Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Freelancin': Enter Twelfth Doctor

Saturday night had the premiere of Doctor Who season 8, and it was the first appearance of John Frobisher/Lobus Caecilius/Peter Capaldi as Doctor Who #12.  Let us discuss this.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

"Frank Miller's Sin City" was one of the most original and exciting developments in computer-generated filmmaking.  Robert Rodriguez's used digital soundstages to recreate the exaggerated noir of Frank Miller's sleazy black and white world, making a movie that was part live-action and part invented hyper-stylized imagery.  The writing might was little more than a poser's facade basing its tortured similes upon cliches of old Hollywood crime films and pulp fiction.  It was no more true to the genre than the "Calvin and Hobbes"' Tracer Bullet stories.  However, despite its flaws, I'd say "Sin City" is one of the rare example of a movie that benefited from style over substance.

It took nine years, but finally Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller have teamed up again to create a sequel to their 2005 hit*.  They've used the same blueprints to build a structure just like the first one.  Once again "Sin City" is a  compendium of three interlinked stories set in the dark crime-soaked alleys of Basin City, all translated directly from the comics.  The pieces occur either before or a few months after the events of the original, each event taking place at random throughout the timetime.   The faces are the same, Mickey Rourke's massive skull-crusher, Marv, Powers Booth's monstrous devil, Senator Roark, and the stories have the same dreary tone.  Yet on its second helping this hardboiled meal clearly has lost some of its flavor.

"A Dame to Kill For" is a sequel through-and-through, attempting the very same idea as the original to weaker effect.  Yeah, the black and white are still starkly contrasted, but the stories feel rehashed and inferior.   Only one of the new chapters properly feels like it is worthy of "Sin City 1", and one of the yarns is so bad as to embarrass even the long-dead corpse of Humphrey Bogart.  (Unsurprisingly it is a new work created by Miller specifically for this movie, so it is strewn with his latter day dementia.)  Rodriguez and Miller's obsession with stupid violence leads the movie is repeat virtually the same action scene - a raid upon a rich villain's heavily-armed mansion - three times, twice with Marv as a sidekick.  There is a lacking in imagery, as the only item in the movie that seems to inspire Rodriguez's camera is Eva Green's white naked body in black water.  Despite nine years to prepare for this repeat, there seems to just not have been enough sleaze in the Sin City universe to justify a second outing.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Transformers: The Movie (1986)

Once the Transformers were a cornerstone of 80s childhoods, and at some point, they became Michael Bay's behemoths of destruction, piles of metallic shards vaguely taking human shape while Industrial Light & Magic slammed them into each other for the glee of the movie-watching public.  With "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)" scuttling yet another childhood memory of aging nerds, I felt a trip through time needed to be made.

I needed to come back to the beginning of this story before the masturbation jokes, before the minstrel show droids, to 1986.  This was "The Transformers: The Movie" an animated feature created by the original studio behind the 1980s cartoon, the first chance children had to see Optimus Prime and their other mighty morphing friends on the big screen.  Tranformers purists view this film as the alternative to the Bay era, an electric-guitar filled spectacle of robot violence and major turning points for the transforming characters.  However, what they would not like to admit is just how similar this movie is to its three-hour cousins.  I can see elements of this movie inspiring Bay's new tetrology of automaton action.

Much like the Ninja Turtles, the Transformers were not born of pious intentions.  The 1980s were an innovative time in children's entertainment, when drooling toy companies watched greedily at the extraordinary profits George Lucas was raking in with his "Star Wars" products.  Suddenly movies did not have to just be movies, they could be entire brands, coming with scores of T-shirts and dolls and the odd flamethrower.*  It was only a matter of time before Saturday morning cartoons stopped being merely cartoons, and became half hour long commercials for the toys based on the characters within.  The old Transformers line (later renamed by a crafty Hasbro ad man "Generation 1") was an elaborate scheme to reach into your heart and wallet.  What would make a better vehicle to sell toys than a show about steel heroes that transformed into vehicles?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

A few years ago, it was announced that Michael Bay's production company, Platinum Dunes would break out of its usual forte of trampling over classic horror films with mindless remakes, and would instead jump into a new original project of:  trampling over an 80s cartoon with a mindless blockbuster reboot.  It was not long until this truly creative project had its original spec script leaked out to the public.  That was a bold new document proudly... copycatting the plot of the Michael Bay Transformers movies, essentially word for word.  Just cross out "robot" and put "turtles".  The Turtles were aliens, April O'Neil and Casey Jones were in highschool, and to accommodate Bay's military fetish, Shredder was a Colonel in the US Army involved in a dark evil conspiracy.

The Internet reacted probably in the most appropriate way, by rioting furiously from the safety of their deskchairs.  Thanks to production issues and negative public reaction, that old version of this movie was thrown exactly where it belonged, in the trash.  What has our victory gotten us?  Well, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" looks nothing like a Transformers movie, or even a Michael Bay movie.  The Turtles are mutants again, as the trailers were all to proud to point out, mocking the idea of alien ninjas*.  Instead of ripping off Transformers "Ninja Turtles" is exploring new ground by ripping off "The Amazing Spider-Man".

"Ninja Turtles" is the kind of bad movie so lazy that you cannot even find a way to laugh at its incompetence.  It is a passionless project that makes even the whorish merchandising and toyetic elements of the 80s cartoon seem principled and sincere.  Nobody cared one bit about the movie they making, nobody wanted to tell a compelling story, nobody wanted to make exciting action scenes, nobody even wanted to make a tone-appropriate movie for the children.  It is a movie that nobody actually wanted to make, but made anyway because there were hundreds of millions of dollars on the table to be horded.  The only positive I can give "TMNT" is that it is not actively the worst movie of 2014 as I feared it would be.

There's a quote to put on your DVD box art:  "Not quite the worst movie of the year. -Blue Highwind".

Friday, August 15, 2014


The sad fact is that ultimately 99% of movies will ultimately make almost no impressions on the world.  Yeah, somebody put a lot of time and work into a movie such as "Hercules".  But it will never be anything more than a silly movie about a man with huge muscles doing nothing that a million other silly movies about men with muscles have not done before.  Hours of entertainment have passed, leaving you with a lighter wallet, a belly full of popcorn, and absolutely no thoughts or enlightenment of any kind.

When you do have a movie that actually does succeed in expanding your view of your life, the universe, and everything else, it makes all those other movies so much harder to sit through.  So goddamn you, Richard Linklater, for making a friggin' fantastic movie, "Boyhood", which has left me staring down at my own life and measuring every small moment of day.  This means that the moments I'll waste watching the Michael Bay produced "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" reboot are going to be so much harder.  Yeah, it is hard enough to watch a bad movie, but to know there are true works of art playing just in the other auditorium, that is the absolute definition of torture.  Somebody lock up Michael Bay and Jonathan Liebesman for Crimes Against Humanity.

"Boyhood" is at once both the most critically-lauded movie of 2014 and a hidden gem from 2012.  Richard Linklater created the movie over the course of twelve years, beginning production when his star, Ellar Cotraine (who is currently unknown but will not remain so for long) was six-years-old and over a massive production cycle, finished when the boy had grown to age eighteen.  Many dramas feature coming of age stories, but must simulate the character's growth by switching actors.  Linklater instead waited every few years for Cotraine to reach the age necessary to play the character of Mason Jr. for the movie.  Cotraine grows with his character, and the movie develops along with its star.  It makes for a fascinating experiment in real time filmmaking, creating a movie that travels across time itself to document life itself.