missmediajunkie: (Default)
I can’t help staring at the poster for this year’s international Cannes Film Festival. There’s young Marcello Mastroianni, from Federico Fellini's “8½,” staring out at us from over his sunglasses, still an unquestionable icon of cinema.

And so is the festival itself, which over the years has become the most high profile and most prestigious of the international film festivals, and its prize, the Palme d’Or, one of the most respected. Past winners have included “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” “Taxi Driver,” “The Tree of Life,” chosen by juries of respected filmmakers and artists. The list of Palme d’Or recipients looks like a survey of the most influential directors of the past six decades. Stephen Spielberg presided over last year’s jury, which gave the top prize to “Blue is the Warmest Color.” And though there are the usual controversies and politicking, the festival retains a sterling reputation and remains an important yearly showcase for international cinema.

And that’s why any pretentious film lover worth their salt, including yours truly, gets so excited about the lineup of premieres every year. Last year’s lineup of films in competition included “Nebraska,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Behind the Candelabra,” and Foreign Language Oscar winner “The Great Beauty.” It usually takes months and months for these films to make their way Stateside, and there are a couple on last year’s list like James Gray’s “The Immigrant” and Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive,” that are only reaching theaters this spring. Some titles, of course, all but vanish into obscurity as soon as they’re done screening. Still, the early reviews and reactions are a great preview of what’s in store for audiences, especially since most of the competing films are from well known, high profile directors.

Every year you hear the speculation over which films will be having premieres at Cannes. This year there the possibility of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” being in the mix got a lot of people worked up. It didn’t show, most likely still in post-production, but there are a lot of other titles to get excited about. We’ll be getting new movies from the Dardennes brothers, who have already won the Palme d’Or twice, Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, Olivier Assayas, Michel Hazanavicius, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Andrey Zvyagintsev, and Jean-Luc Godard, who is bringing his first 3D feature. Of particular note to American film fans is Bennett Miller’s delayed “Foxcatcher,” and the Tommy Lee Jones western, “The Homesman.” Few remember Jones is a director, but this is his third theatrical feature.

Films that aren’t part of the main competition still benefit from participating at Cannes. The Un Certain Regard competition was created in 1998, a parallel to the main awards for “original and different” films. It’s already generated its share of major international classics, including past winners “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” and “Dogtooth.” Last year’s contenders included two of the other Best Foreign Language Oscar nominees, “Omar” and “The Missing Piece,” and the indie darling “Fruitvale Station.” This year, Un Certain Regard will include a version of Ned Benson’s “Eleanor Rigby” double-film, and the directing debut of Ryan Gosling. And screening out of competition entirely are the new Zhang Yimou film “Coming Home” and the world premiere of “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” The latter film may seem out of place, but it’s become the norm for a few Hollywood blockbusters to premiere at Cannes every year.

There’s no question that many of these films are the ones we’ll be talking about when awards season rolls around again. Though Cannes and the Oscars very rarely see eye to eye, the festival’s influence is inescapable. Films that make a major splash at Cannes or one of the other major festivals are guaranteed a certain amount of attention by the art house crowd, so they inevitably become part of the awards conversations. Because Cannes is invitation only, and extremely selective, it’s much harder to influence their decisions through marketing or other tactics, which gives the results a much greater sense of legitimacy. Though I’ve never seen a film at Cannes, there are several films I know I’ve seen largely because of Cannes.

This year I’m looking forward to several titles. Ken Loach’s last film, “Jimmy’s Hall,” will be part of the competition. Wim Wenders’ latest documentary will be in Un Certain Regard. And I love finding out about films I had no idea existed - for instance, one of the out of competition screenings will be for the Danish film “The Salvation,” a western from a couple of Dogme 95 alumni that stars Eva Green, Mads Mikkelson, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. It’ll probably be a year before I get to see it, but I know to watch out for it now. And sometimes, that’s the most important part of being a movie fan.
missmediajunkie: (Default)
I think the work of Denis Villeneuve is overdue for a post here. The Canadian director first came on my radar with the 2010 mystery "Incendies," which made my Top Ten list that year, but which I never got around to writing a review for. He followed that up with last year's crime thriller "Prisoners," starring Hugh Jackman, and then "Enemy," a strange little existential puzzle film, which hit VOD recently. I thought I'd take a closer look at the latter two pictures, two intense stories about frustrated, lost men.

"Prisoners" is one of those ensemble dramas with a big cast of familiar faces. Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover, a working class man who becomes a vigilante when his young daughter and her friend disappear at Thanksgiving, and the police are unwilling to charge a mentally challenged young man, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), who Dover is convinced is involved in the disappearance. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is leading the investigation, has to contend with elusive suspects, many wrong turns, and Dover's increasingly desperate and extreme tactics to find his daughter.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the trailer for "Prisoners," which seemed to give away far too much of the film's twisty plot, actually didn't give away as much as it appears to. "Prisoners" is quite a complicated narrative following both Dover and Loki in their parallel hunts for the kidnappers. Between the psychological murkiness and the gorgeously bleak Roger Deakins cinematography, "Prisoners" reminded me a lot of David Fincher's "Zodiac," except that it plays out in a much more conventional fashion. A clear answer to the mystery is dutifully provided at the end of the movie.

I found that the melodrama occasionally gets cranked up a few notches too high. There's a pulpiness to how events play out that suggest "Prisoners" was influenced by more high octane crime films like "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" or several of the recent hyper-violent Korean revenge dramas. While Dover's moral ambiguity is placed front and center, the film doesn't seem particularly interested in exploring it in any depth. We see that the consequences of his rage are horrific, but story choices lessen the impact, to the detriment of the whole.
That's not to say that the movie isn't well made or well executed. The writing is taut, the suspense is excellent, and the performances are all solid, particularly Hugh Jackman's wild-eyed Keller Dover. I'd recommend this to anyone who likes a good crime thriller and doesn't mind a few nasty shocks. However, it does feel like something of a missed opportunity, considering how many juicy concepts and sticky issues are raised by the film.

"Enemy" is a smaller, more modest project despite a much more ambitious concept at its core. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a college professor named Adam who discovers that he has an identical double, an actor named Anthony. Adam becomes obsessed with Anthony, eventually tracking him down and involving himself in his life, which has some unforeseen consequences on both Anthony's relationship with his wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) and Adam's relationship with his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent). Isabella Rossellini also appears for a brief, but important scene as Adam's mother.

I categorize "Enemy" as a puzzle box film because Villeneuve includes an audacious ending that essentially demands that the viewer go back and actively search out, pick apart, and interpret the film's none-too-subtle symbols and messages. The concept of the double is only one of several themes in play, serving to add more layers to the spare, but involving thriller scenario that plays out between Adam and Anthony. The film manages to be ambiguous and intriguing about its aims without feeling too manipulative, though I found it a little stingy with the little details that make similar puzzle films more fun.

However, I did appreciate the paranoid atmosphere, wonderfully sustained by Villeneuve throughout the whole of "Enemy." We're never told anything particularly concrete about the strange situation that develops between Adam and Anthony, but simply invited to witness the consequences of their existence and meeting. Exposition is sparse, in favor of slowly ratcheting tensions and an alienating mood that is effective without ever feeling too obvious. Jake Gyllenhaal does an excellent job in both roles, and this is one of his better leading man outings in a while.

I don't think "Prisoners" or "Enemy" live up to "Incendies," but then they're very different films and aiming for different audiences. I've enjoyed everything I've seen from Denis Villeneuve so far, and think he has the potential to do a lot more. He's proven he can tackle art house and mainstream material with equal skill, and seems to have a good eye for interesting projects. I'll continue to keep an eye out for his work in the future.

Go "Joe"

Apr. 16th, 2014 10:20 pm
missmediajunkie: (Default)
"Joe" is being trumpeted as the return of beloved movie star Nicholas Cage to the realms of serious acting. He gets a pretty juicy role here as the title character, an ex-convict with a past who befriends a troubled teenager. However, this is also the comeback of director David Gordon Green, who got sidetracked with idiot mainstream comedies like "Your Highness" and "The Sitter" for too many years, and is finally finding his way back to his low-budget dramatic roots with "Joe" and last year's odd but interesting "Prince Avalanche." And it also features another major turn by Tye Sheridan, the young actor last seen in "Mud" and "The Tree of Life."

Sheridan plays Gary, a Southern kid living on the brink. His father Wade (Gary Poulter) is a vile, abusive alcoholic who puts his son in the position of sole provider and protector of his mother and sister. Gary gets a job clearing trees with a work crew run by Joe (Cage), who is impressed with Gary's work ethic and determination, but reluctant to get involved personally. Joe has a violent streak he's been trying to keep at bay, and has made enemies, including Willie (Ronnie Gene Blevins), a local degenerate who nurses a major grudge. At stake is the modest, but honest life he's managed to build for himself with girlfriend Lacy (Heather Kafka), and his small circle of friends. However, Joe inevitably finds himself giving into his instincts on Gary's behalf.

I admit that I nearly forgot what a low-key, subtle performance from Nicholas Cage looked like after years of his notorious hamming around in one bad blockbuster after another. As Joe, he still gets a few explosive outbursts to play with, but they're well grounded in the context of a thoughtful examination of a complicated man who is caught between the need for self-preservation and the new role of surrogate parent to a boy who sorely needs one. For the first time in a long time I forgot that I was watching Nicholas Cage onscreen, forgot about all those tell-tale mannerisms and wild-eyed facial contortions he brings out so often, and just got to enjoy his work. And it was great to see.

Tye Sheridan also continues to impress, now three for three in a great run of films. His character here shares about equal screen time and narrative emphasis with Joe, and is equally as compelling. Sheridan is so good at embodying inner conflict, and Gary has plenty to be conflicted about. His best scenes are where we see his dark side manifest, where we see the building frustration and rage growing in him that might become a more destructive force than any singular, immediate antagonist. The surrogate parent-child relationship that forms between Joe and Gary is a pretty convincing one, unsentimental and unforced, that manages to hit all the right notes.

The real star of the picture, however, is its setting. David Gordon Green's personal projects share quite a bit in common with the work of Jeff Nichols, who directed the superficially similar "Mud," another coming of age tale set in the American South starring Tye Sheridan. I admire "Mud," but I prefer "Joe" for its wonderful, simmering tensions, it's rich atmosphere, harshly beautiful environs, and its rougher cast of damaged characters. There's an uncomfortably genuine nastiness to the villains, particularly Wade, which really enhances the impact of the occasional bursts of jarring violence within the film's universe.

This commitment to authenticity extends throughout the film. Everything we see is run down or worn, and value is tied heavily to functionality. Dogs are a major metaphor, kept by several characters for protection rather than companionship. "Joe" doesn't move quickly, and many of the opening scenes are devoted to showing the daily routines and the familiar rhythms of Joe's life. I've seen the film described as an exercise in misery and impoverishment, but there are several moments of happiness and small victories that show the characters have plenty in their lives worth fighting for.

"Joe" has a lot of themes and ideas that have seen a resurgence in American film lately: Southern culture, coming-of-age stories, deteriorating working class families, and rural survival thrillers. The mix here is very strong, and "Joe" works as both a character drama and a more accessible genre picture. I sincerely hope that this isn't just a digression for both David Gordon Green and Nicholas Cage, because this is the best thing that either of them have been involved with in several years. I have to wonder why Green hasn't ever tried making a more profile thriller.

As for Nicholas Cage, I didn't realize how much I'd missed him in films like this and roles like this. "Joe" could be a real turning point for him if he wants it to be.
missmediajunkie: (Default)
It feels a little disingenuous to be writing up this post now, because "Mad Men" isn't going to be premiering its last batch of episodes until next spring, thanks to this business of splitting Season 7 into two chunks of seven episodes apiece. But if AMC can cheat, so can I. The season premiere aired last Sunday, and the exiled Don Draper is facing 1969 and the end of the '60s. What do I want to see happen to him and the rest of the ad execs in this final year? I did a "what if" post looking at possibilities and predictions last year, but this time around I want to get more concrete.

"Mad Men" has been all about examining and poking holes in the iconic '60s image of masculinity personified by Don Draper in the early seasons. From the start he's always been a facade, and over the course of the last six seasons that facade has been slowly chipped away bit by bit until we find it in a state of total disrepair at the start of the seventh. Don is left feeding ideas to Freddy Rumsen and resisting the lure of Neve Campbell, having been burned too many times by previous affairs. The episode's final, haunting image finds him alone, unable to sleep. At the same time the show also tackles other familiar figures like the ascendant working woman, in this case Peggy Olsen. For all of Peggy's talents and all her drive, we find her in a place not much better off than Don, her work compromised and her personal life all but nonexistent.

This isn't where I want these two to end up. Oh, I'm not rooting for some kind of fairy tale ending where they pair up romantically and go off to found their own advertising firm of Whitman and Olsen, but I do want them to both survive the decade and make it to a place where they're prepared to tackle the next one. The internet has been full of speculation that Don is going to die in the final episode, but I'd be much happier with a metamorphosis, from Draper back to Whitman, perhaps, or from Draper into someone new. Peggy, I suspect will either claw her way to the top or simply walk away from Sterling Cooper and the world of the mad men in the end. Both could be read as victories, and I'd be happy to see either outcome.

Betty and Sally didn't appear in the premiere. Though her part in the show has been drastically reduced, I still identify with and root for Betty. I doubt that there's more narrative space left to really explore her world, but the Betty and Sally relationship deserves some more attention. I hope these two can figure out to connect with each other, or at least reach some kind of mutual understanding, now that Sally has become disillusioned with her father. From their last encounter, Betty may still have some maturing to do, but she's grown up enough to get over Don. I'd like Sally to be able to do the same, maybe mirroring the scene with Roger and his daughter next week.

Speaking of Roger, I honestly don't see much hope for his redemption at this point, so I can only hope that his decline continues to be spectacular. The possibility of Joan becoming a real wheeler-dealer at the firm was raised this week, however, and suddenly I want her to be a successful account woman very badly. Pete Campbell showed up amusingly tan and happy, and though the little rat has caused a lot of grief over the years, I've grown fond enough of him that I hope he finds a way to stay happy and put all the bitterness behind him - though I know he probably won't. At the same time, I want something really nasty to happen to Teddy Chaough.

Among the minor characters, I'm still rooting for Ken and Ginsburg to make it out of Sterling Cooper with some dignity intact. And then there are all the other supporting characters who were left by the wayside as the show rolled on. I love that we got to see glimpses of what happened to Midge and more amusingly, to Paul. But whatever happened to Sal? And Abe? Does Harry Crane get any more time this year? And what of Bob Benson and the man named Duck?

Finally, 1969 will bring the Apollo 11 moon landing, My Lai, Woodstock, Altamont, and the Manson Family murders. And even if Megan Draper isn't supposed to be a analog of Sharon Tate, I still stand by my original assessment that she's not going to be a part of Don's world for much longer. I think the relationship has run its course, and I'd rather see it over sooner rather than later.
missmediajunkie: (Default)
I got overhyped for "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," which some fans are calling the best Marvel universe movie yet, and on par with the Christopher Nolan Batman movies. I'd place "Winter Soldier" about on par with the first "Captain America," which I liked an awful lot, maybe a little higher, but still firmly behind "The Avengers" and the first "Iron Man" movie. I prefer my Marvel movies lighter and quippier, and "Winter Soldier" is all business. But for some the more down-to-earth political thriller trappings will be a big plus, and I understand why the movie has been embraced so wholeheartedly.

We find Captain Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) working for the intelligence operation S.H.I.E.L.D., headed by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). After a mission with Black Widow (Scarlett Johanssen) where Cap is displeased to discover that the two of them have been given different sets of orders, Fury reveals that he and Secretary Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), are working on the secret Project Insight, where a trio of new helicarriers will give them the capability to target and eliminate anyone on earth. Sinister forces are at work, however, which soon pit Cap against a "ghost" assassin called The Winter Soldier, and Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), leader of a S.H.I.E.L.D. counter-terrorism unit gone rogue. Fortunately Cap still has Black Widow on his side, and a new ally in former pararescue soldier Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), also known as the Falcon.

While "The Winter Soldier" clearly takes place in the Marvel Universe, where cryogenics can preserve a supersoldier for seventy years and nifty gadgets let ordinary people accomplish all sorts of outlandish, impossible feats, the story takes its cues from recent Bourne and Bond spy thrillers more than any of the familiar superhero templates. Sure, you get your giant scale battles full of carnage and destruction, but the bulk of the story is all about the cloak and dagger operations of a group of baddies who have the most frightening tools of the surveillance state at their disposal. There's quite a bit of not-so-subtle commentary on the current state of the military industrial complex, the intelligence community, drone warfare, and privacy concerns I didn't ever expect to see in a Marvel blockbuster.

Of course, this only goes so far. This is still a comic book movie and so all of these problems can be solved by simply identifying the bad guys and the bad organization that they work for, and taking them down with all manner of fancy stunt work and CGI explosions. And boy is the action a lot of fun in "Winter Soldier." We're treated to car chases, aerial chases, gun battles, cat-and-mouse games, a couple of different hand-to-hand showdowns, and a fight sequence in a crowded elevator that is just delightful. Better yet, "The Winter Soldier" has a wonderful momentum and energy throughout that has been missing from far too many similar movies. It's could stand a little trimming here and there, but otherwise it's an excellent flick as far as action is concerned.

Where I think the movie has been oversold is the maturity of its storyline. Yes, it's great to see Cap and friends dealing with some real-world issues and tackling a situation with some very big stakes in play. However, the twists and turns remain very PG-13, easily digestible, and pretty typical action movie fodder. While there are permanent consequences that seriously affect some of the characters and the Marvel universe as a whole, we're still taking about fantasy baddies and soap opera twists. These are executed about as well as they possibly could be, but despite the presence of Robert Redford in a prominent role, this could never be mistaken for a serious 70s political thriller, and it lacks the operatic grandeur of Nolan's Bat films.

"The Winter Soldier" is a solid, entertaining film, but I think the most recent couple of Marvel sequels have been so lackluster that the bar has been lowered to the point where this one seems better than it actually is. The Russo brothers were handed the directing reins, and acquit themselves nicely, though they get a little carried away with the shakeycam, and they're not in the same ballpark as Paul Greengrass. Chris Evans continues to impress as Steve Rogers, but he's not in the same league as Robert Downey Jr., and the movie leans heavily on its sterling supporting players - several of them in dire need of their own spinoff films. Nick Fury and Black Widow in particular get plenty to do, and end up outshining our hero.

There's no doubt that this is one of the best Marvel universe films, but that doesn't mean as much as it would have a year or two ago. It does a good job of being its own self-contained film and still pushing larger events in the Marvel movie franchise forward, but I can't help thinking that it could have been better if it didn't have to worry about setting up more sequels.
missmediajunkie: (Default)
2015 was billed as the year that we were going to be overloaded with major event movies. Summer was going to be a showdown between some of the biggest names in blockbusters, including a potential "Avengers 2" face-off with "Batman vs. Superman." In a post I wrote up a year ago, I listed over two dozen major titles expected to debut in 2015, but also noted that we were probably going to see many of these projects delayed or cancelled. I was right. 2015 is still going to have a lot of big movies from big franchises, including "Fast & Furious 7," "Avengers 2" plus Marvel Universe film "Ant-Man," two PIXAR movies, a James Bond movie, "Jurassic World," "Terminator 5," "Bourne 5," "Mission Impossible 5," the last "Hunger Games" movie, and of course "Star Wars: Episode VII," but a lot of the biggest potential moneymakers have been pushed back to 2016. And now the 2016 schedule is starting to look crazy.

May and June are battlefields already. May 6th has "Batman vs. Superman" pitted against "Captain America 3," which is suddenly looking like a much more even match-up since "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" has cleaned up at the box office and received sterling critical notices to boot. Memorial Day pits "Alice Through the Looking Glass" against "X-Men: Apocalypse." Two weeks after that comes "The Amazing Spider-Man 3." And then a week later, "Finding Dory" is somehow scheduled to open on the same day as "How to Train Your Dragon 3." Later in the season comes "Independence Day 2," "Ice Age 5," "Planet of the Apes 3," and another Marvel universe movie that we don't have the details for yet. Not on the schedule yet but certainly still in play are "Pirates of the Caribbean 5" and "Avatar 2." As usual, we must provide the caveats that many of these projects are going to shift dates or be delayed, and there's no way that the three showdowns I've listed won't result in some of these movies getting bumped a few weeks earlier or later.

Still, we're looking at another packed year in the making. It's scary to think of it, but the overstuffed 2015 roster may have been the start of a trend. With the exception of that last "Hunger Games" movie, all those titles I listed for 2015 will spawn sequels if they do well enough, and the studios have every expectation that they will. Four of the movies jockeying for prime release dates in 2016 are direct sequels to films that are coming out in the next few months of 2014. That means that we can expect sequels to most of those 2015 films coming in 2017 and 2018. Considering how much they've invested, Disney will be pressing on with more "Star Wars" movies no matter what the response to the first one is. And we can expect more Marvel movies on the way, at the rate of at least two per year. And two to three animated Dreamworks movies. And the goal is three yearly releases from PIXAR and Disney Animation combined. And remember that WB, Sony, and Fox want their own comics-based movie franchises following the Marvel model, built around the DC, "Spider-man" and "X-men" universes.

Can anything stop the inundation? Well, yes. The studios keep making more and more big films because there is the demand for them, but we're reaching a point where the market may not be able to sustain them all. The disastrous "implosion" of the film industry predicted by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas last year hasn't come about, but too many crowded movie seasons like 2015 and the summer of 2016 certainly appear to be setting the stage for it. Eventually we are going to reach a point where making so many movies this way becomes unfeasible. Some big, expensive projects are going to go down hard, and create losses too big to be absorbed. Disney's more notorious misses like "Lone Ranger" and "John Carter" are made up for by their profits from hits like "Avengers" and "Frozen," but the prediction is that one of these days, one of the major studios will have one bomb too many, and get wiped out.

And honestly, that may not be such a bad thing. The current practice of dragging some of these franchises on to fourth and fifth installments and beyond, rebooting old properties that should have stayed dormant, and pumping out way too many gargantuan movies based on little more than good branding is far too prevalent. If audiences keep shrinking the way that they have, and the release calendar gets more and more crowded every year, diminishing returns are inevitable. Until that happens, though, moviegoers are in for some wild times as event movies go bigger and bigger, and the studios pit them against each other in increasingly high stakes matches. Here's to the upcoming battle for the summer of 2016.

May the best movie win.
missmediajunkie: (Default)
"The Jim Henson Creature Shop Challenge" sounded like a concept to good to be true to a Henson geek. Syfy's new reality show gives ten special effects artists a shot at working for the much beloved Jim Henson Creature shop, best known for creating elaborate creature suits and puppets for movies and television. It follows the "Project Runway" competition template, having the contestants build a new creature every week, and evaluating them via a screen test. The show is a very much a Jim Henson Company affair, hosted by "Farscape" actress Gigi Edgley, and featuring mentors and judges who are effects industry veterans. The head judge is Brian Henson, current president of the company, who looks more and more like his father with every passing year.

As a Muppet geek, I had to get a look at this thing. So I watched the first two episodes, and came away with somewhat mixed but mostly positive reactions. The contestants are all clearly talented and experienced, capable of turning out incredibly impressive work. It's a lot of fun to watch them build their creatures. We're not at the stage where more than a few big personalities have emerged, but the weekly projects are strong enough to carry the show. Also, the folks behind the scenes are still working through some bumps in the show's formula. "Creature Shop" hews to the "Project Runway" formula a little too closely, and sometimes it's not a good fit. The judges aren't the type to drop one-liners, and the contestants' array of creative skills are more interesting than the usual manufactured drama you can sense is being played up. I wish the design and fabrication portions of the show were longer than the judging portions.

The two rounds so far have been promising. I wasn't thrilled with the first, which asked the contestants to design a deep sea creature that had to lurk along the ocean floor, and resulted in some pretty unappealing entries. The second challenge, however, was great. The contestants were given the much more complex task of creating their own villainous Skeksis character from "The Dark Crystal," which included puppeteering it for the screen test. The results were far more impressive, and I could imagine the characters actually appearing onscreen, unlike the contenders from the first round. It didn't hurt that Hensons furnished "Dark Crystal" props and shared trivia about the film, which was very gratifying to this 80s fantasy geek. And there was much more shop talk about the business of effects work, which I hope continues.

However, it's hard to escape the sense that the show is really one big promotion for the Jim Henson Company and its work. I've loved these guys and their output for decades, so I'm very receptive to the hero worship many of the contestants have shown in these episodes, but at the same time I think they lay it on a little thick. The most familiar Muppet characters like Kermit and Piggy have been notably absent from the installments I've seen so far, but with a new movie in theaters, I'm sure they'll show up eventually. I recognized plenty of other material from the Henson archives, though, including lots of clips and artwork from "Dark Crystal," "Labyrinth," "The Storyteller," and "The Jim Henson Hour." Of course, we have to keep in mind that this is what the Hensons have the rights to.

Still, in the back of my mind I can't help noting that so few of the featured examples of the Creature Shop's work are very recent. It's a sad reminder that the visual effects industry has largely been taken over by CGI, and a practical effects operation like the Creature Shop has become a rarity. They're surely one of the best at what they do, but the demand has been steadily dropping off for a long time. I stumbled across a reel of their recent work, which mostly consisted of character puppets for obscure ad campaigns. Their last really big project that I know of was creating the Wild Things for 2009's "Where the Wild Things Are," and even those characters ultimately had CGI faces.

As thrilled as I am to watch the show and see the way that it celebrates all the different crafts that go into creature creation, it also feels a little like it's operating in a different world. I can imagine similar reality shows built around the finding the next great PIXAR animator or the next great Nintendo game creator, but those are big companies that are part of thriving industries. Would the PR be worth it for them to commit so many resources to something similar? I don't think so. Meanwhile, "Creature Shop Challenge" feels sadly a bit like it's pitching for its own relevance.

Those Skesis sure looked impressive, but what film would actually use them in this day and age?
missmediajunkie: (Default)
I admit that I wasn't expecting this, and certainly not so soon. CBS only waited a week after Letterman's retirement announcement to name his successor to the "Late Show. The lucky comedian is Stephen Colbert of "The Colbert Report," whose contract with Comedy Central will be up in 2015. I'd seen various rumor pieces peg Colbert as a frontrunner, but I didn't take any of them seriously.

I mean, I love Colbert's work and I think he's a supremely talented satirist, but he didn't seem to check enough of the right boxes. The network late night shows are helmed by comedians with very broad, mainstream appeal. Colbert always struck me as a bit of an acquired taste, especially when you put him next to some of the guys who have been described as an awkward fit for the job, like Craig Ferguson or Louis CK. Sure, Ferguson and CK are a little more experimental and off-kilter than the average late night host, but they haven't spent the last nine years playing a fake version of themselves lampooning right-wing news pundits.

Speaking of the other Stephen Colbert, it's been announced that the persona that Colbert uses on "The Colbert Report" will be retired when he makes the move to CBS next year. The real Stephen will be back, but good grief, I barely even remember him from his eight-year stint on "The Daily Show" anymore. I know that he filled in for Jon Stewart a few times, but for the most part his hosting and interviewing performances have all been through the filter of this satirical construct, and who knows how he's going to perform without it? Okay, I'm being alarmist here. Stephen Colbert has spent nearly a decade successfully putting out his own award-winning comedy program, and has clearly been honing his skills during that time. There are a few of his excellent non-satirical interviews floating around the web that suggest he'll be find without the egomaniacal blowhard routine.

And as a fan of Colbert, this is a great opportunity for him. As much as I enjoy and admire "The Colbert Report," I don't want to see him doing it forever. In fact, to be quite honest, I'm surprised that he's managed to keep it going for as long as he has. I still tune in occasionally, but I grew weary of the fake right-wing schtick a few years ago and stopped watching regularly. It'll be great to see him pick up and move on to something different, hopefully after ending "The Colbert Report" in a truly glorious fashion. And remember, his departure from Comedy Central opens up the post - "Daily Show" slot for someone new. It'll be interesting to see who comes in next, especially as the network had some trouble keeping anything in that timeslot - I vaguely remember "Insomnia" with Dave Attell being the best of the pre- "Report" shows. Maybe another "Daily Show" alum will be up next?

And what about all the other contenders for "Late Night"? I am a little disappointed that Conan O'Brien's not coming back to network television and I still think he should have stayed the host of "The Tonight Show." Ferguson, Stewart, and Louis CK seem to be perfectly happy doing what they're doing, and good for them. It would have been nice to see a lady invited to the sausage party, but then Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have plenty of other opportunities to exercise their talent, and I'm not familiar with Chelsea Handler's work, so I have no real opinion on her. Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno have had their day, and wouldn't have brought anything new or interesting to the table. And Arsenio? Better luck next time.

So now it's going to be Fallon versus Colbert, with Kimmel as the third party candidate. I like Stephen Colbert's odds and think he's going to be a real contender. He's the oldest of the bunch at 49, but he's also the one with the most personality and the most range. He can never be David Letterman, but he's already done a very fine job being Stephen Colbert for nearly a decade. I'm also a little apprehensive that the move to a network means that he probably will have to adjust his style for more mainstream viewers. That sharp satiric edge that has served him so well will probably have to be put away, to be brought out only for special occasions. Many members of Congress may be breathing a sigh of relief.

Then again, it's not wise to underestimate Stephen Colbert. This is the man who delivered that devastating takedown of the Bush Administration at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, and managed to wrangle himself a cameo in one of the "Hobbit" movies by sheer force of his nerdiness. I'll bet he still has some surprises in store for us.
missmediajunkie: (Default)
I'm getting precariously close to finishing off the "They Shoot Pictures Don't They" list of the top 1000 movies ever made. This is illusory, since the thirty-odd films I have left to see are among the most obscure of the obscure, and include things like the fifteen-hour "Heimat" series and the experimental film "Out 1," which isn't available in my country in any form, and I have no plans to track down in the near future. However, I have to admit a certain sense of accomplishment getting as far as I have. However, I've been left with the nagging question. Why did I embark on this crazy journey to begin with? Why did I want to watch all these films and become the pretentious film snob I am today?

I mean, if I wanted to simply watch great films, I wouldn't have been so dedicated to watching every last title I could get my hands on. I'd have ignored all the Jean-Luc Godard and Robert Bresson titles after a certain point. Heck, I'd have probably picked a different list that wasn't so dedicated to being so diverse and all-encompassing. There are several other 1000 film lists I could have tackled that aren't nearly as challenging. However, I picked "They Shoot Pictures' because it was the most difficult, because it contained experimental films, and films from more obscure film cultures, cult films, and films that only the really dedicated cinephiles know or care about. I've watched films that most mainstream moviegoers would be hard-pressed to even identify as films. So what have I gotten out of it?

Well, it's mae me a much more informed and confident movie watcher, for one thing. I've been working my way through another list of films lately, the list I of all the films I still want to see from the previous year before I write up my "Best of" list. I'm down to about ten titles now, mostly foreign films since the bulk of December releases finally hit DVD over the last few weeks. This year, however, I noticed that the composition of the titles was a little different than usual. I usually make a point to watch all the Best Foreign Language Oscar nominees and all the Best Documentary nominees so I have a decent sampling of each before making my list. This year, I've seen three of the five Foreign Language Nominees, but have no desire to track down the last two, "Omar" and "The Missing Picture." I'd consider watching both when they become available, but they're not priorities.

Why? When I look back at everything I watched for 2013, I've seen dozens of foreign titles already. "Blue is the Warmest Color," "A Touch of Sin," "Le Passe," "Wadjda," "Borgman," "Heli," "Gloria," "Museum Hours," "Drug War," and many others. On my "to watch" list are a few more, including "The Wind Rises," and "Bastards." Over the last few years I've figured out how to follow the festival coverage, which critics have good recommendations, and which filmmakers to keep an eye on. I've figured out how to pick and choose among titles instead of blindly watching every awards contender that showed up on the radar. Of course, that was a good thing to do for a few years until I got my bearings and started developing - and I know how this sounds - a better sense of taste.

Context is vital to being able to navigate world cinema the way I want to, and thanks to "They Shoot Pictures," I now have some pretty good footing with just about every genre and film culture. I don't get intimidated by films from Brazil or Romania or sub-Saharan Africa because I've seen the foundational films from each school of filmmaking. Looking at the some of the prominent foreign titles from 2013, I don't think I would have gotten half as much from a movie like "The Great Beauty" if I hadn't been familiar with Fellini. And knowing Godard's "Band a Apart" was vital to understanding the final scene of "Le Weekend." I may not like Godard films, but I get a lot out of being familiar with his work.

The crux of it is that I love movies and the more I know about movies, the better I tend to enjoy them. This certainly isn't true for everyone, and I readily admit that becoming a film nerd has steadily decreased my tolerance of studio pablum. However, I still love a good Arnold movie, and I'm certainly not giving up superheroes or cartoons. I think it's better to say I've refined my tastes rather than replaced them wholesale. And in the process I have so much more cinema available to me than ever before, whole categories I would've passed by without a thought ten years ago.

And though the going got rough sometimes, it was a lot of fun getting here too.
missmediajunkie: (Default)
We've been seeing a steady influx of trailers for the summer movie season, and a couple of oddball outliers for pictures coming up later in the year and beyond. So here's a quick rundown of some of the notable trailers and teasers that have popped up since January. All links below lead to Trailer Addict.

Annie - The reactions to the new "Annie" coming up for the holiday season have been decidedly mixed, especially Cameron Diaz's new take on Miss Hannigan. Still, Quvenzhané Wallis looks like she's going to make a great Annie, and Jamie Foxx is in rare form as Will Stacks, the new Daddy Warbucks figure. I'm a little disappointed that we didn't hear more of the music, though, and that the trailer decided to emphasize the humor instead.

Hercules - So much cheese on display. I'm getting flashbacks to "Conan: The Barbarian" here. Best case scenario is that we get a completely pulpy, silly B-movie Hercules and Duane Johnson's considerable charms don't get buried under too many CGI effects. I'm not sold based on the action and the spectacle alone, and this trailer really could have used a little more spark and personality. Unfortunately this comes off as pretty generic-looking.

Chef - It's nice to see Jon Favreau taking a break from big summer blockbusters and trying his hand at a foodie comedy. And it doesn't hurt that he apparently decided to have an "Iron Man 2" cast reunion at the same time. Being released in the middle of May, "Chef" is clearly a personal project being served up as counterprogramming, and looks like a perfectly sweet, feel-good alternative to the superheroes and Adam Sandler. They don't make enough of them like this anymore.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - A very brief look at the new designs for the Ninja Turtles confirms that they're way too humanized, to the point of being a little off-putting. The rest of the trailer is following the exact same template as the "Transformers" films, especially with the presence of Megan Fox as April O'Neil. I don't have high hopes for this, but I've learned not to underestimate Michael Bay and toy aisle nostalgia. Proceed at your own risk.

Tammy - Melissa McCarthy has worked her way up the ranks over the past few years to the rare position of female comedy headliner - and when was the last time we legitimately had one of those? The trailer for "Tammy" makes it very clear that this is a major starring vehicle for her. I've found McCarthy's previous efforts very hit-or-miss, and I don't know how well she's going to work as a lead, but this teaser with her stumbling through a robbery routine did make me smile. I wish her all the best.

The Giver - Confession time. Despite being recommended the book by every English teacher in junior high, I've never read Lois Lowry's beloved dystopian YA novel, "The Giver." I figured this could be a plus, allowing me a different perspective on the film version than I've had with other, similar adaptations. So far, the trailer is pretty bland, trying too hard to make itself look like every other teen action franchise out there. The appearance of Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges is intriguing though.

Peanuts - This isn't coming out until November of 2015, but it provides a crucial first look at the visual style that's going to be used for the new "Peanuts" movie from 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios, best known for the "Ice Age" movies but steadily getting more ambitious with recent features like "Epic." It looks like they've done a good job of capturing the iconic look of the Charles Schultz drawings with CGI. However, getting the story and humor right will also be crucial.

Edge of Tomorrow - I thought this was a spring release, but apparently the latest Tom Cruise science-fiction action film is coming in June. Cruise has proven to be a good fit for this kind of material, and I'll watch Emily Blunt in just about anything. Based on a Japanese novel and manga called "All You Need is Kill," this looks to have a lot in common with "Source Code," except much more action-oriented. Also, having Doug Liman and Christopher McQuarrie onboard doesn't hurt.

Guardians of the Galaxy - And finally, we come to my favorite trailer of the batch, which introduces us to the motley crew who will be starring in the next Marvel Universe film. I think what makes this work is really John C. Reilly as the audience surrogate, providing the introductions and setting the tone for how we're meant to view these characters. Frankly, I have my doubts about how the concept is going to play, but the trailer goes a long way in convincing me that they've got the tone right and the humor right, and we're in good hands.
missmediajunkie: (Default)
One of the big trends this year is the return of the Bible epics and the rise of the grassroots Christian films. The former include Darren Aronofsky's "Noah," which has been banned in several Muslim countries but is doing pretty well at the box office everywhere else, and Ridley Scott's upcoming Christmas release, "Exodus: Gods and Kings," which will star Christian Bale as Moses. I guess you could also count "Son of God," which is a theatrical film cobbled together out of footage from last year's hit "The Bible" miniseries that aired on the History Channel. On the other end of the spectrum we have "God's Not Dead," notable for generating $32 million so far after three weeks of release from a budget of $2 million, thanks mostly to the backing of several major Christian organizations. Somewhere in the middle you have the little indie drama "Heaven is for Real." There's also a reboot of the "Left Behind" series starring Nicholas Cage coming in October.

Now, faith-based and Bible-based films have a long history in Hollywood, despite the claims that the town is hostile to the faith community. Some of the biggest hits in movie history have been Christian-themed, including "The Ten Commandments," "Ben-Hur," and "The Passion of the Christ." There was a whole flourishing genre of Bible epics in the '50s and '60s that gave us titles like "The Robe," "Exodus," "The Greatest Story Ever Told," and "King of Kings." With the recent spate of historical epics and sword-and-sandals movies, it makes sense that Hollywood would revisit and update some of these stories for modern audiences. There are lots of opportunities for spectacle, and despite the controversy that seems to dog even the most innocuous religion-themed film, they can be extremely lucrative. With Easter coming up, there's been a lot of chatter going around about the possibility that this trend may stick around long-term.

However, there is the little matter of the current cultural divide. When you look at the religion-themed films, the first thing that you notice is that the studios are really only interested in putting money into the big Bible epics. Smaller, more contemporary stories about faith are very few and far between. Religious comedies like "Oh God!" and "Sister Act" are practically extinct, with the exception of the Tyler Perry movies, aimed at a very niche audience. Prestige pictures like "Philomena" rarely call attention to their religious themes. It's been a long time since we've seen anything really controversial like "The Last Temptation of Christ" or "Dogma" on the scene. The ruckus around "Noah" has been mostly limited to Islamic countries, where the screen portrayal of prophets, such as Noah, is not allowed. Christian conservatives have had mixed reactions to the film and some of the artistic license taken with the story, but there hasn't been much outright hostility. All in all, there's been a definite retreat from religious subject matter in recent years, particularly by any filmmaker who wants to examine religious questions seriously. As a result, even films that casually involve religion are scarce.

Those little, independently produced Christian movies we occasionally see popping up in the box office standings often claim to be filling the gap, purportedly serving a market that is perceived as being ignored by Hollywood. I don't find this to be true. These are better characterized as Evangelical films, because they're usually aimed toward reinforcing an Evangelical worldview and have very little crossover appeal, even with other religious audiences. "God's Not Dead," for instance, is premised on a scenario where Christians are persecuted in academia for their beliefs, which is a flimsy idea at best. It's biggest star, amusingly, is former "Hercules" actor, Kevin Sorbo. Like most of these films, the reviews were lackluster and awareness of the film outside of its intended audience is practically nonexistent. And for every "God's Not Dead" which attracts a fair amount of attention, there are dozens of others that flop, such as the notorious "Alone Yet Not Alone," which was involved in the recent Oscar scandal.

It'll be interesting to see if any of these movies do well enough to really make an impact on the commercial film landscape, but it seems doubtful that religious films of any real consequence will result from the the trend. We're looking at either studio blockbusters or didactic message movies, not that I mind the existence of either, but there's little middle ground. I don't see much room for the really interesting projects that have been percolating for a while, like Paul Verhoeven's historical Jesus biopic or Martin Scorsese's adaptation of Shusaku Endo's "Silence." "Noah" seemed promising because of Aronofsky's involvement, but seems to be far more spectacle than anything else. And if we are going to have a revival of the religious films, it would be a shame if we didn't get any that actually bothered to seriously address modern questions of faith and religion.
missmediajunkie: (Default)
I didn't write much about the handover of "The Tonight Show" much, because I didn't have much to say about it. I never watched Jay Leno or Jimmy Fallon with any regularity. I never had much of an attachment to "The Tonight Show," only barely remembering the very end of Johnny Carson's legendary tenure. I was a fan of Conan O'Brien and felt he was cheated out of the hosting job, but that was years ago. I really don't watch late night television anymore aside from "The Daily Show" with John Stewart, which I tend to watch the next day in the early evenings when I get home from work.

But then David Letterman announced his retirement, and suddenly I found that I did care. There was a brief period in grad school where I would stay up to watch Letterman, and then Craig Ferguson most nights. But more than that, it's Letterman who I view as a one of my cultural constants, not Leno. I've been hearing about his late night antics with the Top Ten lists and Stupid Pet Tricks since the '80s. I know about the Crispin Glover, Madonna, and Drew Barrymore incidents. I remember the year he hosted the Oscars. I actually made a point of tuning in to see the Oprah appearance on his show. The idea that Letterman is retiring hit me much harder than I anticipated, and I realized he's been on television nearly as long as I've been alive. He's outlasted popes and presidents and the Cold War and Andy Rooney.

Moreover, there's the makings of some real drama going on around his departure. The battle over "The Tonight Show" was over in 2010. We knew that Leno was going permanently once he made the announcement, and that he would be succeeded by Jimmy Fallon. The only question was whether the ratings were going to hold up this time, and they did. David Letterman's successor is very much in question. Craig Ferguson is still hosting "The Late, Late Show" and has a small but very dedicated following. However, it's not clear how well his brand of humor would carry over to a bigger and more conventional program. There's also a good chance that Ferguson would turn down the job. That means the door is open for the network to pursue other options, including cable hosts Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Conan O'Brien, whose contracts on their current shows will be up in 2015 when Letterman is planning to make his exit.

Or they could go even farther afield. Just about every major comedy star is suddenly a contender - Jerry Seinfeld, Louis C.K., Neil Patrick Harris, Drew Carey, and Chris Rock have come up repeatedly in the early speculation. Are late night audiences ready for a woman host like Chelsea Handler or Tina Fey? Would CBS be bold enough to poach someone like Jimmy Kimmel or Ellen Degeneres? Could Jay Leno be lured out of retirement? Or maybe it won't be anyone we know. After all, Conan O'Brien was practically an unknown when he inherited the old post- "Tonight Show" timeslot back in 1992 when Letterman decamped to CBS. There are a lot of up-and-comers who could really make a splash, though it's not going to be like the "Tonight Show" handover. Leno inherited program with a long and storied history. Letterman's show was always Letterman's show.

Whoever gets the job, it's going to really mean the end of an era this time. I still think of the late night hosts as being primarily a brotherhood of older gents, but now Kimmel and Fallon have firmly established themselves, and 60-something Letterman will probably be succeeded by someone a decade or two younger. Will it be enough to lower the ever-advancing average age of the viewing audience again, I wonder? Everybody used to watch Carson, and then everybody watched either Leno or Letterman, but in recent years the audience has fractured thanks to a wave of alternatives, and I expect we're just going to see it fracture further in the years to come.

The late night talk shows, like everything else on network television, is losing ground to cable and the internet. The "Tonight Show" transition garnered a ratings bonanza for NBC, and I expect the last few David Letterman shows in 2015 will do the same for CBS - news of the retirement announcement was enough to boost his numbers earlier this week. But after that's all over, when things settle down and we have a new status quo, what then? I can't see myself changing my current viewing habits no matter who ends up in the Ed Sullivan theater, and I doubt many others will either. Unless something drastic happens, I suspect the end of Letterman will be network late night's last hurrah.
missmediajunkie: (Default)
I wasn't the most consistent viewer of "Star Trek," but when I was in junior high, I spent every weekday before dinner watching the syndicated reruns of "Next Generation" and marveling over an adventure show where problems were solved by smarts and diplomacy as often as fisticuffs and gunplay. It was my gateway into science-fiction television, and though I never became as attached to the other "Star Trek" iterations, I still count myself as a "Trek" fan wholeheartedly. Here are my top ten favorite episodes, unranked and ordered by airdate. And I am totally cheating and counting two-parters as single entries.

"Q Who" - "Next Generation" famously suffered through some rocky early seasons, but Q episodes were always a a highlight. I debated between "Q Who" and "Deja Q," but this one has to make the list for the first appearance of the Borg, the greatest villains introduced by the "Next Generation," and a great supporting turn by Whoopi Goldberg, who joined the cast in the second season. And I love that the whole story was a lesson in hubris - there's always going to be something out there that humans will be unprepared to face.

"Yesterday's Enterprise" - I used to get this one mixed up with the seventh season episode "Parallels," but "Yesterday's Enterprise" is the far better episode, a time travel story that has the Enterprise-D encounter its predecessor ship, the Enterprise-C with some dramatic consequences. I always appreciated that this episode gave Tasha Yar a proper sendoff and was so fully committed to a fairly heady premise involving alternate timelines. You almost never see time travel stories that deal so much in similar consequences.

"The Offspring" - The tale of Data's daughter Lal is one of the funnier hours that the show ever came up with, but also one of the most poignant. Data's experiments to understand humanity and his own existence better were hit-or-miss, often coming across as too pat or contrived. However, his first jaunt into parenting is definitely one of the hits, giving us a brief glimpse of relationship I wish we could have seen expanded into further episodes. It also makes a good counterpart to the famous "Measure of a Man," which just missed a spot on this list.

"Hollow Pursuits" - Poor Lieutenant Barclay. He's that awkward introvert we all know who loves shows like "Star Trek," but is rarely portrayed as part of the "Star Trek" universe. This episode fixes that, giving Barclay the spotlight for a self-contained adventure that takes a piece of future technology we're familiar with, the holodeck, and using it in a way we don't expect - namely giving a man's fantasy life a little too much life. I always liked it when "The Next Generation" gave us a break from formula, especially for stories as much fun as this.

"The Best of Both Worlds" - There's no denying the impact of the Borg on the "Star Trek" universe, and this was arguably their best appearance on "Next Generation," finally clashing with the Federation in full-scale combat. There are so many memorable moments in this two-parter: the wrecked Federation fleet, the first separation of the Enterprise's saucer and stardrive, and who can forget the shocking cliffhanger that introduced Locutus? It's no wonder this remains one of the series' most popular stories, and influenced so much "Star Trek" to follow.

"Darmok" - The first episode that I remember watching, and one of the best examples of a "Star Trek" story that favors thinking through problems instead of using brute force. I've read through enough analyses of this episode to understand that the linguisitic puzzles are pretty much bunk, considering the use of the universal translator, but still the message and the execution of it are so well done that they hit home beautifully. And special kudos to Paul Winfield's performance as Dathon, still one of my favorite guest appearances on the show.

"I, Borg" - There were only six episodes in the entire run of "Next Generation" that featured the Borg, and I've managed to include four of them on this list. This is the last, where Geordi LaForge meets a young Borg he names Hugh, and teaches him the foreign concept of individuality. This is such a wonderfully thoughtful episode, that really gets into what it means to be human and how we define the self. And after the fireworks of "Best of Both Worlds," it's a good reminder that every villain in "Star Trek" is a potential friend.

"The Inner Light" - Boldly going where no man has gone before can take on many different forms, and perhaps no voyage of discovery Captain Picard ever took was as strange and wonderful as the one he experiences in "The Inner Light," where Picard lives out the simple life of a man on a different planet, from a different civilization. It's such a quiet, seemingly uneventful episode where it's not clear what is going on until the final set of reveals, but the emotional punch that it delivers rivals anything else that "Star Trek" has ever done.

"Ship in a Bottle" - I always had a thing for the holodeck episodes, which often provided a nice change of scenery or access to unusual characters. Daniel Davis's Moriarty was introduced way back in the Season 2 episode "Elementary, Dear Data," a clever story but nothing special. I'm glad that they brought him back for this follow-up, where the question of whether a hologram can be considered a form of life is introduced, and there's a twisty plot involving figuring out who is in what frame of reality. I don't even mind that the ending cheats.

"All Good Things" - The finale two-parter gives us a chance to say goodbye to all the beloved characters, gives us another ripping time travel story, and brings back Q in the judge's outfit to deliver a final lecture. It makes for a fitting ending to the series, giving us a peek at what the future holds in store for the crew without setting anything in stone, revisiting familiar themes, and leaving plenty of room for more adventures. "The Next Generation" went out on top, and precious little in the "Star Trek" universe has come close to it since.

missmediajunkie: (Default)
Lots of spoilers for the third season of "Game of Thrones" ahead. That's the third season that aired roughly a year ago, kids, not the upcoming fourth one that you've been seeing all the marketing for. Why am I writing a post about something that happened in year three now, after I already wrote up my thoughts on that season back at the end of last summer? Well, because I think that enough time has passed in regards to spoilers and such that I can finally get my rant on about one of the biggest events in the show so far: the infamous Red Wedding.

I managed to avoid most of the spoilers about the third season. I didn't know who got married to who, who got various body parts cut off, who nearly got killed by who, who became unlikely friends with who, who conquered what, and who finally stuck it to a White Walker. The Red Wedding massacre, however, was something I had been hearing about in offhand comments long before this season began. It seemed like everyone who was a fan of the books was anticipating it, and they weren't shy about broadcasting that anticipation. I've been pretty good about avoiding places where spoilers tend to come up, but talk of the Red Wedding seemed to be the exception to every rule about spoilers. Even the most conscientious and considerate "Thrones" fan couldn't seem to resist referring to it as a major event coming up in the show, and thus is was practically impossible to avoid being hyped up for it. And that's really what killed it for me.

After "Rains of Castamere," the episode where the Red Wedding actually happened, aired on HBO, matters got exponentially worse because suddenly the information went viral in the mainstream media. Even though the details of what actually went down were still fairly scarce, the response to the episode itself became a talking point. I was reminded of this when earlier in the week, Jon Stewart brought up the Red Wedding in his "Daily Show" interview of Peter Dinklage and the popular Youtube videos of upset viewers reacting to the big moment. There were thinkpieces circulating everywhere, and from the titles alone it became obvious that the Red Wedding was a massacre where a lot of major characters died in an especially horrific fashion. I understand the fans' need to share in the experience, and the media commentators' need to generate meta, but this was too much. You had to avoid the internet entirely to avoid being spoiled, something I wasn't willing to do.

When I finally watched "Rains of Castamere" several months later, it didn't live up to expectations. How could it? So much of the effectiveness of the Red Wedding was the suddenness of it, that with hardly any warning the writer would kill off a major protagonist who had up to that point been the center of a major thread of the story. The same thing happened in the first season with the execution of Ned Stark, which was also spoiled for me, but that one stung less because it had attracted much less attention and commentary, so the impact still hit me the way it was supposed to. The Red Wedding was billed as being an even bigger game changer, but honestly I didn't think much of it. The characters who got killed off were among the least interesting, and it was honestly a bit of a relief to learn that they wouldn't be taking up any more screen time. One of the female victims was so bland, I was happy her actress, who I like, would now be able to go take on better work.

I know almost nothing about the upcoming fourth season of "Game of Thrones," except the identities of a couple of the characters are going to survive to the fifth season because they're still being referred to in the present tense by a friend of mine who reads the books. It's actually fairly heartening to hear some claim that it's all downhill after The Red Wedding, and there's nothing in the series that lives up to that moment. That means that I'm not going to have to weather the fallout of another of these big, shocking surprises for the foreseeable future. Instead, I can enjoy season four the way I enjoyed most of season three - completely obliviously.

Season three has actually been my favorite year of "Game of Thrones" so far, but the Red Wedding really didn't play much of a part in that. Would I have appreciated it more if I didn't know it was coming? Sure, but I'd still have been more invested in what was going on with practically all the other characters. I'm sure I'd have been impressed by the twist, but there were plenty of other developments in the season that were just as important narratively. I'm really looking forward to the fourth season coming up, and I'm really looking forward to watching it without the threat of so many spoilers hanging over my head this time.

missmediajunkie: (Default)
Minor spoilers ahead.

Brett Ratner helming a second "Inception" movie was always an iffy prospect, but somehow he got nearly all the major cast members from the first movie back for another round (with the notable exception of Leonrado DiCaprio), and and seemed to be working with an intriguing new concept: reversing an inception, or removing an artificially implanted idea from someone's mind. Sadly, the execution frequently feels like a retread of the first film, though not a bad one.

Tom Hardy takes over the lead for "Inception: Mindscape" as Robert Eames, the chameleon "forger" who has gotten himself deep in debt with the wrong crowd, and is recruited by a government operative, Louise Revere (Joan Allen) to go into the mind of Senator Edmund Hawkes (Stacy Keach) who they suspect has been incepted by agents of a foreign conglomerate. Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Ariadne (Ellen Page), Yusuf (Dileep Rao), and Saito (Ken Watanabe) are back, along with new faces Heloise (Felicity Jones) and Crawford (Anthony Mackie), Eames' new love interest and the new stick-in-the-mud respectively. We also have obvious villains this time out in the form of evil European tycoon Magnus Vang (Aksel Hennie) and his sister, the femme fatale Magdalena (Lea Seydoux).

The good news is that Ratner can still handle an action scene, and though his gunfights and car chases ping as fairly generic, they do a good job of keeping the momentum going. Less successful is the dream imagery. Apparently Ratner took the complaints about the previous dream environments being too utopian and rationally ordered to heart, because he injects several absurd elements into the mix - circus animals in the train sequence and steampunk vehicles in the cathedral showdown, for instance. A better director could have handled these more effectively, but in Ratner's hands they just tend to be distracting. More fundamentally, despite all the fancy new CGI dreamscapes, new characters, and a twisty, complicated plot, the structure of the new "Inception" movie, down to many of the action beats, is almost identical to the first one.

And that's not the only thing that feels too familiar. Hans Zimmer's famously unsubtle score is back, and way more obtrusive here than it should be. We get more gravity-defying stunts, more James Bond inspired fights, but they're only minor variations on things that we've already seen. For the most part the dream worlds are missing that meticulous construction and sense of cyberpunk dystopia that Christopher Nolan brought to his work. Brett Ratner manages to give us a decent approximation, but it's just not the same. I'd have rather seen a more radical departure from the style, maybe from a director with a more distinct visual sense, like Tarsem Singh or Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Probably the best bit of imagery that Ratner pulls off is the M.C. Escher cathedral, where the climax takes place, though we don't get much of a chance to really look at it for more than a few seconds, which is a shame.

The actors pick up a lot of the slack. Tom Hardy is perfectly comfortable in the leading man role, and fortunately much more intelligible than he was in both "The Dark Knight Returns" and "Mad Max: Fury Road." However, he has far more chemistry with Seydoux than he does with Felicity Jones, and the romantic subplot really feels tacked on. The tone of the film is much lighter, with a lot more banter being tossed around by the supporting characters, and Aksel Hennie hamming it up nicely as the villain of the piece. For the most part the humor avoids being jokey and I think it works, though there are a few scenes that feel too much like material cut from one of Ratner's "Rush Hour" films. And I suspect he may have seen "Juno" one too many times considering the amount of snark he has Ellen Page deliver.

What I found really disappointing, though, was that "Mindscape" doesn't do much to expand the "Inception" universe except in the most perfunctory ways. We barely learn any more about the most intriguing characters from the first film, none of the dream technology is expanded upon, and there's little insight into the corporate hegemony that seems to run the world despite the entire plot depending on navigating its intricacies. We do learn a lot more about Eames, but it only serves to genericize him into a typical action hero. I guess that was to be expected, since the point of this sequel seems to have been to genericize "Inception" to the point where it would be easier for Warner Brother to pump out more sequels.

"Inception: Mindscape" is decent enough for a big budget action movie, but viewers hoping for something to match the original movie are bound to be disappointed. I did have fun with it though, and the movie leaves enough unanswered questions that I'm open to seeing an "Inception 3," though I do hope that Ratner cedes the director's chair to someone new.

Someone with less of a simian fixation. Seriously, what was with all the monkeys?
missmediajunkie: (Default)
Another chapter of online media fandom is about to end, fellow media junkies. The beloved website Television Without Pity (TWoP), that had a big hand in creating the TV recapper culture we know and love today, is scheduled to be shut down in April, with its famously boisterous forums following at the end of May. It's an old, familiar story by this point. A media website attracts a loyal, fervent following for a few years, they're acquired by a major company that doesn't really know what to do with them (in this case NBC Universal via their Bravo unit), the original folks responsible for the early success moved on, and the site slowly withered away until the plug was finally pulled.

I wasn't a very consistent visitor to TWoP, but I did visit fairly regularly for a few years. A lot of people did. What drew me to the site wasn't the recaps, which have now become industry standard, but the forums. I have a long history of loving obscure little genre shows that have almost no fandoms to speak of, and no matter how obscure a show was, the TWoP forums could be counted on to have a thread for nearly everything you could think of. Even if it was a single one-season reality show, late night time-filler, or a foreign cult import, if it was airing somewhere on American television, someone on TWoP was talking about it. On the other hand, it was also the only place I regularly found a decent level of discussion going on for shows that didn't really attract traditional media fandoms - the crime procedurals, the family sitcoms, and even news programs.

So the TWoP forums were where I went to look for reactions to new episodes of dubbed late night anime (from viewers who weren't part of the usual anime crowd), "Law & Order: SVU," "Project Runway," and occasionally even "60 Minutes." It was where I went when I first started working my way through older shows, because I could follow along with the archived discussion threads simply by keeping track of when posts were made relative to the original airdates for the episodes I was watching. I always preferred old fashioned message boards to social networking based sites for media discussions for this reason. It was so much easier to find things. And, of course, there were always far fewer technical glitches than with "talkback" style comments like Disquis.

I also appreciated that the participants were mainly casual viewers like me. There were certainly big fandoms on the forums, often with their own separate subforums and subcultures that generated lots of activity, but I tended to stay away from those. Certain media fandoms are notorious for generating drama, and I was always wary of getting too involved with them. I also knew where to find forums and message boards devoted to specific shows, like "Project Runway," but they tended to be more insular and myopic about their particular fandoms. The TWoP crowd could be counted on to be a more laid-back, more eclectic crowd that was interested in a variety of different shows.

Most of the write-ups I've been reading about the end of TWoP have focused on the recaps, naturally, on the snarky, obsessive, yet refreshingly self-aware brand of criticism they helped to popularize. It helped the mainstream to realize that there is an audience for good television writing, and that even the most heinous pieces of pop culture detritus could be good material for serious dissections. There have also been some inches devoted to the site's brushes with fame over the years, as various TV showrunners have dropped by to engage with their audience directly over the years, with mixed results.

The obvious successor to Television Without Pity has been the A.V. Club, which takes a more curated approach to television recaps and reviews, and has also nurtured a great little community. However, it hasn't got quite the same verve or the same breadth of coverage as Television Without Pity. Few media sites do. That's why there are still a significant number of regular users on the site, and they're debating over where to migrate the community next. This is a common occurrence now, fandoms moving from platform to platform and site to site as the internet chugs along.

I can't say I'm going to miss Television Without Pity. Though I had the site bookmarked for ages, I haven't been by in years. I'm far too busy to follow along with message board discussions of the shows I watch anymore. However, in its own way TWoP was an institution, one that gave TV fans a place to be TV fans for well over a solid decade and changed the way a lot of us watch and engage with television.
missmediajunkie: (Default)
I'd seen two of Chinese director Jia Zhangke's films before, "Platform" from 2000 and "Still Life" from 2006. It was enough to get a good sense of his style and his aims as a director, which is to explore modern Chinese life and society with a more critical, nuanced eye than many of his predecessors were able to. His work is definitely art house fare, meditative dramas full of slow, quiet scenes. So it was a shock to find his latest film, "A Touch of Sin," is a crime movie with several jarring moments of violence.

The two-hour film is an anthology of four different stories with very different settings and protagonists. All of them are based on real life crimes that highlight a variety of socials ills. In the first story, a man, Dahai (Wu Jiang) attempts to bring to light the corruption of a group of village officials who have profited handsomely from the sale of the local mine. In the second, we follow a migrant worker, Zhao San (Wang Baoqiang), who is visiting home for the New Year but not received warmly by his family. The third is about Xiao Yu (Tao Zhao), a woman who works at a spa and is conducting a secret affair. Finally, the last story is about a young factory worker, Xiao Hui (Lanshan Luo), who falls in love with a prostitute, Lianrong (Li Meng).

There are few connecting threads between each story, aside from the thematic goal of exploring different forms of sudden violence and their causes. At first glance all four stories appear to follow a similar pattern. We are introduced to our protagonist and his or her circumstances, following the ordinary course of their lives and witnessing the slow burn of simmering tensions that eventually boil over at the end of the story. However, these characters are quite different from each other and their paths to violence are not the same. One is clearly disturbed from the beginning, another is frustrated by a perceived lack of other options, and another is gradually desensitized to violence after repeated exposure in everyday life.

Jia does not focus on the violence, though it is portrayed bluntly enough that the Chinese censors have condemned the film for graphic content. Each story ends almost immediately after each incident of violence occurs, and we are not shown reactions or consequences, with one exception. Rather, Jia is concerned with the systems and culture that seem to foster violence. We get these wonderful snapshots of the various communities and oppressive social structures that the affect the characters through incidental conversations and interactions with minor players. The introspective leads are often isolated on the screen, brooding silently as part of the long, beautiful shots of busy city streets or empty country roads. In the final story, the cramped factory dormitories and luxurious nightclubs serve to emphasize the alienation and hopelessness of the final protagonist.

How much of the responsibility for these tragedies should be borne by the individual and how much should be blamed on society? Jia doesn't give a straightforward answer, and the circumstances are different enough in each little morality tale that they point to different answers. However, he does single out various societal forces as contributing factors: apathy towards the abuses of the elites, weakened familial ties due to working conditions, and a lack of opportunities for the young, among others. This is all conveyed fairly subtly, in terms that would never get "A Touch of Sin" mistaken for a more typical social justice picture, but I still find it remarkable that Jia Zhangke is able to be so candid in his examination of Chinese social ills.

Of the four stories, I think the first with the corrupt officials is the strongest and the one that makes the most lasting impression because it is so dynamic, and the tragicomic performance of Wu Jiang is a lot of fun. It comes the closest to the usual template of a bombastic action movie, and is the least like Jia Zhangke's other films, which is probably why I found it such a great surprise. I also like the third one featuring the director's wife and longtime muse, Tao Zhao, though the climax feels a little tacked on. The other two have their strengths, but they're less successful and contain some puzzling ambiguities I'm not sure were intentional. The psychopath story in particular needed some fleshing out and I'd love to see a longer version.

I wouldn't be disappointed if Jia Zhangke went back to making his more subdued social dramas, but it's always exciting when a good director tries to experiment a bit, and I hope he considers more genre outings in the future - especially if they come out as well as "A Touch of Sin."

missmediajunkie: (Default)
I try not to get too worked up about bad reality television shows. I understand that they cater to the lowest common denominator and that they're as much of an embarrassment to their viewing audience as they are to the participants or the network or the production company. It's in my best interest to ignore them and pretend that they don't exist, because ultimately they don't matter and don't deserve any extra attention, even if it's as the subject of scorn. But once in a while I hear about one of these shows that just gets under my skin and I can't stop thinking about. So I am compelled to rant.

I guess I was too premature in hoping that the FOX network had turned over a new leaf in my recent "Cosmos" post. I thought that they had left behind the most awful reality competition shows like "The Swan" (a plastic surgery show masquerading as a makeover show) and "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance" (a woman's entire innocent family is subjected to a fake nightmare fiance). And then I heard about their new summer reality matchmaking show, "I Wanna Marry 'Harry,'" which has one of the most horrendous premises I've ever heard of. The more I think about it, the more it makes my blood boil.

Twelve American women are shipped off to the UK to spend a few weeks vying for the affections of an eligible man who they think is Prince Harry, actually a lookalike recruited to fill the role. It's a hoax show of course, in the same vein as "Joe Millionaire." You have to be exceptionally badly informed or gullible to think that a member of the royal family would consider participating in a crass American "Bachelor" style reality show to find potential mates. It's akin to George Clooney joining Match.com. This points to the contestants being an exceptionally dim bunch, or willing to play along and humiliate themselves for a chance at fame and fortune. I'm not sure which possibility is worse.

The appeal to that certain demographic is obvious. The show is taking advantage of the hype over the royal wedding and parlaying the acceptance of Prince William marrying a commoner into the possibility that anyone now has a shot at his eligible bachelor brother. It's also playing that age-old game of shame the gold digger. The unspoken assumption is that it's fine to laugh at the contestants because they're stupid enough to fall for the ruse and if they're on this kind of dating show then they're probably terrible people anyway. It's another spin on the freak show, similar to "Honey Boo Boo," "Real Housewives," or "The Kardashians." The audience gets to watch their antics with disgust and feel safely superior in the knowledge that they would never stoop so low.

In the case of "Marry Harry," however, that's clearly not true. There are many women out there who would jump at the chance to fulfill the princess fantasy we've all been spoon-fed since childhood and marry into royalty. Think of all the princess-themed junk aimed at little girls and the Prince Charming narratives that still work their way into so many romance stories. Well ladies, this is where all that leads. You end up a poor, deluded dupe on a reality show being exploited and mocked in prime time for taking to heart all those movies and shows where any ordinary girl can land herself a royal with enough pluck and determination. Generally I enjoy seeing princess fantasies subverted and their adherents set straight, but this is just cruel for the sake of being cruel.

I can't help wondering how the show's producers are going to try putting a positive spin on "Marry Harry." Most of the hoax shows try to soften the blow, often handing out large sums of cash to help assuage their victims' embarrassment. And Joe Millionaire did become a proper millionaire on the show's last episode. Will the producers try to suggest that true love blossoms between the winning wannabe royal and the fake Prince Harry? Will they declare her a real princess in all the ways that matter and hand over a shiny tiara for her trouble? I'm fantasizing about the last girl calling out the faux royal and the scumbag producers, but that's not going to happen.

It's depressing that shows like this are still being made. I can only be glad that this is the kind of scenario that can only be pulled off once. No other royal out there has the same draw as Prince Harry, and other shows have already put forth fake millionaires and fake tycoons, so the basic idea is already pretty played out. Also, I take heart that this is one of the last shows to be ordered by FOX's departing Director of Specials, Mike Darnell, who is leaving the network in May, hopefully to go wreak programming havoc somewhere less visible. Let's hope shows like "Marry Harry" are likewise on their way out the door.
missmediajunkie: (Default)
Worrying news out of Cinemacon, the The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) convention, this week. The MPAA has released movie attendance statistics for 2013, revealing that the number of frequent moviegoers (who go to the theaters once a month on average) in the 18-24 year-old age group has fallen 21%, and 12-17 year-olds are down 15%. Most other age groups are also down, though kids and older viewers saw boosts in their numbers. However, the younger demographics are the important ones to Hollywood, who the vast majority of movies are made and marketed for. The drastic reduction in their attendance is a very bad sign.

Though these are dramatic numbers, this doesn't come as much of a surprise to most industry watchers. Theaters have been seeing declining numbers for years due to a variety of factors: rising ticket prices, new technology, the shrinking amount of time a new movie plays in theaters exclusively, piracy, lackluster theater experiences, and competition from other entertainment options like Netflix. Some point to the content being an issue, and indeed 2013 was a pretty lackluster year in terms of the big commercial blockbusters aimed at youngsters, though it was a great year for prestige films that tend to skew toward older viewers. And some point to the recession, which has heavily impacted younger moviegoers, who now have less disposable income to spend on tickets.

You can see priorities starting to shift a bit in response. Animated family films have been the most consistent moneymakers, and NATO chief John Fithian has long been calling for more of them, year round, to appeal to that growing audience of kids. Minorities tend to go to the movies in greater numbers, with African-American and Latino audiences seeing gains last year. In the wake of surprise hits like "Instructions Not Included," "Ride Along," and "Best Man Holiday," there's been a good amount of chatter about more movies made to appeal to them. And this has been the first time in recent memory that I've seen anyone address the rising cost of tickets, with the proposal of more regular discount days, a tactic that has apparently been very successful in other countries.

As one of those viewers who is probably going to go from a frequent moviegoer to quitting theaters almost entirely this year, it feels like too little too late. While there are still plenty of movies being produced that I want to see, it has become far too convenient to watch new movies by alternate means with only minimal delays, and the hassles associated with a theater trip seem to grow with every visit. The average movie ticket now costs over $8, and it's far more in many places. Meanwhile, Redbox prices are still under $2, and comparable online rentals are under $5. Watching the "Veronica Mars" movie on VOD at home through Amazon Instant was a buck less than the cheapest matinee in my area. And this isn't even taking into account the ability to avoid endless ads, parking madness, and overpriced concessions.

Still, I did go and see a lot of movies over the last Oscar season, including smaller titles like "Nebraska" and "Philomena." I still love the theater experience and think it's worth it to experience really great movies like "The Master," "The Artist," and "The Tree of Life" on the big screen with a full sound system and an audience of likeminded cinephiles in attendance. The latest "Thor" movie? Not so much. I wouldn't mind if we saw fewer of the big, sprawling multiplexes, but I'd really miss my run-down old art house theater. Sadly, I expect that if we start seeing theater numbers shrink, the arthouses are probably going to be the first to go.

It'll be a while before that happens, though. Movie theater revenues actually hit record highs in 2013 thanks to all those surcharges on 3D films and advertising sales, but it's been coming from fewer and fewer paying customers. The most sobering statistic in the MPAA report is that nearly a third of the U.S. population didn't see any movies in theaters at all last year. The movie business as a whole is still going strong thanks to rapidly expanding overseas markets, and 2015 is expected to be a record year with all the tentpoles coming up.

But when the movie-loving boomers age out of the customer base, and if the current crop younger viewers don't take the next generation of kids to see movies in theaters, what then? If day-and-date simultaneous multi-platform releases become more commonplace, and VOD really starts eating into ticket sales, where does this leave the movie theaters? Is there going to come a time when seeing a Malick or P.T. Anderson film on the big screen won't even be an option? If so, it'll be an awful shame.
missmediajunkie: (Default)
As noted previously, 2014 is the first year since 2005 where there will be no new release from PIXAR animation studios. So it's time to take stock of the fourteen features that the studio has produced so far. Here's my ranking of the PIXAR movies from greatest to least. Due to concerns about length, I'm going to cheat a little, as you'll see below.

1. The "Toy Story" trilogy - I prefer the second to the first and wasn't really sold on how the third one ended, but it's hard to argue that the "Toy Story" movies aren't the studio's greatest achievement. The first film was an instant animation landmark when it premiered in 1995, and the sequels miraculously matched it on every level. The technology kept improving, but what was really impressive was that the storytelling and the fidelity to those wonderful characters never lagged for a moment.

2. "The Incredibles" - "PIXAR does human beings," was the big selling point, but the real accomplishment was telling a story that skewed a little older and more mature while not losing the sense of adventure and fun that characterized the best PIXAR work. Director Brad Bird joined the studio to bring a fascinating world of superheroes and supervillains to life. I especially love the '60s design touches and all the little bits of superhero terminology that make the "Incredibles" universe feel so alive.

3. "Ratatouille" - Reportedly a difficult production for the studio, which lost one director and had to work on a much shorter schedule than some of the others. However, the end result is a charmer, proving that PIXAR could make a great movie out of the most unlikely subject matter, in this case a rat who becomes a chef. Disney struggled to market and merchandise the film without an easy hook like "monsters" or "toys" or "superheroes." Personally, I always thought the hook was obvious: foodies.

4. "Monsters University" - Yep, I'm surprised to see this one so high too, but I really appreciated what PIXAR did with the "Monsters Inc." prequel. They got me to care about Mike, a character I never really connected to, and delivered a difficult message in a careful, thoughtful way. This may be the only college life movie I've ever really enjoyed, because it is actually about the meat and potatoes stuff of the college experience that the raunchy teen comedies aren't interested in talking about.

5. "Up" - The opening sequence of "Up" is so strong that I feel it takes away a bit from the rest of the movie, which never gets close to finding the same emotional power. Sure, it's a fun adventure movie about a group of misfits, but the underlying melancholy of the main character's struggle with his regrets suggests that so much more was possible. So "Up" remains a conundrum for me, a movie that I admire very much, but with enough weak spots that I can't quite bring myself to count it as a favorite.

6. "A Bug's Life" - PIXAR's sophomore effort does not get enough credit. It remains one of their most gorgeous with some of their most memorable characters, including the evil grasshopper voiced by Kevin Spacey and the ladybug with gender issues voiced by Dennis Leary. Yes, the "Yojimbo" plot is old and full of cliches, but it works. And I still think this is one of PIXAR's most gorgeous-looking movies, especially the way they use light and color in a world centered around plant life.

7. "Finding Nemo" - I love Dory. I love the seagulls. I love the jellyfish and the turtles and everything involving the whale. However, I find the movie as a whole a little on the lackluster side. There are some major parts of the story and major characters that struck me as pretty by-the-numbers, and I never felt that Marlin and Nemo and their relationship got nearly as much development as they needed to really give the movie the proper stakes. "Nemo" is a lot of fun, but feels like PIXAR treading water.

8. "Brave" - This one really didn't hold up as well on rewatch as I was hoping it would. I still adore Merida and the whole relationship with her mother, but when you hold "Brave" up against the rest of the PIXAR films, the worldbuilding is awfully slight and the plot is awfully thin. This is one of those cases where the offscreen struggles over the film's direction really shows. The whole movie feels rushed, haphazardly pieced together, and not quite sure of what it's doing. I'd love a sequel, though, to help fix a few things.

9. "Monsters Inc." - There's something about the "Monsters" world that rubbed me the wrong way. I'm not sure if it was the lukewarm satire on the energy crisis, the jokey handling of corporate culture, or just one monster pun too many, but it didn't work for me. And aside from the Sully and Boo relationship and the last chase scene with the doors, not much else in the film did either. The irony is, of course, that I really enjoyed the prequel, "Monsters University," which didn't live up to this film for many viewers.

10. "WALL-E" - I got some fun out of the first half of the movie, but the second half on the spaceship with the chubby vestiges of the human race was full of missteps that "WALL-E" never recovered from. I disliked it so much that I haven't revisited the movie since I first saw it in theaters. Taken by itself, the first half of the movie would probably rank solidly in the middle of the PIXAR features, since it's so uniquely dark and conceptually bold. I wish the movie had continued in that direction, but oh well.

11. The "Cars" movies - Even the least likeable PIXAR films are works of art, full of beautiful imagery and clever ideas. I don't mind the first "Cars" movie much, even though I'm not a fan. It's clearly PIXAR's work even though it's not the studio at its best. The sequel, however, has all the earmarks of the superfluous sequels that PIXAR promised that it would never make, and for that reason "Cars 2" is on the very bottom of the rankings.


missmediajunkie: (Default)

May 2014

     1 23
181920 21 22 2324
25262728 29 30 31


RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Oct. 18th, 2017 12:08 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios