Discs, Marketing, and Greed

Recently I watched two movies back-to-back (reviews at Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole and Despicable Me). Both were marked as Rental discs.

Full disclosure, my disc library is approaching 1700 discs. I’ve got a problem, I admit it, but that doesn’t stop me. Netflix helps, but some movies need to be supported and others I want on hand to watch over or to watch their extras. And there’s the rub. If I’m going shell out the $$’s I want to know what is on the disc and if it is any good. We rent discs to see if we want to buy them. Unless the movie is so excellent there is no question of owning (very few these days) it is the extras that will tip the balance.

WB has been doing this for a while and, frankly, it ain’t helping them with us. I don’t think it is helping them generally with sales either. WB rental discs tend to have a ton of previews that you can’t skip through and only the movie. Period.

Universal is new into this arena and they took both a smarter and worse approach. Smarter in that the disc has the same menu as the “full” version so you could see what was there. Worse in that when you select anything but the movie or settings, you get a “Purchase the disc to complete your viewing experience.” Allow me to say: Complete This! Definitely cost them with us.

Extras on a disc aren’t something you watch once. You want them for rewatching, often many times. This is true whether a good commentary (however rare these are) or short films or making of’s or whatever. Extras are just that. First you want a good or great film and then you want the “extras.”

C’mon, studios, if watching the extras once makes it so I won’t buy the disc, I wasn’t going to in the first place. We test drive discs in rental. And good extras may just get us to buy the disc sooner (which usually means a higher price point) or eventually (at a lower price point).

I can tell you outright that these experiences lost you a sale on at least one of these (read the reviews to figure out which 😉

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

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This is actually a pretty strong 3 stars despite its lack-luster box office performance. This was a challenging film to make on several levels, but it is worth the viewing, if not for a really young audience these days.

First, this was an odd director choice. Here you have the director of 300, Watchman, Dawn of the Dead, the upcoming Sucker Punch and Superman reboot directing what is ostensibly a kid’s story. Except it is a kid’s story like Bambi was, full of childlike wonder and childlike horror. People forget that Bambi sent children into screaming fits during the forest fire sequence. This film has more than one moment of “reality” if you will. Enough that it harmed it for audience, though it raised it several pegs in my personal estimation. I wish they had taken it all further.

Second, it is bloody owl faces they had to get to emote. Not an easy task if you aren’t willing to anthropomorphize them beyond recognition. And, thankfully, they weren’t willing to. They do manage to get a great deal of emotions from the eyes and posture and subtle mouth movements, but these aren’t your typical, cuddley cats, dogs, or even penguins. They’re predators and they look like it with sharp talons, pointy beaks, and focused intentions.

Third, they were releasing to an audience brought up on pablum (see my second review on Despicable Me which we saw right after this) who isn’t prepared for an unsanitized story. Ga’Hoole, whose title was even changed to make it more accessible despite the fact that it was a relatively well-known children’s book, follows the Hero’s Journey. It is recognizable and fun and fraught with dangers and reversals. It is relatively predictable, but also, at times, wonderfully not.

Fourth, the movie suffered for its score which swings between something relatively unique to John Williams-standards with soaring strings and … well, let’s just say it is so at odds with the visual uniqueness of the film that it pulled me out of the story every time like having a loud radio turned on during the show. I got the feeling this was the studio putting in its hand, but I cannot be sure of that, but Snyder is so specific with everything else, that it feels like another hand pushed in and said, “You’ve gotta use this music; our audience will expect it.”

Finally, the disc itself was a “rental” disc and had nothing on it. An experience that prompted my other post about the state and greed of the industry. Read that if you want the details.

By now you know why this was 3 instead of 4 stars for me. I’d likely watch it again with my niece; while  it wasn’t everything I hoped, it certainly wasn’t all that I feared. Snyder continues to intrigue me as a director and I can’t wait to see his next few. He takes chances and has vision–that’s what you want even if you don’t always agree with the result.

Flipped

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There was a great deal of buzz when this flick released. I was always curious, but hadn’t gotten around to it till now. The junkettes managed to keep the hype to a minimum and I was appropriately expecting a  rather sweet, but also rather simple film. There are few surprises, but the story itself is told in a somewhat unique way, switching back and forth between our main character’s points of view. However, it also felt a little manipulated at times though setting it in a small town in the early 60’s also provides some distance and expectations.

There isn’t a sour note in the performances, nor, honestly, the directing. While I didn’t get quite the catharsis I reach for when viewing these kinds of stories, if you enjoy or are looking for, a film about the innocence and silliness of love, with a dash of reality thrown in, you will be well served.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (aka Wall Street 2)

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I’ll start by admitting 2 things:

  1. I’ve never seen Wall Street.
  2. I often have issues with Oliver Stone movies.

Interestingly, I think the reasons for my first point is part of the reason the film didn’t do quite as well as hoped in the theaters. Both were released too close to their inciting incidents. Who wants to see why and how we were done in by greed and by just a handful of individuals when we’re all struggling? Both movies came out in the midst of market instabilities that rocked the county and the world. The original came out at a time I was broke and struggling due to the market crash. This second in the midst of uncertainty and continued volatility and fear across the economic spectrum. Given the length of time it takes to produce a film, it made the original rather prescient and the current one still impressive in its pronouncements.

My past issues with Stone were his inability to edit a flick to its focus and his inability to match the first and last frames of a film to provide structure; I always left feeling like I started  watching one story, but ended up watching something else and neither story felt satisfying. With Wall Street 2, he has finally found a way to satisfy me as a viewer.

All the performances were fun to watch, though Eli Wallach seemed a little removed from it all–whether on purpose or not, I couldn’t tell. Mulligan deserves a special call out, and not just because she  is one of my favorite actresses currently. She manages levels of emotion, intelligence, and vulnerability that just aren’t there for many performers on film. Since her stint as Sally Sparrow on Dr. Who, she’s had my heart and my attention and her performance here is surprisingly dominating even though she has comparatively little screen time. LaBeouf is equally good, though a little strained vocally.

The story is well told, angering, frustrating, and not a little scary. You have to ask yourself if you’re ready to see how we got here and what’s still to come. Ultimately, though, this really came back to a story about people and what is really important in life. Does it get predictably preachy at moments as you expect from Stone? Yes. Does it go over-the-top of credibility at moments to try and provide a visual metaphor? Yes (keep an eye on the paintings). Is it worth your time if you’re willing to accept all of these issues? Yes.

I may actually watch more Stone flicks as he directs them down the road now that I can see him in control of the story and the presentation.

The Cape

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Perhaps I’m being unfair in reviewing this nascent series, but there was a lot of hype and very little sizzle. Beautiful production values and a reasonably good origin story were laid out in the 2-part opener. And there was just enough that I’ll give it one more episode to sell me.

However, it just didn’t seem to come to life. The story moved from scene to scene with very little emotion. That’s saying something given the plot. I wanted to blame the lead, David Lyons, but despite some solid supporting talent and amusing moments, none of the characters jumped off the screen. When compared to it’s natural analog, Heroes, the launch was underwhelming in the extreme.

There is talent here, and certainly some thought in the stories. And Summer Glau (OK, yes, I’m a huge fan, so she gets her own call out)! I don’t even mind the idea of a cape as a weapon; the character is more like Captain America or Iron Man than Spidey, fighting with his own (slightly more than normal) abilities and strength and (ta da!) hard work, study, and research. But they’ve got a very short time to snag me and enough other viewers to survive with such a weak mid-season launch. I seriously want them to succeed, so here’s hoping…

Penelope

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A delightfully surprising and clever modern fairy tale.  While it starts relatively simple and straight-forward, it quickly becomes something else. What appears ill-thought-out, trite, and sometimes confusing all comes together in solidly structured story.

With endearing performances by Ricci and McAvoy and the most of the rest of the cast, it re-watches wonderfully. The only clanging note is Simon Woods who is more than a little shrill and over-the-top for my taste. I don’t know whether to blame the director or him. The rest of the cast is more within their appropriate bounds and, more often than not, understated, allowing the script and story to speak for itself. Someone had to play villain, and he did have quite the motivation to try and tackle, but it just didn’t ring as believable to me. On the other hand, Dinklage was wonderful as the slimey reporter and  Witherspoon surprises with a kooky character of her own.

And, to my delight, the designers had a ball with the set and costumes. It was even more fun as it  is presented subtly, and without comment.

RadCon

RadCon 5C (February 18 – 20, 2011) is the next convention date where you can hear me prattle on about writing, craft, movies and anything else (and with a helping of single-malt, probably a great deal more).

RadCon, for those who have never been, is one of the nicest conventions in the NW to attend. Relaxed, and with great writing guest speakers as well as copious gaming opportunities (if that is your bent).

Annually in the tri-cities, it provides a wonderful weekend of fun. In addition, it is positioned such that you have to drive back through the Yakima Wine Valley on the way home to the Seattle area. Add to this the proximity of the Atomic Ale Brewpub in Richland (excellent Porter that is sold no where else due to state laws) and possibly the most pleasant ConCom around, it isn’t an event to miss.

We’ve been attending as guests for years and have seen the writing track grow and evolve under the chairmanship of Bob Brown (writer extraordinaire in his own right). And, while the committees have changed as they always will, we expect the experience to continue.

Vatel

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Visually sumptuous… and sort of a dark Babette’s Feast. While there are some wonderful performances and some great dialog (this was adapted by Tom Stoppard) it is the food and spectacle that rule this movie, and rightly so for the story. In particular, for those theatre geeks out there, the old world stage craft is recreated and filmed better than I’ve ever seen in any other costume-period drama. And I should mention that the costumes, too, are incredible.

Lest you think the visual feast  is the only reason to watch the film, let me reframe: there is a wonderfully subtle story about ownership, power, freedom, and the frazzelled end of monarchy in the mid 1600s. I am not often a costume drama lover, but this one captured me. I can only hope they do a good blu-ray pressing of it sometime soon as this needs to be part of my library.

Love Ranch

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Well, this certainly wasn’t the movie I thought it was. Given the title and description, I expected a light-hearted comedy with a dash of reality. What you get is a bucket of reality and an odd sort of romance. That doesn’t make it bad, it just makes it unexpected. This is not a curl-up-on-the-couch with your partner and cuddle kinda date film, it is a bit too stark and honest for that. But it isn’t a hide-behind-your-hands flick either. It just is… and given that it is based on a real story, perhaps that is appropriate.

Mirren is, as always, brilliant though very hard for me, personally, to accept. Nothing she did; I just always see her as so elegant, even in her tougher roles. Her American accent is near flawless and very disarming. Pesci is, well, what Pesci does best. You either like him or you don’t, but he is totally believable.

The disc also includes about an hour of deleted scenes. After viewing a number of them, it is clear why they were all pulled–great peeks into the lives of the prostitutes and subtleties into other relationships, but off-point to the main story which already runs 2 hrs. They were good edits. And the deleted scenes are near full-production sound and edit, so not difficult to watch.

It is a good film, but be in the right mood. I fear I wasn’t quite prepared when I hit play on this one, though I was willing to go along for the ride.

Knight and Day

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Let’s start with what I think folks really want to know, the bottom line: this is a pretty strong 3 and a perfectly serviceable comedy/action flick. Is it brilliant? Not really, but that’s part of what I’d like to discuss today.

Why wasn’t this the summer blockbuster that the studio hoped for and trotted their stars all over the world for? You have Diaz, whom I have huge respect for and have ever since Being John Malkovich–never have I seen an actress be so willing to be physically unattractive when they were known for their beauty. I think I truly fell in love with her ability (seriously, I just don’t find her that attractive) watching In Her Shoes, which is a great flick that most of you should see. It also has Cruise, who is an action star… or was until he destroyed his own reputation with public couch incidents and other missteps.

But star power or curse aside, this is an interesting study, in my view, of what can go wrong with marketing and the studio system in general. This was pushed as an action flick a la Mission Impossible or Bourne because they thought that was what would sell it. It ain’t. This is a comedy (a wannabe rom-com actually) and a satire of the previously mentioned films.

It fails to satisfy as a purely action film due to some of the, admittedly amusing, tropes that are employed to get around the dicier escapes. However, it is those escapes that would satisfy the audience, that, in fact, they crave in a true action flick. It isn’t that there isn’t some real action in the film, but at almost every point where you think “how the heck are they going to get out of this,” magic happens. (And I won’t spoil it, it is funny and fun.) But this very approach robs us of our action satisfaction and leaves you with a romantic comedy in its place. Not a horrible thing, but there isn’t any real chemistry between our leads. Diaz is a doe-eyed pursuer and Cruise a snappy talking brick of ice that is never really humanized despite the attempts made in the plot.

Despite all that, I have to admit, I might even watch this one again now that I know what it is.

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

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