I’ve made various comments, here and there over the past several months, about how much I dug the first season of Game of Thrones, but I realized I’d never really written about it in-depth here on the site. After recently tearing through the blu-ray release of the first season (in anticipation of the launch of season two THIS WEEKEND!), I figured now was as good a time as ever!
I have never read any of the Song of Ice and Fire novels by George R. R. Martin, but I was intrigued by what I had read about HBO’s epic adaptation. After a good friend impressed upon me how much he loved the series, I decided to sample the HBO show, last year, to see if it struck my fancy. I enjoyed the first couple of episodes but wasn’t exactly blown away. But then something weird started to happen. I slowly got more and more sucked in, and by the time the sixth or seventh episode rolled around I was good and hooked. When a major character’s head got lopped off at the end of the penultimate episode, I became a fan for life.
Game of Thrones tells the story of a group of families all warring for power, influence, and control of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. The titular throne is the “Iron Chair” — the seat of the king of the Seven Kingdoms. The focus of this first season (adapted from Mr. Martin’s first novel in the series) is primarily upon the Stark family. In the opening episode, Ned Stark is forced to leave his home in Winterfell (the Northern city his family has apparently ruled for generations) to serve as the Hand of the King. It just so happens that the King is Robert Baratheon, Ned’s old friend and comrade-in-arms. Ned was a key player in helping Robert to win the throne eighteen years previously. But while Ned has little patience for politics, he is thrust into the scheming, back-stabbing world of King’s Landing, the empire’s capital city. Meanwhile, threats to the kingdom have begun to brew on all sides. Some sort of supernatural menace appears to be brewing north of the Wall, the humongous barrier at the northernmost tip of the “civilized” realm. And in the East, the two surviving children of house Targaryen, the family who ruled the Kingdom before being deposed by Robert, have allied themselves with the fierce horse-riding nomads the Dothraki, with the apparent goal of raising a huge army to invade Westeros and recapture the kingdom.
My plot summary doesn’t do any justice to the series’ wonderfully rich, sprawling narrative. Over the course of the first season’s ten hours, we meet … [continued]
Horrible Bosses focuses on three average guys, each of whom is beset by a particularly horrible boss. There’s Nick (Jason Bateman), an advertising executive who works excruciatingly long hours in search of a promotion, only to be shot down at every turn by his supervisor (Kevin Spacey), who delights in the perks of his position (large salary, a huge office) while gleefully forcing Nick to do all the work. There’s Kurt (Jason Sudekis) whose happy life at a chemical company is overturned when his friendly boss (Donald Sutherland) dies and the company is taken over by his deceased boss’ drug-addicted, profane, selfish son (Colin Farrell). Then there is Dale (Charlie Day), a dental assistant whose beautiful boss (Jennifer Anniston) harasses him sexually at every turn, even going so far as to threaten to blackmail him in order to force him to have sex with her. So, left with no other option, the three put-upon men decide that they have no other option: they must band together and kill their bosses.
Horrible Bosses is not generally the type of comedy I’d rush out to see. From the premise, it’s clear that this is a comedy without much footing in reality. That the bosses are so outrageously over-the-top evil, and that the three guys come up with such a scheme to get out from under their heels, means that this movie is clearly a cartoon. Now, that sort of outrageous fantasy can certainly be funny, but my preference is for comedies where the humor and the characters are slightly more grounded in reality.
But I was intrigued to see the film, primarily because of the phenomenal cast. As an Arrested Development alum, Jason Bateman has my fandom hooked for life, and all of the accompanying players have proven themselves to be strong comedic forces. And the film was directed by Seth Gordon, who helmed the superlative 2007 documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters about the sub-culture of people, world-wide, who compete annually for the top score in Donkey Kong.
But ultimately, while there are certainly a lot of laughs in Horrible Bosses, the film never really grabbed me. Part of this might be personal preference. As I wrote above, I tend to be less into films where the characters are such caricatures. Though there are certainly plenty of films that would fit that description, such as Bruno, that I absolutely love. So maybe there’s more to it than that. There’s just nothing terribly original or memorable in Horrible Bosses. There are some funny moments and some good laughs, but for me the film faded quickly from my memory. Even a few days later I had trouble recalling the details … [continued]
This was written before the film’s release, but I was fascinated by this piece from CHUD about about Disney’s staggering inability to market John Carter (of Mars). It’s a shame that the film has turned out to be such a colossal money-loser for the studio, but it’s shocking that the mighty Disney machine couldn’t figure out a way to sell this film.
Wanna waste a bunch of time today? Click on over to this Seinfeld quote-a-day page…
GAME OF THRONES IS ALMOST BACK!! In honor of the imminent launch of season 2, take the time to marvel at this spot-on homage to Game of Thrones’ opening credits by The Simpsons. The days of my watching The Simpsons every week are long gone, but that brings me right back to when I loved the show…
Speaking of Game of Thrones, time to revel in this great preview of the upcoming season:
Have you seen the latest production diary for The Hobbit?
The wait to see this film is PAINFUL!! But I am starting to think it’s getting to be time to re-watch the LOTR trilogy…
Wow. Coming off the one-two punch of Blow Out (click here for my review) and Scarface (click here for my review), two Brain De Palma films that I quite enjoyed, comes 1984′s Body Double. This is a terrible movie, and by far the worst of the six De Palma films I have watched so far.
Craig Wasson plays Jake Scully, a down-on-his luck actor who just can’t seem to catch a break. He gets fired from the movie he’s working on, then catches his girlfriend sleeping with another guy. Things start to look up, though, when a fellow actor tells Jake that he can stay in the swank house in which he’s been house-sitting. The house’s best feature? The sexy housewife next-door, who likes to do an erotic dance in her lingerie, in plain view of the window, every night at the same time. After several nights watching her, Jake becomes somewhat obsessed, eventually spending an afternoon following the woman all around the city. His infatuation turns to frantic concern, though, when he starts to suspect that someone else has been following her, and is out to do her harm.
Body Double is basically an R-rated retelling of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. That actually sounds like it could be a decently entertaining idea, but I found Body Double to be a complete bore from start to finish.
The film’s biggest problem is that Craig Wasson is a totally uninteresting milquetoast character. Part of that is the fault of the script, which wastes no chance to portray Jake as a total loser. But Mr. Wasson’s performance is just terrible. There’s a scene, early on, after he discovers his girlfriend having sex with another guy, when Jake heads to a bar to have a drink. He starts drinking heavily and barking at the bartender. The implication is that Jake has hit the bottle before, and I guess we’re supposed to think that this is a darker guy, with more internal demons, than we’ve heretofore suspected. But Jake’s sudden turn into grumpy drunkenness, rather than giving extra layers to the character, just comes of as laughably ridiculous. It’s like a kid pretending to be a tough guy.
Things don’t get better from there, and whether I was watching Jake floundering through the weirdest acting class I’ve ever seen or making puppy-dog eyes at the beautiful woman next-door, I was totally disconnected from the character.
Body Double is supposed to be an erotic thriller, but as with all of Mr. De Palma’s films I found the sex and nudity to be totally over-done to the point of silliness. I could imagine the film containing some creepy/sexy scenes of a guy … [continued]
Buckle up, my friends, I have a lot to say.
I adore Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars books, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the film adaptation of the first book, A Princess of Mars, for quite a while now. I’ve also been mystified — as I have written about several times in the past few months — by the staggeringly abysmal marketing campaign of this film. From the stupidly truncated title, to the bland, boring posters, to the weird trailers that studiously avoided ANY reference to the word “Mars” (thus rendering them incomprehensible to anyone who didn’t already know the story), the whole thing felt like the studio was running away from the sci-fi pulpiness of source material. Which made me wonder, why make the film at all? The involvement of Pixar’s Andrew Stanton (making his live-action directorial debut) gave me some hope, but I was very, very dubious when sitting down in the theater to see this film.
There is a lot that John Carter gets very, very right. There are also a number of very unfortunate mis-steps. The result is a film that is far from great but also far, far better than the ad-campaign would have you suspect. I feel sorry for the filmmakers that their movie has been so brutally maligned in the press as a huge flop. The bad press will almost certainly keep anyone on the fence away from seeing the film (thus ensuring the film’s status as a major money-loser), which is a shame, and I think it’s doubly unfortunate that a big, sci-fi spectacle that has actually been made with some intelligence is going to be seen as a major failure, thus lessening the chances of getting future great sci-fi films made, while meanwhile they’ll continue to churn out Michael Bay’s Transformers movies.
Let’s start with what’s good:
Tar Tarkas is absolutely perfect. Perfectly voiced by Willem Dafoe, and brought to life via stunning CGI effects, this fierce Jeddak of the Tharks who befriends John Carter is, to me, the heart of the story. I feel the filmmakers HAD to get Tars right in order for the film to succeed, and man did they nail it. Reading the books, the existence of the Tharks — a multi-armed, huge green race of Martian aliens — seemed to me to be one of the biggest obstacles in anyone ever translating the story to the screen, but I found the depiction of the Tharks to be amazing. The filmmakers wisely made a few tweaks to Burroughs’ descriptions (these Tharks have four arms, rather than six, and while they are much taller than humans they are not quite as humongous as in the book) … [continued]
MUST. SEE. NOW.
If Hollywood must continue to insist on making prequels, this is the way to do it.
I absolutely LOVE the way that trailer mimics the trailer for the original Alien from 1979:
I have watched Alien countless times and still find myself dazzled and mystified by all of it’s weird and bizarre iconography. Seeing that imagery brought to life in this trailer (The space jockey! Hyper-sleep pods! The derelict ship from LB-427! Alien eggs!) is making me more giddily happy than I can put into words. It’s amazing to see Sir Ridley Scott returning, at long long last, to sci-fi. That he’s ALSO returning to the Alien universe (despite all of the now-ridiculous denials of Prometheus’ being an Alien prequel) is just icing on the cake.
You all saw the xenomorph in there, right??
Oh my lord I cannot wait for June.… [continued]
And so at last we arrive, in my journey through the films of Brian De Palma, to one of his films which I had already seen: Scarface. I watched this film several times back when I was in college, though I don’t think I’ve seen it much, if at all, in the last decade.
Just as I felt that Blow Out (click here for my review) was a large leap forward for Mr. De Palma from his earlier films, Scarface represents another huge jump in his prowess as a filmmaker. Of all the De Palma films which I have seen so far, Scarface is the one that has aged the best. There are a few moments when the somewhat over-wrought soundtrack dates the film, for me, but otherwise this movie feels just as vital and dynamic as a film made this year, rather than one that is almost three decades old.
Scarface is a live-wire of a film — a visceral, go-for-the-gut primal scream of a movie, filled with all the passion and excesses of it’s main characters. But for a film that was shocking at the time of its release for its graphic violence, I must say I found Scarface to be the most restrained of all the De Palma movies I have watched so far, at least until the lunatic orgy of violence at the film’s climax.
Scarface, restrained? OK, I realize that might seem to be an absurd comment, but hear me out. Yes, Scarface is incredibly violent. But my major complaint about Mr. De Palma’s films so far in my viewing project has been that there has been so much extreme content (mostly of the sexual/nudity variety) that seemed totally gratuitous to me. I think those films would have been stronger films had some of the gauzy shower scenes, for example, been cut out, because those scenes just make me laugh or shake my head, pulling me out of the movie I was watching.
But in Scarface, I don’t feel the violence is gratuitous, at least not until the very end. Let’s take one of the film’s most shocking scenes: Tony Montana’s botched money-for-dope exchange in a Miami hotel room which results in a bloodbath. When I think of Scarface, I think of this scene even more than the “say hello to my little friend” climax. It made an enormous impact on me when I first saw the film, and even knowing exactly what’s coming when I watch it now, I still find it to be incredibly gripping — tense and horrifying. It’s terribly violent, but let me make two points. One, the scene is not actually as on-the-screen gruesome as you might remember. … [continued]
I had pretty much finished putting together my Best Films of 2011 list when I saw The Guard, but the film was so good that I had to rework my list to add it in! I noted in my list that The Guard was the last addition, and that I’d be writing more about the film soon. That time has come!
This little Irish film was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, and features Brendan Gleeson in the role of his career as the Irish Garda (policeman) Gerry Boyle. Gerry has created a fine if unremarkable life for himself as the apparent master of a teensy little corner of Ireland. He knows the people — both his fellow cops and the various criminals — and he knows the land. But much larger problems land on his doorstep when a gang of drug-smugglers arrive, leading to murders and the involvement of the FBI, personified by the by-the-book agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle). The two wildly different men are oil and water, but they must pool their efforts in order to stop the bad guys.
Yes, it’s a buddy-cop movie, but a deliriously unique, off-color one!
Mr. Gleeson commands the screen with his presence. The gruff, profane, incredibly un-PC Doyle is an astounding creation, and without question one of the finest acting performances of the year. (No surprise, Mr. Gleeson was entirely ignored by the Academy.) But who cares about the Oscars — we have this film and what more do we need. Mr. Gleeson is an absolute riot to watch — Doyle is blunt and to the point, always saying what he’s thinking no matter how many feathers he ruffles. In fact, he positively delights in the ruffling of feathers — the more the merrier, particularly if he’s dealing with anyone who could be considered an authority figure. He says some completely outrageous things in the film — particularly to the African-American Agent Everett. But the twinkle in Mr. Gleeson’s eye makes clear that Doyle is only saying those things to get a reaction out of whoever he’s speaking to. It’s his way of testing the measure of the people around him, be they cop or criminal. He’s a small-town hick, but he’s more than happy to play up that cliche image of himself if it serves his purpose. He is honest and noble, but willing to bend the rules of procedure without a second thought in order to do what he feels is right. Doyle is a magnificent character, and Mr. Gleeson has never been better.
Don Cheadle has the far less showy job as the straight-man, but although his is a quieter, more subtle performance, it’s integral … [continued]
In the film Our Idiot Brother, Paul Rudd plays the titular idiot, Ned Rochlin. Ned is an extremely sweet, well-meaning goofball, but he has an uncanny knack for wreaking unintentional havoc on the lives of everyone he encounters — along with his own! When we first meet him, he’s being busted for selling pot to a police officer — who solicited him IN UNIFORM! It’s a great introduction to Ned, because not only do we see that he is pretty naive and clueless, but we also see clearly his inherent decency. He takes pity on the officer who comes to him with a sob story of how tough his life has been, which is why Ned agrees to sell him some pot. Paul Rudd brings his 100-watt smile and every ounce of his powerful likability to the role, and it’s a great fit for his particular charms and skilled comedic mannerisms.
But Our Idiot Brother isn’t just about Ned, the idiot. It’s also about the “Our” in the title — that being Ned’s three sisters, played by Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, and Emily Mortimer. The three women are extraordinarily well-cast, and this assemblage of comedic and dramatic powerhouses is a huge part of what gives Our Idiot Brother it’s charm.
Elizabeth Banks plays Miranda. She’s a fast-talking, city-living journalist for Vanity Fair. She’s struggling to make her breakthrough at the magazine, and isn’t above using some unscrupulous methods to do so. She and her neighbor Jeremy (Adam Scott, so brilliant on Party Down and these days on Parks and Recreation) are clearly perfect for one another, though Ned is the only one of the three of them who can see that. Zooey Deschanel plays Natalie, whose hippie lifestyle involves her living in a commune-style apartment with her girlfriend, Cindy (Rashida Jones, just as much fun and as brilliantly cast as the actresses playing the three sisters) and several other roommates. Emily Mortimer plays Liz, a stay-at-home mom married to Dylan (Steve Coogan, with his smarminess turned up to eleven, which of course only makes him more entertaining), a documentary filmmaker who is cheating on her with the Russian dancer who is the subject of his latest film.
All three women (four, if you could Rashida Jones’ Cindy, and we really should) are fascinating, strong, sharply-drawn characters. The film wouldn’t work if they weren’t as interesting as they all are. These women are all fully-realized people, with strengths and flaws. As Ned bounds into their lives, his unflinching honesty results, with unswerving consistency, in overturning the carefully-constructed patterns of each of their lives.
Our Idiot Brother is very funny, but there are dramatic aspects to the story as well, and director … [continued]
After some delay (sorry about that!) we return to my Days of De Palma series, exploring the films of Brian De Palma!
Much has been written about the way in which Brian De Palma’s films feel heavily influenced by the work of Alfred Hitchcock. Already in my De Palma viewing project, I have seen the ways in which this is so. But Mr. De Palma’s 1981 film, Blow Out, isn’t so much a Hitchcock film as it is a more lurid, mainstream re-telling of Francis Ford Coppola’s magnificent 1974 film The Conversation.
In Blow Out, John Travolta (who had a very small role in Mr. De Palma’s film Carrie) plays Jack Terry, who works as a sound-guy on shlocky B-grade movies. One evening, Jack is out on a bridge recording sound (they need better “wind” for their horror picture) when he witnesses a terrible car accident, in which a vehicle careens off the road and into the water. Jack dives in and rescues a woman, Sally (Nancy Allen, in yet another De Palma film after Carrie and Dressed to Kill), but the driver perishes. When said driver is revealed to be a popular Presidential candidate, his people urge Jack to forget he was ever there and never speak to anyone about the woman in the car, so as not to sully the now-dead politician’s reputation. The story the press reports is that the candidate’s car suffered a fatal blow-out which caused it to crash off the road, but Jack’s sound-recording of the event leads him to suspect that he can hear a gunshot the instant before the blow-out — meaning the man was murdered.
The start of the film had me very worried. The film begins with a long point-of-view shot of a stalker lurking outside some sort of women’s dormitories. We’re given just the sort of cheap thrills and gratuitous nudity that has so bugged me in Mr. De Palma’s films so far. Of course, this dorm is filled with women having sex, women frolicking in their underwear in full view of the windows, a woman lying on a couch masturbating, women showering, etc. The whole thing is eventually revealed to be a movie within-the-movie — we’re actually watching the cheesy horror film that Jack and his boss are working on. It’s supposed to be a joke, but the gag would be a lot funnier if this sort of gratuitous exploitation wasn’t EXACTLY the sort of stuff Mr. De Palma’s films have been jam-packed with, up to this point!
Luckily, things pick up from there. Blow Out contains some of the most effectively tense sequences of any of Mr. De Palma’s films that I have seen … [continued]
In preparing to write my Top 15 Movies of 2011 list, I made an effort to watch as many 2011 films as I possibly could. I’ve already written about many of those movies here on the site, but there were many that I saw that I haven’t had a chance to write about yet. I’ll be trying to remedy that with my “Catching up on 2011″ series this week and next.
Let’s start with The Help, the film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s acclaimed novel.
As I’m sure most of you know, the novel and the film depict the lives of several African American maids working in wealthy white homes in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. The story is set in motion when the young, white Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan returns home to Jackson after finishing college. After several years away, Skeeter is able to see her town in a new light, and she finds herself shocked at the way the African American “help” is treated by her friends and neighbors, and even by her own mother. Skeeter’s path eventually crosses with two fascinating African American women, Aibilene Clark (played by Viola Davis) and her friend Minny Jackson (played by Octavia Spencer).
I haven’t read the novel, so my evaluation of The Help is based entirely on the film. For the most part, I found the movie, which was adapted and directed by Ms. Stockett’s friend Tate Taylor, to be entertaining albeit a bit slight. There is no question that the story of the generations of African American women who worked as maids/house-keepers/etc. to affluent white families in the South is an important subject. And I respect the desire by Ms. Stockett and the filmmakers to try to wrap that story in as entertaining a package as possible, so that while we’ll hopefully feel the emotion of the story, we won’t be too depressed by too “heavy” a presentation of the subject-matter.
But I think the filmmakers erred in going a bit too far into the light and fluffy side of town. (And while it seems to me this is likely a flaw of the source material, as I wrote before I can’t say for sure having not read the book.) For instance (and there are some small spoilers ahead, but even I knew of this plot twist before watching the movie, without having read the book), there’s the whole matter of the shit-pie that Minny baked for Hilly (played in the film by Bryce Dallas Howard). Quite a lot of the film’s story hangs on that event, as Hilly’s desire to cover it up is the leverage that Minny and the maids have over her. But the event is such … [continued]
I own every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation on DVD. So does that make me a sucker for purchasing Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Next Level, a three-episode sampler blu-ray disc of the series’ conversion to high definition? Well, probably. But I just couldn’t resist checking out the series’ much-ballyhooed blu-ray high-definition upgrade. And I was not disappointed!!
Some back-story: Many wondered whether Star Trek: The Next Generation would ever see a blu-ray release, and if it did, what sort of a mess it would look like. Because while the show was shot on film (which of course contains the resolution necessary to look dynamite on blu-ray), Next Gen was edited on video and the special effects were created on video in standard-def. To up-convert that standard-definition footage would most likely look, well, probably pretty darn dismal. So CBS and Paramount have decided to take a radically unprecedented step.
A team lead by Michael and Denise Okuda (vidual effects geniuses who have been involved with Star Trek since all the way back to “Encounter at Farpoint,” the pilot episode of Next Gen) have gone back to the original film elements (which, thank heavens, have all been preserved and meticulously archived by Paramount) to re-edit all of the episodes from the ground up and re-composite every single one of the visual effects sequences (every outer-space shot, every transporter beam, every phaser, etc. etc. etc.) in high definition. The amount of work that will be needed to do that for each and every one of the 176 episodes of Next Gen is mind-boggling. (For more information on this process, click here for a great interview with Michael and Denise Okuda or here for a detailed blog entry by Michael Okuda.)
Trek fans know that The Original Series was already released on blu-ray a few years back. That was apparently a much easier job because the episodes were shot on film and edited on film, meaning that the completed, edited episodes could then be scanned at high-def for the blu-ray release. (That’s in contrast to Next Gen that was edited on VIDEO and so the actual episodes only existed in standard-def.) Before the blu-ray release, the Okudas were also involved in a project to upgrade the Original Series episodes with new, snazzy CGI effects. (These revamped episodes were shown in syndication for about a year, before the blu-ray release.)
For that project, the Okudas and their team had carte blanche to create entirely new visual effects. So whereas an episode from 1967 might have used the same stock shot of the U.S.S. Enterprise five times, for the revamped versions those shots would be replaced with five new, … [continued]
Yes, yes, I know my “Days of De Palma” series has been missing for several weeks. Rest assured, I’ve already seen and written about several more Brian De Palma films, and those reviews will be posted on the site for the next several Fridays in a row. But for now, as part of my “Catching up on 2011″ project, it’s time at last to circle back to my “Days of Terrence Malick” series to write about his 2011 film The Tree of Life.
The Tree of Life is about, well, that’s sort of hard to say. The bulk of the film chronicles the life of an American family living in Texas in the 1950s. Brad Pitt plays the stern father of three boys, and Jessica Chastain (having quite a break-out year after also starring in The Help) plays his wife, the sensitive, loving mother. We also get glimpses of one of those boys as an adult, played by Sean Penn. We also witness the creation of the world and an extensive sequence set in the time of the dinosaurs… as well as the apparent ultimate destruction of the Earth and a possible glimpse into the afterlife.
I feel like I might sound somewhat dismissive of the film in the way I wrote that plot summary, and that’s not really fair. The Tree of Life is a staggeringly beautiful film, and a staggeringly original one. I can’t think of any other film I’ve ever seen in my life that is at all similar to this film (except perhaps some of Mr. Malick’s prior films). Narrative and character development are apparently inconsequential to Mr. Malick. The entire film, start-to-finish, is a montage. Mr. Malick weaves imagery and sound together in the way of an artisan working an enormous loom. The film has a stream-of-consciousness feel to it, in the fashion of memories that slide together in one’s mind as one thought leads to another recollection leads to another, with no regard for chronological consistency or continuity. What a bizarre, wonderfully unique way to make a movie! When The Tree of Life delights it’s in realizing what a unique creation one is watching unfold, and allowing oneself to be swept along by the river of gorgeous imagery of life (and death).
But while The Tree of Life is beautiful and original and transporting, I also found it to be deathly dull and incredibly frustrating. I really had to force myself to keep watching during the last hour. I was enjoyably … [continued]