For the Record

I was able to spend time this weekend with the Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith DVD bonus disc. It was enjoyable in that special film-geeky combination that Star Wars and bonus discs employ. But I would like to note that the "Deleted Scenes" section is incomplete. Oh yes, I say with authority, it is incomplete.


Waiting for the phoenix

I was over at The Beat, which pointed me to this article [URL no longer valid-BD] in the LA Times about a faltering Hollywood. Check it out.

Now the easy thing to ask Hollywood is to stop making crappy movies. But as the article suggests, All movies are not necessarily crappy, just some may not live up to a theater going experience. I'm a film buff, and I'll shell out for non-blockbusters, 'cause I just plain like going to the movies. But the crux of the LA Times article is that Hollywood is headed for a crumble and the studio-film industry may be ready to implode.

This would be fucking fantastic.

Why? It has nothing to do with any selfish pleasure derived from a bloated business getting its due. Well, maybe a little. But the real reason I would love to see this happen is in the hopes of film history repeating itself. The last time Hollywood collapsed under its own weight, the late 50's thru the 60's, Studios became desperate. They started handing out film production to unknowns because they worked cheaper and weren't entrenched in the Hollywood quagmire. In alot of cases, new, young directors were given previously unheard of opportunities to do their own films after meeting their initial studio obligations...

Lucas. Dykstra. Tippet. Speilberg. Coppola. Scorcese. Cameron. Carpenter. A lot of wild stuff was borne out of 70's film, and as these creators matured the 80's saw some of our favorite movies of all time.

Media today is a whole 'nother beast, and I'm not even mentioning the boom of digital delivery or on-demand services. I love going to the theater and seeing a great movie, hopefully there is still room for that in our near-future culture. I'm sure there is a new generation of great filmmakers paying some indy dues at the moment; If the studious become desperate enough for new business they will have to eschew their robotic ways and dip into the creative pool because it's all they have left to do. And maybe, just maybe, we will start to see some really good stuff getting us all back into those theater seats.


Of Kong and Men

If you haven't been following the development of King Kong, but have a passing interest in such things, you may want to check out the latest set report. This one focuses on "digital doubles" and it's a doozy. Aside from contemplating statements from Peter Jackson like "quite an advancement on the work we did for Lord of the Rings," it's hard not to watch in awe as you see first hand the state of digital technology today. Part of me is filled with excitement and giddyness, the other part can't help having the hell scared out of it.


Bust out the violins...

What is all this crap about disappointing box office revenues? Batman did 47/70 million for the weekend/week and it wasn't enough? In one week that's not enough for you guys? Hollywood can blow me.

Batman Begins

Man, I was so convinced this movie was going to blow I really didn't know what hit me. Batman Begins is so freaking good I hope it is the first of many, many more. As a first film for a fresh start there are so many great foundations for the mythos and they all ring true to the character. With so many versions of Batman out there, I thought that was an impossible task.

For a comic book movie, it's phenomenal. For a general, all-around Hollywood flic, it's still pretty good. There's still alot of things it appears filmmakers of today can't escape from in an action blockbuster, such as:

1. Damsel in distress
2. Close-up, super-quick, rapid editing fight scenes
3. car chase
4. Secondary character gets a shot from the mainline
5. Villain is not the villain

I wasn't sure if they were going to be able to capture what it meant to be Ra's Al Gul but they really nailed it. Right down to Ra's wanting Wayne to be his eventual successor (and even hints of his immortality).

I am a long time Christain Bale fan so it was no surprise to me that he pulled it off.

Michael Caine's Alfed was fantastic. For once Alfred is not a throw away character and is played as the integral character to the story that he is.

Liam Neeson, I could listen to him talk for days. He's pretty much got the mentor thing down pat.

Gary Oldman was really great to watch as Gordon, I never understood the previous casting of the Burton versions. I don't know why they had that whole section with the Batmobile. Well I mean I know why in a Hollywood sense, I just wish they'd have found another way around it.

Katie Holmes is pretty to look at, sure, tho she actually held up better than I thought. It's a long way from Dawson's Creek.

Morgan Freeman is good in everything.

Cillian Murphy, he worked okay I guess. The Scarecrow was played about as well as he is in the comics, really just a foil for bigger things. I thought he was the focus of the film as the villain, but he's clearly just a convenient plot device. It could have been a disaster, but not bad at all.

Overall it's a really good Batman story that for once didn't try to insult my intelligence-- too much. Nolan and Goyer really came through. I hate to boil down the responsibility of a movie to two guys, but those are the names attached to this incarnation along with the cast. Luckily for most of us the machine they oversaw is working.


American Splendor Revisited

I caught this on cable today and was greatly enamored with it the second time around. I enjoyed it alot the first time, but I guess I was just caught up with the story and overly intrigued with the life history of comic book seminal Harvey Pekar and his fellow luminaries. On the second viewing it's hard to ignore the beautiful camera work and lighting, with great shots and settings that linger enough for the eye to take in. Far too common in modern films the camera cuts are by the second, denying any allowance to appreciate the scene. American Splendor is full of picture perfect composition wrapped around Paul Giamatti's engrossing portrayal of Pekar, albeit the portrayal exaggerated for film. The film between the film which features Pekar himself and his real-life counterparts is an interesting deconstruction of the documentary/biopic formula. Outside of the interest it would hold for those who enjoy or work in comics, it's a great movie that finds drama in the banal, just like the comics it celebrates.


Weekend Movies

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Pleasantly surprised here... it wasn't all it could be but it was far from the disaster that had been hinted at. I had just done a refresher course on the book, so it was not hard to recognize where the movie goes south, not that such things are always forgivable, but with movies, especially those based on things you enjoy, there's a bit of give and take. The first third of the film is pretty damn faithful, and it kind of unfairly sets you up to start really getting into it. It's the "second act" where things go sour, in an entirely Hollywood-fabricated plot twist that is disappointing to say the least. Apparently Hollywood can't make a movie without a potential love interest between two leads, nor can they ever, ever, ever stray from the tired cliche of "let's go rescue the helpless woman, who by the way is good for nothing except being put into situations of distress and being the object of affection." At this stage in my movie-going, it's slightly insulting. For the last third, the movie generally gets back on track, altho they have to hang on to alot of silly details they introduced along the way. If Arthur and Trillian have to fall in love, so be it, there's plenty of other cool stuff going on.

The movie, even the new material, hangs onto a british sense of humor and it does give things a certain flavor. Most of the movie is just plain weird, as you would expect from a cinematic version of the source material. I have to say the thing that pushed it over the top for me (in the sense of things that made it overall enjoyable vs. disappointing) was Sam Rockwell as Zaphod, that guy has it nailed. It really was like how I imagined him in my many readings over the years. He's got the two-heads-thing going on to a degree, but what was an integral (and intricate) sub-story in the novels is glossed over rather harmlessly. Too bad about that, and some other things, but I think they did a fine job with what they had and if anything I'll be humming the tune of "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish" for a while.

The Chronicles of Riddick
Caught this on cable. Meant to see this a while ago, I wanted it to be good, but... It's best described as an over-art directed showcase for how non-appealing it is to watch Vin Deisel. How am I supposed to care at all for his character? Pitch Black was good enough for him, but now he's the end-all be-all of a intergalactic threat? These types of movies shoot themselves in the foot, by announcing what a big deal they are. If this Riddick dude is going to be around for Deisel's new "franchise," it's pretty obvious he's gonna stick around for a while. Therefore I have no investment in his actions. The entire movie was poorly written, barely acted, and had an awkward pace. It tried to be Dune but fell very short. The only thing I liked about it was the ending, which I have to admit was pretty good, even if it was lifted from Conan.

As a side note, that same night I caught the tail end of Return of the Jedi on UPN of all places, and damn if I wasn't riveted to the set. That shit still holds up. There may be alot of Star Wars fever going around, but watching Jedi I could sense a tangible realness that was completely absent from Riddick.

Another cable offering. Now the lengths I've gone to support Jennifer Love Hewett rival her brassiere, but we all have to draw the line somewhere. Twenty minutes was about all I could handle before my brain started threatening to seize of it's own volition just so it would not have to be subjected to another minute of CG animal hijinks. I tried, Love, I tried.


Sin City

Everyone's talking about Sin City. And alot of them are saying how it's the best comic book movie ever because it stays so true to the source material. Well if the goal was to put a comic book on screen, mission accomplished. But who wants a comic book on screen? I don't, I want my comic books to be comic books and my movies to be films.

Never mind the comics that should never be made into films, Sin City is certainly a worthy candidate for a big screen treatment. But when an adaptation is so dependent on the source material, why bother doing it at all? Another recent example of this is Electronic Art's production of the Lord of the Rings trilogy videogames. They went so far as to rotoscope scenes from the film using the game engine to reproduce them verbatim, "to give the player the ultimate LOTR experience." Dude, I already had the ultimate LOTR experience, it was in the theater. What's the point of seeing it replicated on an Xbox just so I can run around as Aragorn and chop up orcses?

I'm a fan and a follower of Rodriguez, if anyone was going to pull off Sin City as a film it was him. Mega appreciation for bowing out of the Director's Guild to let Miller on the project, too. Tho as I see it, here's where Sin City fails:

1. Narration. The pulpish, dark-city citizen exposition that floods the Sin City comics serve it's place-- in the comics. It's part of the medium, integral to accommodating the flash of the stark black and white graphics to aid the pacing of the stories. In the movies it's such a cop out. I hate narration, hate it, hate it. I am not stupid. I can see what's going on and extrapolate the meaning. Even if I'm wrong, my imagination is better than being force fed every little detail that I can already see happening before me. I can't tell you how many times I watch a movie or a TV show and just think how much better it would be, how much more impact it would have if there was no narration. Try it sometime, the next time you hear it. Replay the scenes in your head without the voiceover and see how much better it is. In Sin City, it's not about giving Frank Miller any more credit for how good of a writer he is. If you've read the books, you already know that. If you haven't, it doesn't mean Miller is any less responsible for the genesis of Sin City itself, no matter the format. It also doesn't matter to me that the narration was necessary to fill in the story holes, as a truly good storyteller would be able to work around this. Or better yet, let the audience fill in the gaps themselves. There are plenty of times in the film where narration was swapped for dialogue and vice versa (and the only reason I know this is that's how painfully close to the source material the movie was). Has Blade Runner taught us anything??

2. Structure. The stories told through the books have little overlapping points, it's very cool to see once you start reading them as a whole. I really thought Rodriguez would take advantage of this, but he didn't. He sorta did, but it could have been done so much better. Pulp Fiction and Two Days in the Valley are better examples of this, both were done with a style that really made the whole thing more enjoyable once all the pieces started falling together. I was a little disappointed that the movie failed to pull this off as (for me) it would have pushed it over the edge towards a higher admiration. The stories that were chosen for the movie were definitely the right ones, although Mickey Rourke is such a bad ass I would have been just as happy if "The Long Goodbye" was the only story. Speaking of the titles, and related to the above, how come no title cards? As one segment ended, I would have loved to see a giant title on screen that said "The Big Fat Kill," or "That Yellow Bastard."

3. Acting. It's readily apparent who the veterans are in this pic. Good actors can survive the heavy handed Miller dialogue, others sound like they are staving off a brain aneurism. Call me sexist but it's mostly the dumb-as-a-post eye candy roles that fall into that category (Clive Owen included). As much as I love watching Jessica Alba writhe around with a lasso, the second she opens her mouth it kind of breaks the illusion. Poor dear. She's much better suited for roles where the primary goal is to stand there and look pretty, like Idle Hands or Never Been Kissed. I've tried to tell her this at several of our clandestine back alley dalliances, but to no avail. I fear she's too overcome with passion to be taking career advice from little 'ol me.

Where Sin City succeeds is in the gorgeous black and white visuals, even the bits with color. I wish more filmmakers/studios would commit to a major release in black and white. When it looks like this, it looks amazing. Ultimately my disappointment falls into the very crowded category of "I would have done it different." It's just that Rodriguez is usually an example that I look up to. He made a good movie, and honestly the majority of the audience just doesn't know any better. My regrets come from the desires of what Sin City could have been, from simply cool... to mindblowing.