Weekend Reading #1

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Done with work for the week? Why not sit down, relax and have a poke at some of the cool things I found this week at the deep end of the interwebs. Enjoy your reading and/or watching!

Ranking the 20 greatest long takes – the title is pretty self-explanatory. Have a look and expand your appreciation towards those long and/or tracking shots. If you’re interested, have a look at how Paul Thomas Anderson’s long tracking Steadicam shots are disseminated. By the way, here are my two entries for the long take ranking: 1) the 15-minute conversation between Michael Fassbender’s character and a priest in Steve McQueen’s “Hunger”, 2) 2.5-minute single-take (well, with a bit of cheating, but it looks seamless) orbiting shot of a car chase from Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds”. Continue reading

Trailer: “Night Moves”

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Jesse Eisenberg, Peter Sarsgaard and Dakota Fanning in an indie thriller as environmentalists who take matters into their own hands and plot to blow up a dam… Directed by Kelly Reichardt, “Night Moves” might be one of the independent films to look forward to this year and the cast alone would be enough of a reason to check it out. On that note, I think it would be the first time to see Dakota Fanning on the big screen since she was that whiny little girl in Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” (I know she was in the “Twilight”, but I couldn’t care less about watching those films).

“Night Moves” opens on the 30th of May in the US and on the 29th of August in the UK. It also plays during Tribeca Film Festival this year in April.

Side note: I hope it’s going to be better than “The East”. What a disappointment that film was…

The Sunday Rant

Right, so I thought I could use some venting. The years of indentured servitude one has to go through in order to become a scientist, all the while biting his tongue and pickling his emotions, have taught me that keeping things in can be at least referred to as unhealthy. So, as one might probably realize by now, I tend to rant. A lot. I like to think it’s therapeutic, but other than that I don’t really know.

Last week ended up being really interesting. I spent God knows how long waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with the greatest (so far) stink-bomb of the year – “Iron Man 3”, because I really wanted to see how it is received globally. It would seem that here in Europe we’re mostly good guys and instances of brutally spoiling this film for our fellow movie-goers across the pond were rather scarce; if you don’t count Youtube – that place is just full of butt-holes, but who am I to talk… I sincerely hoped “Iron Man 3” would bomb, but quite expectedly people loved it. The critics write sonnets about how fantastic it was and the box office revenue reflects the popular (sigh!) vote; and that scares me.

I mean, I can understand that people don’t want to step on anyone’s toes with this one, because the great Shane Black wrote the script for this piece of crap, but let’s face it: for the good of everyone around there should be no sanctity when it comes to art or entertainment. If Spielberg makes a s**t film – people should know, but it turns out that RDJ only needs flutter his eyelashes for everybody to fall hopelessly in love with Iron Man… Shame… And to think someone who brought us “Lethal Weapon” or “The Last Boy Scout” could contribute to this…

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who saw that (here’s a video rant from Peter Rallis), but still countless masses made Marvel and Disney think they’ve done it right, because the only thing that matters in here is money. They’ll make a lot of it with this one and I’ll bet you money right here and now that the PG-13 spirit of “Iron Man 3” will make its way to the next “Thor”, “Captain America” or the next “Avengers”. Who knows, maybe they all will feature little boys, Christmas themes and meaningless non-violent substitute for action. It’s not OK. If you want to see a good comic book movie – go and watch “The Crow” (I re-watched it last Sunday to wash the Iron Man off my brain). Actually, do it before they remake it in PG-13, because they are remaking it. Since R-rated movies are frowned upon, the teenagers moan and groan and people lose money, I’m afraid the remake might not be exactly dark.

Now, I could even try and come to terms with the superhero genre replacing the good old-fashioned action cinema, but if this is the way we’re headed – count me out. Now I’m literally dreading the release of “Thor 2”, “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Man of Steel”, because what if they suck as badly as “Iron Man 3” did? And I need my action films to feel normal. I was raised with them and can’t imagine the world without them…

And in that spirit, and following the raging disappointment Iron Man had caused, I caught up with two films that had slipped through my fingers: “Jack Reacher” and “End of Watch”. Now, I really appreciate the effort, because lately it is rather difficult to see something relatively original leave Hollywood. Well, maybe not exactly, because “Jack Reacher” was based on a novel if I remember correctly, but then again adapting literature is nowhere near as bad as plastering numbers on films or re-heating old noodles are. I desperately tried to like it and as a result I ended up even more frustrated with it than I originally was. Somebody needs to tell Tom Cruise it is time to go. I appreciate “Rain Man, “Jerry Maguire” or “Vanilla Sky”, but enough is enough. Tom just can’t create a believable character for crime/action film any more. It’s all Ethan Hunt over and over again and the attempted noir atmosphere just doesn’t sit very well with him. Between this, the last “Mission Impossible” and “Oblivion”, I think I’ve had enough of Tom Cruise in action films.

“End of Watch” on the other hand… Now that was something else. It was brutal, violent, gripping, maybe a bit heavy-handed with all the flag-waving and police self-apotheosis, but at least it stayed true to the values of action/crime cinema. Maybe the found-footage thing was a bit sketchy, but hey… Everybody vlogs now, so why not the Mexican gangs… So, just because I can swallow a fair bit of pathos before I get sick, I wasn’t bothered by the ‘serve-and-protect’ nonsense. The dialogues were nice, Jake Gyllenhaal was awesome, and most of all when bullets flew, people got hurt. So that’s a plus, because I hate when movies show battles or gunfights and everyone’s OK (which is exactly what I saw in “Iron Man 3”, and no – I do not intend to stop bashing it, it deserves it). Plus, the entirety of the film takes place in a car or in its direct surroundings, so clearly no-one needs to blow up oil rigs or destroy CG-made cities to keep the adrenaline up.

In fact, even “Crimson Tide” (that I happened to re-watch this week as well) proves that you can put your characters in a can and use no effects whatsoever in a film, for it to be gripping. Flag-wavy, but still gripping… But then, Denzel Washington sort of drives the movie on its own, which is yet another piece of evidence that we need character-driven action films and not this plastic colorful flashy bulls**t.

Speaking of plastic colorful flashy crap, Lovefilm sent me “Skyline” this week and I don’t really want to talk about it. I had it on my rental list for ages, because why the hell not and now I got it. What a pile of crap that was… It should be shown to people in film schools as a reminder that special effects are not enough and special effects guys rarely make good directors. Notable exceptions of the like of James Cameron can only prove the theory as a whole, because no theory is complete without exceptions. I shouldn’t even speak about “Skyline” any longer, because it might be mistaken for a review, but I’ll say only this: even though it tried to look like good modern sci-fi with all the bling what-not, but the appalling story and wooden acting can make any good film look mediocre… And a mediocre film look terrible… And a terrible film unwatchable… Therefore, just to make sure I still like Sci-fi I quickly re-watched “Sunshine” and “War of the Worlds” (with the latter additionally easing my Tom Cruise pain, but Spielberg can actually direct actors so that they look convincing, so I don’t know) and everyone was happy again.

Still, when was the last time I watched some genuinely good Sci-fi? As much as I’d like to say “Prometheus”, I couldn’t live with myself for doing that. All the nonsense that went on in that movie has most probably stretched the whole thing into a trilogy, which Ridley Scott will never finish (because he won’t have a clue, how to make it look kosher again) and hence “Prometheus” should be promptly disqualified. But anyway… Good Sci-fi… Maybe “Battle LA” could qualify even with the tonne of pathos it carried, but I think the last time I was literally blown away by a Sci-Fi film was the time I saw “District 9” – four years ago!

But there is a silver lining to that, because Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” hits theaters this summer, so at least I’ll have something to look forward to. And I can try to feel better about seeing “Star Trek” next weekend – hopefully it won’t suck.

Meanwhile, the Sunday rant slowly crept onto Monday territory and I think I can stop now. Maybe next week I’ll do something similar and I’ll see where it gets me.

Rant over.

Almost Three Hours of Snoring – “Lincoln”

In my quest to get acquainted with this year’s Oscar-nominated features, I eventually got round to seeing “Lincoln”. Under different circumstances I would most likely refuse to review this film or even comment on it, but the fact it’s generally considered the most powerful contender for this year’s Academy Awards forces me to speak up. It won’t be long, I hope. I just have to stand up and say the following:

With all due respect Mr Spielberg, your latest feat is simply horrible.

There, I said it. I realize it sounds almost sacrilegious in the current climate with Spielberg being praised and Daniel Day-Lewis scoring all the gongs for his portrayal of The Great Abe Lincoln, but let’s face it – “Lincoln” as a whole is just boring. And by the way, for those of you who think that whatever Spielberg puts together is pure gold, it’s not necessarily true. “Indiana Jones and the kingdom of the crystal skull”, “Jurassic Park 2” and “A.I.” particularly spring to mind when ‘Spielbergian’ duds are in question. Well, maybe it’s a bit much to compare “Lincoln” to these three <coughs> achievements, because technically speaking, it’s well put together by wonderful actors, well shot and executed. It lacks a lot, though, too much I’d say.

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In fact, I’d say that Day-Lewis once again proves he’s a force of nature when it comes to immersing in the character and I will be saddened deeply if he doesn’t get the Oscar hat-trick this year. His methodical and professional portrayal of Abe is by far the only thing that carries the film. Having Tommy Lee Jones as a fantastic sidekick doesn’t exactly hurt, and if it wasn’t for this dynamic duo, I wouldn’t care about “Lincoln” at all. This way, I care only a little, because I firmly believe that one man – even a powerhouse like Day-Lewis – won’t make a masterpiece out of this otherwise mediocre film.

So, for those of you who are not aware, “Lincoln” basically focuses on the last six months of Lincoln’s life where he brought about one of the most important pieces of legislation in US history – the abolition of slavery, ended The American Civil War and met his untimely demise by assassination. It would seem to be a perfect film material because of the sheer gravity of events to be portrayed combined with almost legendary status of the main characters involved. Yes, of course – on paper. What came out of it was an excruciatingly long and boring history lesson. I don’t know, maybe the American audience would appreciate it more due to having a hopefully more emotional bond with their own history. For me however, it’s a lot of talking with no drama, with the occasional patriotic note. Nothing really happens in the film and I couldn’t care about anything that transpired on screen. The allegedly fantastic material for a story – breaking the shackles of oppression – was laid out with no emotion, with too many characters, and in the end “Lincoln” descended into a second-rate courtroom drama. Quite frankly, the only thought I remember was rocking around my brain as I was watching “Lincoln” was ‘wow, Day-Lewis really brought it again’. And even after a while it got a bit stale because, honestly, there’s a limit to how many times one man can say ‘wow’.

Mr Spielberg, you should have known better. You should have known that “Lincoln” doesn’t have enough oomph to make me sit on the edge of my seat. What am I thinking; it doesn’t have enough power to keep my eyes on the screen for that long. It’s boring and uneventful and in a nutshell, it comes across as attempted hagiography with a touch of self-indulgence that should not have even been there in the first place. While I do get the need to pay due homage to one of the most important figures in American history, attempting it in this quasi-religious way is most certainly not the way to go. As a result, I was shown a one-dimensional story where mighty and stalwart (and flat as comic-book characters) paladins re-enact a piece of history that – while important to remember – turns out to be simply mundane and monotonous. And adding the patriotic tune to the symphony doesn’t always help.