26 December 2009

the not-completely-late-to-the-party movie review presents: avatar

It's taken me a couple of days to be able to sit down and write this reaction in one shot because, well, it has. I don't know if I should be blaming some of the reviews I've read (Devin and Nick, if I should, I blame you), or my sometimes aggravating ability to see both sides of an argument, or straight-up ambivalance, but for whatever reason, I'm writing this, hopefully you're reading it, and maybe we can have a good little discussion about it later.

Avatar. The movie that's taken Jim Cameron god-only-knows-how-long to finish, cost anywhere from $17 to hundreds of millions of dollars, required the development of a new motion-capture system for film, and might just be the movie that saves cinema (financially) as we know it. It's billed as a movie that everyone needs to go and see (preferably on a 3D IMAX screen – if you have access to one and anywhere from $13-$17 to burn, yes, absolutely, go and see it this way) because it will. Change. Your. Perception. Of. Film. FOREVER.

Let's jump to the end and back here really quickly: Is Avatar the best movie I've seen all year? In the last five years? In my life? In reverse order: No, no, and it depends on how you define “best.” Were I inclined to make a list of the five films I liked best that I've seen in 2009, the list would include (in no particular order) Inglourious Basterds, Star Trek, Watchmen, Moon, and Observe And Report (I need to see District 9 again to shake out how I really feel about it. The fact that Wikus is basically Michael Scott, and later action-hero Michael Scott, might still be too much for me. Or not. That's why I need to see it again. And I greatly enjoyed Up and Big Fan). I tend to weight writing more significantly than most anything else in the movie (being a “writer” myself), with acting coming in a close second, and everything else kind of getting jammed together after that (unless something really stands out – like the production design in From Hell. One really awesome aspect of a film can make up for some weaker ones, but that's not to say that I actually like From Hell. It's a pretty shitty movie, all things being equal, but that production design is fucking incredible). 

There are, of course, those rare “perfect” movies, where everything's working in harmony and the film winds up being more than the sum of its rather impressive parts (perfect movies for me would include John Carpenter's The Thing, Galaxy Quest, Jackie Brown, Bringing Up Baby, Yojimbo, Bowfinger, Batman Returns, and certainly others that I can't recall at the moment). But, I know those when I see them, and that's usually on a repeat viewing. If you were to ask me if I saw any movies that were anything like “perfect” movies this year, I'd say the closest I got were either Observe and Report or Moon. But, ask me in five years, and I'll be able to give you a real answer that's not operating on a Seth Rogen/Sam Rockwell hangover (as much, anyway).

By my rather ill-defined criteria, Avatar was not the best movie I saw in 2009. Now, to be fair, Avatar was probably the best looking movie I've seen this year, and in quite a few years. The movie's design is a tribute to Cameron's single-mindedness, and the team he put together to help him realize his vision. The film's tech cannot be denied – it's frankly kind of scary how good CG can be when it's placed in the hands of people who know how to use it (as my good friend Mister Tim Davids said, it's difficult to believe that the human base camp isn't one gigantic miniature). The facial expressions of the Na'vi blow away anything that motion capture has offered up in the past (a note that our friends at Marvel may want to consider closely as they prepare for the Avengers film); Zoe Saldana's Neytiri (a character who, by the way, dominates every scene she's in. Abams and Cameron have given us the next great lady action star; Hollywood better not fuck this one up) looks and moves the way I'd expect her to look and move as that character, as does Sigourney Weaver's Dr. Grace Augustine's Na'vi avatar (damn, does she ever do a great job as Cameron's Cassandra, once again). Pandora feels, to me, as fully realized as any world in the history of science fiction film.

The story is pretty weak sauce, can we all just admit that? If there's ever been a retread of a story, Avatar's narrative would be just that. White guy from soulless society finds the true meaning of life among the tribal people that his own people are planning to ruthlessly exploit... This is not a groundbreaking sort of story that no one's ever tried to tell before. Admittedly, a movie as tech-focused as Avatar will, probably, push other aspects of itself off to the side in order to maximize that which makes it significant, and there's certainly nothing wrong with telling a story that's been told before, as long as it's done interestingly and well, but Avatar hits all of the expected beats perfectly. My problem with that was that it felt too easy (a point I'll try and touch on later) for a film of this magnitude; if you're going to set out and try to change movies forever, why not try and tackle every aspect of motion picture storytelling? Ambition in one focused area is all well and good, but ambition in all things is enviable and worthy of appreciation, even when it falls flat on its face. 

Now, I know that no one has ever gone to see a James Cameron film because of the penetrating social insight, or his deep characterization, or any of the things that mark, say, an Ang Lee film (or a Spike Lee film, for that matter). Cameron's a different kind of filmmaker entirely, and that's not a bad thing. He does what he does very well. Would I love it if he recognized his limitations and got himself a writing partner who could say, “Jim, you've created an amazing world here in this script. Now it's time for you to let me populate it with compelling characters and for the two of us to work together to fashion a story worthy of our imaginations”? Hell fucking yes. But, the fact that he doesn't almost makes him more of an artist. He's committed to his vision, no compromises, no outside influences, no nothing. He's kind of like George Lucas in that way, except that Cameron's had more than two good ideas in his life (at least, he's shared more than two good ideas with the world. Okay, three).

You see what I mean when I say that I'm still not sure what I can say about Avatar?

“Unobtanium” is kind of a stupid word, but it seems like just the sort of shorthand dickhead space capitalists would come up with (and, by the way, Giovanni Ribisi is a great spiritual son to Paul Reiser's Carter Burke. Burke was a better character than Selfridge, but to complain would be the same as splitting hairs, and I'll do that plenty more later). None of the scientists in the film call the mineral that, and there's so much about the world of Avatar that's left unsaid (like the great science fiction films – Blade Runner, Planet of the Apes, Alien, and so on – the world is so complete that it doesn't need to spend weeks and months and years explaining itself. It just is) that I can't imagine that real scientists would have been unable to fashion a better name that “unobtanium.”

[ASIDE: The following paragraphs... I still have problems with them. They don't fit anywhere in the flow of my text, and I don't precisely know how qualified I am to write any of it, being a white guy, and all. That being said, the following points kept flashing in my mind during the film, and I'd like to think that, by writing them down, I can figure out what they mean. But, if that's the case, I haven't figured them out yet. Anyway, here we go:

Now, I'm well aware that Cameron's never busied himself with much subtext in his movies. If it's there, I'm pretty sure it's there by accident (“greedy, moralless, monolithic companies are bad” is not subtext here any more than it was in Titanic or Aliens – hell, in Aliens, he was just picking up where the first film left off). And, yes, I imagine that, until now, the most significant performer who isn't white in any of his films would be Jenette Goldstein's Private Vasquez in Aliens was not by design. I doubt that factors into anybody's casting decisions, frankly. That's not why we watch his movies; he doesn't have anything to say about the persistent race issues on our planet, and that's fine, that's who he is.

It's weird to me, though, that, with the exception of Michelle Rodriguez and Dileep Rao, every speaking human on Pandora is white, and the most significant ethnic actors are blue. Zoe Saldana, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi, Laz Alonso... They're all digital, they're all tribal. They're all great performers, who certainly help the movie soar where lesser actors would've brought it down, but if you have complete casting freedom with the mo-cap, the way Cameron and his people did, it seems... well, lazy to slide into stereotype territory with the Na'vi. It was so glaring that it almost blinded me at times.

I also think something needs to be said about how it's the white man – in the body of a blue man – that unites the natives. I'm not the right person to do it, since I don't have cultural/philosophical baggage that would allow me to make a cogent and passionate point about it, but I think it's there (and that's not to say it hasn't been there before. Cameron certainly didn't invent that), I think it's significant, and I think it's worth recognizing.

And, before I forget, there's this weird rape allegory that comes up when Sully captures his first flying lizard creature – the humans call them Banshees - and again with the gigantic second one, the one that he rides to unite the clans of The People against the human interlopers. It's not explored at all, but to me, it very much smacks of rape. I get that the nerve tendrils are a literalization for how the Na'vi are connected to Pandora – if there's one thing sci-fi is great for, it's making a point with the subtlety of a sledgehammer – but, in this case, it actually made me uncomfortable.]

Seriously, though, there's a lot about Avatar to like, and to say that I wasn't caught up in the moviemaking for most of the film's runtime would be a lie. When Sully climbs out of the ship and emerges in the human base of operations, when the Na'vi clans wage all-out war against the private military forces of the Corporation/Company, the moments when Pandora unfolds itself to Sully and us... Much of the film was a spectacular theatrical experience. Avatar used 3D exceptionally well; it didn't force itself upon the audience so much as it drew us in. Like Coraline, it utilized the depth of the screen as well as popping the images out at us. It was, in short, a filmgoing experience unlike any I'd ever had before.

The good, for me, most definitely outweighed the bad (the good, after all, was deliberate, while I think the bad was not. This isn't me saying that I don't think Cameron and his crew are smart enough to pick up on what was “bad;” far from it. I just think that they chose to focus their time and energy on how the film looked, rather than what it might've said). When I walked out of Inglourious Basterds, I remarked that no one makes a movie as well as Quentin Tarantino. Well, James Cameron makes himself one hell of a movie, too. I'm glad I've been able to see a Cameron sci-fi film in theaters; I would've felt cheated if my opportunities had begun and ended with Titanic. And, a Cameron sci-fi film scored by James Horner? I felt spoiled, in parts.

Despite my litany of misgivings with the film, I would not steer anyone away from seeing this film [while it's in the theaters. I suspect this'll be a King Kong-like situation, where I don't have much interest in seeing the film when it's not on a gigantic screen. Which seems to be what Cameron's going for, filling those seats]. Avatar was, in many ways, an experience unlike any I'd ever had before. I'd like to have it again, if I can scrape together the cash to do so.

[SECOND ASIDE: I read in an interview that Sam Worthington would love the opportunity to test for, and play, the part of Captain America. If he can do a better job consistently reining in his Aussie accent, I don't think I'd have any problems with him playing Steve. He's got the physicality for it, and his speechifying late in the film was very promising. Assuming we can't travel back in time six years and get Nathan Fillion.]

03 December 2009

arise, pop culture junkie, arise

Well, hello blog, I didn't see you there. I'm sorry I've been more inattentive than a bad, alcoholic dad who arbitrarily decides he prefers one of his children to another. I've been working pretty hard to get my comic strip off the ground (though I don't know if you could tell that by looking at the artwork), and now that I've kind of got it chugging along (seeing as how it's viewable on blogger, DrunkDuck and Facebook), I think a return to the classic blog is overdue. I'm going to try to write more regularly here, but don't be surprised if I fail miserably in my endeavor with surprising speed.


In an attempt to kick things off with a less ambitious sort of posting, one wherein I spend a little time reacting to bits of media that I feel are worth taking some time to discuss. This is in no particular order of preference, or organized in any way, really. Just as much to help me get my thoughts in order as it is to provide some (hopefully) insightful words about things that are less important than, say, health care reform.

Movies (in the theater)

I haven't gone to see a movie in the theater in nearly two months; the last time, Vanessa and I went to see Zombieland when we were in Utah. Plenty of people have already written more than enough positive things about this television pilot-turned-major motion picture that I would just be restating prior points, so we'll just keep moving on (except to note that I appreciated everyone's respecting of the blackout on the identity of the celebrity cameo. That was a fantastic moment, particularly that it wasn't ruined by spoilers in reviews).

Moving pictures on plastic discs

The director's cut of Watchmen is even better than it was in the theater, Star Trek loses some of its awesomeness when it's not on a 40-foot screen (but is fantastic, nevertheless), Observe and Report is almost funnier at home, and I'm still hooked on How I Met Your Mother. I didn't see that coming, ever. I also didn't know that Will Ferrell's You're Welcome America was ever going to come to DVD. Thank god it did.

 

Music

There's over a month to go before I can even start thinking about assembling my top 5 favorite albums of the year, so everything here is preliminary, but candidates currently in the running include:


Thursday - Common Existence (having consumed their entire back catalog this year - thanks, United Nations - I can safely say that this record is the one of theirs that speaks to me the strongest. It's almost like a work of art, how it blends sounds together, and is so very, very topical. Plus, I'm always in favor of loud and angry. Less so than in the past, but I still enjoy it).


Converge - Axe To Fall (the band that got me into this whole hardcore/abrasive/whatever scene just can't release a bad album. Axe To Fall pretty much kicks the ass of any record that anyone released this year, and 2009 saw the release of new Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, BTBAM and Mastodon. It's not quite as "deep" as the Thursday record, but it kicks it in the face repeatedly).


Booker T. - Potato Hole (I'm going to let my response to the album from earlier in the year speak for itself. Suffice to say, it's only grown on me more and more).


Mastodon - Crack the Skye (Leviathan was mind-boggling because of its ambition and technical precision, Blood Mountain was a step back technically, though it had far greater fidelity to its concept, and Crack the Skye may well be the ultimate Mastodon album, fusing together bizarre ideas from every corner of the band members' brains. And, to continue on a theme, it rocks some pretty serious shit).


Pelican - What We All Come To Need (it's almost like a rule that I have to dislike every other Pelican release. The untitled EP? Fucking amazing. Australasia? Meh. The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw? Oh, I don't know, it only contains the best fucking song they're ever going to write (March to the Sea - extended on the March Into The Sea EP, which is 20 minutes of pure aural bliss). City of Echoes? Better than Australasia, and certainly slick, but it's too even for me. The Fire was ambitious as hell, with emotional peaks and valleys the likes of which few albums have ever matched for me. City of Echoes? I got bored. The new album throws all of that to the curb and frees me to love Pelican once again. I don't know if anyone has tracked such improvement on the guitar from album to album as Trevor and Laurent have. At least not since the heyday of rock).


Michael Giacchino's Star Trek soundtrack (I love Giacchino's music anyway, but this fantastically nerdy tribute to the history of Star Trek was one of the best parts of my favorite movie of the year. It takes a little work, and a familiarity with the audio that's come before - music and sound effects, both - but its secrets are virtually bottomless. I'm not going to make the same mistake I made with Eddie Vedder's Into The Wild soundtrack).


I was bullish on the Animal Collective album when it came out earlier this year, but now I'm not so sure. My interest has rather waned. At least I was big into it at some point, unlike the new Porcupine Tree record, or 21st Century Breakdown, with which I've never been able to connect.


It is worth noting that, were I to break my own rules and open this list up to remasters and rereleases, it's entirely likely that only the Star Trek soundtrack and Axe to Fall would make it onto my list, seeing as how it'd be filled with Beatles remasters and the Ten reissue. Maybe even Paul's Boutique, now that I think about it...


Television
It sure didn't take long for Dollhouse to get canned, did it? It's particularly sad, seeing as how the second season has (thus far) taken the great realizations and energy from the end of season 1 and just kept rolling with it. There were a lot of reviews of the last episode before the hiatus (the one that focused on Sierra, that was directed by Jonathan Frakes) that called it the best episode of the show thus far. It's certainly the best episode of S2, but for my money, "Epitaph One" is still where it's at. But, every episode has been remarkably entertaining and fascinating, which is saying quite a bit for this show that I've grown to adore. I just wish we'd had more time with it, and that Joss hadn't decided to go with Fox again. If he could temper down his imagination somewhat (in terms of budget, that is), I would really love to see what he could do with the creative freedom he'd find with the right cable network (since I don't know what the general experience is with SciFi/SyFy, I'm going to be less than specific here).



Not working nights has actually freed me up to watch some shows during the time they broadcast this year. My Thursday night comedy shows continue to treat me well (I choose them over Fringe, which I really do prefer to watch without commercials), and the freshman show Community has blossomed into the show I'm least likely to miss during the week. I knew from the get-go that it had a strong chance to be good, that it just needed time to find its legs, but I didn't know it'd become fantastically funny. Chevy Chase returned triumphantly to television, Joel McHale became that leading guy everyone kind of knew he was destined to be, and ensemble comedy rules over NBC for two solid hours every week.


I didn't care for the parts of FlashForward that I saw (trying too hard), and really didn't like V one little bit (if I don't like a single character on your show, that's - in the words of Liz Lemon - a dealbreaker). Sorry.


Video games
2009 has been some kind of banner year for awesome. The best Batman game ever made (which might be the equivalent of damning with faint praise, but Arkham Asylum would be a great stealth action game whether or not it had the license to accompany its top-notch design and gameplay), the best Halo game (ODST, or "Halo Without The Flood, and starring several actors from Firefly," did everything right in its story mode, and has already eaten up way too much of my time with Firefight), Brutal Legend (Jack Black being ridiculous and awesome in a world where everything sung about in every heavy metal album actually happened), Dragon Age (despite the fact that I felt like I might've felt while playing WoW at times, BioWare saved their best writing for an original IP. Man, was that ever the right decision), Modern Warfare 2 (not as jaw-droppingly awesome as the first one, it pushed mainstreams video games in a whole new way when the Moscow airport level began), Borderlands (first-person, multiplayer looting? More, please), and a little game called The Beatles: Rock Band (about which I do not need to say a single thing).


And, oh yeah, I guess I don't care about the Wii one little bit anymore (though I do very much want to play Super Mario Galaxy 2 when it releases next year).


That's plenty for today. I'll try to write something that's real, and not simply a list next time.

28 August 2009

shauna macdonald might be the british sigourney weaver

At least insofar as monster movies go. The Descent, which I think is a phenomenal film, didn't really need a sequel, but neither did Alien. I adore Aliens - I'd probably rank it in my 25 favorite movies of all time - and so maybe The Descent Part II will live up to its spiritual predecessor's achievement. There's a trailer out that gives me hope.

Frankly, I didn't even know Marshall was done making it, let alone that it'd be coming out in December (in the UK).

26 August 2009

new project

I realize I've been remiss in my postings for the month, but there's a halfway decent reason. After having once again tried, and once again failed, to get my long-stalled film project off the ground, I've decided to focus my energies in a different direction for a time. I've always wanted to write and draw a comic strip, and although I can't draw, I can certainly make up for a lacking form with content.

Attempting to combine my hatred of all things evil with my love for comedy and the ridiculous, I've fashioned the beginnings of what might be, well, something. A strip about drone workers at the most evil corporation ever (also the name of the strip, "Incorporated Hate" - Hate, Inc. is a rather shitty clothing company, it appears, and I'd rather not be associated with their product). Like "executive vice president of raping and pillaging" evil.

Come and pay the new project a visit if you like. I don't know if I'll be able to do it daily at first (or ever), but hopefully quality will (eventually - I'm quite aware that it's finding its legs) trump quantity.

27 July 2009

moon

2001, with Sam Rockwell in the Dave Bowman role, and Kevin Spacey playing HAL. That's the vague idea I had of Moon going into it, and I was sold based solely on that terribly wrong impression. Despite the facts that Spacey delivers all of his lines in his best HAL impersonation, the film ends with lights flashing across Rockwell's helmet, and he finds himself at the mercy of the technology of which he's supposed to be the master, Duncan Jones' (David Bowie's son, interestingly enough) smaller, more personal (and, frankly, infinitely more comprehensible) film sets itself far apart from 2001 that comparisons go out the window pretty quickly. Though, there were certainly parts that reminded me of Stephen Soderbergh's adaptation of Solaris, but again, not for long.

A lot of movies these days – far too many – lay everything out early on. By this, I mean that if a movie's structured A-B-C, C is revealed very quickly and the only question left to the audience is, “How is the movie going to get there?” Usually, that's not particularly interesting. That's not to say that such a story can't be told in an compelling way, it's just that I'm very rarely sitting on the edge of my seat wondering what in the hell is going to happen next, but Moon kept my head tilted through much of its runtime. Once I got into the film's groove, I could start to see what the big developments were going to be, but that didn't happen for a while.

Moon is, to be frank, quiet. It makes a good deal of sense, given that Rockwell's Sam Bell is the lone human (though you could argue that point pretty successfully) aboard a moon base that captures Helium-3 to send back to Earth to power fusion generators that've, more or less, solved the fossil fuel problem. There's a fantastic sequence where he's driving his moon rover out to one of the mobile harvesting stations, this massive machine that looks like a cross between a combine and a Jawa sandcrawler. It's kicking up all manner of moon rock as it trudges across the satellite's surface and, as Rockwell drives ever closer, he's caught in its wake, a shower of debris, a rain of rock. It's beautiful and understated, without a musical swell or camera flourish to call attention to it, a great moment of imagery that reminded me of the fireworks scene in Brokeback Mountain, another gorgeous cinematic moment made all the better because it didn't feel the need to announce itself. And, just like that part of Brokeback, something terrible was lurking underneath the surface. The rover crashes into the harvester, knocking him unconscious as rock pours over the small windows.

As a bleeding-heart, liberal, egghead communist, I have to admit that it was tough for me to suspect a company built on the socially progressive base of alternative energy to be, well, evil, but I should've, and right from the start. Between Cyberdine, and Weyland-Yutani, and OCP, there's a long history of corporate wrong-doing in science fiction. But... fusion power! From the moon! What's more awesome than that? How could they be evil? Well, the answer was staring me right in the face from the first moment Rockwell stepped onscreen, and believe me, it's a good one.

Speaking of Sam Rockwell, I don't really know if there are many actors that I genuinely like and enjoy as much as him. I like that he makes these choices of roles that keep him a step or two removed from mainstream acceptance and recognition; I hate it when a band (Isis), or a concept (“universal” health coverage), or a game (Dead Space) gets stolen from me and co-opted by people who don't understand or fully appreciate it as much as I do, and, at least for a little while longer, it doesn't look like Guy Fleegman is going to be taken from me and perverted into something that makes him less than he is. When I saw the G-Force trailer, I remarked that somebody needs to be put in charge of Will Arnett's career (beyond an agent... somebody who has the best interests of his talent in mind, not just his bank account). Rockwell doesn't need that person, at least not yet. He's able to run pretty much the full gamut in Moon, slipping in and out of fully-justifiable paranoia, and he doesn't disappoint. The video messages he sends back and forth with his wife and daughter back on Earth (Bell signed a three-year contract that's about up when the movie opens) are his only substantive contact with the outside world, and he clearly knows it, wrenching every little bit of human connection out of their video-phone tag that he can. In this way, I suppose the film could also be compared to Castaway, except that Moon remains compelling for its entire runtime, and not just a few minutes here and there.

Spacey, of course, is fantastic, even if he's never actually on camera. He's so good at running cool that his voice is the absolute and perfect counterpoint to Rockwell's constantly-bubbling emotions. You want to suspect GERTY from the get-go, but the AI is so convincing when it tells Sam that it's just here to help him.

For an (apparently) $4 million movie, the production value is fantastic. The CG sequences stay within the tone of the movie, always understated, never showy. The base is logical, efficient with its use of space, and GERTY, rather than a series of camera eyes installed throughout, is a physical mechanism that travels on rails set in the ceiling. A small display switches between variations on happy, sad, worried, uncomfortable, and even expressionless faces, so as to cue Sam in on the tone his computerized companion wishes to take with him.

I've tried to avoid spoiling what happens in the film precisely because I enjoy it so very much. I don't want to ruin it for anyone reading that might want to go and see it. That's something you should do, go and see it. As quickly as possible.

19 July 2009

harry potter and the half-blood prince


Until now, the only Harry Potter movie I've really been able to stand was The Prisoner of Azkaban, for a variety of reasons. It was an actual movie, not simply a crummy slapping of the book onscreen, that finally made Hogwarts as much of a character as the children I'd not been sold on until Alfonso Cuaron took them under his wing and showed them how to be actors. It probed the darkness that, in the books, was only starting to rear its head, and it pissed off a fanbase that I didn't particularly care for, so that was a serious mark in its favor. My heart was heavy when I found out Cuaron wasn't to direct The Goblet of Fire (but, let's be fair: Children of Men is a hell of a movie), and so I reconciled myself to the fact that there would never be a Harry Potter movie I enjoyed. Goblet of Fire was so badly paced that I'd probably rate it a worse experience than either of the Chris Columbus movies, and Order of the Phoenix only got interesting when the wizard gunfight broke out towards the end. Anybody who actually expected the Harry Potter movies to be any good was hoping for far too much, anyway.

It's still tough to believe that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has gotten the glowing reviews its received. Tough, not because it's an excellent movie (because it's very good, but I'm getting ahead of myself), but because it's a Harry Potter movie. It may well force me to reevaluate my impressions of the series as a whole (I doubt strongly they'll change much, but the simple fact that it may well do this is a high mark in its favor). It's still not Prisoner of Azkaban, but David Yates has clearly learned enough from his previous gig, and his predecessors, that it's entirely possible he could surpass that high water mark by the time the second Deathly Hallows movie comes out.

Yates has figured out how to play with the space that the Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft provides him; he probes the shadows of the old castle to uncover those lying within the characters that have always been the movies' greatest assets. The literal differences between the high and low spaces in the castle, as Ron and Lavender run up the steps to begin their ill-advised relationship, while Harry comforts Hermione in the basement, have been so underused in most of the rest of the series as to be depressing. Bellatrix's destruction of the Great Hall at the end of the film, followed by her torching of Hagrid's cabin, are not mere desecrations of spaces, but deaths of characters, important as any other after six films.

Speaking of deaths (the series' worst-kept secret, after all), the time that Michael Gambon was given to shine was not wasted. The negative blowback that came from his arrival as Richard Harris' replacement to the part of Albus Dumbledore probably went a long way towards tainting the fanbase's perception of Prisoner of Azkaban, but I was never able to understand it. Harris was grandfatherly, for sure, but conveyed none of the power that Dumbledore had from the series' get-go, that would become so very essential as both the books and the films went along, reaching its high water mark here. Gambon has power in his presence; he always does. Sure, he's grandfatherly in that Obi-Wan Kenobi way that Dumbledore needs to be, and anyone with that bead would look bookish, like a professor, but Gambon conveys the strength that the Hogwarts headmaster calls upon when he has to go to war. He's at his highest and his lowest in this film, and those opposing moments come within seconds of each other when he's with Harry in the cave. As he's drinking the poisoned water, begging Harry to stop and, eventually, to kill him (isn't the ironing delicious?), he's fallen as far as he can go, but then, as Harry's pulled under water by the Inferi, he sets the world on fire and saves his young student's life. His silent communication with Snape, just before he's killed and falls off the tower, is a beautiful rendering of an essential moment in the book (for once, I'm happy with the series' overall fanatical fidelity to its source material).

Really, though, the Harry Potter film series' lasting contribution to the world will have everything to do with its acting. Not simply because it reminds an impatient society the virtues of patience (a big part of the reason this film is as good as it is, I'm convinced, is because we've had the chance to watch the principal actors really and truly grow into their roles. Rupert Grint, in particular, has fashioned himself in a fine comedic actor – not that anyone with a good eye couldn't see it coming, but it's awfully nice when potential is realized. Tom Felton has found the bit inside Draco Malfoy that's good, and has figured out how to mine it to great effect. Daniel Radcliffe has really learned how to be a subtle actor, particularly with his eyes, and Emma Watson, well, there's never really been any complaint I could make about her acting. She was perfect from the get-go, and she's just unfolded layer after layer of Hermione Granger as the years have gone by. I do hope she doesn't end her acting career with Deathly Hallows II. It would be a great loss), but because it's introduced a generation of young film-goers to a who's who of great British actors. Kenneth Branaugh, Ralph Finnes, Gary Oldman, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman (who's finally given more of a part to work with this time around), Emma Thompson, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Christie, John Cleese, Timothy Spall, David Tennant, Robbie Coltrane, David Thewlis, George Harris, Warwick Davis, Imelda Staunton, Helena Bonham Carter... The supporting cast members have been, without variation, extraordinary, and have hopefully inspired some curious members of the audience to check out some of their work that didn't have hundreds of millions of dollars behind it. Jim Broadbent, as Professor Horace Slughorn, upholds that tradition finely, and surpasses the bulk of those that have come before him. He's haunted by Voldemort from the instant he appears onscreen up until the moment he admits to Harry that, well, much of the student-formerly-known-as-Tom-Riddle's mad rise to power is directly attributable to something he once foolishly mentioned without thinking. To an audience that may only be best familiar with him from Moulin Rogue (another fantastic performance of his), he may well be startling in Half-Blood Prince, and that's a great thing.

The moments where the movie most clearly diverges from the book – the ones that feel most directly inspired by the tone of Prisoner of Azkaban – were certainly among the most compelling for me. Harry's final moment among the Muggles, where he flirts with a cute waitress who knows far more about the art of seduction than he, does a more than passable job of replacing the conversation between Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge and the “current British Prime Minister” that opens the book, grounding us in our own non-magical reality once again, and the Death Eaters' attack on the Weasley family's home at the Burrow, bringing home the danger of Voldemort's rise to power in a very Children of Men-esque way (from the completely-not-in-series-character shaky cam, to the instantaneous thievery of the power the characters felt only a moment earlier, to the senselessness of tragedy, to the lack of emotionally manipulative, bombastic music throughout). Not simply because I didn't have these moments committed to memory, but because they were the moments where the movie became its own entity, when it fashioned sequences well-suited to its form of storytelling, so different from a novel.

Since this was the last time we're going to see Quidditch (presumably) on the silver screen, I'm very glad they chose to send it off on a high note; Ron Weasley triumphant over all the naysayers (followed by the series' descent into Varsity Blues-like debauchery; I suppose teenagers really are the same, no matter if they're American, British, wizard, or Muggle) was a fine moment to end what was one of the best-shot Quidditch matches in the series' history. The speed at which the game unfolds, well, it still boggles my mind, and the constant lurking danger underneath an adventure, a game, was a great inadvertent metaphor for Harry's life both in school and out of it.

Actually, for a movie as dark as this one was (probably best comparable to Two Towers or Empire, seeing as how our heroes have been brought as low as they're going to be), there were a lot of laugh moments. It balanced the brightness and the shadows quite well.

As much as I'd like to unequivocally recommend this film to anyone that likes a good experience in the theater, I wonder how much of my enjoyment was fueled by the fact that I've invested so much time into these characters, this story, between the books and the films. I've slogged through over two hours of uninteresting movie for every hour of compelling filmmaking at this point; I've seen the stars grow from the time they were very small until now. It's an odd, nearly familial feeling I have at this point, so when the film is triumphant, that feeling is likely magnified for me a good deal. That's not to say Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince's filmmaking bona fides are in question; they're not. I just don't know if anyone who hasn't invested the time that a person like me has will feel quite as strongly about it. It's a fine film, for sure, but it may not be as fine to a viewer that's not seen the five preceeding ones.

05 July 2009

Public Enemies

I've heard plenty of people that I've introduced to Collateral, Manhunter, Last of the Mohicans, and even Heat complain that Michael Mann's films are far too cerebreal, that they lack the sort of emotional oomph that the best films use to transport you to another time and place. Up until Miami Vice, I disagreed, but the Colin Farrell-Jamie Foxx-Gong Li vehicle got me worrying that Mann had completely forgotten how to engage his audience on a level more visceral than, “Jesus, digital cinematography has gotten good.” He'd need something impressive to bounce back from his feature film retooling of the show that put him on that map, and fortunately, Public Enemies precisely that sort of movie. And, for the first time, I doubt anyone can argue that it does not punch you in the stomach, squeeze your heart, and cause you to step back for a moment or two to appreciate the craftsmanship, the artistry of the film.

At its best, a Michael Mann film is beyond meticulously constructed. Nothing is left to chance, not even the backstory of the principal characters (he'd assembled a full dossier, complete with pictures, for Tom Cruise's Vincent in Collateral before his lead actor ever showed up for rehearsals). Public Enemies reeks of the 1930s, from the weave of the suits, to the cadence of the conversations, to the music (oh, the music – Benny Goodman and Billie Holiday are all over the place, but the real treats are Diana Krall's version of “Bye, Bye Blackbird” and two songs from Otis Taylor, “Ten Million Slaves” and “Nasty Letter,” all of which bring an energy and attitude to the film that are indispensible). Nothing is out of place, not ever.

Mann wastes no time in introducing us to John Dillinger at the height of his powers, staging an elaborate breakout of his gang from the jail that holds them (while none of the break-out, or break-in, scenes approach the centerpiece heist of Heat, the clockwork precision with which they unfold, at least at first, illustrates Mann's skill at helming the crime film just as well as they do Dillinger's skill at helming, well, crime). Dillinger has allies all over the place, from the men at his side during the bank heists, to the people that hide him between jobs, to his fellow criminals in the Syndicate that launder his stolen cash and send bigger and better jobs his way. His list of allies slowly dwindles as the film winds on, until he's practically alone and finally brought down when one of the few people still close to him is forced to betray him by the FBI.

As usual, the casting is superb, even visionary. Christian Bale's Melvin Purvis is beyond dogged in his pursuit of “Public Enemy Number One,” and slaps J. Edgar Hoover (played by Billy Crudup in the actor's latest “really?” part) in the face with reality over and over again. Purvis is something of a contradiction here, a loner turned into the new face of the company, a man who never finds companionship or friendship as he races after the criminals terrorizing his country. Johnny Depp brings his rockstar charisma and total physical performance command to Dillinger, effortlessly modernizing yet another archetypical character in American film (first, the buccaneer in Pirates of the Carribean, and here the gangster). He grins and cracks wise with the press before he's thrown into prison, even putting his arm around the district attourney. His relationship with Marion Cotillard's Billie Frechette (she is more than Depp's equal as a performer – they're always fighting for the upper hand onscreen) is the emotional core of the film, and what really places it in the upper echelon of Mann's catalog. Never before has he so effectively rendered love (screwed-up though this particular love may have been) onscreen – the closing sequence of the film in particular (they were so close to escaping to South America).

Much of the film feels like a synthesis of great gangster films that have come before – Bonnie & Clyde and The Untouchables spring most readily to mind – but Dante Spinotti's digital cinematography adds a series of new wrinkles to the equation. Public Enemies virtually crackles with the sort of tension and excitement that can only come from immediacy, which is what digital provides in spades. Light doesn't need to be so overtly manipulated with a digital film, light can simply be, allowing shadows to fall, and fall off, in greater magnitude than ever before. The bright lights and colors of Havana and Miami were not the right locations to deploy the most recent generation of digital cameras; for all they do well, colors rarely pop in a digital film. The drab Chicago of the 1930s, well, that's a different story. Arthur Penn's version of the story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow redefined crime films for the second half of the 20th century; I think Public Enemies could well do that for the 21st century.

16 June 2009

short fiction (II)

One supports the other. The clones grow in their pond, keeping the crew alive until the mission's completion, and the tubules transfer the sum total of their memories, ensuring each successive generation benefits from the life experiences of those that came before. Unable to improve the speed of their travel, but desiring a crew that would function for the length of the journey, humanity, as before, found a way to get what it wanted. Unsurprisingly, they failed to consider the cost. Not simply what a seemingly endless journey might do to a group, but to a mind.

The human brain is not built to go on forever; when the body dies, the mind goes quickly. If the spirit endures, translates itself someplace different, then could moving the mind from one body to another trap the soul? Does a soul ache for freedom, does it despise bondage? Philosophers and people of faith may ask these questions, but do men of science?

07 June 2009

star trekkin' (part IV)

As promised/forewarned, the text that follows is the opening (pre-title sequence) of the way I'd like to see Star Trek 2 (not II, which was already made) unfold. If anybody that reads this likes it, and knows J.J. Abrams, let him know that I have an entire story to pitch to him, and that I'm over 25% of the way done with my first draft. Or you can just enjoy it, or mock me for writing glorified fan fiction. Whatever.

Now, to the script for Star Trek 2...



FADE IN:



INT - KLINGON BATTLECRUISER - NIGHT

A corridor inside of a Klingon battlecruiser (IKS GR'OTH -
under the command of Captain Koloth). The tunnel is
comfortless, severe, without any decoration besides the tri
pointed emblem of the Klingon Empire. A fine mist hangs over
the deck; it plays with the harsh red lights that shine
overhead. An ALERT KLAXON BLARES.

Rapid CLANG-CLANGS sound from offscreen. Turning the corner
into this corridor are CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK, SPOCK and
DOCTOR LEONARD "BONES" MCCOY. PHASERS in hand and sweaty.
Spock carries a large PACK across his back; GREEN BLOOD drips
from a large cut on his jaw. McCoy pulls a TOOL from the
POUCH on his BELT.

MCCOY
Dammit, Spock, hold still and let
me patch you up!

SPOCK
Doctor, it is not logical for us to
delay while -

MCCOY
Look, you've already lost enough
blood for one day.

Both Spock and McCoy look at the Vulcan's side. ANGLE ON a
large, ugly BLOODSTAIN underneath his left arm. BACK TO SCENE

MCCOY (CONT'D)
Either we stop for a moment, or Jim
and I'll have to take turns
carrying you back to the shuttle.

Spock turns his head to face Kirk, who interrupts his vigil
looking down the hall to NOD casually. Spock turns back to
McCoy.

SPOCK
Very well, Doctor, but I do not
have to remind you that time -

BURSTS of bright, crimson KLINGON DISRUPTOR FIRE interrupt
their conversation - CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! - leaving smoking
holes in the wall.

KIRK
Is anyone hit?

SPOCK
The package is undamaged.

MCCOY
So are we.
(beat)
Barely.
(beat)
Cover me, Jim!

KIRK
Won't be able to give you more than
a few seconds.

Kirk advances down the hallway, hugging the wall, phaser at
the ready. From over his shoulder, we can see five KLINGON
SOLDIERS, dressed in heavy, ornate, leather battle armor
almost as impressive as the BONE RIDGES on their foreheads.
The one in the lead - first officer KORAX, the biggest and
nastiest of them all - holds a huge, shining BAT'LETH, the
two-handed, bladed weapon of choice for the elite Klingon
warrior. His men carry vicious-looking DISRUPTOR RIFLES.
Their steps CLANG much more ominously than those of Kirk and
his men.

The Klingons don't yet see Kirk. He FLIPS his phaser over to
STUN and FIRES a burst in their direction. Most of his shots
miss, but one finds its target. It BOUNCES off Korax's armor,
burning a small hole in the ceiling.

The Klingons follow the phaser blast up, and then its trail
back down. Their eyes focus on Kirk simultaneously.

KIRK
Son of a bitch!

MCCOY
What is it, Jim?

The Klingons take off at a dead run.

KIRK
Run!

Kirk zips off and comes upon Spock and McCoy just as the
doctor finishes closing the wound on Spock's face.

KIRK
How far to the shuttle, Spock?

SPOCK
Two hundred meters.

MCCOY
Exactly?

SPOCK
Yes.

KIRK
Can you lead?

SPOCK
Yes.

With Spock in the front, McCoy in the middle, and Kirk
bringing up the rear, the Starfleeters rush down the corridor
just ahead of the Klingons. They exchange disruptor and
phaser FIRE.

They wind up in

INT - KLINGON BATTLECRUISER SHUTTLE BAY - SAME

And go from a hyper-claustrophobic space to a cavernous one.
Three KLINGON SHUTTLES - each one resembling an ill-tempered,
armored animal - are closest to the men. Further down, we can
make out the classic STARFLEET SHUTTLE, nearly at the edge of
the shuttlebay. A gigantic door blocks them from the
nothingness around the ship.

Kirk and Spock look up; ANGLE ON the CONTROL TOWER built into
the far wall of the shuttle bay. It can only be reached by a
small open-air TURBOLIFT. BACK TO SCENE.

Kirk slaps a CONTROL PANEL, which causes a BLAST DOOR to SLAM
down in the Klingons' faces.

SPOCK
Captain, Doctor, if you will make
your way to the shuttle, I will
open the bay doors.

MCCOY
Like hell you will. Just twisting
the wrong way'll pop those
emergency seals open.
(beat)
I'll go.

SPOCK
Doctor, you were not trained on the
Klingon -

MCCOY
I can push buttons, dammit!
Besides, if you're the hotshot
pilot you're supposed to be, you
can come pick me up before you go.

Spock and McCoy look back at Kirk, a moment of almost
childish respite over the BOOMING the Klingons make on the
other side of the door.

KIRK
I think we should listen to our
doctor, Spock.

SPOCK
Very well.

KIRK
Bones, I'll cover you when they get
through.

MCCOY
How do you know they'll do that?

Kirk gives McCoy a, "Seriously?" look that the doctor
grudgingly accepts. OVERHEAD: Spock and McCoy rush off,
leaving Kirk by himself amidst the Klingon shuttles. BACK TO
SCENE.

Kirk runs and presses his back to one of the Klingon
shuttles. He peeks just above it to watch the blast door,
which HEATS and turns a burning red as the Klingons use their
disruptors to cut through it.

As Spock runs to the shuttle, we ANGLE ON the control tower
once again, where a KLINGON OFFICER has suddenly appeared! He
hits a few switches on his CONTROL CONSOLE. ANGLE ON the
AUTOMATIC DISRUPTOR TURRET positioned above the control
tower. BACK TO SCENE.

Before Spock can reach the shuttle, the turret FIRES,
BLASTING the Federation shuttle to pieces right before his
eyes. Spock has no time to process this; the turret starts to
fire on him immediately after. He ducks behind another
shuttle and immediately starts to fiddle with the CONTROL PAD
on its outer hull.

At the same time the shuttle EXPLODES, so do the blast doors
sealing off the shuttle bay. Korax and his men stride in
before any of the smoke has begun to clear.

McCoy throws himself into the turbolift cradle and punches a
button on the CONTROL PAD without even looking.
The cradle starts upwards. ANGLE ON the pad; all of the text
and symbols are in Klingon. BACK TO SCENE.

A few BOLTS of disruptor fire fly over McCoy's head before he
ducks down against the cradle's base.

MCCOY
They're shooting, Jim!

He hears his answer as Kirk pops out from behind cover and
NAILS a Klingon in the head with a stun bolt. As he drops to
the deck, the Klingons' return fire scorches the hull of the
shuttle that sits between them and Kirk.

Spock, meanwhile, has opened the door on his Klingon shuttle.

INT - KLINGON SHUTTLE - SAME

There are even harsher angles inside the little craft than
there were on the outside. There is no padding anywhere, and
with the exception of more nationalistic SYMBOLS, no
decoration.

Spock sits down in a hard, metal chair in the cockpit. He
looks down at its controls; varying shades and symbols of red
shine back up at him. His movements as he activates the
shuttle are more tentative than we've ever seen; does he
actually not trust his command of the Klingon language?

Phaser and disruptor fire FLASH in the window.

INT - KLINGON BATTLECRUISER SHUTTLE BAY - SAME

The cradle's taken McCoy up to the top of the control tower.
He FIRES his phaser at the Klingon officer a moment before
the cradle comes to a halt.

McCoy's luck seems to be just as bad as Kirk's; his BLAST
bounces off the Klingon's armor. Barely feet away, the
Klingon takes a swing at McCoy and knocks the phaser from his
hand, dropping it to the deck below. Another punch sends
McCoy sprawling against the back of the cradle.

Kirk lays out another Klingon with a stun BLAST, but Korax's
men are too close to Kirk now for him to aim carefully. The
barrel of his phaser FLIPS; he's set on the red KILL mode,
now.

The Klingon hits McCoy so hard that his uniform tunic TEARS.
McCoy falls to the bottom of the cage, inadvertently ducking
under a punch. The Klingon overextends himself, and McCoy
seizes his opportunity.
He SNAPS the Klingon's head back with a two-handed strikes as
he stands, a blow he follows up with a quick series of
punches right below the Klingon's brow ridge. This stuns the
Klingon long enough for McCoy to extract a SPRAY HYPO from
his pouch and press it against the Klingon's neck. With a
WOOSH, the powerful sedative contained in it puts the Klingon
out instantly.

McCoy walks, triumphantly, to the control console; his
shoulders slump when he realizes that it's all in Klingon. He
pulls out his COMMUNICATOR, and flips it open.

INT - KLINGON SHUTTLE - SAME

Spock's COMMUNICATOR CHIRPS. He opens it.

INT - KLINGON BATTLECRUISER SHUTTLE BAY - SAME

MCCOY
How do you work this damned thing?

SPOCK (O.S.)
You have realized that a control
console in a Klingon ship is
labeled in Klingon?
(beat)
Doctor McCoy -

Kirk SHOOTS the last two Klingon soldiers through their
armor, dropping them. He turns around to see Korax leap at
him from the shadows, bat'leth swinging. Kirk's barely able
to duck the attack in time.

SPOCK (CONT'D O.S.)
- you really must understand -

MCCOY (O.S.)
I learned their anatomy, Spock!

Korax's attack SLICES a civious line in the hull of the
shuttle behind Kirk. Korax swings his bat'leth around in a
backhand swing, but Kirk manages to interrupt it and SMASH
the Klingon in the face with the BARREL of his phaser. Korax
steps away, a nasty BURN smoking.

INT - KLINGON SHUTTLE - SAME

SPOCK
...then the third toggle on the top
row.

MCCOY (O.S.)
And that'll open the bay doors?

SPOCK
No, that activates the disruptor
turret controls.

MCCOY (O.S.)
Spock -

SPOCK
You must use it to save the
Captain, Doctor.

INT - KLINGON BATTLECRUISER SHUTTLE BAY - SAME

McCoy looks in Kirk's direction; Korax's BATTLECRY is audible
even across the shuttle bay. A small CONTROL STICK emerges
from the console. McCoy grabs it and swings the turret in the
direction of Kirk and Korax.

The ROAR of the disruptor turret splits the air again, and
tears through the space between the human and the Klingon.
Korax's eyes WIDEN in realization, then he runs. McCoy
stitches the deck with BLAST after BLAST, but Korax manages
to escape.

Kirk looks up at McCoy and exhales. McCoy points toward
Spock, who simply nods.

MCCOY
Now, how the hell do we get out of
here?

CUT TO:



EXT - KLINGON BATTLECRUISER - SAME

The classic design, with the bridge, the neck, and the large
secondary hull all on a line. ANGLE ON the SHUTTLE BAY DOORS
at the rear of the ship; they've slid open, and a KLINGON
SHUTTLE has slipped through them.

CUT TO:



INT - KLINGON SHUTTLE - SAME

Kirk sits at the pilot's controls; Spock on a bench as McCoy
tends more thoroughly to their wounds. A light on the control
panel FLASHES ominously in time with an ALERT SIREN.

MCCOY
I think they're coming about, Jim.

KIRK
Not quickly enough.

Kirk sets his COMMUNICATOR down next to the flashing light

CUT TO:



EXT - KLINGON SHUTTLE - SAME

The Gr'oth has nearly finished its turn; the TORPEDO LAUNCHER
underneath its bridge heats up. The shuttle looks so very
small.

As if willed into being, the U.S.S. ENTERPRISE, flagship of
the Federation fleet and Kirk's command, drops out of WARP
expertly between the Gr'oth and the shuttle. The Klingon
battlecruiser looks almost stunned for a moment, then opens
FIRE on the Enterprise.

CUT TO:



INT - ENTERPRISE BRIDGE - SAME

SULU and CHEKOV in front of the empty CAPTAIN'S CHAIR, UHURA
at her station.

UHURA
I'm opening a channel.
(beat)
Captain?

CUT TO:

INT - KLINGON SHUTTLE - SAME

KIRK
It's us, Uhura.

SULU (O.S.)
Do you have the package, Captain?

ANGLE ON the pack Spock carried; it sits in the chair next to
Kirk.

KIRK
Yes, we do.

CUT TO:



EXT - ENTERPRISE - SAME

The captured Klingon shuttle enters the Enterprise's SHUTTLE
BAY as PHASERS and PHOTON TORPEDOES EXPLODE around them. The
instant the shuttle bay doors close, the Enterprise goes to
WARP, leaving the Klingons behind.

ROLL CREDITS

03 June 2009

star trekkin' (part III)

In what should be the final entry in my series of Star Trek-related postings, I'm going, as I threatened to do not very long ago, to "pitch" what I think would be a fantastic idea for Star Trek 2 (not II - they already made II. They've not yet made 2, but they will). Thanks for bearing with me.

The movie needs to be about (again, I've said this before) the "formation" of the Big Three: James Tiberius Kirk, Leonard H. "Bones" McCoy, Spock. By formation, of course, I mean the forging of the friendship that will get them through thick, thin, and everything else in between. Bones provides the emotion, the heart and the passion, Spock the cool detachment, reasoning, and, yes, logic ("the beginning of wisdom, not the end"). What Kirk manages to do is take the input of his two closest friends and distill these separate ingredients into something uniquely himself, and that's really what makes him the incredible leader he is. In the movie, something needs to have happened that's the catalyst for this development, that can only be overcome by these three men putting their heads together, and, by the end, the bright, shining triumvirate of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy has emerged. That's our... arc.

Now, in order for this to work, they need to face a great villain. Kirk, specifically, needs to face a great villain, because, as much fun as Nero was, and what a great idea he was, he wasn't Kirk's villain in the way that Khan Noonian Singh was, or even General Chang. If anything, Nero was Spock's villain, which is fine, but a Spock villain has to be so driven by emotion that the only way to counter him is with the immutable Vulcan logic that he really can't be anybody else's adversary. This foe they face has to be someone who's so much better than Kirk that he has to rely on his friends, he has to develop that ability where he becomes the (wait for it... wait for it...) Best of Both Worlds.

But, I think this could stand to be a halfway decent setup for the third movie, which, I think, should feature the biggest, baddest and best space battle in Star Trek history. In order for that to happen, I think it's prudent to shred continuity a little further (but, really, after collapsing Vulcan into a synthetic singularity, how much further can you go?) and reignite the Klingon/Romulan alliance against the Federation. That'd be one goddamn good fight, don't you think (particularly after J.J. & Co. showed what they could do with two ships going up against each other)? We've had the Romulans in the first movie, so in order to make this work, we'll need Klingons in the second.

I have just the Klingon villain. Captain Koloth, master of the IKS Gr'oth, and played to absolute perfection by William Campbell in the original series episode "The Trouble With Tribbles." Why Koloth? As he was in TOS, he was debonair, calculating, charming, deceitful and very, very evil. In other words, everything a good Kirk villain needs to be. Like Khan, only with a desire to bring down the entire Federation, and not simply the captain of the Enterprise. Koloth should be perfect, particularly if he can be "tweaked" a bit to fit in with our new counter-Trek universe, or whatever we're calling it.

With a storytelling goal, and now a villain, I think there needs to be a threat. As uninterested as I am in continuing the cycle of "madman hellbent on galactic destruction with his [weapon name here]," I have what I think is a pretty decent idea: The Sword of Kahless. Of course, it's not a real sword (though it might be if this film were set in the Buffy/Angel-verse, but that's another idea for another time), but something akin to a Weapon of Mass Destruction.

Stick with me, here. Say that, long ago, during one of the bigger civil wars that rocked the Klingon Empire, someone decided that, well, they needed to develop the Klingon version of the Final Solution. So, in the spirit of Kahless, who killed not only his enemies on the battlefield, but wiped out their entire bloodlines so as to excise the potential for any further dishonor to the Klingon species, the Sword was developed, a weapon designed to wipe out as many, or as few, as s/he who possesses it desires (I haven't figured out the specifics of it). Whether or not it was used, it has since been broken apart and scattered across the galaxy, in the hopes that no one ever uncovers it and attempts, once again, to do the unthinkable.

Because quest movies are fun, I thought the Sword as a device could be split into three parts: the Hilt, the Blade, and the Scabbard. So, the Federation and the Klingons (and maybe even the Romulans) have to run around to try to gather all the pieces so as to assemble it/possess one piece that can be protected or destroyed to prevent it from ever getting used. Whether the overarching goal is to use it to cement power in the Klingon Empire or to wipe out enemies external, doesn't really matter. Genocide is genocide, and it's not good, ever (see what I just did there, UN Security Council?).

I know I said this was going to be my final entry, but I'm going to do one more, where I post the first few pages of my first (probably only, too) draft of the script I'd like to see.

Hey, maybe I've found a new theme for the blog: sequels and films I'd like to see made, complete with my own proposals and script excerpts.

22 May 2009

banging my head against a wall...

...and the wall finally gave a little this week.

In the first place, the sports-writing website has returned from the dead, and I will go back to writing about basketball. I liveblogged Game 2 of Nuggets vs Lakers, and while I'm certain that it will take a lot of practice for me to get better at producing insight and comedy in equal measure with this sort of writing, it's a start.

Also, I've discovered this website, Examiner.com. People write for it at the local (Denver Concert Venue Examiner) and national (Politics Examiner) level. I came across a solicitation for new writers on craigslist, and one of the open positions was for a "Star Trek Examiner." Of course, I got on that stuff right away, but, alas, to no avail. I was informed the position had already been filled.

However (however!), they felt my writing was so phenomenal that they wanted me on board in some other capacity. A little analysis of open positions and submission of a brief writing sample has landed me the position of National Marvel Comics Examiner. I'm going to try my best to make this actually something worth reading, so wish me luck as I blind email writers/artists begging them to let me interview them over email.

So, yeah. The wall gave a little this week. I can only hope that bodes well for the eventual future.

21 May 2009

star trekkin (part II)

I've made my decision: I'm placing Star Trek on the much-bandied-about third slot of my all-time favorite Star Trek films. I am, now, officially, discounting the TNG films in favor of anything with the original characters. As someone who grew up while first-run episodes of TNG were being produced, that's kind of heartbreaking, but that's the way it is.

In Part III, I pitch the story for the sequel.

20 May 2009

jesus christ, what a bad movie that was (the phantom menace memorial)


Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace could not have come at a more opportune time in my life, or so I thought at the time. It was my freshman year of high school, and I was in the process of forming fast friendships, some I cherish and others I and miss to this very day. Friendships with people who, among other things, like me, LOVED Star Wars. people who could quote the movie from memory with me, people with whom I could discuss the significance of Timothy Zahn, Michael Stackpole, Kevin J. Anderson, Aaron Alston, and the others that made up the vast menagerie of writers who'd contributed to this great American institution we called Star Wars.

More than that, though.., there was this girl. She knew EVERYTHING about Star Wars, tons about Buffy, played the odd video game.., plus, I was convinced she liked me (oh, high school, how simultaneously exhilirating and excruciating you were... "liking" people, and barely knowing what that meant). If it was possible for this girl to get any more awesome, I couldn't imagine how.

[ASIDE: The Star Wars Celebration, the first one, at the old Lowry base in Colorado, was easily the high water mark of my first year in high school, for many reasons, not the least of which, at the time, had to do with this very same girl. But, there's not really even a story there, so I won't try to force one. It was the weekend I figured out what sort of person I really was, and intermittently fought against embracing it for years. END ASIDE]

Turns out... The Phantom Menace. While we were both disallowed from dating until our 16th birthdays by both our sets of parents (perhaps for the best, the way things turned out),we still made plans to go see the movie together. A "non-non-date," perhaps.

Purchasing the soundtrack a month before the film's release (a soundtrack I feel ranks pretty highly with others Williams has produced - it's the only part of the film that doesn't flat-out disgust me) allowed the movie's truest dramatic moment - the death of Liam Neeson's Qui-Gon Jinn - to be ruined, but that was kind of okay. It was still Star Wars; I could still be hopeful.

The magical moment came (walking into the theater, filled with anticipation), and the magical moment went all too quickly, partly the result of a lack of genuine romantic chemistry (which I myself would not admit, sadly, for years - she was much more on the ball in that regard), and partly due to the fact that the movie we sat in the theater to watch was FUCKING TERRIBLE. From the shitty opening crawl (economic downturn, planet on the edge of the Republic... as Patton Oswalt might say, "Who gives a shit?"), to the bad fake Asian accents that Nute Gunray and the rest of the Nemoidians sported, to Ft. Collins, Colorado's own Jake Lloyd's god-awful performance as Anakin Skywalker (sure, he's a little kid, but so was Haley Joel Osment. And he was a great child actor), to the fact that the pod race went on too goddamn long, to the unforgivable underuse of Darth Maul, to the fact that Lucas obviously forgot everyone from the original trilogy (not to be a continuity whore, but well, I'm a continuity whore. Star Trek explained it away. Two lines of dialogue. Come on), to, yes, Jar Jar Binks.

Oh, Jar Jar. If the movie had come out only one year later, common perception could've been that he was the worst idea in popular entertainment in the 21st century (still, I'd contend). Instead, we had to close out the 90s with the most minstrel-show-ized character I'd yet seen in a film (not saying much, sure, but I was 15 at the time. Sue me). [ASIDE: My friend Travis and I, at the Star Wars Celebration, sat close to Ahmed Best - the man behind Jar Jar Binks - during Anthony Daniels' - C-3P0 - presentation. We were excited when we recognized him. We felt stupid for feeling that way once we saw the movie. END ASIDE] He destroyed every single scene he was in, including the less-than-climactic final battle between the native Naboo forces and the droids of the Trade Federation Army. Jar Jar would've been acceptable (well, not really - one could only hope we've moved past non-ironic race-based humor in this day and time, but as we've seen, that's not the case) in one of Disney's stupider animated films, but this was STAR WARS. Anything less than a total recapturing of the spirit of the first films was unacceptable. As a result, the film was unacceptable.

So, that's what I remember about my one and only viewing of that piece of unadulterated shit in the theater. In the words of Randall Graves, "I want my eight bucks back."

All apologies to the potentially-misrepresented and unnamed female party in this story. If you remember it differenty, and you read this, well, I'm all for setting the tale straight. Though, I doubt rehashing is high on either of our priority lists.

15 May 2009

21st century breakdown

I wish I wanted to write a big, ethralling piece about the latest Green Day album, but I just can't. It's not that I don't think it's good, because I do... I just don't feel any great, overpowering desire to share my thoughts on the subject.

Maybe it's because so many other people already have (Rolling Stone's review says quite a lot), or maybe because it just didn't punch me in the face like American Idiot, which was a validation of my long-held opinion that Billie Joe Armstrong was a hell of a lot smarter than everyone gave him credit for being. It was my, "See, motherfuckers? I was right!!" moment, and that just can't be duplicated.

This isn't to say that I don't like the album; it's quality. "Epic," as my friend Adam said. I think it's more... Green Day-y than American Idiot; the song lengths are more manageable, the snark is more present, but nothing really comes out and grabs me the way the title track does (and that, not as much as any track on American Idiot, despite what I wrote in my reaction to "Know Your Enemy").

American Idiot was, I dare to say, a once-in-a-lifetime record. It's tough to get two of them, no matter how hard you try.

Perhaps this requires more listenings. Sometimes things don't punch you in the face right away; they take their time, sidle up, get you nice and comfortable, and then... BAM!

I wouldn't put anyone off listening or purchasing, though. Perhaps it will speak to you more thoroughly than it does me.