Sunday, June 14, 2015

Film Review: Jurassic World (2015)

Twenty-two years ago, a man named John Hammond had a dream. A dream of opening a park filled with dinosaurs, resurrected by the wonders of science, and open for all the world to see. That dream went tragically sour when the actions of a rogue employee led to the park's security measures failing, several deaths, and the apparent abandonment of Isla Nublar to its prehistoric inhabitants. Yet the magic of Hammond's vision - and its undeniable potential for huge profits - meant that people would try again, so now his park - renamed Jurassic World, no doubt as a canny bit of rebranding to move away from that whole rampaging dinosaurs thing - is a glistening hybrid of Disney World and SeaWorld.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Movie Journal: May

World of Tomorrow
May was a somewhat quiet month; I saw 22 films in total, of which 19 were new to me. However, of the ones I saw, two of them currently occupy the number 1 and 2 slots in my best of 2015 list, which is not too shabby. Plus, since we're well into 2015 now, most of the films from 2014 that I missed but really wanted to see are now cropping up on home media and streaming services, so there's no shortage of great stuff out there, assuming that I have the time to check them out. (Spoiler alert: I probably will not have time, as evidenced by the fact that this post is going up five days late.)

The best film I rewatched this month was Ang Lee's The Ice Storm, which I watched for an artist profile episode of Shot/Reverse Shot on the director's work. I remembered really liking the film the first time I saw it, which would have been about ten years ago, but this time around I better appreciated its sense of humour, which is incredibly dark but also genuinely funny, and Joan Allen's performance as the matriarch of the family at the centre of the story. I feel like I undervalued her contribution before purely because I was so bowled over by Sigourney Weaver, whose role is showier and more caustic than Allen's more brittle work.

The worst film I watched for the first time is a dead heat between David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars and Howard Morris' Don't Drink The Water. While the latter film is clearly the worst from a technical standpoint - it's shot in a flat, ugly way which suggests that they just filmed the rehearsals and bundled them together, and Morris replaces most of the dialogue from Woody Allen's original play with frantic montages of characters running around, making it one of the most painfully '60s films I've seen in a while - the former is the more disappointing.

I more than welcome Cronenberg's move away from more "respectable" filmmaking after the tedious A Dangerous Method, but Maps to the Stars continues his movement into blunt, toothless satire begun with Cosmopolis. Maps is much, much worse than Cosmopolis, though, since its attempts at Hollywood satire are too broad to be interesting and too focused on empty shocks to be all that funny. The only remotely entertaining moment was when some incredibly cheap-looking fire effects allowed me to laugh at the film, which had stubbornly refused to give me any reason to laugh with it prior to that. Still, Mia Wasikowska is unsurprisingly great in it, and John Cusack is believably monstrous as a truly reprehensible father.

The worst film I rewatched - to make this intro even more fucking granular than it already is - was Bram Stoker's Dracula. It's long been my least favourite Francis Ford Coppola film, though it has shared that honour in recent years with the baffling Twixt. Much like that more recent boondoggle (and unlike Maps to the StarsDracula has the saving grace of being a terrible film made up almost entirely on interesting choices, so at least it's fun to dissect even when it's torture to watch. Had it maintained the level of deranged intensity that it displays in its prologue - in which Gary Oldman becomes undead by denouncing God in a Church, then stabbing a cross which then proceeds to bleed profusely - I probably would have liked it more.

I also watched Clark Johnson's S.W.A.T. - which I'm only mentioning here because my friend Kei has been trying to get me to watch it for quite literally years - and I really enjoyed it. It's a really dumb movie, but the high concentration of once and future action superstars (Samuel L. Jackson! Michelle Rodriguez! Jeremy Renner! Josh Charles?), all of whom bring the right level of pulpiness to proceedings, makes for a pretty easy and undemanding watch.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Film Review: Tomorrowland (2015)

In Brad Bird's Tomorrowland, the future isn't what it used to be. From an opening sequence set at the 1964 World's Fair to the depiction of the eponymous city, a metropolis which mimics the futurist aesthetic of the Disney attraction of the same name, the film is awash in nostalgia for a future that never happened. By being partially set in a world of jetpacks, hovering trains and boundless creativity, it hearkens back to the world we were promised by the science fiction of the '50s and '60s; an altogether neater world in which science makes the lives of every human being better.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Movie Journal: April

This month was another documentary-heavy one, though that was mainly because I wanted to rewatch a bunch of Nick Broomfield documentaries in advance of the HBO premiere of his latest, Tales of the Grim Sleeper, which I will write more about in a moment. I've something of a love-hate relationship with Broomfield's work, in that I think that he tends to find really interesting subjects and shoots them with an empathy that can make them very powerful, while at the same time finding him to be something of a disingenuous scumbag who plays the naif in order to inveigle his way into peoples' lives, then exploits them mercilessly. Other documentary filmmakers, particularly ones who place themselves in front of the camera, do a similar thing because it gets good results, but there's something about Broomfield's shamelessness that has always made me very uncomfortable.

The worst film I watched for the first time in April was Danny Boyle's Trance, which manages to be a pretty slick and exciting thriller for the first hour, then devolves into twist upon twist, dream upon reality upon fantasy nonsense that I found pretty much impossible to care about. It does boast a pretty great performance from Rosario Dawson, though, who makes the most out of what could be a pretty thankless role.

The best film I rewatched was Curtis Hanson's L.A. Confidential, an old favourite  which I decided to revisit having just finished reading James Ellroy's novel. I came away from it respecting Hanson and his co-writer Brian Helgeland even more since I could see how they had condensed a book overbrimming with plot points - there are something like eight or nine ongoing plot threads in the novel, including one involving a serial killer and another revolving around Ed Exley's father and a Walt Disney analogue - into a fairly lean thriller without losing the sense of place, or the book's central dichotomy between dark, awful things happening in such a bright, sunny locale. However, I did come away disappointed that the character of Inez Soto, who has maybe two or three scenes in the film but is a major part of the book, was so shortchanged, even if I can understand why they had to collapse her role in the story with that of Kim Basinger's character.

Anyway, here are the best films that I watched for the first time in April.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Film Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

When Joss Whedon's first Avengers film landed in 2012, it was the end result of several years of calculated, but very real, risks. Marvel had embarked on a seemingly foolhardy quest to create a cinematic version of their comic universe, one in which dozens of superheroes existed simultaneously, had their own solo adventures, then teamed up when needed. It paid off in a huge way, not merely because The Avengers became a massive hit, but because all the subsequent Marvel films that followed were given a boost as well, and formerly marginalised characters like Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and especially Captain America (Chris Evans) are now pretty much household names. Yet success has boxed the series into a corner.

Shot/Reverse Shot - Avengers: Age of Ultron

Now that Avengers: Age of Ultron has been unleashed upon the world and is destroying the box office like The Hulk in a built-up area, it seems like the perfect time to discuss what will likely become one of the biggest films of all time, and check in on the health of Marvel's mega-franchise. Matt and I discuss our feelings about the film, how it compares to the first film, and offer our live reaction to the unveiling of the first cast photo from Suicide Squad, an event which derails the entire last five minutes or so of the podcast.

Spoiler Warning: We discuss events in the Civil War comics which may (or may not) become part of the forthcoming Civil War film, so if you want to avoid them then please skip the discussion from 31:30 to 33:00.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Shot/Reverse Shot - Unmade Films

A recent - or at least recent-ish - viewing of the documentary Jodorowsky's Dune, which chronicles the legendary failed attempt by madman/poet Alejandro Jodorowsky to direct a lavish production of Frank Herbert's novel, has us thinking about the appeal of projects that never came to be, as well as ones which did get made, but in a form which differed vastly from their original conception. In addition to Dune, we talk about an immortal Russell Crowe, a utopian New York and raptors that are packing heat.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Shot/Reverse Shot - Marketing and Hype

It's been a pretty marketing-intensive week in the world of film as we saw a teaser for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (which was itself preceded by a teaser for the trailer), a new trailer for Fantastic Four, a new trailer for Jurassic World and, of course, the second teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. With all this hype overwhelming the Internet, Matt and I decided to talk about the state of movie marketing and various trends - such as releasing so much footage for a film in trailers that people end up seeing a huge chunk of it before the release date, as happened with The Amazing Spider-Man several years ago - that have us worried. We also talk about Netflix's Daredevil series and a baffling British musical called Walking on Sunshine, just to add a bit of variety.

Spoiler Warning: We discuss the most recent trailer for Terminator Genisys and how it reveals a piece of information which probably should not have been included in a trailer. If you want to avoid that spoiler, then please skip from 21:30 to 22:00.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Shot/Reverse Shot: Susan Sarandon

After a few weeks away, Matt and I got back to our series of artist profiles by discussing the life and career of Susan Sarandon, a favourite of ours who appeared in several entries in our Alternate 100 last year. In addition to discussing her breakthrough roles in the '70s, her career high points in the '80s and '90s, and her unique place in Hollywood as an actress who owns her sexuality while also displaying plenty of self-determination and agency, we use it as an opportunity to discuss sexism in Hollywood in general, and the ways in which Sarandon's choices as an actress both play into and challenge that same sexism. 

We also talk a little but about what's been going on in TV, including the ongoing troubles afflicting the Twin Peaks revival and the rapid rate at which Game of Thrones is using up its source material.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Film Review: Furious 7 (2015)

Note: This review contains spoilers for the fate of Paul Walker's character, Bryan O'Conner. These have been hidden using white text, so highlight the blank space to read them if you have seen the film or don't mind having that part of it revealed.

Since the Fast and Furious franchise came roaring back to popularity with the fourth entry in the series, the tersely worded Fast and Furious, which followed the thought to be franchise-ending disappointment of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, the series has gradually, if not subtly, reinvented itself. What started as a series focused primarily on illegal racing with various crime elements added to link the races has at this point become an odd hybrid of heist film and spy thriller, one in which a group of low-level car thieves are also martial arts masters. It feels as if it cross-pollinated with Vin Diesel's other early '00s hit xXx, with the end result resembling Pierce Brosnan era Bond movies, but with the archness replaced with aching sincerity.