Tag: Game of Thrones

Movie Review: Dredd 3D

It’s all the deep end.

Look up at the title of this movie. It has a 3D  in it. That’s part of the title. This is, for most cinephiles, enough to write the film off as another cynical Hollywood cash-grab. This is not the case. This second attempt at adapting the Judge Dredd comic series into a celluloid series is a labor of love for everyone involved. You can tell that these guys knew what they were doing. There’s a care in the set-up, where we’re introduced to a post-apocalyptic future where the only city stretches from Boston to Washington DC and is partially comprised of giant towers that act as their own mini-cities. We soon find ourselves following the titular Judge (the only law remaining) and a rookie with special skills into one of these tower cities to investigate a murder (or three) which turns into a quest for justice regarding a drug kingpin/crime boss/controller of the tower/Cersei Lannister. The two Judges fight their way to the top, at which point they fight some more. It’s an action movie, and a very good one.

The script is by Alex Garland, writer of 28 Days Later…, Sunshine, and Never Let Me Go. He knows his sci-fi action films and he knows how characters should act and when they should break away from their normal modus operandi, a quality which shines here. The script isn’t anything super special, but it does its job and it posits a clever “what if” scenario. The biggest flourish is a new drug that’s hitting the streets (floors?) called SLO-MO. Take three guesses what effect it has upon its users (and how we see it as the viewers). Here’s where we get our first hint that we’re in good hands. Director Pete Travis not only slows down the action whenever the drugs are in play, but he also adds a kind of glimmering sheen to everything. We see Ma-ma, the boss, take the drug while she’s ensconced in a bathtub full of plain old water. Plain and old until she takes a hit of SLO-MO, at which point it turns into a shimmering, beautiful display of wonder. How did nobody think to do this before? The 3D even adds to this effect, and enhances the ideas of the film. It’s the rare action movie that takes time to consider how the explosions can serve the camera instead of the other way around. Falling glass, high caliber bullets blowing walls to shreds, and even boring old room clearing is heightened and intensified by the combination of the SLO-MO effects and the 3D filming.

The thing with this movie is that it’s kind of empty. There are some things about duty and the role of fascism and even some character development in Dredd’s psychic companion, played admirably by Olivia Thirlby. That’s all nice, and another bonus in this era of the supremely dumb action film, but it’s not a movie that will leave you thinking. At best, you’ll appreciate the grimy beauty and the solid performances from Karl Urban, who, unlike that other Dredd, never removes his helmet and still manages to convey all you need to know about his character, and Lena Headey as the drug queenpin. She does some stuff similar to her iconic Cersei Lannister role in Game of Thrones, but Ma-ma is a little smarter and practical than that demon woman. You can see how she operates and why she can actually rule over a large area while Cersei fumbles around making grand speeches and getting nowhere. Also, there’s a lot of violence. That’s fun. What else do you need?

Movie Review: Coriolanus

You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate

As reek o’the rotten fens, whose loves I prize

As the dead carcases of unburied men

That do corrupt my air.

I’m going to do my Shakespeare on film marathon one of these days. It’s going to be the greatest thing ever done, rivaling the Bards work itself. It will be epic and humanistic at the same time. Grand and personal. Anyways, this movie will have to be in it because it is the only theatrical version of the play. Coriolanus is a history, probably the least popular of the three genres that Shakes wrote in but it is equally rich ground as the comedies and tragedies. It tells the rise and fall and re-rise and then whatever of a military general who is elevated to the highest level of public office because of his war record and scars but cares little for the people he is supposed to be governing. The dynamic is set up early and often, he’s a proud man but feels he’s above nearly everybody else on the planet including his rival, an insurgency leader who is clearly not the equal of the mighty Coriolanus.

Watching this movie, which transposes the action to a modern-day version of Rome (kinda, it’s got a few minor issues here but the modernization mostly works), I got a strong feeling of deja vu, though I had never even heard of this play before seeing the trailer. It’s all political dealing and manuvering outside of one action scene for the whole first hour. What it felt like was Game of Thrones. The big players are big and bombastic (Fiennes spits a lot, which is gross but fun) but there are also these side characters that plot and scheme to keep the people they don’t like out of power. In this film it’s Brian Cox trying to put Ralph Fiennes into the seat of power and James Nesbit trying to keep him out. It’s a fun dynamic. They both manipulate the populace into thinking one way and then the other, rabble rousing the poor starving people. A lot is made of literally and metaphorically showing Fiennes’ battle scars and there seems to be a custom of going out into the people and asking them to endorse a candidate and it’s fun to see that play out, even if it doesn’t quite make sense with the scope of the film (the 40 or so people don’t quite make for a majority, do they?) So Fiennes rises and falls and is exiled on national tv. That’s fun. You know, Shakespeare is pretty damned good at this whole writing thing. Coriolanus gets mad very quickly and its fun to watch Fiennes bluster at everybody. Then he’s offscreen for five minutes and has gone from bald to scruffy seemingly overnight. Time compression!

Shakespeare has been studied endlessly and his depiction of women probably takes up half of the papers written about him. Here we have Jessica Chastain (of course) playing Coriolanus’ faithful but worried wife and Vanessa Redgrave as his fierce and powerful mother. Chastain is fine, but doesn’t get a whole ton to do. Redgrave, on the other hand, is awesome. You can very clearly see how Coriolanus came from her. Everything he is is because of her. She propels him, emboldens him. Chastises him, defends him, and, ultimately, defeats him. Not with a knife, of course, even Gerard Butler, Mr. 300 himself, couldn’t beat Coriolanus with a knife. No, she beats him with words, first groveling then shaming him and his decisions. She’s brokering for peace between him and his former country but it is only through their personal connection that she gets through to him. There’s gotta be a paper in there somewhere, right?

This is one of those movies that follows the play pretty closely (I assume). No lines of dialogue are spoken that aren’t in the play and anything depicting an invented scene lacks words. This is a convention that I get, I understand, but I don’t really know if I care about it. Are his words that revered that nobody can deign to change them? The Lion King works just fine as an adaption of Hamlet without all of the silly conventions that these filmmakers put upon themselves. It doesn’t hurt the film, I just don’t know if it helps. I wouldn’t want to get rid of the dialogue or remove its olde tyme flavor, because it works pretty well, but don’t feel beholden to some dead guy.

Ok, that sidetrack is over now. Finally, I just want to comment on the shaky cam that Fiennes (wearing his director hat) uses. It feels immediate without making me nauseous, which is good. It doesn’t detract from the few action scenes nor the more intimate moments. It gives great power to Coriolanus’ monologue right after he is banished from Rome. It’s shot in one take but he moves around and addresses the crowd and the camera follows him, not quite sure where he’s going to go next nor what he is going to do when he gets there. Often these adaptations end up feeling very stiff, with the actors struggling to get out the words and the camera not complicating matters with anything beyond kinda boring setups. Fiennes imbues the camera with an immediacy, a modern aesthetic that makes the movie come alive. It’s nothing groundbreaking or unusual, just look at half the action movies and a quarter of the drama films today, but it is nice to see him do something unexpected with Shakes. Take chances, make mistakes. Do whatever you want with his stuff. It worked out for him and I’m glad, but I’m even more glad he tried.

B+.

5 Jawesome Things for the week of April 27, 2012

Another week with bonus Jawesome to make up for missing last week’s column.

1. Parks and Rec

Recently, 30 Rock has gotten some flack for just being a joke machine with little thought for character or plot. I can’t really argue against that, though I still really like the show. Parks and Rec does not have that problem. At all. The characters are what drives the show and the debate episode (written and directed by Amy Pohler) is glorious proof. It’s full of these people acting as we would expect and still being extremely funny. And then the show ends with an amazing speech by Leslie Knope which isn’t so much funny as it is just a great moment of TV. But that moment only works because we know her and her friends so well. The show couldn’t have pulled off such a real moment in its first or second season because the groundwork wasn’t laid at that time. This is proof positive that arbitrary limits on tv show running times are silly. Yes, the Brits generally like to end their shows before they get bad, The Office‘s 12 episodes and a bonus being the prime example, but just think of how much we’d miss from Parks and Rec if it had ended after two seasons.

2. Babies and weddings

Well, just the one baby. I am, of course, talking about Game of Thrones. Last week we got to one of the most shocking scenes in the second book on the tv show and it was executed much better than I expected it to be. It was a genuinely creepy scene and it gave me even more confidence in the show’s ability to get the book right. Which is good, because I’m also about 100 pages away from the end of A Storm of Swords, the third book in the series. There are so many weddings! Each one plays out differently and they are all quite fascinating. It’s an interesting thematic chorus: after each wedding the world is shifted in some small or large way and the next chapters are about the aftermath until the next wedding comes along and changes everything again. I won’t spoil who is getting married to who, but it’s all very interesting and often shocking.

3. Gotye – Making Mirrors

I guess I’m pretty late to this album, but I hadn’t even heard the super popular “Somebody that I Used to Know” until his appearance on Saturday Night Live (along with the very funny digital short parodying the songs strange but wonderful video). The rest of the album is pretty darn good, too. He goes through a lot of different genres, my favorite being his take on old-school soul, “I Feel Better”. He tries a lot of things on the album and the amazing thing is that most of them work.

4. Python

I don’t know why I watched this. I know I have a weakness for giant animal movies, but this one is one of the worst that I have seen. It is, at least, bad in a good way. I think all the proof you need is in the trailer, which shows the two brave choices that make this movie so Jawesome. The first is Wil Wheaton’s Pink Hair and the second is Casper Van Dien’s Miserable Mustache. Never before have two truly ugly folicular mistakes occupied the same screen along with a horribly rendered CGI snake and Jenny McCarthy (who has her own horrible hair). Also, there’s a silly fight scene and a protracted Psycho reference.

5. Catsitting

I catsat(?) for my grandmother earlier this week and man, that cat is Jawesome. Unlike my own cat whose attitude towards me ranges from indifferent to uninterested, Sweetie couldn’t get enough of my attention. She’s a smallish Maine Coon and very playful and purr-y. Here, have a video.

6. Vampire books

I recently finished the second book of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s vampire trilogy, The Fall. It treats vampirism as a virus and that’s a cool touch but the writing never elevates above being strictly entertaining into the artfulness that GDT is capable of. You can spot his influence, including lifting scenes and plot points from almost all of his films (the subway setting of Mimic, the old man who wants to become a vampire to fix his body from Cronos, the auction scene from Hellboy 2 and so on and so forth) but this series could have been so much better if he’d actually written it. It misses his storytelling touch. I then started The Passage by Justin Cronin. I couldn’t remember if this was supposed to be a vampire or a zombie book and it ends up being kind of a mix of the two. It, too, treats vampirism as a virus but it’s scope is much more epic than The Fall‘s. The vampire apoclaypse happens relatively early and the book turns into a survival horror story akin to The Walking Dead or The Stand. It feels a lot like the best of Stephen King’s work, sprawling and personal at the same time. I’m only about a third of the way through the book and I look forward to seeing where it’s going. It is the first in a trilogy as well, so we’ll see how such a long story works for the topic. Luckily the writing is very good and the characters are interesting, so it’s got a good start.

7. Looper and Prometheus trailers

Looper is the the third film by Rian Johnson and it is getting a big push which will hopefully vault him into the public’s interest. The trailer is fantastic at showing the plot (a man who kills people for the mob from the future by means of time travel gets shaken up when he is tasked with killing his future-self) and the style, which is quite different looking from his two previous films (Brick and The Brothers Bloom, both of which appear on my Top 100 List) which were quite different from each other. Prometheus’s newest video isn’t a trailer, necessarily, but it is an intriguing and very well made introduction to Michael Fassbender’s character. If you want to go into the film knowing nothing I’d suggest that you don’t watch it but it is a very interesting watch. I like this kind of advertising, since this won’t be anywhere in the film itself it isn’t spoiling the viewing experience like seeing that zero-gravity shot from Inception every other commercial did and it’s giving us more Fassbender which is always appreciated.

There you have it, two bonus Jawesome Things. What kind of Jawesome Things have you seen?

5 Jawesome Things for the week of April 13, 2012

I missed last week’s column because of Good Friday or something. So there will be more Jawesome things this week to make up for it! BONUS JAWESOME! BONJAWSOME! He’s everybody’s second favorite New Jersey rock singer.

1. Books!

Since last we spoke I’ve finished three(!) books. Two of them were very short and one was an audiobook, but whatever! Books! Here are some brief reviews.

Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A. S. Byatt


A telling of the Norse mythology, at least part of it, wrapped up in a semi-autobiographical frame story about a “thin girl” in WWII England reading about said myths. It’s pretty good, covering much of the basic stories we know and a few lesser known stories (Loki’s children are super great). The real reason to read this book instead of the wikipedia pages is Byatt’s marvelous prose. It borders on poetic, focusing on the forms and functions of the various deities and the supernatural world around them. Rivers flow, rocks move or don’t. Loki shifts. It’s beautiful in its horribleness. Because this is a book about how evil we can be to each other. The WWII border isn’t just there to give the girl something to worry about. It’s there to remind us that we’re still playing out the Ragnarok as long as we fight each other.

“The black thing in her brain and the dark water on the page were the same thing, a form of knowledge. This is how myths work. They are things, creatures, stories, inhabiting the mind. They cannot be explained and do not explain; they are neither creeds nor allegories. The Black was now in the thing child’s head and was part of the way she took in every new thing she encountered.”

The Infernals by John Connolly

This is a sequel to the YA book The Gates, also by Connolly, who is best known for his crime novels. In the first book, young Samuel Johnson and his trusted basset hound fought off an invasion by Hell’s denizens by way of the Large Hadron Collider. In this book, his Hellbound nemesis, Mrs. Abernathy (the demon Ba’al in an Earthly disguise) drags Samuel and his dog and a few innocent bystanders into Hell in order to reclaim her spot at the left hand of The Great Malevolence. It’s kind of confusing, I guess, but Connolly writes with a jaunty wit that keeps everything moving. There’s less here than in the first book, though the friendship between Samuel and a demon he met as he tried to stop the first invasion is nicely written and quite touching. The book flies from place to place, not stopping long enough to create a sense of dread that a book about wandering around the plains of Hell should probably have. There are a few moments of scariness, including a nicely mythical description of one of Hell’s less fortunate denizens, Old Ram, and his torture by twisted souls transformed into twisted trees. It goes by very quickly, being just a little over 300 pages of not-at-all-difficult writing. A fun, if a little too inconsequential, time.

The other book was Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, which was very good, but that’s about all I have to say about it.

2. Game of Thrones has returned!

The second season of the phenomenal Game of Thrones TV show has returned, and it is continuing the greatness. The first episode didn’t even feature any Arya, arguably the best character on the show, and it was still great. This season seems to be straying further from the source material, but I’m ok with that. There are things you must do when condensing a book down to size and then changing the medium from page to screen. I will reserve judgement until I see something that is bad as a TV show, not just different from the book. The newly introduced characters are pretty great, Davos especially. I look forward to his story on screen.

3. We Need to Talk About Kevin

Whoa! This movie is intense. It gives Melancholia a run for its money when it comes to making you feel what it wants you to feel, namely incredibly tense and unhappy. There are a few scenes that will stick in my memory for a long time. Which makes sense, because most of this film operates in memory. It is much like Tree of Life in that we have a character remembering a childhood with the color of the present instead of a straight show of that childhood as it actually happened. “What personality” is a question that a kid wouldn’t ask, but it totally works because we’re seeing what happened through Swinton’s eyes, not some impartial observer’s. We’re thrown into the situation, and those early minutes are impressionistic and wonderful. What’s happening doesn’t matter as much as how we’re feeling about what’s happening. There’s a shoutout to Rosemary’s Baby and the film traffics in that kind of horror. What do we do when there’s a kid that we think is evil? How do we cope? Where did all this red paint come from?

4. Going to see my sister in concert

My sister, Leah, is a Junior at Hofstra University. She’s going for her Music Education degree and had to sing in a solo show. It was a lot of fun, even if I had to wait a little longer for the season premiere of Game of Thrones.

5. Some 1957 movies, but not others.

You already know how I feel about Sweet Smell of Success, but on the same day I watched Zero Hour! and that was, uh, not Jawesome. Zero Hour! is perhaps only known for being the film that Airplane! was based on. It’s funny, too, but I don’t know if that was on purpose or not. None of the acting is any good, nor’s the direction special, nor’s the script worth writing home about. It’s all so silly, which, I guess, makes for a great farce. This film probably should have been a Twilight Zone episode (though that show doesn’t exist for two more years) and there should have been a gremlin on the wing. That’d be something to watch. This isn’t.

6. This video of the UNC basketball team playing against some students

I don’t care one way or another about the UNC squad, but this is a great thing that they do to remind everybody that they’re students, too. And then, at the third minute mark, magic happens. It’s wonderful. This is what sports are about.

5 Jawesome Things for the week of March 9, 2012

These are the five best things that I came across in the past week. This is now a Friday column, which probably makes a lot more sense than a Thursday column.

1. Reading. It’s Fun-damental!

I finished two books this week: Everything is Illuminated and Wonderstruck. You can read my reviews of them by clicking that link back there. They were very good. And now I’m 100 pages into A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Every once in a while I get caught up in some other thing, some not-reading thing. And I slow or stop reading altogether for a few weeks. I start to get kinda out of whack. Messed up feeling. All over the place. The past few weeks I was in a funk of that sort, so when I started to read the energetic and wonderful Everything is Illuminated I was so happy to rediscover reading. Maybe I’ll learn from this experience. Maybe I’ll keep reading for forever now. Probably not, though. Without those absences how would I remember just how great the process of reading truly is?

2. Warmth

Remember how last week I was so happy that it was snowing? This week I was driving around town with the windows rolled down because it was unseasonably warm and that was pretty great, too. Crank up the tunes, get some fresh air flowing, go somewhere, do something. That’s the ticket. Here’s my current happy-time-driving song of choice:

3. Movies that get better as they go along

I watched two movies in the past week that started off ok and improved greatly with each passing minute. The first was Miranda July’s The Future. It starts off as a pretty straightforward indie-comedy thing with a cute young-ish couple deciding that their lives are going to be over by the time they reach the age of 40 (because then it’s only ten years until you get to fifty and by then you can’t start anything new and you might as well be dead). So they live the next month without any obligations other than to themselves and what they really want to do with their lives. It’s a pretty silly premise that would be cloying over the course of a whole film, but luckily July sidesteps it (or leaps over it) by going all out. Things change in these two people’s lives and the changes are dramatic. It becomes quite sad in a very real way. Time stops. Things happen.

The other film was Roman Polanski’s Carnage. It’s kind of a strange title at the beginning of the film. It’s just two middle-aged couples settling a dispute between their two respective kids. It’s too polite. Things are hinted at and said behind each other’s backs. It isn’t until the second half of the film where the insults start flying and I started laughing. It’s the strangest thing. I didn’t laugh at all in the first 45 minutes or so but in the next 40 I was laughing pretty consistently. It has a dark edge to it that is fun and ugly at the same time. Of course, having John C. Reilly, Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, and Christoph Waltz doing the arguing will help it being awesome. It isn’t a great movie, but it is pretty darn good by the end, if you can stand people being horrible.

4. Game of Thrones on Blu-ray

It looks so good! It has awesome extras! It is one of the best TV shows ever! Exclaim! For your entertainment, the three younger Stark kids singing the opening theme on the second episode commentary track.

5. Awake

This is based strictly on the pilot episode of the NBC series starring Jason Isaacs (hello!) who plays a man that got in a car crash which killed either his wife or his son, leaving the other behind. A silly sentence, you say? Yes, I respond. It is a silly sentence. Doesn’t make any sense, but it works. When Isaacs goes to sleep in one world (for example, the one where his son survived the crash) he wakes up in the other (where his wife survived). He, being a police officer as roughly one half of all TV characters are, has to solve cases in each version of his life, but they overlap, leading to strange coincidences and his partners questioning how he knows certain details. The challenge of this show will be in continuing the incredibly compelling storytelling that they achieved in the pilot episode. I know the crime element will get more air time as the series goes on and they have to do less exposition, though that exposition was handled remarkably well with the aide of two psychiatrists, one in each version of his life. The visual storytelling is really great, too. The mother’s side is warm and nicer to be in, while the son’s side is green and gray, a cooler color palate. This almost makes up for Fox cancelling the show creator’s previous show, Lone Star, last year. Let’s hope he can keep it up and keep it good. Here’s the whole darn thing!

Those were the 5 Jawesome Things for the week of 3/9/2012. What were your Jawesome Things? Leave a comment!