Friday, March 30, 2012

Slow Week for Movies...

So the only two flicks coming out this weekend are Mirror, Mirror and Wrath of the Titans, neither of which I have any real desire to see.  For once I’ll agree with a local film critic, Sean Collier, and say that Wrath of the Titans is the sequel that nobody asked for.  Based on the trailer I kind of wanted to see it for a hot minute, then I remembered how much I hated the remake of Clash of the Titans, and came to my senses. As far as Mirror, Mirror goes, it looks just too tongue-in-cheek to me.  I like my fairy tales darker and less Disney (except for the awesome TV series Once Upon a Time, which is both Disney and dark, and if you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out). So I’ll wait for Snow White and the Huntsman for that.

For anyone who was hoping I’d review one of these pictures, sorry—movie going is a rather expensive hobby these days and right now this site isn’t supporting itself.  If I ever get enough followers I may introduce a “send me to the movies” option, where people can buy me tickets for films they want me to review, but to be realistic, right now I have exactly ten followers, and it’d be beyond arrogant to even offer such an option at this stage. However, for those among my half-score readers who think that’d be cool, there’s your reason to spread the word and get more people to follow this blog. The more popular it gets, the more films I’ll review.

This means it could be a slow week here at OP. I did see that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is playing at our local maxi-saver, so I may try to get out there to see that—I wanted to see it when it came out but the opportunity never came around. I didn’t see the first Ghost Rider in the theater, but I did enjoy it despite myself and despite its shortcomings.

I am also not beyond reviewing films on DVD or Blu-Ray, so feel free to throw some suggestions my way via comments here, and if I have or can get hold of the flicks cheap, I’ll be glad to do a review.

In the meantime I’ll try to come up with some other film-related subjects to discuss.  It’d be a crime to let this blog get stale when it’s just taking off.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

John Carter Review: A Follow-Up

http://thejohncarterfiles.com/2012/03/john-carter-an-open-letter-to-walt-disney-studios-chairman-richard-ross/

The following is an open letter to Rich Ross, Chairman of Walt Disney Studios, regarding John Carter. It is a sincere request for Disney senior management to address in a public and meaningful way the many questions that remain unanswered concerning Disney’s handling of the the marketing and release of John Carter. Readers are invited to use the comment function to ask their own questions and leave comments....

The excerpt above is the beginning of the linked article, and is well worth a read for any among us who are flabbergasted at the apparent abject failure of John Carter in the theater, given just how well-done the film was.  There's no reason nor excuse for this to have not been one of the biggest film events of the year (Hunger Games and Avengers notwithstanding), and it's pretty much a foregone conclusion (all but universally accepted) at this point that Disney's piss-poor marketing of the film is at fault for the box office flop.

Review: The Hunger Games (Gary Ross and Lionsgate)

FIRST THINGS FIRST: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW – It’s necessary to discuss the text-to-screen adaptation. So if you’re avoiding spoilage, you might give the details of this one a pass after the introduction, then skip to the conclusion and rating for a generalized, spoiler-free summary.

Introduction
Well, amid much fanfare, The Hunger Games opened this weekend to record-breaking numbers.  I feel a sense of strange personal satisfaction in that it completely left the Twilight series in the dust—it shows that tweens and young adults are indeed reading good fiction as well as bad.  As with thousands upon thousands of others, I was there opening night (actual opening night, not the Thursday midnight showing—at my age work trumps late night movies, much as I wish it weren’t so).

Before I dive into the review of the film, let me just say something to all those haughty, snobbish people in fandom who are whining that they “liked it better when it was Battle Royale.

Get over it.  The only thing that Hunger Games has in common with Battle Royale is kids killing each other in an arena, and I’m sure if we all looked deep enough we could find a dozen other properties that also had that same similarity. I get it, really: it’s chic and popular to worship every piece of media that comes out of Japan these days, but really, there is such a thing as parallel development, and I have news for you: Battle Royale was not a worldwide smash hit—outside of the Japanophile community, few outside of Japan had actually heard of it, and I expect that Suzanne Collins never heard of it either before she commenced writing the books.  I could be wrong, of course, as I don’t know Collins personally, but I could be right, and I suspect few of you know her personally as well to say with absolute certainty.  Regardless, let’s give the woman the benefit of the doubt, particularly since the Hunger Games Trilogy is the second New York Times bestselling series she’s written, which shows pretty clearly that she doesn’t need to rip off someone else’s idea to generate high book sales.  

So now that I’ve near-guaranteed some Battle Royale fan is going to show up and rip me to shreds, outlining in detail just how similar the two are, I guess I should get on to the actual review.

I’m not even going to bother with the idiot racists who are complaining that Cinna, Rue, and Rue’s fellow District 11 Tribute are black.  That’s just complete and total idiocy, especially since the book describes the District 11 Tributes as having “dark brown skin.”

Put simply: I loved this movie. I absolutely, through and through, thoroughly loved it. I also have to say by way of full disclosure that I am an unabashed fan of the books, having read the entire trilogy in less than a week. That being said, I will have a few “the bad” things to report, though my lovely wife and our good friend Marya who accompanied me are in disagreement of my negatives.

The Good
I could gush about this flick for days, so I’ll try to keep it brief, focusing on the biggest bonuses of the film.  Firstly, I think this may be the single most faithful text-to-screen adaptation I’ve ever seen. Now, it’s been awhile since I’ve read the book, but I didn’t notice a single important thing that was left out.  Two things I did notice: the source of Katniss’ mockingjay pin is changed, but not in a way that really alters the story (and indeed, may actually provide a bit more emotional impact), and the scene at the end when they are fleeing the muttations (yes, that’s spelled properly).  In the book, Katniss notices that the muttations are created from combining the dead tributes with animals—she recognizes Foxface specifically, and I think I remember her seeing Rue (though that could be my memory playing tricks).  I have a suspicion that making the mutts recognizable as fellow Tributes may have been just a bit too horrific, potentially pushing the film over the line to an R rating. More on that particular issue under “The Ugly.”

The casting in this film was for the most part absolutely top-notch. Every single person in the film looked pretty much exactly like I pictured them in the book.  Jennifer Lawrence is spot-on perfect as Katniss, not just in her looks, but in the strength, intensity, darkness, and emotion she brings to the role. In the scene where a career spears Rue and Katniss shoots him, then spins to see her young friend wounded, the look on Lawrence’s face is priceless, and that scene very nearly brought me to tears. You can read in her eyes that for a split second Katniss sees Rue as Katniss’ sister Prim, and the horror and pain on her face is gut-wrenching.  I was not sold on Peeta and Gale at first, but both won me over very quickly.  My companions felt that Gale looked to old; I’m not sure I agree with that. Gale was supposed to be eighteen, if I recall correctly, and I’ve known some pretty mature-looking 18-year-olds. 

Now, I said this was an exceptionally faithful screen adaptation.  Certainly some people are going to want justification for the (many) additions.  To those people I’d point out that the additions—largely in terms of showing us Game Control and the TV announcers—don’t detract from the story at all, but rather serve as an excellent and clever vehicle to present to the audience important details about the world and story that we are given through internal monologue or exposition in the book.  We get to see the source of many of the dangers that Katniss encounters in the arena—the forest fire, the mutts…and we get explanations of what many of these things are and where they come from. So in effect, these things actually enhance the story, and it’s hard to argue that Collins wouldn’t have wanted them there, given that she co-wrote the screenplay.

The presentation of the story is also excellent.  It starts very dark and grim—you definitely get the impression of a strange cross of medievalism with modern technology. Those who haven’t read the books may at first find themselves wondering what exactly they’re watching (oh, and yes, if you haven’t read the books, Gale does call Katniss “Catnip” at the beginning.  It’s a nickname he has for her). The film moves pretty fast, giving us a real sense of just how dark and twisted this society is through the pageantry surrounding these twenty-four teenagers who are about to be thrown into a brutal death match for the public’s entertainment and benefit. Once the Games begin, once Katniss arrives in the arena and the buzzer goes off, the movie takes off at a breakneck pace and never lets up until the very end.  

The Bad
I’ll be honest: I have a difficult time coming up with much to say about the film that’s bad (and not technical, which will be discussed below).  I guess the biggest thing that I can come up with is Woody Harrelson as Haymitch.  Yes, I know he’s been a fan favorite, but he just didn’t quite hit the right notes for me.  Harrelson is a great actor, there’s no doubt about that.  But he didn’t look like Haymitch to me, first of all.  I always pictured Haymitch as having really gone to Hell—out of shape, with a beer gut and gin blossoms, sloppy and dirty.  Haymitch is also far less sympathetic in the first book than the film makes him—in the novels, Haymitch doesn’t really become a sympathetic figure until book 2, though in Hunger Games (the novel) Katniss begins to suspect while she’s in the arena that Haymitch may be a better mentor and better at garnering sponsors than she’d given him credit for.

Another “Bad” that was discussed between Julie, Rya and I after we all saw the flick was the presentation of certain important details that weren’t clarified enough for those who haven’t read the books. The idea of people having their name in the drawing more than once, for example.  Katniss tells Prim, “It’s your first time and your name’s only in once,” and later, she tells her, “It doesn’t matter how much extra food they offer, don’t put your name in more than once.”  Gale says his name is in 40-odd (I forget the exact number) times, but this is never explained for the benefit of those who have not read the books: in short, the winner of the Hunger Games gets showered with riches and comfort, and their district gets favored treatment for the next year, including extra food rations (hence the name “The Hunger Games.”) In addition, every eligible tribute (boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 18) can opt to put their name into the pot more than once, with extra rations being granted for each time they put their name in. Gale’s family is exceptionally poor and he is their only provider, so putting his name in so many times ensures that they won’t starve over the course of the next year, regardless of whether he is chosen. I believe if I remember correctly, Katniss has her name in twelve times in the book. These details aren’t absolutely essential to the story itself, but could be confusing to audiences unfamiliar with the book, so if you’re going to include them, you should explain them more fully.

Next up, I’ll admit I had a problem with the way that the mockingjays sounded. When I read the book, they were described as being able to perfectly mimic a human singing.  So I expected more than an on-pitch chirping; I would’ve liked to hear Katniss singing back to herself.

Under “The Good” I talked about the use of Games Control and the announcers as ways to present story information.  There’s one place in the film where this is done very poorly, and for an instant snapped me out of the world and reminded me I was watching a movie.  That was when they explain the Tracker Jackers.  When the announcer looks at the camera and says, “For those of you who don’t know what Tracker Jackers are…” that snapped me right back to reality.  Very poor line—everybody in the 12 Districts of Panem would know exactly what Tracker Jackers are, given just how deadly they are.  It would’ve been better just to have the announcers discuss the effects of their venom without the “wink and nod” aside. While this may seem a nitpick, it really is jarring in the overall scheme of the film, so it’s worth mentioning.

Finally, a “Bad” that I actually had a hard time deciding where to put it, as I think this was absolutely deliberate and works quite well.  The lead-up to the games, while it’s not slow, seems somewhat long and uncomfortable.  At first I wondered if there was a way this could be done differently, until I realized that I think I was actually just uncomfortable with watching these teenagers being paraded around like celebrities who had chosen to be on a reality TV series, when in fact they were picked by random lottery and are about to be forced to murder each other.  In the end, I think this is a pretty brilliant thing to pull off and it shows that I was pretty caught up in the film, but I put it under “the bad,” only because I suspect there will be those who just feel that it drags on and is uncomfortable in its presentation, without really realizing the reason why it plays the way it does.  It’s supposed to be uncomfortable, but will all audiences realize that? I’m not sure.

The Ugly
Overall the film is gorgeous. It’s dark when it needs to be, uncomfortably glitzy when it needs to be, and takes every opportunity to visually cue us into the mindset of the characters. For the most part, the special effects are outstanding—which is a major accomplishment for a science fiction film containing a number of hot young stars, whose budget was less than $80 million. I have only a few negatives, and most of them come with caveats.

Firstly, I don’t think this film needed the iMAX treatment. Indeed, even in the bright scenes in the Capitol and the forest, the images were a bit grainy and didn’t appear as high-definition as one would expect of an iMAX movie.  It’s really not a reflection on the film as much as it is the need to release everything these days in iMAX, 3D, or both. Thank goodness they didn’t go the 3D route.  With this film’s budget, 3D would’ve been awful. Now, I have not seen the film on a non-iMAX screen, so it’s possible that the iMAX did contribute to the all-important immersion in the story and world. I just would’ve liked crisper imagery out of an iMAX production.

Secondly, while most of the special effects were outstanding, the mutts really fell flat.  They looked cgi.  However, I cannot really fault Lionsgate or the filmmakers for this.  After all, the film’s budget was only $78 million and we got a lot of bang for that buck overall. The scenes of Katniss and Peeta “on fire” during the parade, the presentation of the Capitol, the look of Game Control, all were pretty breathtaking effects.  This is really a case of making the best of what you’ve got and what you can afford, and Lionsgate doesn’t have the funds at this point (though they may soon) to hire WETA Workshop to do their CGI.

Finally, to one of my favorite topics—editing of action sequences.  I had a disagreement with my companions over this one.  The fight scenes in this film are, in my opinion, poorly edited.  They are chaotic with dozens of dizzying quick-cuts, and it’s nigh impossible to follow what’s going on. It was presented to me that perhaps the scenes were done this way deliberately to make you feel like you were in the midst of that chaos, which would be dizzying and hard to follow.  That’s a valid point.  Still, I think there’s better ways to handle battle scenes that still portray the chaos of battle while allowing the audience to better follow the action.  Another idea that was presented—and I think this may be spot-on—was that if they’d shown the details of the battles the way they are presented in the novel, the film may well have garnered an R-rating. I think there’s little doubt that this is the case; The Hunger Games is an exceptionally brutal story, and omitting the gore of all the battles was probably a smart way to go on the part of the filmmakers.  So I don’t think that in this case the chaotic editing was the result of a lack of confidence in the editor or actors; rather I think it was a choice to keep a PG-13 rating, and I can respect that, given that an R rating for this movie, while technically more accurate to the book, would absolutely have hurt the film’s gross box office take. I just think there had to be a better way to pull it off.

Conclusion and Summary
There is no such thing as a perfect film.  Every film is a combination of good things and bad things, and it’s the balance that makes it a great or a poor film.  In the case of The Hunger Games, the good far outweighs the bad. Between excellent casting, fantastic performances, a very faithful text-to-screen adaptation, great special effects considering the relatively low budget, and a great amount of respect evident for both the source and the audience, this film is not only a home run, but a grand slam.  I could be mistaken, but I don’t think Lionsgate has ever had a legitimate blockbuster, and certainly never on this level, so kudos to them for pulling this one off in a big way.  I can’t wait to see Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

Rating: 5 out of 5 popcorns.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Review: Disney's John Carter

Introduction
 One of the bigger flops early on in this season has been Walt Disney's John Carter.  In many ways, this is a shame because it seems that the film simply didn't get a fair shake--there were reviews (from professional critics, who should be ashamed of themselves) lambasting the film before it had ever been screened for critics, simply based on set photos, leaked footage, and leaked information.

Some of the biggest complaints about the film are that somehow the story is incomprehensible, convoluted, or complex.  I take such strong issue with these statements as to openly calling any critic who claims this pretty much an idiot. I realize that to make such a statement is inflammatory, but nobody can ever accuse me of holding back my feelings or opinions.

This is also one of those movies that engenders specifically what I discussed in my inaugural blog: film critics at Rotten Tomatoes are at 51%, while audiences are sitting pretty at 70%.  Just another instance that proves most film critics have absolutely no idea what audiences want, which in the end completely defeats their purpose as film critics. 

The SF/F geek community, on the other hand, is split down the middle between people who loved it for what it was, and for catching the spirit of Burroughs' original, and those "purists" who are lambasting it for departing from the source material and claim that "catching the spirit" is a stupid, generic defense for anyone to like a film.

Yes, it absolutely deviates from the source material, and it deviates in ways that are beloved from the original book.  For example, in the original book, John Carter is inexplicably immortal--he has been the age he is for as long as he can remember, and has fought in dozens of wars across centuries of time.  He is a consummate Southern gentleman who has stumbled upon a gold mine with a friend, and plans to mine it and live in comfort for awhile.

In the film, he is an all-too-human man who is broken by the horrors of the Civil War and wants nothing more than to get his gold mine up and running and retire a wealthy man.  Why would they make such a severe change to the character? Well, put simply, how do you communicate the fact that a man is inexplicably immortal on screen, and have it not come off as stupid, trite, and just lazy and banal? In a pulp novel written in 1912, it seems mysterious and fits with the tropes.  Unfortunately, a film audience in 2012 isn't educated on the tropes of the early 1900's pulps, and nor should they be required to become so, to enjoy a big-budget film. In today's society and economy, a man broken by war who has lost his family and just wants to retire in wealth and peace is something with which people can identify. And unlike many of the SF/F fandom community, I absolutely don't feel that it changed his character in many important ways from the moment he got to Mars. He does fight against his destiny a bit more in the film, I suppose, and we'll get to that in The Bad.


Another change from the book--in the book, there's no real explanation for how Carter gets to Mars. There is a mysterious gas, he has an out-of-body experience, stretches his arms to the sky, and is just...on Mars, a fact that he readily accepts and moves on.  Again, this wouldn't play well to a modern movie-going audience, so the writers introduced a MacGuffin to get him there.  I had no real issues with this.

I'll put it simply: I loved John Carter. I loved it from start to finish.  I don't understand the criticisms of incomprehensible storytelling from what is essentially a pulp fantasy "us vs. them" story with a romance plot tied in--nothing remotely complicated about it at all. 

So, let's get on with it.  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of John Carter.

The Good
There's a lot that's great about this flick. As I mentioned above, there are many and sundry variations from the plot of the book in the movie, but overall the base, core story is the same (and I say this having just finished re-reading the original book): Carter goes to Mars, falls in with the Tharks (twelve-foot-tall green Martians with four arms), falls in love with a Princess of Mars (one of the human-looking red Martians) named Dejah Thoris, sets off on a quest to stop her from a force marriage to the Jeddak (chief) of her city's most hated enemy Zodanga, fights a great battle with the forces of Zodanga, marries the princess, and becomes a powerful and legendary figure on Mars.

While the above constitutes a minor spoiler or two, it shouldn't be anything that's utterly shocking to anyone who's ever seen a movie...ever.

Overall, this story is action-packed, the characters fairly well developed, and the portrayals top-notch.  I disagree with critics who have claimed that Kitsch's portrayal of Carter was flat or poor: I think he did a great job, and I think the casting of Dejah Thoris was brilliant and dead-on perfect. Sure, we would've enjoyed seeing her more, well, naked like she is in the book, but let's face it: this was a Disney movie rated PG-13. It's a wild ride from start to finish, and has more than enough violence and action to satisfy male moviegoers, while the love story should suffice to make it a pretty fine date movie. It is perhaps unfortunate that the marketing didn't portray any elements of the love story; this may have made a difference in the box office numbers.

Narratively, there's little to gripe about.  Are there plot holes?  Sure, but there are no plot holes that aren't forgivable for an epic planetary romance film that is at its heart a grand pulp adventure. Can anyone tell me there weren't plot holes in the original Star Wars trilogy?  Sometimes you have to judge these things not unto themselves, but through the lens of what you're watching, and in John Carter I didn't see anything egregious. 

The presentation of the Martian mythology and setting is pretty well spot-on, with a single major exception which I'll get to below.  This is my own defense for the film capturing the spirit of Burroughs' work. The changes in story were all made to make the narrative more coherent for a modern audience--the book is an incredible story of exploration and adventure, but it (quite literally) meanders all over Mars, as it's really a story about Carter wandering all over the planet while nursing a love for Dejah Thoris that is unrequited until about 2/3 of the way through the book. The film removes a lot of the elements of wandering and gives us a more straightforward plot. But they got the cultures pretty well right on, and I would've been looking forward to seeing the sequel, which alas probably won't happen now. 

The Bad
There's not a great deal of bad to list in this film, but the biggest ones are exceptions to the "mythology" aspect I mentioned in "the Good."  The first bad thing is the use of the Therns, who are minor villains in the second book of the series; essentially priests of a goddess cult, who believe they are far more influential than they are.  This film gives them shapeshifting powers and sets them up as some sort of galaxy-traveling secret society that manipulates, then lives off the destruction and misfortune of other worlds. The Therns in the film are the source of the MacGuffin that gets Carter to Mars, and I suppose if anything about the plot was in any way convoluted, it's the Therns; they seem to be preparing to take down Earth after they finish with Mars, though this is a throw-away bit that's really not much of a plot point, but only serves to explain why they were on Earth for Carter to get their MacGuffin to begin with. Still, it would've been interesting to see them get their comeuppance in The Gods of Mars, had it been made. I have to say, I really wasn't a fan of the presentation or use of the Therns in the movie at all. No movie is perfect, and John Carter's flaw lies largely with these guys.

The second "bad" is the secondary MacGuffin (yes, there are two).  This one is some sort of super-weapon that the Therns give to the Zodangan prince...but he rarely uses to any great effect, even shouting at one point, "What's the use of having this thing if I can't actually use it??"  One has to wonder if this inclusion was a wink and a nod to the audience, with someone realizing that the weapon was an error to include only after it was too late.

Finally, and this is something of a minor nitpick (but I am conducting a film review, so as long as I recognize nitpicks for what they are, I think it's okay to include them): they missed a grand opportunity to show one or two other monster races of Mars, while in the arena.  Specifically, they mention wild Banths several times, and yet during the arena combat sequence, the monsters unleashed are two white apes.  Why not a white ape and a wild Banth?  If you're not going to include a Banth, then why even mention them?

The Ugly
This movie, start to finish, is absolutely, undeniably gorgeous. The visualization of the Martian Landscape, the presentation of the various races of Mars, the special effects used in the transportation sequences, the flyers, the energy weapons...all of it is just phenomenal.  The movie reportedly cost $250 million to make, and the effects look it.  Unfortunately, there was probably no real reason for them to have spent $250 million on a movie that was somewhat untested as a property. One can accomplish incredible special effects on a much smaller budget than that (The Hunger Games did it on less than half of John Carter's budget).

The CGI was really well done, and this was key to the film, since so many of the things you encounter rely on that type of effect.  The flying machines looked great; the cultures of Helium and Zodanga looked excellent, and the Tharks--my God, the Tharks.  they looked fantastic, even if they weren't quite what I pictured from Burroughs' description.  I believed that Tars Tarkas was real, right there in front of John Carter.  That probably owes more than a bit to Willem Dafoe's portrayal of Tars, as much as it does to the CGI wizardry, but let's give credit where credit is due.  Of course, this is Disney we're talking about, so if there's anyone besides Lucasfilm and WETA Workshop that should be good at CGI, it's Disney. 

I expect that more than a little of that massive budget was spent on 3D, and here's where the Ugly gets a bit, well, ugly.  The 3D in John Carter was unimpressive at best. This is the problem with 3D: if you're going to do it, you need to go whole hog with it, don't just film a movie in 3D because it's the fad.  It increases your budget exponentially (especially if you do it in iMAX 3D), and if you don't pull it off like Tron: Legacy or Underworld: Awakening did, you're wasting your money.  John Carter's use of 3D was unequivocally a waste of money.  There were so many scenes in that film that could've been made breathtaking by the use of 3D, and given that it's Disney, and they did what in my opinion is the most gorgeous use of 3D ever in a film (the aforementioned Tron: Legacy), there's really no excuse for the 3D to have been as lackluster as it is.

One of the reasons you have so many people turning their noses up at 3D these days is that so many films do it just as a matter of course, and don't make it "pop."  I'm not talking about the tired, stupid gimmick of throwing stuff at the camera, either; I'm talking about making the vistas breathtaking.  Making explosions explode. Making flying machines really give you a bit of vertigo. 3D done well puts you in the middle of an entirely different world and blows your suspension of disbelief up to fantastic levels.  3D done poorly is "ho hum" at best.  John Carter's 3D was "ho hum," and it probably served only to inflate the budget.

Summary and Conclusion
John Carter is an absolutely rousing and fun rollercoaster ride of a film that looks beautiful and has enough action for the men, while including a strong enough love story to appeal to the "date movie" crowd as well. It is only severely marred by its lackluster use of 3D technology and its poor use and presentation of the Tharn race. All-in-all, the film is a must-see and it's a shame that it has done so poorly at the box office.

Score: 4 out of 5 Popcorns.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Strange Predictors of Movie Failure

Obviously, to keep this blog going I’m going to have to do more than just film reviews, as I don’t see movies every day (or even every week); it’s just too expensive a habit for an Administrative Assistant and aspiring Librarian to upkeep.  So between reviews I’d like to discuss topics directly related to films and the film industry.  I hope that’s all right with everyone.

For my first “filler,” as I prepare to write my review of John Carter for you all, I wanted to explore a theory I have—or, rather, something I have noticed over the past few years which seems to hold up and represents the development of an hypothesis.

You can tell by the TV spots whether a movie is going to succeed or bomb at the box office.  There’s a patently obvious “tell” that gives it away, which makes me wonder if somehow, these things aren’t predetermined.  I mean, of course you can’t really make up an audience’s mind in advance, but I don’t know. It just seems odd to me.

Here’s how it works.  I’m not sure if anyone has noticed this, but there are two types of trailers shown on TV.  These two types are those that take up the full screen (forgetting letterboxing), and those that have the movie’s name and release date clearly displayed in the letterboxes.  Compare, for example, the trailers for The Hunger Games and the trailers for John Carter.  The trailers for Hunger Games are dynamic, full-screen trailers. They draw you in and look, well, like traditional trailers.

The trailers for John Carter, on the other hand, have pronounced letterboxing, and in the black bars, in large, prominent letters, are the words “JOHN CARTER” and “NOW PLAYING.”

John Carter has been a (surprising) box office flop. Sure, it’s gotten bad reviews from a spate of reviewers apparently too simple or thick to be able to follow a pretty straightforward story (this doesn’t represent all of the film’s bad reviews, incidentally; I just have no patience for these people who claim the story is too complex, convoluted, or incomprehensible—there’s nothing even remotely complicated about the story at all). I have noticed over the past couple of years that no matter how good the film may be, every film that lists the title and release date in the pronounced letterboxes fails at the box office.

I cannot think of a single exception to this rule; can anyone else?  It just seems very odd to me.  Perhaps it’s just an indicator of studios being aware of a lack of buzz around certain films and desperately trying to get their names in front of peoples’ eyes. But it seems to me that a nearly infallible predictor of whether or not a movie will succeed is this: if you can read the name and release date in the black bars throughout the TV spot…it’s probably going to fail.

It’s more than possible that I’m late to the party on this and slow to pick up on it.  Just wondering if anyone else has noticed it, and what your thoughts are?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: Marcus Nispel's Conan the Barbarian (2011)

I posted this review in a slightly different format on my older blogs, but since Conan came out on Blu Ray and DVD a few months ago, and has been making the rounds on cable and On Demand, it seemed a good way to kick off my blog.  Plus, someone requested it. The promised reviews of John Carter and The Hunger Games will follow soon.  

Fair warning: there will be minor spoilers in this review.  Nothing major, but if you're avoiding spoilage altogether, you might give this a pass.

Introduction
First things first.  This is absolutely not a remake of the Arnold one.  The only thing it has in common is the "revenge for my dad's death" plot.  The events of the story are completely, 100% new (well, new as in, they weren't anywhere to be found in the Arnold flicks).  So that's something.

A new Conan film has been in Development Hell since 1984’s Conan the Destroyer. Various incarnations have come and gone, all of which have generated varying degrees of Howard-scholar- and geek-rage due to their blatant disregard for the source material. Now, we have a new Conan film out, a reboot of the entire franchise (in grand Hollywood fashion—reboots and remakes are all the rage these days; better a tried and true “safe” property than some actual, original creativity or a moving forward of what came before). This one, we were promised for several years, was being made by rabid fans of Robert E. Howard.  This one, we were promised for several years, would be the Conan we’ve been waiting since the 1930’s to see on the screen—Robert E. Howard’s barbarian, 100% true to the writings of the book.

Not long after the announcement was made, however, elements started to leak that gave fans to question the truth of this statement.  In the end, what we got was…something far less than Robert E. Howard’s Conan, and a film that it is hard to believe was actually made by fans. Still, there are some glimmers of effort present, and the delivery was an entertaining Swords-and-Sorcery film in its own right.  The brightest spot in the film, thankfully, is our new Cimmerian in the form of Jason Momoa, who really does play the character of Conan pretty true to Howard.  It’s just the rest of the film that suffers from a lack of effort and research. 

This film has already generated a good deal of geek rage, with many denouncing it outright for its many shortcomings, in particular its failure to stay true to the source material. However, as with most over-reactions of the sf/f fandom community, it’s worth it to take a step back, take a breath, and try to appreciate the film on its own merits—and make no mistake, for a science fiction/fantasy fan, the film does have its merits.  They just don’t lie in its presentation of the Hyborian Age.

So, without further ado, I give you The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly in Marcus Nispel’s Conan the Barbarian.  

The Good

1. Jason Frickin' Momoa.  This dude plays an absolutely outstanding Conan, and that's worth a great deal of screwed-up production design.  He plays the character to the hilt.  I get the sense he's actually read the stories.  He knows Conan.  I believed he was Conan, and his performance carried me through the movie.  There's even times when you get the sense that his desire to take out Zym isn't to avenge his dad, despite him referring to "the man who killed my father," but out of his own Cimmerian sense of duty--Zym was a rat bastard who wiped out a village to take a piece of bone, so he needed killing, and Conan was going to follow him to the ends of the Earth to do it.  I can buy that from Conan.  He even says at one point, "If you're going to take out a Cimmerian, even a boy, you'd best make damn sure you kill him."  He also utters one of only two lines of dialogue in the film that are actually from a Conan story (the one we all saw in the teaser trailer).

2. Khalar Zym.  When I first heard the "one hero rises to save the world" bit I threw up in my mouth a little.  But I bought it in the context of the film.  Why?  Two words: Acheronian Artifact.  Once you bring in a guy who wants to give birth to a new Acheron, you've justified the world domination bit.  Look, for example, at Xaltotun in The Hour of the Dragon.  And to be fair, Zym never actually takes over the world, or even really a kingdom.  He's just a megalomaniac necromancer with a war band, who thinks he's gonna.  In short, he's actually a very Conan villain, sort of a cross between Xaltotun and Thoth-Amon when he appears in "The Phoenix on the Sword"; that is, this guy really wants to be a powerful necromancer, but he needs an artifact and wisdom from someone else to achieve it.

3. Marique.  I'm not a fan of Rose McGowan at all, but she chews up scenery nicely in this flick, and really gets her rocks off as she sinks her teeth into the role of a burgeoning necromancer--she also casts one of only two real spells we see in the film, which results in a pretty cool battle sequence.

4. Rachel Nichols naked.  'nuff said.

5. The setup in the beginning actually starts with the "...between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis, and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of," speech done in voiceover.  Unfortunately, it never gets to "Hither came Conan," because it forks off into the movie's setup, which is okay, I suppose. Plus, Morgan Freeman. WIN.

6. The good Howard reference.  I got really excited when someone announces that Conan, "Stole the heart from the Elephant's tower, and slew the sorcerer Yara!"  It's just too bad they didn't show us that episode.

7. Ron Pearlman.  He's pretty badass as a Cimmerian chieftain and as Conan's father. He's the face of Cimmerian culture and tradition in the film, and it's a good face.

8. The kid who plays Conan as a child.  The one battle scene he has (which I won't spoil) may actually be the most "Conan" part of the movie.

The Bad
Now, on to the bad: the problems from the standpoint of an actual Robert E. Howard Conan fan.

The Presentation of the Hyborian Age is wrong in every single way. 

3. Did you know that Hyrkania is a safe and sheltered place that is pronounced "High-ruh-kania"?  Because that's how they pronounce it...repeatedly...seriously, like 15 times in the space of 10 minutes.  We never actually see it, save a glimpse of an old castle at the very tail end; they just name drop it a lot (badly), so I don't know if there are proto-Mongols or proto-Huns there or not, but not judging by how they spoke of it, and not given that Nichols’ character, who is as white as the pure-driven snow, with flaming red hair, is supposedly from there.

4. They had Zingarans that looked like Turanians.

5. They had Argosseans (actually Messantians, as if that was a country) that looked, well, I'm not sure what they looked like.  Ever see the Highlander episode "Comes a Horseman?"  You know what Kronos looks like in the flashbacks to the Bronze Age?  That's the rulers of the apparently impotent, tribal and barbaric land of Messantia.

6.  The City of Thieves was all right, except that they didn't call it Arenjun...it was some made-up name that I forget.

7.  Another problem--the main locations in the movie are made up whole cloth and don't appear in any Howard writings at all (and the film doesn't even give a nation wherein they're located).

8. Those beast-men-dudes: were they supposed to be Picts?  If so, why were Picts in loyal service to a Hyborian warlord/necromancer?

9. The good Howard reference.  I got really excited when someone announces that Conan, "Stole the heart from the Elephant's tower, and slew the sorcerer Yara!"  But really…why would you not show this???

Now the sad thing is that a tiny bit of attention being paid could've solved a lot of these problems--making the "Zingaran slave camp" a Turanian one would've been fine, and having them head to Shadizar instead of Messantia--no problem (though for Shadizar they'd have needed a bit more decadence).  I found it odd that Messantia was some kind of bizarre desert wasteland, but the invented temple where the monks reside looked just like Argos.

And for crying out loud, is it really that hard to pronounce "Hyrkania?" (Hint: there are two possible pronunciations that can be viewed as correct, and neither has a long-"i" sound: one is "Heerkania," and the other is "Hurkania."  Both have long "a" sounds in the second-to-last syllable).

They pronounce Acheron wrong, too (ASH-eron, as opposed to ACK-eron), but a lot of people do that, and it's not egregious enough to pick nits over in this case.

So here's the issue--they did just enough research to badly name-drop, but apparently didn't care about getting the kingdoms whose names they drop right.  And seriously, there's plenty of source material out there, guys.  It wouldn't have taken much more effort to get some production design and costumes proper.

So they really just dropped the ball on the presentation of the Hyborian Age.  It looked way too Mad Max.

The other thing that bugged me was the MacGuffin. I won't give too much away, but there's a huge buildup about the MacGuffin, and it seems to me they didn't actually do anything with it. Plus, there's a bit set up in the very beginning about the Cimmerians guarding these pieces of an ancient magical artifact to protect it from misuse...that's kind of crap.  Cimmerians wouldn't guard something like that.  It's magic and they hate magic.  Rather, they would've ground the pieces to dust and let the dust blow away in the wind.  But I'll let it go because, well, see the Acheronian Artifact bit from the Khalar Zym discussion above.

Finally, there's a bit of schizophrenia with Rachel Nichols' character Tamara.  They couldn't decide whether she was a badass or a screaming girl who needed to be rescued.  She bounced between the two roles faster than John Kerry pandering to two opposite crowds in 2004.  This comes from the fact that in the original script, the character was actually two characters: a princess who was the last scion of Acheron, and her bodyguard.  In the final script they combined the two characters, which works okay until the end, when the character undergoes a sudden and dramatic personality shift.  Personally, I'd rather they just stuck with the badass.  I liked her much better sticking people with swords and punching people in the face, than I did when she was screaming for help in a shrill squeal.

Finally, there were a lot of wasted opportunities.  An ancient menace that they talk about resurrecting is wasted.  The tentacled horror that appears in one scene, wasted.  The MacGuffin I mentioned earlier.  Wasted.

The Ugly
The cinematography in this film is competent, but nothing to write home about.  You won’t be wowed by the grandeur of the scenery; however, one could argue that straightforward cinematography is exactly what this film called for, so in that sense it was done right.  The Hyborian Age is gritty, not necessarily grandiose, so it didn’t require or call for the type of vistas we got in Lord of the Rings.

The special effects, as one might expect from this sort of film (as as one should expect) are pretty outstanding.  The battle between Conan and the sand-men is quite impressive.  A special feature on the DVD says that Nispel chose to film the entire final sequence in a cave, which proved grueling and dangerous to the cast.  However, I like this decision. Real locations are always, without exception, superior to constructed sets or (ugh) cgi-created settings against a green screen.  One of the (many) failings of the Star Wars prequels were their horrific over-reliance on CGI for everything, rather than using practical FX as the originals did.  Thankfully, Nispel does not fall into this trap as much as he could.  There is CGI, obviously; that’s just a given in this day and age whether we may like it or not (and I myself take a pretty fence-line stance on this issue—I think CGI has its place, but is often overused).  But Nispel uses it to enhance his film; he doesn’t rely upon it for every shot.

Unfortunately, with the exception of the cave sequence, he chooses some pretty poor locations in which to film.

1.  Apparently the Hyborian Age is all desert and beachfront, with a big honking skull-shaped volcano in the middle, except for Cimmeria and the area surrounding the made-up (doesn't exist in Howard's world) Shaipur monastery.

2.  Apparently Cimmeria is agrarian and idealistic.  They're warriors, but there doesn't seem to be a reason why...that being said, and in fairness, their village did look fairly Celtic in flavor.

3.  Messantia looks like something out of ancient Babylon or Persia, instead of resembling a Greco-Roman-inspired center of culture as it should.

4.  I’ve already mentioned how they made the Zingarans look like Turanians.

In the end, however, the problems were not remotely with the locations themselves, but lay in the fictional locations with which they chose to associate the filming locations. The overall look of the film is sharp and impressive in its own right.  The editing is fast-paced and maintains the pace of the story well; the battle scenes are well-cut and very dynamic.  There seems these days to be a tendency to use hundreds of fast, microsecond cuts when filming fight sequences, making them hard to follow and chaotic—See the third Underworld movie for an example of how not to film battle sequences. This often (not always, but often) occurs for one of two reasons: either the editor/director are not confident enough in their ability to present fight scenes adequately, or the actors themselves just aren’t good at handling these kinds of action sequences, so lots of quick cuts that make the fight hard to follow cover up that weakness.  This isn’t the case, here.  The editing in Conan is sharp and knows when to linger. We see every cut, every parry, and every limb severing and decapitation. The battle scenes are visceral and straightforward, exactly how battle scenes should be. Clearly Momoa, Stephen Lang, and the rest of the cast did a lot of work becoming convincing swordsmen (and swordswomen) for this film, and it shows in the visuals. 

Overall, I have no complaints about the look of the film other than the fact that the appearance of the Hyborian Age locations was wrong from the standpoint of the extant Howard texts. On its own merits, the film looks great.

Summary
Nispel’s Conan the Barbarian was not a home run.  It was not the Robert E. Howard Conan that we were promised, with one caveat: Jason Mamoa was fantastic.  It's not being too gracious, however, to say it was a solid base hit. In the end, they made a modicum of effort, so I'll give them an A for effort.  The presentation of the world was really poor, but the performances were great, and the villains suitably Conan.  If this movie had gotten the production designer from the 80's flick to redo the Frazetta-like look of the Hyborian Age from that film, and if they'd not wasted so many potentially great opportunities, they could have had a triple, or even a home run.  Unfortunately, the film pretty much bombed at the box office, which doesn't bode well for future installments getting it right as they move forward.  At the very least, it was a fun ride, and it's worth it to see Mamoa's portrayal of Conan.

After having purchased the film on Blu-Ray and giving it several more viewings, I’m going to up my original rating just a bit, to account for the sheer enjoyability of watching this fun ride of a Swords & Sorcery film.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 popcorns. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Welcome to Overpriced Popcorn: Film Reviews for the Rest of Us

Introduction
Here we go, the inaugural blog posting.  Starting a new project is always a bit daunting, and I hope people find some enjoyment in this one.  You'll be wondering what the tagline "Film reviews for the rest of us" is all about, and that's what I mean to address in this first post, before I dive in with the reviews.

It's not even a little bit of a stretch to say that most people hate film critics. Perhaps the most commonly uttered phrase about movie reviewers is, "if they say a movie sucks, by all means run out and see it because it's probably great fun." How often have you wished that someone out there would step up to the plate and review movies the way YOU want them?  How often have you wished that a reviewer would come along whose word you can take at face value? I know I have--I've even made posts about it on message boards and social networking sites, wherein I've been publicly called a snob for that opinion by people I considered real life friends.

This is a project I've bandied around for a long time, and it was the aforementioned friend calling me a snob and saying my opinions are invalid that finally spurred me into action.  I kind of hope it pisses him off--because his comments will never see the light of day here.

I'm not going to claim that I am unequivocally the guy whose reviews are going to solve all of your "should I see it or not?" problems--to do so would be pretentious and arrogant at best.  But I'm going to try to post an "everyman's" view of the films I see, removed from the already arrogant and pretentious "experts" out there.

You're wondering what my qualifications are, I suppose.  Truthfully, I've got qualifications equal to just about any movie reviewer out there.  I have been a movie buff since I first saw Star Wars at the age of three in 1977. I own nearly 1,000 films on blu-ray, DVD, and other media, spanning every genre from cult to western to sci-fi/fantasy to drama to horror to comedy to adventure to documentary to musical...you get the idea. I went to film school where I completed credits for a certificate in film studies and took such classes as American Film History and World Film Traditions, as well as Westerns and the Samurai Film and several semesters of filmmaking courses.

By way of full disclosure, I was not AWARDED the certificate, because though I had satisfactorily (indeed, with a 3.9 GPA) completed all courses necessary, I did not take at least half of them through the University of Pittsburgh, but transferred them from Point Park College.  Even though the courses were offered at the SAME school--Pittsburgh Filmmakers--because I didn't give Pitt the money, they denied the cert.  Typical college politics. But the credits are all there on my transcript to show that I did indeed complete the requirements; a loophole about which I was not informed till it was too late left me in the dirt, there.

Suffice it to say, I've got the educational background as well as over 35 years of avid movie watching to guide me.

Why I'm Doing This
Now, why take this on?  There are two classes of people among film fans that are, in general, the absolute WORST: those are sci-fi/fantasy geeks, and film critics.  Sci-fi/fantasy geeks are rough because they tend to view everything through one lens only: does it hew identically to the source material?  Since no adaptation film does, they tend to denounce just about every adaptation film.  That the recent spate of Marvel superhero movies have gotten such good press from the sf/f geek community is nothing short of a miracle. Geeks, you see, will say that John Carter was a mixed success at best because they changed it so much from the book; often times, capturing the spirit of the work without the literal hewing to the description and dialogue in the book is lost on the sf/f geek community.  I'm not saying that's a universal, but it's a rule of thumb. Geeks feel betrayed when a film attempts to appeal to a general public outside of their community.  They feel like they had hope that at last their beloved properties would be given respect, and they view any changes to those properties as a slap in the face and as a distinct lack of respect.  They wonder, "Who cares about the general public, anyway?  If they didn't see the genius of the X-Men back in the 80's during Fall of the Mutants, they're not going to see it now anyway."

As a geek, I am not immune to this--the recent Conan film, though I enjoyed it on its own merits, had me seething with geek rage over the fact that the filmmakers claimed to be Conan fans, claimed to be giving us the Conan that Robert E. Howard wrote at long last...and then did nothing of the sort.  While I felt Jason Momoa was quite impressive as the eponymous Cimmerian...the story was trite, the MacGuffin beyond stupid and impotent, and the presentation of the world absolutely hideous--nothing at all like Howard's presentation of the Hyborian Age. Still, unlike many in the sf/f fandom community, I felt the film had a lot of merits and would have been more than willing to go watch a sequel in hopes that they'd get a bit more right the second time around. 

Film critics, on the other hand, are too jaded and, in some cases, too educated to be in tune with the pulse of the general public.  They want every film, regardless of what it is, to be the Citizen Kane of its genre, and when it doesn't live up, they dismiss it out of hand. Unfortunately, they're too often wrong, and they can destroy a film before it even gets a chance to find its audience.  The recent John Carter film is a prime example of this--there's a crop of "elite" movie critics out there who have lambasted it...some before it was even pre-screened for critics, before they could possibly have seen it, based apparently on leaked information, trailers, and photographs. And here's the rub, and here's what I hate about most well-known critics today: have you noticed how many of their reviews read like there was one original source and they took a thesaurus to it?  Movies aren't that objective that you need to have the exact same complaints as the other ten people. 

They also say inane things like, "Green Lantern was a poor film because the story was simple, there was little character development, and it's been done before."

Really?  It was a superhero origin movie. What the Hell did you expect?

Here's a glowing example, using Green Lantern, of how movie critics are utterly disconnected from their audience. That film was pretty well lambasted by critics--Rotten Tomatoes has it at 27%.  I took my 62-year-old father to see it.  As we were in the car, he turned to me and said, "You know, I'm a little nervous about this.  You know how much you love Star Wars? Well, when I was a boy, Green Lantern was my favorite superhero. I can't tell you how much I loved Green Lantern. I just hope they get this right."

From the moment the movie began, I sat in the theater and I watched my 62-year-old father turn into a 12-year-old boy right before my eyes, and stay that way for two hours.  It really moved me to see it.  As we were leaving, he was beaming (and if you know my dad, he doesn't beam).  All he said was, "that was my Green Lantern."

In my book, the producers, writers, and directors of that film did something absolutely right, if they could have that effect on a man my dad's age, who has seen a lot in his life and rarely shows excitement about anything.

Yet, film critics said things like, "Thinks it is more impressive than it actually is. Faced with over-blown effects, characters look flat and disappear into the background without a whimper, thanks to an insipid script and the film-makers' unwillingness to flesh out anyone but Hal Jordan."

If you want further proof of how off the pulse the fingers of movie reviewers are, look at just about any movie on Rotten Tomatoes, and compare the film critics' ratings to the users' ratings.  There's generally at minimum a 20-40% difference, with actual filmgoers finding the movie more enjoyable than critics.

Here's my theory, backed up by nothing more than my own, personal experience.

These people are far too jaded, and they've trained themselves to look for the bad instead of being balanced.

What's my experience on this?  It happened to me.  When I was first in film school I became the worst kind of movie critic, finding something wrong in every movie out there. And it was really stupid, insipid stuff, like I'd dismiss a movie out of hand because there was a minor visual continuity error in one shot of one scene. I also would rant about how Hollywood always thinks it can do it better than the original, and you can't do it better than the original (which really, begs the question, "why make a movie out of a book or comic at all?")

The truth is, I later came to realize, sometimes things don't work on screen that work in a book...and Hell, sometimes, things don't work in books.  Take Watchmen, for example.  This is one of the most controversial films around, in terms of "did they get it right or wrong?"

I'll tell you one thing: for a movie, the ending of the film was way better.  Hell, the ending of that film would've been way better had Alan Moore had the sense to do it that way himself.  Seriously, a rubber tentacle monster in New York cooked up by scientists and special effects teams forced to work in slave labor?  This is what's supposed to scare people into submission?    The ending of the film, on the other hand, worked in spades--it played to the fear of nuclear holocaust that the comic mentioned over and over, then just turned into a forgotten red herring. It made sense in the context of the story, and it didn't kill my suspension of disbelief with its over-the-top ludicrous nature.

Some things just don't work well on screen, and have to be altered. And yes, sometimes they take the altering a bit too far--what they did to the Venom storyline in Spider-Man 3 was something of a travesty.  Having Eddie Brock ask God to kill Peter Parker? Seriously?

Let's not even get started on what they did to Phoenix in X3.  Turning one of the greatest villains (arguably, the greatest) in the history of the book into glorified set dressing was a pure mishandling of the character and did not do credit to the themes that the franchise had established up till that point.

And yet, call me crazy, I found X3 a lot of goddamn fun to watch.

So, where does that leave us?  The aforementioned friend called me a "literary snob" for sticking up for John Carter and suggesting that any critics who felt the story was overcomplicated or "incomprehensible" were in fact too dumb to be allowed to see movies, let alone review them. He also said that I represented a minority of a minority and implied that my opinions were worthless as such.

I counter that he has no idea what "snob" means, because I was, in fact, countering the elitism and snobbishness of the general mainstream movie critic media.  Snobs look down on properties, they don't defend them.  And a literary snob would hate that film with every fiber of his or her being because it is utterly changed from the source material in almost every way save the overall mythology at its core. That is to say, they got the Martian cultures mostly right, but the story was "inspired by," at best, rather than "based on." And yet, being a fan of the original books, I'll still defend that movie till my dying breath and I think these elitist, snobbish critics have caused its early demise--it will, however, gain a massive cult following on home video.  This is a shame because it means we likely won't get the sequel and I'd love to see The Gods of Mars on screen.

This brings me to an important Disclaimer: I don't consider my opinions on these subjects any more or less valid than anyone else's. I do, however, think that they represent the side of the fence where those people who actually pay to see movies sit. 

So, that's why I'm here.  I'm here to counter the elitism of your general mainstream movie critics by giving a review that one could argue comes from the "audience" side of Rotten Tomatoes. As at heart I am a member of the sf/f geek community I'm not going to lambast them, but I am here to tell them to take a step back on occasion, breathe, and look at a film for what it is, rather than what they'd hoped it would be, before passing judgment.

And maybe, just maybe, with a little luck, you'll find my reviews are the ones you come to when you're trying to decide if you should see a movie.

That being said, if you've slogged through this blog, I'm sure you'll have figured out what I mean by "the rest of us."  If you think that generally movie critics do their job well and your tastes align with theirs?  This isn't the place for you. If you think that any film adaptation will automatically suck if it doesn't hew 100% to the source material, this isn't the review site for you. If you can't handle the fact that occasionally I'll be lambasting the film critic community at large...you should probably go somewhere else.

However, if you're like me, and you want to see reviews from the standpoint of that 20-40% higher agreement rate than that with the critics? This will hopefully be a site you'll enjoy.  Stick around, I've got some things planned--I'll be tweaking the site layout over the next few weeks until I get it just so, and I'll have at least two reviews to kick things off this weekend: John Carter, and The Hunger Games. 

Also, please note that since I'm not one of the "elite," I don't get to do advance screenings of these things, so my reviews will come a bit later, and may be a bit reactionary to the existing reviews as a result.  

How It Works
I have been reviewing books and films on various sites around the net (small time) for awhile, and have developed a kind of "trademark" style that will translate naturally to film.  I will be reviewing every film in three categories: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

The Good and The Bad are pretty self-explanatory.  These are the things I liked about a film, and the things I did not like about it, from the standpoint of writing, acting, directing, how closely it hews to source material (if applicable) and if that's important to this film, and why.  I'll be as detailed as possible, and if I venture into spoiler territory, I will note that in the title of the film review, so those looking to avoid spoilers can do so. The Ugly takes a bit of explaining, because it doesn't mean only that which is distasteful.  It's the section wherein I review the aesthetics of the film--how it looks, the cinematography, the makeup and FX, all of that good stuff.  This section will discuss both the well-done and the crap in the aesthetic presentation of the film.  Expect most commentaries on 3D to be in this section, for example. 

At the end of the review, to keep in line with movie review standards, I'll summarize my points and give the film a rating of one to five buckets of popcorn.

The Rules of Engagement
So before we get started, one last thing: the rules of engagement. I'm going to keep moderation of posts and comments at a minimum here, as I believe in the free exchange of ideas.  That being said, understand something: you're in my house and I expect decorum and respect.  I can't ban you from looking at this site (blogger hasn't given us that power yet) but I can make sure that your comments are never seen here again, if you choose to flame, start fights, or make personal attacks. Disagreement is fine--it's your right to disagree with someone.  But understand the limits and lines: making a generalized statement about the film critic community is FAR different than making a direct attack against Roger Ebert.  The former is permitted here; the latter is absolutely NOT. Likewise, we do not make attacks or flame me or other posters. Them's the rules.  If you don't like it, kindly piss off.  I'm sorry if that seems harsh, but it's something I feel strongly about. I don't have time in my life for Internet flame wars these days; I'd prefer just to delete the offending comment and move on.  So, with all of that on the table, I do sincerely hope you enjoy what I've got to say!