Category Archives: Moving Pictures – Movies and TV

Movies, TV shows, Stage Plays, visual media of a moving variety that we wish to discuss.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Departure

First off, let me begin this by saying, ‘Go see the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.’ It was a very fun movie, and I can’t wait to see the Goblin Town sequence in a video game (hint hint, designers).

That said, there were a few decisions that the production team (writers, director, and producers) made that seemed out of place, strange, or just plain pointless.

Warning: Everything below is a spoiler.

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A Grimm beginning

Last week, ABC debuted a new show based on fairy tales in the real world, called Once Upon A Time. Not to be outdone, perennial fourth-rank network NBC this week released Grimm, touted as being “from the producers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.”

This brag is not entirely untrue. David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf are among Grimm’s executive producers. Greenwalt was an executive producer for part of the run of each of those shows, and Kouf was a “consulting producer” on Angel. However, when most people think of the ‘producers’ of Buffy and Angel, they are thinking of Joss Whedon and Tim Minear, or possibly the Kazuis, none of whom are involved in Grimm.

And frankly, it shows.

Grimm tries to be a ‘modern’ take on fairy tales, under the framing device of a hidden world and a hidden battle being fought between the Grimms and the as-yet-unnamed monster groups. The Grimms are the descendants of the Brothers Grimm, and, unlike most people, have the ability to see the monsters when the monsters ‘lose control’ of their emotions. The hero, Nick (David Giuntoli), is one of the last Grimms, newly awakened into his power when his aunt discovers she had terminal cancer.

The show goes for moments of levity, however they never manage to rise above the ‘wry snicker’ level of humor. Much of the attempts actively induce eye-rolling. The fact that the wolves fetishize the color red elicts, at best, a minor smirk. Silas Weir Mitchell as Eddie Monroe gets a slight grin with his sarcastic, “What are you, and idiot?”

The acting is, for the most part, mediocre. Russell Hornsby and the always-excellent Sasha Roiz gamely try to raise the bar, but as neither of them is the main character, there is only so much they can accomplish.

And then there are the plot holes. Dear lord, the plot holes. Beware, beyond this point there be spoilers.

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And All For Ray

Jennifer and I saw the new Three Musketeers movie on Sunday. It is interesting to me how each retelling of this story chooses to emphasize certain elements and utterly ignore others.

This is inevitable, of course. If every single scene in the book were filmed with utter faithfulness, the movie would be about as long as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As a script writer and as a director, you have to chose what to include and what to leave out when adapting a book to a movie. I’m not explaining a great mystery here, anyone with half a brain can understand this. It is the choices that are made that I find interesting.

It gets even more obvious when you factor in things like changing social norms, and the desire to include a bunch of Steampunk stuff, because Steampunk is cool, right?

Actually, Steampunk is cool. And I can forgive the director, Paul WS Anderson, for wanting to include it. Cannon-mounted airships are cool. That honestly didn’t bother me. I feel fairly certain that if Dumas had ever heard of Steampunk, he would have included all those elements himself. After all, this is a book about guys called Musketeers who actually use muskets maybe once in the entire book (and never in the movie).

This is the first adaptation in recent memory that included the servants. Well, one servant. They sort of rolled them all into one guy. Probably because the movie already ran the risk of having too many people to keep track of. But still, the servant was there. And like the book, Our Heroes treated him like garbage. So that made it in, but the fact that Constance was married did not. I guess modern society can get behind verbally and emotionally abusing hired menials, but not adultery? Yes, the fact that they left the rape scene out surprised exactly no-one, but the adultery thing caught me off-guard.

And poor Aramis. No one knows what to do with him. Other than Jeremy Irons in 1998’s The Man in the Iron Mask, Aramis is usually treated as ‘oh and there’s him too. Isn’t he precious, with his quaint religious beliefs.’ For some reason, almost none of these movie adaptations show off the womanizing lech side of him. Again, I guess modern audiences can get behind the idea of a man leaving the priesthood so he can be violent, but not so he can have sex?

Porthos, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise. For a world still trying to wash the mental images of Oliver Platt and (*SHUDDER*) Gerard DePardu out of their minds, Ray Stevenson’s Porthos was everything the character should be: A sensualist who plays the dumb brute, but is actually intelligent and devastatingly effective at fighting. Of course we ARE talking about Ray Stevenson, so much like Jeremy Irons as Aramis, there was almost no way this COULD go wrong.

The same, sadly, could not be said of Orlando Bloom’s Duke of Buckingham. And it is sad, because if you remove Bloom’s performance from the issue, you can see that the writers did him justice. The character, as written, was every bit as calm, smart, machiavellian, and deadly as the Cardinal. The scene where they just decide to ignore their respective kings and hammer out the peace treaty between them was just as it should have been. But then they turned Bloom loose on the role.

The thing is, he’s not a terrible actor. He really isn’t. He’s just comfortable in certain roles, and this, his big break into villainy and a ‘serious’ role, wasn’t it. He tried way too hard. Every moment on screen was either him playing “Look at Me! I’m EVIL!” or “Look at Me! I’m INTENSE!” and neither worked for the part. Contrast this with Christoph Waltz’ Cardinal Richelieu who was brilliant, and you see why we spent the majority of every scene he was in Rifftraxing his performance in our minds.

And someone, for the love of PETA, release that animal on his head back into the wild.

Amusingly enough, the two ‘big name’ Hollywood stars in the movie, (Bloom and Mila Jovovich as Milady DeWinter) were by far the most awkwardly cast of the ensemble. Everyone else was at least competent at their roles (even Mads Mikkelsen’s Rochefort was adequate if not great). D’artagnan was as bland as that role normally is, and Matthew MacFadyen’s Athos could have read the phone book out loud and we would have been utterly captivated.

I had to caveat “hollywood” stars in that last paragraph before people start telling me about how big a star Waltz is in Germany or MacFadyen is in the UK. They are awesome actors, and the fact that they are starting to break into American consciousness is wonderful (MacFadyen in Frost/Nixon and Robin Hood, Waltz in Inglorious Basterds and Water for Elephants), and I look forward to seeing more of them. But so far, they are not household names in the States the way Bloom and Jovovich are. And oddly, I think the movie would have been better without those two, who seemed like they were cast just so there would be ‘known names’ to try to fill seats in US theaters.

So in all, it was a fun time, not very deep. You won’t remember it years later, and other than the one bit already famous from the trailer, no one will be quoting it decades from now. But it was entertaining, swords flashed, swashes were buckled fiercely, and there were airships. Was it worth the $6 we paid? Yeah. Was it worth much more? Not really.

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Good Odds for a Casino

So, Jennifer and I have just returned from an enjoyable Sunday out. We had lunch, visited the wine shop, and washed the car.

But before all of that, we went to see 50/50 at the before-noon $6 showing at our local AMC. If you like movies, and there is an AMC theater anywhere near you, you’re seriously missing out if you don’t take advantage of this deal.

The movie, about a man (Joseph Gordon Levitt) who finds out he has a fairly rare form of cancer, was surprisingly charming and amusing. Adam (JGL) and his friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) refuse to let the cancer ‘win,’ and maintain a generally positive attitude. Despite this elevator pitch, the movie does treat the subject with maturity and respect. Adam isn’t always cheerful and happy, and the longer his struggle goes on, the more his spirits flag. But still, overall it was a very cute movie and well worth a viewing.

In addition to great performances by JGL and Angelica Houston, look for a wonderful, non-goofy-hijinx performance by Matthew Frewer in the first non-silly role I’ve seen from him in over a decade.

The title, 50/50 (as well as the title of my post) both refer to a line in the movie (and all the trailers so I don’t think I’m -really- spoiling anything) where Kyle asks Adam what the survival chances are for this type of cancer. Adam, who has looked that very question up on WebMD, says that he has about a fifty-fifty chance, and Kyle responds by saying “That’s great. If you were a casino game, you’d have the best odds in the house!”

If you know anyone who has or had cancer, I recommend this. Jennifer’s mother died of cancer in ’99, and even she (Jennifer, not her mother) thought this was a good movie. So why are you still sitting there? Pick up your keys and go.

Now.

Shoo!

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Bonjour, Senor Paddington-Smythe

The use of mixed languages in writing and entertainment.

Warning, VERY mild bad language ahead. Don’t read this if you’re under 10.

Once upon a time, when dinosaurs walked the Earth, I was involved in an argument with the guy running a role-playing game I was in, over the use of certain words. My character, who was quite upset about something or other at the time, used some sort of insulting term. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I think I may have called the town mayor a dickhead. The guy running the game got angry at me and told me I couldn’t use that word. Not because it was a bad word that the FCC wouldn’t allow, mind you. No.

I couldn’t use it because that wasn’t a word that was in common usage in the middle ages, the rough equivalent of the technological level that his game was set in. As he scolded me, “Your character can’t use that word because they wouldn’t know that word, it didn’t exist yet.”

While at the time I rolled my eyes got into an argument with him (I was already pretty upset about a lot of other nonsense he dished out on a regular basis), it got me to thinking about the use of language in fictional settings. In particular, what I call mixed language.

You see, his argument was that I couldn’t use that word because my character would have never heard the word ‘dickhead.’ My argument was that my character would also never have heard the word ‘hello,’ since as a fictional character in a fictional country on a fictional world that wasn’t Earth, my character would have been speaking a fictional language that all the other locals also spoke, and ‘hello’ was just as foreign as ‘dickhead.’ I argued that while the actual word ‘dickhead’ might not exist in his world, there was undoubtedly some word in their language that served the same function as an insult. Since he wasn’t requiring all of the other players to learn an entirely new, fictitious language just to have their characters speak, then it was obvious to me that we were using English as a substitution language. My character didn’t say ‘dickhead’ or even ‘hello,’ my character said the words in that language that held the same rough meaning or served the same purpose.

But this is not just limited to one bad DM in one RPG. You see the same thing in TV and movies all the time.

Today, while waiting for the locksmith to come and change the locks in our apartment (it was recently sold to new owners who clearly don’t trust the old manager), I was watching my wife’s copy of Casanova to kill the time. The one with the late, great Heath Ledger in it, in case you’re wondering. And it reminded me of that argument in that RPG, because they were doing something similar, something so common most people don’t even notice it.

One character looked at another and said something like, “Good day to you, signore Casanova.”

Now, consider for a moment. While this movie was made by an American production company for American audiences (primarily), the fictional setting it was taking place in was Venice in the 1700s. The actors were speaking English, because that’s the language they all knew and the language the audience was deemed most likely to understand. As this was meant to be a big budget movie and not a independent artsy flick, no subtitles were used. But the CHARACTERS… the characters were assumed to be speaking Italian.

In other words, English was being used as  a substitution language for Italian. The actor would say “Good day,” but what the audience tacitly understands is that the character is saying “Buongiorno.” However, since the audience was meant to be English speaking, we used English as a substitution language so that the audience could understand it.

But then, why say “Good day, signore?” Signore is Italian. Since we are using English as a substitution for Italian, that means that the character said something in two different languages. He said ‘good day’ in his own, native Italian, and then he said ‘signore’ in some other, unspecified language. Logically, this doesn’t make sense.

Before anyone tries to give me grief, I do understand that it is used to give a ‘flavor’ to the dialog. You see the same thing in other movies. An American translation of the French Les Miserables, for example, has people using “monsieur” and “mademoiselle,” while Pan’s Labyrinth had the people in Spain calling each other ‘senor’ and ‘senora.’ Even movies set in Japan, where everyone is supposed to be speaking Japanese, you would have people adding ‘-san’ and ‘-chan’ to the ends of names.

Mind you, I am not talking about a native French speaker who is supposed to be speaking English doing this. If Jean Reno wants to refer to Matthew Broderick as ‘monsieur’ in Godzilla, that’s fine. His character is speaking English and dropping a French word in for flavor. I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about when English is being used to substitute for an entire language that the audience isn’t expected to comprehend. And I am also not talking about made-up words that don’t actually exist in English. If someone groks something, that’s fine (although it could be argued that by this point ‘grok’ has managed to merge itself into English, so perhaps I should find a better example).

It is not limited to screens big and small either. I have seen it in print, in books. If the characters are supposed to be speaking another language that the author either doesn’t speak him/herself or they assume that the audience won’t, they use English to substitute. That’s fine, I have no problem with that. But then you see them refuse to use ‘mister’ and ‘miss’ or ‘misses.’  They will almost invariably use the actual words from the language that the characters are supposed to be speaking.

So what do you think? Do you do this yourself? Do you have a reason when you do, or do you just do it without thinking about it? Obviously this is a trend that isn’t going to go away any time soon, and me trying to get the world to change is like yelling at a hurricane to please just settle down, but I’m curious what other people think. Are mixed-language words slipped into substitution language scenarios for ‘flavor’ a good thing because they remind the reader what language the characters are supposed to be speaking, or are they bad because by being in a language other than the substitution, they are implying, in a logical sense if not an actual use sense, that the word in question is not in the language being spoken?

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Marcus Nispel the Barbarian

I just returned home from lunch and a morning showing of Conan the Barbarian. The lunch was good.

That is, perhaps, unkind of me. Conan was half of a decent movie. The first half. It’s not high literature or anything, of course. It’s not War and Peace or Gone With the Wind. But for a movie about a guy who has no real aspirations in life beyond killing and having sex, it was about as good as you could expect. Reasonably well written, with an engaging cast. My only complaints through the first half of the movie were the sound mix being too heavily in favor of the generic action movie soundtrack, and the occasional continuity error (Conan’s sleeve changes Armor Class rather dramatically in one scene, and he seems strangely resistant to being cut, even by sword blows to the face).

But these are things you take with a grain of salt when dealing with a genre of movie typified by such titles as Krull, Deathstalker, and Ator the Fighting Eagle. We’re not here to see a realistic recreation of the heartbreak caused by war-torn France in the Great War, we’re here to see a guy with massive muscles and no shirt killing hordes of bad guys for some vague reason or other, and the first half of the movie doesn’t disappoint.

In fact, there are moments of brilliance. The love-interest Tamara, for example, played by Rachel Nichols, is an ass-kicking warrior-monk who racks up a body count only slightly smaller than that of the titular character himself during a couple of scenes early on. Her first introduction to Conan, in fact, involves her punching him square in the face. A good start, I should think.

Things are going well. The villain is properly villainous, his daughter (played by Rose McGowan who has never looked more creepy) is properly obsequious AND villainous, and Jason Momoa’s Conan flexes, growls, and glistens in a way that will have even non-sci-fi women looking up Stargate: Atlantis on Netflix.

Then there comes a scene where the badguys sneak aboard the ship Conan and Tamara are on. And from there, you can practically hear the Fonz jumping that shark in the background.

Caution: There be spoilers in the rest of this rant.

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The responsibility of critics

Do critics and reviewers have a responsibility to review the material objectively?

 

It is human nature to have an opinion about things, even before you know much about the thing. We call it prejudice, and leaving aside the negative connotations of racisim or sexism or what-have-you-ism, it is a practice that we all, to greater or lesser extents, perform. We judge books by their covers, we buy products based on packaging or word-of-mouth hearsay, we immediately run out to see movies starring our favorite actors or directed by our favorite directors. I am not faulting people for doing this. But I am asking, do critics (in particular, movie critics) have a responsibility on a professional level to either review the source material objectively or, if they find they are unable, to simply not review it at all?

By way of example, the Green Lantern movie opened this weekend here in the US. I haven’t bothered to look at the weekend takes to see how well it did, but judging by the number of theaters it was playing in at the cinema we went to and how crowded the 9 AM showing was, I assume it did at least alright business. This despite having gotten an abysmal 26% on Rotten Tomatoes. Now, I didn’t read ALL of the reviews (there are 180 professional reviews as of the time of this writing), but I did read a few. In particular, I read Maryann Johanson’s review at http:\\www.flickfilosopher.com.

Continue, but be warned. Here there be spoilers. Yar.

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