Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Movie Night: Thor The Dark World

Say what you will but Marvel always brings the thunder.(see what I did there) For years now Marvel has been building a universe inhabited but an ever growing cast of interesting characters. Missteps along the way are sure to happen, but damnit if they're not swinging for the fences every time. The Avengers was an amazing success and it easily could've been a huge mess if not for the insane amount of prep that went into it. Now as we enter Phase Two we see the next chapter in each of our hero's lives. I was quite fond of Iron Man 3 from earlier this year and feel like it more than made up for the relative blandness of part 2. Then recently we have just been given Thor: The Dark World now with Alan Taylor at the helm. Does it make the same mistakes as Iron Man 2? Does it push is forward closer to the inevitable Age of Ultron? Well let's get into it shall we.

Before we get into this lets just reiterate where I stand. I really enjoyed the first Thor and thought Branagh captured the characters and Asgard perfectly. Some of the earth stuff fell short but overall I thought it was as close as we were going to get for a cinematic introduction to Thor. Alan Taylor takes the reigns and pushes the envelope even further. Some people have complained about Asgard not being as shiny, to which I say. The fuck?! This movie fully embraces the fantasy elements and throws in a healthy dose of sci fi. There are guns here that are unlike any kind of gun we've seen. The design of all the different realms is great and the dark elves are truly the substance of nightmares. I love the updated looks for Odin and even seeing Heimdall strip down a bit and have a beer with Thor. Fantasy elements...nailed it.

The earth stuff is still rather clunky, but this film is helped along by not having to explain everything. The story this time is much more exciting. The stakes here are very high and Thor is faced with some serious tragedy. Which of course allows an amazing team up with Loki which Marvel is smart enough to know that this is exactly what fanboys want. They minimize our time on earth and let us spend most of the film with Thor on Asgard. The whole thing moves at a breakneck pace and keeps you engaged to the final battle with ease. The smartest move here is really understanding what this film is and not trying to make it more than that. The filmmakers fully embrace the popcorn nature of this story and craft an enjoyable romp through the nine realms. Not the best marvel flick but loads better than Iron Man 2 and I would say edges out Thor 1 by a hair. The film is not without faults though to be sure.

First off Malekith is as cookie cutter a villain as you can get. Aside from being evil and destroying shit he does nothing to make you enjoy his presence. Thankfully the film knew this and spent it's time showing Thor and Loki planning and sparring. Eccleston does what he can but his performance never elevates beyond angry talking. The Warriors Three are fucking AWESOME...and so are their combined 5 scenes. Jaime Alexander does great work as Sif and seeing her contempt for Jane Foster bubble under the surface totally could have been mined for more substance. Lastly...a little easy that the Aether happened to find it's host in Jane Foster but whatever it moved the story forward.

Let's finish off with a look at how this film fits in the bigger picture of the Marvel universe. Since Avengers we've seen two films, and both deal directly with the effects Phase 1 has had on them. Iron man was struck with PTSD and broke our hero down only to force him to build himself up again. Thor has been traveling the nine realms trying to undo the Chaos that Loki created. So what's Thor's grand lesson...well he concretes the fact that he is a protector of worlds moreso than any king. Also we learn a bit of Loki's next play in this universe. As for that stinger at the end credits....Marvel is absolutely playing the long game here. We know Thanks is not the big bad for Avengers two, yet Marvel continues to seed the infinity gems and grow this cosmic world. I imagine Guardians of the galaxy will play a much larger part in the grand scheme of things than Marvel is willing to let on. Things are about to get weird, and I can't wait.


One last thought - Chris O'Dowd you are a funny British man

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Few Thoughts on The Doctor

The Doctor is here to save us all. The 900 year old alien who travels through time and space battling various injustices is the savior we all need. He's even helped Brad Pitt fight zombies in an appropriately enigmatic and dare I say "cheeky" cameo. The nerd culture mainstay is celebrating his 50th anniversary in a few weeks and I thought I'd chime in with a few thoughts. Ok ok, fine...a confession. As a self proclaimed nerd I am totally guilty...I never watched Doctor Who until a few months ago. I know I know...I love space and time Travel and whimsy and yet for whatever reason I stayed away. I had always meant to get around to it, but for whatever reason I never got into it. Until a perfect storm of podcasts, friends suggesting and availability clashed together and I took the plunge and watched Eccleston's first episode as the 9th doctor.

Of course I loved it. Burning through episode after episode I hurried toward the finish line absorbing every bit of awesome that dripped off each episode. As the series went on all I could think was ...this series was made for me. Why had I waited so long to meet the doctor. I mean he was a Time Lord...I LOVE time. He saved people....I am all about justice. He's whimsical...nothing better than some fucking whimsy. Point is, I had discovered a series made for me...and it's rabid fan base meant there were tons of other people out there who felt the same way. Maybe they have clocks tattooed on them as well? Eh I dunno but no matter I had drank the Kool - Aid and discovered the brilliance of Doctor Who. So with much passion and vigor I had devoured the series and three doctors later I was modern day Gallifreyan fan boy. But who was my fave? Shit....

Like many a fool before me I had attempted to break it down. But honestly how could you choose? Eccleston brought a dark and brooding nature to the role. We see the pain of being responsible for so much death across Eccleston's face. With incredible subtlety we see joy begin to seep back into his life as he begins his adventures with Rose. Eccleston was my first doctor and one I can never forget. He only had one season, but he nailed each favorite? I don't know but he deserves discussion as much as Tennant or Smith.

Then there's Tennant. Now truth be told I had just gotten used to Eccleston and then BOOM regeneration. But an episode or two in and I was bought in. Tennant brought the whimsy and the dark. Tennant nailed the emotion necessary to make the Doctor the tragic figure that he is, while still imbuing the series with an exceptional amount of fun. I'm pretty sure he's my favorite doctor, if anything he for sure has my favorite episodes. His episodes are by far the most rewatchable and easily the ones I've revisited over and over. It's the first time we see the Weeping Angels, we meet River for the first time. Most of all though his takes have the most emotion out of all the doctors. His goodbye to Rose, his sacrifice for Donna's Grandfather, his breakdown on Mars, all of them tear jerking brilliantly handled dramatic events. With Tennant you feel the stakes at every turn and you understand just how much the universe is on his shoulders.

Which brings us to the wonderfully playful Matt Smith. You all know I like whimsy, so Smith was an easy sell for me. He had the unfortunate task of taking over after Tennant, but he dove in and created something new with his take on the doctor. A bit more flighty than the others he nonetheless has a darkness that lives just under the surface. He also introduces us to the best companion with Amy Pond. While I'm a big fan of Smith, I think Tennant still edges him out. I never feel like Smith is in the same universe in terms of consequences. Also aside from a few references Smith has a completely new set of friends that don't seem to have any relation to the previous 4 seasons. I still love Smith, his Weeping Angels episode is amazing and it's hard not to love the Pandorica two parter.

So now what? Well now I sit here waiting for the 50th anniversary knowing that I stand in anticipation with thousands of other fans. All of us dying to find out why adventures our good doctor will have next. What alien race will try and imprison us, what horrible future humans will like like, what happens when cats take over and so on and so on. This is a sci fi geeks dream. It's a show I took far too long to try out and now I love it. I can't wait to see what Capaldi brings to the role. And if you haven't checked it out yet what are you waiting for? Allons It.


One last thought - favorite episode? The three parter close to the end of Tennant's run that culminates in Doctor Donna.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Movie Night: 12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen is three for three. With each passing film he tightens up his craft and continues to deliver pitch perfect adult drama. The guy is in a class all his own, creating beautiful yet difficult films that discuss the human condition in a universal manner without ever feeling preachy or manipulative. The last time we saw him he was taking Michael Fassbender down a deep rabbit hole of addiction, it also was my third favorite film of 2011. McQueen now takes on the story of a free man kidnapped and thrown into slavery, the result is harrowing and powerful all while seen through the lens of Sean Bobbit, who somehow gives us gorgeous images as we travel through Solomon's worst nightmare.

Let's start with the acting. Chiwetel is guaranteed a nomination. His portrayal is heartbreaking, but man he imbues Solomon with so much heart and perseverance that we are left staring in awe as he walks through his living hell. Chiwetel let's hope seep through ever so slightly and never completely loses his self respect. The scenes where he stands up for himself are inspirational and frightening as we see Solomon struggle to maintain his humanity. This being a McQueen film of course Fassbender had to make an appearance. Bringing his signature intensity, Fassender does intense like no one else. As a brutal slave owner battling his own insanity, he brings so many layers to a role that could've easily been a stereotype wrapped in a cliche. Make no mistake this is Chiwetel's film, but Fassbender proves once again that he is one of the best actors of our generation.

McQueen crafts films that incite discussion and debate, yet he never sensationalizes anything. His films are slightly detached without feeling distant. He brings you into these environments like a fly on the wall, be it prison, NYC, or the South. He shows us the beauty an savagery present in life. We travel through the south and see the opulence present in these plantations. With some amazing costume design the dichotomy between slave and master is ever present. One of the ladies kidnapped with Solomon is named Eliza, and when we meet her she is in a gorgeous dress just as nice as any of the other ladies in the film. But as the reality of the situation becomes all too apparent we see her dress turn to rags only to be replaced by the typical dressing worn by house slaves.

His camera is never invasive. Everything is meticulously planned out and he is no stranger to the long take. He creates wonderful tableaux as characters move in and out of the scene. One amazing scene has Solomon a bit worse for wear hanging from a tree and we see close to a full day pass as people just walk around him as he struggles to keep his feet on the floor. The camera never strays showing us Solomon in the forefront struggling to survive as life moves on behind him. A beautiful metaphor for his entire journey.

I want to talk quickly about the ending so ...sorry. What could easily be an extremely manipulative scene of reunion is instead a melancholy display of restraint. The emotion is so real and so raw, like most of McQueens work. Chiwetel nails the beats necessary as we see him incredibly happy yet somehow uncomfortable in his old clothes. His first words are heartbreaking, but the scene is allowed to breathe and by the end each tear is earned and we are left with another masterpiece by McQueen.


One last thought - sup Brad Pitt...write that part for yourself?

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Short Exploration of Ms. Brie Larson: Don Jon and Short Term 12

Are you ready for Brie Larson? Of course you are. Move over Zooey and Chloe cause a new indie darling is bursting onto the scene. With an oscar worthy turn in Short Term 12 and an oh so integral part in Don Jon, hipster mainstays are about to get shook up. Can she sing? I have no idea but if so then the torch will officially have been passed.

Let's start with the masturbatory would be masterpiece from the incredibly talented Joseph Gordon Levitt. When I heard Levitt was going to write and direct his first film, I was incredibly interested. The kid is a great actor and he picks interesting projects. His work with HITRecord shows that he has a deep love for the creative process, so yah super curious as to what would come from his first foray into feature length filmmaking. Then it was announced that it was a film about a jersey douchebag with an addiction to porn. Well, still interested, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit disappointed.

For JGL though I'd give it a shot. The result? A solid first film, that hides behind the Jersey Shore facade to reveal some interesting thoughts on masculinity and love in the modern age. It's not going to make any top ten lists, but Levitt does some interesting things here. Not the least bit is that he makes his characters incredibly likable, if not completely enjoyable. There is an energy that fuels the film and his script gives everybody a nice amount of scene to chew. Tony Danza, way to go.

Perhaps most interesting is his use of repetition. It's an incredibly powerful filmmaking tool, that most either never use or never notice. Here he uses it expertly as his character is shown going through routine after routine after routine. And as the film evolves so does his routine, and it is the subtle differences that start to show his characters evolution over the course of the film. It's hard not to like the multiple dinner scenes or his weekly confessionals, but for me, my personal favorite was by far the scenes driving and him having various degrees of road rage.

Perhaps most interesting is his use of repetition. It's an incredibly powerful filmmaking tool, that most either never use or never notice. Here he uses it expertly as his character is shown going through routine after routine after routine. And as the film evolves so does his routine, and it is the subtle differences that start to show his characters evolution over the course of the film. It's hard not to like the multiple dinner scenes or his weekly confessionals, but for me, my personal favorite was by far the scenes driving and him having various degrees of road rage.

What's that? A Brie Larson article? Yah she's his sister, she has like one line. Nails it though.

Let's move on to Short Term 12, a film by Destin Crettin about a home for youth in between foster homes. Brie Larson plays the head counselor as we follow the lives of the staff and what it takes to work in this kind of situation. This is an amazing film, that completely caught me off guard. Crettin never takes the easy way out, this type of story inherently walks a razor thin line of being too manipulative and he is careful to give us interesting and well defined characters. We know these are troubled youth but he doesn't go for the sob stories of why everyone is there, rather he picks and chooses who's back story we hear. And that's really what I want to focus on

Crettin has made a film about the human condition and how stories can bring us together and help is through tough times. It is no mistake that the film starts and ends with a story told by the most mentally stable person in the film. In between we constantly hear that opening up and telling people stories are a way to move past all the pain in their life. It's a great device and we hear different types of stories throughout the film, whether it is a toast at a party, a ready confession from a new team, a funny anecdote to make one feel at ease, or even a long in the making relegation. About ones self.

Fancying myself a writer this resonated with me so deeply. To see Brie Larson nail each emotional beat as she works with these kids to make their stay as healthy as possible was one of the best performances I've seen all year. To finally hear her story and we see just how powerful the idea of "story" can be. This is how we communicate with each other, how we pass down history and how we express emotion. Crettin has made something special here and I strongly encourage all of you to check it out.

So get ready everybody Brie Larson is on her way, with an enigmatic turn as the sister of few words or the young social worker with secrets of her own! she is poised to become the next big thing. Watch out Winona Ryder, Ms. Larson is gunning for you.


One last thought - Crettin does this amazing shot over and over in which he uses spatula relationship to emphasize the juxtaposition of distance and sensitivity that a social worker must have.