Friday, February 24, 2017

T2 Trainspotting







Trainspotting is a film by Danny Boyle, and it was based off the novel by Irvine Welsh. It also might be the first "indie" film that I ever looked forward to.

Not that Miramax was ever all that "indie", but whatever, that was the 90s...

Anyway, I came to Reservoir Dogs late, so I wasn't really aware of Pulp Fiction as a Tarantino film for very long before it came out. I hardly noticed it at all. In fact, I remember fast-forwarding through the trailer on a VHS copy of Dazed and Confused. This type of stuff just wasn't really on my radar at the time. I had the same pre-release lack of awareness/indifference for such 90s classics as Slacker, El Mariachi, Clerks, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Kids, Swingers, Dead Man, Hard Eight, Do the Right Thing, blah, blah, blah, on and on. I was a fan of all of them eventually, and I saw them all as soon as I could after hearing about them, and they all went on to help establish some of my earliest thoughts about film, but still... I wasn't hyped up to see any of them. 

But when it came to Trainspotting... that was different. I must have watched that first trailer from the Projection booth at Colony Square (which is now some weird Drafthouse knock-off) a million times. For me, it looked new and different and exciting and weird, and most people seemed really turned off by it. I was hooked. It was a mature film, but a total rebel too. It had things to say, and yet didn't seem to give a fuck either. These were my impressions at the time. I went out and got the book immediately. I even read it, (most of it) and like everyone else, discovered that it made a lot more sense if you read it out loud in a Scottish accent. I was all in. I was ready. I couldn't wait.

And it totally delivered, too. I still love that film.

Trainspotting wasn't just good, it was one of the main films that sent me winging off into other related movies. Trainspotting was kind of the springboard that led me to giving a shit about writers, directors, cinematographers, the whole craft of film-making itself. It was the Star Wars of my Second Great Movie Love Awakening.

Now, here comes the sequel, and with it, a sense of ill-advised foreboding. Some of it is due to the 20 year gap, but a lot of it is due to the fact they seem to be pretty adamant about calling the film...


...which seems like a terrible idea. They have to know about the Arnold Schwarzenegger one, right? They have to. Is that even legal? It can't be legal, at least creatively. You can't just co-opt a famous title like that. Either way, I refuse to call it "T2", because that's dumb. 

I'm just going to keep calling it: Trainspotting 2.

Now, normally, this would be the part in the blog post where I would list the myriad reasons why a sequel for a film like this is a really bad idea, most of which would be due to the 20 year gap since the original. But I've seen the trailer, and I gotta tell you, folks, it's kind of awesome, so... nevermind.

Here's the synopsis: After 20 years abroad, Mark Renton returns to Scotland and reunites with his old friends Sick Boy, Spud, and Begbie.

Nobody puts any effort into synopses anymore, I guess...


Often times when it comes to these decades-delayed sequels, the nostalgia factor and the call-backs and the homages can overwhelm the story, if there's any story to begin with--I'm looking at you, Force Awakens--and while, yes, technically I haven't seen this film yet... it looks like they've managed to achieve a good balance. 

The energy is the same. The look and tone seems similar. It looks wild and fun. But there seems to be a feeling of resignation too, a sadness and a world-weariness, an acceptance of inevitable change and a lament for what could've been. It seems to be interested in exploring the ideas of how you can't really go home again, but you try anyway, and how, even though it's all different, nothing ever really changes there but the seasons. I like the sound of all of that. I also like how the story looks like it's going to pick up where the last one left off. Sins of the past, the cast-off husks of our old lives, going home again, I like how it looks like all of this is wrapped up together. Maybe. Who knows, I haven't seen it yet. We'll have to wait and see.

Trainspotting 2 opens on 3/17/17.

Choosing to watch,
Jon


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Frankie






Full disclosure, I'm connected to Writer/Director Mike Pappa. I don't actually know him, or anything, but we have some mutual friends, and they are the main reason I know about his work. Also, I supported Pappa's kickstarter for his upcoming short, which is called A Crimson Man.

It looks pretty cool.


But we're not talking about A Crimson Man, not yet at least. Someday maybe. I think they're filming now, so soon-ish. Maybe. Whatever. Doesn't matter. Today we're talking about an earlier short film of Mike Pappa's called Frankie.

I'm curious about Frankie for two reasons.

The first reason is the obvious reason: The mutual friends Pappa and I share happen to really like his stuff, and since those mutual friends and I also overlap in tastes a lot, that makes me interested in checking these films out.

Understandable, right?

The second reason for my curiosity is probably more of a point of interest to me, but whatever, it's my blog... So, the picture of the man in the white short-sleeve button-up shirt looking back over his shoulder? The one with all of the festival awards at the bottom? The one that fronts the video at the bottom of this post? That picture is very familiar to me. It's familiar to me because I've seen it a lot. It feels like it has shown up on a lot of different geek/genre-centric websites over the past years/months/weeks/whatever, and most of the time, it's been accompanied by a pretty positive review. That level of exposure is pretty interesting. That level of acceptance is also interesting. Y'see, lots of things make the nerd-rounds, boys and girls, and lots of things do not, but when you're passed around a lot, that usually means there is something about the film that is at least somewhat interesting. Nerds don't agree on much, understand, so this is noteworthy. Basically, all of this together, coupled with the connection to the Creator adds up to... it's kind of weird that I haven't watched this thing before now.

In case you don't know... I watch short films.

In the end, it's probably only due to some weird combination of laziness and happenstance, because it should've happened by now. I mean, the film is about a pocket watch that controls time...

God knows I love me some Voyagers.

Here's the synopsis: When a watch repair man acquires an antique pocket watch that can control time, he decides to use it to achieve his dreams. His plans soon become sinister when he learns he isn't the only one with the knowledge of the pocket watch.

Let's watch...



That was great.

The lack of dialogue was an interesting choice. The film was more than expressive enough to convey the story and character motivations, so I honestly didn't notice at first, but it really worked. I appreciate the tight control on display here too. There obviously wasn't too much money behind the project, but that wasn't necessarily apparent in what you saw on screen. That's always impressive. There were a lot of small rooms and tight shots, but the film never felt restrained, at least not in any way that it wasn't supposed to. And I'm a big fan of the aesthetic. I love the mix of the Post-WWII industrial feel, the old tech, the paper crowded with scribbles, the kind of run-down industrial area, it all felt very timeless, and distinctly unreal. It was anywhere and nowhere, and all about a man outside of time. I loved that.

In general, everything here was really well done and looked good, so that's cool.

I really liked the pocket watch. It was a great idea and a great prop, and the time travel effects were simple and worked perfectly. I loved the sound effect too. I would've liked to have seen more of the watch in use, but that's the type of decision that leads to unfocused narratives, and that's a road that leads to ruin. So, less is more... smart.

Also, I'm always a big fan of the whole Twilight Zone/Monkey's Paw type of short films. The story type is pretty classic, sure, but that's because it works. Too many of these short film people think they're making the next Star Wars, or they're really just trying to pitch a movie or TV show, or they are simply incapable of paring down whatever their ridiculously overstuffed idea. Frankie was short and simple... or if not "simple", then straight to the point, at least. It was focused on its story, and yet still managed to pull off a nice little twist at the end. I liked that. I appreciate the smart writing. I appreciate the tight story-telling. And I appreciate the awareness of the short film's limitations, and how they worked with them, instead of fighting against them.

All in all, this was great. Very well done. Frankie was a good time.

Jon







Monday, February 20, 2017

Free Fire








Ah, Ben Wheatley...

I really like Ben Wheatley. He's the Writer (along with his usual writing partner and editor, Amy Jump) and Director of the movie Free Fire, which is the film we're going to be talking about today. He's a divisive artist, as his movies basically run the gamut from weird and pretty inaccessible to dazzlingly stylish, but not traditional, but to me, wherever they happen to land on that spectrum, they're still always worth seeing. In fact, his last film, High Rise, was on my Top Ten list last year.

And so, besides the great cast and the stellar look, I think that's the thing that intrigues me the most about this upcoming film... it looks like its going to be a complete departure from High Rise, at least as far as style and tone is concerned. Where High Rise was tightly controlled and meticulously set-up, Free Fire looks like it's going to be fast, loud and wild. Where High Rise was about several characters often separated up and down the length of a tower, Free Fire looks like it's going to mainly focus on a few characters, and mostly take place in one large room. Where High Rise was more dry,  as far as humor goes, Free Fire seems like it will be a lot more tongue-in-cheek. And on and on...

The gamut, my friends.

Here's the synopsis: Set in Boston in 1978, a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two gangs turns into a shootout and a game of survival.

Vague, sure, but once you watch the trailer, I think you'll see that there isn't much else to say.


Good times.

I'll be honest, I'm in already. It's a Wheatley movie that's coming from A24... You really shouldn't need too much else. As I said earlier, I like Wheatley. At the very least, you can count on him being a generally interesting film-maker, but the independent entertainment company backing this film, A24, has been behind some of the best movies put out over the last few years. At this point, for me, just seeing their logo is enough to grab my interest. That's how dependable I've found them to be.

Now, I'm sure there are some people out there who might dismiss this film out-of-hand, and say that the film looks too much like a Guy Ritchie movie. Which means, luckily for you, that you now have a handy-dandy way to determine who the dilettantes in your life are, capisce?

Otherwise, like I said, I'm all in for this film, especially if Shartlo Copley gets killed in it, because he seems like he's an asshole in real life, right?

Free Fire opens March 17, 2017.

Former dilettante,
Jon


Friday, February 17, 2017

Kong: Skull Island








I'm going to just admit right now that I'm already pretty much in the bag for KONG: SKULL ISLAND already. That's just how it is.

I can't help it. I love the idea of Skull Island.

Skull Island obviously falls under the "Monster Island" setting umbrella. A Monster Island is place forgotten by the time, lost to the world, a pocket of the unknown, is usually an uncharted island (but not always), and... is often populated by some kind of monsters, hence the name. I'm a big fan. Monster Island settings are a big intersection of interests for me. There's an inherent pulp adventure aspect that I've always loved, not to mention, the romance of exploration. It's something about the edge-of-the-world feeling that an uncharted and mist-shrouded island invokes. It's the giant monsters. It's the likelihood of dinosaurs. It's the whole crumbling and overgrown ancient ruins motif. It's the glimpse of an older world. I love it, every bit of it. I love it. Except the giant bugs.

I hate the giant bugs.


Gross.

Other than that shit, though, I'm all in. I grew up on this stuff. Pretty much every Harryhausen film ended up on a Monster Island at some point. Swords and Sandals and Giant Crabs? Yes, please! I've watched tons of old black and white exploring-the-deep-jungle movies, and while they're all probably ridiculously racist at this point, at the time, all that mattered to me were explorers finding dinosaurs. Plus, I've been watching Kong films forever. They were on Sundays all the time when I was young. The King Kong vs. Godzilla movie from 1963 blew my mind as a kid. It was my Avengers movie, before I even knew about the Avengers. I still feel like Godzilla should have won though... he has Atomic Breath! Kong's just a big ape... Also, the 1976 King Kong was a big deal for me, and I can still remember the Thundarr the Barbarian episode where he fought an ancient robot of Kong. And I'm still holding out hope for that sequel to Deep Rising, and I don't care if it's foolhardy, because the film ends with the characters washing up on the beach of a Monster Island, with something huge crashing through the trees at them, and I loved the hell out of it.

What can I say...? Giant monsters, people. I love them.

I bring this up just to let you know that I have a low bar for this film. I mean, it looks good. I think it'll be good. Sure, Jordan Vogt-Roberts directed KINGS OF SUMMER--a film I wanted to like more, but just didn't--but he also directed several episodes of YOU'RE THE WORST, which is the best. F'reals. AND! And, the screenplay was written by Dan Gilroy, who wrote NIGHTCRAWLER, which is an amazing film, my second favorite of 2014

So, I'm hopeful.

Here's the synopsis: A team of explorers and soldiers travel to an uncharted island in the Pacific, unaware that they are crossing into the domain of monsters, including the mythic Kong.

Granted, that is painfully, worryingly, super vague-ass synopsis, and that could be considered a Red Flag, but really, what else is there to say besides: "Humans go to Monster Island. Monster Island kills humans. Don't forget your popcorn." Like I said, I have a low bar here.

Let's watch the trailer!



I am so in. I love so much of what I'm seeing here.

Kong is the type of monster that just doesn't work in the real world. Besides the fact that he's a huge mother fucking gorilla, of course, there's something about uncharted islands that just don't work anymore. There's too many satellites and too many people and too many boats for "uncharted islands" to even be a thing, right? I think so. And if one did exist, and it turned out to be a Monster Island, the type of weaponry and technology we can easily carry with us would make short work of the plant and animal life there, regardless of how giant they may or may not be.

So, you can't do this type of stuff in modern times, or... you can, just not on an island. It would have to be set on a different planet or dimension or something. Also, you can't really do a 1920s-30s time period either, despite the fact that Kong is firmly rooted in a pulp era setting. For one, we've seen it already, it's been done, most recently during Peter Jackson's film Kong just 12 years ago, a film that when a friend asked me how it was, I said: "It was all right, they really took time with establishing the story. They took an hour getting to Skull Island setting up the characters and motivations... But on the other hand, they took an HOUR getting to Skull Island." Even though Jackson's Kong wasn't really that bad, it wasn't really that great either, and audiences remember that, so they have to separate this film from the last one.

Setting the film in the 60s is a brilliant answer.

Usinf Vietnam-ear imagery really sets your tone. Plus, it still feels pulpy, but it's also "modern enough" to not feel out-dated. The characters and soundtrack can reflect that mix easily. The relative modernity allows for the story to feel more dangerous, a little darker, as pulp settings always end up seeming a little cartoony, and the use of 50-ish year old tech keeps the world of the film at a distance from audiences, and it will most likely force some moments that modern day tech might have easily negated, and that helps to retain some of the mythic, other-worldly feel of the adventure. I mean, just think back to how you felt the day you accidentally left your phone at home. Remember that feeling, and then add a giant ape that wants to kill you... Scary, huh? Right? Plus, as always with Kong, there's a inherent metaphor about Man's mistreatment of Nature, and the consequences of that arrogance too, that's right at hand. That's always a nice little bonus.

In the end, what I'm seeing here looks smart, funny, and well done, so I'm in, but... like I said, I'm in regardless. Kong: Skull Island opens on March 10th, 2017.

I'm ready,
Jon

And as added bonus, here's a couple of great posters.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Find My Phone









Today's short film is called FIND MY PHONE. It's more of a Short Documentary, really.

The idea behind it goes like this: Anthony van der Meer was in Amsterdam when his phone was stolen. He reported it, but the thief had already ditched the SIM card and disconnected it from the Internet. It was like dust in the wind, dude. This really upset him, as it obviously would. After all, our devices are intertwined with our lives. They're our connection to the greater world. They hold personal information, personal pictures, personal connections. They hold memories. They're maps to who we are. Like it or not, they're a part of us. So, the idea of someone having all of that personal stuff nagged at him. And why wouldn't it? No one wants their dick pics out there in the wild.

Anthony couldn't help but dwell on the idea. What happened to his phone? Who took it? Where did it go? Who had it? What kind of person were they? These questions led to Anthony getting a new phone, loading it with Cerberus anti-theft software, and then allowing that phone to be stolen. He then used the anti-theft software to track the phone, and to listen in on the thief as they used it. He read their messages, and followed them around. He found out who they really were.

And then he made it all into a film...

Sounds cool, right? Let's watch.



I kind of wish Anthony had directly confronted the guy. I mean, he probably would've gotten the crap kicked out of him, but it would've made for a really nice denouement. Otherwise, as it stands, the film stops pretty abruptly. It's not like he had too many other options, but still, it does make it a little unsatisfying. It was definitely interesting the way your empathy swings back and forth for this thief, but honestly, the craziest part of the film--and the scariest part, what with a President who has used unsecured phones to light up sensitive documents--is once again being forced to confront just how easy it is for someone to patch into your electronics, and watch you masturbate.

Let's all stick a piece of paper over our cameras, huh?

Learn from other people's mistakes,
Jon

Monday, February 13, 2017

Logan








I'm not a big fan of FOX's X-film franchise anymore. I say anymore, because there was a time when X2 was the greatest comic book film ever made. It was the biggest and best and truest example of the genre, and watching it on the big screen back then was pure joy.

But that was fourteen years ago.

Or perhaps more accurately, that was four years before the first Iron Man movie was released, and four years before Marvel Studios changed the way comic book films were made, showing the world what it really meant to be the biggest, best, and truest example of the genre. In the years since, time has not been kind to the FOX X-films, with almost each new addition tot he franchise turning out steadily worse than the last.

Looking back now, the films are revealed to be poorly written, poorly directed, and terribly put together. They look cheap. They are the cinematic equivalent of the Macbeth quote, nothing but sound and fury. Worst of all, their seemingly arbitrary decisions to ignore random pieces of the source material now seems not only weirdly wrong-headed, but sometimes seems not even thought out at all, and the alternatives choices they decide to go with instead just look out-dated and silly. The whole franchise seems like they're stuck in a 1990's design hell of some Matrix meets Hot Topic idea of cool, even when they're supposed to be set in the 80s. If X2 was once the best example of the genre, it is now only the best example of how not to make a comic book movie. Now, whenever they announce a new X-film, I barely pay attention, like Star Wars and Batman, they've practically beaten the fan out of me. The last two X-films I didn't even bother to see in the theatres, and when I did finally catch up on them, I was satisfied that it was the right decision.

Succinctly put... they're just bad movies.

So, when I heard they were going to do one last Wolverine movie called LOGAN, and base it off the "Old Man Logan" story from the comics, I was torn. One one hand... Good. No more Wolverine movies, because so far those ones in particular have consistently been the worst of the X-films. But on the other hand... oh, shit, there couldn't be a worse story for FOX studios to choose.

Because they are going to fuck it up so badly.

Old Man Logan is a Wolverine story that takes places in one of Marvel's myriad "possible" futures. It could be described as "Mad Max meets Unforgiven, but with Superheroes". It's set 50 years after all of the super-villains teamed up and took on the superheroes in a surprise coordinated attack. The villains won, most of the heroes were killed, and the victors divided up the country into their own personal playground of vice, villainy, and hopeless ruin.






On that night, so long ago, Wolverine was tricked into massacring the X-Men, and once he discovered this, broken by guilt and despair, he wandered off into the wilderness to die. He didn't, of course, because that would be a short and disappointing story, so 50 years later, he is now living quietly as a farmer, a husband, and a father, haunted by his past, and trying to eke a meager living out of the land. He's no longer a hero, a warrior, or a killer of man, machine, and monsters. He's peaceful now. He hasn't popped his claws in decades. He doesn't even acknowledge the name Wolverine. His children don't even know who he once used to be.

Unfortunately, his landlord is Bruce Banner, better known as the Hulk, once a hero, now driven insane from gamma radiation. Bruce controls the whole area. He has a gang of evil, Hulked-out children, and they are an ugly and cruel bunch, as mean as they are green. So as our story starts, one day, the Banner Kids show up to collect the rent early, but times are rough all over, and Logan doesn't have the money. The Hulk Gang beats him, and they give him a week to pay, threatening to kill him and his whole family if he doesn't.

A classic set-up...



Luckily, the archer and former Avenger known as Hawkeye, blinded years ago in the super villain attack, shows up in an aging Spider-mobile. He's looking for Logan's help to courier a case full of super soldier serum across the now ruined America, in order for the Resistance to use it against President Red Skull. It's a dangerous world, and a dangerous trip, and Hawkeye says he needs the Wolverine for back-up. For Hawkeye, this trip means a chance to maybe right some old wrongs. For Logan, it's a chance to make some desperately needed money quickly, and save his family, so he agrees, all the while assuring Hawkeye that he's no longer the man he once was.



You can probably guess where this is heading...


So, yeah, that's the long and the short of the story. It's a fun what-if... for the most part. However, right away there's two big reasons why FOX could really make something awful here. 

1. This is a Marvel Universe story. Not only do huge parts of the story involve characters that FOX does not have the rights too, so they couldn't use, but it also relies heavily on relationships and history that doesn't exist in either the X-films universe, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This history is one of the reasons Captain America: Civil War worked, and conversely, it's one of the many reasons that Batman vs. Superman did not. Not having access to the greater cast of characters, and not having the history and context that exists between the comic versions of these characters removes all of the narrative weight from their conflicts and loss. The X-films just can't pick up that slack on their own, they don't have a large enough stable of established characters, and they don't have the shared history.

2. Old Man Logan is a Mark Millar story. I've talked about why this guy can be really problematic before now. This is one of the stories that has some of these issues, not as much as some, of course, but it still definitely does, and they're a major sour note. And if there's one thing I think we can rely on, it's that the one studio that would be capable of hitting all of the wrong notes, in exactly the worst way possible, would be FOX, especially when they're making an X-film.

And so, to make a long story short... when this project was announced, I wasn't interested.

But then I started to see pictures, and I started to hear some interesting news, and sure, while the posters were all pretty much terrible, everything else actually looked kind of interesting. I couldn't help but be reminded of my recent experience with the Deadpool movie, where I wasn't a fan of the character, but the film turned out to be great.

Could I have the same experience here?

Here's the synopsis: In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan's attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.

Check it out...


So, maybe the most hopeful thing here is the realization that they're not even going to attempt to adapt the actual Old Man Logan story. Instead, it seems like they're aiming to use its tone and themes. I approve of this.

I approve because, like I was saying above, doing an actual adaptation is basically impossible, impossible to do accurately, and impossible to do using stand-ins for the characters that FOX doesn't have the rights to with the ones that they do, so the only outcome possible is a weak version. I also approve because, simply and obviously put, movies and comics are different story telling mediums, and what may work in one, may not work in another. If you want to make a good adaptation, then you have to realize that there will be changes, that there has to be changes. Some things have to be cut, regardless of cool factor. Others things need to be added, because most of the audience will not have the ability to assume context, simply due to not being familiar with the source material. You want to retain the core of the source material, but not shackle yourself to the minutiae.

It's not an easy line to walk, but it looks like the movie might be doing just that.

One thing that does worry me, is the implied isolation. Logan seems to be alone in this film, and that is a limiting decision. You really have to have a strong story to justify the one lone superhero sans costume move. A big part of the fun of this genre is the big brash look and the wider universe. Batman is good, but Batman with sidekicks and a big villain and a few smaller villains is better, y'know? With the full acknowledgment that there's a fine line between "just right" and "Way too bloated and over-stuffed", it's pretty evident at this point that these types of films are usually just better when there's more comic book characters involved, just look at the MCU. Granted, I really like that kind of shit, but it really would be cool to see a few more washed up, back-end of a bad history type of dystopian versions of heroes and villains appearing.

But that's not to dismiss the characters that are appearing, of course...

Old, kind-of-senile Professor X is a fantastic choice. All those guys with the cybernetic limbs and big guns? Those are the Reavers. They're a band of mercenary cyborg soldiers, classic Wolverine foils that are always fun to watch get sliced up. I love seeing them included in the film. And best of all? That little girl? That's X-23, sometimes known as Laura Howlett, sometimes known as Laura Kinney, she's a clone of Wolverine. It's awesome they included her, but a bigger question is, is she the future of the franchise? Is that the plan now that Hugh Jackman is hanging up the claws? I hope so, I'd be interested in that. We shall see, I guess.


So... I like it.

I like the look. I like the tone. I like the "one last ride" feel they're giving Wolverine as a character. I like how it looks different from the usual comic book superhero film. And, of course, I love the seemingly run-down, soft-apocalyptic feel of the setting. The whole thing looks like it will be right up my alley. Which is unusual for me, as I said, because I think most of the X-franchise is a waste of time. Or at least, they were, and then Deadpool came along, and now this? I guess we'll see...

So, yeah, that's where I'm at. Despite the franchise's history of flaws and failings, I'm interested. I'm going to give it a chance.

LOGAN opens on March 3rd, 2017. Also, I posted the only good poster below.

Snikt,
Jon