Thursday, April 17, 2014

Methods of Adaptation

When it comes to adapting beloved stories for the big screen, whether the source is a popular novel, a classic fairy tale, or even another movie, there can never be a precise 1:1 match between the original and the copy. The question becomes not how to perfectly recreate every small detail, but how to put your own personal stamp on the material, how to leave the material richer than you found it. Every screenwriter has their own vision for their work just as every reader will imagine a book their own way. This vision is further filtered through the mind of the director, and while results vary widely we can group differences into three general categories: lighter, darker, and bigger.

Friday, April 11, 2014

3 Days to Kill (review)

3 Days to Kill (2014) is the latest family-oriented action thriller born from the mind of Luc Besson, the writer behind genre-stagnating movies like Taken and Transporter, and brought to life by the heavy and artless directorial hand of McG (Terminator: Salvation; yes that's his real name). Luc Besson's not a bad writer, but his stories often require something special to elevate them out of mediocrity. Taken was exceptional not because it was a uniquely compelling story but because of Liam Neeson's memorable performance. 3 Days to Kill lacks any of these sort of extenuating circumstances.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Veronica Mars and Vigilante Justice

Veronica Mars (2014) is the new movie spinoff of a television series you probably never saw. It exists because of a successful Kickstarter campaign which managed to raise around $6 million, a solid monetary foundation for a movie but a very small percentage of the average Hollywood movie budget (less than 10%). But while supporting low budget filmmaking is important, that's not why you should see this modest little movie about a girl with a camera instead of that new one with Liam Neeson punching people. You should see Veronica Mars because it actually has something to say about justice.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

SIFLW: The Asylum & Mockbusters

On this week's episode of Something Interesting From Last Week: The Asylum & Mockbusters!

The Asylum is a movie production studio which specializes in low budget, direct-to-video (non-theatrical) releases. They make two different types of movies. The first is silly monster movies like the recent Sharknado and (my personal favorite title) Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus which make their profit from audiences looking for the "so bad that it's good" vibe.

The second are commonly referred to as mockbusters, or movies which are given a title very similar to a popular larger production release. Some of my favorite examples of this are Transmorphers, released in 2007 with Michael Bay's Transformers, and Atlantic Rim, released alongside Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim last year. These movies are incredibly low budget (rarely over $1 million, or about 1% the average Hollywood blockbuster) and are rushed through the stages of production so that they often make it to video before or at the same time as the original movie is in theaters. It's unclear whether they profit from people mistakenly buying them in place of the original or from people who know the difference and want to see them anyway (likely it's some of both), but the scary thing is that every single one of The Asylum's hundreds of feature films has turned a profit.

And there really is something real in their appeal, because somehow I can't stop watching them.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

SIFLW: Audio Commentaries

On this week's episode of Something Interesting From Last Week: audio commentaries!

I love audio commentaries. For those of you who haven't experienced one, it's when someone records an audio track of them watching and commenting on a movie which then plays over the film when you watch at home. Usually it's the director, but you can get commentaries from anyone working on the film like producers, writers, or actors, as well as people who haven't worked on the film but are knowledgeable about it in some way like film historians or critics. There can also be commentaries from more than one person. The general idea is that whoever it is will explain things in the movie you may have missed, but ultimately anything goes as special features are rarely rated by the MPAA and commentaries are generally done all in one take and unedited.

So anyway, last week I listened to five audio commentaries and compiled some quick thoughts on them for anyone interested. Here they are, ranked in order from best to worst:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

SIFLW: Original Star Trek Movies as a Non-Trekkie

On this week's episode of Something Interesting From Last Week: The original Star Trek movies!

So yeah, last week I marathoned all the original Star Trek movies. I rather enjoy J. J. Abrams's new reboots of the franchise and—with the vague notion that they somehow broke with tradition—I wanted to see if the original films were accessible to someone who hadn't seen any of the television episodes. The short answer is yes. For the most part I didn't feel like there was something I should have known or something the movies weren't telling me. It was easy to pick up on who the characters were and what parts they were supposed to be playing. I think my understanding and appreciation may have been enhanced if I knew more about the series, but it never felt like I was missing out on anything major. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Superman Returns vs Man of Steel

I don't know anything about comic books or comic book heroes and I certainly don't know anything about Superman. What I do know about is movies, and Superman Returns might not be the best one out there but it works. It has a story which makes sense all the way through, characters which are sympathetic and consistent, and a conflict involving two opposing ideologies. It might not sound like much, but it's the kind of cohesion often lacking in the sea of mediocrity to which most films belong.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Oscar Snubs & Screening Notes Awards

The Oscars were last Sunday, and by this point everyone is already tired of hearing about the nominees and the winners, so I talk about a few Oscar "snubs". Sorry for the pretentious air quotes, but as much as "snub" is a convenient way to express what I want to talk about, I really hate that word. I feel like it's generally used to imply that a movie deserved an award which it was denied due to incompetence or some other variety of insult to the members of the Academy. Whatever, who cares about the Academy? It should be about the movies, not the people who pick them off a list. In that light, here are some movies I saw from last year which I thought were exceptional in one way or another but which didn't get a chance to be recognized.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Romance & The Role of Women in 50's Sci-Fi Movies

Notably hilarious exception
The cultural uncertainty surrounding the role of women in the 50's is reflected in the movies made at the time. As represented by the femme fatale of film noir, women were seen as threatening and dangerous but also mysteriously alluring. The science fiction of the 50's has a slightly different role for women: the helpless yet unattainable object. This is perhaps unsurprising since even today we fight against stereotypes of women as powerless and weak, but where it gets interesting is the science fiction. Just as every element of a story has its role, purposeful or otherwise, the role of aliens in 50's sci-fi is to stand in as the physical embodiment of romantic roadblocks.

See, the problem with the cultural/ideological view that women are inferior is that it doesn't make sense. No, not because they're actually equal to men, that would be silly! The problem is that it leaves open the question of why women aren't constantly fawning over men. If we (men) are superior, why don't they (women) pay attention and/or make love to us? The answer is simple: aliens.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

SIFLW: Guillermo del Toro


On this week's episode of Something Interesting From Last Week, the lesser-known movies from Guillermo del Toro!

Last week I watched two movies from director Guillermo del Toro, each of which embodied a significant element of what I consider his masterpiece, Pan's Labyrinth (2006). First is his debut feature film Cronos (1993) and its use of color. It has two worlds which it differentiates by the colors which constitute them: the first is primarily orange, gold or brown and represents our normal, average, everyday reality; the second is primarily blue, black or grey and represents an evil, fantastic, and almost unreal underworld. The two worlds are strictly separated at first (scenes occur in one or the other of the color schemes) until the protagonist falls under an evil spell and the blues and blacks of the underworld begin to seep into his reality. Del Toro uses a similar segmenting and contrasting of colored worlds in Pan's Labyrinth to distinguish between fantasy and reality and between the world of children and the world of adults.

The second movie I watched from Guillermo del Toro was The Devil's Backbone (2001), a movie which separates the world of children from the world of adults against the background of a larger historical/cultural milieu in a way similar to Pan's Labyrinth. It takes place during the Spanish Civil War but has almost none of the imagery we'd expect from a film about war. Instead it is about a young boy in an orphanage and the people who take care of him. There are scenes shot from the children's perspective where they know something is happening but have no idea what it is and there are scenes shot from the informed adults' perspective, and this juxtaposition serves the dual purpose of highlighting the innocent nature of the children and the inhuman nature of war (we have to grow up before we can understand it, it's not something inherent to our knowledge or comprehension).

Both Cronos and The Devil's Backbone were the best films from Guillermo del Toro I've seen since Pan's Labyrinth and any fan of the director will likely find a lot of enjoy in each.

Related: My Ranking of Guillermo del Toro's Filmography