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Not being a huge fan of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, I wasn’t terribly keen on seeing the prequel, especially the story is smaller and perhaps less interesting then the huge events that take place in the “main event” series of Tolkien’s work.  Doubly worse was finding out that this relatively tiny children’s book had been somehow bloated beyond all recognition into a three-part, three-hour a piece movie extravaganza that was going to suck up nine hours of my life.  I don’t want to seem cynical, but considering Peter Jackson’s relative failure to reach the heights of success he had with the original trilogy, one might think it a desperate gambit to get back in the A-list game (and get some easy money) to revisit it.  That’s harsh, though, as he clearly loves the source material, which is a problem.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Easy is nice.  The world is difficult and indifferent, and as such there’s nothing wrong with opting for something easy when you can.  I get that.  I’m not against that.  But there’s “easy” and then there’s “easy”.  The Twilight Saga film franchise has, it turns out, been easy in a way that’s so unbelievably lazy and dull that I can’t imagine how a thinking human being can find it entertaining.  People talk a lot about liking films they can just “turn their brains off” and watch, but surely there are some basic elements of storytelling that require at least some semblance of a conflict to make it work, even if it is perfunctory or dumb or obvious.  I finally watched the final part of the series, Breaking Dawn Part 2, and I have come to the conclusion that nothing at all of interest happened in the 9 or so hours of time I spent watching them over the years.  Of the many, many problems that have plagued this $3 billion franchise, the worst is quite possibly that it plays like a young child’s imagining of a narrative for his toys.  My incredible, adorable nephew was once playing with some toy cars and figurines, and was explaining to me, “this truck has to get over here so he can see the cows!”  “That’s great”, I said, “but where’s the conflict? The truck just has to get over there to see the cows, and that’s it.”  He was all of five years old at the time, so what did I expect?  I should add I said it in a playful way and I’m sure he didn’t pick up on my criticism, so I didn’t rudely offend a child.  Still, there’s nothing to what he was trying to achieve, and that, in a nutshell, is what The Twilight Saga has turned out to be.  Read the rest of this entry »

The most insipid of romances continues plodding along towards whatever conclusion Stephanie Meyer has cooked up in the first part of the finale to the outrageously titled Twilight Saga.  This segment, Breaking Dawn, picks up where Eclipse left off with Edward Cullen (Robert Pattison) and Bella Swann (Kristen Stewart) getting ready for the big wedding.  Then they have the big wedding, and it is tedious as hell.  Then they have a honeymoon, where beds are broken and they run around and hilariously play chess – as though they ever stopped making moon eyes at each other long enough to work that out.  This might be the only time we’ve really spent anytime with them as a couple, and it comes in the form of a brisk montage so our understanding of how their relationship functions and what they actually see in each other is never advanced one iota.  Not that it’s a big deal or anything.  I gave up on that aspect of the story a long time ago and now simply accept that they Are.   Read the rest of this entry »

I really can’t figure out who likes Conan the Barbarian.  Not just the latest reboot/reimagining/remake, but also the character in general.  What is the appeal? Fantasy fiction, whether it’s Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, takes us into new worlds that are somewhat recognizable and also completely alien.  The baseline interest in the genre is, really, world building (and a certain fetishization of medieval garb, I suppose).  Set up a fantastical, intriguing place and then create characters to play around in it.  I’ll bet this is a reason for the success of World of Warcraft or the Elder Scrolls series of games.  Still, there are characters in the fiction in which to invest, and a whole set of rules that are ever changing to inhibit their desires.  Conan the Barbarian’s sole source of interest is his muscular physique and the way in which that allows him to swing a sword quite well.  There are notions of heroics and honor, but this isn’t a well-established universe – at least as far as the film adaptations are concerned – and there doesn’t seem to be a central struggle.  In the new film, he wants revenge on a guy who also happens to want to take over the world.  Conan, then, must be devoid of personality or conflict or even flaws.  He is a Hero in the most banal sense – the always-good guy who can’t be beat.  Why is this interesting for anyone? Read the rest of this entry »

Oh District 9, what hath ye wrought?  To nobody’s surprise, that relatively small-budgeted sci-fi romp’s success spurred on the Hollywood braintrust into making not one but two similarly themed invasion yarns.  The first of these was Skyline, directed by visual effects team The Brothers Strause (ugh), eager to cheaply follow up their not-smash success Alien vs. Predator: Requiem.  Some legal troubles came about because The Brothers Strause (ugh) were also doing visual effects work on Battle: Los Angeles, or something along those lines.  This is utterly ridiculous, of course, because there are scores of directors and writers that could sue both parties for shameless intellectual property theft.  Read the rest of this entry »

It seems that every year since the rise of the blogosphere, without fail, there are innumerable articles, posts, comments, and diatribes about how the Oscars don’t matter and the serious film lover/critic doesn’t care a jot about whom upon the philistine Academy deigns to bestow its golden statue of approval. These same people still watch, or at least pay attention, to the show and often write predictions and boo-hoo over the disappointing outcome. I think they’re right to not care and they’re right to pay attention, because I personally see it as both self-congratulatory nonsense that only occasionally celebrates anything truly great and as an important (to the film world) cultural touchstone. Rarely in its history has the Best Picture winner been the best picture of its given year, but we’ve all accepted that. My cynicism tells me that the most we can hope for is that it is at least a good film, and one that we can satisfactorily call “deserving”. My cynicism is wrong, though, because when I look at the best picture list from this year and last year I see not only some very good films, but a couple of the absolute best pictures of the year. The strange side-effect of expanding the category to ten nominations instead of five – a move designed to allow the inclusion of more popular fare to get the plebs interested – is that it has allowed the inclusion of some really great stuff. A Serious Man was among the top two or three films of its year, and though you’d never expect a small (granted, Coen bros.) movie featuring an unknown lead in a tale of co(s)mic farce in a tight-nit Jewish community to be recognized with a Best Picture nomination, there it was. It never had a chance in hell of winning, but its inclusion made for a much more…credible?…category than the year previous where the decidedly mediocre Slumdog Millionaire was the best of the bunch.
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“I don’t want you to be the guy in the PG-13 movie everyone’s *really* hoping makes it happen. I want you to be like the guy in the rated R movie, you know, the guy you’re not sure whether or not you like yet.”

–       Trent (Vince Vaughn) in Swingers

I am aware of how bad it seems to start anything off with a quote, but it is relevant to the conversation.  It’s an amusing line, but it seems predicated on some long lost notion of the R rating giving an adult edge to a film, especially such a fluffy, fantastical genre as the romantic comedy.  The hope is that without the restrictions of a PG-13 rating, a film might be more willing to deal with adult views, particularly on sex (which can be mentioned more freely) and its relation to love.  The two films considered here are rated R, but they make no attempt to deal with their subject on any level that can even remotely be considered ‘mature’.

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BBC film critic Mark Kermode and his radio listeners mockingly lampooned Chris Columbus’ latest venture Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by calling it Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins.  There is very little in the film itself to overcome that mocking comparison to the Harry Potter franchise it desperately would like to be, especially given the fact that Chris Columbus was responsible for the first two installments of that hallowed franchise.  Kermode also loves to call Columbus an accountant, which is an apt description for a man whose career is notable for having a number of successes of which precisely none contained anything approaching quality.  To say that Percy Jackson is probably his best film is to damn it with praise so faint you might as well be listening to a choir of mute Puritans.

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Almost ten years ago, some friends and I began a tradition we called the Sunday Morning Movie.  The idea was to wake up, roll out of bed, and drive down to Blockbuster first thing (we didn’t wake up very early) and rent the biggest new release of the week that didn’t look very good or that we had no real desire to see.  This was partly to justify watching crap films that I didn’t want to admit that I actually did want to see (cool special effects actioners or soppy rom-coms, for instance) and partly because we thought it might be worth keeping up with popular culture. The hope was to find a decent little gem amongst the dreck, and to our surprise there were quite a few. When I moved overseas I continued this tradition with new friends, though at some point it got out of hand.  I found myself watching three terrible movies in one afternoon, and at some point the number of bad movies I was watching overtook the number of good ones.  That, combined with falling interest and a number of other factors led to the discontinuation of the program, though it was revived from to time over the intervening years.  As I find myself back in the US with nothing else to do on a Sunday, I’ve decided to resurrect the practice when feasible.  Due to money concerns, you might notice that the films tend to be whatever happened to be on HBO, so if the rule of finding recent films doesn’t quite fit anymore, I hope the spirit of the venture remains in tact.

I’ve always felt that Richard Curtis’ Love Actually was the result of his conception of about ten vague romantic comedy stories that he couldn’t be bothered to flesh out.  By combining them into one film of loosely-connected stories he bypassed all the trouble of creating convincing, three-dimensional characters to get to the basics of the filmed concept of love.  Despite it really being a series of sketches, it largely works because of the impressive array of actors assembled who managed to infuse their caricatures with some degree of recognizable humanity.  In some cases, even the stories gave off the faint whiff of emotional honesty that came very close to what some might consider “moving”.  Pirate Radio moves Curtis out of his rom-com safe zone into more straightforward comedy, and though it still features a large ensemble of characters, they’re all (literally) in the same boat. Read the rest of this entry »