The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Optimism

I've been labeled a cynic on several occasions due to my taste in fiction, and my dislike for stories that take place in so-called "brighter and more upbeat" settings. But, I believe it's easy to be optimistic in a world where things are "safe" even with supervillains at large. But when there is true evil at work, when the world isn't fair, when bad things happen but your hero still rises, that is real optimism, I think. I don't just enjoy seeing my heroes put through the wringer, I love seeing them shoved through the grinder. The grinder. Some of them are broken by the grinder, this is where your Frank Castles come in. But those who can go through Hell and back in a world that is unkind unfair... THAT is true optimism. The alternative is wish-fulfillment fluff.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing


Sometimes you don't get the movie you want, but the movie you need. Other times the movie you want is the movie you need. This is one of those times. After last week's disappointment (which I will no longer mention by name), I needed an antidote. I needed a great time at the cinema and Joss Whedon rode to the rescue, this time bringing the Bard himself, William Shakespeare. It's the original "will they or won't they", and I loved every second of it.

The film was shot at Joss Whedon's house over the course of a week, and features familiar faces like Alexis Denisof as Benedick, Amy Acker as Beatrice, Nathan Fillion as Dogberry, Clark Gregg as Leonato, Sean Maher as Don John, Tom Lenk as Verges and a lot of other talented actors who haven't appeared in the Buffyverse, Firefly, or Avengers. The entire cast did phenomenally well in what was, essentially, a home movie a director made with his friends. Denisof and Acker, especially, were great... and I say this as a guy who loved "Angel" but was never enamored with the character of Fred. Clark Gregg was, as always, incredibly fun to watch. Nathan Fillion took Dogberry, a character who never worked for me before, and made me believe. And Maher's Don John was a great, comedic precursor to Iago who takes a cupcake from a buffet table in the most bastardly manner possible.

The cinematography was gorgeous, and I need to give a shout out to the Director of Photography, Jay Hunter. Every shot was gorgeous, made possible by the natural light of the sun, mirrors, glass, windows... and the black and white was a terrific stylistic choice. It was easily the most beautifully shot movie I've seen this year... proving that you don't need a quarter-billion dollars to look good.

It was funny, hilarious even. It was witty and there was a lot of physical comedy, and not once did I feel like it was pandering to the lowest common denominator, like most so-called comedies these days do. The modern movie going audience and I seem to have a very different sense of humor. You can keep your Sandlers and Perrys, I'll take my Shakespeare. Who knows, maybe this will inspire me to shoot my own adaptation of Shakespeare inside my house... but I doubt anything I do will ever be as good as this.

It was a big, home movie and yet it was more polished than many blockbusters. As far as I'm concerned, this is the movie of the summer and it pains me that the other movie is going to make more money in one hour than this will in its entire run. It was the movie I wanted, and it was the movie I needed; I loved it. It's sensual, it's funny, and shame on anyone who has no interest in it. A quirky movie for adults.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Game of Thrones


After the trash that was "Man of Steel", I needed this. I had to blog about something I love, especially since I'm going through it for a second time with my brother, this is his first time. How bad was "Man of Steel"? Let's just say that coming home to watch the Red Wedding with him was a great antidote to that wretched movie.

I'm a latecomer to this series, it was always on my "to watch" list, but three months ago I finally got into it. I marathoned the first two seasons and then watched season three as it aired. Honestly, I think it's not only the best TV show on the air right now, but the best TV show to air in many years, any and all genres and mediums. It is amazing. I am no stranger to TV shows with casts of thousands, but there were times when even I couldn't keep track of everyone, which is why I wanted to quickly watch the show a second time... to catch the little details I missed, and this time knowing who everyone is and what their deal is.

What I like most about this show is just how real this world feels. It's fantasy, yes; but the fantasy has been kept to a minimum, and this is a strength. When the supernatural does creep in, it's not familiar or ho hum, but it has an impact. When you first hear that the summers can last years and the winters can last up to a decade, you know you're not watching a period piece. And yet, in spite of all this, it feels more real than anything else on TV.

The series is dark. Very dark. Don't go in expecting noble heroes triumphing over dark evils, because you won't find it. You can have your favorites, but don't get too comfortable with them because anybody can die, and will die. Now I've seen other shows where it's been supposedly said that any character can die, but it's almost always bullshit. Not here. Not this show. I'll be honest, it was the Red Wedding that established this show as a favorite for me, because I have never seen anything like that outside of a history book. It broke all the rules of TV, movies, fantasy, you name it. When I first saw it, I sat there for twenty minutes in shock, and then the first words I said were "this show is a masterpiece." Westeros is a dangerous place, and you can't count on the safety of conventional television rules.

My favorite character in the series is Tyrion Lannister, who is probably everybody's favorite character. Peter Dinklage. He's just so much fun to watch, and one of the most clever characters on the show. He's a "dwarf" ... and not of the fantasy variety, he was born with dwarfism and the youngest son of Tywin Lannister (who may or may not be the Big Bad depending on your point of view, because he does have competition for the title). He drinks, he beds prostitutes, but he is also the closest thing the Lannisters have to a decent person. And he is so good at the game, so very good.

The Starks, at first glance, seem to be a family of fantasy heroes straight out of Tolkien or Nordic myths. We love the Starks, they value many virtues like love and honor and really have no initial interest in playing the game of politics, but necessity drives them into war against the Lannisters. Unfortunately, in real life, love and honor are seldom strengths but often weaknesses, as the Starks and the audience will bitterly learn more than once.

The other factions are equally as interesting, the Greyjoys who seek to be kings themselves; the Tyrells who might be giving the Lannisters a run for their money; Stannis Baratheon and his alliance with Melisandre, high priestess of the Lord of Light; the Boltons who are just creepy; and then, overseas marshaling her forces, the exiled Daenerys Targaryen... who many suspect will be the one to win. If I went into more details about each of them, we'd be here all night.

At this point in the show, I have no theories or predictions about where this is all going, and as someone who is used to being able to accurately predict story beats in other works correctly nine times out of ten, I'm not used to this feeling of such uncertainty. But I'm enjoying the ride, and loving this journey.

For now I'll leave you with this article and I'll meet you all back here for season four.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Man of Steel



Just saw "Man of Steel". My brother is a Walmart employee and they were having a promotion for early screenings, so he got two passes and we went. It was the best Superman movie I've seen... I didn't like it.

Spoilers are coming.

The best thing I can say is that Lois Lane is awesome in it... an actual investigative journalist instead of, well, the moron who can't deduce the most obvious thing in the world when it's right in front of her. Here, she figures out who this mysterious hero is really fast, well before the world even realizes he exists. He saves her early on, and she begins investigating this mystery man who has saved lives and tracks him back to Smallville.

The cast was mostly really good, for the most part. I didn't like Shannon as Zod... I bought the warrior, but not the general. But everyone else was well cast. But this is where my praise ends.

"Man of Steel" is a Zach Snyder movie to the core... a different director with the same story could have made something great.

The story didn't cohere; the pacing was wretched; the editing lousy; the cinematography was bad; the action scene lasted at least ninety minutes which went from exciting to fatiguing very fast, I understand we wanted Superman to punch something but this was the opposite extreme. AND ENOUGH WITH THE MICHAEL BAY SHAKY CAM! 

There are some massive plot holes. Zod shows up and demands for Kal-El to surrender to him, and Kal El does... but then, for no reason whatsoever, he demands Lois Lane to surrender to him with Kal El... we're never told why. Yes, there is a throwaway line about how her mind was scanned, but so was his... and there was nothing to find out from her that couldn't be and wasn't found out from him. She's brought on board for one reason and one reason only, so she can learn what's needed to defeat Zod at the end of the movie. That's it. It is the most contrived thing I've seen in a movie in many years.

And I don't understand why the whole world doesn't know Superman is Clark Kent. Clark outs himself to his local pastor at one point, and then Zod's army lands at the Kent's farm to claim the shuttle they Kal El arrived on Earth in, and... every ship was being tracked by the Pentagon already, not to mention the VERY PUBLIC BATTLE on the Kent farm that led into the middle of Smallville... and then when it's over, Lois arrives at the Kent farm in a police car, and IN FRONT OF THE COP, runs towards Superman crying "CLARK!!!!!!!" and hugs him.

A lot of good ideas and a great cast who were failed by a lousy script and terrible direction.

Next time, I review something great... I'm going to talk about the three seasons of "Game of Thrones" and after this crappy movie, I need to discuss something awesome.

Monday, June 3, 2013

"What can you say to someone who says they’ll never read your book again? People read books for different reasons. I respect that. Some read for comfort. And some of my former readers have said their life is hard, their mother is sick, their dog died, and they read fiction to escape. They don’t want to get hit in the mouth with something horrible. And you read that certain kind of fiction where the guy will always get the girl and the good guys win and it reaffirms to you that life is fair. We all want that at times. There’s a certain vicarious release to that. So I’m not dismissive of people who want that. But that’s not the kind of fiction I write, in most cases. It’s certainly not what Ice and Fire is. It tries to be more realistic about what life is. It has joy, but it also had pain and fear. I think the best fiction captures life in all its light and darkness."
- George R.R. Martin