Movie Review: King Arthur and the… Something Something Evil Ghost Rider Skeletor Barbarian

It’s been out for a bit. Guy Ritchie’s foray into fantasy was a spectacle to behold, being full of amazing and awesome and… Pacing issues. And CGI. On Rotten Tomatoes, critic score of 28%; viewer score of 78%. Quite a discrepancy between those numbers. I’ll chuck it up to the growing rift between gatekeeping “experts” and the overwhelming input of Average Joe voter: the masses currently mean more than the “critics” to me, especially when it comes to historically important lit.

First off. I’m a King Arthur purist. In BOOK form. And if anyone knows the legends, the tellings are multiple, complex, and likely not nearly as historical as one would think. You know. Because Merlin was a mage. If you aren’t able to step around the idea of a fantastical retelling of anything historical, when you walk into a theater, you have no place being in a theater. IMHO.

Spoilers ahead. I have a bit to say. Continue reading

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Jupiter Ascending is Twilight on Steroids

Jupiter-Ascending-Concept-soldier2d

I’ll start this post by saying I had a whole entry written up about being spoon-fed stories, and how tired I am of baby-stepped storytelling. I figured I *expletive deleted* too much, so I slept on it and decided to ruminate on the subject.

I found the best way for me to distill and digest my thoughts would be to read (or watch) something that doesn’t spoon-feed me a story. So I turned to a movie I’ve wanted to see for a long time: Jupiter Ascending. Given the Wachowskis don’t play by the rules when it comes to telling a story, I figured I couldn’t los anything by watching. 

It galvanized my thought process on the matter, and allowed me to step into a place to properly compare and dissect. The movie also got so little attention once released, and I heard so little about it, I figured it’d be a great, beautiful, luscious movie. I wasn’t wrong.

Spoilers contained within. Do not read if you want to watch and enjoy it as new. Continue reading

Follow-up on my previous Post

Maybe I’ve been out of the “critique” circle for too long, or maybe my interests have dumbed down since I embarked on this great quest to pay off my debts working a non passion-filled job. I don’t know.

The past week was filled with reading critiques on the Batman V Superman movie, having conversations with friends concerning what they liked or didn’t like, and boning up on “background” for the movie that I might have missed. I’m a little humbled, a little confused, and perhaps even feeling a little tenacious about my stance on the movie.

I’m usually in the minority with my perspectives. This is the first time I’ve been alone. Haha

So I’m writing a follow-up to try and put my thoughts on paper. Continue reading

Del Toro’s Crimson Peak is the Prequel to Drood

Creepy, yes? No?

Creepy, yes? No?

(As a quick note, after salivating for a few years over the thought of Guillermo del Doro directing Drood, I see little to no discussion from his side of the fence toward the development of the movie. This post is partially to continue my interest in the project and partially to try and garner a resurgence of hope for it).

I follow my favorite artists, as I’m sure everyone does. I listened to Smashing Pumpkins until they broke up (and never got back together again), I’m currently reading every single thing written by Dan Simmons, I dream of someday owning an original Beksinski, and I follow Guillermo del Toro’s everything. While half of the previously mentioned artists are no longer producing (Billy does not a Smashing Pumpkins band make), the other two are hard at work dominating the writing scene and big screen, respectively.

That being said, Crimson Peak snuck up on me. I checked on del Toro’s upcoming releases, saw the film adaptation of Dan Simmons’s masterwork Drood and a few other things, and set it aside to essentially pay bills by working my tail off. It came out, seemed like a sexy mashup of Poe, Lovecraft, and X-Men (Hiddleston is in it. No matter how many times I see his butt, I still see Magneto), and planned to see it in the theater.

This movie. This movie, in its entirety, is a dry run for Drood, and it thrills me to no end del Toro took the time to make it. Before I go too far into detail, I’ll sum the movie up as quick as I can without giving too much away: Heroine writer is picked by dashing Hiddleston to be the one in a somewhat rushed romance, but Heroine’s father isn’t convinced and decides to look into Hiddleston’s (and his creepy sister’s) past. Queue Fall of the House of Usher and The Color Out of Time mashup: powerful, gothic symbolism sewn together with a dull, supernatural needle and twine laced with twisted romance.

Pros: enchanting, morbid scenery: a derelict mansion resting on a mound of blood-red, liquefied clay that literally oozes out of the ground and fills the pipes of the house; walls of black moths and murals; leaves and snow fall from holes in rooms. “It’s the east wind. When it blows, it sucks at the chimneys. With all the windows closed up, the house, well, breathes.” Complex, developed characters with solid momentum. Just enough of the grotesque that the enthusiastic observer of horror isn’t terrorized by it. Just enough romance to show Hiddleston’s butt. Just enough intrigue to unfold a shallow mystery that doesn’t steal the show. And the supernatural element is added like spice. It isn’t the steak. It isn’t the deep fried eggplant. It isn’t even the bread with which to sop up the juice. It’s simply touched upon, tasted, and vitalizing.

Cons: This story needed to be three hours in telling. Unfortunately, you can’t make a movie like that unless it’s The Titanic or Gone with the Wind (Or any one of the three extended editions of the Lord of the Rings movies). Given that, some of the dialogue was rushed, some of the interactions not given their fair share of screen time, and those lovingly twisted, deeply developed characters felt somewhat caricaturized by the speed of their exposition. Also, I could simply bathe in the scenery. The double meanings. The symbolism. In a lot of ways, this was a retelling. Especially with the Heroine’s comment, near the beginning of the movie, of, “I prefer to be like Mary Shelley, who died a widow.”  This movie was truly an homage to true gothic literature, and came up short because of screen time requirements.

Also, I’d bet it was over the heads of a lot of people. The moths were literally eating the walls. This movie is art in its highest form, and I applaud del Toro for his dedicated effort.

Now getting back to the idea of this unrelated movie being a “Prequel” to the movie adaptation of Dan Simmons’s standalone novel. Follow me through the journey, if you will. Del Toro began his reign of successful movies with (in my opinion) Mimic, a xenomorphic horror/science fiction about cockroaches that evolved to look like people and then eat them. I’d place this work firmly in horror, with the overarching question of How long can we remain on top of the food chain? being pounded into our skulls. Next came Blade II, a comic book vampire movie. Then Pan’s Labyrinth, a sleeper hit that first caught my attention. It was brilliant, gruesome, beautiful, haunting. Much like Crimson Peak, but much more contained, staved, stunted. He often said it was too heavily produced by outside forces, too many hands involved in the making of it for him to tell the story he wanted to tell. In the “making of” on the DVD, he remarked he wished he could do it all over again.

Yet that movie wasn’t gothic. It was more a German fairytale woven into war. While it was grotesque and in some ways horrific and certainly frightening, it didn’t have any of the romantic aspects, the sublime symbolism of gothic work. Poe is gothic. Lovecraft is horror. Pan’s Labyrinth is much closer to Lovecraftian literature (or Gaiman literature) than anything of Poe’s.

Move forward in this writer/director/producer’s career, you see a bunch of seemingly unrelated movies: Hellboy and Hellboy II, superhero movies that still played on the enchanting aspects of magic, but not the blood-magic of the gothic; Pacific Rim, full of cybernetics, rock-em sock-em robots vs. alien monster godzillas; the three Hobbit movies all awash with CGI and hopeless pandering to money; along with a bunch of mixed teleplays and scripts for episodes of The Strain and games and cartoons and whatnot.

So. He’s written a lot in the horror, a lot in the superhero, a lot in the science fiction area of writing. It’s his bread-and-butter. Yet he’s never written true gothic, although his “to be developed” projects include At the Mountains of Madness by Lovecraft and Frankenstein by none other than Shelley (I love when projects overlap. Like that time Johnny Depp said “savvy?” in Once Upon a Time in Mexico most likely as a slip-up from his parallel project Pirates of the Caribbean).

This movie has all the trappings of the Drood atmosphere. Powerfully developed characters, a narrator who sees things in the night, a Hiddleston-esque Dickens with his own Dark Passenger in Drood, an environment quite at home in the same Victorian atmosphere of the movie, and most of all, practice in the writing of gothic screenplay. A lot of the characters in Crimson Peak run with similar motivations in Drood, although the Heroine would have no place in Simmons’s novel. This movie needed about ten fewer jump scares–the environment itself was enough–and the supernatural element would be near parallel to Drood, as well.

It seems like practice, practice, practice. (Or, perhaps, the Drood project is scrapped in entirety and del Toro wanted to direct/produce/write something in the same vein, and instead of Drood we got Crimson Peak. Quite possible.)

If you love American Gothic, if you love Poe, or Shelley, or Hawthorne, or any of the other greats, if you love the idea of a story that incorporates aspects of the supernatural, of romance, and intrigue, and mystery, and horror (instead of a horror movie that incorporates aspects of a story), Crimson Peak is definitely the movie for you.

Even with the poor on-screen development of the characters and gratuitous jump-scare numbers, you can be darn certain I’m purchasing this movie as soon as I can get my hands on it. Especially if this is the closest I’ll get to a del Toro Drood adaptation.

Chris

Movie Review: Immortals (Nov 11, 2011)

I believe, until I start making enough money to pay bills AND feel comfortable, I will not be able to review anything new or freshly released. I’ll most likely review Dark Knight Rises sometime next April. haha

Immortals was a movie that I approached with much trepidation: I had seen a lot of the movies post-300 as knockoffs trying to re-create the movie with different stories, like superheroes being remade. I saw Hyperion’s ridiculous helmet and thought it would be the kind of movie I yawned at halfway through.

I didn’t know the director before watching, but have since done some research. Indian-born Tarsem Singh is known for The Cell and The Fall, two brilliant movies (in my opinion) with great visuals and story.

Quick overview of the movie: Evil King Hyperion (played by Mickey Rourke) wants to free the Titans to restart a war on the Olympians. He has no sympathy for humanity, and seeks the Epirus bow, some legendary weapon that can break the Titans’ bonds. Theseus, a peasant (in the movie) chosen by Zeus to be a champion, must find his inner fire to resist Hyperion, and with the help of a thief and an oracle that sees the future, he wages war in spite of everyone’s resistance to him due to his being a “peasant.”

First off–and this is something a lot of reviewers don’t understand–this is a retelling. From a mythological point of view, everything’s wrong with this movie. (spoilers) Zeus doesn’t kill other gods. Theseus wasn’t a peasant, or a bastard son. Phaedra, the oracle, was a princess in the original text.

This is a Greek myth told through an Indian’s eyes. Just like The Fall was an Epic Quest retold through an Indian’s eyes. Much like watching five Hulk remakes (where’s Edward Norton? Why can’t he jump ten miles high? Blasphemy!), two Batman remakes (This doesn’t feel like a comic book! Blasphemy!), two Spiderman remakes (Spiderman wasn’t a high school kid! He shot his own webs! He wasn’t some emo little kid! Blasphemy!), watching an ancient Greek myth being retold through Eastern (and, possibly, Hindu) eyes is absolutely brilliant. The script-writers were American, so I’ll expend some critique to their lack of research and continuity (Stravos is, apparently, a Christian name. It shouldn’t exist 1800 years before Christ).

Anyone who’s read anything from the Bhagavad-Gita will see parallels. The myths in the Gita and Greek myths are so similar, when I saw the end of this movie, I started laughing so hard it hurt. Why? Tarsem painted Greek gods exactly as Hindu gods are painted. Perfectly. Now, I’m not saying he didn’t screw up a lot of Western mythology. He did. But he did it to tie the two beliefs together. Yet, everyone (who reviewed) missed it. If you’re a history buff and obsessed with continuity/adherence to canon, this is not the movie for you (especially since most of the weapons/armor/tools used and names of people/places didn’t exist until 500-2000 years after this Bronze Age film took place), just like Hulk remakes, Batman Remakes, etc., etc., etc. aren’t for you. The interpretation was loose. If you’re interested in a brilliantly creative movie that sheds light on an alternative culture’s perspective, I invite you to invest some time in this.

On to other elements: plot is slow, although due to the visual elements of the movie, I never found myself bored. Like looking at a series of Dali paintings, if this movie moved any faster, details would be lost, and the awe of the environment would have paled. Every scene was epic, complex, symbolic. It pulled meaning from everything.

The only issue I had with plot was near the end (spoiler), when Theseus gives his “riling” speech to his army before Hyperion’s men attacked. It was forced and obligatory, as if someone above Tarsem told him he was required to write one in. It didn’t fit. It didn’t feel believable. Perhaps it was the way the speech was spoken, or how the army reacted, or whatever. It seemed too easy. Theseus didn’t spill his guts, metaphorically.

The visuals make this movie memorable. Acting was strong, especially the character of Mickey Rourke, who delivered his trademark, badass self. Costumes were complex. Character interactions were simplified, though expected for this kind of movie.

Finally, I want to talk about the Olympians and the Titans. Another major issue that broke the movie for many “History” buffs was the way the Immortals were portrayed: Olympians in golden armor and vibrant headdresses, and Titans as bloodthirsty, primal creatures with incredible skill as warriors. Reviewers say Titans were intelligent, while these portrayed weren’t–I differ in my assessment. The way they fought was brilliant, swift, strong, like pack animals taking down larger prey. Every loss the Titans incurred, they learned from. I couldn’t imagine the alternative being any more intelligent, and I don’t know what the negative reviewers expected: conversation between Titan and Olympian? Titans trying to actually escape instead of attacking the Olympians? Titans cowering in fear of the Olympians? They were exactly as I hoped an older race of immortals to be: great hunters that killed in sheer numbers instead of dancing around and hiding. Furthermore, there’s a reason they were imprisoned in the first place, and the reason was clear in the fight.

I give this movie 4.5 out of 5; it would be 5 if Theseus’s speech didn’t make me cringe so bad.

And, as a postscript, I’m getting tired of this American perspective that everything should be through an American’s eyes. This movie was brilliant for its melding of cultures, its complications. Saying Titans weren’t like this or Phaedra wasn’t Indian or Olympians shouldn’t have been so effiminate… That’s an American perspective talking. Since nobody has a clue what the people looked like back then, and the fact that Olympians and Titans were fantasy elements, Tarsem can retell his story as he pleases. Thank God for culturally aware directors who aren’t dedicated to punching out cookie-cutter movies for the semi-educated masses to nod sagely at and say, “Mmm. T’was alright.” This world needs more movies like this.