Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ultron's Got No Strings

Last night, Marvel announced that the trailer to Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1, 2015) would make it's world debut on ABC alongside next Tuesday's episode of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Almost 24 hours later, it leaked online. 

In a word (poor quality an all): wow.

There will, no doubt, be a better high-resolution quality version of the anticipated first look at the superhero team-up sequel, but it looks pretty damn good. It is fitting that the trailer music uses the song "I've Got No Strings On Me" from Walt Disney's Pinocchio soundtrack, not because Marvel is now a subsidiary of the House of Mouse, nor because the malevolent robot Ultron (James Spader)   pretty much references the song when he threatens Earth's Mightiest Heroes; rather, it is fitting because it takes the origin story of the title character and turns it into this bleak, twisted form. Instead of lying and disobeying his maker and then redeeming himself for his transgressions, Ultron deems that his maker, along with everyone on earth must be eradicated, and doesn't even remotely try to atone for his actions. Well played to whoever came up with using the song for the trailer. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Plea From Me, to Jeffrey Wells.

Dear Jeffrey,

Despite whatever I've said about you (and I've said numerous things on this blog, on your site, and on Twitter), there's one constant about you that I've always respected when reading your articles on Hollywood Elsewhere: it comes from a deep love of the medium. I love that you get jazzed over smaller, obscure movies that, otherwise, wouldn't be (or should be) on my radar. I admire that you don't buckle to public opinion and base the film on it's merits alone. You write and speak without much (or any) fear of how someone will perceive of your work. I wish I had that kind of streak in me as a writer.

But the rub has always been that you take this quality about yourself too far, and the initial response has been to think that you're being a huge jerk, or in inconsiderate ass. Exhibit A: how you espoused that if a child with down syndrome can't keep quiet during a screening at the local theater, then management should have the right to throw that person/group out of the theater. I understand where you were coming from; that distractions like talking, texting, etc., ruin the experience of moviegoing. We all can't stand it when some obnoxious jackass keeps chatting away on his phone, or when an infant cries obsessively, or when a group of teens won't shut the hell up. Two of the three things can be controlled. A baby cannot. I'd prefer that parents do leave their young babies at home, but I do understand that sometimes, it's not possible, and you have to learn to block out that kind of noise.

Exhibit B: Your most recent post about Fort Hood screening Interstellar. Like last time, I understand the crux of what you were aiming at: You're looking for substance as to how the film was as a whole, rather than a review that sounds like the countless sea of fanboys. And again, you take it too far by questioning the person's manhood, who just happened to be someone serving in the military. These two examples I would chalk up to you just being a raging, unapologetic, first-class douchebag who doesn't understand restraint. And yet, there's another point that I just now considered to these kinds of posts. One that, with all honesty, has me hoping that you are, indeed, just a grade-A fuck face.

Each of these posts have gotten plenty of comments. Have had people like me throw endless comments at you, ranging from "You are such an asshole, Jeff!", to "What the fuck is your problem, you fucking dick?!" I'm certain you've heard it all. I'm also certain that you don't give a shit to what I, or anyone else, has to say about you. Your mindset chalks up to "Love me or hate me, at least spell my name right." I also notice that when you don't write inflammatory articles and just stick to writing about movies you've seen, classics that are getting the Blu-Ray treatment, or just rambling about your personal life and little things that capture your fancy, it's a different matter; few people comment and/or care. There are plenty of people, anonymous and well-known commentators who openly come to the site just to watch you blow a bigger gasket. 

The point I'm getting at is that I wonder if these outbursts are nothing more than a stunt to get people talking about your site, your writings. That you're just playing this caricature to simply get attention, and to get people talking about you.

I hope it isn't the latter. If it is, Jeff: I have one request of you: Stop doing it. 

Stop caving into the persona.

Stop writing harsh, mean-spirited rants just to get hits on HE.

Stop pretending to be this unlikable dickhead.

Just stop altogether.

Frankly speaking: I find it to be the cheapest, laziest and most cynical form of writing - putting stuff out you don't mean in any capacity, but writing it anyway to get attention. We have enough Rush Limbaugh's and Ann Coulter's running around, being given a platform to say the most disgusting, disingenuous and inflammatory things to sell books, get segments on cable news outlets and ink in speaking tours to crowd around and see what what he or she will say next. I also find it to be a slap in the face to people like myself, who either are trying to get up off the ground and make a name for themselves in the profession, or just love to write about something they are deeply passionate about.

I'm not a professional writer by any stretch of the imagination. I don't always update like I should for this blog alone, and procrastination plagues me constantly. I write-up recaps for Awards Daily TV for no pay, but because I'm interested in the medium, and I think I do a decent job of it. I love writing. It is an extension of my identity. I don't get that many hits or comments. And I don't really care if I'm essentially talking out loud to the empty void. I love writing about film (and now television). It's been a passion of mine ever since mom started taking me to the South Bay Drive-In when I was a young boy. I admire and respect the Roger Ebert's, the Lisa Schwarzbaum's the Sasha Stone's, the Scott Weinberg's, the Lindsay Ellis' and Doug Walker's of the world who review and talk movies in a professional or semi-professional manner, and I find it fucking insulting that maybe you see it as just a game.

Again, I hope I'm wrong and that you're really just an asshole who doesn't know restraint for that mouth of yours. But if it really is just to get a rise out of people and gather attention, then I beg you to stop doing it. You're too good for it.



Monday, September 29, 2014

The Hunger Games: Divergent

In the distant future, North America is in ruins. Entire factions have been split into Districts, as they all fall under the evil totalitarian rule of...oh, no, not this again! It was bad enough that I had to play "Name That Sci-Fi Film Reference!" when I reviewed Oblivion last year, but now again with Divergent? You know, it's just one reference; I'm sure the premise will get better as the review goes along.

Ok, so this isn't Panem, There aren't twelve Districts, and Donald Sutherland isn't the totalitarian bastard running the show. But it is the near future, and it appears that anything resembling North America has been wiped out, save for the remains of Chicago, for some reason In fact, how the hell is the Windy City mostly intact? Did whoever fired off the nukes hit every major city in North America and accidentally left off Chi-town? Crap, I'm thinking too much about this, so let's just roll with it. this brave new world, there are factions, but not like the ones resembling the twelve Districts in The Hunger Games; rather there are groups, such as Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin...Fuck, that's from the Harry Potter book and film series! Okay, let's try this one more time:in reality, the groups are based off of one's psychological aptitude tests they take in the future. There's Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (honest folk), Dauntless (bravery) and Eritude (intelligence); and each year, during the Sixteenth year of life, young boys and girls are Selected by the Community to do a job that bests suits that person's traits....and that's taken from Lois Lowry's The Giver.

As you can already see, Divergent is borrowing from other better science fiction and fantasy novels without much of a flare of it's own, a problem which becomes the least of its worries. I should mention that I haven't read the original source material by Veronica Roth, but something tells me it's not only a faithful adaptation to the book, but it does little to address the plot holes. Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is going through the Choosing Ceremony phase in her life. Before she makes a decision on whether to stay in Abnegation with her mother (Ashley Judd) and father (Tony Goldwin), or to venture out and join Dauntless, she takes an aptitude test that would best inform her which faction she would belong to. Her results are deemed inconclusive, because she qualifies for Abnegation, Dauntless and Eritude; making her Divergent, which in this world, threatens the system, but more on that later. She ends up leaving home and joining Dauntless, and quickly is put through the ringer as she deals with a tough instructor, Four (Theo James) who breaks in newbies, intense training sessions, and hiding her true nature from Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the faction leader for Eritude, and the villainess who's preparing to use Dauntless to stage a coup d'eta to overthrow Abnegation for control of the five factions.........zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.........

*several hours later......*

..........Huh, what happened?....Geez, must have dozed off there. The movie's so boring that its making me fall asleep during the review, which is perhaps the biggest issue facing Divergent: it isn't compelling to watch.

I know Katniss. I like Katniss. You, Tris, are no Katniss.
The premise is recycled bits from better stories and their movie adaptations, from Hunger Games to Harry Potter, and there's not much of an engaging spin on borrowing from their respective plot points. The script, written by Vanessa Taylor and Evan Daughetry, feels so slavish to the source material that it doesn't make up for the film's bigger question it never explains: why are "divergents" dangerous and pose a threat to the system? From what I gather, it's because they can't be controlled and regurgitate the faction BS, but the story barely explains this concept to the audience. The action scenes are mostly kids training to fight and facing their pears as members of Dauntless, but these scenes happen so much that they become dull and repetitive to watch.

And because Taylor and Daughetry play it this close to the original, the acting suffers as a result. Shaileen Woodley is a terrific young actress, but she's not given much to work with, other than being a mild version of Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen. Theo James is basically a hunk of eye candy that I really don't need to to much detail into, except that the chemistry between him and Woodley doesn't hold much of a spark. And the supporting characters - from Ansel Egort (from that other YA movie that I won't mention) as Tris' brother, Caleb, Jai Courtney as Eric, a Dauntless trainer, Miles Teller as Peter, a newbie into the Dauntless faction - aren't give enough to do. Kate Winslet is perhaps the best thing about this movie, playing the main antagonist, Jeanine, a cunning, power-hungry dictator waiting in the wings. She's having a ball playing the bad gal, and it's terrific to see her in this part.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect in all of this is how this movie, which made $288 million worldwide, announces that a mediocre, rather uninteresting kickoff to what Summit Entertainment hopes is a Twilight/Hunger Games-like hit, can become a tentpole franchise without making some sort of signature stamp. The Harry Potter series had a mix of polished young actors and seasoned British talent from the late Richard Harris to the great Gary Oldman and damn-near everyone in between, and production values that topped itself each outing, along with the dark, mature storytelling. The Lord of the Rings had Peter Jackson's singular vision for bringing Middle Earth to life, as he oversaw every aspect of the 8 year shoot of three movies. Kevin Feige brought together beloved superheros from Marvel's vast stable and brought them together in a shared, coexisting universe, forever changing the superhero genre with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Divergent just doesn't do enough to stand out from those tentpole franchises, but got in by making a lot of money and being as bland and generic as possible.

* 1/2 stars out of  ****

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Movin' On Up!

Starting September 22 (perhaps sooner), yours truly will be the newest contributor for the television section of Awards! I'll be reviewing stuff like the new Fox crime drama Gotham, dealing with the origins of the city's two heroes, Bruce Wayne and a young detective James Gordon, as well as the origins of beloved Batman foes, Penguin, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman, to name a few; along with Season II of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC, perhaps a few more shows if this goes well. I'll still do my regular movie reviews here, but i'm branching out to the world of the small screen, and I cannot wait to take on this new adventure. I'll be joined by great writers for the site, including Clarence Moyer, Joey Moser, Megan McLachlan and the guy in charge, Craig Kennedy, who is also featured on the Oscar Podcast with Sasha Stone and Ryan Adams. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Kids Are Not Alright

Monday night I was at my local hangout (read: a bar), enjoying the last hours of summer, Sam Adams Oktoberfest in hand, when I begin seeing Joey, another Twitter friend and fellow movie geek (BTW: check out his blog, Movie MoJo, and you can see him talking television at Awards Daily TV!) ranting about the latest Lifetime TV movie about the behind-the-scenes drama surrounding the popular 90's teen sitcom, Saved by the Bell. Here's how bad it got for him watching it:

Needless to say, I was intrigued by how bad the TV movie had gotten for him, so when I got home, I decided to give it a look. The last time I checked out a Lifetime movie, it was the universally panned Lindsay Lohan movie, Liz & Dick, a movie that made my year-end worst list of 2012. As laughably bad as it was, I couldn't completely hate it because you could tell that Lohan herself truly admired the late Elizabeth Taylor and wanted to do her justice, but the script and the acting around her did no favors. And considering that I've sat through movies like God's Not Dead, Transformers 4 and The Fault In Our Stars, I doubted that it could get much worse than those films. 

In a word: Wow.

The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story features some of the worst acting and dialogue I've seen/heard in any movie this year, and for a film that's supposed to be about what happened when then cameras weren't rolling, it's about as riveting as watching paint dry. It's based on the tell-all biography penned by one of the stars, Dustin Diamond, who played Samuel Powers, aka: "Screech"; his years growing up on the show, the in-fighting between him and the stars, and the crazy antics they'd get into - i.e drugs, drinking and sex. Many of the stars, including Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who played Zack Morris on the show, outright denied the claims he had made; and it's narrated by a young Diamond himself. Yes, he breaks the fourth wall often, like his character does on the show; and yes, it becomes irritating each time he does it. We see the early struggles of the show to get off the ground before the teens catch on and become obsessed by it, the show taking off, and the individual actor's response to the fame and notoriety. Tiffani Amber Theissen and Elizabeth Berkley, who played Kelly Karpowski and Jessie Spano on the show respectively, leave to chase other projects (which would become Beverly Hills 91210 for Theissen; and the infamous mid-90's debacle, Showgirls); Gosselaar has a romantic relationship with Lark Voorhies (Lisa Turtle on the show) and can't figure out what he wants to do when the gig (inevitably) ends, and Diamond acts like a prick. No, really - that's the film: 90 minutes of bland  forgettable actors playing actors playing characters on a TV show, deciding what to do with their lives, and/or being unlikable sods in the case of Dustin.

Also, for a dramatized expose on Saved by the Bell, there isn't much content on the ins and outs of the show. We do see the a reading of the famous episode where Zack confronts Jessie's addiction to caffeine pills, but the film could have used more of that; seeing how the young actors handle difficult and funny material, and how they play off one another. Fans who grew up with the show are in for a real disappointment because The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story isn't just bad from a writing and acting standpoint. It's just simply dull to watch. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thoughts on Christy Mack, War Machine and Victim Shaming.

I said last December that my blog would make time to comment on things happening outside of movies, and I feel that this warrants it. Before I continue, I was going to make my comments about the heinous murders on the UCLA campus by a lone, disturbed gunman, and his final message he left on You Tube the day before; and the "Yes All Women" movement that took social media by storm after the tragedy. The reason I didn't is because I wasn't confident in my abilities as a writer to talk about subjects on gender equality and misogyny. The story in question, coupled with the lack of empathy have spurred me into writing this piece, along with advice from one of my social media friends, Ryan Adams.

By now you all should know the name Jonathan Koppenhaver, aka: "War Machine", but if you don't, here's the short version: the mixed martial artist fighter was being hunted by police for beating his then-girlfriend Christy Mack, at her home in Las Vegas, who was later arrested. The reason why this story gained traction is due to the occupation of the victim, being an adult film star. Mack took to Twitter and described in brutal, near-graphic detail about her ordeal, including photos. I'm not going to show them on here, mostly because they're chilling and really disturbing, so unless you have a strong stomach to see for the brutal aftermath of what she went through, they'll be linked here.

The crime itself is horrifying on its own, but I'm not talking about what he did. It's the comments made that sicken me and, in my opinion, are equally disturbing. If I've learned one thing about Internet/chat room comments and social media outlets, it's that you will eventually run into a hive of scum and idiocy (not to mention piss-poor grammar; but to be fair, I'm guilty of bad grammatical and spelling errors myself) that will bring you down for a few hours if you let it linger, which, in my case, it did.

This person just gets right to the point about it.
Jason August 12, 2014 at 10:24 am
I usually love your articles, but this one irks me a bit. I can agree that she didn’t deserve this, of course she didn’t deserve this, but the fact that she sucks dick for money leads me to believe that she makes poor life choices including decisions relative to her mate(s). She’s a porn star, what type of people does she expect to be in relationships with? I mean, come on, you can’t tell me this is a surprise? Sure, she didn’t deserve this, or any abuse for that matter, but she clearly makes terrible decisions and sometimes life has a way of telling you that you are NOT on the right track. I just want to put it all on the table. On the one hand, she’s a victim, but on the other hand she makes a living being subordinate to men sexually and professionally, why wouldn’t she do the same in her personal life? Again I’m not saying she was looking for this abuse, but I do think she could have avoided it entirely through her choices. Just something to think about.
There are many other comments like the ones made by the people I've highlighted, but for me, these two stick out. Apparently, being in a profession where sex is involved is directly correlated with being unable to be with a "normal" person, or have any kind of relationship that is fulfilling; or that Ms. Mack brought this on herself because she "sucks dick for money."

Are you out of your fucking mind?!

So what if she's in the adult industry; and so what if she she has sex on camera for money? When did being a porn star automatically make you less of a sympathetic human being? You can be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a sex worker at the Bunny Ranch - regardless of the profession, no woman deserves to be subject to physical violence! The two quotes also bring out something that's equally disturbing: the notion that it's her fault that she was beaten by her ex-flame. Let's get something straight here: It's Koppenhaver's fault, plain and simple. He was the one that went over to her place, beat up the guy who she was now seeing, and then turned his rage and aggression on her. There have been other accusations made by idiots on social media sites and on chat rooms claiming that Mack cheated on him while they were together, and that she hit him first, and that she was faking said injuries the whole time - both claims are completely false; Koppenhaver and Mack broke up in May, and there's been nothing in reports, both in the papers or in a police report, stating that she struck first - and even then, there's still zero justification for his actions.

As awful as this story is, and as disturbing as the comments are in doing my research for this piece, the scariest thing about this is that Christy Mack's ordeal is only one of over a million stories that women, like herself, have been through. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
  • One out of four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. 
  • An estimated 1.3 women are victims of domestic abuse/assault each year. 
  •  Less than 1/5th of victims who have been abused by their partner or whoever, have gone out and gotten medical treatment for their injuries. 
  •  1/4th of all physical assaults are even reported by the police.
I am a 24 year-old male. Statistically, it is very unlikely that I will ever encounter sexual or physical assault by a partner ever in my lifetime. At night, I can take a nighttime stroll around my neighborhood without much fear of being assaulted. Worrying about rape and abuse by someone I'm intimate with or by a close friend are things which don't even enter my subconscious. I don't have to think about being labeled a "slut", a "tramp" or a "whore" by society when I start having sex. Hell, they make films about guys losing their v-card as this rite of passage into becoming a man, and shows where a male character's sexual exploits are part of the comedy routine. If I wanted to, I could go on air, label a woman a slut for bringing up the issue of making birth control easily available for herself and millions of other women in the workforce, and not face much scrutiny from the company paying my checks, and continue perpetuating the notion that men who consider themselves feminists or simply don't act like varsity jocks on the high school football team, are pussies who have had their balls snipped off.

These are privileges I enjoy in today's society. And I feel I do have a responsibility to speak out when a man physically assaults a woman, and is subsequently made the victim because of her profession or her personal life, or when talking heads de-value the role of a woman in power, or when films resort to blatant objectification of female characters that add nothing to the story except to be eye candy for my gender's audience. I do know that I have to speak up and speak out about stuff like this, and I feel that we should as well.I don't hold the answers, but I believe we should do as much as possible to marginalize the War Machine's of the world, and his sympathizers.

By the way: If you would like to make a donation to help with Ms. Mack's medical funds, you can make a donation here, and every bit does help.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Trapped In a Sea of Sameness

Going into The Giver, I was expecting the worst. For starters, they changed the age of the lead character Jonas, from a naïve 11 year-old boy to a swoon-worthy, naïve 18 year old. The same with his friends - both Asher and Fiona are now teens as well. Next was they way they marketed the film, as a cross between 1984 and Brave New World meets some teen melodrama you'd find on ABC Family. But mostly, I am just nearly burnt out by seeing studios take hot young adult novels and turn them into mediocre ripoffs of better-done adaptations, and given how poor Divergent, The Host, Ender's Game and The Fault In Our Stars turned out, you could understand my hesitation over seeing the final product.

Imagine my surprise that the film version of author Lois Lowry's dystopian sci-fi thriller wasn't as terrible as I thought it would be. For starters, the cinematography and color palette by Ross Emery is how I imagined this world would look like. This bland, colorless world feels and looks eerie because it's made to be a perfect harmony. The film was made on a budget of $25 million, and for the film to look as good as it does is impressive. I loved how Aussie director Phillip Noyce (Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Quiet American, Salt) expanded the character Chief Elder to more of an central role than a supporting one in the book. It also helps that they hired Meryl Streep to play this Orwellian figure, constantly looming over Jonas, his family unit, and the Community like a hawk in the sky. Seeing Jeff Bridges playing the titular Giver, a man charged with holding all the memories of the past and passing them onto his successor, is perfect casting, and he excels as the weary old man, holding in everything. Best of all is perhaps Katie Holmes as Jonas's mother figure, without the maternal nature. Hearing her scold her son for "precision of language" radiates creepiness and a slight sinister nature underneath her demeanor. With a few rewrites and a good makeup team, she would be the perfect Chief Elder.

The bad news is that The Giver could have been better. Much better. Highlighting that Katie Holmes would have made a better antagonist than the great Meryl Streep is just one of the films problems. I love Meryl, but I keep waiting for her to take command of her role like she has done in several roles before, from playing a suspicious nun in Doubt, to her portrayal as Maggie Thatcher in The Iron Lady. She comes off as a leader who's mildly annoyed that Jonas isn't being trained like he should, rather than a serene, yet frightening figure. But at least we do get a good dose of her and Bridges near the films climax as they confront the other on the human condition (or lack thereof). It's perhaps the most time the three-time Oscar winning actress looks to be involved in her character, but given what she has to work with, who could begrudge her for an easy payday?

The younger actors don't fare any better; in fact they drag the film down. Brenton Thwaites was a real miscast as the lead character, Jonas, and making him older for the sake of making teen girls swoon in their seats didn't help matters. In Lowry's novel, he was a bright, inquisitive boy who is chosen to to hold in all the positive and negative aspects of what humanity has lost. Seeing him transform quickly into a man is one of the best parts in the novel because he's so young and forced to grow up fast when he learns about the ugly side of humanity, especially when the worst parts of it has been within his community the whole time. Here, Thwaites gets the 'Stirrings' (see: becoming a hormonal teen) and really wants to make out with his best girl-friend Fiona. If you guessed that Fiona becomes his love interest, even though it was only hinted in the book, congratulations, because you can think like a Hollywood hack writer! OK, so Jonas really wants to bring back color and music, and plans a big escape with the Giver, but Thwaites' delivery is so one-note that calling him one-dimensional would almost be an insult. He just doesn't have the emotional range or the depth the character requires. I'm not really going to comment much on Odeya Rush as Fiona, mostly because she exists to be the film's love interest and nothing else, and because she's just as bland as as Thwaites is. Pop star Taylor Swift has a small part in this, playing Rosemary, the Giver's first protegee that didn't take. Again, I'm not going to comment; not because she was bad, but because the film fails to make her an integral part of the story (to be fair, so does the book, but the film version could have made up for that by allowing more time to see her relationship to Bridges character).

Perhaps the biggest misgiving I have about this film adaptation is how it decides to stick to the shallows about identity and the philosophical questions about human nature. In order to create the perfect world, the Elders rid themselves and their community of almost everything that makes us human: experiencing joy and sorrow; love and loss. In Lowry's world, Sameness now equals harmony, and taking daily injections is a means to an end in regulating said harmony. Those concepts are missing from this story, and instead, we're treated to "Divergents threaten the system" without explaining how or why, except that what they Elders are doing is wrong. Basically, Bob and Harvey Weinstein took the source material and pumped it full of Sameness to pacify and sell their movie to young movie goers, like myself, and hope we're too distracted by the young, attractive leads to notice that the essence of the book is mostly absent. The Giver isn't the worst of the YA-adaptations to come out, but it is something worse: it's factory-assembled product that, if it makes enough money, might be turned into another Divergent/Twilight cash cow.

** stars out of ****