Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Town (2010)

When I first viewed "The Town" I thought it a terrific film. I was particularly impressed by the action sequences. But that was one viewing, and years ago.

But now after viewing it multiple times I realize that the film is not what it seems to be. Reading the script, specifically, helped me realize this. Because in the script - without the help of multi-million dollar action sequences (such as one extraordinary scene with car-fleeing bank robbers rattling off AK47s into pursuing police cruisers) - the characters and the story are evidently formulaic and bland.

What's interesting is that from unremarkable characters (with the exception of Frawley - the highlight of the screenplay) the acting is above-average amongst the entire cast. Absolutely superb performances come from Jeremy Renner as Jem Coughlin (who turns an unremarkable character into a memorable one) and John Hamm as Agent Frawley.

"The Town" deals with extremely horrifying subject matter; unblinking mass murder in the name of money, the carnage is perpetrated by everyone: criminals, cops, florists. But the subject matter is beautified. Murderous bank-robbers usually aren't as strapping, gentle, or well-spoken as Doug. And Doug's ex-girlfriend Krista - a young single mother who gets high on coke and prescription drugs - is beautiful and coherent? Uh... I don't think they look like that in real life. (And wasn't the actress portraying Krista - Blake Lively - on "Gossip Girl" and "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants"?? And isn't she a celebrity homemaker who likes to immerse herself in local culture and wants to become a restaurateur and open her own interior decorating company? Yes, I remember now, I saw her wedding reception on "Martha Stewart Weddings". And she also

The characters never face repercussions for their actions (other than getting into thrilling shoot-outs, which they usually survive.) In the end good guy/protagonist Doug evades capture after their harrowing final heist (without a scratch on him), he wins back his gentle, sober girlfriend (who spends her time in the community garden and volunteering at the local Boys and Girls club), and lands a hot new lakeside cabin in Florida. But never shown in the film are the effects of heavy drug use, prison, or violence. No matter how horrendous their actions, the characters face no consequences. I wonder what this is doing, Hollywood relentlessly pumping this no-need-for-responsibility message into young (especially male) viewers on a subconscious level...

Perfect example. Doug is supposedly a gentle, caring guy. At one point he admits to Claire that he hasn't killed anyone. But after that point... between the boys' vicious second nun-masked robbery, and the harrowing finale heist and shootout... Doug and his AK are responsible for a pile of dead bodies. But this is never focused on, nor hinted at.

And at the end of it all... what was the violence for? Well, it's Hollywood. I guess the point is that there is no point.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Primer (2004)

Listening to the director's commentary, the logistics that Shane Carruth worked through when putting this film together are staggering. The fact that he completed and released the film is astounding.

But all of it for what? "Primer", on a technical level, is a gift of high intellect. But the film itself is hollow. It literally has no emotion, no soul. Carruth's genius allowed him to put together the film, but the finished product means nothing. How ironic.

Carruth has said that he wanted to display scientific discovery as accurately as possible. I wonder if he has done something of the opposite. Because doesn't true scientific discovery come from insatiable curiosity? A sense of discovery? A place of passion? The discovery in the film, looking through the abstruse dialogue, is soulless and clinical. The boys are cold and mechanical, which is far beyond objectivity.

Carruth has also said that he wanted the central theme of the film to be about the breakdown of Abe and Aaron's relationship. What relationship? There is no relationship. Abe and Aaron are not real people, not even close. They do not have visible personalities, nor do they show any emotion.

Shane Carruth stood in the role of Aaron. Literally. It would not even be enough to say that Carruth was unconvincing. The truth is that he cannot act on any level. So what on earth was he thinking, casting himself in the lead role? I know for a fact that he didn't do it to please his ego. The other lead opposite him, David Sullivan as Abe, at least did a solid job. Sullivan was natural and believable.

For all the technical marvel that the film boasts, it has no heartbeat, and communicates nothing. Is this the work of a highly intelligent but emotionless psychopath? Or is this just the work of a highly intelligent person working in the wrong profession? I hope for the latter.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

How Can "Game of Thrones" Possibly Continue?

As the dragons grow, will the quality of Game of Thrones decline?

Maybe they just are trying to adapt what cannot be adapted (in the present television industry.) Because the eventual, titanic size of the dragons is not the only problem the show faces. Now production is moving too fast to stop, and (as always) the show will go on, whether it should or not.

The dragons, up until now, have continued to impress more each season. They are easily some of the most convincing CGI creatures ever put to film. But they were noticeably absent for much of this season. A large part of this is because they genuinely didn't have much of a role to play (they will play a much larger role in Season 5, with showrunners beginning to adapt A Dance With Dragons.) The other reason for the dragon's absence this season, plainly, was due to budget. And that is fine; their absence was perfectly logical in the context of the plot. If the show had an infinite budget, the dragons could have been thrown in a few more times, but as it is, it is fine.

But now I am worried for the future of the series.

To say that the role of the dragons has continually exceeded expectations, is an understatement. The quality of these three brutally savage characters has only gone up. But there are other areas of the show that have, however quietly, taken hits due to budget limitations (not including the disastrous Battle at the Wall-which seriously awoke me to the budget crisis, like a hard kick in the groin.)

Drogon in Season 1

 The dragons in Season 2

Season 3

Season 4

Drogon in "A Dance With Dragons"?

The size of a fully grown dragon in Ice and Fire (Season 7?)

From seasons 1 to 3, the producers' bank account has been able to manage the weight of the content. Seasons 1 to 3, and 4, have done a fantastic job with the resources at the directors' and producers' disposal. But from here on out, starting with Season 5, things will be different. Starting with Season 5, Game of Thrones is going to get many notches more complex, more ferocious, and more expensive. Bigger dragons, bigger battles, a bigger world, and more characters.

Right now I believe they are working with about $6-7 million dollars an episode? (The amount has been stagnant since Season 1.) Well, this is pathetic. Consider the well-known fact that in the final two seasons of Friends, the cast of six made a million dollars an episode. Including further necessary costs, the final two seasons of Friends had a budget equal to or exceeding what Game of Thrones has working with for four seasons. Outrageous - Friends can be shot on nothing, while Thrones increasingly requires more and more money. HBO is taking greed to a whole new fucking level, and they are raping the child they have adopted, and are making a massive fortune off of it.

More blows are driving a stake between producers/the show and Martin/the novels, and the difference between their interests is widening. Season 5, airing in Spring 2015, will be out before the sixth novel, The Winds of Winter. And from here the series' future looks confusing and uncertain.

Season 1 adapted book one; Season 2 adapted book two. The third book, A Storm of Swords, was split into two seasons - Season 3 and Season 4. But Season 4 is also starting plot lines from the fifth volume, A Dance With Dragons. Martin is now hinting that he may need eight books to conclude the series (previously, he was going up to seven.) But producers of the show have been very clear that the show will be finished in seven seasons. And now, perhaps starting with Season 6 in 2016, the airing of the show is going to overtake the release of the novels; trying to cover ground that Martin has told the writers about, but which will not be published in time. (The producers have been adamant that they will not take any breaks between seasons, to allow the books' publication to catch up to the pace of the show.) George R.R. Martin has suggested that the television series be ended with a film or films; giving five times the budget of one television season - say, $200 million, or whatever it would be - to three hours in a film, for what is sure to be an epic and absurdly expensive final battle/final battles, involving three full-sized dragons and tens of thousands of soldiers (scope that could be compared to the Lord of the Rings films - or perhaps the scope of Thrones' climax will even surpass that...)

And there are many, many more components to all of this, and it will probably all get in a worse tangle as this all begins to play out.

The show is improving in some ways, and weakening in others (the Battle at the Wall was a mood-killer), but overall the show is improving. Season 4 is an improvement over Season 3. Joffery's wedding was possibly the most astounding scene of the series so far. And the Viper's murder was much more horrifying than the (gratuitous) Red Wedding (The Red Wedding was much better in the novel.)

I just don't know if I see Martin coming out of this, and remaining on good terms with showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, or HBO. It's all a balancing act, and will take a miracle (or several) from the gods, for the show to finish without the quality lowering. I feel that whatever happens next season will be a strong indication of what we do or don't have to look forward to in subsequent seasons.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Film Review: La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) (2013)

The film begins in Rome at the splashy, bacchanal 65th birthday party of the dapper Jep Gambardella. Calling the event extravagant would be an understatement.

Gambardella is a celebrity socialite. He spends most of his afternoons laying around in a hammock, drinking, staring at the colosseum from his terrace. Killing time until the party-wild evenings. Jep lives a comfortable, carefree, decadent life.

Sometimes he thinks about a coastal summer romance from his youth - shown with Jep laying in bed and watching blue waves move across the ceiling, and also in brief flashbacks.

Forty years ago Jep wrote an acclaimed novel, inspired by that intense romance. He has not written a novel since, and now works as a high society journalist. In one scene Jep reviews a performance art show where the artist sprints and head-butts a stone wall.

The glitterati Jep surrounds himself with are the kind of people who wait in line with each other to get Botox injections, as nonchalant as if they're waiting to buy movie tickets. As one woman tells the man injecting her, "Just got back from India. I had amazing dysentery. Come to my divorce party, I'll have burlesque dancers there." When Jep and his friends get together they talk about subjects such as Marxism, collectivism, misanthropy, and defeatism.

Jep refuses to acknowledge any disagreeable aspect of life. At one of his regular dinner parties a friend tries to tell him about her son, who is experiencing mental health issues. Jep immediately dismisses the subject by recommending a psychiatrist, and then starts to talk about the salad.

In one scene Jep shops with his girlfriend for a funeral dress. They are in a patronizing store where the entire selection of dresses, displayed on the walls, can be counted off on your fingers. During this scene Jep explains the rules for how one must conduct themselves at a funeral, which he sees as a social event. The behaviours he describes equate to calculated self promotion.

After Jep's former lover (the one from his youth) passes away, he learns that he was the only person she ever loved. The person who tells Jep this is the woman's husband of thirty five years. The husband discovered this when going through his wife's journal. The news shocks Jep. Perhaps in spite of this, he considers writing again. He gets into a relationship with a woman. He cries at a funeral (something he previously said to never do.)

So with these changes in Jep's life the director is basically trying to show that Jep is becoming more disillusioned with his frivolous lifestyle? That at the end of the film he is a more rounded person? That instead of numbing himself at endless decadent parties, Jep is forced to confront deeper aspects of life: hurt, love, death? Well, Jep was a despicable person at the start of the film. And in the end he is the same; a narcissistic, flippant man. His friends are shallow, materialistic, and conceited.

At one of his parties Jep tells the person he sits beside that the dance trains at their parties are the best in Rome. The next shot is of Jep drunkenly leading one of the trains. And then Jep is sitting next to his housekeeper, disillusioned, lamenting about how his life is nothing. Well how noble and sincere, you sanctimonious piece of shit. 

The film is gorgeously shot, and the music is sublime. The opening scene contains choral music so transcendent it is unearthly. And then we're blasted into an aural storm of ecstatic club beats. And there is also the devastating pastorale composition, combining the music of Arvo Pärt with a choir rendition of Robert Burn's beautiful poem My Heart's in the Highlands, which mourns the narrator's lost youth in the Highlands. 

"The Great Beauty" is insipid, meandering, and unnecessarily long. The title is appropriate to the material, as "The Great Beauty" is totally self-righteous. At the heart of this movie (or where a heart should be) is a group of terrible human beings.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Film Review: L'inconnu du lac (Stranger By The Lake) (2013)

Franck, a young French man, comes to this lake-a cruising ground for men-every summer. Scattered around the stony shore is the ubiquitous sight of clothless men, lazing, talking, looking. When they want to get off, they head into the forest. Many of the men here have wives or girlfriends.

Franck makes the acquaintance of a paunchy older man named Henri, who has just broken up with his girlfriend. They come back to the beach every day they just talk to each other, watching the glittering lake. The melancholic Henri enjoys the quiet of this place. The isolation. Henri really enjoys spending time with Franck.

One day Franck is infatuated with a man he spots (Michel) and follows him into the forest. But Franck finds Michel already with another man.

A few days later, hidden in the trees one night, Franck witnesses Michel drown his lover in the lake. Franck does not say anything to anyone, and the next day he becomes Michel's new lover.

"Stranger By The Lake" is contemporary and progressive. (The content is light-years ahead of North American film-they live in a culture of shame and immaturity.) "Stranger" is not as pornographic as the videos we are all used to seeing, but there are too many penises shown to count. Half the time the men aren't wearing clothing. Men kiss each other, and pleasure each other. Fellatio, anilingus, an erect penis ejaculating. This material is dealt with subtly and sensitivity (not that there is anything sensitive about these loveless hookups.)

So yes, there is more sexual material in this film than in every Spielberg film combined. But what's shown is not passionate loving; the hookups are casual and loveless. As well, the men are unashamed. In the forest they will have sex ten feet away from each other, and allow masturbating voyeurs to watch. When one man is interested in another, he might walk by, heading in the opposite direction, and place his hand on the man's crotch. This happens to Franck at one point, but he is not interested, and just gently moves the hand away.

The men here don't want friendship, or any sort of relationship. They just want unattached sex. At first, this is all Franck wants, too. But (as Henri warned him) he realizes that superficial sex cannot fill the emotional void, and Patreck decides that he needs something greater. Enter his manipulative, controlling, murderous lover.

"Stranger By The Lake" is a meditative observation of loose, impersonal sex (yes I realize that is a gross oxymoron) and contemporary loneliness and depression. The film is more relevant now than ever. Most relationships people have now are depthless and formal, not to mention self-serving.

There is also the beautiful idea, best expressed by Henri, that a relationship can take many different forms, beyond classification (bound with the correct notion that sexuality cannot be categorized.) As Henri says matter-of-factly, "You don't have to fuck someone to sleep with them."

Sunday, May 11, 2014

86th Oscar Rounds: Best Picture ("Gravity", "Her", "12 Years A Slave")

The 86th Academy Awards honoured films released in 2013.

Of course an Oscar year is an arbitrary time frame, used to crown achievements in film. But the lists of nominees and winners throughout the years is useful. It is one form of reference by which to discover films, to watch and re-watch.


I have no problem suspending disbelief for the events in the film, such as Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) leaping from space station to space station, or her miraculous safe landing on earth. To be honest I did not give any of it a second thought. What is inadequate, in terms of believability, is the characters of Dr. Stone and her colleague Lieutenant Matt Kowalski (George Clooney).

Dr. Stone is mentally and emotionally unprepared for their mission. Anyone in such a fractured state as Stone (still mourning the death of her daughter) would never be put on a mission into space, which requires the utmost objectivity, mental precision, and focus. At one point, while Stone is floating above the earth, Kowalski asks her where her home is (he also finds out about her daughter's death.) This is beyond ludicrous. Stone and Kowalski's training for their mission would have been long, laborous, and intimate. It is inevitable that such basic information would have come up prior to their launch. Moreover, someone as disciplined as an astronaut would never bring up the (still fresh) subject of their child's death on a mission, especially when it is going to distract/upset them. I could go on. I am not being hypercritical in the least, as clearly this is all common sense, whether the observer has knowledge of space procedures or not.

Clooney's character Matt Kowalski has no personality. The dialogue between Kowalski and Stone is vapid, asinine, and farcical. The weakness of the acting (and the characters), can be articulated in a single sentiment: any actors could have replaced George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, and the film would have achieved the same emotional result.

The entire blame for the performances, of course, does not lie on the actors, nor Cuaron. Clooney and Bullock were working with a terrible script. But they must take some responsibility, since they took on the roles.

Whether Cuaron wrote the script or not, he is responsible for overseeing it. (Cuaron did co-write the script, with his son. But, considering its shortcomings, I do not understand why Cuaron contributed to the screenplay. He cannot write well.) Cuaron is very talented at constructing intricate, interesting camera setups. But the film's total reliance on visuals, combined with the fact that the entire thing is stitched together by a suffocating soundtrack, is Cuaron's compensation for the emptiness of the writing.

I am sure the film's visuals will stand the test of time, into the foreseeable future. The CGI, lighting, and sound editing, in particular, stood out. The CGI is pretty flawless. And the stupendous lighting is so convincing, so sophisticated, that after two viewings I have barely absorbed it.

In the final scene, after an emergency landing on an ocean shore, Sandra Bullock climbing out of the water looks like Sandra Bullock climbing out of the water. And even though she has just gone through the most mentally, emotionally, and physically tolling ordeal of her life, her skin doesn't have a blemish. Her glowing face makes it look like she's on an advertisement for a facial cleanser. And even looking past this, the penultimate scene of Stone stepping back onto land should have been the most powerful image of the entire film. But in fact, this was the most underwhelming visual, by far, in the movie.

The soundtrack could be beautiful on its own, but in the film it is, again, absolutely suffocating. And it takes the attention off the visuals, which probably should be the focus. Surely Cuaron was trying to make the film as dramatic as possible; but maybe it shouldn't have been dramatic. Why did Cuaron have to turn his space film into some Hollywood thriller? Because the visuals are so fantastic, why couldn't Cuaron have directed his efforts into another project to better serve the public; collaborating on scientific, educational space documentaries? Maybe his ego got in the way. Maybe his wallet got in the way. Maybe it's arrogance.

Or maybe Cuaron is simply more interested in the dramatic than the scientific. If that is the case, fine. He made a dramatic space thriller. And it was largely a failure. If he refuses to acknowledge this, he is deluding himself.


The premise is that a man falls in love with his computer. The most tragic aspect of the film is that this is happening today. The scene where the protagonist has sex with his computer was especially disturbing; maybe because I do it, too. We all do. We all masturbate, and more likely than not, it's to pornography on a screen. So already, in our technological infancy, many are achieving an orgasm with a machine, instead of each other...

This film isn't going to be as shocking to a viewer now as it will be to a viewer in a hundred years. Because the funny thing about "Her", the great thing about "Her", is that the present audience is desensitized to the insanity the film portrays. A perfect example of this: in the film's world (a tad more technologically advanced than our own) everyone walks alone, plugged in. It is the same as our society now; everyone engaged in their many devices, rarely with each other. This is actually something very disturbing and unhealthy. But to most it is just a normal, ubiquitous occurrence.

A premise that easily could have been directed into lame territory is handled with astuteness and depth. Director Spike Jonze has a firm understanding of the subject. There literally is a method to his madness.

And after watching this, I discovered that the film stars four huge actors. I just didn't recognize them in the film. You know the acting is good when.

"12 Years A Slave"

During the first few minutes is an infuriatingly common editing choice: showing scenes that we reach later in the film. Putting these as the first scenes in the film, they are entirely out of context, and fail to elicit emotion. Playing in the background of these opening shots, the (otherwise magnificent) soundtrack sounds hammy and forced; and the accompanying visuals look artificial and constructed. Later in the film, when these exact same shots appear a second time, within the proper context, they are captivating.

By the time the credits rolled I was a statue. Overcome, hand pressing chest, I was near tears. I mean yes, during the first few minutes I thought my eyes might become lodged in the back of my head because I couldn't stop rolling them. The film got off to a weak start. But the further it ran the better it got. The performances were devastating, in the best way possible. Only two complaints about the picture come to mind. One, the terrible makeup and costumes. Even though this was a movie rather than a film... the costumes and makeup were still too movie-ish; not natural enough, not realistic enough. At more than one point I was aware that the actors were walking around in costumes.

My second qualm is the title card stating that the film is based on a true story. The phrase is a dumb fad, and I am so sick of seeing this imbecilic claim in, like, every second film made now.  The fact is that every movie is inspired by life. Yes, the story in "12 Years" does come from the memoir Twelve Years A Slave (1853) by the real Solomon Northup. But not only is the "based on" annotate redundant; it is inaccurate. McQueen can call his character Solomon... but on the plantations the real Solomon Northup was on, the people probably didn't have a constant orchestra concerto playing in the background, and they probably didn't speak in such perfectly succinct, articulate sentences. And in his memoir, Solomon doesn't mention having his life saved by Brad Pitt.

"12 Years A Slave" is not a masterpiece, but it is a great film. With slavery being abolished, hopefully the film will not only inspire critical thought, but critical action against current persecutions; the most pressing being the barbaric attitudes toward homosexuality.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Hollywood (Hunger) Games

Hollywood making a blockbuster film out of the novel "The Hunger Games" goes directly against the spirit of the book. This is because Hollywood and the Capitol are a very similar entity. So it's extremely duplicitous for Hollywood to make a film about a girl who hates the Capitol, trying to revolt against the Capitol. 

There is one scene in the Capitol, just before the games are about to start. Haymitch, repulsed, stares at a young boy chasing his sister with a plastic sword. Barbarian Capitol citizens.

And in our own cities? While men and women are dying in real wars, children play ultra-realistic, ultra-violent video games, putting themselves in the role of soldiers; murdering, being murdered, over and over again. And this is entertainment for them.

Just the other day I was at someone's house with their two young children; the girl was about nine, the boy eleven. We were all playing with their toy bow and arrows (clearly inspired by the Hunger Games). Instead of arrows, these bows shot foam darts. It was all very reminiscent of the sword-playing children in the Capitol...

Ve Neill ("celebrity" makeup artist) was the makeup department head and makeup designer for "The Hunger Games". She shares many similarities with any one of the Capitol zombies (the very people her film is supposed to be critiquing.) In the past Neill has worked on such horrid films as "John Carter", "The Love Guru", "Eragon", "Batman & Robin", and others. Repeatedly Neill has contributed to mindless films that serve no purpose to humanity, and dumb down the population. I wonder if she has any values, since she clearly has no problem working on awful films that are a horrendous waste of money and resources.

An overview of her career: Ve Neill has won three Academy Awards for makeup ("Beetlejuice" (1988), "Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993), and "Ed Wood" (1994)). She has been nominated for eight Academy Awards total.  Neill is also creator of the television series "Face Off" on which she also serves as a judge. ("Face Off" is a reality television show where young makeup artists compete against each other, in front of cameras and judges, with one winner at the end. During the show the contestant's personal lives are explored and discussed. This is broadcasted to millions of viewers.)

I am using Mary (Ve Neill was born Mary Flores) as an example, to make a larger point about the utter hypocrisy of those who adapted "The Hunger Games". Neill lives and breathes the monstrosity that is Hollywood; and yet she is working on a film about the revolution against a manipulative, controlling, self-serving government? She is an elite Hollywood resident who could easily be one of the Capitol citizens in the film.

Throwing young men and women (Jennifer Lawrence is a fine example) into the superficial, fame-chasing, money-obsessed, wasteful supremacy of Hollywood is eerily similar to throwing young men and women into the superficial, fame-chasing, money-obsessed, wasteful supremacy of The Capitol/The Games.

After winning the games, Katniss is thrown into a chaotic life of glamour, fame, and wealth. She is constantly in the view of camera lenses, and the public. She comes under increased scrutiny for her physical appearance, and her actions. Hold on a second... doesn't this sound like Jennifer Lawrence's life after starring in "The Hunger Games"?

In the Capitol and Hollywood, where rivers of money are poured into the latest fashions, where surgeries and physical alterations are omni-present, where wastefulness is a way of life, and superficial narcissism rules....

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