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The BFG (2016)
Brace Yourself For The Next Step
I loved this movie. A beautiful & classic Fairy Tale perfectly presented. Times change & the fart jokes will just have to be tolerated. Technically it's a marvel. A true photo realistic & live action blend. The Giants are a near perfect melting of live action & CGI. The technical wizardry did NOT overpower the entertainment; perhaps the greatest wizardry of all. Sources say Spielberg knocked himself out in pioneering this great leap forward. A true master craftsman. I reviewed Tin-Tin years ago & at that time I thought this level of integration would be many more years in coming. Technology moves faster & faster. The final thought I have is one of foreboding. Soon; very, very soon, all the great stars of the past are going to return from the dead. Film is a dog eat dog business with no room for common decency. Pandora's Box has really been opened. What will you do when The Duke, Tragic Marylin, Bogart, Elizabeth Taylor, The Stooges & any other film legends who are dear to you come back as some sort of Zombies. How about Debbie Reynolds & Carrie Fisher? Will you go watch Virtual Marylin's new film? Recoil in disgust or horror? They WILL NOT be allowed to rest in peace. It is not Spielberg's fault it is only progress. BRACE YOURSELF.
The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
Pioneering New Style of Filmmaking
Tin Tin is nothing more nor less than the eventual new prototype of motion pictures. Just like Citizen Kane it represents a watershed, a turning point. Let us compare the film to what it will replace in Spielberg's bag of tricks; The Indiana Jones series. Sad fact is Harrison Ford has, like all human beings, grown old. Not so with Tin Tin. He will be forever young, forever a youth at the threshold of all his adult power; forever fresh faced, no grey to sully the bright red cowlick, no wrinkles will ever spoil the pink smooth skin. Like John Henry vs the Steam Hammer mere flesh is bound to lose. Harrison Ford is mere inferior flesh. Tin Tin will never enter rehab. Perhaps his voice actor or his motion capture double will but they are mere company men on salary or contract & easily replaced. No pique, no fits of ego, ALL the weakness & sins of the flesh ended at a stroke. NO PRIOR COMMITMENTS. He will always OK the script and he works cheap. NO 50% of the gross for his services; The whole persona package a mere fraction of a star in his or her prime. As long as a backup of the computer models exists somewhere in any computer, anywhere even a hundred years hence there can be a Tin Tin revival whenever the public is willing to watch & be entertained by one.
Back to comparing The assumed retired Indiana Jones epics. Do you realize what the bill would have been to wrangle the cars, ships, planes & other assorted vehicles that added such variety & interest to the movie? ASTRONOMICAL. Many would have to be cheated out of less valuable cars etc & NOWHERE near the realism of the street traffic could be generated at ANY COST. Could any production company afford to crush a classic Rolls Royce Limousine such as the villain's? Crash land a Bellanca in a howling storm? The Indiana Jones movies must have allowed legions of studio carpenters & prop-makers to acquire a tidy retirement. Ditto for the costumers & make up artists.
The movie has a vast sweep of period cities & exotic locales. The bill for Security Alone in let's say, Tangier as a close guess for the sultan's palace sequence would cover the CGI for ALL the locales in the movie. Boys & girls the game is over. Movie making is a money making business & when a world class action adventure movie with non stop camera movement & virtually no limits on ANY & ALL production values can be knocked together for a mere $130,000,000 & post an immediate gross of $371,940,071 well then the writing is on the wall. Bear in mind that this film pioneered the new production style. It will be even cheaper once this is routine. The film is way outside the traditional fairy tale or fantasy realm; That is the essential difference. This new sort of photo realistic CGI might not appeal to older film audiences & a few might even reject the look but almost everyone else will be vastly entertained & THAT is the object of the exercise, to entertain. This, due to the business parameters that it shatters is the future of film.
As for the film content itself; Vastly amusing & exciting entertainment. A worthy successor to the Indiana Jones series. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
As an after thought I feel I should credit Zack Snyder's "300" as the forerunner of the new style & technology. The term 'Virtual Back Lot' has been bandied about; seems to me an apt name. However; It takes a Spielberg with his massive administrative talent to truly turn the corner & that would be "Tintin".
Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)
Not For Geisha Snobs
I am a fan of Japanese silkscreen prints, many of which are wonderful portraits of famous Geisha. There are also street scenes, sumo & landscapes, lots of rain & snow. I could not help but see an homage to these prints in the film. Not a slavish copying of them but a healthy interaction between film & the spirit of those prints. Most DP's & cinematographers have a firm grounding in the fine arts & so this is no surprise. These prints were the first mass medium, predating our newspapers by at least a hundred years. This is why the film is such a visual feast. Of course the fact that the subject (geisha) are a costumers & makeup artists dream didn't hurt. The four main geisha were played by women truly beautiful & talented enough to have been real famous geisha of the old flower and willow world. The fact that they are not Japanese, even worse mostly Chinese, puts an unfair political cast on the film. They were obviously the best actresses for the parts even though Japanese national pride was supposed to be ruffled a bit. The average non involved Japanese movie goer did not seem to be offended. To me the film is truly enchanted, a hypereal evocation of one of the essential oriental mysteries. If you want point by point pedantic illustration of this unique cultural event rent a documentary. If you want the spirit this movie is more than adequate. The old Japanese Prints (The Floating World ) & the unspoiled Geisha world died together at about the time of the movie along with what is loosely termed 'Old Japan'. It is, of course, a three hanky chick flick but certainly not as bitchy & sobby as the worst of those. More of a historical drama with chick flick undertones. Truly great film.
New Formula Movie
These movies follow a formula invented? by Spielberg. Setup,Creepshow, carchase, carchase (or is it creepshow again) then carchase or creepshow (repeat as much as you like in varying order until resolution) 'The End'(or is it). Sprinkle generously with fights too. Actually not to put it down. IT WORKS. Good old time escapism, that's what movies are all about. Actually the old time movie serials like Radar Men From The Moon or Flash Gordon probably invented this style. Spielberg has arguably carried it to perfection. The old time serial guys didn't have either the budget or the special effects technology to properly execute their dreams. This particular series mines nostalgia very well. In the current example, 50's & Cold War nostalgia. Don't get me wrong. I really like the Indiana Jones Movies, all of them. A lot of class in this one by bringing back Harrison Ford & Karen Allen. Would have been very tempting to just dump them a La the James Bond films. All of this series are hyperkenetic too. Not one instant is wasted on setting mood just for itself. No clumsy fiddling around with establishing look backs or plot points. Any stuff like that is neatly placed at just the right spot during a creepshow or carchase. The whole style reminds me of a roller coaster ride. No deeper MESSAGE that I could see in this one or any of the others either. If you must do a MESSAGE "lay it between the lines" (Peter, Paul & Mary). Shows more class that way. This is very useful. If you don't take a stand on any current or real controversy in a film you don't stir up potential customers. It's easier for the unsophisticated to understand good guys vs bad guys anyway. If anybody is offended by a hidden message you always have plausible denial. Great movie, great escapism. What happens next to Indy? Does he get killed in the next one or just become more grey & professorial? Maybe even time to just let it go.
In Country (1989)
Stereotypes Go Touchy, Feely
How to begin. First, the good. I agree with others that Bruce Willis & Emily Lloyd were excellent. Most early Bruce is that awful smirk or nothing. I think Miss Lloyd was actually better as the girl. The movie is a sincere attempt to cover the ground of the Vietnam thing but all it really ends up doing is wallowing in a more varied assortment of stereotypes than usual. This is nice vicarious fun for those who were not involved. As far as I can tell I'm the only Vietnam ERA veteran to comment (not a combat veteran thank god). I like to flatter myself by thinking that I can comment in some measure for them. We are veterans of an ERA not a war. Most of them (the combat veterans) probably can't stand to watch let alone comment. This last bit is what really makes me hate this movie in spite of the good part above so listen up. At the most emotional part of the movie where Willis is getting teary eyed at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial with the music track building to a soft, emotional crescendo what does Mr Willis place beside the Bronze Star Medal at the wall? That's right he places (reverently) a pack of Camel cigarettes. This is what's known as a 'placement'. For those who don't know this means that the cigarettes are a paid commercial message like a spot on TV. I have to admit this is the most professional, artful, perfectly done placement I have ever seen. So good in fact that it becomes almost invisible even though it's right in front of you. A classic placement, really one for the textbooks. Also totally ruthless. It takes a third rate filmmaker like me to spot it properly & reveal it for what it is. This is beyond disrespect. Mr Willis character should have urinated on the wall instead.
Russ Meyer Should Have Directed
Meyer could have made this a truly great movie. 'Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill' meets 'Alien'. The director is a good, competent VERY COMMERCIAL director but Meyer had the fire in the belly. Also his specialty was this sort of sexy death stuff. Could have been truly memorable instead of merely solidly watchable. The movie should have had emphasis squished around here & there; First, we see way too little of young Sil. Her character development needed to be extended by at least a sequence or two. All the neat nuances of daddy (Kingsley) vs daughter conflicts could have been brilliantly riffed on. The young actress (Michelle Williams)was way capable of doing this. All sorts of other delicious bits about the pre-pubescent American girl pop into mind almost unbidden. But no all we get is a little train ride & then the metamorphosis. I shudder to think what old Russ could have made happen here. Second, Grown up Sil's romp thru the LA club scene should have been the whole rest of the movie; death sequence & all. I mean what's up with this cave thing? Caves are such CHEAP sets. When I was dragging scenery around on the old 'Santa Barbara' series they got into a stupid cave thing about the time they canceled it. Half the stuff in the old 'Flash Gordon' movie series was done in cave sets because they're so CHEAP. The final hunt & alien pregnancy thing would have been so wonderfully gory (& incidentally so much better for some great comments on the people mating scene) if staged in disco sets. The alien birth on a bottom lighted & strobed dance floor; WHOA what a cinematic moment. The tyke scuttles off into the shadows. In short the movie had way too modest of a scope. "Don't be no ant man, an ant man has low horizons." My personal favorite Gumpism.
Good Mirror of the 60's
This is a lot like the 60's were. The strange mix of hedonism & high ideals really is what the 60's were all about. Many of us weren't quite that wild but a surprising percentage were (minus the murders of course). Most recovered but some are still living under a bridge near you. The streets are far more cynical & deadly now. I imagine the younger readers understand this all too well. If you don't, not to worry you soon will. This film would have been made just after the Tate-LaBianca murders & I see the beginning-end framing scene as a ripoff & an acknowledgment of this; the true end point of the peace love thing. Since this movie is perhaps the ideal statement,epitaph & testament to those long gone times you will indulge me a few observations. First, we had good reasons. The Cold War was at it's peak; nobody knew if the world had a future. Thus there was a kind of party frenzy that accompanies many wars. The WW-II crowd will know all about this; eat, drink & be merry for tomorrow you die. Second, there were just so MANY of us. They don't call us the Baby Boomers for nothing. There was no place for us. Our parents (the WW-IIers) were living in happily ever after land (like the movies from their times said to). After all they had paid their dues in the War & the Depression. They were getting older & had no stomach for another fight to protect their nearly grown kids. We were on our own. Third, we were so media soaked (as all of us are now & ever increasingly) that we felt an enormous need to live a real (not vicarious or virtual) life. The Beats had pointed this out to us & Warhol was frantically trying to warn society of it's dangers. It is a lesson that needs to be taken to heart. This stealing away of the individual's life is one of Islam's main beefs with our Megamedia culture. Look at the Iraqis in the news. You see a more genuine face; not partly copied from some movie or TV show. More real. Their speech is not spiced with advertising slogans or catch phrases from some sitcom. Is our way really that much better?
The end narration with it's moral comments on the work itself goes way beyond what the soaps would try to get away with. In a way it talks down to the audience. The sad fact is at that time we probably needed it all spelled out for us like that. Some kinds of wisdom only come with age. The message seems to be leave the media dictated life truly behind; move 'Beyond The Valley of The Dolls'. Our favorite game was "Cooler Than Thou" but the Beat idea of cool went completely over our posing & posturing heads. This movie probably did too.
I think that soon with all the cameras & U-Tube etc the Megamedia Culture will die out or at least change into something more evolved. I hope that something is more real rather than more conceited. (Sad to say now several years later the reality shows have fully arrived & they are more conceited. The horrible mutant offspring of Warhol's experiments like 'Chelsea Girls' escaped from the lab.)
One last observation. A strange case of life following art unfolded with the Phil Spector trial. The character of 'Z-Man' is supposed to be based on him.
Battlefield Earth (2000)
Not That Bad But Messed up by What?
This movie reminded me of Star Wars but with plot holes big enough to fly a Battlestar thru. The makings are there for a good old fashioned Space Opera & the plot holes could have been fixed or minimized. I have always said that most movies are designed to separate a twelve year old lad from his allowance & this movie, even with it's flawed script, could do that. I have no knowledge of Scientology nor do I wish to have any (that goes for most other religions as well) but it does seem to me that the spectre of Scientology looms over the movie. There seems to be an enmity towards the film that is unjustly transferred from the controversy surrounding the religion. Even with better execution the movie would have had to get past this controversy thing. It is almost impossible to do a remote postmortem on the production. I do think the finger can be reasonably pointed at the top executives & perhaps narrowed down to poor counsel to them or excessive interference by them. Many good stories & books have been lost in translation to the movie medium by the same management problems. I actually found the film to be watchable enough but then I was raised on cheap 50s monster movies. There are monumental plot holes in many of them too so I guess I have a bigger tolerance than a younger & more sophisticated audience. I for one feel sorry that Travolta lost so much money on the project. One last curious fact. Don't I remember the remote control explosive collar thing being used by real world crooks a few years back? I guess that proves that life imitates art.
¡Three Amigos! (1986)
My Theory of Why People Don't Like It
I have come to believe that many people put down this obvious masterpiece because it makes them uncomfortable. Like every other part of the film this is on several levels. First, Steve Martin's humor (he is billed as head writer) is difficult for many people. People who are uptight have trouble with his 'Jerk' humor; much like the other great jerk, Jerry Lewis. Second, the film deliberately breaks the invisible barrier between 'them' on the stage or in the movie & us; the watchers. Things like switching to the sound stage hokey set for the camp scene are calculated to rub a sore spot on those who must have total continuity of style & no bending of the illusion of a real life experience. We call these people unsophisticated (there are other less kind terms). All these 'change-ups' in style, back references to the fact that this is only a movie & bending of the rules of continuity/ suspension of dis-belief are tailor made to get under the skin of those who cannot separate themselves from the work itself. I imagine that the 'true believers' out there find the film extremely uncomfortable to watch.
The humor in the film is amazingly plentiful & runs the gamut from boffo belly laugh physical humor thru delicious sexy lines to very sophisticated word plays. I can't off hand think of another film that displays this remarkable range. In keeping with the 'change-up' I was talking about there are many heartfelt, even tender, references to early film-making & Hollywood. There are many humanity type touches in little bits between the players all of whom, right down to the least bit actor are excellent & perfectly cast. I believe that there was competition & inspiration going on between the three comedy leads & this illuminated the rest of the cast & inspired them to greater heights too.
If I could belabor a couple of great truths illustrated by the film. I specially liked the part where the Amigos (admitted devout cowards) rally the townspeople to defeat El Guapo. It's a simple thing but true throughout history; you have to stand together & conquer your fear to free yourselves from oppression. One of America's great core principles. Also what do you think of the naive belief of the heroine in the Amigos. Does she have the ultimate problem with suspension of dis-belief or does she see something no one else does? Not a few men have reached their fullest potential because a good woman believed in them.
Finally , Steve Martin stands out as the prime moving force in the film. My personal belief is that the film is his masterpiece. I firmly believe too that the film will stand the test of time.
The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
Slow Beginning & Poorly Developed Mothman Character
First the easy part. The movie got off to too slow of a start. Always the kiss of death. But, you know I have no clever fix for that except tighten the hell out of the first sequence & maybe use the gained time to fix flaw #2 the poor character development of Mothman. For the monster in a basically monster movie (especially a rather intellectual, spiritual & mysteriously motivated monster) his character development is sadly neglected. The only credit for Mothman is his voice, the director Mark Pellington, who had a speaking role only & a bit part as the bartender. Big, Big, Big mistake.'The Creature From The Black Lagoon', had a real person (2 of them)in a rubber suit & they brought a special something that a special effects monster could never match. Same with the original version of 'The Thing'. This is a special effects only monster (done with voice-over) & it shows. 'Hello it's long distance calling & guess what it's me the monster again.' If they only had enough sense to put a decent actor in a Mothman suit & run with it they could have developed as chilling a monster as Hannibal the Cannibal in 'Silence of the Lambs'. But no, they had to squander the whole special effects budget on the bridge collapse. I read in the trivia about several times we are allowed to glimpse the Mothman but you know half of those were too short & poorly inserted/shot to read visually & I missed most of them. Overall the movie is not bad but not really good either. Not as good as it could have been.
I'm going to have to read the book. I have seen the Mothman in other tales of the unknown, usually under Alien Animals, he's something of a standard article. The time & space juggling stuff could have been handled better; this is what leads to the complaints of the movie being confusing. They are a variation on the flashback & flashforward idea & those techniques are always risky business at best.
I have one little nugget to share about the hints that the monster is somehow above & beyond our ken. There is a book called 'Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions' by the mathematician, Edwin A. Abbot. But what has this to do with Mothman? And well you might ask. Well, in a nutshell the book is about what happens when a being that lives in a higher dimension than you & me attempts to communicate with us. What the deal would be is that Mothman lives fully in the fourth dimension (time) whereas we live fully in only the three familiar dimensions & only get a distorted & imperfect view of the fourth. The book is not at all stodgy or intimidating. It's also short & cheap. I highly recommend it.
One final thought. I think Mothman would be an outsider among his own kind. Somehow driven to observe & interfere/help in our existence while the rest of his kind could really give a damn. Maybe it's his hobby.