The Dying Gaul

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Self-aware and self-referential, this flick is about making a movie and the subject of that movie reflecting on the action. Even the title is a mobius strip of a moniker and effectively left us thinking after the denouement. The story comes together as a twisted, black-ish comedy/social commentary that is hypnotic at times and is full of gorgeous cinematography and a great soundtrack. Probably not a film for everyone given the sensibility and the subject, but it is a solid independent offering with very good performances.

Catfish

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Not an easy movie to discuss without ruining the experience, but I’ll give it a shot. There was a lot of chatter about Catfish out of the festival circuit last year and it caught my eye. I had little idea what it was about… I think that was part of why it worked and recommend watching it without reading the summary or back of the box or any in-depth reviews. Part of the movie is figuring out what kind of movie it is.

From the moment the front credits rolled, it had us. And while we had no idea what ride we had gotten on, it was beautifully edited to carry us along to the end. It is, admittedly a light 4 stars, but it really got my attention.

All I will add to the above is this would be an excellent part of a double feature (or watched on successive nights) with The Social Network.

The Lost Boys: The Thirst

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The Lost Boys (the original) is a cult classic for a reason. It was different, it had a sense of humor about the world and itself, it had a great cast, and it had big hair. Despite the last bit, it stands up rather well even this many years later.

The Lost Boys: The Tribe, the first sequel, was one of the most disappointing follow-up I’ve seen in a long time. But I liked the original so much I had to check out The Thirst.

The Thirst is an amusing B-film with few surprises, but manages to recapture some of the humor of the first film. More, though, it is actually a nice tribute to Corey Haim without actually concentrating on him… it really about the continuing adventures of the Frog brothers but the footage almost always has Haim at the center. The film is even dedicated to him (and Asst. Dir Leigh Tanchel, who had a heck of a resume in his own right). Finally, they manage to take some great swipes at Twilight fandom as well.

So, if you want to watch more in the universe of Lost Boys, skip The Tribe and jump to The Thirst. I am hoping that just let it lie at this point. There is little value to continuing the story and unless they really improve the writing, it would just be, well, bad.

The 16 Line Principle

As this blog progresses, I’m reminded of something I discovered about my writing many years ago and realized it also had relevance to how stories are changing today with “new media.”

Long, long ago I used to keep a pocket notebook on me at all times for writing poetry. The pages were 16 lines long. Needless to say, most of my poems came out to 16, 32, or the occasional 48 lines. The media shaped the message (not to be confused with “the medium is the message,” for those that remember). As I moved from the Netflix connection to our FB account for posting reviews to this WordPress version, my reviews grew in size and detail (I refrain from saying “value” as I cannot make that call, you must).

What an artist creates is bounded by the media they are working in. Whether a type of paint, a length of page, or a character limitation of a tweet. It isn’t just that these new media provide opportunity, they actually change the way the artist thinks. Sometimes without realizing it.

With the advent of Twitter and other short burst social networking as well as the new hybrids of online/on disc/on screen approaches to stories, how and what we author is changing. The printing press freed people to distribute diatribes and leaflets with much greater ease.. not to mention newspapers and books. Now, with eBooks taking the fore, other boundaries are being lifted. It isn’t that you sit down and say, heck, I’m going to write a 1000 page fantasy novel, but knowing that there isn’t a reason you cannot, means that restriction is lifted from your thinking.

Is this good or bad or ?? When writing sonnets, the very restrictions fueled some of the greatest writing. This is where craft and creativity shine, within the rules that are set… which isn’t to say you don’t and shouldn’t break the rules. In fact, being an artist is often about knowing when to break the rules.

We already have best celling (yes, on purpose) novels sent a few hundred characters at a time via SMS to phones. And we have novel and novel universes being created (Greg Bear and Neal Stephenson’s, The Mongoliad) blurring the lines and reinventing story structure because “they can.” While the act was more conscious in this case, it was a leap made because thinking had changed.

To bring this full circle… when word processing became available and I retired my little notebook as a primary way to write, I watched my poetry expand. The ultimate expression of that was a 1000 line epic SF poem. Why? Because I couldn’t see the bottom of the page any longer… it was just a blank screen that went on forever…

Randall and Hopkirk (deceased) 1969

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This 1969 BBC detective show is dated, but still rather fun. Both for its kitsch and for its characters. I only viewed the first couple episodes as it really wasn’t overly compelling and I have plenty of other TV to watch, but seeing what they had done with it was interesting enough to have made it worthwhile.

Why, you ask, even bother watching such an old show? In this case it wasn’t nostalgia as I hadn’t even heard of it before a couple weeks back. The show is about to be revitalized on US TV and I was curious to see the source material before wasting time on the remake.

As it turns out, there is a good deal of meat for a new TV show to be made. First, of course, technology has massively improved. Second, the mysteries are a little nasty and evil. While in the original these were somewhat formulaic, I can see them being updated in modern writing styles and storytelling techniques. Will it be any good? We’ll see, but I having watched the original’s first couple episodes, I’m willing to give it a shot.

Nowhere Boy vs Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

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Quite without planning it, I ended up watching a double-feature of music biopics last night. While I would normally write them up separately, it was more interesting how these two played off of one another in the watching.

So this ended up as a smack-down between contemporaries John Lennon and Ian Dury. Musically, their influence and popularity was more serial than concurrent, but they were only a few years apart in age. For the record, I like both performers and listened to their music and still do, so this wasn’t about whether I appreciated them. However, the movies took very, very different approaches to telling their stories.

Nowhere Boy tells a great story about a kid and his family. That this kid grows up to be The John Lennon is actually rather beside the point of the script. That it tells Lennon’s back-story is a nice-to-have for those that knew him, and for those that didn’t it really wouldn’t matter. In fact, the only nods to Beatles music is in the opening chord in the movie (from Hard Day’s Night) and a slight nod to what might have been the genesis of Hello or I Wanna Hold Your Hand, depending on which way it went and a very quick, funny moment at The Cavern. So what you really get out of this a well-done family drama of Liverpool in the 50s and 60s.

S&D&R&R on the other hand is an homage to Dury and the roots of his art which overlaps completely with Lennon’s life. Perfectly acceptable approach for anyone who is fascinated by the punk icon and wants to know more. But you really have to want to know more and care about the real performer to make it through the flick. Serkis does an amazing job in the film, as do all of his supporting cast, but the story just isn’t compelling. It is part retrospective of his climb and part music video trying to show how his brain might have worked. All interesting, but not really a stand-alone movie despite the inter-cut remembrances of abandonment and recovering from polio. What is frustrating was that this very interesting life became more of a clips show with almost no emotional investment.

When recapping a life in fictional format, it is always important to tell a story, even at the expense of the details of the truth. The truth of the story is what matters. Learning that lesson is one of the hardest for writers and artists in general. At the core of every tale is the truth of what your story is about.. all choices must serve that truth. The truth in Nowhere Boy was served by concentrating on his aunt and mother. The truth in S&D&R&R was lost… I think it was to talk about turning disadvantages that, especially in that time period, would have crushed most people into fuel for expression. I think. But it just didn’t come together.

If you love Drury and the Blockheads music and want to know more about their rise and fall, you might well enjoy this. Me, as much as I appreciate the music, I zapped through the last half of the movie to see just the performances because the movie left me wanting. Whether or not you like John Lennon or the Beatles, but you enjoy a solid movie about a rather screwed up family and the outcomes, you’ll like Nowhere Boy.

The Fighter

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This is a soft three stars for me despite great performances by Leo (an Oscar pick for me in Supporting) and Bale (not a pick for me, despite some great work) and a visual production style that feels dead-on even if misleading. The film is over-exposed, making it feel like 70s film stock, but the story is from the late-90s and early 2000’s. It makes sense in the context of the town and people, but threw me temporally.

Unlike last year’s The Wrestler, directed by Aronofsky (and pertinent because he Exec Produced this opus by Russell), this movie is about boxing rather than people. Or better put, while The Wrestler was the story of a man and his family at the end of his career, The Fighter is about the beginning of a career for a boxer and his family. It really focused on the boxing rather than the relationships… and Eklund was a boring boxer. Even Raging Bull, which has long boxing scenes was really more about the marriage than the fights. It can be argued the story isn’t about Wahlberg’s character but about Bale’s (the older brother) and I think that was the intent, but if so, it didn’t quite work for me. Perhaps Russell stuck too close to the truth of the facts rather than the truth of the story? I can’t say for sure, but it left me bored and unaffected despite some of the craft that put it all together.

RED

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Last night was a pallet-cleanser between the awards-nominated movies. RED was perfect for that. Silly, well-executed fun. Mary Louise Parker was a perfect choice for Willis’ side-kick and Karl Urban continues to impress me with his skills and understanding of humor. One of the most interesting aspects of the film was how every one of the characters manages to perform their tasks in the most relaxed, efficient, even tired ways… perfect for a story of retired spies and it added another layer of amusement to the proceedings. Kudos to Robert Schwentke for that bit of subtlety in his direction.

I’ve only two minor gripes. First, that they gave away far too many of the best moments in the trailer (damned marketers!). Second, the energy of the film, while relentless forward, never seemed to quite top out for me. This latter bit didn’t ruin it for me, but it didn’t provide complete catharsis either. Still, I’d watch it again and probably more than once and I know I’m there for the sequel that is moving forward even as I type…

The Social Network

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It has been said in the past that Aron Sorkin could make even the census interesting. The Social Network is an unlikeable story with unlikeable characters that we somehow are fascinated by and, at least for me, in the end sympathize with. There is plenty of congratulations to go around for the success of the film, but Sorkin is one of the main reasons and he is likely to walk away with Best Adapted Screenplay for his efforts.

Jesse Eisenberg’s amazing ability to emote without emoting–giving us one of the clearest, honest depictions of an Asperger’s geek–earned him his nomination. His last moments of the film are brilliantly framed with his first (yep, back to that first and last frame discussion again) and he sells it. However, the chances of him beating out Firth, in my opinon, are slim. He’s too young and has too much to prove yet. I think the lack of Andrew Garfield receiving a nod (though he did for BAFTA and Globes) is another indication of which way the Academy Awards will go. And, frankly, I think Garfield’s performance should have bumped Ruffalo’s at the very least… and I liked Ruffalo in The Kids are All Right.  

Looping back to first frame/last frame, Fincher’s direction and the astounding editing job (I do think they should get Editing since Inception isn’t in the mix) pulled the whole frenetic story together. There wasn’t a slack moment in the story or the action and everyone felt right. In fact, this is the first movie of Fincher’s I’ve really enjoyed since Fight Club. All the others have been missing some crucial element to make them truly great.

Whether this will get Best Picture or not is up for grabs right now in the media. I suspect it won’t as it isn’t an “up” film and the target audience is skewed younger. In addition, its competitors are more traditional story telling and that tends to take the day.

You may or may not like the story and people in this film, but I dare say you won’t be bored by it.

The King’s Speech

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This is a good film, propped up to glorious by the performances of Firth and Rush, both of whom I am picking for winning an Oscar this year. Rush for his delightfully understated approach and Firth both for his intense but subtle king and for being passed over for last year’s A Single Man. For these two men alone you should see the film. Their relationship and craft is worth the price of admission–you will not regret the time a jot.

Overall, however, while each scene was well done, I felt Hooper let it drag a bit here and there, opting for reality of events over pushing the story forward. I suspect this will cost it the Director and Editing Oscars, but this film has a head of steam on now and anything is possible. Despite these lacks, I do think it will pick up Best Picture for its feeling of triumph and, again, due to the powerful performances of all the cast.

Finally, there was some mild amusement for me in the casting Jacobi as the archbishop. While one of my favorite British actors, his earlier depiction of the stuttering emperor in the titular character of I, Claudius made me smile. I doubt it was an intended nod, but who knows?

Art, writing, life explained… or at least commented upon…