On the Shoulders of Giants

There has been something of a fuss about the recently released poster for Diablo Cody’s forthcoming film Jennifer’s Body, as it turns out it looks somewhat familiar to anyone who has seen the advertising materiel for True Blood.

I think it’s quite clear that the Jennifer’s Body poster is, in the most optimistic terms inspired by the TrueBlood poster. But is it a rip-off, or is it a riff? Is it legitimately standing on the shoulders of giants?

Well there’s no question that the TrueBlood & Jennifer’s Body posters are much more similar (and developed) to one another than either of them are to these posters, I just want to point out that the motif isn’t an entirely original one.

We’re biologically programmed to find bright red lips pleasing, so there’s no surprise at all that lips have had a long history in movie posters.

But just take another look at how great that TrueBlood poster is. Wow.

Charlie Kauffman’s ‘Synechdoche, New York’ Trailer

Charlie Kauffman, noted genius writer of such masterpieces as Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, & Adaptation, is making his directorial debut with Synechdoche, New York, coming to a theatre near you in a couple of months.  I mention it because the trailer is now out, if you’re anything like me, I think this will get you quite excited.

[flv:http://morgannichol.com/media/synechdoche.flv 480 204]

Looks delightfully surreal.

(Via Darren, or Matthew, whichever I saw first.)

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Guillermo del Toro’s last film before making the Hobbit movies, with his characteristically gorgeous visuals and fantastical creatures.  (If you haven’t seen Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) you really should – and you’re in for a treat. A tragic, painful, wonderful treat.)

The story is very nicely put together, with a lot of beautifully realised creatures (and characters) revealed as we delve into the hidden world of faeries, elves, goblins, and such.  Including a new origin story for toothfaeries (yeah, plural – very plural), very old-school Brother’s Grim style nastiness.

(I love this kind of alternate mythology for our old and well known tales – the first thing dragged me into really liking Stargate SG1 was their alternate explanation for the Norse “gods” and such, with the Asgaard, and such.)

The special (particularly creature) effects are spectactularly good.  The makeup is fabulous.

There’s something about the look & feel of the movie that bothers me though, like it’s been processed at a lower res, then upsampled with some sort of sharpening applied.  Or maybe it was shot on strange cameras?  I don’t know, I can’t quite put my finger on it.  But something felt a bit off.

Another thing that’s off, but probably even harder to put my finger on, is the story.  There’s a lack of depth somehow, there didn’t seem to be anything to really sink my teeth into.  I don’t know what it was, but it wasn’t there.

Maybe it’s just that everything was thrown up on screen, with no real thought required?  I’m not sure.

Still, it’s a lovely colourful spectactle, if you see a lot of movies you should definitely see this one.

(Actually I’m putting some more thought into it, and there’s a possibility that the problem was my being distracted by an amazing smell throughout the film.  Like, I don’t even know, happiness & sunshine?)

Wanted (2008)

When you know a film was directed by Timur Bekmambetov, who made Dnevnoy Dozor (2006), you know it’s going to be visually rich, heavy on the clever editing, and with intense action.

And you know that dialog is going to be spelled out in the environment rather than spoken.  If you remember Dnevnoy Dozor, you’ll know what I mean – the word ‘BITCH’ splattering on a wall in large bloody letters, and so on.  Here we have, for instance, the line “FUCK YO” spelled out in flying keyboard keycaps, and a single spinning bloodied tooth making up the last “u”, after a character is smashed in the face with a computer keyboard.

And you know that cars are probably going to be driven in very improbable ways.  Sideways along buildings… or sideways along buses.  Once you’re sideways and driving, it’s all much of a muchness, I find.

What you might not know is that Angelina Jolie is a FOX.  (Ok, actually you probably do know that.)  But you still wouldn’t expect that anyone would have the combination of a brain injury and sufficiently gigantic cojones to give her character the name Fox.  What you should know is that Morgan Freeman probably shouldn’t swear on screen (it sounds strange).  And that Tumnus can curve bullets in perfect arcs to strike objects behind obstacles.

Sorry, I don’t mean Tumnus, but actor James McAvoy, who played Tumnus in the first Narnia movie.  Here he’s a pretty close facsimile of the pre-psychotic break version of Tyler Durden.  Sitting in his office, inner monologue played out for all to hear, slowly swelling rage against his boss building inexorably to an explosion.

So, wow, not a fawn? That’s some dynamic range right there.

Actually, Fightclub gets just the first of many (ahem) tributes in this movie.  There’s a lot that really feels like it came from somewhere else.

But aside from being perhaps a little distracting, it doesn’t really matter that a lot of material is being lifted, because this movie is fun.  You will only take it seriously at your peril.  The action is ridiculous (but internally consistent).  There are ridiculous plotlines, and plotholes in them that you could drive a train through… Or flip a car over.

So if you can, just ignore the plotholes and enjoy the gunplay – this film features one of the most wonderfully preposterous sequences of running gun kumite battling.  (I was going to say gun kata, but that might make the few people who know what I’m talking about – *hint* Equilibrium *hint* – think it’s a more rigid and controlled sequence than the messy slow motion charging sliding, shot and bleeding, battle that it is.)

So, yes, I enjoyed it, and more than I expected I would, even in spite of so much of the premise being completely preposterous – everything with the loom, for instance, or the kid’s training (seriously? they’re just going to punch and stab him over and over again until he magically becomes elite?), or the overused curving bullets, that whole thing with the train, or any of the driving scenes.

Good fun, but if you don’t go to many movies you can probably skip this one pretty safely.

21 (2008)

The fictionalised “true” story of a group of MIT students who, along with a teacher use a card counting method to win large in Las Vegas.

Our protagonist is an entirely repugnant and unsatisfying character for the large majority of the movie, and went a long way to stopping any enjoyment I could have in the film.

Put simply: with some very dodgy writing and plot elements, and a terrible main character, they really just missed the mark.

It’s too bad, I wanted to enjoy it, but the good performances from much of the cast  – my favourite being Choi (Aaron Yoo), a delighfully kleptomaniac student, with good screen presence – just couldn’t save it.

Don’t bother.

Diary of the Dead (2007)

George A. Romero’s latest zombie flick. Given that he (more or less) invented the genre, you’d think he’d be better at making them.

With terrible writing and direction, it really never had a chance. There’s just one cheese ball scene after another, no frights, no fun, and no depth.

If it’s reasonable to distinguish an actor from his dialogue – and the stupid awful shit his director has made him do – then perhaps it’s possible to say that some of the performances are… ok.  But no one stands out.

And let’s be honest, if a character is delivering awful clunky lines while making a series of almost perfectly bad choices, groping around in a shadowy warehouse, backing through doorways in the most suicidal manner, it’s very hard to separate the puppet from his puppeteer.

Filmed Blair Witch/Cloverfield style (though with a lot of smoothing/steadicam), but seemingly only so Romero can cack-handedly force his “social commentary” about, apparently, the perils of the media & being detached from events around you when you watch the world through a camera.

I know: you what?

The thing that elevates a good zombie movie from this type of dross – apart from good dialogue and reasonable characters – is relevant social/political commentary and satire.  Diary of the Dead absolutely strikes out on this front.  A good writer might have pulled it off, but I think he must have called in sick that day – assuming they even had one, which would seem generous.

I enjoyed the digitally composited effects (because the technology excites me – it’s easily within grasp of even the very lowest budget productions), and a few scenes with stereotypical-drunken-British-professor-archetype #3 (he wields a bow and arrow with devastating effect, and later on a devilishly sharp sword similarly well).

Avoid this terrible movie like the impending zombie apocalypse.  I watched it so you don’t have to.

Kung Fu Panda (2008)

A very sweet animated movie, with Jack Black and a bunch of other big name actors (Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, et al).

Even though you didn’t see it, you already know the story:
Hopelessly uncoordinated panda, a noodlemaker’s son, loves kung fu, but doesn’t want to disappoint his dad (who wants to pass on the family business), panda is chosen as savior through a series of unlikely events, and ends up saving the day against a seemingly undefeatible opponent.

And you know it because we’ve already seen the exact same story a hundred times, in fact you’ve probably done it a few times yourself. (You are a kung fu loving panda, right?)

Oogway the tortoise is awesome.  (Even if they do call him a turtle.  Americans, eh?  Sigh.)

These things are so formulaic you know every note before it’s played, but it’s so sweet and nicely made that I don’t think that really matters.

Beautifully animated, great voice acting, and they really hit every note.

Skadoosh!

The X Files: I Want to Believe (2008)

The second theatrically released installment in the continuing story of the long running – and long cancelled – TV series.

We see the now retired Fox Mulder (a conspiracy nut, with no indication of whatever his new career might be, if any) and Dana Scully (a surgeon in a catholic hospital) dragged back into service when Fox’s special set of skills are called for.

I can’t bring myself to go on very long here, as this movie left me breathless with confusion.  Not at anything that happened – it’s far less interesting than the first film – but trying to figure just what part of this production constitutes a goddamn movie.

This isn’t a movie.

This is a long episode from the TV series.

And not a very interesting episode.

*spoilers* There are no aliens. No shape shifters. Jack shit of anything really.  Just a well explained nutter surgeon plying his trade.  That’s it. *spoilers*

The performances are all good, and I enjoyed whatever this was, but it wasn’t a movie, and I suspect you’d hate the shit out of it for that.

Skip it. Download it. Watch it on TV.  Whatever.

P.S. *spoiler* by far the most interesting thing to any old X Files fan is that Mulder & Skully get it on, and appear to live together.  I know: WTF? *spoiler*

The Dark Knight (2008)

If you haven’t already seen it, you’re… well, you’re probably an idiot.

If you have seen it, but didn’t see it on IMAX, you’re certainly, without a doubt, an idiot.  (Unless you live in a city with no IMAX, in which case you get a pass. Grudgingly.)

You see, a number of sequences in The Dark Knight were filmed on IMAX, which is very unusual for a movie that isn’t a documentary, but the first time the screen fills up?  Just… incredible.  It will drag the corners of your mouth wide in astonishment at its grandeur.

If you’re one of those people who likes to watch movies at home, on DVD…  Change you habits for this one.  It simply has to be seen on IMAX to be fully appreciated.

I’m tired, now, of using that brand name.  Just, one last go: don’t see it anywhere but in… you know… that cinema…  I already named like three times.  Ok?  Please.  You won’t regret it.

And, come on, for fuck’s sake, it’s $2.50 more.  Two dollars and fifty fucking cents.  What are you?

Ok, I’m done with the IMAX stuff now.

The performances.  You will have to forgive me, it’s going to sound like a venerating the dead thing, but it’s not, Heath Ledger steals the whole damn movie.  His performance is incredible.  This is absolutely the ultimate Joker.  He leaves Jack Nicholson for dead.  Absolutely for dead.

Least compelling is Maggie Gyllenhaal, I mean her performance, I guess, isn’t too bad… But her voice is weak and girly when it needs to be strong – she’s supposed to be a powerful assistant district attorney, but she sounds like a little girl -  but worse, if people are going to be constantly talking about her beauty, she should probably be something that resembles beautiful.  And not just weeeeird looking.  In the face.

Michael Caine & Morgan Freeman are great. Christian Bale is very good as Bruce Wayne, but I find the voice he puts on when he’s *spoiler* The Batman *spoiler*, to be rather irritating and overdone.  Aaron Eckhart is pretty good as well.

Two-Face’s makeup is incredible, and goes far further than I expected.

But whatever other performances were good, and however fun the other characters, all of the best scenes are definitely reserved for the Joker.  Favourites include the one when he’s dressed as a nurse, hobbling along on his skinny little peg legs, and another when he’s hanging out of the back of a squad car, all crazy tongued and joyful.

There’s a reason this one has broken all the box office records.  And I’m sure you’re part of that reason.  So you already know all of this.