Friday, December 22, 2017

Experimental Films of the 1950s

In the 1940s the experimental film scene was thriving due to the increased availability of filmmaking equipment and production programs at universities, and this trend continued in the 1950s. These films were also seeing greater exposure due to the rise of festivals like Cannes. A lot of the key avant-garde figures of the 1940s continued their work, but there were several notable new faces as well.

The most important experimental work of this decade was Hiroshima Mon Amour, from French director Alain Resnais, who was a key figure in the French New Wave of the late 1950s and 1960s. As opposed to the slightly more mainstream directors associated with Cahiers du Cinema like Jean-Luc Godard and Fran├žois Truffaut, Resnais was part of the Left Bank group that also included Agnes Varda and Jacques Demy. The Left Bank was more associated with leftist political views and made films that were less referential than the Right Bank.

Hiroshima Mon Amour came out in 1959, and along with Truffaut's The 400 Blows that same year, basically started off the French New Wave as a movement.

At the time, Resnais had only made documentary shorts, most notably 1955's Night and Fog about the Holocaust. Hiroshima Mon Amour was his first feature-length movie as well as his first fictional work, although it did start out as a documentary short no longer than 45 minutes that grew bit by bit into a feature.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Influence of David Lynch

Despite being highly experimental, filmmaker David Lynch has had a far-reaching impact on not only films and television, but other forms of art as well, such as music and video games.

One of the most well-known directors often cited as being influenced by Lynch is Quentin Tarantino. The most commonly used examples are Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart and this isn't surprising as they portray violent criminals having trivial conversations. However, Tarantino is clearly a very different filmmaker and I definitely can't see him making something like Mulholland Drive or Inland Empire.

Tarantino's work has a very different tone and is much more meta and referential, and the Lynchian elements were more prominent in his early films like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and True Romance. He was most notably connected to Lynch by one of my favorite authors, David Foster Wallace.

Wallace considered the cutting off of the ear scene in Reservoir Dogs as a blatant reference to the severed ear of Blue Velvet. He also referred to the "long, self-consciously mundane dialogues on pork, foot massages, TV pilots, etc. that punctuate Pulp Fiction's violence" as textbook Lynch, as well as the "creepy/comic stylization" of the violence. He even went as far as to say that Tarantino's films wouldn't exist without David Lynch.

I think he might be overselling the connection a bit here, and I don't know that I agree with his characterization of Marcellus' neck bandage as Lynchian. But this article was written in 1996 and the work of the two directors has diverged strongly since then.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Experimental Films of the 1940s

The 1940s were a time of great growth in the world of experimental and avant-garde film, especially in the United States. This was partly due to the increased availability of 16mm film equipment and projectors and that universities were starting to have film production departments.

The most important experimental filmmaker of the 1940s was clearly Maya Deren, who was also one of the most significant avant-garde directors period. In addition, she's up there with the all-time female directing greats, especially in an era when there were so few women directors.

Maya Deren

Born in 1917 in Kiev, her work disregarded conventional logic as well as temporal or spatial continuity. Deren shot, wrote, and edited her own films, with her rhythmic, stream-of-consciousness editing style being especially influential and marking a strong contrast to Classical Hollywood Cinema.

Furthermore, Deren was a film theorist, dancer, photographer, and poet. She was very interested in Haitian Voodoo and filmed many hours of their rituals, even joining the ceremonies herself.

She was also involved in politics, specifically socialist causes as she was part of a Trotskyist organization in the late 1930s.

Deren is often lumped in with surrealists like Bunuel or Cocteau, but she specifically rejected European surrealism.

Deren began her career in 1943 with Meshes of the Afternoon, co-directed with her husband, Alexander Hammid, and they also starred in the film. Shot on a 16 mm Bolex camera and costing under $300 to make, it was silent, black and white, and lasted 14 minutes. There was a score added in the 1950s, so keep in mind if you watch this online, any music was added later.

Meshes abandons narrative and traditional concepts of causality and instead aims to give the viewer a dream or trance-like feeling, with techniques like double exposure, slow motion, and false eyeline matches. It features the iconic hooded figure whose face is a mirror, and this makes for a striking, memorable image.

Meshes of the Afternoon is easily one the most seminal experimental films ever made, and her experiments with time, causality, and identity strongly affected directors like David Lynch, as seen in his films Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, and his TV show Twin Peaks. If you haven't seen any of the films I mention here, start with Meshes of the Afternoon.

The next year in 1944, the husband and wife duo released another silent short in the vein of Meshes called At Land. Like in her first film, logic is thrown out the window and time and space are played with. Characters seemingly transport to another location in an instant and footage of waves is played backwards. Chess pieces move on their own and Deren herself crawls on the table at a social gathering. No one seems to notice her and this has been construed as a criticism of social norms.

A Private Life of a Cat was produced by Deren and Hammid around this time, with some sources placing it at 1944 and others in 1947. It features no humans whatsoever, just cats going about their daily lives. It does feature a pretty gross scene of a cat giving birth, which I wish I hadn't witnessed.

Other works Deren created in the 1940s include Meditation on Violence and A Study in Choreography for Camera.

A filmmaker whose impact would eventually rival that of Deren's began working in the 1940s, and that's American Kenneth Anger, who has cited her as an inspiration. Anger made several films in the early 1940s, but his earliest surviving one was the transgressive Fireworks in 1947, made while he was still in high school.

Kenneth Anger

Anger was one the earliest openly homosexual directors and Fireworks was among the first examples of a film with gay themes. This led to Anger getting arrested on obscenity charges, and the case eventually ended up in the California Supreme Court.

This isn't surprising given the social climate of the era and the fact that the movie isn't subtle or coded in its depiction of homosexuality. Unlike most of the other films in this article, there are moments of humor, and they're unsurprisingly sexual in nature. It's not quite as surreal as Deren's work, but Anger himself described Fireworks as a "dream of a dream", and it shows a clear influence from French surrealist director Jean Cocteau.

After Meshes, this is the second most important experimental film of the 1940s.

Two years later in 1949 Anger made Puce Moment, a six-minute dialogue-free color short, that is a fragment of what was intended to be a longer work called "Puce Women". It consists of a somewhat deranged looking woman getting ready to go out, choosing between dresses, putting on shoes, and then laying back in a chair and staring off into space. Eventually, she holds her dogs on a leash and goes for a walk.

In 1966, Anger added a noisy, folksy soundtrack that's pretty bizarre and experimental and does feel a bit out of place for something filmed in the 1940s. Puce Moment was originally set to opera music from Verdi, but as far as I know, it's not available to watch with this soundtrack.

The short has a 1920s feel as the dresses and main character's hairstyle harken back to this time period. Also, Anger used alternating camera speeds to give the feel of a silent movie. There isn't too much to Puce Moment, and it's not nearly as interesting as Anger's later work.

Anger would go on to make landmark experimental films in the 1950s and 60s, like Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and Scorpio Rising. He was retired in the 1980s and 90s, but is still kicking and has made films as recently as 2013.

His significance is undeniable, especially in avant-garde filmmaking, but also with more mainstream directors like Martin Scorcese and David Lynch.

Anger was very interested in the occult and was a follower of Aleister Crowley's Thelema religion.

A German animator named Oskar Fischinger made an early animated music video called An Optical Poem in 1938 and produced a similar work, often considered to be his magnum opus, called Motion Painting No. 1 in 1947. Like his earlier work, this is completely abstract and set to classical music, with this time the music being one of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos.

This 11 minute short is probably the most entertaining and accessible film in this article and features some vibrant, intricate animation. It was made by painstakingly putting oil paints on glass and took a whole nine months to create.

Motion Painting No. 1 is now in the U.S. Library of Congress' National Film Registry. This was Fischinger's last non-commercial work and he died in 1967.

A more minor example from this era is Moods of the Sea, directed by Slavko Vorkapich and John Hoffman and released in 1941. It's basically an early music video and is set to the music of 19th-century composer Felix Mendelssohn.

Moods of the Sea consists mostly of shots of waves crashing, but we also see animals and views of the sky. It's an interesting idea, but the execution really isn't anything special. It's mainly only worth watching from a historical perspective and doesn't justify its 9-minute runtime.

Other avant-garde films of the 1940s include Hans Richter's Dreams That Money Can BuyPacific 231, directed by Jean Mitry, and The Lead Shoes by Sidney Peterson.

Finally, I'd like to mention Lady of the Lake from 1947, which is much different than the other films in this article, as it was a mainstream, big-budget Hollywood production. However, there is one major way in which it was experimental, and that's how almost the entire film was shot in a first-person perspective. This leads to an odd look and feel and plenty of long takes.

This was done to mimic the first person prose of the novel by Raymond Chandler and as far as I'm aware, this was the first movie to be shot in this style. It's sort of gimmicky, but still interesting enough to be worth checking out, and overall the movie is pretty solid.

The only exceptions to the first person perspective are a couple of extratextual addresses to the audience and other than that, the protagonist is only seen in reflections.

Eventually, other movies would be made using this technique, like Hardcore Henry and Enter the Void.

That'll be it for this post, keep an eye out for my next one on the experimental films of the 1950s, where I'll cover more works from Maya Deren and Kenneth Anger, as well as films from directors like Stan Brakhage and  Chris Marker.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok Review

It's hard to believe, but we've come to the 17th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor: Ragnarok. I was anticipating this one being a significant improvement over the first two Thor movies, partly because of director Taika Waititi, having loved both What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

I wasn't disappointed a bit and Ragnarok is easily one of the best from Marvel Studios and a huge step up from the previous Thor films. The main thing that made the film so great to me was the stunning visuals that seemed to take strong inspiration from classic comics by people like Jack Kirby and Walt Simonson. It looked a lot more comic book-y than Thor 1 and 2.

The film is extremely colorful and the set and costume designs are creative and unique. There were even some trippy scenes with the Bifrost Bridge that were a joy to watch.

The action is great and the fight scenes are inventive. A lot of people have been hand-wringing over how much of a comedy this was going to be, but I didn't think it felt out of place in the Marvel Studios canon. There are plenty of dramatic moments as well and they struck a decent balance, but if you prefer your superhero films to be as a serious as The Dark Knight, this might not be for you.

The visual effects were overall strong, but there were a few moments that were just a bit dodgy. A fully CGI character like the alien Korg just wasn't quite there and I was always thinking about how he was computer generated. Having said that, Korg, played by the director, was probably the funniest character in the film.

He was just one of many entertaining new characters, and another one I really enjoyed was Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie.

Cate Blanchett is definitely one of the best MCU villains, and also the first main antagonist that's female. She's evil while still being playful and her costume and makeup are fantastic. Her character isn't actually that well-developed, but Blanchett sells it and she looks awesome.

I was a bit underwhelmed by Karl Urban's Skurge, as he never really does anything and is largely inconsequential to the plot.

There was lots of Hulk and his fight against Thor is among the most fun fights Marvel Studios has made.

Unusually for the MCU, which generally has serviceable, but forgettable scores, the electronic, synth-heavy music from former Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh is memorable and perfectly fits the neon-infused aesthetics of Ragnarok.

Since I had no major complaints and it does so many things well, I give Ragnarok a 9 out of 10. Critics are liking it as well and it has a 93% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which makes it one of the highest rated comic book movies ever.

The third Thor movie made $14.5 million on its opening Thursday. For comparison, the previous MCU entry, Spider-Man Homecoming made a similar $15.4 million on its first day and ended up with an opening weekend of $117 million.

That'll be it for the spoiler-free section, so stop listening if you want to avoid plot details.

Despite being relatively comedic, Ragnarok ups the stakes and has pretty serious consequences for the universe. Minor characters were killed like the Warriors 3 to make the threat of Hela feel more real.

The MCU hardly ever kills off even minor characters, so this was a nice change of pace. They even killed Odin, destroyed Asgard, and Thor lost an eye, which I definitely didn't see coming.

There were a decent amount of references to the greater universe without feeling forced, like Banner mentioning Sokovia and his romance with Black Widow from Age of Ultron, and of course the amusing cameo from Dr. Strange. This segment might have been confusing to people who hadn't seen his film, but they probably just went with it given all the other craziness in Ragnarok, and his sequence is one of the highlights of the movie.

There also seemed to be a clear setup for Avengers: Infinity War with Loki eyeing the Tesseract and them encountering a large spacecraft in the post-credit scene.

I was slightly disappointed by the way they used Surtur. His design was great but while he was important to the plot, he ended up being a bit of an afterthought. It didn't affect my appreciation of the film that much, but it was kind of a missed opportunity, given that we presumably won't see him again in the MCU.

I loved the Beta Ray Bill easter egg on Sakaar and I really hope we see him eventually.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Stranger Things 2 Review

The pressure was on for the Netflix original series Stranger Things 2 after the very well-received first season and fortunately they didn’t disappoint, as part 2 is just as good as the first. Everything that was so great about season 1 is still there and I’d have to imagine most fans would be pleased.

I watched all the episodes on the first day and it was addicting and easy to binge. There are multiple cliffhangers, so you’re always wanting to move on to the next episode quickly. I loved the design of the giant Lovecraftian monster and this led to a bit more usage of CGI. The special effects were maybe not quite as good as a big budget feature film, but still good enough.

The season was pretty consistent, with really only one episode standing out as worse than the rest. I’m referring to one later in the season that features only one of the main characters. It was an interesting experiment, but it was brought down by some one-dimensional, cheesy characters.

It wasn’t terrible or anything and it does provide important character development,  but it’s just not up to the series usual standards. And it ends up not being a big deal because the last two episodes delivered a satisfying conclusion. Additionally, this was helped by the fact that this is not a weekly show, but rather the episodes are all available at once, so you could quickly move on to the ending.

The best performance is given by Noah Schnapp as Will, who was barely in season one, but serves as the emotional core of season two.

There are plenty of new characters introduced and they’re just as fun to watch as the others. Sean Astin plays Joyce’s boyfriend Bob, and comes off as dorky, but likable. Paul Reiser also joins the cast as a gentler version of Matthew Modine’s character.

The John Carpenter-influenced score from Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein is fantastic and atmospheric as always. The soundtrack of 80s songs wasn’t quite as effective but I will give them credit, but not always going with super cliche picks, minus a few exceptions. One of those exceptions was “Runaway” by Bon Jovi, which was pretty on the nose for the onscreen situation.

That’s all for the spoiler free section, so stop reading if you don’t want to know what happens.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The History of Video Game Movies (Part 5: 2015-2017 and the future)

At this point, Hollywood had been adapting video games for over 20 years, and despite a few financial successes here and there, none of them managed to combine that with pleasing critics and fans.

Unfortunately, this trend is still going strong as of 2017 and there still hasn't been a quality video game movie.

The first example of this era was 2015's Hitman: Agent 47, inspired by IO Entertainment's stealth series that began in 2000 and is still active.

This has the worst Rotten Tomatoes score of any film in this article at 8% and it's easy to see why. Hitman: Agent 47 is dull and uninteresting in every way and doesn't even do the audience the favor of being bad in an entertaining way.

Perhaps the film's most unforgivable sin of all is that it doesn't even have good action scenes, partly because of the overly quick editing. There' are also some dodgy special effects at times, although nothing blatantly obvious.

Basically, there's no reason for anyone to watch this ever. Regardless, it was moderately profitable, making over $80 million worldwide and costing $35 million to produce. Director Aleksander Bach has not worked on a film since according to his IMDB page.

Skip Woods, the writer from the first Hitman film from 2007, returned for this, but it's a total reboot set in a new continuity.

2016 had four big video game movies and the first came out in April. That was a lackluster CGI animated film called Ratchet and Clank, adapted from the platformer and shooter series of the same name. It began in 2002 and the most recent entry came out in 2016 and was exclusive to the PlayStation 4. The style of the film was pretty close to that version of Ratchet and Clank.

Friday, September 15, 2017

What Makes for a Successful Film Franchise? (Part 1: Keeping Cast and Crew Consistent)

Film franchises have been incredibly influential and great at making money for the big studios. But what makes for a good one, not only in terms of financial success but also critical acclaim?

This is far from an easy question to answer and there are many factors that can make a difference.

These are some of the factors that I'll analyze over the course of the series and see how they may or may not apply to various well-known film series.

  • Keeping the cast and crew consistent throughout
  • Planning the story out ahead of time, or making it up as you go along
  • Staying true to either the source material or the original film
  • Waiting a long time between sequels or rushing out the next film
  • How much continuity is kept between films and if each film works on its own
  • Keeping the series fresh and introducing new elements or characters

First, let's look at keeping the cast and crew the same throughout the series, and how much effect that may have on the quality of the films.

Often sequels are criticized as a cynical, unnecessary cash-in if they don't have the original creators and cast members involved. If the directors, writers and/or stars return it can lend it an air of legitimacy.

Bringing the creators back for sequels should theoretically make it easier for them not to stray too far from the tone and intent of the franchises' beginnings.

Obviously, losing cast members can alienate audiences who may be upset to see their favorite characters played by a new actor or absent entirely.

The Star Wars franchise is an interesting example. For the original trilogy, the cast was very consistent. Of course, the main three actors and even a lot of the supporting cast returned for all three. It might have been quite odd for audiences to see a new actor portraying Luke, Han, or Leia and I think the movies definitely would have suffered from a major recast or writing out a main character.

When it came time for the prequels, most of the main cast was new as it was set decades prior to the original films. This was definitely something fans complained about as the absence of Ford, Fisher, and Hamill was sorely felt, especially in comparison to the much-maligned performances of Jake Lloyd and Natalie Portman.

However, they did attempt to bring back cast members whenever possible, such as Anthony Daniels as C-3PO and Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine, with this undoubtedly being to the films' benefit as they provided a necessary link to the original trilogy. 

Obviously, Star Wars was, at least at one point synonymous with George Lucas, who wrote and directed the first film. This gets a bit complicated as he didn't direct the next two films. He got a story credit on The Empire Strikes Back and wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay on Return of the Jedi. Lucas was a very influential producer on the sequels and the success of the original trilogy is often greatly attributed to him. However, it's worth noting that The Empires Strikes Back was actually directed by Irvin Kershner and that is considered to be as good, if not better than the original by many fans.

For the prequels, Lucas would write and direct all three. Usually having the original creator back in control is seen as a positive thing. If they had been made by some other director it may have been seen as an unnecessary addition solely made for money.

Unfortunately, the films ended up causing an extremely divisive reaction among the public and this shows that having the original creator back for the new installments is far from a guarantee of artistic success.

In fact, this may have actually been a negative since there are plenty of filmmakers who could have made better prequels given the chance.

Once Disney bought the IP, many new directors were brought in, while still keeping on some Star Wars veterans like Lawrence Kasdan. Many actors returned to reprise their roles, but the main characters were pretty much all new faces, especially in Rogue One, which brought back a few known characters in small parts, but with new actors, sometimes aided by CGI. This didn't seem to hurt as the new films were box office hits and generally well-regarded among fans and critics. This was one case where the fanbase was ready for new filmmakers due to the original creator having already made polarizing additions to the universe.

It's not surprising Star Wars could still be popular without the original cast, as it was never hyper-focused on a particular actor, especially compared to series like Indiana Jones, Die Hard, or Rocky. Sure, Luke was clearly the main character of the OT, but many lesser characters ended up being fan favorites as well, even ones that didn't say anything or have more than a minute of screentime.

A lot of people love the franchise for the overall world and not just any one actor or actress. Because it's a whole galaxy with thousands of years of history it's much easier to tell stories in that fictional world that don't even feature the same characters, much less the same cast. The animated shows are great examples of this, like Rebels that focuses on new characters and the voice actors who have been in Star Wars before are mainly relegated to supporting roles.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

It Review (2017, directed by Andy Muschietti)

The newest adaptation of the Stephen King novel It comes from director Andy Muschietti, whose only previous feature was the 2013 horror film Mama starring Jessica Chastain.

I had high hopes for this due to the good reviews, but I was mostly disappointed. My main issue was that I didn’t take Pennywise seriously as a villain, partly due to the overuse of noticeable CGI that looked like it might have needed some more work and unfortunately made those scenes feel silly. On top of that, while I do find clowns creepy in real life, they are too goofy to be effective horror antagonists for me. However, if you are scared of clowns, I wouldn’t be shocked if this movie terrifies you.

All this isn’t to say the costume design and makeup for Pennywise  was bad, those aspects of his character were about as scary as they could be. And actor Bill Skarsgard from Atomic Blonde and Hemlock Grove certainly does as well as he can portraying Pennywise and his acting is never what’s silly about the character. He avoids going over the top which would have been very easy to do with such a role.

The film also relies heavily on jump scares that you can almost always see coming and end up feeling rather rote.

It is much better when just showing the kids hanging out with each other, as they all give great performances and the characters are well-written, 3-dimensional, and varied. With kid characters, it’s easy to fall in the trap of just writing stereotypes, but they manage to avoid that here. These scenes are really fun and should be nostalgic for people that grew up in the 80s. They just aren’t good enough to outweigh the boring nature of the supposedly scary parts. I also felt like the score was a bit overwrought and tried too hard to make the audience feel scared.

I especially liked the performance of Finn Wolfhard, who showed how versatile of an actor he is with a brash, crude character that’s far from who he plays on Stranger Things.

This film is only part one of a planned two movie series, with the second half going to be about the sections in the novel when the Loser’s Club is all grown up. Despite this, it’s a complete story and doesn’t feel like it’s only the first half a larger plot. And the novel is over a thousand pages, so it’s probably for the best not to try to tell all of that in one movie.

My disappointment in the movie seems to put me in the minority. Right now, 88% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes have given it a positive review and it has an 8.4 out of 10 on IMDB. It’s also doing fantastic at the box office, making 13.5 million on its opening Thursday alone and then a massive $51 million on Friday. According to Variety, it’s on track to break multiple opening weekend records, such as for R-rated films, movies released in September, and the highest grossing opening for a horror film. It was tracking at an opening around $60 or $70 million but now looks like it will break $100 million.

This was a much-needed boost for the box office, which had a disappointing summer financially, with the last month or so being especially bad.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Ingrid Goes West Review (2017, directed by Matt Spicer)

Ingrid Goes West is the first feature from director Matt Spicer, who plays it relatively safe here in terms of directorial style and instead lets the film’s well-written script and actors do the heavy lifting.

The main one doing the lifting here is clearly star Aubrey Plaza, who plays a mentally ill woman named Ingrid that becomes obsessed with people she follows on Instagram and starts stalking them. She gives a great performance and presents a very 3-dimensional character. She doesn’t go over the top and manages to avoid becoming a caricature as many actors do when portraying someone with mental illness.

Plaza shows plenty of range and while her character does lots of awful things to people, she somehow manages to not lose the audience’s sympathy and still feel like a real human being. She’s amusing in her awkward moments and compelling in her dramatic ones.

Usually, movies like this don’t tell the story from the perspective of the crazed stalker, so it’s a nice change of pace. Most filmmakers would probably center the story on Elizabeth Olsen’s character, as she plays the target of Ingrid’s fascination. Olsen is good enough here, but her character doesn’t really give her that much of a chance to show her talents.

The plot manages to avoid being too formulaic and yet events still don’t ever feel contrived. Spicer also weaves in social commentary without being heavy-handed and effectively satirizes social media as well as Los Angeles culture.

In addition, Ingrid Goes West depicts cell phone use in a very realistic manner that eschews the visual gimmicks that movies so often use.

In conclusion, I give this movie an 8 out of 10. It’s worth a watch, but isn’t necessarily essential and probably won’t be one of the best of the year or anything like that.

Ingrid Goes West has an 87% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 7.2 out of 10. The low budget film has made around $2.5 million at the box office as of now.

I’d also like to mention that at my screening there was a short film attached at the beginning called Hi Stranger. It’s a bizarre, surreal animated work that achieves being cute and touching in very short runtime.

I really appreciate when they put shorts before a feature as it can expose these sometimes hard to discover works to a broader audience.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Good Time Review (2017, directed by the Safdie Brothers)

Good Time is the newest movie from the up and coming film production company A24 that has released an absurd amount of quality works since 2013, like Oscar best picture winner Moonlight, the understated, creepy horror flick The Witch, and imaginative science fiction like Ex Machina and Under the Skin.

Admittedly, what was making me excited the most about Good Time was the score, by an artist named Daniel Lopatin who makes experimental electronic music under the moniker Oneohtrix Point Never. I’ve been a big fan of his since the 2010 album Returnal, and I’ve had the good fortune of seeing him perform live twice.

So, of course, I was even more intrigued when I heard that Good Time had won the award for best score at the Cannes Film Festival. The score is certainly excellent and in my opinion, the best part of the film, although I’m admittedly biased as such a fan of the artist.

However, I was a bit disappointed as I felt the movie’s aesthetics didn’t really complement the music that well, and there were often long periods with no score. We were teased in the beginning with a retro looking title card perfectly fitting in with the music, but the rest of the movie didn’t live up to this potential.

Image result for good time 2017 movie poster

Good Time was directed by brothers Josh and Ben Safdie who had previously made indie films often starring unknowns like Heaven Knows What and Daddy Longlegs. Ben Safdie also appears in the movie and gives a subtle performance as the protagonist’s mentally challenged brother. The main character is played by Robert Pattinson of Twilight fame who does an excellent job here as his acting is quite realistic. We know very little about his backstory, but we still get a great feel for the character. The only thing is that Pattinson’s character is highly unlikable and often manipulates those around him in immoral ways. I don’t find this to be a problem, but for many, this is a dealbreaker.

Good Time is full of many varied, interesting supporting characters as well, and they all felt like real people to me.

The cinematography is not my usual kind of style, but it’s interesting. The film is shot largely in close-ups with handheld camera and we often don’t get a great sense of the space the characters are in, leading to an immersive, disorienting experience.

The story moves along a tense, brisk pace that never lets up, and there’s not much exposition in the 100-minute long feature. The plot is interesting enough, but Good Time is more about setting mood. However, the lack of a strongly compelling plot keeps this particular film from being a truly great work.

The Safdie Brothers have lots of potential and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for what they do in the future.

The reviews have been quite positive for Good Time and it has an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. I couldn’t find any details on the films budget, but it’s made 1.6 million so far at the box office.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Defenders Season 1 Review

Hello and welcome to my review of Season 1 of The Defenders, the newest Netflix show from Marvel. The first section will be spoiler free and then I’ll get into spoilers at the end.

Overall, the show is very good and I think anyone who liked the previous shows will like this, but if you didn’t, The Defenders won’t do much to convert you, as it is mainly intended for fans of the earlier Marvel shows on Netflix.

I’m not sure how many people this even applies to, but if you were wondering if The Defenders would still be enjoyable if you haven’t seen everything else, I’d say you can, but it’s much more rewarding the more you’ve seen. Having watched Daredevil is especially important as the plotlines and supporting characters from that show played a key part. I think as long as you’ve seen at least 2 or 3 of the shows you can figure out the rest.

Image result for the defender poster season 1

The Defenders generally assumes you’ve seen the other shows, and doesn’t stop to go into in-depth explanations of their powers and backstories. There are a few lines of dialogue that reference past events and they do a pretty decent job of not making them feel like obvious exposition.

To me, not trying to re-explain who all of the Defenders’ are is surely to the series’ benefit, as there really isn’t much time to get bogged down in recapping the other shows.

I really liked Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage, but I was a little nervous for The Defenders after the abysmal Iron Fist. However, The Defenders turned out very solid, and I’d give it an 8 out of 10. Despite some significant flaws, it succeeds at what it’s trying to be. At this point, Marvel Netflix fans pretty much know what they are getting and The Defenders doesn’t have any major surprises in store. It’s mostly what you would expect going in. But it’s still the culmination of some of the best comic book shows ever made and there are enough awesome moments to make the show worth watching.

My biggest concern was the Iron Fist character, and he is the weakest link of the main 4 and still comes off as cheesy at times, but he has clearly improved from his own show. Perhaps it’s partly that he works better in small doses, as opposed to being the main character.

The show starts out with a somewhat of a slow build, with not that much action in the first two episodes. I didn’t have a problem with it and there’s plenty of action later, but just keep that in mind going in.

The Defenders is only 8 episodes long, compared to the 13 episodes that Daredevil and the others got per season. This lets the plot along at a quick pace and there really isn’t any noticeable filler.

Everyone felt true to the way they had previously been portrayed and I didn’t notice any glaring out of character moments. It’s really fun seeing people from different shows interact with each other, which I’ll get more into in the spoiler section.

The cast is very good with the main exception being Finn Jones as Danny Rand as I alluded to earlier. Sigourney Weaver is great as always in her role as the villain Alexandra Reid, but the character itself didn’t really work for me that much, and we never get to see her do anything to establish herself as a great villain. It’s hard to explain fully without spoilers, so I’ll get into that later. From what I understand, Reid is not from the comics, which seems like an odd choice to do for the first season of the team up of all Marvel’s Netflix shows, given the ridiculous amount of villains Marvel has its disposal.

The fight choreography is basically on the same level as Daredevil and a huge step up from Iron Fist. A few moments are a bit awkward as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones have a much different fighting style compared the more martial arts focused characters, and they can be less visually interesting because of this.

The cinematography is fine with a few somewhat long takes here and there, but nothing mind-blowing. It doesn’t look too far off from Marvel’s other Netflix efforts.

The dialogue is okay, with some moments that were too on the nose, although nothing blatantly awful, but also good lines sprinkled in here and there.

The music is also about average, as it rarely stands out one way or another.

That’s the end of the spoiler free section so stop listening here if you want to avoid spoilers.

I really liked how there was a slow build to the Defenders actually teaming up. None of them meet up in the first episode and don’t really see them action much, but we still get fun interactions like Foggy talking to Luke Cage. Then in Episode 2, things slowly start to come together with Iron Fist and Luke Cage meeting for the first time and having a neat fight scene. Matt Murdock and Jessica Jones meet at the end of the episode, with Jones also having an interesting scene with Misty Knight. When they finally come together for a well-made action scene at the climax of Episode 3, it feels earned.

They did an excellent job of incorporating all the supporting cast from the various shows, with key characters from all of them showing up, like Elektra and Stick from Daredevil Madame Gao and  Colleen Wing from Iron Fist, Claire Temple, and even Carrie-Anne Moss as Jeri Hogarth.. The only big one I personally was missing was The Punisher. He would have probably felt out of place though, I just really liked him in Daredevil Season 2.

One substantial complaint I had was with the character of Alexandra Reid. They got a fantastic actress like Sigourney Weaver and build her up a lot, but she never really does much before getting unceremoniously stabbed by Elektra in Episode 6. Then Elektra and Madame Gao basically become the main villains. Elektra is great as always, but Gao just isn’t that compelling. I wasn’t too crazy about the reuse of The Hand in general and I think they need to move on to new storylines.

The finale was satisfying, but with few moments that stood out as exceptional. One thing I really liked was when Misty Knight gets her arm chopped off and then Colleen Wing decapitates the guy. I was aware that having only one real arm was part of her character in the comics, but I wasn’t thinking about it at that moment so I still found it surprising when it happened.

And then there’s a definite hint towards her getting her bionic arm, so that was cool to see as well.

They try to play it off as is Matt Murdock is dead for a little bit, but I just heard they will be filming season 3 of Daredevil this October, not that I really thought they were going to kill him off anyways.

That it’s for my review of The Defenders Season 1, thanks for reading,

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Batman and Harley Quinn Review (2017, directed by Sam Liu)

Welcome to my review of the newest animated movie from DC called Batman and Harley Quinn. It was directed by Sam Liu, who made previous DC animated films Justice League: Gods and Monsters and the controversial Killing Joke adaptation.

Right off the bat, I’m going to say that I wasn’t really a big fan of this one, with my main complaint being the tone. It’s very comedic and silly, which in of itself isn’t a problem, as I’ve enjoyed Batman being portrayed that way in stuff like the 1960s Adam West show and the animated series Batman The Brave and the Bold.

But those were more innocent, whereas this has much more ostensibly adult content like a bit of violence, but mostly just sexual humor and explicit language. So it’s not really a tone that I’ve personally seen in Batman media. It kind of goes overboard in the risque material and is far from subtle. They also oversexualize the female characters to a ridiculous and juvenile degree.

As you may expect given the title, Harley Quinn plays a huge role in this movie to the point of basically being the main character. She has never been one of my favorite Batman characters, but this actually wasn’t that bad of a portrayal of her as her personality isn’t quite as over the top as it sometimes is. Usually, Harley comes as a package with the Joker, but he’s only referenced and doesn’t appear.

I don’t claim to be a Batman expert, but I’ve read my fair share of comics, watched the shows, and seen all the movies, and not once have I encountered a fart joke. Not only does this movie have one, but it goes on for a long time and isn’t particularly funny or clever.

There’s also part of the plot that’s been very controversial and it happens near the beginning so I don’t consider it a spoiler. That’s the fact that Harley Quinn and Nightwing hook up, which is played for laughs and doesn’t really have an effect on the story.

Batman and Nightwing and made to look a little too incompetent for my tastes in order to make Harley Quinn look better. Having an odd tone is one thing, but going against the essence of the characters is much less forgivable to me.

The voice acting is one of the strengths of Batman and Harley Quinn and that starts with the legendary Kevin Conroy as Batman, who is great as always. Loren Lester also reprises his role as Nightwing, but I thought his performance was mediocre.

Instead of Arleen Sorkin, the most popular Harley Quinn voice actor, she was played by Melissa Rauch from the Big Bang Theory. Even though a lot of people have been complaining, I found her version less annoying and silly than how she often sounds.

The art style is highly reminiscent of Batman The Animated Series, which makes sense as Bruce Timm was an executive producer, one of the writers, and makes a quick cameo as Booster Gold. The animation may nostalgic for those who watched the cartoon, but this isn’t nearly enough to cancel out the negatives about this film.

The story is serviceable but generic and involves Poison Ivy trying to turn anyone into plants. She has help from a pretty obscure villain that I had never heard of called Floronic Man.

The plot ends in an incredibly abrupt and anticlimactic matter that borders on insulting the audience.

Some of the dialogue is pretty cringy with Nightwing actually using the term “BFF” and lines like “Human won’t give a crap unless we force them to.”

There’s even an extended musical number that goes on for two whole songs. It’s mildly amusing at times but doesn’t deserve this much time devoted to it. It’s sort of just filler to pad out the runtime.

In conclusion, I’ll give this movie a 4 out of 10. There were a few fun aspects but not nearly enough to outweigh the glaring flaws.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Science Fiction Films of 1971

Science fiction films finally made it big in the 1950s but weren't that popular in the 1960s. They started to creep back in the early 1970s with several successful dystopian movies and 1971 has multiple big examples.

The most significant sci-fi movie of the year was definitely dystopian but didn't feel much like other films in the genre, and that's Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.

Kubrick is considered by many to be the best director of all-time, making classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket, and Dr. Strangelove.

This was an adaptation of a well-received novel by English author Anthony Burgess written in 1962. The book is excellent and Kubrick's movie is pretty faithful to it, especially compared to some of his other literary translations, such as The Shining, which Stephen King, the author of the source material, wasn't a fan of.

A Clockwork Orange has been discussed to death so I won't spend too much time gushing over it but suffice to say, it's an absolute masterclass in cinematography, editing, and acting.

It qualifies as science fiction in my mind as it's set in the future, but it forgoes most of the tropes most commonly associated with SF such as aliens or time travel.

It doesn't show or focus much on advanced technology and someone is even shown using a typewriter. There are some tiny futuristic cassette tapes, but they're not fundamentally different from what was available at the time.

However, society is definitely different from the 1970s, especially in terms of fashion, interior design and the slang argot called Nadsat created specifically for the book and utilized heavily in the film.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The History of Video Game Movies (Part 4: 2010-2014)

Part 1: (1990-1999)
Part 2: (2000-2004)
Part 3: (2005-2009)

There were a couple of big successful films based on video games in the early 2000s, but in the latter half of the decade, they were basically all failures critically and mostly bombs commercially as well.

Unfortunately, in the 2010s this trend continued as the big-budget video game movies all got poor reviews.

The first one of the decade was Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, released in the United States on May 28, 2010.

The Prince of Persia games were platformers that started coming out in 1989 and they've appeared on dozens of consoles and handhelds since.

Disney produced and distributed the movie version, along with Jerry Bruckheimer, who has produced countless huge hits, like Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Armageddon.

They chose Mike Newell as director, who had a pretty varied resume with films including Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Donnie Brasco, and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

The music was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, who wrote the scores for Gone Baby Gone, Kingdom of Heaven and Shrek. However, I know him more for his amazing work composing the music for the Metal Gear games, doing every main entry from Sons of Liberty to The Phantom Pain.

The production budget was around $200 million and it grossed over $336 million worldwide. This isn't a terrible figure, but definitely underwhelming. Disney was hoping to make this a franchise, but it didn't make nearly enough money to justify sequels.

Prince of Persia was mediocre at best. It's not appalling, just bland and boring. The time travel scenes are kind of cool visually, but those are the only memorable parts of the movie.

The critics seem to agree with me as the film's Rotten Tomatoes rating is only 36%, which is sadly relatively high for a video game movie.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Black Christmas (1974): Mini-Review

Black Christmas definitely deserves its reputation as one of the best horror of films of the 1970s, as well as being an early and very influential example of a slasher movie. It's more subtle and understated than a lot of its followers, though.

The plot involves a bunch of sorority girls getting threatening and sexual phone calls, which are effectively weird and disturbing.

It's hard to explain without spoilers but eventually there's a reveal that serves as an example of an extremely famous and common horror film trope/cliche. This is surely one of, if not the earliest, uses of this now incredibly cliche plot point, and I always find it interesting to see one the first uses of any well-known film trope. I'm sure anyone who has seen the film would know what I'm referring to.

This is also one of the first big examples of a horror film titled and based around a specific holiday or day, like Halloween, Friday the 13th, Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine, and countless others.

The villain in Black Christmas is great and one of the creepiest slasher bad guys in film history. There's even an abortion subplot, which is pretty daring for it' time.

The ending is fantastic too and features a very eerie final shot. Overall, the cast is pretty good, and there are a few familiar faces you might recognize, like Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane in the Superman series. There's also Keir Dullea, who was the main character in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and John Saxon from Enter the Dragon, Dario Argento's Tenebrae, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

I highly recommend watching this to anyone who has even a passing interest horror, and it's a must watch as soon as possible if you're a slasher or 70s horror fan.

Black Christmas was remade in 2006, but I haven't seen that version yet.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Cujo (1983): Mini-Review

Cujo is okay, but inconsistent and overall nothing special. This first part of the movie before the crazy rabid dog stuff starts happening is pretty boring and I wasn't particularly interested in the characters' affairs and personal drama. I was pretty much just waiting for Cujo to start attacking people.

Once he does, the film definitely starts improving. It does a reasonable job of getting across a tense atmosphere and Cujo is effectively intimidating and scary. It just takes way too long in getting there.
They did a good job of making up the dog so he looks rabid, although he looks pretty cute without the makeup.

I understand they couldn't just have a whole movie of a woman and her child fighting off a dog, but there wasn't enough meat to the story to be compelling. I haven't read the book, but I'm sure the affair plotline was significant as I've heard the movie was relatively faithful. So maybe this just wasn't enough of a story for a feature film and would have worked better as a short or a TV episode or something like that.

Also, don't expect any gore, the horror is more psychological, which isn't at all a bad thing.
I'd recommend this if you've already seen a decent amount of 80s horror and just haven't gotten around to this yet.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) [Mini-Review]

Halloween III: Season of the Witch is infamous for its (in retrospect) baffling decision to not feature Michael Myers or even be set in the same universe as the original two films. In fact, Halloween is a fictional film in Season of the Witch's universe.

Producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill wanted to turn the Halloween brand into an anthology of unrelated installments that all took place on or around the holiday. Apparently, they were hesitant to work on an another one in the series, and this was the only way they'd do it. This may have worked better had they not have already made Halloween II, thus firmly associating the name with the character of Myers, as well as actors like Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance.

Fans were disappointed that there was no Michael, and reviews were negative. It took six years for the franchise to come back with Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. They made sure to put him in the title to make sure audiences knew they wouldn't be disappointed again.

I wasn't alive at the time, so I knew before I watched it that it was an oddball in the series and that Myers would come back for more movies. If you just think of it as its own thing, it's not that bad, but certainly not that great either.

Not only does Season of the Witch have a new continuity, it also represents a genre shift for the franchise as while it is a horror, it's also science fiction.

Stars Tom Atkins and Stacey Nelkin give passable performances, but I can't get over how creepy the age difference between them is, and their relationship feels very forced and sudden. She basically throws herself at him without having shown any previous signs of chemistry or attraction.

One of the positives of the film is that John Carpenter did do the soundtrack, which is always a good thing and sets the atmosphere. Unfortunately, a really annoying jingle also plays throughout that will undoubtedly be stuck in your head for days.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Curse of Chucky (2013) [Mini-Review]

Curse of Chucky is a surprisingly solid sequel. Most horror franchises run out of steam by the sixth installment by this is much better than Halloween 6 or A Nightmare on Elm Street 6, for example.
The fourth and fifth Chucky movies brought the series more towards horror-comedy, but this went back to the roots of the franchise and is a relatively serious horror film. It was also the first one to be direct-to-video and the first to be shot digitally.
Despite being less comedic, it doesn't take itself too seriously and manages to strike an appropriate tone.

Bride and Seed of Chucky introduced a family for the title character, but Curse goes back to having him as the only talking doll.
It was directed by Don Mancini, who created Chucky, has written all the films, and directed Seed of Chucky.

Brad Dourif returns as the voice of Chucky and even appears in the flesh for the first time in the series since the original Child's Play. It's pretty cool to see him, but it looks a little odd as they try to recreate his look from the time period.
Brad's daughter, Fiona Dourif plays the lead role. This may seem like nepotism that could hurt the quality of the film, but these movies don't require Oscar-level acting and she had already appeared on shows like Deadwood and Law and Order: SVU. She even had a small part in P.T. Anderson's The Master.

She actually does a pretty good job, considering she was relatively inexperienced at the time and the film largely centers around her character.
This was described early on in development as a reboot or a remake and it seems like it could be at first, but by the end, it's clear that it takes place in the same continuity as the previous installments and there are plenty of neat homages and references to the other Chucky movies.