Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Defiance disappoints

Defiance. Remember when I was talking about this show and how it might be the show to fill the gap left by Fringe? Remember? Remember how I said that it might have potential? Remember how I said it might be good? Well, I was wrong. Don't believe me? Watch the trailer.

I was so, so, so wrong.

Watching the trailer now, I'm not sure why I thought it would be any good at all. I guess sometimes the desire for some half-way decent Geek TV, the hope for something new and good, something that could maybe even be engrossing and amazing, can overwhelm the more critical aspects of the Nerd-brain. Although, to be fair, the show does have a good enough pedigree to make a little bit of hope not entirely unreasonable. Rockne S. O'Bannon was behind Alien Nation and Farscape, a pair of shows deeply sunk into the Geek, well-known for their imaginative alien world-building and characterizations and for often pushing into new and interesting territories and topics. They were both often surprisingly good, despite their somewhat silly exterior. So the combination of his name, and the history of those two shows in particular, coupled with the hints I gleaned from the trailer above, gave me some hope.

But like I said, turns out it was a false one.

Not that it wasn't a valiant attempt, the show is better than Walking Dead on average. Faint praise, I know, but despite just generally not being very good--and sometimes even eye-rollingly stupid--there are some laudable bits, sometimes even enough to make the show a frustrating viewing experience.

Here's some things that are good:

The intent: In a nutshell, the show is basically shooting for a Casablanca meets Deadwood type of thing, but with Aliens. It concerns a lone frontier town surrounded by wastelands and wild woods, with broken spaceships burning across the sky. Now to me, that's all you need. I think that's an awesome starting point, I'm interested. And if that simple and easily proliferate originality had carried over to the individual episodes, we'd have had ourselves a home run.

But it didn't.

The back story: The idea behind the show is pretty great too. It is both complex and involved, but very simple, which is what makes it so great. An alien armada appears in the skies over Earth one day. They are called the Votan, a mixture of races who have traveled across the infinite vastness of space in search of a new home after their own galaxy was destroyed by a Stellar Collision. They don't plan on taking over the planet or destroying humanity or anything like that, they just want a place to stay and they're hoping to share our space. They're like Cosmic couch-surfers. But us being typically us, we're like: "Uh, yeah, no, we don't really have any space... sorry. Plus, the planet's so dirty and we haven't had any chance to clean for awhile, so..." We don't say No, but we don't say Yes either. It's like Interstellar Minnesota Nice. 

For ten years, we negotiate. 

We allow them a few colonies here and there, but not with anywhere near the amount of space they need and as a result, most of the Votans are left in hypersleep on their ships while we hem and haw and drag our feet. Tensions rise on both sides, nerves fray and eventually a human shoots a Votan Ambassador on the steps of the UN and, well... shit gets real. For the next 10 years, we fight like crazy. The Pale Wars. It's straight-up apocalyptic, yo. During the war, the Votan ships are destroyed in orbit and their Terraforming Engines crash to Earth and go absolutely bugshit haywire. The planet is battered with strange new energies, radically altered by a sudden influx of invasive alien flora and fauna, and when the dust settles, it's a whole new world (don't you dare close your eyes). At that point, both human and Votan alike look up from the rubble, exhausted and nearly wiped out by the fighting, realize they're all stuck with each other, and broker an uneasy truce. The town of Defiance was founded during this time. It used to be called St. Louis. It stands alone, independent from the remaining governments of the world and home to all races. It is the best of us and the worst of us. Like I said: Casablanca meets Deadwood, but with aliens. Interesting, right? It could be cool, right?

Too bad they didn't do anything with it...

Datek and Raff: Datak Tarr is a Castithan crime boss played by Tony Curran. You probably recognize him. He usually plays the Scottish Guy in a ton of different things. Rafe McCawley is the richest and most powerful human in Defiance. He owns the Gulanite Mine, a valuable substance in the show used for I-don't-know-what but looks like Pop-Rocks. He's played by Graham Greene. You should definitely recognize him, as he usually plays the Native American Guy in pretty much every production that has the role available. The two of them play a pair of men who stand on opposite ends of Defiance. Vicious rivals locked in a struggle for power, constantly circling, waiting for the other to show weakness so they can strike. Two men bound together because their children are in love. And they're great. They're usually pretty good in whatever they show up in, but in this they're real bright spots. The effort they put behind the myriad of cornball cheese the various scripts demand, coupled with the... ahem... "limitations" of the rest of the cast, really elevates their performances. Plus, like seemingly all modern sci-fi/fantasy these days, Defiance is really into creating whole, usable alien languages. It's all still complete gibberish, but at least you could have an actual conversation with the stuff, if you had too. Well, according to the show, Tony Curran was one of the few people who actually learned his character's native tongue, instead of just imitating the script, and the result is obvious in his performance. I respect that level of dedication.

Ugh... so dumb...

And finally: Hands down, without a doubt, the best thing about the show is that the first season is finally done. I hope it doesn't come back.

Things that are bad (Or... I hope you've got some free time, cause this is gonna take awhile):

Quit looking at me! God, you are The Worst...

Irissa: Irissa is officially "the Worst" of the show. Absolutely the Worst. She is the adopted daughter of Nolan, the hero of the show. He's human, she is Irathian. The Irathians are one of the Votan races and they kind of look like a cross between Rocky Dennis and Elton John on the muppet show.


Anyway, the Irathians are supposed to be kind of like Bikers meets Spiritual Savages type of characters, quick to anger, dog-like, which means Irisa is the Loose Cannon character--Wolverine basically--but since the writing fluctuates so wildly between meh to not very good to amazingly dumb, she mostly just comes off as completely insane. She's the character who is constantly pulling a knife on people, and for nothing too. This ridiculous hair-trigger temperament, coupled with the fact that she is usually just generally unpleasant when interacting with others (who are all ridiculously patient with her, probably because she's constantly armed), also makes her official Plot Wrecker. Which basically means, whenever there's a plan or something that needs to be done, Irisa is the character who flips outs and attacks someone or runs off or throws a screaming fit and ends up ruining everything. Always. Or she pulls a knife. The writers seem to see this type of thing as the way drama naturally progresses. I don't know why. And yet, despite her blatant insanity, she's a town Deputy, as far as I can tell, it's only because she's Nolan's daughter, who is the Sheriff. It's ridiculous and no one seems to notice. To be fair, though, her knife wielding psychotic fits are maybe the only consistent thing about her character, so there's that. Now, some people might counter with "she's an alien, she's supposed to be odd and/or different, or... y'know... alien." That's crap.

No matter where you're from, if you're constantly pulling a knife on people, no one is going to want to hang out with you. 

Even worse, not only is she written as 10 pounds of nuts in a 5 pound bag, but she's also the Starbuck of the show. She's an expert in everything! For instance, she's supposed to be the character who doesn't belong in either world: an Irathian raised by a human, but neither human nor Irathian, understand? But then any time there's an episode with other Irathians in it, she is suddenly this super-knowledgeable leader among them, speaking the language, knowing the legends, and just striding to the front of the group and leading religious ceremonies, like she's been doing it for years. And then the next episode, she flips out about how she doesn't belong anywhere. It's insane. Also, I almost forgot... Irisa has visions, because why not, which then dives head-long into a completely out-of-nowhere "The One" plot line an episode later, which is really the perfect capper to a bucket already filled to the brim with The Worst. She just overflows with Terrible. Go big or go home, right? Oh, and of course, maybe most annoyingly of all, every shirt she owns is a midriff top.

Every single one.

Plus, the actress who plays her--when her face isn't completely made of stone, she has Matthew Lilliard-mouth, which is gross.

And then there's Kenya...

Kenya: Okay, I lied. Kenya is The Worst. Okay, maybe not the Worst, but she's pretty awful. She is nigh-unwatchable-awful, both in performance and in characterization, and she's in every damn episode despite the fact her character adds zero value. Kenya runs what is called the Need-Want in the town of Defiance, a kind of 7-11/Applebees/whorehouse. Now, right off you'd probably expect her character to be the Al Swearengen of Defiance, a vicious opportunist, pimp, thief, and crooked Black Marketeer who protects the town tooth and nail while simultaneously cornering the market on any business they can... but no, instead she just goes around being very terrible at being sexy and alluring, and nothing else. It's awful. Now, some might counter with: "She can't fill the Swearengen role, that's what Datak Tarr does." Exactly... Exactly. I mean, I'll agree she's maybe she's not The Worst, and that I don't want them to kill her off like I do Irisa, she's definitely not the Lori of the show by any stretch, but what she really is, is the most completely useless.

I assume Nolan is pooping in this picture, lord knows the script probably is...

Nolan: Nolan is the star of the show, which is surprising due to his general lack of charisma or character depth. He starts the show off as what is called an "Ark Hunter" which is someone who loots all the crashed Votan ships and sells the scavenge. He's supposed to be an ex-hero of the Pale Wars who lives out on the fringes hunting his fortune with his adopted nutbag of a daughter Irisa The Worst. They're constantly on the move and they live by their own rules. That's how he and Irisa show up in the town of Defiance in the very first episode. Ten minutes later, he's the Sheriff. Five minutes after that, he's total inner-circle, like he's been there for twenty years. So why make him an outsider in the first place? Why not just start him off in he middle of it all, walk us through the world the same way a show like Game of Thrones does, or Boardwalk Empire does, or the Wire does? Why not? Why not let us pick it all up in context, show us, don't tell us. Be smart instead of cheating with a worn-out New Guy's First Day trope that you can't even fully commit to. It's just so lazy and boring. And Nolan himself, the character is a blank slate, uninteresting, unengaging, a cheap suit made of cliches. He's supposed to be a grizzled rogue, but with a heart, a worn-out old badass who has seen some shit in his day. He's supposed to be jaded, but he just can't pull it off, his gruff and bluster is more of a windy fart and his grit, it's just a sugar coating. And honestly, is it just me or does he wear his pistol really low on his thigh, like too low to reach quickly?

The main seven races... Wait... Is that a ball of light in the lower right hand corner? What the fuck is that thing?

The eight race: The Volge. Guess what... They're mean... I know, I was shocked too.

The Votan Races: Simply put, there's too many with no real reason to be there. I applaud the attempts of trying to be distinct and varied, but the two pictures above basically illustrate how things are. The show pretty much focuses on the Humans, the Castathans (who are basically the "new money" characters in the show with humanity as the "old money"), or the Irathians (when they want to get all spiritual and savage and shit and bounce around all archy and feline-like, as if the last road-crew of Cats were hired as a whole set piece. Me-YEOW...). The Doctor in Defiance is an Indogene, so she has a pretty major part, but that mostly focuses on her dark past and not anything that necessitates her being a separate race. And there's a couple of bartenders and house cleaners that are Liberata, but not many and not often, and I think one of them is dead now... Sometimes they have a line or two. As for the Sensoth, as I was getting ready for the show and watching the Behind-the-Scenes stuff, someone in one of the videos called them the "Chewbacca" of the show, which I guess means they're tall and hairy, because that's all you get from their few background appearances. I don't think I've heard one say a single word. And the Volge? They're the roaring monster. They've only shown up twice. They're maybe the least sketched-out of all the barely sketched-out extra races. Except for maybe that ball of light thing... What the fuck is that? But maybe that thing doesn't count yet, since it wasn't even in the show. Ever. Why is it pictured, if it hasn't even shown up yet? I guess it doesn't matter, because in the end they basically have two races they use a lot, but only really as funny-looking humans, and a handful of others just to clutter up the background with. Who are these aliens? Where did they come from? Do they miss their home? I could actually be interested in their cultures, their marriage ceremonies, I mean, I want to hear about them and whatever Mediterranean or Eastern European pastiche-planet they come from.

I kid... (Not really)

This cast picture is missing like... 37 people.

There's too many characters, but not enough character: Not only are there too many races, there are too many characters, most of whom we don't know anything about and generally do nothing. The only upside is that the writers seemed to have realized this and have written several of them off the show. I mean, I understand, it's a town, it's going to have a large ensemble cast, but make them matter to the story before introducing them and then take the time to make them real characters somehow. Give them something to strive for, to want, or a quirk maybe, anything. The street market set the main characters lumber up and down over and over again every episode? We should "know" the vendors, make them recognizable. Think Chief O'Brian. The butcher stall was seen several times. Who owns it? And forget about the background characters, let's talk about the minor ones. What did the Romeo and Juliet story line get us? What did the ex-mayor story line get us? What about Rafe's runaway son? Or the dead son? Or the junkie barmaid? What did they add to the show? What did we learn about them? What's their arc? Where's their closure? What impact did they have on the story?

What if there are more than two people per Jeep?

The inconsistencies of life: The small details of this world make no sense. See that pic above? Those are Rollers. They're the common vehicle in the world of Defiance. Why? There are a few cars and some regular trucks, but mostly you get the feeling watching the show that everyone now drives a variation of these jeep-like things? Why? I'm sure some numbnut out there will say: "Because of the harsh environment. Besides, the Pale Wars and the accidental Terraforming ruined all the factories." Oh really, then who made the Rollers, and where are they making them, if they're no factories? Who is making the tires? There must be factories, and if so, why not make Hummers? Why go backwards design-wise? In Defiance, the populous lives in stacked Cargo Crates, old Ruins and Shanties for the most part. Why? Someone is out there manufacturing umbrellas, because everyone carries brand new ones in the show. Why would someone make umbrellas but not housing materials? And most egregious of all, scroll up and look at the cast photo again, why would anyone wear a brown jacket with one blue sleeve? It's FUTUREY!!! (Jazz hands)

Here to save you from the Matrix...

The Chosen One: Ugh. Seriously. What a piece of shit, over-used trope.

This is maybe the worst part of the entire show (well, there might be one more thing that's worse). At this point, is there any story line worse than The One? It is so boring and lazy. And worst of all? It's completely unnecessary for this show. I mean, how hacky are you if you can't squeeze a few hours of drama out of Casablanca meets Deadwood, with aliens? Instead, you take the most annoying character on the show (Irisa) and you stick what looks like a gold doorknob and silver doorknob inside her, which is supposed to be some dumb prophecy/ultimate weapon thing... something about a Votan ship that crashed a long time ago on Earth. I don't know. It's useless deus ex machina garbage of the worst variety, mainly because all they're doing is introducing magic into a sci-fi setting. Okay, fine, it's not exactly "magic", it's that more recently popular cheat of the "super-tech that only appears magical because it's so advanced" variety. Sure. Fine. It's still a hacky cheat, because the only reason it's there is to pole vault poorly thought out stories from the tight corners they might get stuck in due to the awful writing. Shit like that basically ruins the show forever. Even if the best writer were to come in and try to salvage the show, hacky magical cheats are a stain so terrible, it never goes away. You can't unwrite shit like that. No matter how they might wrap it up or sideline it somehow, it will always be there, an opened door of crappy possibility, one that can't ever be closed, and whose simple existence undermines all potential drama. Basically, once Superman spins the world backwards and reverses time, why doesn't he just do that shit all the time?


The Video Game: Okay, this is the worst thing about the show and this time I mean it. You see, there's this multi-user on-line video game, kind of like World of Warcraft, that is the companion to the TV show and it is pretty much responsible for every terrible decision. A cornucopia of environments all within walking distance of each other. Sets are designed like video game levels. Scenes like in-game puzzles and big level-ending boss fights. Gunfights happening on streets conveniently cluttered with random crates and boxes to use as cover as if straight out of an FPS's dream. The good news is, I've heard the game is boring, and that players haven't been impressed, so maybe it will die before the second season gets underway and they'll be able to move forward with the show a little more freely, able to ignore the restrictive stupidity the game imposes upon them, but I doubt it. Besides, as far as some of the really bad ideas are concerned, it's too late already. For instance, Defiance sits atop the ruins of St. Louis. Really. Downtown St. Louis is almost intact and underground in a massive cave. So, Defiance is just sitting on a thin layer of rock? I don't even understand how that happens. Did the city sink... and then a wave of rock and dirt crested over it and hardened like Magic Shell? It makes no sense. How did the city stay intact and yet get buried? How do they rationalize that in the story, that's what I really want to know. How was that supposed to have happened? I don't get it. I mean, I understand why they did it: It's there so the video game has an underground city level for the players. Which is lame, right? Totally fucking lame.

No! No, wait, no, I take that back... the actual worst thing about the show has to be the decision to end every single episode with the worst musical montage you've ever seen. I swear to God. Every single episode. Really. It's unbelievable. It's so awful, it's embarrassing. I'm embarrassed for the people involved. It's so terrible. The worst, most bombastic and overwrought musical montages you will ever see. I can't even post a sample video to show you, that's how embarrassingly bad it is.


I know. I know. Some of these complaints probably sound a bit nit-picky to some of you out there. And each one taken on their own, sure, I might agree with you. But all together? In every episode? No, that's when they become damning. Taken together, it adds up to the fact that, in the end, and despite a strong pedigree and a bit of potential, Defiance is disappointing. It tries hard, I guess, but it's just kind of stupid and poorly done. It's not as dull as Revolution or as dumb as Terranova or as blandly saccharine as Falling Skies and nowhere near as bottom-of-the-barrel terrible as Heroes is either, but it definitely belongs on the same shelf, and that is just disappointing.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Gravity - "Detached"

Alfonso Cuaron is one of my favorite Directors, he's amazing. And Children of Men, one of my very favorite films, really shows off his talent. Posted below is the trailer for his next film Gravity. I am very excited. It stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Usually I wouldn't be too gaga for that particular line-up, but this is Alfonso Cuaron, he made the only worthwhile Harry Potter film, so I'm in like Flynn, whoever that is. Clooney is a veteran astronaut, Bullock is a scientist on her first trip into space, and the rest of the film seems to deal with what would probably be my absolute worst fear should I ever go into space (fingers crossed), which is pretty much the same fear I have when it comes to the ocean... except, without the sharks. Which is good, because space sharks would probably be the worst thing ever. Anyway, check out the trailer.

Tense, yo!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Orphan Black

In my ever-continuing efforts to provide only the most important information to you, my dear readers, here's an excellent TV show that is totally worth your time. It's called Orphan Black. Yeah, I know, I'd never heard of it either. As far as I was aware, it just showed up out of nowhere, but it turned out to be pretty great. Just 10 episodes from BBC America, the first season is now available for purchase, you should check it out.

I'm gonna talk about it for a bit, so be warned, folks, there will be a few spoilers below...

The star of the show is named Tatiana Maslany. Nope, I've never heard of her either, but man, she's beyond great and I'm not the only one who thinks so either. Despite the fact this show seems to be totally unknown still, she got an Emmy nomination this year for her work. And with good reason too, she not only plays a half dozen plus different characters, she plays them all distinctively. She's so good, there are times during her performance where you're unsure whether she's a single person or not. That alone would be laudable, but even more impressively, she often has to play one character as impersonating another character, and despite this you never lose track of who's who. It's pretty cool. Here's the main cast:

Pictured (left to right): Sarah, Helena, Alison, Cosima, and Beth (actually Sarah)

I know. I know. It's weird already, right? Don't worry, it will all makes sense. Plus, part of the fun is watching it all unfold. So what's it about? Well, Orphan Black is the story of Sarah Manning, a Queen of Bad Decisions type of girl. In the first episode, Sarah has just blown back into town. She's at the train station, has a pound of cocaine she's stolen off her ex-boyfriend, and a plan to sell it and use the money to get her daughter--who's been staying with Sarah's foster mother, Mrs. Sadler--and start a new life. But while Sarah is on the phone making plans with her super gay, super funny foster brother Felix, she happens to look over and see a crying woman, a woman who looks just like her. Exactly like her. Naturally, this gets Sarah's attention. The woman is named Beth.

Sarah then watches Beth throw herself in front of a train.


In the ensuing chaos, and in true opportunistic grifter fashion, Sarah impulsively decides to snatch Beth's purse. The lookalike thing is odd, admittedly, but Sarah doesn't care, she has a mission and she needs money in order to accomplish it. She figures Beth looks posh enough to have some cash and quickly discovers that she actually had quite a large amount stashed in a secret bank account. With Felix's help, Sarah plans to assume Beth's identity, drain the account, and split before anyone is even aware that Beth is dead. However, Sarah soon runs into a few problems...

1. Turns out, Beth was a cop and she was on suspension for shooting an unarmed civilian, possibly because she was dirty, which might explain the big stash of cash, and her partner Detective Arthur "Art" Bell is all over Sarah because of it. Worst of all, he actually thinks Sarah is Beth.

2. Beth and her live-in boyfriend Paul were apparently having some serious issues, but Sarah finds him extremely attractive and has a ton of sex with him. As a result, Paul--who has some secrets of his own--is all confused and a little bit suspicious, so Sarah kicks him out again, which makes him even more confused and suspicious.

3. Beth had a pink cell phone in her purse, an extra one besides her own personal cell phone, and it keeps getting calls from mysterious phone numbers.

4. A woman turns up looking for Beth and shockingly, she is also Sarah's twin. Her name is Katja, and while Sarah is trying to get some answers out of her, someone shoots poor Katja in the head. Sarah has to hide the body.

Meanwhile, Art is getting suspicious of Sarah since she has literally no idea at all how to be a cop while pretending to be Beth. He's extra worried because Beth's suspension could have ramifications on his own career, so he intercepts Sarah and ends up taking Beth's money hostage until Sarah is able to clear Beth's name and get re-instated as a police officer. Which means, unbeknownst to Art, that Sarah is stuck playing Beth. Then Vic, Sarah's idiot drug dealer ex-boyfriend suddenly shows up in town looking for vengeance and his cocaine. To shake Vic, Sarah and Felix impulsively decide to fake her death using Beth's body, but her foster mother Mrs. Sadler accidentally hears about it, which is a problem for Sarah, because she is trying to get back into her daughter's life. Then the cops find Katja's body, and her fingerprints turn up as a match to Sarah's, who has a record, but Sarah's body is already in the morgue and from the pictures, the body looks just like Beth. Things get even more complicated when Sarah discovers that the calls on the pink cell phone are coming from a woman named Alison. Alison is a suburban soccer mom and she looks just like Sarah too. Exactly like her. Through Alison, Sarah meets a young woman named Cosima, who is a graduate student studying evolutionary development and another exact duplicate, and that's when the big reveal finally comes: They're all clones, exact genetic duplicates, and someone is trying to kill them.

But who?

Helena. It was Helena. She will cut you.

Helena is yet another duplicate. She's Russian, a religious fanatic, and crazy as a loon. Believing herself to be the original girl and that her clone sisters are soulless abominations, she is on a holy mission to kill them all. She has killed a few already, but at the same time, she is drawn to Sarah and wants her approval... She also wants to stab her. She's nuts. All of this leads to the discovery that Helena is just an abused tool of an underground religious group, which is vying for control of the girls against another secret organization and that some of the people in their lives are involved and keeping tabs on them. The girls soon find themselves alone and tumbling down a rabbit hole of old secrets, religious mania and bleeding edge science. And that's only the beginning.

There's a ton of stuff I left out, too... I know, it sounds exhausting...

Girls night!

But I promise, it's much easier to understand than I made it sound.

And that's the best part, not only is Tatiana's performance really impressive, the whole show is. It's well-written. It moves. Every episode reveals another surprising piece to a bigger puzzle, but it never feels relentless or confusing or basically, anything like the show Lost ever did. It is at turns exciting and horrifying and dark and violent, but with some fantastic character moments. It's really funny too. Between Felix and Alison, there are some real laugh out loud moments, especially whenever the two are together once Alison's life starts to unravel from all the clone-craziness. Poor Alison, all she ever really wanted was a nice suburban life... so funny. Anyway, I really appreciate the obvious skill used to make every character three-dimensional. No one is quite who they seem at first meet, there are no 2-D archetypes, and there isn't a slouch in the cast either. As incredible as it may sound, there isn't a single character I wish the writers would kill off. That's a pretty big deal. Also, as a nice bonus, Matt Frewer appears as the mysterious and dangerous Dr. Aldous Leekie.

For a show that wasn't on my radar, created by people I've pretty much never heard of (turns out one of the creators was the Director of Ginger Snaps, which is awesome and highly recommended), and is filled with a cast of unknowns--for the most part--Orphan Black was shockingly good, well, shocked the hell out of me, at least. It puts crap sci-fi TV like the Walking Dead or Falling Skies or Revolution or Defiance to shame. Faint praise, sure, but it's still a great sow.

I can't wait for the second season.

You should be watching this show,

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Willow Creek

I mentioned the film Willow Creek just the other day. And I'm sure you were out there like: "Wha...? Willow Creek? What? What the F...? I don't know what that is. I have no frame of reference. My world is shattering. What is existence?" Or something like that. So, to soothe your existential crisis, here you go. Check it out...

I know, I know, you're probably like: "Meh. Fart. It's another POV film." I get you. I hear you. I've bitched about these films before. With good reason too. But for the new kids: POV films are the type of movie where the camera is operated by one of the characters in the movie. It's supposed to feel more immediate, to insert you more directly into the story, increasing the tension and empathy and all that because you're seeing it from the characters'... wait for it... Point Of View. Sound familiar? It should, you've probably seen one before, they're very common.

These films are common because the trappings of the genre allow them to be made cheaper. You don't need a crew, because most of the cast can fill those roles while playing their roles in the film. You can also shoot it pretty naturally and out-in-the-world, in fact the genre encourages this in order to "heighten the reality". Unfortunately, like all go-to first-time filmmaker film type choices (I'm looking at you, cheap zombie film), they're also iffy. They're usually bad bets. They usually suck, often filled with some of the worst acting you will ever see and feature god awful terrible stories all put together by a gaggle of untalented idiots. However, unlike the cheap amateur zombie film, POV films--if done right--can actually be really good.

But in order to be good, they need to do the following things:

1. They must make sense as to why the film even exists at all.
Why are the characters there? Even more importantly, why are they filming? Okay, fine, a bunch of local boobs are going to explore the old abandoned asylum, I've been there, I've done that, fine. But you know what I've never done? Film it. And here's a better question: Why does one of the characters even own an expensive camera in the first place? Sure, in this day and age, everyone has a camera on them, pretty much all the time... but it's a Smartphone camera, not an expensive HD rig. So why? Are they a reporter? Is it for a TV show? Do they have a personal history with the site/story? Answers those questions before you start, or you suck. At least make the attempt. Note: "Look at the new camera I bought just because," does not count as an answer.

2. It must make sense as to why the characters keep filming.
There comes a point in every one of these films where the shit has well and truly hit the fan. It all goes bad, big time. Chairs flying about. Monsters screaming. Buildings shaking. Ah! Ahh! Aaaaah! Run, dummies! Run for your lives! It is at this point that anyone truly concerned with their life would run, run like their ass was on fire. If nothing else, they would definitely stop trying to film, regardless of the camera's "low-light" capabilities. And if they dropped the camera? They would not go back for it. I mean, come on! If there's giant spider monsters and zombie children chasing us? We will get the fuck out of there, drive to Target and I will buy you a new one, all right? Good. As long as we agree on that. See, it's here that most of these films fail. Do you know why Cloverfield sucked? It's because it was a terrible movie. No, really. It was. It also sucked because a bunch of hipster wadjob douchebags would not keep filming while running from a giant monster. Do you know who might? A news reporter. This is the most important thing to think about when making your POV film. The characters have to have a real reason to stay in the situation. Find it, or you suck.

3. Acknowledge the limitations of the genre
The camera is a character. Everything that happens has to acknowledge that. You can't ignore that. The characters and the environment can't ignore that. If there's a zombie coming up behind them and the camera guy is the one in the back of the pack, he needs to be attacked first. I realize it's scarier to watch the zombie creep up on an unsuspecting character, but too bad, so sad. It also means you don't get have character interactions, or have a character be all alone and contemplative, in the same way that you can in regular movies. I'm sorry. Those are the rules. You have to adapt. If the camera is a person in the story, then they always have to be a person in the story. And most of all, understand your camera. You just can't drop them over and over again or they will break. Also, digital recordings aren't the same as taped ones, so old footage can't bleed over. It just doesn't work that way. You have to acknowledge that. Bottom line, it's very easy to cheat, but you can't or you suck.

Now... having said all that, I honestly don't know if Willow Creek adheres to any of those rules or not, but I've heard good things. Also, it was directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. You probably remember him as Zed from Police Academy 2... or maybe not. Whatever. It's probably best not to. He also directed the movie Shakes the Clown, which I love, mostly for this scene:

Pure genius. Pure. Genius.

I'm sure I'll be talking about Willow Creek more in the future,

Stay tuned,

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Zero Charisma

Here's something to keep an eye out for...

What'd you think? 

I don't know much about this film. I know it was much loved down at SXSW, winning the Audience Award, and it has been very well reviewed all over the Internet. For awhile now, it's been one of those films that is really easy to read about, but pretty hard to actually come across a chance to see, an all too common and frustrating reality in these heady days of the World Wide Web.

I'm sure you can relate...

Well fret no more, my lovely friends, because those days are now over--at least for this film (but not for Willow Creek, damn it... someday, someday...), as the folks over at The Nerdist and Tribeca Film have decided to team up and co-release this film in early October of this year. Woooo! That's one for the good guys, people. I'm excited. Are you excited? You should be excited. Let's keep an eye out for this little film together, ok? Okay!


Monday, July 22, 2013

The Legend of Korra - Book 2

The Legend of Korra is a great show. Have you seen it? I love it. I'm a fan. Fun, funny, and cool, with great characters, including some very strong female characters--which is a real bonus. The design is pretty distinctive; it's a kind of steampunky (but not really) meets 1920s Jazz Shanghai meets 50's American futurism. Sorta. It's good, and the animation is top-notch.

The story is a little more complex...

The Legend of Korra is, hmmm... it's not a sequel, really... it's more like a continuation of the first series (which you don't need to see in order to enjoy this series), called Avatar: The Last Airbender. Please note: This had absolutely nothing to do with that horrible and bombastic snooze-fest, bore-a-thon fart of a movie about the stupid Blue Cat People featuring the script from Dances with Wolves. They are NOT affiliated. You might also recall having maybe heard about a movie called Avatar: The Last Airbender by famous cinematic one-trick-pony M. Night Shyamalan, if so... forget about it! Right now! Wipe it from your memory! It does not exist! Should someone claim otherwise, destroy them!

But I digress...

So anyway, the world of Avatar is a world of four nations: The North and South Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. It's based off the Four Elements, did'ja notice that? Yeah? Good. In each one of these groups there are people who can manipulate their respective elements, the Water Tribe can manipulate water, the Fire Nation manipulates fire--you get the idea. These people are called Benders and they use their skills for all kinds of things, but mostly for ass-kicking kung-fu. Also, at some point in their history it was decided that the population of each nation will only ever wear a specific color. For instance: The people of the Earth Kingdom only wear green. The show doesn't provide an in-show explanation as to why, so I sometimes wonder about the poor Earth Kingdom guy out there who really likes Red... Anyway, it's the job of the Avatar to maintain the delicate balance between what is basically four extremely territorial and xenophobic gangs of mutant kung-fu superheroes. The Avatar's kung-fu is strongest, they are the lone person who can manipulate all four elements. In every generation a new Avatar is reborn, much like the Dalai Lama, if he were to shot streams of fire and icicles while flying on a tornado and hurling boulders like they were softballs, I mean, more than usual, that is...

The first series centers around a young boy named Aang, a brand new Avatar who vanishes one day. Soon after, the Fire Nation launches a massive attack and without the Avatar to restore the balance, the world is soon plunged into horror and war. In an attempt to kill Aang, the Fire Lord slaughters all of the Air Nomads. The Fire Nation takes over. All hope is lost. 100 years later, Aang is found frozen in ice. He is the Last Airbender alive (hence the title) and an untrained Avatar lost in an unfamiliar and dark world. Over the course of the show's three seasons, you follow him and his friends in a quest to defeat the Fire Lord, all while Aang trains to master the four elements. It's good. Funny. Great action. And three seasons telling one story with a beginning, middle, and an ending? That's unheard of. Plus, I'm not only continually impressed by the ingenuity of how the Bending abilities are used, but by the depth and complexity of the characters in general. It's a surprisingly complex and well-written show, not just for a cartoon either, but for TV in general. It's good stuff.

But we were talking about Korra...

The Legend of Korra is set 70 years after the last series and Korra is the new Avatar. She's pretty kick-ass, but she has been born into a more balanced and advanced world. The war is long over, so what is the Avatar's role now? Republic City is the new center of the world, it's where people of all the Nations live in harmony, but it's there that she runs into the Equalist Movement. There is a rising tide of anger among the Non-Benders of the city, claims of oppression against those who can't Bend by those who can. The movement is led by a dark figure named Amon, a mysterious and charismatic man who can somehow take a person's Bending ability from them permanently.

He's pretty scary. And maybe the best part of the show too. Why? Because his claims are not quite untrue. And Korra is often pretty naive to that fact. How should she deal with this? Amon is bad news, but if his message isn't quite wrong...? It's just another layer of complexity in an already well-written and surprisingly sophisticated show. All the humor and tragedy and awesome action is still there, the crazily imaginative world-building bits too. It's all-around a great show. Lots of fun. It also tells a whole story in one single season, which is a bonus, and it is now out there and available for purchase, so seek it out. I assume they did this because they knew they were way too awesome to ever exist past one season, a sad, but smart move unfortunately... usually...

Except here's the teaser trailer for the second season! WOOO! Let's watch!

It doesn't tell you much, it's just a teaser, but it does look awesome.

Totally sweet!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Staff Picks

The Staff Picks list is now all done. All of the movies have been mentioned. Except for the film: The Lookout. Somehow I forgot about that one. I don't know how it happened; it feels like such a glaring omission. I love that film. Succinctly put, The Lookout is a noir heist film where Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets to showcase his awesome talent as a brain-damaged former high school star who falls in with a bad crowd. It's fantastic. I can't believe I forgot to mention it. Oh well, it just goes to show that even I am not perfect, my Dear Readers. I know, I know, it's hard to believe, but it's true. We all have to learn to accept it. I'm sorry if this literally shatters your world, but... what can ya' do?

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this series. I know I certainly had fun. Posted below, you'll find the whole list for easy future reference. And remember--one last time--the only order these films are listed in is alphabetical.

The Staff Picks List

Part One
1. 12 Monkeys
2. 13 Assassins
3. 5 Broken Cameras
4. A Boy and his dog
5. Adventureland
6. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
7. The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai
8. The Amazing Screw-on Head
9. American Splendor
10. An American Werewolf in London

Part Two
11. Archer
12. Army of Darkness
13. The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford
14. Attack the Block
15. Back to the Future
16. Battle Royale
17. Big Trouble in Little China
18. Blade Runner
19. The Blood of Heroes
20. Blood Simple

Part Three
21. Bodyguards and Assassins
22. Brick
23. Bridge
24. The Cabin in the Woods
25. The Carrier
26. Cemetery Man
27. Children of Men
28. Chopper
29. City of God
30. The Cove

Part Four
31. Dark City
32. Dawn of the Dead (both)
33. Darkon
34. Deadman
35. The Dead
36. Dear Zachary
37. Detention
38. District 9
39. Dog Soldiers
40. Dredd

Part Five
41. Drive
42. Easy A
43. Election
44. Escape from New York
45. Fishing with John
46. Galaxy Quest
47. Get over it!
48. Grandma’s Boy
49. Groundhog’s Day
50. Heaven’s Burning

Part Six
51. Hellhouse
52. Hot Fuzz
53. Hulk vs
54. I saw the Devil
55. In Bruges
56. The Incredibles
57. Ip Man 1 and 2
58. The Iron Giant
59. Jackie Brown
60. Jesus Camp

Part Seven
61. The King of Kong
62. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
63. Looper
64. Lunopolis
65. Mad Max
66. Man on Wire
67. Moonrise Kingdom
68. Mystery Team
69. The Nest
70. Nightwatch and Daywatch

Part Eight
71. No Country for Old Men
72. Of Dolls and Murder
73. Oldboy
74. Overnight
75. Party Down 1 and 2
76. Perfume
77. Please Vote for Me
78. Primer
79. Rear Window
80. Rec

Part Nine
81. Red Dawn
82. Repo Man
83. River’s Edge
84. Romper Stomper
85. Scott Pilgrim vs The World
86. Shaun of the Dead
87. Spaced
88. Supertroopers
89. Thin Red Line
90. Time Bandits

Part Ten
91. Trekkies
92. Trollhunter
93. True Grit
94. Venture Brothers
95. Waking Sleeping Beauty
96. The Warriors
97. The Wicksboro Incident
98. The Wild Bunch
99. Young Frankenstein
100. Zodiac


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Staff Picks (Part Ten)

Filmzilla has closed and with it, all the good times...

Somehow we'll soldier on... In lieu of the daily in-person experience you could have had in what is now a much lamented and by-gone era, I've decided to chronicle my Staff Picks wall for you as a sort of guide to some real good movies, or maybe just as a list of movies I happen to like a lot, or maybe you could say that this is really an ultimate (but not quite 100% complete) My Favorite Movies list, or... as the length of the list would coincidentally have it, you could simply call it:

Jon's Hot 100
(Part Ten--Numbers 91 thru 100)

You can find the rest of this list in its entirety here. Gaze upon it, so lovely. And one last time for the cheap seats, the only order these films appear in, is alphabetical... Final sprint! Let's go! This is it!

91. Trekkies

The title says it all. This documentary is about Star Trek fans, the really passionate ones, the Trekkies. The people in this documentary love Star Trek. It's their thing. They love the shit out of it and they don't mind sharing that love. And while yes, there are a few sequences that are manipulated or played up a bit, for the most part everyone who appears in this film is real and sincere. Sure, some of them may be odd. They may be over-the-top, they may even be a bit ridiculous and a little out-of-touch with the rest of the world, but they have that sincerity in spades.  And that's why I like this film, because it never seems false or mean-spirited. That's Trekkies 2. Don't watch Trekkies 2. Trekkies 2 is bullshit, it's nothing but ironic Star Trek theme bands and hipster wadjob douchebags all posing and bullshit, so fuck those dickholes, they're false. The sincerity is what's important here, that's what makes this film sweet and interesting, that's what makes it more than just a 90 minute freak show, and instead, says something about people and our common search for connection and friendship and acceptance. The sincerity is what makes it good, so when you're laughing, you're not laughing at Gabriel's prissy mannerisms or The Commander's strange intensity, you're just sharing their love. The sincerity is makes it cool. And funny. Often really funny.

92. Trollhunter

Another pretty self-explanatory title... Trollhunter is also another example of a well-done POV film, this time from Norway, telling the story of a group of students who, while investigating an odd public servant, discover a secret they never expected to find.  Now, normally I'd say that a group of students unknowingly biting off more than they can chew is exactly why most POV films don't work at all, that there would come a point--most likely the very first time they are chased by an angry troll straight out of a Hans Christian Anderson story--where they would drop the camera and run screaming as fast as they can. That's a major hurdle for most POV films and this one manages to cleverly sidestep the issue, mostly by having the kids run like hell, but occasionally by having one of them get eaten. I like that. Even more than those clever sidesteps, it is the classic fairy-tale design of the trolls themselves that makes the continued filming seem plausible. Seeing the trolls for the first time, they seem so otherworldly and magical and yet at the same time so shockingly familiar somehow, and just like the kids, you're instantly enthralled with them. You understand why they would want to see more. I really enjoyed this weird little POV horror/fairy-tale mash-up. I loved the very classic rules and the way the Trollhunter dealt with the creatures. All good stuff. You may not have heard of this one due to foreign films often not getting the best distribution, but if you run across it, give it a chance. It's a good film and it looks great.

93. True Grit (2010)

Charlie Portis' book is one of my favorites. It's an amazing voice. I was shocked by how much I enjoyed it. I didn't expect that at all. Loved it. However, I do not enjoy the original version of the film. Well, John Wayne was great, sure, but the rest of the film--even for the time period--is the worst kind of studio hokum. Now, I've already mentioned on this list how much I enjoy the Coen Brothers' films, so when they announced their intent to remake this as their next project, and how they fully intended to skew more closely to the book this time, I was super excited and the result did not disappoint. It looked great. It sounded great. The cast was fantastic. Bridges as the grizzled old Marshall, Damon as the cocky young Texas Ranger, and Brolin as the hapless criminal Tom Chaney, they're great, but you expect them to be, right? The real surprise was the strength of the performance by previously unknown actress Hailee Steinfeld. She plays the headstrong Mattie Ross, the young voice that drives the whole story, and she was great... of course, she has pretty much disappeared since then, but oh well, at least she was great here. It's not my favorite western, I'd probably call it my third, but it's still definitely worth the watch.

94. The Venture Brothers

The Venture Brothers is one of the best shows ever. The. Best. I usually laugh so hard, it hurts. It's so ridiculous and so smart and so geeky and so self-aware, but it's not just geek reference jokes, it's surprisingly creative and often super cool too. It skewers super-hero adventure, but at the same time, it's often home to some bad-ass super-hero adventure of its own. The backstory goes a little like this: Rusty Venture used to be a boy adventurer. His Dad was world famous super-scientist adventurer Dr. Jonas Venture. His father and his father's friends were heroes. They've gone to space, to the bottom of the ocean and other dimensions. They've ridden dinosaurs, they've fought monsters, spies, ninjas, and even super villains, the whole nine yards. Decades later, Rusty is now known as Dr. Venture, but he is not the super scientist his now-deceased father was. What he is, is a pompous moron and a poser, not to mention broke and kind of a jerk. He and his sons, Hank and Dean, the titular Venture Brothers, still get in adventures, but mostly on accident and often despite Rusty's attempts to avoid them. Brock Sampson is their bodyguard, he's a bad-ass, a Swedish murder machine built for two things: killing and wooing the ladies. Well... he was their bodyguard, but now he's joined OSI, a kind of G.I. Joe meets SHIELD organization, run by an insane version of Hunter S Thompson. I forgot to that mention Hank and Dean are clones. They've been killed dozens and dozens of times, due to their dangerous lifestyle--and because they're kind of dumb--but when they die, Dr. Venture just grows two more, so they've been stuck repeating 15 over and over a long time now. But then the Monarch--Dr. Venture's butterfly-themed arch nemesis--destroyed the clone banks, so that's over, and the boys now have their drivers' licenses. Also, the Monarch's girlfriend is named Dr. Girlfriend. She looks like Jackie O and sounds like somebody who might be named Saul. She's a lot more competent villain-wise than the Monarch is. The only thing the Monarch loves more than trying to kill Dr. Venture, is Dr. Girlfriend and she loves him. FYI, David Bowie is the head of the Guild of Calamitous Intent, the main bad guys. The show is kinda nuts. It's basically like Johnny Quest, but with more failure and really sarcastic. I know what you're thinking, you're thinking: "Hmm... maybe this isn't for me..." WRONG! It's the best thing ever; it's for everybody.

95. Waking Sleeping Beauty

Hey now, here is an interesting documentary. This movie chronicles the fall and rebirth of Disney's animation studio. After the failures of films like the Black Cauldron and the Great Mouse Detective, the loss of some major behind-the-scenes players, and unexpected competition from other studios, the Mouse House was on the verge of shutting down their animation studio. Unbelievable, right? It's hard to imagine, Disney without animation, but it almost happened. But then new talent and a new direction somehow grabbed magic out of thin air and changed everything. This is a documentary about how The Little Mermaid saved Disney animation. It's a fascinating inside look at a studio in turmoil and how a pure artistic vision saved it from sinking.

96. The Warriors

A true midnight classic. A 1970s B movie like no other. The story goes like this: The Gramercy Riffs are the biggest, baddest gang in all of NYC. Cryus is their leader and he declares a massive midnight summit in the Bronx, inviting all of the New York gangs to attend by sending nine unarmed members. The Warriors of Coney Island are just one of the many gangs that respond. At the big summit, Cyrus proposes a permanent truce, a move that would allow the gangs to control the city, "Can you dig it?" But then Luthor, the crazy little rat-bastard leader of the Rogues, shoots down Cyrus just because he likes to do stuff like that, and in the resulting chaos, he frames the Warriors. The Riffs put a hit out on the Warriors, who must now travel all the way back across a dark and dirty 1970s craphole New York City that is practically post-apocalyptic, with hundreds of vicious gangs standing between them and the safety of their home turf. Unarmed, out-numbered and on their own, it's a total blast.

97. The Wicksboro Incident

The final POV film appearing on this list. This film has three reasons to stand out, as far as I see things. 1. It's a great idea. An old man contacts a young film maker with a crazy story about secret Cold War experiments, aliens among us, and how the entire town of Wicksboro, Texas was wiped off the map. Is the old man telling the truth or is he just a lonely old drunk? Are people following them? Are helicopters tracking them? Who is chasing them across the desert? It goes crazy quick. There's lots of tension and a really smart use of an obvious micro-budget. 2. It makes sense. I've talked about this before. There's always a point in POV films where the situation gets so dangerous, it no longer makes sense for the characters to keep filming, and it often doesn't make sense for the characters to even be filming in the first place. Well, in this film, the two young men are filmmakers and journalists on the trail of a story. Now, granted they end up biting off way more than they can chew and stuff gets really dangerous, but when it reaches that point? They acknowledge it in a very clever way. So, tip of a hat to them for realizing the style's limitations. And finally 3. They have one of the best shot-in-the-head affects I've ever seen in a extremely low budget film. Really well done. Totally sudden. It looked completely real, a true "Oh shit!" moment. Not gory, but shocking. So, in a nutshell, if you're looking for a great example of a cheaply done, but really well-made film, here's your answer.

98. The Wild Bunch

What can I say about the Wild Bunch? It's a classic that shattered the Hollywood myth of the Western. A film directed by the legendary Sam Peckinpah, its violence and nudity and lack of heroes changed cinema. It's not only one of my favorite films, it's my absolute favorite western. The story of a group of old outlaws still trying for one last score in a world that's changing, they're eventually forced into a corner by betrayal, bad luck, and circumstance, and with nothing left but the guy riding next to them, they choose to make their last stand. It's such a great film. There's a melancholic romance that permeates the whole thing, a feeling of a dying Age, the tattered end of the wild, wild west. The time when these men rode the world and lived by the gun is ending. Civilization is catching up, squeezing them out. They're getting old, their ending more and more obviously inevitable--an idea so masterfully illustrated the moment when Pike falls off his horse--so when they decide to make their famous last stand (in a scene considered unbelievably shockingly violent for the time), it doesn't feel like a defeat, the choice feels like victory.

99. Young Frankenstein

Mel Brooks' best. An amazingly talented cast. One of the funniest films of all time. I don't have much to say about it. I'm sure you've heard of it, I know you have. And if you haven't seen it, you must. This is one of the mandatory ones. You have to watch it. The story of a man desperate to escape the long shadow cast by his family name, but ultimately unable to deny his destiny, it's a movie that taught us all one thing... It could be worse. It could be raining.

100. Zodiac

The last spot on the list belongs to David Fincher's masterpiece, the pretty much historically accurate tale of the time in the late 60s and early 70s when a serial killer who called himself "Zodiac" terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area. Killing several people--often couples out on Lover's Lanes--and taunting police through the newspapers, while using complex ciphers, he was never caught. The case remains unsolved to this day. Fincher spins a riveting story, following the people who followed the crimes--the detectives and reporters and average civilians--detailing their lives and how the investigation impacted them, even suggesting an answer to the question: "Who was Zodiac? I loved this movie.  I'm a big fan of Fincher in general, but this film in particular is my favorite of his. It's atmospheric as hell, nothing but fog and slow-boiling tension and great performances. Of course, it completely tanked at the box office. Not that surprising, I guess, it's not a flashy film, after all, there's a lot characters and a lot of talking, and due to actual history, it can't have a traditionally satisfying ending. Add to that how many people think the film is too long and you have a recipe for a Box Office Bomb. Not that Receipts were ever any indication of film quality (Cough-Avatar-Cough), but y'know... it ends up affecting careers and the future of other good movies. Sad, really, but none of that changes the fact that Zodiac is a great film. The good news is, regardless of all that the Director's Cut exists and that's where it's really at, my friends. Seek it out.

Oh? What's that...?

Holy crap on a stick, that's it! Das ist alles for huete! The Staff Picks List is finished. Finito. Done-ski. Wooo! Was it good for you? Do you feel that there were films missing? Let me know what you think. Otherwise, it's be swell, but now the swelling has gone done, so until next time...

Later Gators,