“The Last Jedi” Tackles Toxic Masculinity

“The Last Jedi” has its defenders and supporters, but it has a lot more built-in messages than both of the two groups may realize. It’s certainly a movie that rewards repeat viewings.

The film is oozing with tons of admiration for filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, constructed in a familiar mold and used by Rian Johnson to propel the characters into engaging, even suspenseful, action. It shows us a series of situations with multiple different characters simultaneously, constantly cutting back-and-forth in the middle of an inconclusive sequence.

We see Kylo as a general, Rey as a trainee, Finn as an adventurer, and Luke as a very doubtful/dejected man having cast himself out in isolation. The anxieties and concerns that Luke feels are very real, perhaps too real for a Disney flick in which the primary concern is identifying which scene will suddenly break out into rainbow-colored saber duels.

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Poe Dameron is a cocky, surefire pilot with nothing to really lose. We don’t know for sure if he has a family but it does seem very apparent and obvious that he’s likely a bachelor. He’s Han Solo on steroids: passionate and motivated but very reckless. His desire to complete a mission, even if it would be more strategically advantageous to pull out and recalibrate, often puts the well-being of his fellow comrades at risk.

Jonathan McIntosh sums up the problem with Poe concisely and smartly here, so i’ll hand him the mic:

The character of Poe Dameron has a lot to do with both the subtle philosophical goals of the film as well as the pompous, overly hateful reaction that overflowed across the internet following the release of “The Last Jedi”.

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I Don’t Understand the Love for Henry Cavill’s Superman

I’ve seen a lot of passionate people on Twitter grieving the loss of Henry Cavill’s superman role. The Hollywood Reporter released a fresh scoop detailing how Warner Bros. is allegedly releasing Cavill from his contract. It’s honestly not very surprising.

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/henry-cavill-as-superman-warner-bros-dc-universe-shake-up-1142306

On top of the Mustache-gate debacle featured in Justice League, DC just simply took Cavill for granted. They thought he had a debt to them for building up his career in a major way with “Man of Steel” and that they could do no wrong. They mistakenly thought he was a team player, a DC-Lifer in the same way that Robert Downey Jr. is for Marvel.

The reality is that Cavill wasn’t that great as superman because the movies both weren’t very good and even, oddly, chose to use him as an uninspiring, emotionally void supporting character. “Man of Steel” was a subpar movie, poorly directed and slam-packed with so much corporate advertising that it felt sleazy and desperate.

The premise that Cavill has the “potential” to be a great superman if he were used properly is unknowable. He’s a stiff American Eagle model with the jawline of a God but the personality of an Olympic announcer. He says all of his lines clearly but there isn’t any real passion or character-building behind it.

It’s as if Henry Cavill had been built by James Lipton in a film factory that produces A.I. performers. The dialogue is written in a stilted and boorish manner, sure, but the choice in actor didn’t help, either. Let’s give our comic book characters personalities again, even if it means returning the diaper.

Why not give him a Kansas-style accent? Make him espouse American values, even if it’s slightly at odds with his morality or short term decisions/choices. The most engaging thing about superheroes is their imperfectness. The whole intrigue, at least for me, is the concept of ‘what would you do if you were suddenly granted god-like powers?’

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People have always claimed that fame reveals or amplifies a person’s true identity. Multiply that by ten or a hundred if that individual not only instantly became world famous, but also had the power and ability to spite his enemies with no recourse?

That’s an interesting dilemma and the angst surrounding such an issue was not believably brought out or portrayed by Henry Cavill. He looked contemplative and thoughtful when he was supposed to feel hesitant and broken. Neither the character nor the actor ever truly understood the magnificent impact of their powers.

 

Ready Player One (2018): Out With The 80s Nostalgia, In With The Internet

“Ready Player One” wasn’t only directed by wizened whiz-director, Steven Spielberg; it also featured an organic creative process by way of the original author, Ernest Cline, who wrote the screenplay adaption of his beloved sci-fi adventure, along with veteran scribe Zak Penn. It appears that Cline was forced to make some compromises during his journey of bringing “Ready Player One” to the big screen.

The music in the film doesn’t reflect the obsessive admiration that the character of Halliday, the super-wealthy creator of the oasis, had expressed as his favorite band, specifically the group Rush. They didn’t use this important artifact or interest of Holliday’s to advance the hunt.

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Ernest Cline may have helped buffer or subdue any fan feelings of the film being a poor adaption of the sci-fi novel. By co-writing the film with Penn, Cline takes responsibility for sculpting a script that he feels best encompasses the novel’s overall story, filled with cultural nods spanning back 50 or so years.

The mind-blowing exploration of living and speaking while acting scenes out as the host of a fictional movie character was an exciting part of the book that i would’ve liked to have been able to experience on the big screen. In particular, the book puts a lot of emphasis on Matthew Broderick’s character from the 80s classic film, WarGames, though it never ended up coming to fruition.

Whether or not it’s omission was due to technical limitations or the desire for more narrative clarity, it’s certainly a loss. It was an aspect of the book that was excitingly thought-provoking. There was some pretty high quality CGI effects  used in creating a much younger Kurt Douglass for “Ant-man”; one would imagine that the “Ready Player One” producers could’ve given it a shot.

But, alas, they stuck to a formula that works fine for mainstream audiences but yet doesn’t challenge the industry in either a technical manner or through their patterned, oft-repeated modes of storytelling. All in all, the movie is a fairly flaccid semi-analysis of the modern digital landscape.

I read an excellent analysis of “Ready Player One” that dissects the repeated attitudes regarding young internet entrepreneurs and their desire to remain perpetually innocent, despite the fact that their companies are quickly becoming massive social and economic powerhouses. Very similar to the character traits of Holliday, who Mark Rylance plays as a hesitant, socially awkward, and very isolated human being tracking back to his childhood.

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The attitude of creating something and then falling back on the nostalgia of working cheaply in compact family garages to build scrappy computers and change the world. But then once they’ve effectively altered the world forever, they fall back on their innocent intent to help the world and spread their honest, beloved creation, which, in this case, is the oasis.

It could also apply to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and many other young tech millionaires/billionaires. Simply because a tech prodigy didn’t intend to harm others with their software, apps, or other inventions, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t help create a balance and a safer environment for all of us to browse the internet without the constant fear or concern over the safety of our personal privacy and data.

The characters are well played with strong gusto and energy, particularly the young group of enthusiastic gunters. The Parzival-Art3mis relationship had an emotional impact and appeared to be molded by genuine emotion, but their will always be complaints regarding the appearance of Art3mis in particular.

We meet Parzival early on – he’s the protagonist, the tourist for the film’s ample universe. But in the novel, Art3mis had shielded her actual appearance from him in fear of not being physically attractive enough in reality.

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Other than a benign-looking birthmark on her face, she didn’t have any shocking or standout characteristics. It wasn’t a catfish story at all. The actress playing Art3mis, Olivia Cooke, is very, very pretty by all measures. But a blockbuster sci-fi film can’t really linger off into subversiveness and truly tackle some of the most complicated issues (?) of the modern internet world. It was just a regular old love story and I didn’t not like it.

The big bad, played by the deliciously sinister Ben Mendelsohn, who has acted the part of a scummy business man or greedy opportunist to great success in his last few films (particularly as Orson Krennic in “Rogue One”). He’s the unskilled partner out of the trio of former friends: Halliday, Morrow, and Sorrento.

Sorrento was never respected for his mental capabilities, often only serving up coffee and running errands for the busy minds behind the project – Morrow and, mostly, Holliday. He wants to reign in all of the clues and gain the fortune that his “friend” so devilishly left him out of. He maniacally chases after his goal for boundless power and fortune. It’s very entertaining to watch him chew up each scene he’s involved in.

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Nolan Sorrento, played by Ben Mendelsohn, a prototypical go-getter, a perpetually stumped and grumpy-eyed quasi villain seeking the fame and fortune of his deceased quasi mentor, James Holliday.

The final battle is thrilling and entertaining in its scope and spectacle, but it doesn’t quiet reach the frantic heights that the novel set as the standard. The cultural nods are more modern and less related to the character of Holliday and his interests. As a character, Holliday is pretty one-dimensional. A lonely kid turned into a socially-awkward programmer and inventor. His story, the story of his childhood interests and his passions – that was the story of the book. Chasing after the empty memories and gems of Holliday’s past life.

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Not exactly a culturally iconic character for Holliday, who grew up worshipping the 80s, bit-model arcades, movies, and a specific sort of rock music.

“Ready Player One” was, essentially, an entertaining and diverting adventure through the spectacularly realized world of the oasis. it’s not the same cultural artifact that the book is – it doesn’t explore or expand on any of the very original, unique remixes of past stories and games.

It takes the basic story and accepts that its limitations are one of the best qualities about it, allowing director Steven Spielberg to sculpt the narrative by his own means. The adventure is enough, even if the journey itself doesn’t hit as many clever cultural speed-bumps as a fan of the novel may have hoped for.

Ready Player One articles that I enjoyed: 

https://www.polygon.com/2018/4/3/17192508/ready-player-one-oasis-virtual-world

https://www.theverge.com/2018/4/19/17250892/ready-player-one-book-facebook-internet-dystopia

 

Justice League: Grading Character Introductions

The Avengers set a high bar when it comes to skillfully integrating a barrage of characters. They start with scenes of single characters and slowly evolve the cumulative  situations in a natural way, where it feels right for the superheroes to be meeting, as the film’s title promises.

There’s a right and a wrong way to integrate characters into a universe, or a story, or a first film. And they’re all unique and require a certain sensitive, graceful directorial touch. It can’t feel like an inspection at the airport: you’re required to do this first before we can all get together and head towards our desired destination.

The way that these intros are put together can and often does determine the quality of the rest of the film. If the director treats the short introduction as a meaningless requirement and not a vital opportunity to show off a character’s personality and style, then the rest of the film probably won’t put much attention or emphasis on such details either.

Note: all members of the Justice League are included in the grading, not only the characters who haven’t had a solo film or been in any DC films yet. Superman’s inclusion is a bit of a technicality, but I counted his late-in-the-game arrival anyways. Also I decided to add a short bit on Alfred’s introduction – so he’s in there too.

Batman/Bruce Wayne

I definitely enjoyed the isolated scene introducing Batman in Justice League. He’s usually brooding as Batman or as Bruce Wayne at some party he doesn’t want to be at. Here, we see him perched on a building top in what seems to be a simple job: grab the thief, tie him up, hand him to the police; classic but unexciting Batman. Instead, he hangs the thief off the edge of the building.

“Fear…I can smell it,” he says, which in any other context would be a very corny line. But it has a very literal purpose in this scenario. The flying creature that Batman is tracking is attracted to fear like moths to a light. He pulls the man back onto the building top and jumps onto the flying creature.

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Great composition and shot of Batman reeling in the creature with an ultra-strength net contraption. It’s Batman at his finest: no guns or easy way out. He has to find a solution to beat his enemies in whatever manner possible. Using his surroundings, such as here, where he utilizes the net to staple the creature against the building wall.
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Moments earlier….This is not Batman. Points deducted. He’s a ground fighter, a tactician, a detective who reads situations and attacks accordingly. Their are safer, smarter ways to kill a flying alien than launching your non-flying self off of a building. A hook contraption that pulls him in. A paralyzing dart. Something other than spinning through the air, tightly hugging onto this colorful creature for an extended period of time.
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Such heart-pounding, adrenaline-inducing..action? A lot of hugging and now alternating close-ups…maybe even a kiss? Go for it – aliens are people, too..

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It gets some exposition done while also showing off Batman’s great suit and overall look, almost demon-like. It’s just enough for a character that nobody needs to get more familiar with. We’re on board with Batman: we like him, we know him – he’s cool.

Batman/Bruce Wayne introduction: B+

Alfred 

It might be a very small detail, but I really like how they bring Alfred into his first scene/moment. He doesn’t join the action with a funny quip such as, “You’re at it again, I see” or, “What a surprise, you’re out at night..”

Alfred, in the comics at least, is an essential character, not a comedic one. He’s in Batman’s ear, assisting him with information, radar, locations, etc. And that’s how Justice League introduces him. He makes a statement about the situation in a frank manner, as if he’s seen and done this a thousand times before, which he has.

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Michael Caine was very good as a more fatherly version of Alfred, but Jeremy Irons’ no nonsense portrayal is just more fitting for Ben Affleck’s battle-worn, aging Batman.

Alfred introduction (albeit a short one): A

Wonder Woman/Diana Prince

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is arguably the best aspect of the DC film universe thus far. She’s magnetic yet filled with inner and outer strength. She’s opinionated and has a backstory that meshes well with interesting scenarios. And that makes it all the more disappointing that her brief introduction involves having to thwart the plans of this boring ass, hat-wearing terrorist:

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You couldn’t create a more cliched, disposable villain if you made him in a lab, which this British bloke seems to have been. Nothing about him threatens to stop Wonder Woman or succeed in his plan. You could have literally cast a red punching bag, hung it from the ceiling, and had Wonder Woman quickly punch it until it breaks off the chain. That’s all this guy represents: a regular old bad guy written solely to be wiped out within the only scene he’s involved in.

Now, I understand that we know who Wonder Woman is and they just wanted to sweep through her intro and get to the characters that we haven’t met yet. But why even have a solo scene involving her if you’re going to phone it in like this? No creativity whatsoever.

A bomb. Hostages. Slow-motion (hi Zack!). Soldier-types with assault rifles. And a couple of corny lines to cap it all off: “I don’t believe it…what are you?,“. Ha. Ha. Heh. “I’m a believer,”. So she just repeated a similar sentiment back to him, but with added confusion: Is Diana saying that she believes in herself? That’s no surprise – she’s an Amazonian superhero; there’s no reason for her to not believe in herself. Thumbs up, screenwriters…Diana and Gal deserve better.

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Here’s a tiny detail that exemplifies why it’s important to establish major characters before assembling them into a team-up film. Why does Diana have to say, “the lasso compels you to tell the truth.” Just start throwing questions at him – she doesn’t have any rights to read to him. He doesn’t need to be informed of his situation and neither does the audience. Wonder Woman has had her own solo movie, a hugely popular one, but even if she hadn’t, it’s an easy thing to pull off visually. He could suddenly stop blinking or quit nervously mumbling, speaking very clearly, etc.

Wonder Woman/Diana Prince introduction: D+

Cyborg/Victor Stone

They handled Cyborg’s introduction really poorly. All exposition and brooding. How are we supposed to get attached to this vital member of the league if his first scene is comprised solely of him complaining about his “curse”?

It isn’t a compassionate father-son relationship: Victor yells at his dad and exclaims that he’s made him into a MONSTER! Sound familiar? Nervous scientist tries to calm raging man with confusing newfound abilities? It’s been done before. And this repeat of such a scenario doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

It only detracts from Cyborg’s arc or lack of an arc. If they could have added a little bit of character interplay, like a football game featuring Victor where his father shows up or doesn’t show up, either way. Anything that brings us into their relationship on some emotional level.

Great shot of the young, exciting new DC addition: the magnificent Cyborg!

Or ignore the father, as they mostly did here anyways, and just show us what Victor is all about, walking through the city streets, going to school, etc. To just drop Victor, distraught about his “monstrous” condition, onto the audience’s lap is a shame and a bit of a disgrace to his comic book legacy.

Conflict should arrive after something good or at least authentic happens, writers. Otherwise why should we feel bad or care or feel pity for Victor? The only impression I got from his first scene is that he’s very dramatic, whiny, and pretty outwardly cruel to his father. What’s that one quote about how crisis reveals character? No revelations here..

If you didn’t know about his storyline from the comics, it would be easy to think that he was going to lash out at his father and become the villain, eventually meeting up and battling it out with the league.

One saving grace as a result of Victor being a smug, angry teenager in his introductory scene: it gives Diana the opportunity to breathe as a character and act as a sort of motherly figure. She has a sense of responsibility, the sort that’s required of her as a major leader within the league.

Cyborg/Victor Stone introduction: D

Aquaman/Arthur Curry

The problem with bringing Aquaman to the big screen has always been the fact that he’s Aquaman. He talks to fish, as Batman lightly quips in their first scene. The screenwriters desperately want to tread within that fine line of creating a serious, complex character while also somewhat acknowledging his silly origins. He doesn’t jump ten feet into the air and plunge into the water in a half-spin torpedo dive. He does this:

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He flops backwards and slides underwater, disappearing. It’s kind of funny, really. The writers so badly want to avoid any form of mockery about the character and his abilities that they don’t really show them off much at all to begin with, and when they do, the shot is held for a total of .5 seconds. Blink and you’ll miss the back-flop into the water.

We see these cave-like drawings on the wall earlier in the scene:

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The simple sketches create a mythic aura to the character. Batman doesn’t know who he is, apparently, even though he has a dossier on every other league member or future member. Curry doesn’t want to talk to or be a part of Batman’s plan.

It’s kind of meta: the character that the audience and Batman have never met is annoyed for having to explain himself, for having to give any form of exposition. They barely have a conversation before suddenly the shirt is off and he’s plunging down into the ocean. Aquaman doesn’t need to talk too much: his powers are very tranquil and highly visual in concept.

It’s not a thrilling or action-packed scene, but they don’t all have to be, especially considering the very friendly serving of it later on in the film. It’s teasing his potential, which is huge and awe-inspiring in scope. They got most of the cultural stigmas/comedic aspects of his character out of the way.

“Can you at least point me to Atlantis?,” Bruce Wayne asks, a sly, knowing look on his face.

Affleck delivers it perfectly: he’s not making fun of him, he’s just giving him a bit of a hard time. A quarter smile – he doesn’t even think it’s all that funny, just intriguing. If Bruce started laughing heartily, smiling ear-to-ear, slapping Arthur on the back in jest – then we’d have a problem. But that doesn’t happen.

Batman is the leader and organizer of the league, so logically it makes sense that he would be the one to make the trek to Arthur’s location and try to recruit him. It just happens to work out that Batman is the most well-known person in the league and in real life – he has the most movies, toys, everything – so it evens out nicely to have the comfort of the known confronting the new. The interplay between them is a give-and-take: Batman and his stoic stiffness and Aquaman with his pessimism and disinterest.

Arthur even has a slight ideological difference with Batman, creating conflict within the league, an important part of any superhero team-up movie; they can’t all get along the second that they lay eyes on each other. A solid, subtle introduction of a tricky, easy-to-fumble superhero.

Aquaman/Arthur Curry introduction: B+

The Flash/Barry Allen

Whereas Cyborg’s introduction had too little emotion, The Flash’s intro has a bit too much sappiness. It’s important to explore his past, but this scene right here shouldn’t be our first look at The Flash:

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Maybe I’m being too cynical, but this gesture seems like something Barry would do the first time he’s able to come and visit his father. His dad even says that he comes too much and has to stop – wouldn’t this hand-on-the-glass act get a little repetitive after so many visits?

It’s a quick way to explain a general summary of his past and catch up on where he’s currently at in his life. They decide to cut straight to the prison, to this sad sequence of pure dialogue. Billy Crudup delivers an intense, authentic plea to Barry to stop visiting him and live his life. He speaks slowly and intently, as if he’s been thinking about this for a long time, practicing the words to perform for Barry and try to get him to move on.

The introduction is brief and only memorable for Crudup’s short but impactful performance late in the scene. It’s a huge contrast to Barry’s later role as the comedic relief, although there’s not much relief: he’s extremely unfunny. Bad timing, delivery, and some pretty awful writing, to be fair. The quips just fell really flat for me.

The Flash/Barry Allen introduction: D+

Superman/Clark Kent

Superman’s resurrection is a bit convoluted and overlong. It features a bit too much slow-motion considering the fact that the main catalyst in the plot/scene is THE FLASH.

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The fight between Superman and the rest of the league is visceral and exciting, yet entirely pointless as well as contradictory to the premise of a team of superheroes. Superman can destroy them easily; he’s more powerful than all of them combined.

So basically the film is making the assertion that the Justice League is a group of back-up heroes in the event that Superman dies and isn’t there to swiftly clean up any mess. There is a league in the comics meant for those who apply to be a part of the league and aren’t accepted. I forget what the secondary group is called, but I know it’s not “Justice League”.

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“I see Flash, people…”

It’s admittedly pretty cool to see all of the heroes vulnerabilities come to light as well as all of Superman’s unlimited strengths. It’s a moment of bigness: I’m better, you know it, try to deal with it. It doesn’t add or continue any plot strain from Man of Steel or BvS: it’s an isolated, one time zombie-Superman break out.

It isn’t the worst way to introduce a major character late in a film, but it isn’t ideal for it to be unconnected to the past or the present in any meaningful way other than, “we can’t do this without him!”.

Superman/Clark Kent re-introduction: C-

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And that’s all, folks. I don’t have anything to say about the rest of the film, both in the positive sense and in the sense that it’s been covered and dissected in every corner of the internet already. It’s not a bad movie; it’s got many good qualities and moments. But it also unfortunately falls a part many times, unable to withstand the pressure of juggling so many comic book entities in a single film.

 

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is a powerful look at tragedy and activism combining into something both uniquely right and wrong. Taken from any one single characters perspective, the billboards may seem rude, cruel, gross, untrue, unjust, or completely just. In the case of Mildred, played by Frances McDormand, the billboards are justified and needed; she organized and paid for the advertisements in the first place.

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On the other hand, we have Chief Willoughby’s perspective, played by Woody Harrelson, whose name is plastered in big bold letters on one of the billboards, despite his good-naturedness and desire to find the victims assailant. The victim happens to be the daughter of Mildred, whose family and marriage has dissolved as a result of the horrific rape and death of her daughter. She lives with her son, Robbie, a young student in his late teens. He doesn’t understand the billboards and perpetually fights with his mother.

A curve ball is thrown into Mildred’s billboard plot when she learns that Willoughby has cancer. She’s stubborn, determined, and pretty narrow-minded, ignoring the sensitive angle of hoisting the terminally ill Chiefs name up in bold letters, slandering his name (which is a very good name to all of the local citizens), and insulting his young family.

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The third major perspective comes from Dixon, played by Sam Rockwell. Rockwell demands your attention in every single scene, acting both loosely and intensely at the same time. Dixon has a history of beating up African-American people and just being an awful cop in general. He’s the first officer to discover the billboards, reacting dramatically and only raising the stakes in terms of his raucous behavior in every proceeding scene.

The most interesting part of the narrative is how it’s set up: the dominos are put in place and we just have to sit back and see how they fall, whether that be poorly, not at all, or completely. Morals are blurry and grey like real life. No one character is heroic or admirable. There are three billboards demanding justice for the rape and murder of Mildred’s daughter and three people demanding different things from each other.

Eventually, the story of the characters and their true personalities cause the plot to naturally unravel. The film authentically depicts how small town folks might respond to a bold and extraordinary action by a single citizen. They’re not always good, not always bad, but always filled with extreme passion.

A major theme of the film is misdirected hate. Dixon attacks citizens for no particular reason, mentioning past incidents and revealing his behavior on-screen through a violent encounter with the billboard salesman. The wife could hate the sheriff for his actions. The son could hate his mother, Mildred, for the billboards or for any other negative memory he has with her. The chief could hate Mildred like Dixon. Some people can choose to not hate and some just plain refuse to.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is a fantastic moral and character study about personal vendettas. Its narrative swims together organically, each character’s motivations clearly defined. Engaging and thought-provoking, Three Billboards is a dark but rewarding experience that’s jam-packed with excellent performances.

The Argument – Director’s Cut


A fantastic short film about a man and his baby…and diapers. I can’t pinpoint it exactly, but “The Argument” really was a unique experience for me. It amplified my fear of the responsibility of children, something I’d like to avoid. The story is about a man whose spouse is frustrated with him (we only hear her at the beginning, never see her) and is left alone with his baby when it needs to be changed and there aren’t any clean diapers.

There’s a great tracking shot, cut up into several segments, but all following the father from behind as he carries his baby through the streets and into the grocery store. The baby is crying as he rocks him slightly. There is a distinct lack of music throughout, only the sounds of the crying and the dialogue from the various characters.

After grabbing a pack of diapers recommended by a nearby customer, presumably a mother, he gets in line to buy them. He gets a few looks from other customers; we really feel like we are peering through the eyes of a desperate father scrambling to keep his domestic life together. He ends up finding out that he doesn’t have any money on him. The clerk is stubborn and doesn’t budge despite his pleas.

The clerk says herself, “It’s not my store”, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that she then goes on to chase after him through the parking lot, almost getting run over by an oncoming vehicle. She could have simply yelled out, “thief!”, and the manager wouldn’t or at least shouldn’t have put any blame on her. Maybe there’s a sign in the employee lunch area stating the requirement to physically chase any thief by foot; I don’t know.

A great ‘day-in-the-life’ short film; simple, but powerful in its depiction of the anxieties of parenthood.

Written & Directed by Clara Aranovich

Starring Melvil Poupaud and Naomi Collier.

 

The Dig – New Short Film & Review

A new short film directed by Joseph Kosinski, the filmmaker behind Tron: Legacy and Oblivion. It’s the first footage shot on the new CineAlta VENICE Full Frame Camera and, as one would expect, it looks fantastic. It doesn’t hurt that they hired Kosinski, who has been criticized for being too focused on creating brilliant, symmetrical imagery and not enough focus on narrative and character. He’s a technical artist, not a traditional storyteller.

I saw Oblivion in IMAX and was pretty blown away by the precision behind each individual shot. He creates sequences like he’s building a high-speed bullet train, not a slower, more bumpy train with twists and turns. It can be temporarily awe-inspiring, but I’ve never had the urge to go back and re-watch Oblivion. It’s an empty shell of a story.

The plot of “The Dig” is somewhat ludicrous. It features two janitors who look like LA models dressing up like janitors. They look totally out of place and their employers should be skeptical of their motives. They look like the type of people who wouldn’t even put on a janitors uniform, let alone actually work as one. As it turns out, they are performing an inside job to steal the new Sony camera (clever!).

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It’s fun to watch, though, as it’s basically just an excuse to show off the mighty prowess of the new Sony camera. Their are plenty of gliding, omniscient aerial shots, and some typical but beautiful helicopter shots of skyscrapers at night. You could count the cop car on the side of the road as one moment of decent tension, but the film is mainly a mystery involving two suspect janitors, not a Hitchcockian slow-burner.

Directed by Joseph Kosinski

Cinematography by Claudio Miranda, ASC.

Starring Taylor Kitsch and Lily Collins

 

 

 

Baby Driver (2017) – Film Review

The opening to Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” feels a bit braggadocios, a bit indulgent, and a bit too similar to a recent Apple commercial. All in one take, the opening tracking shot follows our main character, Baby, played by Ansel Elgort, as he walks freely through the streets, crossing roads, passing murals, and avoiding bystanders. Each set piece he walks by correlates with the words in the song he’s listening to with his signature earbuds, always at hand and usually blaring full volume.

It’s a clever opening, though very self-referential: “Shaun of the Dead” featured one of the greatest one take tracking shots ever with Simon Pegg’s character bumbling through his town, ignorant of the blood and zombies surrounding him as he yawns his way through the vacant streets. The movie slows down a bit after the opening street dance/music video, getting into the reality of Baby’s life as a getaway driver for low-life, high-stake criminals.

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The leader of the operation is Doc, played smugly by Kevin Spacey. Jamie Foxx plays the confrontational character, even having a line in the movie commenting about the crazy position being filled already, by him. Jon Hamm plays a more sedated role as Buddy, another member of the crew; he wants to get the job done and get out of town with his girlfriend as soon as possible.

Baby drives as a result of a traumatic childhood experience involving a car wreck and the death of his mother. He has permanent ringing issues in his ears as a result of the accident, hence the constant music. The soundtrack is the lifeblood of the movie: the characters question it constantly, but when the music starts, Baby switches gears and turns into an 11th grade version of Ryan Gosling in “Drive”. He’s slick and intelligent, knowing the routes by heart, able to intuitively escape from seemingly inescapable scenarios.

Lily James plays Deborah, a young girl that works as a waitress at the diner where Baby’s mother used to wait tables. He’s a regular at the diner and soon garners her attention with a few of his songs and some friendly conversation. They have a runaway vibe throughout, though their relationship can’t be entirely filled out due to his responsibilities to Doc as the whiz-kid driver.

The movie has a lot of heart and clearly a lot of passion for the art of fast-speed driving. The coordination that had to happen to clear the roads and perform the spinning, sliding car donuts must have been exhausting. “Baby Driver” is an exhilarating chase movie made by one of the most inventive action directors of the decade.

The Star Wars in “Star Wars”

“Rogue One” takes the worldwide phenomena, entitled Star Wars, and serves up exactly what the title describes better than any other episode has. The final 50 minutes of the film is absolute pure adrenaline, spreading several sequences of space battles out evenly and thickly across the vast sandbox of outer-space.

The rebel X-Wing’s spin through the black, starry backgrounds like whirring darts, while the evil TIE fighters dash confidently after the rebels like submarines on auto-pilot.

The TIE fighters are the unflinching first line of the Imperial’s heavily-equipped military, while the rebels are scrapping more urgently for their lives than for the overall cause. The sense of duty can truly be felt extemporaneously through the genial, average-looking faces of the rebel pilots. Gareth Edwards cuts to the orange-clad pilots in the same manner in which George Lucas did almost 40 years ago.

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Edwards builds a feeling of camaraderie, making the fall and destruction of the pilots ever the more devastating. The characters are always trudging up the hill, always facing some sort of strategic disadvantage. We feel for them as a pack of truly unrelenting underdogs.

J.J. Abrams, on the other hand, must have enjoyed playing with his Jedi action figures a lot more than he did with his toy X-Wing models as a young fan. The Force Awakens had a lot to juggle and accomplish in a single 2 hour movie, and it did so fairly successfully. The space battles, however, had no sense of urgency, tension, or excitement.

What makes it all the worse for Abrams is the fact that he had introduced his prodigy pilot, Poe Dameron, as a prominent character in The Force Awakens universe. In the end, Abrams doesn’t put Dameron in a great position to shine, despite Oscar Isaac being a top-notch actor. It’s forgivable, or at least understandable, though, given that Abrams’ job was to slide wet cement under the stepping stones of the franchises’ future sequels.

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Their is nothing workman-like about Poe Dameron. He comes off as surefire and confident. He doesn’t look as vulnerable or homespun as the other rebel pilots. These pilots are essentially flying through dangerous, highly-weaponized atmospheres within the confines of jerky metallic cans. It’s not a job that offers very many long-term benefits other than life insurance, maybe.

The rebel fleet is commonly used as an ex machina plot device, a last resort to sweep in and clean up any leftover storm troopers. They are efficient, skilled professionals, trained like neurosurgeons to locate, maneuver, and eliminate waves of Imperial garrisons.

Luke Skywalker was the ultimate example of a surgical and precise pilot, squeezing his way through narrow tunnels in the Death Star’s hull, searching for the weak chink in the weapon’s armor.

In Rogue One, one of the rebel X-Wings is literally ordered to act as a shield to the rebels on the ground, hovering over the running soldiers of the resistance as if they were some sort of intergalactic secret service agents.

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Rebel resistance pushing through Imperial-controlled beach.
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Rebel ship hovers over to shield rebel soldiers on the beach.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Film Review

“The Force Awakens” is everything that the Star Wars prequels weren’t – self-referential, nostalgic, practical, and mythological. It uses the franchises deep well of origin stories to display the vastness of all of the galaxies far, far away.

The Star Wars franchise is a white canvas where the filmmakers, present and future, can draw as many stars, planets, and storylines as they can reasonably fit. It has so much potential to expand beyond the original films. Hopefully, the spin-off films will fill this void, bringing light to unseen corners of the universe.

The mainstream criticism of the first canon-advancing film produced by Disney is that it’s a fancy, dressed-up copy and paste job of the original Star Wars film, 1977’s “A New Hope”. The story template is certainly familiar, but the visual style and characters are a new breed that I like to call iconic shadows.

Many of the new characters appear and act childish and petty, like some of the hardcore fans of the Star Wars franchise. Other new characters are ambitious but yet hesitant, plagued by self-doubt about whether or not the boots they’re trying to fill are just too big and overwhelming.

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General Hux appears overwhelmed and ill-equipped to handle the guilt and sheer power that comes with his Death Star 2.0 device. His imitation of Hitler falls short, though his master plan doesn’t.

General Hux, in some ways, acts as a metaphor of the filmmakers themselves. They feel a duty to complete their mission successfully, though they are uncertain and afraid of the results. JJ Abrams, no matter how confident he felt during the production, couldn’t possibly know how the fans and critics would respond to his highly anticipated film.

Overall, the film succeeds at bringing back old fans of the franchise while also reaching new viewers. With a brisk pace, a fun tone, and plenty of young characters, the future of the force appears to be heading in a good direction.