Monthly Archives: April, 2015

My 5 Predictions for THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

I’ve mentioned this on the podcast recently, but for those of you that don’t know I’ll be out of town for the rest of the week, partly due to my girlfriend and I attending the Ultimate Marvel Marathon. This event is composed of every single Phase 1 and 2 Marvel movie played in chronological order, starting with Iron Man and culminating with The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

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That’s right, folks, all the flicks. It will be a grueling 27 hour stretch of back-to-back films and we’re psyched for it. Of course, the ultimate excitement comes from seeing Age of Ultron, which has been building in momentum over the last month or so as the big premier weekend approaches. Considering all the news and rumors popping up around superhero movies these days it’s pretty difficult to keep anything about these films under wraps for very long. I, myself, have avoided all trailers and online featurettes from the film in an attempt to see it without any pre-conceptions.

All I have is my knowledge of the previous films and a smattering of facts about the Phase 3 films and where the MCU arc is headed. So, I figured I’d come up with 5 predictions before Thursday night and see how close I came to seeing any of them happen in the film. Here goes:

1. No major character, aside from Ultron, will die

Most of these actors and their characters are scheduled (re: contracted) to appear in more films, and considering Marvel has already announced a 2-part sequel to this film plus several stand-alone films and cross-over stories I would have to imagine the entire cast would return, though I would say all bets are off for The Avengers: Infinity War.

2. Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Tony Stark (Iron Man) will not see eye-to-eye.

This film will likely see the beginning of the government regulations that lead to Tony and Cap feuding, which serves as the plot to Cap’s next sequel, Captain America: Civil War. They bickered a bit in the first Avengers flick, mostly about Cap’s naivety concerning S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secrecy and Tony’s arrogance/selfishness, but it’s likely that the tables will turn and those ideologies will reverse as the two find an important government matter to disagree upon for their own reasons.

3. Black Widow will be involved in a love triangle.

The first Avengers film hinted at a back-story between Black Widow and Hawkeye and an emotional connection between the two. However, that seemed to be a distant memory a mere 2 movies later considering the presence of sexual and romantic tension in Captain America: The Winter Soldier between Agent Romanoff and Captain Rogers. It seems likely that, with the entire team assembled, there will be some mixed emotions and jealousy between the two men at some point, though I would put my money on Hawkeye being the jealous one.

4. Dr. Banner (Hulk) will go into hiding or be missing at the end.

This film has an Empire Strikes Back vibe going for it as we head towards the opening. It just seems like things are going to go wrong and some characters are going to turn away from the team in the end, unlike the first one. My guess would be Dr. Banner, who was the least inclined to join the team as a fighting member originally, so I think it would be suffice to say that if anything goes horribly wrong (and I’m sure something will) he may turn his back on the whole thing. Or…..he gets physically removed from the team in some way.

5. Ultron will not fulfill his goal of world domination….but he will do enough damage to change it significantly.

Again, things are going to go wrong, but what have we learned from these movies? They’re serials and the most important element isn’t necessarily the actual villain our heroes have to fight, but what kind of damage the villain does to them and the world on an ideological, psychological, and political level going forward. That is what pushes the universe forward. The villain has to die so it doesn’t become too stale, but there has to be an after-effect that sends a ripple through the rest of the cinematic universe and starts another chain of events. My guess is the government becomes more involved in superhero doings as a result of the creation and destruction of Ultron, and there is a fall-out from that.

So, those are my 5 predictions. We’ll see how they play out later in the week. Feel free to comment your own predictions at the bottom!

Podcast: 4/16/15 Episode #6 – Talking Early AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON Reactions, WONDER WOMAN, Plus Two Movie Reviews

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Note #1: This episode was recorded on Tuesday, April 14th so I’m behind on the Wonder Woman director carousel news. To update, Patty Jenkins has replaced Michelle MacLaren.

Not a whole lot of movie news took place in the last week so I had to pick and choose a couple things to talk about today. Regardless, I chat about the early screenings on Avengers: Age of Ultron and what we might be in-store for based on the reactions, followed by some Wonder Woman talk to wrap up the superhero news. Then I get into an article on IndieWire that dissects the economic trajectory of It Follows and other independent films in relation to theatrical and VOD service windows. That article can be found here. Finally, I wrap up with a couple reviews, including a lengthy one about Jean-Luc Godard’s 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (which I wrote about here), and a quick one about Disney’s Big Hero 6, and tacked onto the end is, of course, this week’s DVD releases and box-office chatter. Enjoy!

Note #2: I apologize about the low volume of the podcast, my mic volume was set a little lower than usual for some reason. This will be rectified next episode.

Awesome Post Alert! Talking about the French New Wave, Godard, and 2 OR 3 THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER (1967)

What is art? Form becoming style; but the style is the man; therefore art is the humanizing of forms.

This is a quote from Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 New Wave classic, 2 or 3 Things I Know About Hera fascinating critique and discussion about forms and language. I think it’s important to make a few notes about the French New Wave that might aid in a better understanding of what I’m writing.

In the 1950’s a group of French film enthusiasts and intellectuals gathered in Paris and started a revolution of cinema that spun the medium on it’s head and effectively started a unique, counterculture style in the world of film. The main parts of the group consisted of filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol and Jacques Rivette as well as critic and theorist Andre Bazin. The main goal of the films they made was to restore and push film to the status of intellectual property; to an art, by way of subversion.

Much like the quote above, the films of Godard and the others aimed to give humanity (style) to a decidedly dehumanized form: the form is the camera, actors, and dialogue, and the style is the way in which a filmmaker uniquely uses these elements. The French New Wave purported the notion of the “Auteur Theory”, which consists of the belief that the filmmaker’s (or author’s) vision and personal stamp are most important to the meaning of the film. The classical way of making films was lacking in personal style, because it was stuck in a formal rut rooted in structure and set parameters. That’s where these filmmakers came in. They want you to know who is making the film, they want you to know that you are watching a film, and they want you to know there’s both actor and character performing on the screen. The French New Wave openly invited viewers to participate and be active spectators.

2 or 3 Things I Know About Her is a perfect example of what the French New Wave was going for, so let’s dig in. First, the whispering narrator of the film is none other than Godard, himself. So, right off the bat he is making himself not only the author of the film in a cinematic sense, but he is also the author in the narrative sense. Concurrently, the film opens with an introduction to the lead character, Juliette, whom we meet with a straight-on camera laced with Godard’s voice-over. Next he cuts to the same woman on the other side of the balcony, same camera angle and narration, except now we are introduced to her using her real name, Marina Vlady; character and actress as one, but separate beings. Thus, we are shown the duality of the film right away, that being that this film will blend reality with fiction in a very upfront manner, a technique that strips away the veneer of cinematic illusion and leaves us fully aware of the film’s presence and that we, the audience, exist within that presence.

Actor and character presented as one, but separate.

Actor and character presented as one, but separate.

After this opening we are shown several scenes of noisy road construction being undertaken, jarringly followed by cuts to peaceful places in Paris, such as a calm river and quiet trees. These dialectical cuts serve a similar purpose as the opening, which is to make the viewer aware that they are watching a film. Cutting from the noisy construction to the quiet nature scenes makes the cuts more apparent to the viewer instead of seamlessly moving from one scene to another as in classical editing. In most films the viewer is not cognizant of the editing techniques being used in the film, which is the goal of any good editor. These filmmakers purposely wanted people to notice the edits and to be aware so that they can acknowledge the relationship between the images. So straight away the viewer is uncomfortable and unable to be immersed in the narrative, mainly because Godard restrains the narrative until after he’s set-up the viewer’s perception.

The structure of the film, itself, is like an open discussion and a back-and-forth between interview and classical narrative; the reality and fiction I mentioned earlier. The characters are often shown going about their mundane business, and at the same time they are answering questions being silently lobbed by someone off-camera, which is likely to be Godard. The questions are never heard but the answers reveal an existential nature to the discussion, as French New Wave films are wont to do. Specifically, the discussion of language, meaning and forms is brought up frequently, and I would dare to say it is the theme of the film, visually and narratively.

The conversations concerning language are often about meaning. The question is asked, how do we know a green sweater is green? How do we know it’s not really blue? We know it’s green because long ago we were told what green is. But what is the meaning of “green”? Only that we assigned a meaning to the word green, and assigned that to the specific color we call green. Towards the end of the film a character asks another what they did all day, to which the other character responds, “I worked at the garage”. The first character asks, “How do you know it’s a garage?” and proceeds to ask why it isn’t a pool, for instance. Because, again, we took the form of a garage and assigned a meaning to it, and then assigned a word. This is called semiotics, which is fully defined as “a general philosophical theory of signs and symbols that deals especially with their function in both artificially constructed and natural languages and comprises syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics“. Godard, here, is challenging the notions of language and the acceptance of it’s limited form.

During that same scene a man asks a woman to repeat a line of dialogue he is going to say. She responds with a “maybe”, essentially, depending on what he says. His line of dialogue is “My sex organs are between my thighs”. She refuses to say these words because they are stupid. The man responds that they are just words. So, again we have this discussion of symbols and language and assigned meanings. I feel this next quote from Godard’s narration is apropos:

Where is the beginning? But what beginning? God created heaven and earth. But one should be able to put it better. To say that the limits of language, of my language, are those of the world, of my world, and that in speaking, I limit the world, I end it. And when mysterious, logical death abolishes those limits, there will be no question, no answer, just vagueness.

The existential crisis is dripping from this statement. Language has limits, and yet that is the only way we can describe the world, therefore the world has limits. Humanity is limited by the nature of language.

I’m going to end this mini discussion of this film on that note. If you have an interest in intellectual films and are open to what they are capable of then I highly recommend this one. There are several more discussions to be extracted from the text of this film and I can’t wait to buy the Criterion disc and check them out.

Podcast: 4/7/2015 Episode #5 – Catching Up, Reviewing Two Movies, Recapping Some Flicks I’ve Watched, DVD’s, Plus a Whole Lot of Other Junk

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It’s been quite some time since my last episode of the podcast so I take some time to catch up on what I’ve been watching and also talk about Furious 7‘s box-office take, my plans to attend the Marvel marathon, review the James Brown biopic, Get on Up, as well as It Follows (which I wrote a review for here), and Inherent Vice (briefly). Then I go over the DVD releases for the past month, and, naturally, play some James Brown music. That’s right, this episode got slightly funky. Enjoy!

Review: IT FOLLOWS (2015)

I think when reviewing It Follows the consideration of genre has to be mentioned, if not be the focal point of the conversation. So, what I write here will be as much a discussion of critiquing genre (horror, in this case) as much as it will be an analysis of the film.

Now I rarely, if ever, mention the plot of the film in my reviews. It’s sloppy and boring to the reader and I try to avoid it at all costs. But in the case of It Follows it would be tough for me to make my points without giving you a broad overview of the plot. Also, there will be some SPOILERS. Again, I cannot make my points without divulging some of the happenings of the film.

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The plot of the film involves a sexual encounter between our protagonist, Jay (played quite well by Maika Monroe) and a random fellow who has a pretty nasty secret to tell her after they have sex (typical, isn’t it?). This moment kicks off the narrative. This fellow essentially abducts our girl and reveals her fate, that being a slow, wordless, plodding entity that walks towards her with the sole intention of killing her. It sounds kind of silly, I know. “So it just walks at her? Big deal.” Agreed, big deal…..on paper. In the early moments of the film we are shown a young woman who has a mysterious fear of something we, the audience, cannot see. What we are shown, however, is her grizzly fate, beautiful and horrific in its presentation. This gives us a framing mechanism with which to carry our fear for Jay through the film. We know what this thing is capable of. Jay spends the rest of the movie running, driving, walking, and hiding from this thing in various states of relaxation and panic.

Writer/director David Robert Mitchell is to be commended for his efforts in creating an actual genre experience. The vast wide shots he employs give us a sense of openness in a very claustrophobic world where danger is literally walking at you every second. The plot is simple, but the way the entity is framed and the synthesized music cues are spot on for creepiness. The use of music and slow-burn score give the audience a sense of impending dread, which hearkens back to the simple score John Carpenter used in Halloween. In fact, the visual style and overall look of the film are directly modeled after Carpenter’s slasher classic. It’s nearly impossible to watch this film and not get a 70’s vibe, which was truly the era of suburban paranoia and unsettling horror cinema. The feel of this film is just wonderful, and I was forced to grade it a bit higher just based on the visceral experience alone.

But, as they say, kids, all good things must come to an end. From here on I’m going to nitpick this film and explain why it could have been so great and yet fails to be. Spoilers and snark ahead.

Note: I’m aware of budgetary constraints and what they can do to a narrative (when actually these constraints have proven to open up creative windows unseen by big-budget films, but that’s a different argument), so take that into account when reading my thoughts.

First, some ground rules for our villain: 1) It walks, and very slowly at that, 2) It can appear to be any person, friend or stranger, 3) It can only be seen by the person it is following, 4) It is affected by the physical world (e.g. doors, windows and trees are physical barriers), 5) Once it kills the person it is after it goes after the previous person who sexually transmitted the curse to them, 6) There is no explanation of its origin or its abilities/weaknesses, 7) Physically harming the entity only causes a momentary pause and does not inflict any damage whatsoever.

So this film begs the question, what would you do in this scenario? First off, you get out of town, right? Not these kids. They choose to hang around, scared shitless of the situation. I, for one (along with any sensible person concerned with their own well-being), would have my head on a swivel.  The film demonstrates several scenarios where the audience can see the thing in the background, out of focus, walking toward Jay and she fails to see it til it’s right next to her. Now, I understand this is cinematic tension, but how am I supposed to give a rip about a character unless they display some level of intelligence? If the character isn’t making a valid attempt at self-preservation, then I don’t care if they die. That’s all there is to it. The film whiffs on what could have been a far more paranoia-driven narrative, but instead opts for lyricism. Again, this is Carpenter’s influence, where we see The Shape standing behind characters and staring blankly without their knowledge several times in Halloween, thus ratcheting up the tension. That film works so much better because the characters are unaware of the presence of a threat, meanwhile the characters in this film are well-aware that something is out to get them and they still choose to relax and not take any precautions. So, they just come off as stupid as opposed to innocently unaware and, therefore, more empathetic.

Eventually, Jay convinces her group of loyal friends that she’s not crazy and they decide to head out of town. Where do they go? To a beach-house less than a day’s drive away. Because, honestly, we don’t want to go tooooo far and give this thing too far to walk, it might be too exhausted to mangle her when it reaches her. Upon arriving at the beach-house the group decides to relax and get some sun.

Sigh.

So do you remember in the rules where I said that the entity can appear to be anyone, even a close friend in an attempt to fool you (a la Carpenter’s The Thing) and get close to you? Well, up until this point the thing has appeared as a naked woman, an old woman in a hospital gown, a half-naked cheerleader peeing herself, and a giant man. Not the best use of its abilities to shape-shift and fool the victim, wouldn’t you think? As the kids are sun-baking the entity emerges from the trees behind them and makes its way towards Jay. In this instance the thing has taken the appearance of one of her friends, who is off playing in the water. We are treated to yet another moment of our characters not displaying any attempt at survival since, once again, they decide not to check behind them for just about the duration of the film. This winds up being the first moment the entity comes in contact with Jay because she isn’t looking. Now, to stop and think about this for a second, the only time this thing gets near her is when it takes the form of her friend and for some reason the filmmakers chose NOT to give us a truly tense moment where the main character is fooled into thinking the thing is actually her friend. Nope, it goes unseen until it strikes and then they run and hide in a little boat-house no more than 50 feet from their beach chairs, which is apparently sensible when your only sensible and apparent escape is to get into the open world and leave this thing in your dust.

These are just a few moments that defy logic and drain the intelligence right from the film. I won’t get into the specifics of the ending, but it’s bothersome. At just about the one hour mark I leaned over to my girlfriend in the theater and whispered “There’s no way for the movie to end.” Unfortunately, the film takes a stab at a climax, but it’s all lip-service. I’m ok with characters doing fairly stupid things in horror films, it happens quite often. But when the audience has been made perfectly aware that there is no way to get away from this thing except to abide by the rules and pass it along, what is the point of attempting to have a physical stand-off with it? Honestly, the scene could have been cut and the movie could have ended with the knowledge that our characters are not safe and this will haunt them forever and it would have been perfectly fine. Instead, we have to sit through a non-scary, boring, pointless climactic scene where no positive outcome can occur. It’s a narrative stalemate.

So, my question is, considering all the positive reviews and the 95% score on Rotten Tomatoes, are we giving this film a pass because it’s a genre film? I mean, it’s different from every other horror movie we see in the theaters these days (non-remake, non-sequel, no hauntings/exorcisms/ghosts/dolls) but does that mean we have to praise this that much just for being something different? If I had to assign it a grade I’d say it’s somewhere in the C+/B- range, which is being fairly generous. I guess this begs the question, do critics and people hold genre films to a different standard? I’ve heard people say “It’s a good action movie” about whatever random flick, but the caveat is that the recommendation is based solely on its genre and not overall quality. If you’re trying to recommend an action movie to a friend, or vice/versa, this is a perfectly acceptable description. But for a working film critic to grade this film that high seems like a cop-out. The film simply poses too many questions and answers them far too illogically for it to be considered that great. In fact, I consider my grade to be a tad high, based solely on my enjoyment of the visceral feeling of the film.

This film has a creepy premise and a talented director at the helm, as well as a truly unsettling score, which is why it’s so frustrating to see it fall into narrative laziness. The concept of the film alone is enough to write a thousand essays on. If they would have expounded more on the subtext of the villain/curse and gave the characters a sense of intelligence and survival I feel like this could have been great. It works in a rudimentary/cinematic sense, but I’m afraid if you delve into anything beneath the surface you’ll find yourself asking too many questions and not hearing an intelligent response.

If anyone has seen the film feel free to comment and start a discussion. This film is worthy of that.