Posts Tagged ‘movies’

So, I was watching the X Games (because if watching men do backflips on snowmobiles while forty feet in the air is wrong, I don’t want to be right), and a commercial for THIS came on:

HanselGretel-Poster-IMAX-610x956

GOD DAMMIT HOLLYWOOD THIS HAS GOT TO STOP.

People often talk about how movies and books are too saturated with vampires and zombies these days, but that doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the fact that every hack seems to want to do dark, gritty reimaginings of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. 

THIS IS NOT ORIGINAL NOR CREATIVE. IT IS JUST FUCKING LAZY.

It seems like it happens every goddamn year. We’ve gotten Red Riding Hood as a werewolf hunter, and Snow White as a leather-clad warrior maiden, and now this nonsense!?

And every time that one of these shellacky Hollywood “reimaginationings” of fairy tales comes out, they always have the same tagline: “IT’S A CLASSIC STORY WITH A NEW TWIST!!!!!!!!!” Umm, no. It’s not. There are already tons of “dark, gritty, updated” versions of these stories. What you are doing is not “new”. It’s formulaic, and please please stop this red stuff coming out of my ears is blood my brain is bleeding.

You know what you should do? Like, an erotic tale starring adult versions of Dorothy of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Wendy from Peter Pan. That could be interesting.

What? It’s already been done?

…Alan Moore, you smeghead.

~ Ian

 

First of all, I have to say this: I’m not particularly a Star Wars or a Star Trek fan. I like the franchises, and I respect them for their place in SFF history, but I don’t get emotionally invested in them, the way I do with Lord of the Rings or pretty much anything by Neil Gaiman or Joss Whedon. So I’m looking at it from a perspective of an outsider looking into the fandom.

That being said, they could do a lot better. But they could also do a lot worse, so there’s that.

First of all, we have to talk about Star Trek. Many old-school Trek fans absolutely hate the reboot. I personally happen to enjoy it, and I take the policy that the NuTrek films are basically big loud action movies in space with the Star Trek characters. That’s not a bad thing, particularly. It just means that it’s going to be different from what Star Trek was in the past. There’s also the matter of big gaping plotholes and scientific inaccuracies. I’ll admit, the whole concept of “red matter” pisses me off too, considering that I’m a relatively scientifically-literate person, but to quote someone on Twitter whose name I forget: Complaining about scientific inaccuracies in Star Trek is like complaining that Diet Pepsi isn’t a very good scotch. They’re completely different things that both happen to fall under the same general banner of “beverage”. I don’t expect scientific accuracy from a franchise that treats the speed of light as no more of a barrier than the speed of sound. That’s not really the point.

And as for Star Wars… there is no science to mess up in that universe. Star Wars is basically an epic quest fantasy with spaceships and lasers and flying cars. If your definition of science fiction means “everything must be completely scientifically accurate”, then Star Wars doesn’t fit it in the slightest. So there’s nothing to worry about. The SW universe itself is a framework for telling a good story, and that’s what most people expect of it. As Tycho Brahe from Penny Arcade said once, “Man, Star Wars is about space wizards who live in the past-future. Believe whatever the fuck you want.”

So, with Abrams already proving that he can direct well (if not excellently) in the Star Trek universe, then I think that he could do a good job in Lucas’ world.

Ah, yes… Lucas.

That’s the key difference between Abrams and George Lucas. Abrams has repeatedly proven that he can work with actors and direct them in a manner that humans would actually behave. Lucas can’t. He may be a wizard when it comes to the technical aspects of filmmaking, but his basic philosophy of directing living flesh-and-blood actors basically comes down to making them do everything “faster and more intense!” It just goes to show you how phenomenally bad he is at directing actors that such talented and brilliant actors as Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman came out like mouth-breathing wooden Keanu Reeveses when they appeared in the prequels.

And that’s the key to it. When it all comes down to it, actors in Abrams’ movies feel like people. Actors in Lucas’ movies are puppets. And while Abrams has some of his own directorial quirks (AAAARGH I MUST PUT TEH LENS FLARES IN ALL THE SHOTS), he’s a better director than Lucas ever was.

It could be a lot better, of course. But it could also be a lot worse.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the person who has done the greatest amount of harm to the Star Wars franchise is Lucas himself.

Now that it’s out of his hands, I’ll be interested to see what happens.

~ Ian

Can’t sleep.

Browsing internet.

Come across this.

Smile.

I have a happy.

~ Ian

(Joss Whedon: “Ballad of Serenity”)

As an aficionado of both hobbitses and metal, I was pleased to find this cover version of the Hobbit theme done in a prog metal style.

I’ll get around to posting more original content later. I’m still busy with work on The Lotus Imperiate, so I don’t have much time for blogging, but still, I should be able to blog more once I finish the first draft.

~ Ian

(J.R.R. Tolkien, “Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold)

I watched a hobbit today!

Of course, because of the fact that my brain recently fragmented into two parts about a month ago due to the combined stress of finals and NaNoWriMo, I’m going to review The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in two lumps, and give it two grades: a Tolkien-nerd grade, and a general storytelling grade.

 

Tolkien-Purist Ian:

Overall, I have to say that The Hobbit did REALLY well with staying true to the spirit, if not the letter, of the books. And there was a surprising amount of it that was accurate to the books… although, really, it wasn’t all from The Hobbit. While I was watching the movie, I could literally count off the origins of the scenes: “this one’s from The Hobbit… now we’ve got one from the Appendices of Lord of the Rings… here’s one that’s a little bit of a blend of Appendices and Unfinished Tales… now we’re back to The Hobbit… the screenwriters made this one up entirely…” Basically, I could tell you where every scene of the movie originated, and most of it was accurate.

And even when they made changes to the book’s narrative, it made sense. I could completely understand why Azog was included in the movie– he acts as a main adversary to Thorin, and Thorin’s opposite (if you look at Lord of the Rings, it’s constructed around the fact that most of the main characters have their “dark mirrors”, visions of what they might be if they were corrupted– Gandalf has Saruman, Aragorn has the Witch-King, Frodo has Gollum, and so on). Azog is also important because he adds to Thorin’s story arc. (Okay, Storyteller-Ian intruding here. Who thinks that Thorin and Azog are going to kill each other at the Battle of Five Armies at the end of Movie Three? I’ll take bets, but to tell you the truth, I like my odds of being right.)

And what’s different about the changes to The Hobbit as opposed to the changes to Lord of the Rings is that they make sense. There’s no pointless and nonsensical changes like Arwen and Aragorn sharing a telepathic link because of the power of “twue wuv”; Arwen being a Xena clone in the first movie and then somehow having her fate tied to the fate of the Ring in the second and third; Elrond acting like a douchecanoe; Aragorn falling off a ravine in a needlessly-added clearly-stalling-for-time battle and having no one bother to look for his body except for his horse; the lack of Denethor’s subplot with the Palantíri– look, I could just go on and on, but honestly you get the point. (I’m not complaining about the omission of Tom Bombadil. That was a good change. What I have a problem with are the moronic changes that Jackson and Co. clearly put in Lord of the Rings to appeal to the Lowest Common Denominator.) In contrast, the changes to The Hobbit make sense, and what’s more, even satisfy the Tolkien fan. (I might have been the only one in the theater who broke into laughter when Gandalf said, “There’s the two blue wizards, of course… You know, I’m not sure what their names are!”*)  There’s not really any egregious violations. It all works. Even Radagast being a mumbling, mushroom-eating hermit with birdshit in his hair riding a rabbit-pulled sleigh wasn’t a problem to me. After all, it’s pretty clear that Tolkien intended for all the wizards to be crazy in their own way. Some get megalomaniacal and want to rule the world, like Saruman, others just go a little woodsy-where-am and talk to hedgehogs like Radagast.

I did have two things that I didn’t like about the movie’s changes, though:

  • I didn’t like the fact that Thorin is clearly intended to be a broody Aragorn-surrogate. Jackson and Co. are clearly trying to have Thorin fill the same role as Aragorn did in LotR, and it didn’t work. They’re two different stories, and there’s no point in giving us characters that we’ve already seen before.
  • hated the huge warty ballsack dangling from the Great Goblin’s chin. Every time I saw it, I was tempted to yell, “Kick him in the balls! I mean, neck!”

Other than that, though, it was excellent.

Tolkien-Purist Ian’s Final Grade: B+

 

General Storytelling Ian: 

Literally everything in this movie was better than in Lord of the Rings. Better acting, better direction, better writing, everything. It’s almost as if you took the same team that made Lord of the Rings, gave them ten more years of experience, and set them loose in the same universe. (OH WAIT IT ACTUALLY IS.)

Martin Freeman was incredible. Unlike Elijah Wood, who was a wimpy fainting prick in the lead as Frodo in LotR, Martin Freeman embodied everything about the character of Bilbo. He was funny, charming, vulnerable, blustering, embarrassed, cheerful baffled, and brave, all at once. It was note-perfect. I can’t really think of any way that his performance could have been improved. Where Elijah Wood’s Frodo would probably have rolled his eyes and fainted at any sign of danger, Martin Freeman’s Bilbo faced up to it, and kicked ass. From now on, he’s the quintessential hobbit for me. Compared to the actors who played the hobbits in LotR (Sean Astin’s painfully-‘orrible British accent, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd’s relentlessly-grating comic relief, and Elijah Wood’s general blandness and suckitude), we had a hobbit that I can actually like

It also makes sense that Martin Freeman has played Arthur Dent, too. I can’t think of two characters more similar in all of literature: two middle-aged, middle-class Englishmen (or Englishman-surrogates) who get swept up unwillingly out of their rut and into a fantastical adventure by people who might actually be certifiably insane.

There’s still more of the same tricks that we’ve seen from Peter Jackson as a director. Specifically, I’m thinking about the defining shot from the LotR trilogy, the helicopter-mounted shot of people walking in a straight line through gorgeous New Zealand scenery. There’s some of that, although not as much, which is fine with me: too many of those and they’re going to start getting stale. But I could tell that Peter Jackson was varying his camera shots a little, and there was some pretty creative camerawork as well, even in scenes with just straight dialogue. (It’s easy for directors to fall into the boring old shot-reverse shot trap in dialogue-heavy scenes. You can do that, and it works, but I like to see a bit more creativity once in a while.)

I couldn’t have complained about the acting from Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee, of course. They’ve both been acting for longer than most people have been alive. Still, Ian McKellan was still the quintessential Gandalf, and Christopher Lee (even though he only showed up for a single scene) conveyed a different Saruman perfectly. Instead of Dark Lord Wannabe Saruman, we get a second, earlier view of the character, one of Third Age Middle-earth’s equivalent of the climate change denier.

What was better in this movie was the supporting actors. While there was broad physical comedy with the dwarves, it didn’t cheapen their characters the way it did with Gimli in LotR. Quite the opposite, in fact– it fit the lighter tone of the movie perfectly. And I can’t wait to see Benedict Cumberbatch’s Necromancer. He’s been so good starring opposite Martin Freeman in Sherlock that I can’t wait to see them in a movie together, even if the two characters never meet.

(This is an interruption from Gaiman-fan Ian, speaking from another segment of Ian’s shattered brain. If a Sandman movie ever gets made, can we please have Benedict Cumberbatch play Dream? I can’t think of another actor with the acting skill, broodiness, and cheekbones who could pull off that role.)

(Ian’s appetite here. I’m getting hungry, guys. Can we get something to eat soon?)

Can we please not have interruptions from other sections of the brain?

(Tolkien-Purist Ian: Yeah! It’s really annoying! This is our post!)

(The Section of Ian’s Brain That Always Posts Lame Gifs on Axolotl Ceviche: This article needs more gifs. Can we have some gifs in this post? Like, maybe one of Sad Gollum at the moment when Bilbo almost kills him?)

No! Shut up, everyone!

(Gaiman-Fan Ian: Sorry.)

(Ian’s Appetite: Sorry.)

(The Section of Ian’s Brain That Always Posts Lame Gifs on Axolotl Ceviche: Sorry.)

(The Part of Ian’s Brain that Never Apologizes: I’m not.)

(Tolkien-Purist Ian and General Storytelling Ian: SHUT UP!)

Anyway, where was I? Oh– I should talk about the writing.

It was good. Like I said, more lighthearted– and was, in fact, as witty as a Joss Whedon production, which made me happy. It could have been a little less corny at times, but overall, it was better. The dialogue was tighter, the characters were better defined, and the lines felt more like something someone would actually say.

(Tolkien-purist Ian: And nobody said stupid things like “If you want him, come and claim him!” and “Let’s hunt some orc!“)

Quiet, you. This is my section.

Anyway, well done, actors, writers, and Peter Jackson. You’ve given us one hell of a movie.

General Storytelling Ian’s Final Grade: A

 

For those of you who are wondering, here’s the scores that Tolkien-purist Ian and General Storytelling Ian gave the Lord of the Rings movies:

Fellowship of the Ring: TP Ian B-, GS Ian B

The Two Towers: TP Ian F, GS Ian D-

Return of the King: TP Ian C, GS Ian B

That’s it for now. Have a wonderful Boxing Day evening.

~ Ian (Tolkien-Purist) and Ian (General Storytelling) (with unwanted assistance from Gaiman-fan Ian, Ian’s Appetite, The Section of Ian’s Brain That Always Posts Lame Gifs on Axolotl Ceviche, and The Part of Ian’s Brain That Never Apologizes)

*Alatar and Pallando, by the way.

If I suddenly become Chinese and decide to have a career in martial arts movies, here is my screen name:

Sum Gai.

It’s pronounced exactly the same as “some guy”, and it’s PERFECT.

Imagine the conversations!

“Have you seen that new movie? It’s called Fists of the Tiger’s Buddha, and it stars Jackie Chan and some guy.”

“Yeah, that fight scene in the bamboo forest between Jet Li and some guy? Epic!”

Yes, I am willing to become Chinese and take up a career in kung-fu movies just so I can commit a low-level act of linguistic trolling.

That is how my brain works.

~ Ian

I’ve finally had enough. I’m about ready to snap with rage and boiling anger. And why is this?

Three words.

In medias res.

If you don’t know what in medias res means, it’s Latin for in the middle of things, or something similar. It’s a storytelling technique that basically can be summed up as starting the story in the middle, rather than at the beginning, and having previous events revealed either in flashback or through the narrative of the story itself.

Now, if taken on the face of it, this is the most common storytelling technique in the world. All stories begin in the middle, rather than at “the beginning”.

I’ll give an example: Star Wars. The story begins in medias res, with a star destroyer hot on the tail of Princess Leia, a pitched space battle, action, tension, the droids getting escape-podded down to Tattooine, and finally ending up with the principal players all ready to set out on their galactic space-romp. It doesn’t start you off with the whole history of the Republic and the Empire, boring you with the details of Luke and Leia’s childhoods, until we finally get to the action. (Okay, I’ll admit it– when I say Star Wars, I’m discounting the prequels. Largely because A New Hope came first, but partially because the prequels are complete bullshit.)

Without in medias res, all books would be a trillion pages long. Every film or TV show would last as long as the universe.

So you see why it’s useful.

So why does it piss me off so much?

Well, simply put, because it’s terrible, lazy storytelling. Most of the time, when you see in medias res used, it’s on terrible third-string procedural dramas– say, when we see the grizzled veteran police detective get shot by a mysterious crime boss who nobody has ever seen before, and then suddenly there’s a cut to three days earlier, when he’s in the station tracking down a drug runner who’s terrorizing the denizens of South Ethnicville…

I can see why people use it. It’s a way to create tension in your story. When Detective Hugh McStubble gets shot, it’s meant to provoke a reaction in the audience: “Is he okay? What will happen to him? WHAT CHAIN OF EVENTS LED TO THIS OCCURRENCE?????”

Of course, it’s not real tension. It’s fake tension, and it supports the weight of the story about as well as a bungie cord made of bubble gum. It’s an easy device, true, but it’s still a device. You can’t artificially inject tension into a story by using hackneyed plot devices like in medias res and expect it to work as well as a good story well-told. A story isn’t a sequence of narrative tricks all strung together. It’s something that needs to feel natural. A Rube Goldberg device of tropes and plot devices isn’t a story. You know what is a story? A goddamn story.

It’s the same problem I have with TV Tropes. Let’s face it, that website is amusing, and also a huge waste of time. But I don’t like the fact that it seems to be teaching people that writers create stories by taking a bunch of tropes and putting them together. As if a story is some kind of recipe you have to follow, or some kind of chemical reaction as predictable as baking soda and vinegar. And I feel like a lot of the more terrible genre I’ve read lately seems to think that you need to follow some kind of recipe to make a successful story, whether you’re reading out of a cookbook entitled Lord of the Rings or The Great Gatsby. It’s the TV Tropes mentality, and unfortunately it seems to be taking hold everywhere.

You don’t create stories– good stories– by following a recipe. You do it by telling the story well, and telling it in a way it hasn’t been told before.

Argh. This got kind of ranty. Forgive me, gentle readers. I’m tired and annoyed, and I wanted to get this ramble about in medias res off my chest. Believe me, it’s been brewing for a long time. I just needed to ramble about writing for a while, and all I could think of was taking potshots at a lazy, overused plot device.

Not that in medias res doesn’t deserve my rage. It does.

So.

Never use it.

~ Ian

…but I had to make an exception for this.

I like that there is a distinction between “Joe” and “Codfish Joe”. And that there’s a person known as Bob the Human.

Now, I’m off to go LOCO CRAZY.

~ Ian

My family and I were looking for something to watch on Netflix last night and came across a movie that was so bizarre that it was literally impossible to resist watching it.

This is the description:

 

Rubber

A car tire named Robert rolls through the desert Southwest using its strange psychic powers to blow up birds, bunnies, human beings and more.

 

HOW CAN YOU RESIST WATCHING THAT????????

IT IS LIKE THE PERFECT MOVIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

~ Ian

So I got just back from seeing The Avengers with a couple of friends.

There’s an equation that I think about a lot, actually: it basically states that satisfaction=reality/expectation. I use this equation all the time: basically, I find that if you don’t expect too much from something, the satisfaction you derive from it goes up immensely.

I had incredibly high expectations for this movie.

Considering how satisfied I was with it, that just goes to show you what the reality was like.

OKAY. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THIS MOVIE GO SEE IT RIGHT NOW. I’M NOT KIDDING. DO IT. DO IT NOW WAAAAGLBLAGLAGLAGLAGL

For one thing, it’s directed by Joss Whedon. And this movie is distinctly a Whedon film. It’s got snark. It’s got funny one-liners. The dialogue sparkles– and there’s humor all throughout this movie.

But what made Whedon such an incredible choice for The Avengers was the fact that it’s an ensemble cast. And if Whedon can do something well, then it’s write ensemble casts.

I mean, think about it. All the movies leading up to this one were basically one-man shows. You get a movie called Iron Man, you expect Iron Man to be running the whole plot. There’s not much to it. He’s the main character. He’s the star of the show.

There was no main character in The Avengers. It was completely and utterly an ensemble cast.

And if you think that’s easy to do, then you haven’t tried.

Look at Whedon’s previous filmography. Like FireflyFirefly would never work if it had just one main character. The interactions of the characters drive the plot entirely. Or Buffy. Granted, there’s a main character in Buffy, but all the other characters are just as critical to the plot as Buffy is.

So it is with this movie. It would be easy to have Captain America or Iron Man run the whole show here. I mean, Captain America is the leader of the Avengers, and Iron Man is played by Robert Downey Jr., so any other writer would have probably made them the main character.

That’s not how Joss Whedon wrote the The Avengers, though. The story is entirely driven by the interactions of the characters. And (without going into too many spoilers) the Avengers are almost totally dysfunctional. You have six strong, powerful personalities clashing here. The interpersonal conflicts between the main characters are just as interesting as (if not more than) the “main” conflict against Loki and a shit-ton of aliens.

But what I think I love the most from The Avengers is the fact that Black Widow is as interesting and well-drawn a character as any of the boys. If you look at the typical female characters in superhero movies, you get love interests, victims, and eye-candy window-dressing types. Black Widow is none of those things (although, don’t get me wrong– Scarlett Johansson is totally easy on the eyes). She’s a female character who contributes as much to the plot as any other member of The Avengers. Even moreso, in fact, than other members of the team (I’m thinking specifically of Thor here).

To see a complex, interesting female character in a Joss Whedon production is hardly a shock, of course. But to see it in a superhero film, in a genre that’s at best pandering and at worst blatantly misogynist… it’s incredible. I wish more screenwriters and comics writers could take a page from Whedon’s book.

So yeah. The Avengers. It’s everything I hoped for and more.

Go see it. You’ll love it.

final score: five aerodynamically-improbable flying aircraft carriers out of five

~ Ian