You Should Watch Films

A celebration, meditation, rumination, and examination of the movie-going experience.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

21 Jump Street is THE New Benchmark for TV-to-Movie Adaptation

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star in "21 Jump Street," a film that is raunchy and completely irreverent in every sense of the word. It hits the perfect balance of being self-aware and still hitting the necessary notes for a dutiful adaptation of the show. There are cameos for the fans, and hard-hitting jokes for everyone else.

In films such as these that provide a laugh a minute, or at least try to, there are some misses. But the hits are entirely worth it. "21 Jump Street" rewards big crowds and packed theaters. Catch a late showing, and sit back. The supporting cast is great, and Michael Bacall ("Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," "Project X") has a great ear for teen dialogue and random bon mots.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller ("Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs," "Clone High") make their live-action debut and they do their fellow animator-gone-live-action compatriots proud. The film is flashy in the appropriate spots and lovingly sends up the action tropes and cop movie cliches. The less I say, the better. If you wait for a rental, at least invite as many of your pals over as possible. That said, you will not be disappointed by springing for a ticket.

(***1/2, three out of four stars)

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

John Carter: Word of Mouth = Dough

Note: This was originally a response to an AICN article reviewing the Disney release, "John Carter". This article can be found HERE.

This movie is going to have legs. I was at the Hero Complex screening, and it was astounding. I'm just going to say it: it was LOTR good. Modern classic good. It never made my eyes roll like Avatar did, and it never played into irritating mega-blockbuster politics, like Avatar (insert end credits song here).

The marketing is head-scratchingly awful. If I had to guess, someone had it in for Stanton. Someone high up in Disney; perhaps someone new. The team is trying to make up for it now, as in no longer hiding what the movie is. But too little, too late. Any want-to-see is going to be from word-of-mouth (anyone not into movies would very confused from that sentence).

There is imagery, singular images in this movie, that have been etched into my mind in a way I haven't felt since, dammit, Jurassic Park. That's how good JOHN CARTER is. And yes, I did expect more from Giacchino; he proved what he could do with UP. Still, you'll see how the film does. Just watch.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Red Tails: The Legend of the Tuskegee Airmen

RED TAILS is a very important film, but almost entirely for political reasons. African-American history is full of struggles and triumphs, pain and glory. A film which mythologizes that history has an extremely delicate balancing act to pull off. MALCOLM X. GLORY. ROOTS. All works of great length, gravitas and grit. So, how does a 2-hour action adventure fit into these? Not easily.

Hemingway and Lucas essentially co-directed this film, with a great cast that does their best to craft the Tuskegee Airmen story into a modern legend. However, should this story be treated like, say THE UNTOUCHABLES treated Ness vs. Capone, or Westerns and other genres treat historical figures? I think it can be pulled off, but Lucas' brand of myth and the 332nd's fight for respect is an uneasy mix.

I was thrilled by the dogfighting, and I can't remember seeing an all-Black film with a production value this high. The film is almost retro in its characterization, dialogue and simplification of the battles of the Airmen, akin to war films of the late 40's and 50's. But will a modern audience accept that? Will they watch a big-budget, sanitized Black war film (and should they)? Can they have fun while watching what is essentially a Civil Rights action movie? I sure hope so, because I did.

Red Tails is exactly the film it sets out to be. The film is intentional in its presentation, and frankly it's up to the filmmakers to make sure that the audience understands the tone. Unfortunately, Red Tails may be ill-served by its marketing, as even Black audience members will be expecting a film with more grit and anger, which this film is not.

In fact, some may say that a kinetic, adventurous tone is unfit for a story such as that of the Tuskegee Airmen. The great thing about cinema is you can tell any story any way you please. An Italian comedy about the Holocaust. A drama about the making of Facebook. A farm boy leading a rebel alliance against an evil empire. Only thing is, you better be pretty damn good at it.

I'm triply biased towards Red Tails; Hemingway (TREME), McGruder (THE BOONDOCKS) and Lucas. The crew attempted to make a Black film for everyone to watch, and they succeed, for the most part. This is the Legend of The Tuskegee Airmen, the Tale of the 332nd. I recommend it, but not without a number of caveats. Yes, it can be cheesy, at times. Yes, the dialogue can be pat and wooden, at times. And yes, there are hits and misses. But dammit if I wasn't inspired by the end of it.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why The Prequel Trilogy was a Good Thing

George Lucas basically sacrificed the prequel trilogy in the name of digital filmmaking. Shooting with the Cinealtas. On-set motion capture. Fully CGI characters. Digital backlot environments (overdone, yes).

Wooden dialogue and rushed plotting aside, Lucas didn't let anyone else direct the films because, and here's what sad (very sad), the stories weren't the point. Anyone who tried to make a legitimate story out of the prequels would have only interfered with George's true aim: ushering in a new age of digital cinema.

The Star Wars films did this single-handedly. No Jar-Jar, no Gollum. No Sony F3 Cinealta, no James Cameron 3D rigs. You get the picture. The prequels are bad to the point that they make you question your own sense of taste and moral compass. Unless you look at them only as what they are: science experiments.

Granted, Lucas gave it his all on Episode III, which is still rated Fresh on RT and Metacritic (so take that, motherfuckers), going so far as to enlist Tom Stoppard on dialogue and Steven Spielberg on 2nd Unit. But by that point, Lucas had accomplished what he set out to do: allowing films to use a completely digital workflow.

So, now with effects technology having broken down all barriers (cloth, fur, hair, skin, water, fire, you name it) and possessing the ability to make ultra-realistic CGI planes or Iron man suits or whatever, George can make Red Tails or Koyaanqatsi 4 or whatever. It took tearing his Star Wars universe in two, literally, and alienating a major swath of fans, but now Lucas can do anything he wants.

Yeah, I'm pissed about the original trilogy's original versions being only available on VHS or as a bonus on the limited edition DVDs. I'm pissed that Lucas makes Vader moo at the two most important moments of his life. But whatever. Those movies are still a part of me. Watching the Special Edition in theaters with my family. Playing Super Star Wars on Saturday morning. Reading Tag & Bink, and the New Jedi Order trilogy. This is what we do.

So, either go see Red Tails, or Phantom 3D, or fucking not at all. It doesn't matter. The landscape has been changed forever. 48 frames per second, that's next. Feature films shot on iPhones and 5Ds. VFX of the same caliber on film, television and gaming. You have one man to thank for that. Okay, several. Several hundred in fact, but the point is Lucas played a big hand in that.

As for myself, I'm gonna go check out Red Tails. I'm anxious to see what a Lucasfilm production looks like without Indy or Jedi. Peace out, and stop hatin'. Jeez.

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I Left My Heart on Oa

Spoiler Alert: Screw this movie.
I say that as a former reader of DC's Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, and even my dad's old issues of Green Arrow/Green Lantern. Decades of rich storytelling, cosmic mythology, and intergalactic heroics ruined in two hours of franchise-building, quadrant-pandering, and story-by-committee.
I could literally hear the different timbre of multiple keyboards being struck by the writers. That's how much of a mash this movie is. No piece fits with the other. No piece is strong in and of itself. It tries to be all things to all audiences, and fails. Like a cinematic equivalent of Hershey's Take 5. Instead of being a good adventure movie, it's a date movie, a douche a-hole buddy comedy, a Cronenberg body horror flick, and a Spielbergian sci-fi extravaganza. Each one of these movies suck.
Hal Jordan's biggest moments in this movie are disrupted and undercut. Even the key realization of overcoming fear being more important than feigned fearlessness is made by Carol Ferris, not Hal Jordan himself. The flashback scenes are bungled to the point of absurdity. Hal crashes a plane because he can't stop thinking about his dad, who died in a crash decades prior. Why does he think about his dad? Because he looks at a picture of him in his cockpit. It's a wonder he doesn't crash his plane every time he flies, because all he has to do is LOOK AT THE PICTURE AGAIN.
Things happen in this movie for no reason. People say things for no reason. It really hurts me to slam this movie, THIS MOVIE, as if it's a bad joke. I've enjoyed these comics ever since I was a kid, back when I swore they would never make a film based on Green Lantern. Not even Daredevil was this bad, but at least "Daredevil" didn't feel like Daredevil. "Green Lantern" is a Green Lantern movie through and through, steeped in the mythology and storyline. And it makes a vomit sandwich out of it all.
It would have been better if this movie had never been made. Forget about Guy Gardner, or John Stewart, or the rebirth of the Corps, or Blackest Night, or even the Justice League. All that is over and done with. This film validates skipping the so-called B-list characters. It justifies the fatigue and cynicism that audiences have with superheroes, and with summer movies. It justifies waiting for video, waiting for Netflix, and flat-out avoidance of comic books in general.
Screw this movie.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Teeth on the Floor: Summer 2011

I love going to the movies. I read up on all the latest news, as often as I can. I came upon an article from the LA Times, where director Jon Favreau had said,
It’s Omaha Beach, it’s going to be a blood bath. There’s never been a summer like this next summer. It’s going to be bloody. As we were sticking thumb tacks in a calendar we realized that this is going to be looked back upon as Omaha Beach. [The list is] pretty staggering. There’s not a weekend where there won’t be teeth on the floor.
It seemed a little dramatic. And then, I took the time to actually compile the list.

4/15 -
Scream 4
4/29 - Fast Five

5/6 -
5/13 - Priest (based on comic)
5/20 - Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
5/27 - The Hangover 2, Kung Fu Panda 2, The Tree of Life (dir. Terence Malick)

6/3 -
X-Men: First Class, Beginners (Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer)
6/10 - Super 8
6/17 - Green Lantern
6/24 - Cars 2, Rise of the Apes

7/1 -
Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks)
7/8 - Zookeeper (Kevin James)
7/15 - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II; Winnie The Pooh
7/22 - Captain America: The First Avenger
7/29 - Cowboys & Aliens, Horrible Bosses (dir. Seth Gordon, King of Kong)

8/5 -
The Smurfs
8/12 - 30 Minutes or Less (dir. Ruben Fleischer, Zombieland), Mr. Popper’s Penguins (Jim Carrey)
8/19 - Conan the Barbarian, Fright Night, Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World
8/26 - Final Destination 5


I love going to the movies. But I also love eating meals, and paying rent. Average ticket is $10 bucks nowadays, and that's $50 a month if you're a heavy moviegoer. Factor is 3-D surcharges, family outings and concessions, and you might want to take the gang out to the opera instead.

As for studios, any monies they can hope to recoup from each film is going to be limited to that opening weekend. The trickling effect throughout the weeks will be diminished. It's not as if some small indie movies are opening on their heels, but honest-to-goodness blockbusters.

"X-Men: First Class" opens June 3rd. The fans come out and cheer. Next weekend, the new J.J. Abrams film, with many of his fans being the same as X-Men fans. The next weekend? Green Lantern. So even if these films open big, say $50 to $80 million, the drops will be high-60% if they're lucky. Most of this slate's films will see more than half their gross come from just one weekend. That's insane.

That's par for the course for a Fast and Furious, or a genre film with short legs, but not an entire slate. Any given summer, you may have three, four or five megablockbusters, not ten.

2002 had a Spider-Man film, a Star Wars film and a Men In Black film in the summer.
2010 had Iron Man 2, Toy Story 3, a Twilight movie and Inception.
Now, triple that.

Summer 2011's going to be a tough one.


Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Airbent Out of Shape

There's a tremendous message in this film about using peace and harmony with the elements in defeating an enemy instead of outright murder and killing. Having a superpowered pacifist is rare for a Hollywood blockbuster. That said, this entire movie was on fast-forward. Throughout, I just kept begging for 15-30 more minutes to be tacked on. Instead of rushing through so many key sections, why not take the time to know these characters?

M. Night seemed to be operating under the assumption of us ALREADY knowing these characters. If that's the case, then what's the point of watching this movie? Why spend so much to get so many things right like the sets, costumes and creatures, and then get the basics wrong? Like character arcs, or multidimensionality (happy-sad-confused-angry-sad-happy vs. sad-sad-sad-sad-sad-sad). Don't talk about journeys; go have a journey.

Don't tell a random kid a backstory; just have the flashback during a nightmare or a brooding session at least. Don't let random characters do important things, let important characters do important things. DON'T CHARGE EXTRA FOR 3-D YOU BARELY USE!!! Good will counts for a lot and when you sacrifice, you rarely get it back. I can always go back and watch episodes of the Last Airbender. Will I see another M. Night film? I want to say yes; the man gave me Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. But the fact I have to hesitate sums it all up.

A good friend of mine unraveled Signs before my eyes. The Village and The Happening made no sense. I'm still afraid to watch Lady in the Water. But this? THIS?!! Experienced filmmakers like Shyamalan know better. Producers like Kennedy and Marshall know how much presentation counts for enjoying movies. Charging patrons extra to LESSEN their viewing experience is uncalled for. Choosing voiceovers instead of well-written scenes, scenes already in the friggin' cartoon, is uncalled for.

Experienced, accomplished filmmakers don't make mistakes like these unless they want to. And if they wanted to, frankly, screw them.