And now for the two movies I saw in the theatre over the holidays:

1. I liked Les Miserables, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wanted it to be, I dunno, more.

I suspect that this was thanks to several factors – one, I've heard seemingly umpteen versions of this, and know the score so well I had certain expectations, absolutely none of which were upheld by Russell Crowe; two, the director's decision to film about half the movie in EXTREME CLOSE UP, which after a time had me thinking less, "Wow, Anne Hathaway is making me sob," and more PULL THE CAMERA BACK PLEASE, I'M BEGGING YOU (someone on Twitter said the effect was claustrophobic, and I really have to agree); three, Russell Crowe, who was generally fine when singing more or less alone, but not at all fine when singing with everyone else, which just heightened the fact that he is just an adequate, not great singer; four, the switching around of a few songs, which meant a change to the careful balance of the musical, with longer periods of slow music and thumping music and less of an intermingling.

Also, an intermission after "One Day More," would have been greatly welcomed.

But the last scene was pretty thrilling, and I sniffled. So, yay.

2. The Hobbit. Already nearly discussed to death by nearly everyone else, but, some comments behind a spoiler tag just in case:

Spoilers for movie and book. )
Hi Hollywood.

Having just seen your trailers for upcoming films, we need to talk.

1. Other than the high school party film, your other trailers consisted of remakes and/or direct ripoffs from other films and/or adaptations. When your most original idea is a high school party, you have a problem. (I am using the words "original" and "idea" in the loosest senses of both words.)

2. It is our understanding that you are intending to market Silent House as a horror film "based on true events." I feel, therefore, that it is my duty to inform you of a recent true event: the entire almost sold out audience laughed through your entire trailer for this film, and a grand total of 0 audience members were convinced that the film had anything to do with true events.

Also, speaking of a lack of originality, didn't the original of this come out just two years ago?

3. Your decision to do a remake of The Three Stooges has been officially declared a crime against humanity.

#

I can't exactly give a regular review of Chronicle, much less my usual snark, since the movie made me very dizzy and I ended up just listening to it, not seeing it.

Listening to the dialogue alone can really change your impression. I found myself predicting (correctly) pretty much every single thing that would happen in the film: from a plot and character perspective, Chronicle offers nothing new, with every beat falling exactly where you'd expect it to, a few decent jokes here and there at the beginning of the film.

Those who saw the film, however, were more impressed, talking about how different it had been, since apparently the film does various tricks with different found camera footage from security cameras and ATMs and so on.

Which once again, I guess, shows the importance of presentation. I heard a thoroughly predictable film that followed pretty much every trope in the book; they saw something original and new. It's not so much your idea. It's the packaging.
1. Gifts have been popping up in the mail! This is a positive thing :) First, I got one of [personal profile] ravena_kade's lovely watercolor pictures, of a little seal popping up into the sea. The seal is just adorable, and we love it, and now just have to decide where to hang it.

Much thanks for this lovely piece, [personal profile] ravena_kade!!!!

2. Also arriving in the mail: rubber duckies. The sender of this item was not aware that the house had already been quietly invaded by rubber duckies disguised as snowmen, Santa and Rudolph, but fortunately, these are NINJA rubber duckies, READY FOR THE ATTACK. So we are now THOROUGHLY into the holiday spirit!

3. Thus it was time for two holiday traditions: the welcoming of cousins, who came by last night to sample ribs and corn. For those of you who read [profile] fbhjr's saga about this, I feel impelled to post a correction. They did not indulge the cat. The cat, overcome with his rather aggressive love for everyone, realized that they needed a cat and therefore chose to indulge them.

4. And the second holiday tradition: the movie, this time the morning viewing of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows with my brother and CD, about which I can say only, wow, dizzying, and by that, I'm talking about the waltzing scene. Like the first Holmes movie most of this seems bent on showing off dazzling camera work and effects, which is not bad, just resulting in a spinning effect, and the banter between Holmes and Watson, ditto. Also we rather question the use of CPR in that particular period and I would like to register my sadness about a certain event in the film which I won't spoil except, sad, sad.

5. While exiting the movie, a certain horrible person, whose guilt I could conceal, but I won't, calling himself my brother, actually dared to wheel me near that horror of a film called whatever the latest Alvin and the Chipmunks film is calling itself. (I don't care.) For one terrible moment, I risked actual exposure to the Chipmunks. Imagine my terror.

But this also showed me that he, at least, still retains an ongoing fondness for the Chipmunks. I thought deeply. I saw a McDonald's. I wheeled to the McDonald's and picked up a Happy Meal. (Yes, yes, but I'm going somewhere even more evil with this, so hold the criticism for a few more sentences.) I wheeled myself to the table. I handed him the little toy from the meal, which just happened to be one of the Chipmunks.

"Thanks!" he said cheerfully. "I'll just put it in your room."

We went home where I flopped into bed for several hours. This, while necessary, turned out to be tactical mistake, since when I emerged, HORROR GREETED ME.

The Chipmunk was standing -- STANDING -- on the backs of two little Rebel Lego dudes from my Star Wars Advent Calendar. He had been assisted by three little Bad Lego dudes, his little chipmunk fists raised in triumph as the Rebel forces lay scattered.

EVIL, I tell you. EVIL.

I had to comfort myself with a Ninja duck. You understand, I'm sure.
So, I Am Number Four. Quick disclaimer: certain parts of this film made me dizzy, forcing me to shut my eyes. S informs me I missed nothing and was probably better off.

The film can best be summed up as, "Finally! The film that makes Twilight look good! Complete with iPhones!" But for those of you who want more, The snark! )
Just returned from seeing The King's Speech, which is a pretty good film that is about to generate several Oscar nominations for most of its cast, especially Colin Firth as George VI (and for those assuming that this is another Colin Firth chick flick role, not really) and Geoffrey Rush as his speech therapist (his winning moment, oddly enough, is when he attempts to persuade a group of amateur actors that yes, yes, he can play Richard III; depending upon how you feel about that particular speech, you will either be howling or covering your ears in pain.)

The casting is pretty much uniformly excellent, featuring, as it does, so many of those British actors that seem to make period films. But one bit threw me. Timothy Spall plays Winston Churchill. The problem with this is not Spall as an actor (he's fine) but that, well, Churchill had a very distinctive look, and Timothy Spall has an equally distinctive look, and when I saw him, I didn't think Churchill, I thought, Wormtail. It's possible that I might not have had Dumbledore (a very good Michael Gambon playing someone not at all like Dumbledore, really) not slid into the movie earlier.

The feeling only got worse when (Spoiler!) Churchill comes over to have a nice chat with the Duchess of York, played by Helena Bonham Carter, aka, Bellatrix, and despite my very best efforts and some lovely acting by all involved all I could think was that Voldemort was about to try to assassinate the royal family, which added a kinda gripping if wrong suspense.

Also, Derek Jacobi, aka His Imperial Stutteringuous Claudius, makes an appearance advising a stutterer, which, well. I am only grateful that no one jumped into pirate singing. Also, Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice who was also Cicero in Rome which with the Derek Jacobi bit...yeah. An IMDB.com free-for-all.

I'm not saying that this movie wouldn't have worked better had it not been stocked with Harry Potter, I Claudius and Pride and Prejudice actors, mind you, but I couldn't help thinking of Shakespeare's day, where of course they had the same problem of the same actors shifting to different roles, but at least didn't have to worry that their audience knew quite well what these historical personages should look like.

Anyway, good flick. Go and see it, and try not to think that Voldemort is about to descend on the royal family or anything because (Spoiler!) neither he nor Ralph Fiennes appear in this film.
Over at Black Gate a commentator whined, among other things, that "… fantasy fiction is in desperate need of is good adventure stories free of contemporary politics. There is no shortage of politically driven fiction of varying quality."
Ordinarily, given some of the other things this commentator said, I'd ignore this, but I keep seeing people bring this up, and it makes me want to scream. Or, you know, blog.

Look, almost all art, or attempted art, is, on some level, political in nature – even if unconsciously so.

Let's start, for example, with a very quick look at Hollywood films set in the medieval era. (I know. Calling many of these "art" is a stretch, but I'm using "art" in the sense of something created by a human for decorative or pleasurable, as opposed to purely functional, purposes, i.e, music, paintings, film, fiction, poetry, and so on. It's not the best of definitions, but go with me for a bit here, at least for this post.) Nearly every single one of these films has something in common: it features at least one, and usually several, aristocrats who have become utterly corrupted by power, often to the point where they have become physically corrupted (Braveheart, with its two elderly male rulers literally rotting to death, is the best example of this, but the trope appears everywhere.) Frequently at least one or two younger, good looking characters stomp around talking about how we all have to think for ourselves, making nasty comments about aristocrats, and delivering stirring speeches about the importance of independence. Aristocracy, state these films firmly, is inherently evil, so evil that it will make nearly everyone associated with it evil as well.

Here's the problem: this does not, in any way, shape or form, represent widely-held political thought in the medieval era.

Medievals certainly revolted – usually over taxes, or food issues, or religious concerns – and certainly hated various specific kings/monarchs/authority figures. But the general idea of the aristocracy being inherently corrupt, a system that inevitably leads to evil, was not universally held. Rather, many (not all) medieval argued that the aristocratic system was divinely inspired, ordained by God, and part of the natural order: coming from God, the aristocratic system was inherently good, and only the flaws and failures of men turned it to evil. Many believed that the very act of revolting against an authority figure was in itself evil, since this meant going against something ordained by God. True, many people making this argument were themselves authority figures, but this argument was still made. Then as now, not everybody believed the same thing, and I certainly doubt that everyone in the Middle Ages believed in the divine right of kings, but, in general, medievals were not, as a group, running around shouting for political freedom and independence.

And yet this trope shows up in all major, studio-backed, American films depicting the medieval era – serious, silly, with dragons, without dragons. (I'm being specific here, because this trope appears in some but not all European/Japanese films depicting the medieval era.) The trope is so strong that even The Lord of the Rings films, based on a British book that did not contain this idea (Tolkien certainly believed that the world was flawed, yes, but not that the aristocracy was any more flawed by virtue of being aristocrats than the typical hobbit; both the aristocratic Boromir and the middle-class Frodo fail.)

And I honestly cannot imagine a Hollywood film attempting to argue for the divine right of kings,

Now, is anyone who sits down to write a silly script featuring a dragon really considering the political implications of the script? Certainly not (although some screenwriters and directors are equally certainly more overtly politically conscious – again, Braveheart -- than others). But, simply because that screenwriter lives in a place where democracy is considered the least evil of the various political systems out there, and because, post the 20th century in general, we have become all too aware of the evils that can follow in the wake of political leaders, that screenwriter is not going to be presenting a positive image of a monarchy/theocracy, even in a script that presents us with a heroic prince/princess.

Contemporary culture seeps into anything a writer/artist/musician creates, whether the creator is reacting to/against this culture, or going against it. This is as true for the dregs of "popular" fiction/movies as for the more "literary" stuff out there (I'm putting this in quote marks because I find these definitions questionable.) Another example from the decidedly low end of the artistic scale: back in the 1970s/early 80s Harlequin/Boons & Mill published several romance novels featuring the woman moaning, "No, no, no," while the romantic hero overpowered her cries of protest and took her to bed – in a reflection of the then-held belief that when women said, "no," they really meant "yes." Harlequin has largely backed off from publishing this sort of thing, largely because now, we have more of a recognition that when women say "no," they really mean "no." (Still not universally held even in the U.S., but we're moving more in that direction.)

Whether art is reinforcing our beliefs, or challenging them (and I like both types, just to be clear – well, not the above referenced Harlequins, but that's another story), it is still created in the context of those beliefs. Expressly political or not, silly or serious, "literary" or "popular," that culture is still there.

And, well, ok, this might be just me, but as a writer, I know that sometimes a discussion about politics or culture does spark a little worm in my brain and ends up as a story – often something that doesn't necessarily seem that related to the original conversation at all. (The most extreme example of this, in my case, is Bonfire and pearls, which partly came from my wanting to write a selkie story and partly from a seemingly completely unrelated conversation about iTunes, ebooks and electronic downloads, which got me thinking about how we pay for art and things, which….led into a seemingly unrelated selkie story. Selkies never came up in the original conversation, but that doesn't mean that parts of the original conversation didn't slide into the selkie story, which, I'll note, doesn't mention iTunes, ebooks and electronic downloads.)

Feel free to ask for silly art, for adventure art, for things that don't seem to have a political agenda. But asking for purely non-political stuff, that doesn't react to or agree with contemporary culture? Not going to happen. Art isn't created in a vacuum.
Back in high school, when I was well under 17, a friend and I walked into an R movie. Quite openly. Our plan had been to buy tickets for a PG movie and then sneak into the R movie we wanted to see (one reason to always be slightly skeptical of movie ticket sales as an indication of actual viewership – I can't imagine the American teenager has changed that much in the years) but as it turned out, we didn't have to: I knew the person in the ticket booth, another teenager who let us buy the R tickets without blinking and without an adult anywhere present.

Skip forward a few years, when I was down in South Florida, heading to see South Park with [profile] wolfblade and [profile] orianna33. I stepped up to get my ticket –

--and the guy – another teenager – asked my age.

This is where it gets embarrassing; I couldn't remember. (I've found that post age 23, individual years don't matter as much, and I often have to think about how old I am. I'm expecting that to change when the individual years matter again, when, say, I'm over 90 and loudly and annoyingly announcing that fact to people who just don't care, but honestly, most of the time it's hard for me to remember my own age.) I stumbled, blurted out a number which turned out to be wrong, corrected myself, and tried out a second number. By that time [profile] wolfblade and [profile] orianna33 had fallen over in stitches. The unamused teenager said he didn't believe me, and the other two had not been introduced as my parents and guardians. I had to pull out an ID, which was studied (and showed that the second number was correct), and finally got the ticket, with my two friends laughing gleefully that I'd gotten carded for South Park.

I don't get carded much these days, although to my surprise I was carded twice this weekend, which made me think again about these arbitrary age standards. They were roundly ignored at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival this weekend, if I'm any judge, where despite Disney's careful "only two drinks per ID" rule, some younger looking people were getting two drinks, passing them to a friend, and popping right back in line again, suggesting that this was not quite as effective as intended, especially given that some of the younger looking people were bragging about this.

Which is a rambling way of getting to my main point: these age limits aren't effective. In college, about all they did was keep me out of certain clubs where my friends could go, but I couldn't; they certainly didn't keep me from getting alcohol. (They were also responsible for a couple of exciting trips up to Quebec, then known to a certain subset of young New Yorkers as an easy place to buy booze if you are under 21 and willing to endure a long lecture from the U.S. Border Partol about the evils of underage drinking. I never bothered to find out what Quebec thought about that designation.)

Which in turn is a rambling way of linking to James Berardinelli's essay on film ratings, which notes that film ratings have had a negative effect on film making, with screenwriters and directors needing to add or subtract elements just to get the right rating for marketing purposes. I tend to ignore movie ratings, but it's mildly annoying to realize that screenwriters had to take a moment to say, wait, must add a bit of profanity here to get my PG-13 rating, or, hey, must go fade to black here to keep the PG-13 rating, whichever. And I agree completely with his point that it says something

And even there, it fails: I remember watching Quills once and thinking, man, I'm not old enough for this (although this was in the I've forgotten my age stage) and feeling stunned that it received the same rating as Bridget Jones Diary, which, gasp, showed an actress in her underwear about to have said underwear removed. And that was about it, in stark contrast to Quills massive levels of violence and sex and various kinks. Placing the same label on these two films defeats the entire point of a ratings system.

************

In other rambling news, I had a surprisingly active weekend, what with a short expedition to the Winter Garden Music Fest on Friday night and a Scavenger Hunt at Epcot on Sunday. Well. Sorta. I lost the Scavenger Hunt, and quite badly, because I couldn't find it. In my defense, other people couldn't find it either, so we instead attempted to scavenge food and other things at the Food and Wine Festival. It just happened to be one of those clear, perfect fall days in Florida – cool to warm, not hot, with merry little birds, without any major crowds until the afternoon started to lengthen, and I had to leave, acknowledging complete and utter failure on the scavenger hunt front, but success on the molten chocolate lava cake front, which counts as success of sorts.
So I finally got around to watching Double Indemnity last night. I know, I know. I'm not sure how I missed seeing this film, but somehow I did.

Other than the hideousness of Barbara Stanwyck's wig, what struck me was how much things have changed since 1944:

1. Everyone, but everyone, is smoking non-stop. Part of this is the film-noir tradition, of course, but it's not just villains or shady types. The camera lingers on the cigarettes, the matches, the very act of smoking, lovingly, reverently; smoking even becomes a minor part of the plot, a motif for character interaction.

It's simply not possible to have that many characters smoking that continuously, exchanging matches and cigarettes and cigars like that, in films these days. Even in films portraying the late 30s, these days.

2. Fred MacMurray drives up to a drive-thru – and gets a beer.

3. $30,000 for a house is a horrifying price – for slightly different reasons.

4. The film's insurance company is saturated with casual sexual harassment – not just from Fred MacMurray, but from everyone. It's not just that the women workers at the company are all in at best secretarial roles, but the men continually call them sweetheart, honey, and treat them with mild contempt.

5. The entire plot would have gone far differently had everyone had the use of pre-paid cell phones.

And how much things have not changed since 1944:

1. Insurance companies? Still evil.

**************

Sometime after the ending of the film the Grey One appeared from nowhere and leapt upon me in an ecstasy of affection.

Now, some of you are doubtless thinking, "How sweet!" I, a more cynical sort, immediately thought, "How suspicious!" It's not that the Grey One never indulges in affectionate gestures – she does, usually when she's decided that she needs to be scratched, right now. Said gestures usually consist of coming up to me, squawking, running off, returning, squawking, leaping on my stomach and/or legs and walking on them in a very determined manner, and rarely managing to quite settle down. Upon occasion, she does allow me to come up to her while she's resting and scratch her little head, and she's also been known to stalk up and down the bed or near the couch until I reach over and scratch her chin, at which point, she will stand firmly at attention until the chin has been scratched to an acceptable level, at which point she promptly disappears again.

This time, she flopped on my chest and began frantically rubbing herself all over me, flipping over on her back and exposing her belly and purring.

"What exactly did you do?"

The Grey One attempted to appear the picture of cuteness and affection and innocence. This is not necessarily something she is good at.

Nonetheless, I spent some time scratching her belly and her chin – really, I wasn't given much choice in the matter – before heading out to investigate.

Sure enough, she had thrown up right on the bed.

Just to clarify, she had a perfectly useable and more to the point, EASILY CLEANED bathroom floor just a few feet away, and no, she did not, as a point of fact, actually need to use the bed.

I glared at her. She rolled over on her back and worked on the adorable look.
Simplifying 35 films into two short minutes:

35mm from Pascal Monaco on Vimeo.



I must admit, I haven't figured out all of them.
So, we have apparently all learned to Never Underestimate an Octopus. To be fair, underestimating octopodes is not one of my general habits, but until now, I had not thought highly of their psychic abilities. I have been firmly corrected. For two, THE VUVUZELAS HAVE BEEN SILENCED AT LAST, however temporarily. Yes, this deserves capital letters. It actually probably deserves swirly sparkly letters.

For three, I finally got around to seeing the very good Toy Story 3. Because I am not, whatever you may be hearing from a certain person who shall go unnamed, a pathetic sap, I did NOT cry. I may possibly have sniffled, but that is not the same thing at all.

Cute but mildly spoilery story about small enthralled audience member. )
The next Oz post is up, and yay, we're back to good books again with The Magical Mimics of Oz.

On a related note, a few alert readers have reminded me that this the 100th anniversary of the first ever film of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, aka, Oz Goes Ballet!



I can't decide what I adore most about this: the cyclone, the way you can see the wires holding up all of the "flying" people, the, um, camels, a giant Eureka the Kitten, or the inexplicable decision by everyone to avoid an oncoming tornado by...climbing on a haystack. (I checked, and apparently, that's supposed to be Hank the Mule (yes, stolen from other Oz stories) and Imogene the Cow (cow!). It's absolutely dreadful and incoherent and well, yes, I kinda adore it in that dreadful adoration way.

And as long as I'm on an Oz kick here, I may as well add that Hungry Tiger Press has started a new blog, which so far has already contained marvelous little Ozzy and historical tidbits.
Everybody remind me that I should never, but never, watch biopics based on the life of John Keats to cheer myself up. The movie in question is Bright Star, and it's ok, I guess, if slow, and tremendously depressing, and if I had severe qualms about the depiction of Charles Armitage Brown, here depicted as one of the Worst People Ever, leading me to question why anybody, even Keats, would put up with him at all, especially in the early parts of the film before Keats is all sick and dying and in no position to object to anybody, and even if I strongly felt that the movie John Keats and Fanny Brawne would absolutely, unquestionably, have Done It. (I don't know if the real life relationship between the two was physically consummated or not, but in the movie, it really should have been, and they were taking enough liberties with history as it was that this would have been a minor deviation.)
The latest version of Alice in Wonderland brings up some intriguing questions, like, why, exactly, is the remake of The Karate Kid based on kung-fu?? (I realize that this is but the start of the many, many questions raised by the trailer, including, but not limited to, why anyone thought that remaking The Karate Kid was a good idea, but, whatever.) Visually, it looks ok. Textually, it sounds less ok. And of course it raised some critical issues of snark.

(Disclaimer: I saw this in 2D, although parts were clearly intended to be seen in 3D. On the bright side it was a lot cheaper that way.)

Ordinarily, I don't worry about spoiling the plots of books that appeared in the 19th century, but given that the film has pretty much completely abandoned the initial plot, I shall spoiler warning here. )

GI Joe

Aug. 9th, 2009 02:27 pm
It's very, very rare for me to complain that a film did not have enough girl on girl fights.

I'm complaining. Which means, of course, that it's TIME FOR SNARK. )

Up

Jun. 12th, 2009 12:01 pm
I sniffled. Especially during the first heartbreaking 15 minutes (for those who haven't seen the film, stick around: it gets considerably more cheerful after this, especially once the dogs show up.) Highly recommended. Bonus points for showing a highly correct and praiseworthy attitude towards squirrels.

Spoilery potential quibbles )

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