One Shot #3: Tron Legacy (2010)

I have previously mentioned my enduring love for Tron: Legacy, directed by visionary director Joseph Kosinskibut in case you are unaware, here’s a brief synopsis of my persistent adoration. At one point, I had a Tron wall in my room. I have 2 action figures on my shelf and a glow-in-the-dark Tron Funko Pop. I wrote one of the best academic papers of my life about this film – a 27 page essay entitled “Biodigital Jazz, Man.” I saw it three times in theaters, twice in 3D.

Why does this film resonate with me? To be honest, it’s not the narrative that appeals to me the most. It’s a perfectly serviceable film with great performances and a standard, yet engaging story – and a killer soundtrack. But the aspect I love the most is the visuals. Not only because they are stunning, but because they assist in telling the story and revealing character development and thematic elements MORE THAN ANY OTHER FILM I HAVE EVER SEEN. You can quote me on that.

And though I can pick many shots that come to mind when I think of this film, and I can, excuse my French – analyze THE SHIT out of this movie based on a wide variety of stills – this is the most telling shot for me:

trio

What’s the importance of this shot, you ask – besides the amazing color palette and costumes? It’s visually relaying one of the ideological messages of the film by placing the actors in triangular formation within a scene, almost as a representation of a ‘holy trinity.’ Though this is not the only representation of this in the film, this is the most overt, with Flynn – The Creator – at the center, in an almost godlike position. These images, combined with the fact that Flynn is referred to as “The Creator,” Sam (right) is called “Son of Flynn,” and Quorra (left) is referred to as “The miracle,” help to convey the religious undertones of the narrative in a visual manner. There are other religious and spiritual elements in this film, weaving seamlessly into themes of betrayal, creation, power, and purpose, and each of these three characters assist in the delivery of those messages, which makes placing them in this position all the more telling. It is also indicative of the shifting power structure within the narrative, but I don’t want to delve too deep with that because I’d hate to spill spoilers for a film that came out eight years ago.

And that’s all in one image, folks. This film absolutely nails the “show not tell” idea – a skill that the director carried over to Oblivion, a film I only watched because of him because I don’t like Tom Cruise. Seriously, if you haven’t watched this movie, I challenge you to do so – and see if you can pinpoint other important “trinities” visually represented in the film, because there are two more that I picked out.

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

 

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One Shot #2: Darkest Hour

Though I had an overall so-so opinion of Joe Wright’s 2017 Winston Churchill biopic, one aspect of the film stood out to me just as much as Gary Oldman’s spellbinding lead performance – and that’s Bruno Delbonnel’s brilliant cinematography.

And part of the reason is this one shot, right here:

dh

Even if you haven’t seen the film or know nothing about Winston Churchill’s tenure as the British Prime Minister during the chaos of WWII, this image tells the story. The entire sequence is evocative – as many sequences throughout the film are, thanks to effective lighting techniques and superb directing – but this one shot perfectly encapsulates the way Churchill is portrayed this movie. He is a man alone, and restricted, facing a terrifying, unknown darkness. But there is a single light – he can’t clearly see the path, but continues to forge ahead.

In the film, Churchill faces an endless onslaught of doubt and opposition – much of it justified, due to his somewhat checkered track record – as he leads the nation against the ever increasing threat of the Axis powers. And though it’s a position of prominence, he is still effectively in a cage. Bound by law, bound by those who fear him and those who loathe him, bound by indecision, bound by the threat of being deposed. He grapples with what to do in the face of the Dunkirk evacuation, and how to handle a nation – and a world – at war. Asserting you cannot reason with a tiger while your head is in its mouth.

This is what that still means – this is a man with his head in a tiger’s mouth. Alone, restricted, and facing the unknown.

Any suggestions for more films/shots, message me!

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

One Shot #1: The Searchers

Movies are, on a base level, a collection of scenes woven together by a narrative. Like a sweater, comprised of many stitches. Or a sandwich, composed of many layers. And when you break it down even more, and strip more elements away, a film can be reduced solely to images – and some images can remain burned into the eye of the viewer forever.

Take this image, from the final scene of the acclaimed 1956 western The Searchers.

the searchers.PNG

As I’ve admitted before, I’m not a big fan of westerns, and I’m even less a fan of John Wayne movies – but The Searchers is one of the few exceptions. As in, it’s on my all-time “greats” list, thanks to being forced to watch it in film class. And a huge portion of my admiration for this film is rooted in this one image.

The film features more than one threshold/doorway shot, though the final one is the most poignant. By showing several scenes framed in a doorway or through some kind of entrance, the film is allowing the viewer an inside look to see something that might not normally be seen – something that is behind closed doors, or cut off from the world. It is also showing a separation of the “inside world” and the “outside world” and the distinctions between the two.

That makes Ethan’s final scene significant – he is framed in the doorway, but does not go in. He is a creature of the “outside world” and does not belong in the “inside,” which is why he is not shown entering the house after the conflict is over, and ultimately walks away. If The Searchers was a stereotypical western, he probably would have entered the house and they would have had a big ol’ family dinner, and Ethan’s position as a “savior” would be solidified. But Ethan is wild and unpredictable like the rambling western landscape, a restless wanderer, and by going inside, he would be chained down – and he does not belong in a place like that. The “open door” also illustrates the moral ambiguity of the film overall, as Ethan’s reluctance to settle, and his inability to join that “inside” world, is an example of his conflicted “hero” status.

This final shot is the spine of the film – at least for me. A beleaguered man walking away from door, rejecting a fresh start, left to reflect on what he has done. A “hero” who does not get a celebration, because perhaps his deeds are just as bad as the “villain’s.” And that’s how this single image is so powerful – I still reference it whenever I spy a good threshold shot in a movie.

Any other shots from different films come to mind? One that can define the entire film as a whole? Let me know!

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

 

The Weight of the Name

In the world of cinema, folks see a certain name tacked onto a film poster, or a particular face in a trailer, and, regardless of anything else, think, “Oh, so-and-so is in this!” and immediately decide to see it. I’ve got a few of those myself – actors and actresses whose body of work is so impressive to me and I trust their acting ability enough to see a film solely because they are attached to it. That’s not to say that I see every single movie they are in, but usually, certain names are enough to lure me in to the theater above all else, and they are –

1.) Christian Bale
This is coming from someone who saw Terminator: Salvation in theaters simply because Bale was in it. After his turn as Batman/Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, Christian Bale quickly became my favorite actor, and a name that will instantly grab my attention even if the content of a film doesn’t immediately appeal to me. It doesn’t hurt that he’s no slouch at his craft, either, and seems to put the same amount of effort into every role, no matter how small – I mainly saw Hostiles earlier this year because he was in it, since I’m not big on Westerns, and was blown away by his performance and the film overall.

2.) Jessica Chastain
After watching her mesmerizing and powerful performance in Zero Dark Thirty, Chastain became a trusted name in my book. She has the ability to carry a film on her shoulders and disappear completely into a role, which makes her acting all the more appealing. Her recent appearances in The Zookeeper’s Wife and Molly’s Game are proof of that.

3.) Dev Patel
Back in 2010, Dev Patel was the sole reason I went to see The Last Airbender, especially after the (well-deserved) audience backlash. Sadly, he couldn’t save that film, but ever since his brilliant breakthrough performance in Slumdog Millionaire, I’m easily lured in by a film bearing his name. I mainly went to see Lion last year because he was in it, and it’s a good thing, too – it was one of my favorites from the Oscar race that year.

4.) Emily Blunt
From the very moment I saw her in The Devil Wears Prada, I was a fan of Blunt’s work – and I’ve never been disappointed as a fan by any role she’s done. She’s another actress who can easily make a role her own and seems to put in significant effort to do so, whether the role is supporting or main. I can say, with almost 100% certainty, that Blunt is the driving force behind me being willing to see the upcoming Mary Poppins movie, because I’m not even a fan of the first one. And yes, I know that’s blasphemous.

5.) Domhnall Gleeson
If I see his face in a trailer, I immediately and gleefully say – either to myself or to whoever I’m with – “Oh, Domhnall Gleeson!” and typically resolve to see the film. It doesn’t hurt that he’s my celebrity crush, too, but back in 2015/2016, there was a string of four movies I went to see that he was in – Star Wars: TFA twice, Brooklyn, and The Revenant – and I was impressed by each performance, and have been impressed by all of his performances since. I am super stoked whenever I see his name attached to a project because I know he’ll give a nuanced and enthralling performance. I even went to see Peter Rabbit, folks – and I’m 26 years old.

6.) Meryl Streep
Um, hello? SHE’S MERYL STREEP. Enough said.

7.) Tom Hanks
Um, hello? HE’S TOM HANKS. Enough said.

8.) Saorise Ronan
From Atonement to Lady Bird, Saorise Ronan always delivers a memorable performance. I mean, look at all the award nominations she’s had, and at so young an age – that speaks for itself. I even went to see The Host solely because she was in it.

9.) Chris Pine
Of all the famous Chrises, Evans is actually my favorite – but Pine is more likely to get my butt in a reclining theater seat. He’s got stellar range, from Steve Trevor, to Captain Kirk, to Cinderella’s Prince, to Nicholas Devereaux, he’s never let me down! My favorite all time Chris Pine scene is when he has to take a comically large bicycle to chase down Anne Hathaway in the Princess Diaries 2. No, I’m not kidding.

10.) Octavia Spencer
Ever since I saw her prolific performance in The Help, Spencer’s name has been enough to intrigue me when I hear she’s attached to a project. That “Eat. My. Shit.” line shall be forever emblazoned in my memory, and I’m happy with that. And she’s hilarious – if anything, her performances never disappoint me, even if other parts of a film do.

11.) Christoph Waltz
He is the main, if not only, reason I went to see Spectre, the latest James Bond film – quite a feat, considering I don’t like James Bond films. And I didn’t like his performance in that film, but I’ll still see any film that he’s attached to, even if the subject matter doesn’t necessarily appeal to me. Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained were what drew me in, and if I end up seeing Alita: Battle Angel, it will ONLY be because of him, because that trailer was a steaming pile of NOPE.

12.) Amy Adams
She was equally as convincing and memorable as Giselle in Enchanted and as Louise in arrival, though they were drastically different roles. She is a true chameleon, from serious to comical roles, and makes it seem so effortless. I’ve never, not once, been disappointed by her, and can’t wait for her upcoming limited series on HBO.

 

Honorable Mentions: Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellan, Helen Mirren, Peter Dinklage, Frances McDormand, Henry Cavill, Cate Blanchett, Timothee Chalamet, Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Sally Field, Maggie Smith, Dan Stevens, Armie Hammer, Jason Momoa, Lily James, Anne Hathaway, Harvey Keitel, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Zhang Ziyi, Wes Studi, Ken Watanabe, Marian Cotillard, Tom Hardy.

Film Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Dir: Ron Howard
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Thandie Newton, Donald Glover, Joonas Suotamo, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Paul Bettany.
Runtime: 2hr 15min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Light, some hints here and there.

After facing a (rumored) fraught production, during which the original directors were fired due to “creative differences” and replaced with Ron Howard in the eleventh hour, which led to significant portions of the film being re-shot, expectations for Solo seemed to be teetering between “bad” and “disastrous.” My own hopes for the film were decidedly low as negative rumors swirled in the lead up to release, but after seeing it, I can safely say that I should not have had such a bad feeling about it.

Solo_A_Star_Wars_Story_posterSolo follows the young titular character (Ehrenreich) as he breaks free from his life on the streets and pursues his ambitions to become the best pilot in the galaxy – though, along the way, he gets sidetracked by a heist or two and learns a few important lessons about who to trust, the price of loyalty, and the weight of betrayal.

This romp of a film capably blends nuances from various genres – space opera, noir, western, thriller – and the result is a well-crafted, if somewhat overlong jaunt through space that chronicles young Han Solo’s life and achievements prior to Episode IV: A New Hope. Though Solo features such iconic moments and fanboy fodder as Han’s first encounter and blossoming partnership with Chewie, his infamous Kessel Run (in under 12 parsecs) and and his acquisition of the Millennium Falcon, it (surprisingly) does not over-rely on nostalgia and fan service to tell its story and weave an original, if occasionally predictable narrative. Overall, Solo is a worthy addition to the Star Wars Anthology series and an enjoyable space adventure that offers thrills and a compelling look into the backstory of the galaxy’s favorite stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder.

Asking Alden Ehrenreich to live up to the legacy of Harrison Ford in the role of Han is like asking a guppy to fill the fins of Jaws, or a tennis ball to pack the same emotional wallop as Wilson the volleyball – it’s an impossible task. BUT, that is hardly Ehrenriech’s fault, and he delivers enough charm and charisma to convince the audience to root for him and have faith in his burgeoning career and confidence as an outlaw, and his developing camaraderie with Chewbacca (Suotamo) is an emotional high point of the film. Ehrenreich certainly has the infamous smirk and the stance down pat, and seeing Han and Chewie sit in the Falcon together for the first time with the iconic theme playing is almost worth the price of admission alone.

As far as the rest of the supporting cast goes, Woody Harrelson as the outlaw Beckett is… well, Woody Harrelson. In the best way, of course. Thandie Newton is great as Val, despite limited screen time. Our new Chewbacca, Joonas Suotamo, warbles and fights and interacts with Han in a way that would make Peter Mayhew proud. Glover – predictably – offers a convincing impression as the debonair Lando Calrission and plays off Ehrenreich exceptionally well. Bettany is somewhat underused as the villainous Dryden, though what we do get from him is enough to prove how sinister and vicious his reputation as the Crimson Dawn ringleader implies. Clarke is lovely as the enigmatic Qi’ra, Han’s old friend from his time on the streets in Corellia, and it will be a shame if we don’t see more of her in future installments. Plus, that “little” cameo at the end – which made my jaw drop – has made me excited to see what the next anthology installment has in store. But perhaps the most compelling new addition to the growing Star Wars cast list is the mysterious Enfys Nest – I sincerely hope we see that character again, because Enfys has the potential to become f*cking AWESOME.

However enjoyable this film is, and how it may well have crawled back from the jaws of potential ruin after the crisis of losing two directors, it is far from perfect. One major drawback is the lack of humor – there are jokes scattered here and there, and a few of them might earn some genuine chuckles, but a significant portion of them fail to land as intended. It didn’t need to be a comedy film, but Han’s one-liners could have been stronger and the humor we did get was lackluster. The character of L3, for me, was also a massive miss and I disliked most of her scenes. The whole “equal rights for droids” schtick is a worthwhile thread to follow, but in this film, it comes off as a silly parody instead of a sincere focus on what could translate to a relatable and genuine issue. Much of the cinematography is dark and muddled, which, during some action scenes, makes it difficult to peg who is who, though – in true Star Wars fashion – the creature effects are stellar.

It is unfortunate that Solo comes on the tail of The Last Jedi, which is perhaps the most polarizing Star Wars film of them all. Fans who disliked Episode VIII might feel less inclined to indulge in the latest space adventure from Disney’s rejuvenated Star Wars franchise, and I was stunned that the theater I went to had only about six other folks in it on the second Saturday of release. Even if you dislike the new main trilogy, I’d say it’s worth taking a chance on Solo, if only to go off on a new adventure without the burdensome weight of the often frustrating mythos to bog it down. Perhaps, if it can fill more seats in the coming weeks, Solo can give some jaded fans new hope in the franchise.

Overall Rating: 8/10

Not Mad, Just Disappointed

I think every film fan has a title or two that they were eagerly anticipating, but wound up being disappointed by. So here’s a list of films that didn’t necessarily make me mad, though the reality did fall short of my expectations. Not saying these are bad films, per se – they just weren’t to my taste for the reasons listed below.

1.) Justice League (2017)
Whooo boy, starting out with a major one. I have been rooting for the DCEU to take off since Man of Steel (which I actually liked quite a lot) and, considering Batman is my all-time favorite hero, I always go into DC films with high hopes. Unfortunately, this team-up adventure fell massively short of expectations, was a pacing nightmare, had the worst CGI mouth in film history, and though there are some hopeful glimmers – the cast, and I’m a fan of the fight scenes – Justice League was far more of a mess than a triumph, and I came out of the film wondering and longing for what could have been had this film not faced such a troubled production. If those bright fragments of the DCEU can all come together and be expanded on with improved writing and a centered focus, then I have confidence that the franchise can get on the right path, but Justice League didn’t help much in getting DC back on track. Thankfully, Patty Jenkins will be at the helm for Wonder Woman 2...

2.) Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters (2010 and 2013)
I’m listing both of these, though my quibbles are predominantly with the second. I am generally lenient with book-to-movie adaptations, but some efforts are worthy of reproach, and the attempt to adapt the popular YA book series following a young demigod boy and his friends as they embark on a series of mythical adventures had little to no payoff for fans. The first film already eschewed several important factors, such as casting older teenagers instead of preteens and stripping away some vital characterization presented in the novels, but the second took that stance and made the film nearly unrecognizable from the source material, so much so that I doubt the folks who made the film even read the book. As a big fan of Rick Riordan’s book series, I was sincerely disappointed that the transition to screen was not so much seamless as it was a bumpy, uneven ride, and I hope we might get a miniseries of the books someday instead. At this point, I can rewatch the first one with minimal cringe, but the second is a no-go.

3.) Iron Man 2 (2010)
This is one of only two Marvel movies I have only seen once, along with Thor: The Dark World… however, I am also one of few Marvel fans who consider the Iron Man films as a whole to be the weakest of the original crop, but that is mainly due to 2 and 3. With an underwhelming villain and plot, even the bright spots of Iron Man 2 (Downey, the introduction of Black Widow) did little to fend off a creeping sense of disappointment while I was watching it. RDJ makes a compelling and convincing Tony Stark, but in this case, it just wasn’t enough, and didn’t live up to the legacy the first film has garnered.

4.) Spectre (2015)
I’ll preface this explanation by saying that I do not like James Bond films, and the short of it is that I don’t like the character and certain behaviors that these films and his character perpetuates. THAT SAID, I know there is a lot of merit to be found in the material, spy stuff is fun, and I don’t dislike any of the actors or whatnot, yet I usually don’t see these movies because I am predisposed to a negative opinion. I gave the Craig movies a shot, but after disliking Casino Royale and Skyfall and skipping Quantum of Solace entirely, I went into Spectre with higher hopes, considering Christoph Waltz was cast as the villain, and I’ve never been disappointed by one of his performances. Well, now I have. But his performance wasn’t the only disappointment – the plot dragged and much of the film came across as underwhelming, so it’s safe to say I won’t be seeing any future Bond films, unless the right name is cast in the 007 role. I will say, though, that the opening sequence is extremely impressive and an amazing visual accomplishment.

5.) Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (2001)
I mean… do I need to explain this one?
Jar Jar Binks. Enough said.
Seriously… this film was a huge let down for me, and for many Star Wars fans throughout the galaxy. Of the litany of reasons I was disappointed by this film, I think the main factor was the criminal under-utilization of Darth Maul. Never has such a badass villain been so unfairly treated by limited screen time. But while I was merely disappointed by this film, many other fans were enraged by it, so I guess my reaction could have been a lot worse. I also just don’t watch the film anymore and avoid it at all costs, so my disappointment has not has much time to progress to hatred or a more extreme level of anger.

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

The Spark

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but I generally attribute my love and appreciation for film to my decision to minor in film during my college years, since I got to experience a broad spectrum of different genres and styles from a multitude of different directors and eras.

Prior to that, I didn’t go to the movies all that much – at least, not as often as I would have liked. Now, I try to go once a week or every couple of weeks, and sometimes I go three times in one week, it all depends on what’s showing at the two theaters in my tiny backwoods town. I also get my friends saying things like, “Please tell me you didn’t go to see Pete’s Dragon by yourself,” like it’s a bad thing to take in a 10AM Saturday show solo to enjoy a nice Disney flick with some gummy bears.

But there is one film that I consider to be my “aha!” moment – the one that opened my eyes to how beautiful, compelling, and powerful cinema can be. And that film is Chris Nolan’s 2008 genre-breaking superhero flick, The Dark Knight.

MV5BMTMxNTMwODM0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODAyMTk2Mw@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_This was before the days of assigned (and reclining) movie theater seating, so my parents and my best friend and I showed up an hour early in order to ensure we got the best seats in the house. As a massive Batman fan, I was psyched to see the Caped Crusader take on the newest iteration of his arch-nemesis, the menacing Joker. As the film unfurled onscreen, I was totally blown away. The music, Heath Ledger’s unforgettable performance, and the more grounded version of Gotham and Batman that Nolan crafted quickly became one of my all-time favorites, and I left the theater already yearning to see it again… which I did. Twice more, including a one hour trip to see it in IMAX with my dad. To this day, I have a huge movie poster of the Joker hanging over my bed; the first film poster I ever bought for myself. Now, many others have joined the ranks. I will still see any film that Christian Bale is in, regardless of ratings, will always spy a bit of Commissioner Gordon in any Gary Oldman performance, and will forever contend that The Dark Knight was robbed of a Best Picture nom at the Oscars.

As such, I consider The Dark Knight to be “the spark” that ignited my adoration of the cinema, the first film that made me think about how movies work and how all the parts come together to make one solid, functional piece of art capable of wowing and moving audiences. It opened the door to a whole new world, for me – and it didn’t even require a death-defying magic carpet ride to get there. Sure, I loved other movies before that, but The Dark Knight is special for me, and it always will be. Now, I’m one of those obnoxious people who love to talk about mise-en-scene and cinema verite and the male gaze and all that jazz, and I have a comic book movie to thank for that.

If any one else reading this has had a similar experience, what was your “spark?”