Thursday, April 24, 2014

Divergent (review)

Divergent (2014) is the new young adult fiction adaptation with a strong female protagonist fighting an authoritarian government in a dystopian future. I haven't read the book, but the movie is closer to The Host or The Mortal Instruments than it is to The Hunger Games. The story is organized into two subplots: Tris's (Shailene Woodley) coming of age and struggle to find a place in society, and the romantic entanglement she finds herself in when she meets Four (Theo James). If there's one problem for me with the movie, its that this first subplot is weighed down by the clumsy and problematic nature of the second.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Noah (review)

Noah (2014) is the latest feature film from director Darren Aronofsky, the man who recently received a lot of attention for his film Black Swan (2010). The basics of the story herenvolve the biblical Noah and his quest to build an ark to survive a giant flood. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the movie is that it's far from a simple literal adaptation, including magical elements like flaming swords and giant rock monsters. The movie runs into some trouble with the execution of its story however, and it feels almost like Aronofsky had a good screenplay that didn't please the producers and was subjected to rewrites which made it fall apart. To be completely honest the movie's so hit or miss that I'm really not quite sure what to make it, so if you're curious then go see it for yourself and make up your own mind. Here's what I think after my initial viewing. (Minor spoilers throughout.)

Justice League: War (quickie)

Justice League: War is a direct-to-video animated feature starring a variety of superheroes from the DC Comics universe, and as such it's a bit of unfamiliar territory for me. As I've explained before, I'm no expert on comic books, but I like science fiction and I'm interested in many of the various themes they often delve into so I often find myself watching superhero movies. So as a Certified Non-Expert, I can tell you this: even if you're unfamiliar with the comics on which it's based, Justice League: War is fun and easy enough to watch, but I get the feeling that it's built for an audience knows a bit of what's going on.

None of it is bad, it's just a little shallow in terms of the characters and the thematic ideas. We're introduced too quickly to all the superheroes so that the only one that ends up with any real arc is Cyborg. Part of what made The Avengers great was that it managed to juggle a large collection of heroes with drastically different characteristics so flawlessly, and that's sorely missing here.

But more to the point, that won't be a problem for anyone who's read the source material, and in technical terms the movie is rather well made. The animation looks quite lovely and the voice acting is all pretty solid (featuring Sean Astin, Michelle Monaghan and Alan Tudyk). At the end of the day, Justice League: War is harmless light entertainment with a solid target audience in mind, so if you think you might be interesting in it then definitely don't be afraid to check it out. Just don't expect the level of depth or accessibility of The Avengers.

2014 Ranked

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.