Star Wars: The Force Awakens

December 31, 2015

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“Prepackaged Star Wars characters still in their display box? Are those limited edition figures?”

“What’s a diorama?”

“Why, it’s Luke and Obi-Wan.  And my favourite, Chewie!  They’re all here!  What do you think?”

“It’s lunchtime.”

“We have a winner!”

-Principle Skinner, with interjections from Ralph Wiggum and Groundskeeper Willie, from The Simpsons episode “Lisa’s Rival”

As Star Wars: The Force Awakens careens into the pantheon of all-time box office champs, rubbing elbows with the likes of…well…the previous Star Wars films plus Avatar and..um…Jurassic World, it seems that Disney can feel pretty pleased with the biggest sure-thing $4 billion investment in the history of motion pictures.  This is not terribly surprising, and yet it still begs questions:  How can, two weeks after its release, this movie still pull in over $30 on a Tuesday?  It’s one of those eternal questions, like how could there have been enough people in the country who decided, 14 weeks after it hit number one, that they liked Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do (I Do it For You)”, that they liked it enough to buy it and propel it number one for a fifteenth week running.  Still, it’s not quite there yet, but the fact that it’s racing to beat Jurassic World gives you an idea of the playing field in 2015.  Read the rest of this entry »

Furious 7

April 8, 2015

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It’s one of the many contradictions of the Fast and Furious franchise that it has one of the deepest memories of any film series around despite any vague recollection of previous films – style, tone, plot, world – only increases the absolute absurdity of the world that has been created in the 14 years since the original, schlocky neo-classic by Rob Cohen hit the screens with its surprisingly successful attempt to cash in on a bright and boisterous subculture.  The fact that, 7 movies in, each movie (save the third) has managed to make more money than the previous, must be some counterfactual marketing teacher’s example to their class.  Things don’t trend that way, do they?  Or maybe the age old tradition of Hollywood milking its properties until absolutely nobody cares anymore are true.  Hell, you can sort of see it happening in the Fast films, where cast members were lost quickly because it seemed below the stars’ dreams of ascendance.  But I digress.  From its beginnings as a mid-budget actioner about a fresh faced fed infiltrating a ring of minor hijackers to its current form as a series of risky, usually heist related, set pieces of an ultra elite squad of international superhumans taking on world-threatening plots, you’d think the series would desperately try to draw attention away from its original and, comparatively, minor interests.  Read the rest of this entry »

It Follows

March 27, 2015

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The low budget horror genre is the tried and true way for young, aspiring filmmakers to get noticed and, just maybe, recoup expenses.  It’s also one of the ripest –and tiredest – areas for metaphorical ruminations on the state of youth, society, politics, or whatever is topical or just easily exploited to give us chattering cinephiles a way to legitimize our interest in violence and gore.  I’m a little glib, but that’s one of the most rational ways to approach the news that David Roger Mitchell followed up his little-seen, ultra-sensitive indie portrayal of youth, The Myth of the American Sleepover, with a horror film.  As a great admirer of the former, it was natural to have doubts – the combination of the desire for him to make more of what he’s good at with the fear of that film’s more, shall we say, precious moments could see a turn into a wryly knowing, dareisay condescending attitude, towards the material.  Happily, Mitchell knows what he’s doing, and if the latter concern is occasionally flirted with – mostly in the music – it’s evident that he’s put himself in the genre rather than stand above it.  Read the rest of this entry »

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There’s something queasy about the bright, digital dullness of Kingsman: The Secret Service.  Matthew Vaughn’s style worked well enough in his (other) 60s throwback pastiche, the singularly interesting if not terribly exciting X-Men: First Class – and it’s a testament to his particular visual sense that the similar era wasn’t nearly as fun or vivid in Singer’s Days of Future Past installment – but here he runs into the same trouble as he did with his previous Mark Millar comic book adaptation, Kick-Ass.  The contrast of extreme violence with the bright, silly worlds created isn’t, for the most part, shocking enough to register as anything other than nihilist geek gore.  Read the rest of this entry »

American Sniper

January 21, 2015

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On the phone with a friend some months ago I talked about being keen to see American Sniper when I found out it was in production. I remembered Chris Kyle, the much touted “deadliest sniper in US military history”, doing the rounds of some talk shows a few years back and being a particularly odious, unreflective individual. When I read about the tragic irony of his death, I thought it would make an interesting movie and, with Eastwood at the film, a Rorschach test for the politics of those who saw it. American Sniper is, for me, not a particularly good film, and though it betrays a certain Conservatism, the back-and-forth we’re getting over its politics, especially after it’s huge box office opening, suggests there’s something to the Rorschach element. There are many good and nuanced arguments available on this topic, as well as a great many that are pretty dunderheaded from both sides. Much of it comes down to the issue of the morality of art: does it have a duty to condemn? Read the rest of this entry »

Interstellar

November 21, 2014

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Any attempt to make a huge, awe-inspiring, intelligent science fiction epic is at its heart a great ambition, but the ambition doesn’t come from the difficult special-effects work and technical expertise to pull off the visual spectacle. Rather, it comes the difficulty of exploring Big Ideas on a budgetary scale that demands a standard narrative and emotional form – after all, who is going to pay that much money for something abstract and probably alienating? One of the peculiarities of cinematic history, at least for my uncomprehending, relatively young mind is the success and ongoing popularity of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film to which Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar owes a great debt. 2001 is, structurally, four separate films, the only real connective tissue through the whole thing being the black, alien monolith. It is quite accepted that the only character with any genuine emotion is the computer HAL 9000, and his “villainy” also gives the third section of the film the most recognizable cinematic “thrills” you’d expect from Hollywood, as well as its most moving tragedy. Read the rest of this entry »

A deviation from the standard (though admittedly irregular) for this blog.  This is something I drafted when throwing around ideas with the director of Parque Central for an article he was invited to write.  This was my experience scouting the documentary, which you can still contribute to at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1808754869/parque-central

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The idea for what would become Parque Central came when the director and conceiver of the project, Ricardo, went to Antigua Guatemala on holiday. He had fallen in love with city and even went back in a relatively short period of time. During his visit he had his boots shined by a kid in the park, and the image stayed with him – an American tourist looking down at a brown-skinned adolescent huddled over his shoes, shining them with rapid precision. It’s an uncomfortable image to think about if you’re coming from a position of privilege, but one that also represents a reality of the kind of labour necessary to survive. The kid probably thought nothing of it, because he’s just trying to make a living. Read the rest of this entry »