Are You Not Entertained?! (No, not really.)

So a few months ago I received a couple of emails from someone asking me to do a series of articles about the differences between foreign language films and their english language remakes. Sounds like a great idea, honestly! The problem is that I haven’t SEEN any and haven’t had a chance to. This sort of sums up my recent problems with entertainment in general lately. I don’t have TIME to be entertained these days. Entertainment is something you take in during your free time. I’m not sure I remember what that is.

That’s not to say I’m not watching some television. I stop whatever I’m doing when Steven Universe comes on. Until recently I was an avid viewer of Rick and Morty, but I haven’t had the chance to sit down with my friends to watch in a long while now. I actually got to see three episodes of The Flash the other night instead of sleeping. Loved it! Probably won’t get to see it again for another six months.

Honestly, unless I can take it in while working on a comic, I don’t get to do a lot of media. Night Vale is a favorite, audio books are great, and Far Land or Bust! is perfect because who wants to watch the world shake while Kurt walks? I’ve tried doing real TV shows before. Stargate: SG-1 was a great radio show for me. Babylon 5 as well. The problem is there’s not much compelling on TV for me any more.

So yeah. Maybe I can get back to doing some reviews, but for the time being I’m working and comicing.

One World, Two Futures, One Truth

Recently I’ve seen two films with very different views on the future. Tomorrowland and Mad Max: Fury Road. They couldn’t be more different in how they portray the future of humanity, but on some level they both have the same thing in common. Hope.

Tomorrowland, directed by Brad Bird, is a fun film but it’s heavy handed in its approaches subject matter. It wants to force you into being hopeful. It hits you over the head with the idea that we all need to be dreamers and hopeful and start being optimistic. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m saying it slaps you in the face trying to tell you we’re in a shopping cart shooting down a hill into a pit of lava. It wants you to pick yourself, dust yourself off, and work toward something better. That’s great. Just don’t be so blunt. Or insulting. It says that we crave our own destruction and only the elite can save us, but that we CAN be saved. . . by someone else.

Fury Road is a very different future. The world is destroyed. You’ve seen it in the other Mad Max films and by this point things are even worse. The few societies we see in the film are based on depraved cults of personality and the people follow blindly. But they can change. Max’s name may be in the title but the film is about Nux and Furiosa in their own ways. Nux begins to see a better world. Furiosa wants to create that better world. Max, as always, is an unwilling agent of change. He doesn’t want to be involved but once he is he does everything he can to help. They aren’t the elite. They’re damaged people with horrible pasts and they change the status quo. And they could be anybody.

In its own dirty, flaming way Fury Road is just as much about saving the future as Tomorrowland. It just doesn’t try to convince you it’s right. It just gets on with the business of being a great movie and hopes to God you can keep up.

Guardians of the Galaxy

I finally got to see Guardians of the Galaxy last Sunday and it was better than I expected and more than I hoped for. It had everything I loved about Star Wars and The Fifth Element all thrown into a blender and what came out was cinematic honey. The best praise I can give it is that there wasn’t a single character that didn’t end up growing on me. Even Drax, who I assumed was going to be a one dimensional character thrown in to be the muscle. Nope. He turned out to be so much more than I expected. Gamora went beyond the “tough chick” stereotype. Don’t even get me started on Rocket and Groot. And Star-Lord? The same hurting kid that got picked up 23 years ago but with more scars. And they all grew. I can not stress this enough. Each of them had their moment and each of them grew. Also, it wasn’t grim/dark and had a good ending.

I’ll admit, this isn’t my most poetic review, but that’s ok. It was a great movie and you need to go see it now. Like right now. Walk straight past Ninja Turtles and see Guardians.

Six-String Samurai

In the far distant days of 1999, a friend of mine brought a VHS tape over with a movie on it. I’d heard a little bit about the film and we were all excited to see it. It was “Six-String Samurai”. I remember at the time the film was a big deal on the indy film scene and big things were expected from it. I watched it that once and never watched it again. . .

Until a couple of months ago when Krishna suggested I watch it so I can write a review. I went in full expecting to be underwhelmed this time. I’m not sure if I was or not.

The general run down of the story is that in the 50’s, Russia conquered the US in a nuclear war and now controls the country. The only surviving free city is Lost Vegas, ruled by Elvis. The King has died and now every “Six-String Samurai” is trying to make their way to Vegas to take the throne. This is the story of Buddy, a sword and guitar wielding wanderer dressed like a post-apocalyptic Buddy Holly as he tries to make it to Vegas. His journey is complicated by a Kid that ends up following him. All the while he’s being pursued by Death himself and his men.

Needless to say, this film doesn’t take itself too seriously. It has what may be one of the slowest and goofiest car chase scenes I’ve ever seen. It’s got some very good fight scenes in it though and some great ideas. But that’s part of the problem with it, really. It’s great ideas done on a budget. It feels like a proof of concept to me. Sort of a “MAN! This’ll be GREAT when we do it as a real movie!” I don’t want to use the word half baked, but it definitely isn’t done. It should have been a seed and not an end unto itself.
Another problem is Buddy. For a large portion of the film, the protagonist is just plain unlikable. I’m not saying he should be a bit rough, but you need to get your audience connected early on and the film botches that pretty badly.

Honestly, I think the idea of the film should be revisited now. Not as a serious film, but as what it is. Maybe with someone like Ben Edlund, Jackson Public, or John Roiland at the helm. Maybe an animated series. It’s a fun world and with some tweeks to the character of Buddy and some better writing it would be a fun film, tv show, or animated series. Who knows. Get on that Hollywood. This concept has legs if you can find them.

The Sci-Fi Hipster

geekculture
Somewhere along the way I’ve become a sci-fi hipster. It’s not that I don’t enjoy new sci-fi movies, it’s just that they were better before. These days all the sci-fi that comes out seems to be popcorn films. They’re designed around giant action scenes with pretty people delivering smart assed dialogue. As I said before, I enjoy that for the most part, but I miss there being more to science fiction.

When I was young and someone mentioned science fiction to me, I thought of Dune, Blade Runner, and Brazil. All of them were visually striking, deep, mind bending, and failures at the box office. It wasn’t really because they were bad films (except for Dune), but they took risks. The stories were not easy to follow. Hell, the films in general weren’t easy to follow, but at least it was something unique and different. You can STILL get lost in those movies if you don’t watch yourself. They effected people. They confused people.  You were thinking about what you saw a week later and still weren’t sure you understood.

And sci-fi used to make you feel something. Star Wars resonated with people, not because of the ships and the effects. It was a story that struck down into the core of everyone. The hardships of the heros were relatable and there fore we cared. The characters were human. We felt their struggles. We went through it with them.
Star Trek 2 isn’t the best Star Trek movie because it’s an even number. It isn’t because it’s got nail biting tension in the space battles. It’s because a character people loved sacrificed himself and we saw the agony that it caused. It also helps that William Shatner delivered what may be the greatest emotional performance of his career. Even though Spock came back in the next movie, we didn’t know it at the time. The new Star Trek Into Darkness? Not so much. We knew Kirk wasn’t gonna die. You just don’t do that these days.

Then there’s the innovations we don’t get any more.
star-trek-innovation

See all that? Stuff that someone saw in Star Trek and thought “HEY! We need that!” You don’t get that much any more. I don’t know if it’s because we’ve run out of ideas for neat stuff or it’s because we’re moving so fast as a species we just don’t know what’s coming next. Maybe we’re scared to make those predictions now. Have we lost that inner creative spark that let us see the future?

Lastly, there’s a certain level of earnest campiness that’s gone out of the genre. In the old days someone would have a crazy idea for a sci-fi movie or television series and nothing would stop them from getting made. Not a lack of money, talent, or materials. Yeah they were cheap and terrible, but you could tell that someone really wanted to show you what was in their minds. Now, if it’s cheap like the SyFy Originals there are too many winks and nudges reminding you that they knew they were making crap. Sometimes you’ll dig up a gem that is sort of enjoyable and takes itself seriously. Usually not. Usually everyone involved in the film knew it was just a smirk to the audience and a cash grab for the home video/basic cable market.

In the end, I guess what I’m saying is we need the visionaries and the risk takers to come forward. We need someone that’s more than willing to put out something that’s going to be weird and possibly crap and do it anyway. Sometimes, we need the inventiveness of a low budget and a hapless audience.

I would like to thank Barry Jackson and Mike Rutherford for the long talks about this very subject and their opinions have more than shaped this.

The Hobbit: The Review of Smaug

filmandtvAll right. So a few weeks ago my friends, myself, and my girlfriend went to see the latest Hobbit movie in 3D and High Frame Rate (mentioned here) and I’ve spent those weeks trying to separate the film itself from the visual experience. I think I’ve finally managed it. So warning, spoilers ahead for book and film.

Let me start off by saying that it was a very enjoyable film. I enjoyed every single bit of it despite the major problems I have with the trilogy all ready. It was action packed, fast, and well paced. That pretty much means it’s not really The Hobbit any more. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about The Hobbit is that most of the book involves actual journeying. You know, being cold, wet, grumpy, and mildly terrified. It doesn’t, in fact, involve exciting chases all the time and exciting fights in barrels tumbling down a river. As much fun as that fight was, I still like the idea of the dwarves complaining and Bilbo having to take on the role of Moses a bit and doing all of the dirty work. The trilogy has excitement. The book had charm.

The other thing the trilogy has is one film too many. There’s this subplot involving an elven warrior maiden becoming smitten with Killi and Legolas being jealous and then this orc attack on Lake Town and Killi nearly dying and elves showing up at the last minute to help set everything right. Does it make interesting cinema? That’s debatable. What it does make is too much happening in the second film. You know what they could have had in there instead of that subplot? The end of the damned story, that’s what. The big chase with Smaug and the dwarfs through Erebor? Great fun and a direct confrontation between Thorin and the dragon, but did it need to be there? No. They could have had the great fight with Bard. Nope. Gotta wait a year for that.

The thing that Jackson has decided to ignore is the basic selfishness of the dwarfs and their increasing reliance on Bilbo, and in turn, Bilbo’s increased reliance on himself. Instead we get scenes of Bilbo all ready fighting the effects of the One Ring. Something that shouldn’t be a major threat for years to come. For Bilbo it should just be his invisibility ring. Not some great and frightening thing that he has to think about constantly. It’s too much.

The one thing that I am glad they’ve put into the film is the Necromancer subplot. I was actually hoping for more of this than we’re getting. In the book, Gandalf leaves the company on the edge of Mirkwood and that’s the last we see of him until The Battle of Five Armies. When questioned he basically says “What? Oh yes. We had this incredible battle with a horrible evil force that was full of excitement and adventure and things but it probably wasn’t worth mentioning in a narrative format.” It’s moments like that which really upset me in Tolkien’s writing. The film is a wonderful chance to actually show that exciting bit. Unfortunately, it has amounted to lone wizards entering the Necromancer’s fortress one at a time and getting very, very frightened or getting their asses handed to them. No grand coalition of the elves and wizards so far. Just, well, fluff really. I’m hoping the next film justifies that choice somehow, but honestly, I’m expecting a lot. Probably too much.

So yes. It was an enjoyable film. I just didn’t feel it was a satisfying film. It felt gutted. Like the innards of the book might be there somewhere but they’d been pushed out of the way for other stuff. And in closing and in answer to Bilbo’s question at the end of the film:
“What have we done?”
Stretched it out for a third film, Mr. Baggins. That’s what you’ve done.

High Frame Rate, Low Tolerance

A couple of weeks ago I saw the new Hobbit movie. The theater we went to had gotten an upgrade and had it showing in the high frame rate and 3D. While I enjoyed the movie and will probably share my thoughts on that later, I thought I’d address this new fangled HFR version with 3D added for reasons.

People tell me I don’t like technology and change. On some level they’re right. I do have problems with change, especially when it’s needless. Film to me has a certain look to it. It’s the feeling that it’s been, well, filmed. The high frame rate version changes that feeling drastically. Sure it felt like I was in the environment, but it also made it feel cheap. The CG looked CG but more so. The people where suddenly wearing costumes. The sets where suddenly sets. It’s like taking the filter that allows the suspension of disbelieve and pealing it off and showing us the ugly underneath. It felt like watching a very high budget BBC special shot on video. It doesn’t feel like a movie to me any more.

Let’s talk about the 3D for a minute. I enjoy 3D. . . for a little while. I alway start the movie amazed by what I’m seeing and the depth. The problem is that after about thirty minutes I lose the 3D effect and so does the film maker. Starting out there are scenes where it feels like the objects and characters could pop out of the screen at me. After that though, the director suddenly remember that the film is actually about the story and they start handling it like a regular movie. Good for them and all, but it makes you wonder why you bothered seeing it in 3D to begin with. I know I do.

So there you have it. While I think technological is a good thing, probably, I don’t see the point in advancement for the sake of doing it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.