fell off the radar in the best kind of way. I don’t imagine others will have had that same experience, but that’s what happened to me. It was just Diana and Diana will beat you down if you do wrong.

I will end with this: three Marvel films hold a special place in my heart: Guardians of the Galaxy (1 and 2), and the first Ironman. These three have massive re-watchability. Meaning, the moment I finished seeing all of those films the first time, I wanted to buy another ticket and go see them all again. Immediately! They are three films I will see on some crappy cable channel (with commercial interruptions) and stop to watch. Even though I own all three. You crave them. You watch them over and over because you love them. The first two acts in Wonder Woman had this same effect on me. The third act will be the extra layer of frosting on the cake that you don’t need, but you eat anyway.

Can’t wait to see it again. My nine-year-old daughter absolutely loved it.

10

06 2017

Vampires Done Right

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Yes, vampires are “in” now, thanks to the series-that-shall-not-be-named.  Or maybe not.  Agents seem to be pretty anti-vampire when it comes to their submission wish lists.  I don’t know.  Trends are weird.  What I do know is that vampires have been cool for a long time and now they’re kind of weak.  I mean it’s not all epic-fail material, but pretty dang close.

As a child of the 80s, I consider the vampire quite a different animal in a sense.  None of this sparkling, tweeny pining BS, but tragedy and horror, films that made you question whether or not you’d actually go through with the whole thing if Mr. Vampire Hottie Pants showed up at your door and said, “Come on, baby!”

So, I give you my top five vampire films from my lifetime (40ish years).  In no particular order:

Near Dark

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Say wuuut?  Kathyrn Bigelow directed a vampire movie?  You bet your sweet bum she did.  Near Dark is one of the best vampire movies out there with a truly stellar cast: Lance Henricksen, Bill Paxton, Adrian Pasdar, Jenette Goldstein.  (Whoah, half the cast from Aliens?  Well, Bigelow was married to James Cameron who directed Aliens in 1986, then lo and behold, Near Dark comes out in 1987.  Why break up the dream team?)

What was so great about Near Dark was that the vampires weren’t all slick, Wall Street, Gucci-wearing studs, they looked like they walked out of a Hell’s Angels biker bar.  You could almost smell the stink and sweat on them and when they targeted you as a victim, there was no lusty exchanges where eyes met and someone licked their lips, pure, undiluted fear.  “This guy is going to tear my throat out.”

In a sense, this is vampire-meets-western.  You walk into the wrong bar and you’re dead.  Bill Paxton, “This is some pretty shit” kind of dead.

The Hunger

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Sensual, refined horror, but not in the eye-rolling, shiny kind of way.  I always loved Tony Scott’s The Hunger.  Beautifully filmed, superbly acted.  It’s a story based on Whitley Strieber’s novel of the same name.  (The same Whitley Strieber who wrote Communion and other alien abduction literature.)  The book is a fabulous read and quite different from the movie.  These vampires are genetic, born into their race.  When Miriam, a vampire born in Egyptian times, tries to create progeny, things go smoothly for a few hundred years before her “children” (and lovers) begin to decline rapidly.

David Bowie plays Miriam’s recent lover, David, and Susan Sarandon plays Sarah, a young physician who is studying age and immortality.  Sexy scenes, frightening revelations, another story that makes you ponder whether or not vampirism is truly worth it–given what happens to Miriam’s companions once they begin to diminish.

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In the 80’s this movie became so coveted in video rental stores that you had to slap down a $50 deposit just to rent it. People were stealing the movies.  It was also around this time that Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles were really picking up steam.

Interview with a Vampire

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The Hunger leads nicely into Interview with a Vampire.   Sure, the film had flaws (one of which was not Tom Cruise, imho.  I thought Cruise nailed the role of Lestat.)  But, again, this wasn’t the pretty little high school vampire who pranced around looking broody.  Living the life of a vampire was kind of shitty in Rice’s world.  The transformation was grueling, the fear of exposure and danger was omnipresent.

Vampires had their mystique, certainly, their lavish lifestyles, their clothing, their mannerisms, but there was also something quite grotesque about them as well.  The film does a great job of letting you see them in their fine clothes, but look close enough and you see the pale skin, the protruding veins, the preternatural form.

Kirsten Dunst made a wonderful Claudia–a character in the first book that I had a hard time with as a reader.  Something about her rubbed me the wrong way, but Dunst made me feel for her, sympathize for this wise woman trapped in a little girl’s body.  Mood, cinematography, music.  All came together nicely.

Salem’s Lot

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I had nightmares about this kid (at the window) for years after first seeing Salem’s Lot.  Stephen King takes on the nosferatu: more beast than beauty.  This is the monster in the closet.  Nothing romantic going on here.  Just death.  And blood.  And old cellars and musty smells.

Salem’s Lot utilizes the ghost story trope.  The creepy old house in a small town.  Things go bump in the night.  When we do finally see the big bad vampire, it’s scary, it’s exhilarating.

Side Note: Check out Silver Bullet as well, King’s take on the werewolf.  Gary Busey and Corey Haim!  You can’t get more 80’s than that.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

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Rich and gothic, Coppola’s adaptation brings the source material to life in truly remarkable way.  Like Interview with a Vampire, this film has its flaws (cough: Keanu Reeves), but Oldman nails his role as Dracula–from the early scenes as Vlad the Impaler, to his powdery-pale, blood-licking Methuselan.

Ryder was hit or miss for me, but Sadie Frost’s portrayal of Lucy seemed to make up for it, as did Anthony Hopkins’ stint as Van Helsing.  This isn’t a story that makes you think, “Hmm, vampirism, sounds cool!”  You’re given the romanticized perspective in one hand and the foul horror in the other.

Honorable Mentions:

Let the Right One In: This almost made my top 5.  It probably should have.  Read the book.  Watch the film.

Fright Night: Great, fun, campy vampire story.

The Lost Boys: Funny and humorous, but vampires are still sinister in this flick.

Final Notes:

One has to wonder why we’ve turned vampires into fluffy, sparkling unicorns.  Perhaps society is becoming better equipped to embrace the Other when it’s dressed up like one of the guys from N’Synch.  What makes a great vampire story (and a great vampire character) is the pain and suffering that comes with it all.  HBO’s True Blood touches on this to some extent.  The Vampire Diaries as well.  But overall, vampires have lost their bite.

In epic fantasy, the “grimdark” pendulum seems to be pretty far into the dire, horrible, awful realm.  Nobody wins.  Nobody gets what they want.  Vampire literature?  Direct opposite.  It’s all too clean.  The above movies remind us that vampires are not, in fact, human, and that being one of the undead isn’t full of daisies and cotton candy and high school crushes.

It will be interesting to see if the pendulum swings back anytime soon.

 

04

07 2013

Contrarians

I was asked a question today: What movie do you like that most people hate?

Okay, “Titanic.”  Yeah, I admit it.  I have a thing for Rose and Jack and Jack Bristow as Thomas Andrews . . .

and Theoden as Captain Smith.

Who Am I?  I’m the captain of the Titanic!  (I guess you had to be there to get the joke.)

Anyway.  I fell in love with Titanic.  Keri and I sat in an empty theater watching it for the first time, crying our wee eyes out.  It WAS Superbowl Sunday for the Broncos and, well, we just weren’t interested in football.

Another movie that I dig is “The Cell.”  Yes, that Jenniffer Lopez and Vince Vaughn vehicle.  But you know what?   Vincent D’onofrio.  That’s all.  Nothing else but the guy’s name.  And maybe some pictures . . .

A deliciously wonderful movie.  Visually stunning.  Ebert had this to say about it:

I don’t seek out advance information about movies because I like to go in with an open mind. Walking into the screening of “The Cell,” I knew absolutely nothing about the plot or premise, but a TV producer in New York made a point of telling me how much she hated it, and various online correspondents helpfully told me how bad they thought it was. Did we see the same movie?

I ask myself the same thing when I hear people cry about “The Cell.”  Get with it, people.  Ebert and I agree.  This movie rocks.  I also loved “The Others,” and “Avatar,” two movies hot on the hate list.

Yeah, there you go.  I’m sure there are far more shameful things to admit, but I’ll stick to my guns on these.

Archived from: 9/15/2012

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12 2012