shadowkat: (Default)
1. Just finished watching the award winning and highly touted film Lion starring Devon Patel, Nicole Kidman and David Wendham, which is based on a true story. This is a beautiful film - not visually so much as thematically. It's about an Indian Boy from Ganash Tali, outside of Calcutta, who gets lost, is adopted by an Australian couple, and years later manages to find his mother and family.
Not at all what I expected, it surprised me. We follow the little boy with his mother, see how he gets horribly lost, watch in his point of view, as he asks help in finding her...and when the authorities are unable to do so they let an Australian couple adopt him. Years later in a heartbreaking scene, he tells his Australian adoptive mother that he's sorry she couldn't have children of her own, or blank pages, who did not come with their own baggage. Her response...surprised me and Saroo...

I'm hesitant to say much more...because I went into the film with little information. Just what I noted above.

At any rate, this is film that shows the beauty and compassion inside the human spirit. And how people are not so tribal after all, or racist. It's loving film...the emphasizes kindness over cruelty. Not violent. And just...kind. Made all the more uplifting because it is true and has overall a happy ending.

2. Dear White People -- streamed about five episodes before I stopped. Also not quite what I expected. This is available for streaming on Netflix. It focuses on the experiences a variety of black students at an Ivy League College in the Northeast centering around a student run radio program "Dear White People" hosted by and run by Sam, the lead character. Each episode takes the point of view of a different student, Sam and her friends, frenemies, and associates - regarding her cause, protesting a black-face party put on by the all white satirist club, Pastiche.

The series much like Americanah focuses on what it is like to be young and black in the US. Also like shows how the European and American slave trade colors our relations with each other, even though it ended over 100 years ago. It also shows the costs of racism. And how even within a sub-group people are racist. With the African-American culture -- dark skinned blacks are racist against lighter skinned blacks and vice versa. Also there's an emphasis on labeling, although various characters attempt with little success to avoid.

It's satirical in places, poking fun at how our culture divides us over racism, how it discriminates based on physical attributes. And it shows how there are cultural differences due to these divisions.

I found it very realistic in some respects and satirical in others. Not as relateable as Americanha.
Part of my problem with it, is well, I'm the wrong demographic. This is a series focusing on millenials...who have a very different take on racism and feminism than I do. In that, they appear to be surprised about certain things and act like that's the worst thing ever, and I'm thinking...not so bad. It's actually gotten a heck of a lot better. Granted not perfect, but a whole lot better. When I was in college the whole concept of series such as "Dear White People" would not have been green-lit by any one. We've come a long way. But if you grew up under Obama and not ahem Regan, you're going to have a different view of the world. Also, Trump is going to horrify you a bit more, if you don't remember Nixon and Regan.

Overall? It's okay. I found it to be amusing and compelling in places, and informative in others.
shadowkat: (Default)
Saw two movies this weekend, on via On Demand, and one via Amazon Prime.

1. Beauty and the Beast - Live Action adaptation of the Broadway Musical version of the animated film

This starred Emma Watson (Belle), Dan Stevens (Beast), Luke Evans (Gaston), Ewan McGregor (Lumineer), Emma Tompson (Mrs. Potts), Audra McDonald (Mmd de Carderzona - the wardrobe), Stanley Tucci (the player piano or Maestro) and Ian McKellan as Codsworth (the clock) and Kevin Kline (as Maurice, Belle's father).

It was good. But it was also almost exactly like the animated version. Decent CGI, and everyone sang their parts quite well, I thought. There's three new songs -- two the Beast sings, and one Belle sings.

So, if you liked the animated version, you'll like this one. I've seen four versions now, my favorite is the French 1930s a director I can't remember the name of. Because it had some nice twists. It's also the version that Disney one is clearly based upon, with the enchanted or haunted castle and all the servants various forms of furniture, etc. In the French version, Gaston turns into the Beast upon his death, and the Prince becomes human again. The fourth one is not worth mentioning.

2. Captain Fantastic

This starred Viggo Mortgensen (who was nominated for an Oscar and various awards for the film), along with Frank Langella, and the kids are amazing in it.

It's a quirky film and in places a scathing indictment of American society. (When you post on an international journal, you need to quantify these sorts of things.) Also of Capitalism. Although he does make the point to his son, who has become a Maoist, after being a Troskist, that Communism can result in genocide as well. (It didn't bother me, because I don't worship at the feet at any economic system and think all of them are crap. Frankly economics gives me a headache. And I'd prefer not to think about it too much. But alas, I'm surrounded by economics majors, how did this happen? I got a degree in Law, cultural anthropology, and English Lit. Sigh, life, always the comedian.)

Captain Fantastic aka Ben has been raising his seven kids off the grid. When the movie opens, we don't know why he's doing it or what happened to the mother, just that she's not there. During the movie, we are slowly told why, and what happened, etc.

It's funny in places, and disturbing in others.

mild spoilers ) I found it hilarious in places and cringeworthy in others. But overall, an excellent and uplifting film, and worth watching. The people do change in the end, Ben changes...he realizes that he's putting his children at a disadvantage and with their help, finds a middle way -- to raise them without sacrificing his beliefs entirely.
shadowkat: (Default)
Watched Hidden Figures last night and Feud: Bette and Joan today...and now, I feel this overwhelming urge to kick white guys.

Seriously, if white men got over their massive egos, the places we could have gone as a society, the levels we could have reached...we'd have been to Jupiter and beyond. And Hollywood? The movies would have been so much better. But no, little boys and their little pissing contests.

Note -- these stories show white straight guys in a VERY negative light. And they aren't subtle about it.

Also not very nice about Capitalism.

Anyhow, Hidden one of those movies that I wanted to like more than I did. The story is there, but the execution fell short of it. Too much focus on the cliche romances and social justice moments, not enough on the process of getting there. I think they tried to combine too much in a short space of time. This was a story that would have benefited a great deal from a television adaptation or a longer format. Then we could have seen the day-to-day struggles of these three women and their contemporaries to get ahead in their fields.

Movies really aren't suited for these sort of tales, they are too short. In a movie -- what we get is a slice of life. It's the visual equivalent of a short story.

Hidden Figures is adapted from a book. I'd rather they had made The Immortal Henrietta Lacks into a movie and Hidden Figures into the mini-series, because Laks, I think could have easily been abridged into film format. But, they did the opposite.

Granted as a film, Hidden Figures gets a bigger audience. But, the story felt...chopped. And emotionally manipulative. The white characters came across as one dimensional, as did the black. There were a few who stood out -- Harrison (Kevin Costner), Stafford (Jim Parsons), Mrs. Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Butler), and Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Hensen)...everyone else felt a bit like an established trope. Even Stafford did. I wanted more of Dorothy figuring out the computer system, more of Katherine figuring out how to work with an all white male team for a common cause, more of the female engineer, Mary Jackson, working to become an engineer and how she worked with NASA. Instead we had bits and pieces of things cobbled together -- dance scenes, picnics, Katherine's romance with vet, church scenes, and drives to and from work.

It was as if the writers wanted to compress a twenty-two episode miniseries into two hours.

I've seen it done better -- with the Right Stuff, although that too felt overly compressed. But it was more focused on what was happening at NASA and more subtle about the rest. I think here, the writers wanted to underline the civil rights issues, and I'm not sure that was necessary. They were obvious. To continuously hammer me over the head with it, at the cost of other stories which would have given that message more power and weight...I think was a mistake in the writing and direction.

I loved the story. I just felt the execution could have been better and was somewhat disappointed in it. I wanted to love this more than La La Land. But La La Land was better executed, if not as interesting or as rich a story.

At any rate, at least it got notice. And as such more stories will be told like it.

I found myself yelling at the screen at various points...

Glenn: Before I go up, have the girl recheck my numbers!
Harrison: Girl? Oh you mean Katherine Johnson.

Me: John Glenn, I love you, but seriously, she's guiding your rocket and capsul, her math is keeping you alive...all you are doing is sitting in it. The least you can do is either remember her name or call her a woman.


Seriously, guys, you can't let this woman use the white woman's bathroom? Are you insane.
Reminds me of our current bathroom law issues.

Stafford? Get over your massive ego.

Harrison? I think I love you.

Hmmm...this movie really doesn't show Stafford and the white women at NASA during this time period in a good light, does it? Moral -- watch who you piss off, you might find yourself the villain in someone's text book.

This brings up something that I've been thinking about lately...that art in many ways defines who we are as a culture. It's not our actions or deeds that are remembered so much as how others choose to relate them through art. Memory alters reality. And writers, poets, artists, can sculpt the past as they see fit. What we remember of MacBeth is what Shakespeare decides to relate, what we know of
Richard the II is what Shakespeare tells us. What we've been told of Hamilton is what Ron Chernow and Lin Manuel have written. Trump's legacy lies in various tweets, new blurbs, but mainly in what various artists relay about him.

Art is what we leave behind. The artist is the teller of our history. The builder of our cultural identity. The artist reflects in mirror detail what we do, what we think, and how we act as a culture. Often showing the demons, shadows, and rot at the core. If the most popular television series are Scandal, Game of Thrones, and Walking Dead...what does that say about us, what reflection are we seeing?

Our artists rip away the layers through metaphor and story...depicting various possible futures and various pasts...and various presents...this, they seem to say, is what worked, and what didn't. Please learn from it.

I think sometimes art expresses that which is impossible to state directly. The artist does it from the side...softly. Sometimes, I think, it has to be shown. And art shows...more than tells. When done well.

Hidden Figures at times felt more like it was "telling" than showing. I wanted a bit more showing. When it relied on showing -- it excelled. And it has some wonderful scenes. Many of which, make me very glad that I stopped wearing heels ten years ago. Seriously why would anyone in their right mind wear them? Heels should be outlawed. Watch this film, and you'll see why.

Although the film does underline something with the heels...The black women who worked at NASA, specifically Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan, did what the guys did, except better, dancing backwards, in heels. Imagine what they'd have achieved, what we would have achieved, if they didn't have to wear heels and were treated as equals? We'd probably have several space stations, and have gone into another galaxy by now.
shadowkat: (clock)
Just finished watching Zack Snyder's Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice courtesy of On-Demand, was about $4.45, so cheaper than the movie theaters by about ten bucks. It's about $15 dollars in Brooklyn. surprised me. Not at all what I'd expected. Probably helped that I went in with very low expectations. For one thing, I didn't feel like I was watching a video game, well maybe for about two minutes, but even then? Not so much. Felt more like watching a painting. Say what you will about Zack Snyder, but he is a great cinematographer. His visuals are quite striking, and not quite as busy as other directors. Also, it didn't give me a headache like the action sequences in Man of Steel, The Avengers Part II - Age of Ultron, and Deadpool, so kudos.

A bit lacking in the dialogue department, though. I'm not even sure there was more than maybe a half hour's worth of dialogue in what amounted to a three hour movie. Snyder is not into dialogue, much more into visuals and cinematography. Not that superhero movies strike me as dialogue heavy movies to begin with. Let's face it, people do not go to these films for the dialogue. That said, the Nolan Batman films had good dialogue, as did the Iron man films, Deadpool, and Days of Future Past. So it is possible. But I've yet to see a Zack Snyder flick with good dialogue. (The 300, The Watchman, and Man of Steel had crappy dialogue too.)

It also, felt more "archetypal" in characterization. Not really providing anything new -- although let's face it, is there really anything new that can be said about Superman and Batman? Or for that matter the super-hero genre? I mean all three have been DONE by now. Possibly overdone. I think they may be slightly crispy.

As far as the visuals went, it reminded me a great deal of Frank Miller's Dark Knight comics in the 1980s, and Alan Moore's Sin City, V for Vendetta, and The Killing Joke. Both men took over the Batman comics, along Tim Sale, back in the 1980s and 1990s, and their decisively noirish take on the comics sort of bled into the verse as a whole. I remember writing my senior thesis in the bowels of a computer room next to a guy who was writing his on the death of superhero in comics, or rather the reimaging of the hero as vigilante and what that means. It was a controversial thesis - because academics, especially in the 80s, tended to frown on graphic novels, in particular action and pulpy noir graphic novels. Which I never really understood, a story is a story is a story...after all. And who's to say my thesis on Joyce's Molly Bloom and Faulkner's Caddy Thompson (aka their Mommy issues), was any more or less valid than this guy's thesis on the post-modern hero? In some respects I think his thesis was more interesting, because it commented, if indirectly, on our need for a hero, but romanticization of the vigilante. Or America's pop culture love affair with the powerful bad-boy, much to our own detriment (see Trump, Christian Grey, Walter White, Soprano, Hannibal Lector, Spike/Angel, Iron Man, various characters on Game of Thrones and Walking Dead, etc.). Oh, should mention, the guy writing his thesis on the death of the superhero in comics - had bleach blond hair, a leather jacket, rings, black boots, and steel rimmed glasses. We had some great conversations at 1 am in that computer room. (I half wish I saw the film with that guy. And I can't help but wonder what would have happened if we had merged our theses, mother goddess/mommy issues vs. death of superman/rise of the vigilante?)

spoilers )
All in all not a bad film. Not sure it's worth $15 bucks. But I enjoyed it for $5.

I'd give it a B or a solid three stars.
shadowkat: (dragons)
Midtown Manhattan, by the way, is quite striking at 7:45 am in the morning, with the sun just rising across the horizon. You look down 42nd Street and there are no buildings on the west or east ends - so it's like looking down a long man-made sparkling canyon constructed of concrete, steel, and glass. Someday I'll stop and take a picture of it. Urban jungles are actually beautiful in the right light.

I saw a lot of films in the last quarter of 2015, in part because I happen to have an actress friend who's loaning me her DVDS of recently released films. (They send movies to Academy voters to screen for awards. At the bottom of the screen, they intermittently remind you that this is for "consideration for awards" only and not to sell, give away, or distribute it. Actually, they want you to burn it after you see it. ( Like anyone will do that.) And it's only non-blockbuster or non-action films that are provided. (ie. she didn't get Star Wars or Mad Max: Fury Road.))

One of my Co-workers, who is a play-write and frustrated screenwriter, advised I see "Ex Machina" which is apparently amongst the best he's seen to date. He's published various plays, and has them performed occasionally. Haven't seen it yet, so it didn't make the list. Sort of have to narrow it down to the films I saw this year or were released this year, and I saw within the last four days.
Was going to wait until I got a chance to see Michael Fassbender's turn in MacBeth but alas, I'm just not in the mood to watch it yet. Shakespeare is definitely a mood thing, at least it is for me. (I live in NYC, 98% of the population are frustrated artists, actors and writers.)


Notable Films of 2015

1. The Big Short directed by Adam McKay, adapted from the book "The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis. It stars Steve Carroll, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Melissa Leo, and Marisa Tomei. It's about how various banks and investment firms set up housing mortgages as bonds, believing that this was a safe bet, since people will always pay their mortgage, and a group of investors realized that they could bet on those mortgages coming up short - or bet against the banks. In doing so, they expose a fraudulent system on the brink of collapse. It brilliantly satirizes the housing crisis that came thisclose to crashing the world economy in 2008, and explains why you can't get a mortgage without putting 20% down any longer. Never seen anything like it -- and the dialogue is crisp and rapid-fire throughout.

trailer )

2. Spotlight - director Tom McCarthy, starring Michael Keaton, Jamie Sheriden, Rachel McAdams, Brian D'Arcy, Mark Ruffalua, Liev Shrieber, and John Slattery.
"In 2001, editor Marty Baron of The Boston Globe assigns a team of journalists to investigate allegations against John Geoghan, an unfrocked priest accused of molesting more than 80 boys. Led by editor Walter "Robby" Robinson, reporters Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Matt Carroll and Sacha Pfeiffer interview victims and try to unseal sensitive documents. The reporters make it their mission to provide proof of a cover-up of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church." This film reminded me a great deal of All The President's Men, and in some respects it feels like a homage to the films of that decade. It's brilliant, if at times slow due to the pacing. Best journalist procedural that I've seen outside of All The President's Men. Straight-arrow story-telling without the manipulation.

trailer )

3. Mad Max: Fury Road directed by George Miller, starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Therone, and Nick Hoult. Amongst the most graphically violent films that I've seen, but explosively filmed. And Charlize Therone raises the bar on action heroines, with her portrayal of Imperosa Furousa. She manages to convey pathos with almost no dialogue. It's about a post-apocalyptic world where both gasoline and water are hot commodities. And gangs rule the desert roadways. Imperosa stolen as a child and raised to shuttle gas and water between Warlord territories, decides to help the Warlord's child brides escape his fascist and abusive rule. The Warlord's having already captured Max, take after her in pursuit, with Max along for the ride as a blood bag.

trailer )

4. The Tale of Princess Kaguya directed by Isao Takahata, with voiced dubbing - Chloe Grace Moretz, James Caan, Mary Steenbergen, Dean Cain, Darren Cris, Lucy Liu, James Marsden, Oliver Platt, Daniel Dae Kim, and George Segal. It was first released in Japan in 2013, but the American DVD release was in February 2015 - so I saw it in 2015.
The story is based on a Japanese folk legend about a princess in a peapod that a woodsman finds one day. She comes to our earth from the moon, wanting to see who people are. And is raised by the woodsman and his wife, but the woodsman becomes convinced that she should have riches, live in a palace and marry a prince - he becomes enamored of material things, when all the princess wants is to live in the woods with her friends, and the young man she's become enamored of. It's somewhat tragic and she ends up finally returning to the moon. The art is Japanese air brush drawings and paintings, simple and striking in their simplicity. Amongst the best animated films of the decade.

trailer )

5. Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - released towards the end of 2014, but I saw it in 2015. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts and Emma Stone. An actor known for his blockbuster movie role as a superhero, attempts to direct and star in a play, and demonstrate his worth as an actor. It's a surrealistic character sketch - that takes us inside the mind of an artist, who fears he has wasted his life as an actor.

6. Listen to Me Marlon - directed by Steven Riley, who cobbles together screen footage, news reels, and audio tapes that Marlon Brando self-recorded into a stirring and insightfully intimate documentary into the man's life and in the man's own words. Perhaps the most intimate biopic made. And possibly the most moving.
It shows how a sensitive artist can be eaten alive by the Hollywood marketing machine, yet still remain true to himself as an artist and a man, unique, somehow.

trailer )

7. Ant-Man directed by Peyton Reed, starring Michael Douglas, Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly...weirdly the best action flick that I've seen this year or in a while. It was fun, it developed the characters, and played the father angle from a slightly different take. Not perfect, not by a long shot. But notable for it's differences - it's a story about a man who can shrink to the size of an ant and speak to ants, controlling them, befriending them and getting them to help him save others. And it pairs a scientist and a thief, with a tough as nails female scientist. Also, it contains the wit, and banter that we've only seen in Iron Man and the Avengers.

trailer )

8. Star Wars The Force Awakens - directed by JJ Abrahams, story by George Lucas, written by JJ Abhrams and Lawrence Kasdan, starring Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Issacs, and Adam Driver. Notable if only because it just surpassed Avatar as the highest grossing domestic film of all time in the US. But also for creating a kick-ass female heroine who subverted various genre stereotypes. While imperfect, it was highly entertaining and a bit like visiting old friends. I'll probably watch it again when it comes out on DVD.

trailer )

9. The Martian by Ridley Scott, based on the self-published nove by Andy Weir. Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wigg, Jeff Daniels, Chietwel Ejiofor, Sebastian Stan, and Kate Mara. Notable for being a funny story about being trapped on Mars - a hard sci-fi adventure story reminscient of Robinson Crusoe, except funnier and a lot more moving. (I was never a Robert Louis Stevenson fan.) Although, it does appear that Hollywood is spending a lot of money rescuing Matt Damon in movies, doesn't it?

honest snarky trailer )

10. X-Men: Days of Future Past - another 2014 film that I didn't get around to seeing under 2015. Directed by Bryan Singer, starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Nick Hoult, Ellen Page, and Peter Dinklage. I honestly think this may be the best superhero flick that I've seen.
It commented on so many things, was tight, and true to the actual comics. It also managed to fix all the mistakes of the previous movies (the predecessors to X-men First Class), and rebootted the franchise.

trailer )

11. Selma - 2014 release, didn't see it until 2015. See trailer below the cut:

trailer )

It was the best fictionalized bio-pic that I've seen, and amongst the most moving.

12. Steve Jobs directed by Danny Boyle and written by Aaron Sorkin, starring Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet. A film that was critically acclaimed but bombed at the box office due to the subject matter and the controversial nature of the film - it is not factually accurate and a fictionalized portrayal of the volatile and controversial Apple Founder, Steve Jobs. (Although a lot of it is backed up by Alex Gibney's documentary Man in the Machine. This by the way was the same controversy that plagued Imagination Game. People are particular about the factual accuracy of biopics.) The story is about a man who focuses primarily on one thing at the cost of all else - and the toil that takes on him and everyone surrounding him. In short, it is a great metaphor for the costs of the technological age and in particular the cost of worshipping a smartphone or computer. Which may explain why people avoided it - after all we don't want to look that closely at the such things.

Frightening and disturbing, the structure of the film remains gripping and compelling throughout.
Blows Sorkin's previous effort The Social Network out of the water (that film was poorly paced and too busy, with few roles for women, while this makes up for that.)

Also breakout performance by Kate Winslet.

trailer )
shadowkat: (warrior emma)
Yesterday, I finally made it to see the long-awaited Star Wars flick, The Force Awakens which was directed by JJ Abrhams, and written by Abrhams and Lawrence Kasdan. For a bit of nostalgia, I saw it with my parents - the same people that I'd seen the first three films with...way back in the 1970s and 1980s, when they premiered. (I was debating this recently with my mother - I was 10 years old when I saw the first Star Wars film, and of course adored it. It was after all made with 10 year olds in mind.)

Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Have you ever desired a scrumptious desert? Something you heard about, read about in magazines, beautifully decorated, if a bit on the busy side, and with a rave reviews...only to take a bite and realize, wait, why am I not satisfied by this, what is missing? I want more of the cinnamon or nutty almonds or the chocolate I was promised? I get bits and pieces of it, here and there...but it feels sort of lacking somehow. Lots of things missing. Maybe biting into a cream puff is a better example? (I've admittedly been watching a lot of Holiday baking shows lately, but you probably get the gist.)

The movie tried to do too much and as a result, we lost some of the quieter character moments that made the original two films, Star Wars : A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back - so satisfying. While it did introduce some interesting new characters, it jumped from action scene to action scene, with barely a pause, to actually get to know them enough - to be that engaged or to care. I felt, and this is the best way perhaps of explaining it, that I came into the film in the middle and missed a few scenes or chapters.

That said, it did have a few really good moments, engaging ones, reminiscent of the first two films. And the new characters are interesting and have potential -- I just wish we got a bit more time or back story. Also the old characters, Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbecca, Darth Varder, C-3PO, R2D2, are reintroduced - but, here's the thing, if you didn't know them or hadn't seen the original films -- I'm not sure you'd care? (Then again, is there anyone out there who hasn't seen the original films that would be going to these?? )

It's a fun movie. There's non-stop action, much like watching a video game actually - which most if not all action films have games, geared to a video game playing demographic -- action, action, bit of bantering dialogue, some warm moments of character, more action, more action, big climax, action, action, finale.. So perhaps, I'm the wrong demographic? No time to get bored. We don't have the long tracking shots of the desert walkers, or Luke's ride through the desert hunting for Old Ben, as we did in the first film. The film moves rapidly as if it's on speed, and afraid if it stops to take too long a breath...people will decide it's time for a bathroom break.

I asked my Dad what he thought of the film afterwards, and he stated, cool explosions, and great female hero. Which basically, sums it up.

That's not to say, I didn't enjoy it. It's like that scrumptious desert --- you like bits of it and damn if you don't want another piece -- just to get more of those bits. Or that book you stepped into the middle of..if you could just get your hands on those first two chapters.

Here's the bits that I liked:

mild and vague spoilers )

I just wish there was more time spent on the character relationships and less on fight scenes. There were so many of them. Every ten minutes it felt like -- almost as if the filmmakers were worried that if they waited too long between fight scenes - they'd lose their audience's attention. And that is the difference between this film and the first three films --- we had those quiet moments. There was the bit on the Millennium Falcon when the droids were playing chess with Chewbecca. Or in the bar, where Han was making a deal with a smuggler and then shot him. Or the hunt for Ben, and Ben cooking dinner and healing Luke. I craved those moments. I wanted more time between Han and Leia, instead of a two-minute conversation in between battle planning and fights. I needed more time between Finn/Rey or even Finn and PO. Without that time ---- I found it hard to become emotionally invested.

I realize that's how they do movies now - built as if it were a video game. Enough dialogue to set up the action scene. As if what drives the film is the action scenes, not the plot, not the characters, but the action. I had the same issues with The Avengers film, which felt overly busy and more interested in big action sequences than character development and plot. And the previews of the films prior to this one, struck me much the same way -- Batman vs. Superman - mainly huge action sequences and violent special effects, Avengers: Civil War -- lots of fight sequences, Gods of Egypt - more fight sequences...sigh, it made me miss the films of the 1980s and 1970s, when the special effects were not as advanced.

It's funny, with all the fancy advances in special effects, my Dad said the special effects in this film were no better than the first three, and in some respects the effects in the first three wowed him more.

Again, that's not to say, I didn't enjoy it, here and there. I did. Rey is a great character and has a lot of potential. As does Finn. I didn't get enough of Po, to know one way or the other, which is a failing of the film. And Kylo Ren...I'm curious as to what turned him down that path and why he turned his back on his family. Who Ren is and what he does adds an air of tragedy to the story...which had previously been hopeful. And a sense of despair. While the first three films were largely hopeful... or at least they felt that way.

Rating? Three stars or B
shadowkat: (doing time)
Everything I've watched this weekend, including the Avengers, seems to have the theme of feeling invisible or unimportant, and the need to, ahem, strut one's stuff. To matter. To make a difference somehow. Even if it's just making a legendary cocoa cola commercial. Of the one's I've seen, Birdman and Mad Men were by far the best.

1) The Academy Award Winning Film Birdman is a surrealistic film, starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, and Zach Galifanks. It takes you inside the New York theater world, and the psyche of a former blockbuster film star who has sunk his savings and everything he has into a Broadway play adaptation of Raymond Carver short stories. (Several years back, Robert Altman did a film adaptation of Raymond Carver entitled "Short Cuts". )

Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) used to portray "Birdman" - a comic book superhero in blockbuster movies. But he feels like he was a failure. Has a failed marriage. A daughter just out rehab, who he barely knows, and a stalled career. This is his comeback, his chance to prove that he is an actor. When the film begins, Thompson has just replaced the co-star with a highly touted Broadway Actor, portrayed by Ed Norton, and they are in the midst of previews. Things...well, don't go according to plan. And Thompson appears to be having visions of his alter ego, Birdman, who talks to him.

It's a rather funny film - I burst out laughing during several scenes, and moving in others. There's one scene- that well, had me rolling with laughter.

The focus though is on the idea of accomplishment, of whether creating something, a work of art defines who we are. Do we matter? Does the art matter? If no one likes it? What then?

There's a brilliant scene in the middle of the movie with a theater critic (theater critics as any New Yorker knows are the worst, they can kill a play, which is why many actors never read them). In the scene, the critic informs Thompson she is going to destroy his play, even though she hasn't seen it. Merely because she hates what he represents. That he isn't an actor, just a celebrity. He counters, grabbing a review she's been scribbling at the bar - what has she created? Anything? What is this critique? Just labels? Nothing constructive, nothing about structure, or how the story is built or what worked, or didn't? She's lazy, he tells her. A coward. She labels his work as less than art, not worthy, because it doesn't meet her standards. And informs him that he is entitled, cheap, a maker of cartoons. The cinematographer..warps her face in the image, and she herself feels like a caricature or cartoon in Thompson's eyes.

The film shows the dangers of wrapping one's ego in one's art, and yet, how do we separate the two? Ed Norton's character, Mike, can't get it up unless he's performing in front of a hundred people. It's only real when he's performing. His life is nothing off-stage. He feels that he is nothing, off stage.

Carver himself often wrapped himself up in his stories. And famously was edited to death by his editors, fighting them to keep phrases and words intact.

From Wiki:
Carver's editor at Esquire, Gordon Lish, was instrumental in shaping Carver's prose in this direction - where his earlier tutor John Gardner had advised Carver to use fifteen words instead of twenty-five, Lish instructed Carver to use five in place of fifteen. Objecting to the "surgical amputation and transplantation" of Lish's heavy editing, Carver eventually broke with him.

It's a layered film, that haunts long after the final credits roll. Playing with one's head.

Overall rating? A

[Almost want to write a meta on Mad Man and Birdman, if I had the time - I would.]

2. The film adaptation of the Broadway musical The Last Five Years details the decay of a five year romantic relationship between a successful novelist and a struggling actress. The reviews describe it as the anti-rom com. It stars Jeremy London (of SMASH) and Anna Kendrick (of Pitch Perfect and Into the Woods).

I found it to be a difficult movie to watch. My attention kept wandering during it, and it wasn't compelling. The characters weren't likable. The male lead, Jamie, was...self-absorbed and into his career and his fame. A textbook narcissist. Cathy barely exists outside of his needs. Cathy seems to slowly disappear, when he's on screen - as if she is just an object or someone to reflect his brilliance. He doesn't appear to hear her at all. She falls in love with his smile, his success, and aches for that something more, for love. Constantly searching for something more, something better - convinced she's found it in him, and perhaps her own success will follow. But alas, it doesn't. As he rises, she struggles, one rejection after another. And he's never quite there for her. When she has a shitty day, he tells her a story, a funny one - but doesn't listen to her day or her struggles, instead shrugging them off. And when she tells him how she feels invisible at his book promotion parties...and doesn't want to go through the humiliation again, he sings how she needs to be there for him. By the end of the story, which is told out of order, I was rooting for her to summarily dump him. Instead, as we know from the very beginning, he dumps her.

It has an interesting narrative style - Cathy's side is told in reverse chronological order, while Jamie's is told in chronological order. The film jumps back and forth between them - which is jarring, I think it may have worked better on stage. Their only overlap is the marriage duet in the middle, where they meet. Also the end, has an overlap of their first night and his final goodbye. He is a douchebag, though. At one point, while she's waiting for him to see her in Ohio, to support her, he's busy having an affair with another woman. And after he marries her, all he can think about is all the lovely ladies - and how great they look and how available.

Was a bit disappointed in it - I'd heard of it on NY1 On Stage - Theater Reviews. But it was less than stellar. Rotten Tomatoes appears to have liked it better than I did.
But the theme of falling in someone else's shadow and the hollowness of success...shines through. From the beginning you can tell the relationship is doomed, since the characters never sing a duet, instead they sing solos at one another...the other barely hearing it. And they appear to be more in love with the reflection of themselves in the other's eyes...than what is actually there.

[According Wiki - this was based on the writer's own failed marriage, and his ex-wife threatened to sue him, so he changed various songs and details, to make it less similar.
Writer's? Be careful about writing about yourself. You either come off pathetic or a douchebag.]

3) Broadchurch S2 - drug. I skipped to the end and just watched the last two episodes. Considering I was able to figure out the whole thing based on the last two episodes, and felt no need to go back and watch the rest -- probably says it all.
The court room scenes took me out of the story - they entered a lot into evidence that would have been thrown out in a US court, and the UK can't be that different.

Also, it never quite commented on the fact that both murders were accidental. Actually all three murders were accidental or involuntary manslaughter. There was no clear intent.
See? Having a criminal law background can be detrimental to watching criminal procedurals on television.

It also had a sense or flavor to it of futility. That you put all your energy into a career, but for what purpose? I remember a friend telling me ages ago...your career does not define you. I found it reassuring. I still do.
shadowkat: (doing time)
Finally saw The Avengers with MD. It was either that or Mad Max: Fury Road, we opted for the Avengers, which had been out longer...and was more likely to disappear. Also, we were both tired of avoiding spoilers. And not in the mood for Mad Max. We did dinner first, and those sweet potato fries did not agree with me.

Anyhow..The Avengers...

MD: So what did you think?
Me: I liked the first movie better.
MD: Other than that?
Me: Busy movie. Way too busy. What did you think?
MD: Yep, busy movie. Too many characters. Too much action. Granted there's supposed to be too much action that's what these movies are about. You expect it. But it was trying too hard to be clever and coy, and had too many supporting characters that I didn't know or care about.
ME: Exactly.

Unlike MD, I was actually familiar with the Avengers and have read at various points the comics. I don't like the Avengers that much -- the comics to be fair are as busy as the movie. And the movie is fairly close to what I remember in the comics. So, we both went in with pretty low expectations.
spoilers, albeit vague and mild spoilers )
Busy, busy movie. Too many characters. Too many sub-plots. Too many action scenes - which felt like you were watching a video game. It was fast. Hard to follow and head-ache inducing at times. (Also, people got bored and were pulling out their cell phones...during the action scenes.) Not enough humor or cohesion. The jokes felt forced and often fell flat. And, methinks, Whedon clearly needs to take a vacation from filmmaking and do a non-super hero flick. I could feel his exhaustion/burn-out watching this film -- it made me tired.

Overall rating? C-

Go rent X-men:Days of Future Past instead.

[As an aside, I know a lot of people were upset with Black Widow's arc, but I went into it not expecting all that much. There wasn't all that much in the first film. The comics weren't exactly known for their feminist content. The X-men, yes, the Avengers..not so much. So it was actually better than I thought it would be, but I went in with very low expectations. Weirdly, the most feminist of the Avenger's movies is possibly Captain America and Captain America: Winter Solider.]

[After the movie - took forever for the train to arrive. And there was an incident. Somebody got into a fight, and banged a guys head against the platform. People were screaming for help. And then someone got the cops, who took off running after the assailant, screaming 168, 168. There were 8 cops running after the guy. I didn't see the guy, I saw the cops. The only thing I did - was help one of the cops wave the C train to a stop, because the guy who got attacked was lying uncomfortably close to the edge of the platform, and there were people helping him that were halfway off the edge. I was worried they'd get hit by the train. The guy seemed to be okay, had a concussion.

Then about 20 minutes later, the F train...finally arrived. Texted MD about it - who said, she has a feeling this is going to a crazy summer in NYC. Lovely. I so need a vacation from this city. Hmmm...maybe a retreat to Vermont is called for?]
shadowkat: (warrior emma)
There's been to my knowledge three movies kick-started by fandom.

1. Farscape : The PeaceKeeper Wars - a 4 hour television movie, which wrapped all the loose plot ends of the series, approximately two years after it was summarily canceled by the network. The series ran 4 seasons, ended on a cliff-hanger, and the writer's had an entire 5th season arc pre-written and planned when the network said - too expensive, we're cancelling and going with more Star-Gate instead, because it's so much cheaper to produce and doesn't terrify our advertisers and corporate sponsors. (And you wonder why Farscape fans resented Star Gate and called it names.) The fans cried bloody murder and through active write-in campaigns and fund-raising, managed to convince the network that making a movie was a good idea. This by the way was before we had the social media that we have today. It was back in 2004. [This is by far my favorite of the three. But it was also my favorite there's that.]

2. Firefly : Serenity - a major feature film, which again wrapped up all the loose plot ends, was created after fans cried bloody murder about the premature cancelling of a series that lasted 13 episodes. They wanted to know what happened to the characters - it sort of ended abruptly, to say the least. The fans convinced the studio to make and distribute a film.


3. Veronica Mars Movie - this film was made approximately 8-9 years after the tv series was cancelled. The series was cancelled after three years - in part because UPN was in the process of joining with the WB, and becoming CW. And the writer didn't pitch a good fourth season. The fans wanted more. The writer and his co-stars decided to go on the internet and on a whim start a "kick-starter campaign" - promising fans that if they could raise at least 2 million, they'd make their own Veronica Mars film and get it distributed. They raised that and more within the first two days of it going viral.
Total raised within a month: $5,702,153 with 91,585 backers. So a movie was made.

Is it a good movie? Eh, if you are a fan or enjoyed Veronica Mars, yes. If you never watched the series and weren't much of a fan - probably not. This was clearly made for the die-hard fans, which makes sense considering they paid for it. Actually, that is what all three fan-made films have in common - they were originally cancelled television series with movies made for the fans of those television series. If you never watched the television series - you would be either lost or less than enthused by the films. They aren't reboots or remakes. They are continuations, with the same characters, same actors, and same writers/producers/creators of the television series. So if you didn't like the series? You won't like the films. This by the way isn't the same as what happened with Buffy the Vampire Slayer - which was a failed joke of a movie (it didn't bomb but it came very close) that was rebooted into an iconic and critically acclaimed television series.

I admittedly enjoyed the Veronica Mars series - own the first season on DVD, and watched all three seasons. Haven't felt a pressing need to re-watch it, which means I wasn't exactly a "fan". (I've only really been a true fan of four or five tv shows - Battle Star Galatica (past - I was 12), Farscape, Buffy, Angel, and The Monkeys (I was 8 years old).) In part because the second two seasons were uneven. The last one sort of...meandered off course. At the end of that season, the writer appeared to realize there were major issues and he'd run out of interesting things to say - so he was going to reboot it with Veronica joining the FBI. The network passed.

The movie, thankfully, doesn't go the FBI route. It refers to it, and Veronica states cryptically - that was another life, since she never tried the FBI. Thomas wisely dropped that thread - it was not favored by fans.

Instead - it does what Thomas did best - the classic noir detective story. Seedy Neptune California, with it's low rent movie stars, and dirty cops. Veronica has escaped to pristine and shiny NYC. With a nice boyfriend, Pez from the series (who I can't seem to remember, I'm guessing he was a character and she'd been dating him?), and a shiny law and psychology degree from top schools. She's busy interviewing for a shiny job at a top tier civil litigation firm - as a lawyer. Cameo by Jamie Lee Curtis.
But Neptune calls in the form of her ex, Logan Echolls. Whom she left behind 9 years before, along with her investigative tendencies. Logan has been charged for the murder of his pop star girl-friend. Veronica tries valiantly to ignore his calls - but eventually gives in. Is it Logan pulling her back, or her love of a good mystery?
Possibly both. Add to the fun - it is her 10th year high school reunion, an event she is attempting to avoid, having not enjoyed high school all that much. Actually this movie, Peggy Sue Got Married, and Gross Point Blank are my favorite takes on the high school reunion.

From this point forward, the film follows the classic noir tropes - as Veronica gets pulled deeper and deeper into the seedy relationships of Neptune. And her own somewhat nastier tendencies - breaking and entering, snark, and manipulation. She'll do anything to figure out the case - she's a female Philip Marlow, complete with her own personal male Velma. Her father valiantly tries to get her to go back to NYC. But she puts it off, changing flights...until it becomes increasingly apparent that her heart is in Neptune, and in private detection. She considers the field more honorable for one thing.
(Actually she'd have more power as an attorney, and attorney's are in a way investigators - if you ever worked a criminal law case you'd know. I'm guessing the writers don't quite know what lawyers do - most writers, who weren't lawyers first, don't. But you'd think Thomas would have picked up a legal thriller or caught a John Grisham flick on the side?)

The film, while enjoyable - in part because I enjoyed the series and love this genre,
did feel a bit like a pilot for a new television series. I sort of wish it was. Definitely would have watched it. I enjoyed the Logan/Veronica chemistry. And there's a nice cameo by Kristen Bell's real life husband in a bar scene - where he plays one of many men attempting to pick up Veronica. Their flirt scene is hilarious, particularly if you know they are married. (He's currently in Parenthood.)

I recommend the film to people who loved Veronica Mars. If you didn't, my guess is you'd be hopelessly lost or just bored. But hey, it was made for Veronica Mars fans, so not sure it matters.
shadowkat: (Just breath)
I rather liked this quote from FB:

Depression, anxiety, and panic attacks are not a sign of weakness. They are a signs of having remained strong for far too long. Did you know that 1 in 3 of us go through this at some point in our lives? [Having personally gone through all of the above, I can attest to how reassuring the quote is and how true. Life is tough. People are harsh. Compassion is harder to come by than it should be. We all rely on the kindness of strangers.]

Speaking of the above, just finished watching the Woody Allen film, Blue Jasmine, which is basically Allen doing his own version of Tennesee Williams' Streetcar Named Desire. (Except I think I preferred Streetcar Named Desire...less rambling, more poetry. Allen's characters tend to babble or ramble. While Williams...are more poetic. Also Allen's story takes place in modern day New York City and San Francisco. And, sorry, Andrew Dice Clay is not a young Marlon Brando.) And I've mixed feelings about this film. I can't quite decide if I liked it or not. I'm tempted to say that I didn't - it's depressing. But on the other's also weirdly haunting. A snapshot of life, and a rather realistic one. Again - I ask, why do these types of films, much like their novel counterparts, always focus on pathetic characters and bleak world-views? And I just realized something... what an odd thing to say about a Woody Allen film. It's almost an oxymoron. Allen, after all, rarely does bleak. Oh he does it. But rarely. Even here - he attempts to insert bits of humor.

Cate Blanchett's performance makes the movie. Other than that? Like I said above..I don't really know. Can't say I enjoyed it. Found it rather slow and difficult to watch in places, which may just be a mood thing? Humorous, it's not. It's more in line with Allen's darker character sketches, such as Match, Crimes and Misdeamenors, Husbands and Wives, Hannah and Her Sisters...

* Does repeat some bits from other Allen films, which Allen appears to be somewhat obsessed with, cheating husband and the deranged wife, mostly due to the husband falling for another woman. Other Allen films that reference this are:

Crimes and Misdemeanors
Hannah and Her Sisters
Husbands and Wives

I can't help but think Allen is struggling to find a way of apologizing or explaining his infidelity? Or womanizing? Womanizing appears in a lot of his stories. His supporting male character is a womanizer and he's usually the villain or antagonist, albeit a complex and somewhat inept one - keep in mind, Woody Allen. And the female heroine gets her revenge on him, somehow. Which is interesting.

There's also, always a neurotic character - whose the protagonist. In the darker ones - it tends to be the female character, in the comedic ones, it's the male character.

In this one, Cate Blanchett is the neurotic character, Jasmine. Who inadvertently appears to leave destruction in her wake. But she doesn't really. The other characters use her as a convenient scapegoat, a means to shirk their own responsibility for their own choices. Allen and Blanchett imbue her with a vulnerability and a sense of pride. Her fatal flaw appears to be her pride, and her desire to lie to herself about everything. As a result she's a very good liar - and lies to others as well. Telling them the lies she's told herself.

* Say what you will about Woody Allen films, he certainly creates powerful roles for women. He's also a lot like Alfred Hitchcock in that he will film several movies often with the same leading lady. His films often focus on a woman or have a female point of view. In this respect he reminds me a bit of Hitchcock and of Tennesee Williams, who also created great roles for women.

While I can't say I found the film enjoyable, it was fascinating in its character explorations - Allen films tend to be more character centric than plot centric. Jasmine is an interesting character. She's in the midst of a nervous breakdown and hanging by a thread.
As the movie progresses, you watch as various characters slowly pull and yank and unravel that thread. In some respects she helps them, unwittingly. They don't appear to see Jasmine at all. OR hear her. The characters don't listen to each other. Nor do they really connect. It's a rather sad film...about the human condition, with little hope. And while not nearly as intense or melodramatic as Williams' Streetcar, it's still as hopeless.

* The musical score is jazz...a soft burr in the background. Blue Moon...whispering on the airwaves at various points. Making one think more of New Orleans than Frisco or NYC. Which may be why its there...a homage to Williams' Streetcar, which does not hum with jazz, but more with the blues.

* Like I stated above, this is a hard film to watch and a harder one to like. From a purely objective standpoint - it is quite good. Also...haunting. I cringed through most of it. vague plot spoilers )

* It was admittedly hard to watch this film without thinking about the recent Woody Allen scandal, which I've worked hard to ignore. This has happened once before with another Allen film - Husbands and Wives, throughout that film, I kept thinking about the Mia Farrow and Woody Allen scandal (which is when that scandal first arose - gives you an idea how long that scandal has been going on, since Husbands and Wives was made in 1992 and was about 15 films ago. Allen is anything if not prolific. how a scandal can interfer with your film enjoyment and one vague plot spoiler )

So distracting. I keep wondering how I would have felt about the film, if I didn't know anything about Allen's personal life? There's something to be said about not breaking the fourth wall. Allen is not the first director/writer/actor I've pondered that question about nor will he be the last.

* There's a sly commentary on how poorly society handles mental illness. plot spoilers )

See, hard to like, but also hard to forget.
shadowkat: (warrior emma)
Finally saw Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing - which was all the rage online this summer, or at least amongst the Shakespeare/Whedon fans.

First, off, this was clearly a vanity project (and in more ways than one). But to be fair, it was also a vanity project for Kenneth Brannagh, who had a bigger budget and more support, plus had to include box office stars to obtain the support. Some of which did not quite know what to do with Shakespeare. I'm wondering if Brannah shouldn't have starred in it and directed it? Because Keanu Reeves and Michael Keaton butchered Shakespeare.

Not sure what it is about Much Ado About Nothing and rich Hollywood directors...why that play in particular? May be because it is easier than some of the other ones...
I watched the Making Of - hoping to get an answer to that question - I didn't. Did get an answer to why they filmed it in black and white - to date it and as a homage to the noir films of the Jazz age. It also hid the big orange lawn-mower. Note to filmmakers who do commentaries and "Making Of" - the viewer doesn't want to know how great you all are or how much fun you had or how often you partied or what bosom buddies you've become, we don't know you and do not care...that's boring. We want to know why you chose to do certain things, like why push-ups in that scene? Why that era?

Overall? The movie is actually pretty good. The acting is better than expected. I'd have to say that in some respects, I think it worked better than Kenneth Brannagh's version (although haven't seen that one in 18 years). Nathan Fillion surprised me - his Dogberry was not only funny, but I could understand what he was saying. And Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof - not only have chemistry, but both appear to be comfortable with Shakespeare, so too was Reed Diamond and Clark Gregson, who apparently can act. Who knew? Read more... )
shadowkat: (warrior emma)
It was raining today, although rather balmy at 57 degrees. So there was that. But still raining. So I stayed in and watched telly. Far too much telly. Did however see a rather good documentary entitled I AM by Tom Shadyac, the director of Ace Ventura, Bruce Almighty, and Patch Adams. The documentary is a philosophical one...with a similar message to The Cloud Atlas, albeit with less violence.
Tom Shadyak had a major bike accident back in 2007, which left him with post-concussive syndrom...depressed, in constant pain, and wanting to die. During this period he discovered that he wanted to say something - before he died. But what was it? So he took a small film crew and went on a journey of discovery - to determine the answer to two questions:

What is wrong with this world and what can I do to change it? Ironically, what he discovered was what was right with the world. And that we had been interpreting it wrong. He had. The pursuit of fame, money, fortune, and acquisition of material goods and accolades had not resulted in happiness. At the time of the filmmaking, Tom had over five properties, a private jet, amongst other material possessions. What works, what is hard-wired in our DNA is an interconnectedness with all people and living things. Science has recently determined that we share DNA across species. That cooperation, love, compassion and empathy have furthered the planet and who we are. That hording wealth, and competition actually set us back a bit. Some competition is necessary, but not to the degree that we've taken it.
Also, the one natural rule that only humans appear to break - is not to take more than you need.

Here's a blurb about the film:

It was a revelation to me that for tens of thousands of years, indigenous cultures taught a very different story about our inherent goodness,” Shadyac marvels. “Now, following this ancient wisdom, science is discovering a plethora of evidence about our hardwiring for connection and compassion, from the Vagus Nerve which releases oxytocin at simply witnessing a compassionate act, to the Mirror Neuron which causes us to literally feel another person’s pain. Darwin himself, who was misunderstood to believe exclusively in our competitiveness, actually noted that humankind’s real power comes in their ability to perform complex tasks together, to sympathize and cooperate.”

Shadyac’s enthusiastic depiction of the brighter side of human nature and reality, itself, is what distinguishes I AM from so many well-intentioned, yet ultimately pessimistic, non-fiction films. And while he does explore what’s wrong with the world, the film’s overwhelming emphasis is focused on what we can do to make it better. Watching I AM is ultimately, for many, a transformative experience, yet Shadyac is reluctant to give specific steps for viewers who have been energized by the film. “What can I do?” “I get asked that a lot,” he says. “But the solution begins with a deeper transformation that must occur in each of us. I AM isn’t as much about what you can do, as who you can be. And from that transformation of being, action will naturally follow.”

Far more entertaining than expected, and moving. Featuring interviews with the following
luminaries as David Suzuki, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Lynne McTaggart, Ray Anderson, John Francis, Coleman Barks, and Marc Ian Barasch. Also detailed bits on scientific experiments determining that the heart feeds information to the brain, not necessarily the other way around.

My only critic is the film feels a bit manipulative in places and choppy in others, also I think he oversells his point. But, other than that it is a lovely film and rather uplifting, not to mention inspiring. One of the points of the film - is everything little thing we do is important. There is not such thing as a tiny action. And it takes a lot of steps to do something. Don't take it all on at once.
shadowkat: (warrior emma)
First off, a caveat, I have not read the book by David Mitchell upon which this movie was adapted. So can't really compare the two. I do own the book, was a Xmas gift from my brother once upon a time, but have not gotten around to reading it yet. If the book is anything at all like the movie - I'm in no rush.

Cloud Atlas was directed by the Wachowski brothers (the guys behind The Matrix), and starred Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Dona Yabow, and a truly unrecognizable Hugh Grant. They each played six different roles. Must have been a blast for the actors.

The film is rather hard to follow. You are in effect watching six separate films at the same
time. Jumping from one to the next with little transition or warning. And the only through lines are: the same actors in each story, each story is violent or concluded with varying degrees of violence, one of the characters has a comet tattoo (one tattoo that appears in different places on their anatomy), and in each story - someone keeps repeating the theme of the entire film:

we are all connected to each other, we do not really belong to ourselves but to those others upon whom our actions, crimes and kindnesses affect, and what we've done resonates well into our pasts, presents and the time yet to come.

This is repeated various times through the film, by various characters.

And just in case the audience hasn't gotten that point - the three stories that take place in the future or more recent times reference the three stories that took place in the distant past. They underline certain key events and/or have specific characters state - oh, I just had the weirdest sense of deja-vue, referencing that specific event, or they'll shoot of a line or phrase, which becomes a major reality in another story (example: in the 1960s, Cavendish exclaims that Soylent Green is people - as a joke, clearly referencing a movie at the time, while in the distant future, a character discovers that it is more or less true.)

Subtle - this film is not, but then it is by the Wachowiski brothers, who aren't exactly known for deftness or subtlety in their film-making.

Oh, and I almost forgot - the one through line that I liked - the composition of a musical work entitled "The Cloud Atlas", which pops up in three of the six stories, and is described as a sextet - an obvious allusion to the narrative structure of the film (six stories juxtaposed neatly as stanzas within the composition of a 3 hour film) - all informing or building upon each other. That's the intent behind the narrative structure at any rate. Which is sort of cool in theory, but doesn't quite work in practice. I kept getting lost or my attention wandered. The jumping around is bit jarring. I think it may have worked better if they'd gone for a more linear narrative. On the other hand - the plot threads are all rather simplistic. Even when my attention wandered, I was able to get the gist of what was happening, although not always how it connected to the other stories.

While there are compelling bits here and there, segments that I sort of wish were shown as separate little movies in their own right, the film falls into the same trap as Christopher Nolan's INCEPTION, in that it feels the need to have the all the stories center on violent events, or action - as if everyone's life is an action movie. It's not. Or we all have violent events in our lives. We don't. I think this film much like Inception, would have worked better if it intermingled quieter and happier stories within the violent/action oriented ones.

That said, it admittedly has a nifty message. And I agree with the overall theme, even if it is a wee bit on the preachy side of the fence. Also there are three films within the film (it's a sextet, with six films bracketed within the whole) that stand out. The two that stand out are:
mild plot spoilers )
The others felt a bit...cliche in places or retreads of other stories I've seen. But overall entertaining, just hard to follow due to the narrative structure.

I think the problem with Cloud Atlas is similar to the problem I had with Time of the Doctor, which is the directors are trying to do too much in a limited time frame, and they are putting theme over story and plot. The whole story is based on what amounts to a narrative gimmick utilized to make a thematic point, and that takes precedence over simply telling the stories. While the gimmick is admittedly clever and I rather like the thematic point -both lose meaning and substance, when the stories fall flat as a result.

Overall? I agree with the critics...nice idea, but flimsy execution. I'm guessing the book may have worked better? It's actually easier to do this in a novel than a movie - less jarring and you have more time to pull it off.
shadowkat: (Calm)
Finished watching the 1980 video of Pippin this afternoon courtesy of Netflix, complete with Bob Fosse's original choreography and staging.

To see a sample, go here:

The best thing about this was the dancing and music. Also Ben Vereen is amazing.

Here's two versions of the opening number Magic to Do, with Ben Vereen and the revival with Patina Miller. The first is more jazzy, with a magic show vibe, the second has a cirque de soliel or circus act vibe.

Read more... )
But you really have to watch this video to understand:

The video is a marvelous satirical and clever critique of the drive for War. It's a feat of dance and song that few musicals come close to equaling.

The story itself is a simple and relateable one, it is about the son of Charlemagne who wants to find meaning in life, wants to accomplish something extraordinary, to find his corner of his sky. So he tries solidering, then the simple joys (hedonism), social justice and revolution, being emperor or ruler, and finally a simple land-owner, husband, and father. Bored to distraction, he leaves and the players attempt to convince him to do the last big magic act - set himself on fire and go out in a burst of flame. He refuses and chooses to go back to his life as a land-owner, with no costumes, makeup, flourishes, or lights. When asked if he feels like a coward or feels wonderful. He states, no just trapped, but hey since this is a musical comedy? Yay!

There some truly wonderful and timeless songs in it - including: War is a Science, Corner of the Sky, Magic to Do, Spread a Little Sunshine, Morning Glow, Simple Joys, and War is Glory.

Still want to see the revival, just not as badly as before. The book is witty in places and unlike HAIR, not dated.

2. Read an interview in EW this weekend with yet another Hollywood filmmaker, you may have heard of him? Joss Whedon? Here are some snippets:

Snippets from Joss Whedon Interview in Entertainment Weekly )
shadowkat: (Just breath)
Sweaty day, with highs in the 90s, although it will feel like a 100. Thank ghod, I have air conditioning. Have boot, will hopefully travel. Doc says I'm stuck with it for two weeks. But hey, at least I'm mobile. And just got permission from him to return to work on Monday. (Woo-hoo! Being stuck in my apartment for another week would have driven me batty.)

Just finished watching the flick Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson. Who also did the The Royal Tennenbaums, Bottle Rocket, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Rushmore. He's touted by many, I personally think he's highly overrated.

Anderson's directorial style is basically focused more on visuals, and less on dialogue or performance. People don't act in an Anderson film, they either react or just meander.
And it is really hard to give a damn about his characters, which while quirky, feel sort of one dimensional or like paper dolls.

See? Not a fan of Anderson. Which is why I didn't rent or bother to pay for this flick. I saw it on HBO. So sort of paid for it, but since I'm getting HBO for other things, not really.

This film, sorry to say, is not one of his better flicks. While I sort of liked Rushmore and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom reminded me a tad too much of The Royal Tennebaums - which sorry to say was neither memorable nor compelling.

This is unfortunate because the plot had potential. It's about an orphan boy named Sam who becomes enamored with a troubled 12 year old girl that he saw perform in a play. They correspond during the course of one summer, and then decide to run away together for ten weeks, while he is at a boy scout camp on the island in which she resides. Unfortunately they choose to do this during a hurricane in 1965. Although it could have been any time between 1950 and 1975, couldn't really tell. I only know it was 1965, because we are told by a narrator that it is 1965. At any rate, much comedic chaos ensues. But it is all relatively unemotional - as if you are watching robots act it out.

The kids are cute, but expressionless, as is everyone in the cast. You can't say it's bad acting, considering we have Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, and Tilda Swinton performing the adult roles. In the role of the little boy, is Henry from Once Upon a Time. He's better in Once Upon a Time, or at least more expressive.

Like all Anderson films there are a few moments from theater of the absurd, which are amusing. One is when we watch Sam (the little boy's) fellow boy scouts chase him around a field from a distance. The other is when the head scout master played by Harvey Keitel (I think he's only cast as an inside joke - ie. Harvey Keitel is a scout master? Hee Hee) discovers Ed Norton's scout master has managed to lose his entire troop. But these moments are few and far between.

The location is pretty - it looks like some of the inlets in Bar Harbor, Maine.

I have no idea why people loved this movie. I was frankly, bored during most of it. And found it difficult to care. There was, like in all Anderson films, a sense of falseness or "theater" to the proceedings. You felt like you were watching an amateur video film.
In short, much like Tim Burton, Anderson is far more interested in style than substance.
Movie watching is clearly a subjective sport. And well, Anderson is either one of those directors you adore to pieces, or are deeply ambivalent about.

Overall rating? B-/C+
shadowkat: (Calm)
Another crisp and clear sky-blue day. In the upper 40s and low 50s, not sure what that is in Celsius. Spring for what it is worth has apparently arrived in NYC, complete with trees in full bloom and daffodils and tulips budding. Went to the farmer's market, bought fresh tomato sauce, apples, and eggs, then wandered home - since my back was bugging me.

1. Just finished watching the surrealistic award winning film : Beasts of the Southern Wild - which is about a 6 year old little girl who lives in the Mississippi Delta with her father when Hurricane Katrina hits. It is told completely from "Hushpuppy" - the little girl's perspective, hence the surreal nature. I can see why it got mixed reviews, and it is admittedly slow in places - sort of like watching a visual poetry. Which in a way is reminiscent of Terrence Malik films, albeit less arrogant and not as self-indulgent. Definitely not everyone's cup of tea as the case may be. I know at least two people who despised the film and found it to be dull and over-rated, while most of the people who reviewed it online loved it.

In places the film is rather magical...and the cinematography astounding, in others it sort of meanders and wanders...and I start to drift asleep much as I did during Sofia Coppola's far less interesting and definitely overrated films - The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation. This film has a lot more to say than Coppola did and isn't as self-indulgent and silly. But is sort of in the same film sub-genre - surrealism. There are better films out there that Beasts matches, such as Luis Buneal's That Obscure Object of Desire, or the film Black Orpheus. (I watched a lot of these films in my 20s and 30s, and my brother made one or two.)

In some respects Beasts of the Southern Wild reminds me more of another surrealistic piece about the Southern US, this time the Gullah, entitled Daughter's of the Dust, except I think it, Beasts of the Southern Wild is ever so slightly better - it's narrative is tighter and more focused, in part because there are less characters.

It's really about a child navigating the difficult terrain between life and death and who she is, consciousness, and her purpose for being. She's practically raising herself at this point anyhow - so it is a tragic yet equally uplifting story about Hushpuppy's survival - in difficult circumstances. She has next to nothing, her father is ill and dying, and her mother gone - and she lives next to or literally on the sea or as she calls it The bathtub.
Away from society, in a small close community. And since we see everything through her eyes - the adults seem wacky and incomprehensible most of the time. She's attempting to make sense of her surroundings and her place within them. Coming to the conclusion that everything is connected and she is part of the whole and matters because she is a piece of it.

Watching a bit like watching a very long visual prose poem. If you don't like that sort of thing...I wouldn't rent it. If you do - you'll most likely adore it. Poetry doesn't quite work for everyone, I've discovered. Wish it did, sometimes I think life would be easier if it did, but it is what it is.

2. Doctor Who Episode - Hide - one of the better Doctor Who episodes to date, which admittedly surprised me, because people were comparing it to the Rings of Achteung episode, which I did not like. [ETA: Apparently the same writer wrote both. Oh well, we're all granted one bad episode after all.] This one was much much better written. Hard to tell it was from the same writer - the two episodes are nothing alike. It's actually my favorite of this season, so far.

eh spoilers )
shadowkat: (work/reading)
And we're back to below 30 temps. It's 22 F, or below 0 C. Wind Chill today was in the teens. (Still not as bad as it gets in the midwest and northeast, where it often got to 30 below 0, and I'd look at the weatherman and think, seriously? (well not seriously - we didn't use that word in the 1990s and 80s) When it gets below 0 , who cares - it's cold and I don't want to venture outside. Feel much the same way when it got above 100 - it was like a competition or something - how high can we go?
It was 115 yesterday, today it is relatively chilly at a 105.

Temp in apartment fluctuates between 64-74 degrees.

Anyhow, just finished watching a rather fun and mindless juke-box musical flick, entitled Rock of Ages. Needless to say I liked it a bit more than the NY Times Reviewer - although generally speaking I agree with the reviewer and I'm also not a)film critic, b) had low expectations, c) saw it on DVD not in the theater (so paid less), and d) happen to like cheesy 1980s rock ditties by bands like Foreigner, Journey, REO Speedwagon, Twisted Sister and Poison. The film is based on the Broadway Smash Juke-Box Musical "Rock of Ages" - that reminds me a great deal of Mamma Mia in that it's just a party musical. In short, just plain mindless fun.

Highlight? Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand singing REO Speedwagon's "I Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore" as they realize they are in love. Also Tom Cruise singing "Steel Cowboy". Cruise is amazingly good as the whispering, somewhat crazed "Stacee Jaaxx". Say what you will about Cruise, he can act. Baldwin just mostly phones it in.

It's hilarious in places, and a lot of fun. Plus the tunes are just hummable, earworm, ditties.
A lot of the 1980s music was great hummable earworm stuff. I love hard rock 80s music.

My favorite bands of the 80s, though, weren't really represented.

* Depech Mode
* Berlin
* Rush - Today's Tom Sawyer is a classic
* The Cure
* The Clash
* The Smiths
* The Moody Blues
* Duran Duran - Hungry Like a Wolf and A View to a Kill
* Led Zepplin
* Queen

Although I admittedly was into REO Speedwagon, Journey, Foreigner, and others of that ilk. Didn't buy their albums though - I taped off of other people's CD's and the radio. By 1987, I had over 1000 tapes. Got rid of all of them recently - they don't hold up well. Apparently records hold up the best - which no one knew back then. We all thought CD's did, silly us. In fact, all these people thought CD's had better sound than records, now they are all saying the opposite, and denying they ever said anything different.

If you decide to ever rent this musical - it helps if you happen to like cheesy 1980s music like "I Can't Stop This Feeling Anymore" or "Sister Christian" or "Don't Stop Believing". If you don't?
Don't wast your time. In short, leave the brain at home and just go with it. It's like the musical Burlesque and Mamma Mia - it ain't looking for any awards, it's just having fun.
shadowkat: (Default)
Saw Looper finally on DVD last night. Quite pleased that I didn't bother paying $13 dollars to see it in the movie theater and waited to get it courtesy of netflix. (Although, considering it took me three weeks to get around to seeing it...might as well have spent that amount.)

While it has some interesting special effects and a fascinating premise, overall the basic story has been done to death by now and it was disappointing and over-hyped. Reminded me a great deal of Inception actually, with some of the same problems - great concept, interesting execution, boring script.

The story is about a hit man or looper, named Joe in the year 2044. This future world is run by organized crime lords, and inhabited by vagrants, drug-addicted hitmen, call girls, and people with TK. The TK's can only float quarters or so we are told. In the not too distant future, time travel is invented then outlawed, except for organized crime lords who use it to kill people they don't like by sending the guy back in time to be executed by a looper. The guy or gal is tied up, a hood put over their head, sliver bars on their back and sent back. The looper kills them. Collects the silver and deposes of the unknown body. Then sometime down the line, the Looper's contract is terminated...when his loop is closed, ie - the older version is sent back in time for him to kill. Things are going hunky-dory, until suddenly without warning everyone's loops are closed. Apparently some guy named the Rainmaker - has come on the scene and manipulated the crime lords of the future to close everyone's loops. Joe's loop is closed, but his older self escapes him and goes after the Rain-maker, who is a ten year old kid at this point in time and not really hurting anyone, with the aim to kill the kid before he grows up to be the evil monster that takes his life away from him. (Keep in mind - old Joe is a cold-blooded killer, so how evil can the Rainmaker really be if he is killing off former cold-blooded killers like Joe?)

Now, you'd think this would provide lots of interesting scenes between Young Joe and Old Joe. Or a commentary on memory and how it can change or how going back in time changes our future and not necessarily in a way we'd like. But no. It's a standard noir action film about motherly love and self-sacrifice. In short, Inception Take II - lots of pointless and gratiutious violence and not enough story.

Also once again it underlines all the problems I have with Time Travel movies and books - which is they never really address the problematic nature of time travel or the physics and the temporal anomalies caused - ie. if you pull this small thread you unravel the whole tapestry or story. People who write these tales seem to be too limited in their focus and don't realize every little choice we make effects everything like skipping stones across a pound. (Ray Bradbury's The Sound of Thunder got this bit across quite well.) The only series that addressed this was LOST. Also Star Trek sort of did. But just doesn't quite work. It feels a bit too similar to Back to the Future/The Butterfly some respects and not enough like The Sound of Thunder - that short story by Ray Bradbury. In short - I saw all the plot holes in the structure.

The acting, direction and visual special effects are good, the story just is a bit on the lame side of the fence in the whole been there, done that fifty million times already can't we come up with something new already mode. And seriously, if you are going to play with time travel - please think about the science of it for ten seconds.

Can see why this one faded from memory at award time. Sad that Bruce Willis thinks this is the best movie he's ever done. I personally thought Twelve Monkey's was more interesting.

Overall rating? B-
shadowkat: (Default)
Just got back from seeing Skyfall. To the people who didn't like it? IT'S A BOND FILM!
Okay, now that's over with....

But that's more or less the sum of it.

Skyfall is possibly the best of the Bond films and does a lovely job of capping the Judi Dench films. In some respects it works as a nice bridge between the Dench era and the Scean Connery/Roger Moore era. And if you've seen practically all the Bond films, as I have, you'll appreciate the shout-outs and inside jokes. Such as ...Bond being a Scot, because Connery was Scottish. Craig in many respects reminds me a lot of Connery's Bond, both fit the character in the books or my image of him at any rate.

And it's a treat for people like myself who not only read the books but saw most, if not all of the films. I think the only one I didn't see was last of the Pierce Bronsan films - the one with Halle Berry - I skipped that one.

Gotta give the Brits credit on this point, folks, no one does long-running film and tv franchises better than the Brits. Oh, we Yanks try...but the closest we've come is maybe Star Trek...and that's not quite cutting it. The Brit's managed to do 50 years of James Bond films off of a series of books, and not to be outdone...on TV, did 50 years of Doctor Who...and oh yes, least we forget?
Sherlock Holmes, anyone? And of course there's also...Harry Potter - the first time anyone has successfully done a serial film series that last seven movies, that I'm aware of. The disturbing thing about this - is they are all male centric series, and all about powerful men. Proof, in case you needed any that in our cultural media at least...white male privilege still reignes supreme and yes, we are all sadly to blame for it. We like to justify it, or live in denial, but it is true. Folks. We live in a sexist society because we choose to. That said, Bond is getting a little less sexist as the years roll by, as is for that matter Doctor Who, I'm on the fence about Sherlock. Bond, Who, and Sherlock got less racist a lot earlier, I's taking longer on the sexism bit. But let's face it...when you watch Doctor Who, Bond or Sherlock - you sort of ignore these things or try to. And are bloody well surprised when they aren't quite as sexist as you expected. Have to say Dame Judi Dench did a great job of cutting through some of that trademark Bond sexism, as well as explaining it. And of the Bond films this one is by far the least sexist and least racist. Kudos.

Skyfall is a film that works better on a big than small screen. So do recommend lugging your ass off to the cineplax to see it, if you like Bond films. Sam Mendes is an excellent director and the cinematogrpahy is above par. There's a sequence on the Scottish Moors with fire blazing behind that is quite...striking. Amongst other bits - Bond's entrance in Macau...through an ocean garden filled with floating lanterns, and a fight sequence in Shang-hai. None of these scenes would resonate quite so adeptly on a smaller screen.

The story is amongst the better ones, possibly the best I've seen. It focuses on the characters and what they are doing and the human cost. In short it is not quite mindless fun. It's not the Avengers (nothing against the Avengers, I enjoyed it...but that was good mindless fun with nothing to say). The director and writers appear to have something to say about this brave new world we are living in and how we got there.

spoilers, albeit vague in places... )
The theater was packed. And seeing the film required a bit of patience and tolerance. For one thing they had no picture for a bit - this was during the trailers. A few industrious audience members did go and complain, thank god. I couldn't without losing my seat. So they fixed it. Then we saw an hours worth of previews. Seriously...the film was supposed to start at 3:20, it didn't start until closer to 4:20. I don't mind previews...but an hour's worth is a bit much. Even if they are halfway decent. Right now the only previewed films I have any interest in seeing are: Iron Man 3, Les Miz, and The Hobbit. Everything else...I can skip. But no text messaging during the film thank god. It had too much action - so held everyone's attention.

Overall? A great Bond film. And a better than average action film, actually I'd say it was one of the better action films that I've seen.

If you don't like this sort of thing? Skip it. If you do...see it in the movie theater.
shadowkat: (Default)
Horrible mood this morning. People downstairs can't seem to figure out how to regulate the heat, so they blasted the radiators at 1am-3am, then again at 5am-7am. I had to open a window and turn on the air conditioning. (It was 82 degrees inside and 38 degrees outside). Went downstairs at 1am to get the email address, but wrote it down wrong. Knocked on their door this morning...and they said that the heat was off now. I said it's still radiating in my apartment. They explained how difficult and impossible it is to regulate. I explained, well up until now, it usually was too cold. Me: Call the landlord and ask.

I'll give them two more nights, then I'm emailing the landlord. I can't afford to get sick. I need sleep. Feel guilty about whining over this - since so many people don't have any heat and are freezing. I wish I could give them my heat at night.

Saw David Fincher's version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo last night. Prior to watching this film, I'd seen the Swedish adaptation/version, and read the book. The best of the three? The David Fincher version - no contest. I actually enjoyed the story and found it interesting and compelling for the first time.

Now before you say, oh, she's an American, of course she liked the American version better - I've watched a lot of foreign films, and generally speaking I actually prefer the foreign versions. I expected to like the Swedish version more. I didn't see this in movie theater in part because I dislike American remakes of Foreign tv shows and films. The Vanishing, The Kingdom Hospital, La Femme Nikita, and Let the Right One In are just a few examples of foreign films that were better than American adaptations.

But whomever directed the Swedish version/adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo isn't very good, and directed that film and adapted it much the way you might do a television film. I actually have a review of the Swedish version somewhere in my livejournal, which I can't find at the moment.

And film, like it or not, is in many respects about direction. Theater is the actors playground, television is the writer's, and film is the director's. David Fincher is an A list director, well-known for Oscar nominated fair such as Seven, Fight Club, Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network. He is hands on - directly involved in casting, writing, and production.

Fincher's take on Girl is in some respects better than the original book. He changes the right things, emphasizes the right things, and casts it beautifully.

For the first time, I was actually curious to know what happened after the end.

Unlike the Swedish adaptation, Fincher keeps the following things:
vague spoilers for book and all three films )

At any rate, if you haven't read the book or seen either film? Skip the Swedish versions and watch Fincher's. You can thank me or not, later.

Overall rating? A
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